The War Memorial web pages
and how they came about
How this website started and the story behind it is generally quite well-known amongst those that volunteer or frequent the museum in Sutton. Initially, the site wasn't started for the museum in the Old School at all, as I was unaware of the museum's existence at that time. I was also unaware of how new the museum then was, having only opened to the public a very short time before I was first made aware of it.
My original idea had been to post a simple website to put St James' Church on the web map, and by definition, the village too. But at the same time, there was something else that I very much wanted to do. That was to honour all the names to be found on the Sutton War Memorial. It was my belief back then that this 'new' medium of the internet was a commendable way to pay just tribute to our war dead, and that one day, every town and village should have it's own memorial listed. Now of course, in the fullness of time, this has largely come to pass.
Although not from Sutton myself, and having no connection to any of those men listed, or those in our graveyard, I was accutely aware of how difficult it was for the families of those men to get to Sutton to see the commemoration of their loved one's sacrifice. Perhaps by reason of emmigration, or just by virtue of moving away, as I had done myself from my own home county.
For I, too, have a relative on a war memorial back in the midlands, in my mother's home town of Coalville, an uncle I never knew but who was talked about for years after his untimely death at sea. He was my mum's older sister's new husband, and his loss at sea when mum was just 12 affected her and the family deeply. Not least because he left behind a son, my elder cousin, who he would never know about, let alone even see. As a boy, whenever us lads were taken back, or through Coalville, mum always took us to the Clock Tower to see Uncle Jack's name before we caught another bus. Not easily being able to get back to my own roots to research my own family history anymore, to get photos and so on, made me very aware of how it must be for anyone else who 'lived away' from their home town, wherever they were. And here in Sutton, I was in a position to be able to something about it in regard to the Sutton memorial.
It first started when I visited the church on Remembrance Sunday in 1999 (it may have been 1998, memory plays tricks) to help a friend gather film material for a new video production he had in mind about Sutton and the village's history. I was asked to help, initially with research and then with artwork and narration. I'd searched the internet as it was then for information on St James', and found almost none, other than the details of the peal of church bells posted by a bellringers group. St James' didn't have a website, and so I offered to get one going.
After the service, my friend did indeed gather the material he wanted, but we also lingered behind and took video, of not just the memorial as a whole, but each of the individual plaques showing every Sutton area man lost from both world wars. I transcribed all the details onto a new web page, that becoming the second page I ever posted with regard to St James'. It was shortly later that I was told about the museum, went along and met Merrill Rhodes and the volunteers, and the museum pages were added and have since almost taken on a life of their own. So the war memorial page, initially just for Sutton – because the Wawne and Stoneferry names were added later when I became aware of their historic connections – actually predates those for the museum.
When I was typing those names up, it was always in the back of my mind how wonderful it would be if all war memorials were honoured this way, the more so as it seemed that year by year, more and more of them were being vandalised or desecrated in some way. Like headstones, some are just deteriorating because of weather erosion, depending on what stone they were constructed of. But I really had in mind the stately clock tower memorial in Coalville town centre, a beloved and very functional landmark since 1926, with some 500 names from both world wars, upon which is my Uncle Jack. I learnt a lot about that man when I was a boy, and it was his story and tragic death to a German torpedo that influenced my abiding interest in all things naval, indeed, to even want to be in the navy, although that never came to pass.
So, as I prepared the list for the Sutton memorial, I thought of Uncle Jack and hoped that one day, someone would do the same for my home town as I was about to do in Sutton.
Of course, in the intervening years, all sorts of memorials and ways of honouring our war dead have appeared on the internet, the most notable being the extremely useful and cherished Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, so much used by family historians the world over.
So imagine my pleasure recently, on browsing the web for information on a totally unrelated subject, when I accidentally noticed that Leicestershire County Council have indeed posted up a whole database for all the details of the county's memorials, the Coalville memorial being just one of them. And not just a bare list of names, but photos of all the individual plaques too. A point here for Family Historians is that if one county council has taken this step, the chances are that many others have already done so too, and in time, all counties in the UK will have all their memorials listed this way, in addition to all the private sites and pages such as ours. If you too are looking for online tributes on a small town or village memorial many counties away, it's certainly worth a search on the web.
So there Uncle Jack is at last, along with all his other comrades and messmates, his name does now indeed 'Liveth for Evermore' - anywhere in the world one could wish to search for it. He's just as easy to find whether in a small-town library in remote areas of Queensland or Tennessee, or in your own home in Durban or Dunedin. It was quite a task for someone at LCC, and all credit to that council and the appropriate staff for doing so.
My auntie did much later marry again, and in the fullness of time, she lost her second husband too, he being the uncle that I did know and love. She'll be 90 this year, in poor health now, and when she had to move recently into sheltered accomodation, she found a photo of Jack in his uniform of when they were married, never before seen by me, which I'll always treasure just as she did. What goes around comes around, as they say. Some scars never really heal.
The pictures below are of Coalville Clock Tower, the memorial that inspired me to construct one for Sutton, plus one of Uncle Jack and Aunt Mavis too, for those who'd like to take a look.
Jack William Hill, RN
Royal Navy DEMS Gunner, on the SS Jack Carne
(he was on loan to the US Navy as a guard)
sunk by a U-boat off the Azores
28th August 1942
on his marriage the previous month
to my aunt, Mavis Holt of Highfield St, Coalville.
Jack was one of the thousands who lost his life bringing us
much needed food and fuel; flour for bread,
and oil and petrol for our war effort.
R.I.P Uncle Jack.
back to the Sutton & Wawne Museum page
The Home Page with Menu
For anyone considering researching other county council websites
to track the progress of other central databases of war memorials,
I can certainly recommend a site called "Oultwood",
a superb local government web index.
From their one central page, you can visit the home page of
any county council in the country.
OULTWOOD LG WEB INDEX