Armistice 100: Gascoigne Primary pupils team up with Valence House volunteers to mark Barking and Dagenham's fallen soldiers
PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 November 2018
It won't be long before the First World War passes from living memory.
There won’t be many people with direct memories of the 1914-1918 conflict left now, if any at all.
But the grandchildren of those who endured four years of hell survive and they have been picking up needles and thread to share some of Barking and Dagenham’s war stories.
Pensioners at Valence House’s Archives and Local Studies Centre in Becontree Avenue, Dagenham, teamed up with Gascoigne Primary School in Barking to make sure our ancestors’ sacrifice is not forgotten.
The sixty-somethings – who call themselves “Valence Volunteers” – designed and cut out red and black felt for Gascoigne pupils to turn into poppies, each bearing the name of the 1,172 people from Barking who died as a result of their service.
Special poppies have also been made to represent women involved in the war with an added white version to symbolise peace.
Group member Pauline Amos said: “The last few generations have no idea what happened. We can remember single women teaching us after the war who lost their fiancés.
“People went through a terrible time. So many women had to cope with husbands made ill by their war experience. They came back different people.”
Volunteer Deirdre Marculescu added: “My grandfather was killed in the war. My mum lost him when she was seven-years-old. Wars change lives in ways that you can’t imagine.”
The volunteers’ research began with them putting together a list of all the names on war memorials in Barking, Chadwell Heath and Dagenham.
Names including Private William Anderson and Private John Lewis from Barking.
Both served with the 5th Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. William saw action in Gallipoli.
But they deserted and from war-torn France headed home to Barking where they were caught and handed over to the military police.
The pair were put on trial back in France.
William was shot at 6.13am on March 31, 1917. John was shot a few days later. Both were just 21-years-old. Their graves lie in Gezaincourt and Forceville communal cemeteries in France.
The volunteers also used newspaper reports to uncover more details being moved by reports of families losing their loved ones, with one in particular suffering the loss of four sons.
But the group’s ambition not to let the borough’s war dead be forgotten didn’t stop with the First World War.
They fundraised £4,000 to pay for a new Book of Remembrance to include the names of those from the borough who served in the Second World War but whose names weren’t included in two existing volumes.
Donations came from musician Billy Bragg; Chadwell Heath Residents’ Association and Barking and Dagenham Council.
But most of the money came from the community with Tesco backing it through a Bags for Help scheme.
Again, the team scoured the newspaper archives to find people, often in the memorials or obituaries sections. Mrs Marculescu said: “We were quite surprised by how little reporting there was. Some [names] were tucked away. That was part of our aim, to commemorate the names and look at each one’s story.”
The whole project took about eight months to complete, but the fruits of the volunteers’ labours will be on show at the archives while the poppies go on display at Valence House.
Gascoigne Primary School deputy headteacher James Fox said: “It was really important for the children to understand why we honour those who have gone before us, for the sacrifice they made and their determination to build a better future for all of us.”
Borough archivist Karen Rushton added: “It’s been a major project, but has gone down very well. It’s been a great focus.”
And volunteer Janice Porter said: “It’s been a very rewarding project, a lovely thing to do. If it hadn’t have been for these people we would not be living in a democratic society.”
For more information about the project or to join Valence House’s team of volunteers email Karen.Rushton@lbbd.gov.uk