Post Memories: Searching for the lost boys of St Chad’s Church

Nicky Scowen has written a book about men who died in WW1 and were commemorated on a church plaque.

Nicky Scowen has written a book about men who died in WW1 and were commemorated on a church plaque. - Credit: Archant

On the wall in a church in Chadwell Heath hangs a memorial listing 97 men who went to war almost 100 years ago and never returned.

The brass plaque from St Chad's church

The brass plaque from St Chad's church - Credit: Archant

Their names have remained etched in the plaque but the stories of their lives stayed secrets of the past.

Chauny Communal Cemetery British Extension, Aisne, France

Chauny Communal Cemetery British Extension, Aisne, France - Credit: Archant

But that has all been unravelled and traced by resident Nicky Scowen, who has devoted the last three years to putting together the puzzle of what she calls “the lost boys”.

“I was born in Chadwell Heath and christened at St Chad’s Church but I didn’t know about the plaque. Lots of people don’t realise it’s there. That’s why I call them the lost boys.

“I have gone back to the birth records, found out about their families, occupations, where they fought and where they were killed. I went through every edition of the Ilford Recorder from 1914 to 1921. It has been three years of research,” she said.

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The project initially started following a request by the Chadwell Heath Historical Society for her to use the access she had to family history sites to look at census records and find out who these men were.

But census records led on to service records, to medal rolls and more and Nicky got drawn in to find out as much as she could about them,

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“I didn’t realise there were 97 names on it when I said yes! Once you start you realise there is so much to learn. ” she says.

She came across 14-year-old boys who had been signed up among the men, and read about the often gruesome ways they had died.

There was also a very surprising discoveries - two of the men listed on the war memorial did not actually die during the First World War.

One was convicted and discharged from the army and the other was in Australia and had stayed there, leaving people back home to assume him to be dead.

After learning about the back stories of the lost boys, Nicky felt it necessary to visit their final resting places.

“They are all family now. My husband and I visited all of the graves, most of which are in Northern France and Belgium. We paid our respects to them.”

And the next chapter is to tell others about her discoveries, which Nicky is doing on October 19 at 2pm at Valence House where she will introduce a book that collects her findings.

She hopes it might open up more channels to explore.

“There might be some relatives of the men who turn up and tell us more about them, or relatives may come to hear stories they didn’t know about. It is a mark of respect to make sure these stories are not forgotten.”

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