As we prepared for What They Left Behind, members of WCT followed up research about families living in Wimborne during the First World War.
The Old Road Story
The Wimborne Minster Parish Magazines of the time were particularly rich in material. Canon Fletcher, who was the minister throughout the war, writes some stirring letters to his parishioners urging them to observe a more moral way of life. Each month he highlights the sacrifices made by the families of Wimborne, particularly the residents of Old Road, such as the Loder family who sent six sons to the War. In 1917 he records “There are few districts in the kingdom which have supplied so large a number of volunteers as the Old Road, in Wimborne, has done; and Sergeant Rossiter is the seventh inhabitant, from a road which contains only 24 cottages, who has given his life for King and country.”
As the war continued more sons of Old Road were lost.
Apart from the Rossiters, the other families who lost sons were: Harvey, Gollop, Barrow, and Loader. A poem entitled, Patriotism At Wimborne – A True Story was written about the Loaders’ story, and copies sold at one penny to contribute to St John’s Nursing Fund. The poem is held in the archive at Priest’s House Museum.
We also met Len Pearce, who talked about his research for the Memorial book held at Wimborne Minster, which gives biographical details about the men from Wimborne and surrounding villages, who died in the First World War. As a boy, he remembers meeting the widows of some of the men who died, and he recalled that his Grandfather was the Town Crier during that time.
Another very useful meeting was with the current Wimborne Town Crier, Chris Brown, to hear about his research into local families, particulary the Angell and Wareham families.
Many of these stories, particularly that of the Angell family, found their way into the final production and the Old Road story was the inspiration for a sound installation Anthem for Old Road by Adrian Newton in the run-up to the production. Read more
A photograph on the flier for WCT’s production What They Left Behind is of Harry Crowther, a WW1 survivor and the grandfather of one of the actors, Clare Small. Clare plays the part of Bessie Angell whose four eldest sons went off to fight in the First World War.
Through a strange symbiosis, two Harrys unknown to each other in 1916, meet in the making of community theatre performed by local people attempting to reflect on the lives of people living in Wimborne at that time.
Clare Small writes:
The face that looks out at you across a century is that of Harry Crowther. Harry was my Granddad. At the start of W.W.1. he was already in the army having joined, as a boy soldier at the age of sixteen, in 1912. Within days of embarkation Harry found himself camped with his regiment in the beautiful countryside near Ypres.
In those early days mechanization and mud-filled trenches were yet to come. Harry, a foot soldier, went into battle alongside of sabre-drawn horsemen charging through cornfields and woodland. The fighting was fierce and positions maintained at a great cost but eventually some were overrun. Harry was taken as a prisoner of war along with hundreds of others. They were marched away past the heaped bodies of hundreds of fallen German soldiers, discovering only then the might of their enemy. So ended The First Battle of Ypres.
Harry was lucky that day because as a prisoner he survived the war. When he was repatriated home in 1919 he weighed just over seven stone (43kg).
Clare’s story about her Grandparents:
The story that was told to us about Granny and Granddad was this:
Harry was Auntie Elsie’s boyfriend at the start of World War One. Ells was only sixteen and a bit “flighty.”
Ethel (granny) was older, eighteen, and we think that she had a boyfriend, Tom, at the start of the war who was killed early on.
Harry was taken prisoner we think at 1st Ypres Battle of la Bassee 1914
Ells confided in Ethel that she felt she could not keep writing to Harry because she wanted a boyfriend at home not shut away in Germany. Ethel insisted that she write to Harry with her feelings and took it upon herself to write to him for the rest of his time as a prisoner of war saying that she could not bear to think of him so far from home and with no special friend at home.
At some point in 1917 he escaped and was hidden by a German farmer and his family in their barn. Food was scarce and all Germany was hungry but he was better fed there than in the prison camp. He was cared for by two little girls, we cannot remember their names other than that they were typical German sounding names, like fairy story names. They would bring him his food each day and he would tell them about this life in England. He was repatriated at the end of the war in 1919.
In the early 1930’s he was working as a guard on the railways at Bournemouth Station when he heard his name being called. He turned to see two smart young women running down the platform arms out stretched, their faces wreathed in smiles. He did not know who they were to start with and was rather taken aback, but then he said that he could see that it was his two little angels all grown up. They said that they were on a holiday to visit.
“What They Left Behind” touches on the story of another Harry, Harry Angell from Hillbuts, (near modern day QE school) in Wimborne, his Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours, elders and betters. The people of Wimborne, one hundred years ago.