‘Lest we forget’

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Remembrance Sunday was bright and suitably autumnal as local residents, politicians, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Scouts, Army Cadets and even two beautifully behaved police horses remembered the men and women who have died in conflicts across the globe since the Great War.

While the focus of the Cemetery Park’s heritage volunteers for the last year has been researching the World War 1 servicemen, the War Memorial also commemorates men and women who died during WW1, including two sailors of the Netherland Royal Navy and two Chinese crewmen. Sadly the Great War was not ‘the war to end all wars’ as many believed at the dawn of the last century.

The Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Remembrance Service is always a family event, and the youngsters were very enthusiastic about helping to attach military caps representing the 205 WW1 men to the railings of the Soanes Centre. Hopefully these will be a gentle reminder of the men’s  sacrifice to walkers in the Cemetery Park throughout the month of November. The youngsters also placed the traditional small wooden crosses into the boxes on the Memorial. While researching the WW1 men, using census returns to trace their family background, one recurring theme has been the number of children who were brought up by their widowed mother following their father’s death. Although the Services paid a dependant’s pension, it would have been a difficult time for thousands of families.

After the observation of the 2 minutes silence at the 11th hour and the laying of the scarlet poppy wreaths, the ceremony was concluded at the memorial to the civilian war dead of Poplar. During both WW1 and WW2 the East End suffered devastating air raids from Zeppelins, doodlebugs and the Luftwaffe. The bricks used to create the civilian war memorial were collected from the bombed-out homes of countless families bombed out during WW2.

The afternoon was rounded off with the obligatory cup of tea, biscuits and a catch-up chat with other Friends and heritage volunteers.

Two of the 205 WW1 soldiers lost their lives exactly 100 years ago on 11-11-1918. Somehow it seems even more tragic to lose your life on Armistice Day while the rest of Europe was celebrating the end of the conflict.

Alfred William Carr enlisted at Stratford as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. In the 1911 census he is living at 47 Turner’s Road, Burdett Road, Limehouse with his wife Catherine nee Clackett. They had been married at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green on 29th January 1911 and in the register Alfred is described as a machinist. On the 1911 census his occupation is given as ‘shoddy grinder’. While this sounds more like a harsh comment on the standard of his work – it was actually a type of Edwardian recycling. Inferior quality (and therefore cheaper) wool was made by shredding wool scraps into fibres and mixing them with a small amount of new wool.

In 1918 Alfred was stationed at Inchmickery Battery on the Forth River as part of the Forth Defence Garrison. He died on 11-11-1918 at Edinburgh Castle Hospital. He left a widow but no children. The details for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record that living with Alfred’s widow at 34 Russia Lane, Bethnal Green, was the widow of Charles William Clackett, who having returned from Montreal Canada in November 1914, died ‘on or since’ 21-3-1918. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, along with 34,785 men of the fighting on the Somme who have no known grave. The sisters-in-law were clearly dealing with their tragic losses together.

Bert Rowe Pickhaver served in the 17th London Regiment and the 69th Royal Defence Corps. He was born in Limehouse and in the 1911 census he is described as a 14 year old who has just left school. He was living at 17 Robeson Street, Turner Road, Mile End with his parents – James, a wood chopper, Eliza a ‘trouser finisher’ and his older sister Eliza Phoebe, who was a ‘tailoring presser’.

Age 21 years, Bert died at the Colchester General Hospital of influenza on 11-11-1918. His widow Harriet, whom he had married at Halstead, Essex in the September quarter of 1918, remarried on 27th September 1919 at Birdbrook Church near Halstead. Her second husband was Albert Edward Whipps who had served since 30th March 1916 in the Suffolk Regiment.

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