As a professional genealogist Matt Ball spends his working life unravelling family trees but since moving to Sevenoaks he’s been intrigued by the men commemorated on the towns memorial and say’s the opportunity to look at the lives of 226 men wasn’t one he was going to miss. The Sevenoaks Memorial Project has now been launched and Matt has kindly taken a moment to share the inspirations behind it….
‘It’s impossible not to notice the War Memorial in Sevenoaks as you drive through the town. It stands overlooking the Vine Cricket ground and faces east, toward the battlefields of the First World War. It is one of the finest memorials that I have seen and since moving to Sevenoaks over five years ago, it had always caught my eye.
It was a chance conversation at this years Who Do You Think You Are? with a fellow genealogist which inspired me to take a closer look at our memorial. Simon Last has already written about the War Memorial in his home town of Framlingham in Suffolk and his work prompted me to see what research had been carried out in Sevenoaks. I discovered that while some work had been done to record the names and occasional stories had appeared in the Sevenoaks Chronicle, no one had tried to piece together the lives of the 226 men named on the memorial before.
Each one of those names has a story behind them and left behind families and loved ones. They fought not just on the Western Front but in Gaza, Egypt, Syria and Salonika as part of the the RFC, The Royal West Kents, the Royal Navy and in one case, The Imperial Camel Corps.
So far, I’ve been able to find photographs for 25 of them and it’s moving to see these young men staring back at you, who only a few years before had been living contentedly in Sevenoaks and were now serving King and Country in a foreign field. And people have been contacting me from as far as Florida and Australia to tell me about their relatives and the stories behind their war service.
The Revered Basil Plumptre had worked for several years in Bermondsey, refusing all offers of preferment in the church, to stay with his parishioners. He joined up and served with distinction, receiving the Military Cross for his gallantry and devotion to duty when serving the wounded.
Thomas Garrett was a long serving soldier and was due home on leave when he died in Salonika. His wife Amelia, had lost three brothers during the war, another losing his arm and like many women of that generation was left to bring up their children on her own. Her grandson John was able to share with me the original telegrams Amelia had received, the first informing her that Thomas was dangerously ill and the second that he had died. It was a moving and privileged moment to hold those messages which had been preserved so carefully over the years.
We hope to publish a book that brings together of all these stories and keeps the memory
of these men and the sacrifice they made alive. I was pleased that my recent article in the Sevenoaks Chronicle prompted a local Mum to get in touch, as her son is about to go on a school trip to Ypres. I was able to give her names of local soldiers remembered there, to hopefully give him more of a connection when he looks out at the sea of names at the Menin Gate and can think of some of the local men who fought there nearly one hundred years ago. For me, recording the lives and service of these men for a younger generation to understand and remember, is what it’s all about.’
Do you have any links to the memorial? If so Matt would love to hear from you. He’s the co- founder and Director of The Great British Ancestry Company and you can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org You can also follow the progress of the war memorial project on twitter @7oaksmemorial.
Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to write for the History Magpie – it’s greatly appreciated.
Local historian, Judith Johnson has spent ten years tracing the lives of the men commemorated on the Southborough War Memorial and she shares the story behind the writing of her book The Southborough War Memorial with me in the November issue of Kent Life Magazine.