First World War centenary: Chislehurst society uncovering tales of loss and compassion from the conflict
PUBLISHED: 16:10 05 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:13 05 February 2014
Sorrow, bravery, courage, sacrifice, friendship and love – all underlie tales of the “Great War”.
From the experiences of soldiers who were bogged down in the trenches and riddled with bullets in No Man’s Land, to the grieving families and the women who worked on the home front, the real stories which colour the conflict will resonate more than ever in this centenary year.
Chislehurst, like many other areas, has a plethora of historical connections to the war and it is some of these that the Chislehurst Society hopes to bring to the forefront in the next few months.
One such tale is of a young man called Thomas de Quincey, who signed up for the war aged 20 and went missing in action in 1915.
The society, led by members Alan and Catherine Fyfield, discovered the de Quinceys lived in a building which is now the sixth form centre at Bullers Wood School and learnt of Rugby School student Thomas’ sad fate.
Heritage representative Joanna Friel said: “His body was never found and his name is not on the Chislehurst War Memorial.
“His parents probably wouldn’t have wanted his name on there.
“His mother, as we all would, likely imagined that he would come back from the front, but obviously he didn’t.”
Now the society is working with the school’s Year Nine pupils to uncover local stories and they are, in turn, sharing these with Belgian students due to visit.
Joanna said: “The school wanted to include their pupils in the research and want to create a memorial garden to Thomas de Quincey.
“It is fantastic to be working with them to commemorate the name of this young man.”
Another highlight of the society’s centenary programme will be a talk on the women who cared for Belgian soldiers in homes converted into hospitals in Chislehurst.
These included Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses and Red Cross commander Beatrix Batten, who was only 21 at the time.
Joanna said Beatrix was said to be a “formidable” lady.
When the soldiers arrived in Chislehurst, they first went to the Christ Church in Lubbock Road, whose reverend was known as Mr Pole.
Four of his five daughters worked as VAD nurses and their stories will also be told in the talk.
Joanna, who lives in the road herself, said: “I have been researching it for some time. With such history you only scratch the surface and realise there is so much there.
“People seem genuinely interested and it has been fascinating working with the girl’s school [Bullers] because they relate to the women so much more – it is personal.”
Other schemes include creating a documentary about the Chislehurst Caves’ role as an ammunition storage depot during the Great War.
Joanna said: “Everybody knows the Second World War story of the caves, when people sheltered down there during the Blitz. But we want people to know what happened during the First World War, particularly as it’s the centenary.”
Did a member of your family serve in the First World War? Do you have stories or memories from the period that you would like to share? Have you uncovered little-known facts or researched a particular subject to do with the war? We would love to hear from our readers to help shape our coverage of the centenary year.
Get in touch through Twitter or Facebook, email reporter Beth Wyatt at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 020 8477 3800 or write to Beth Wyatt, Romford Recorder, 539 High Road, Ilford, IG1 1UD, to take part.