Every Plaque Tells a Story

Three of the plaques on the walkway at the Lochanagar Crater, on the Somme. Images courtesy of Rob Kirk

Pause as you view the Lochnagar Crater from the wooden walkway. Beneath your feet, you’ll find many small plaques bearing names. Each name was a husband, son, brother, father or uncle, or – in rare cases – a daughter, mother, wife, aunt or sister. And each one reaches across the generations.

In this guest blog post, Rob Kirk of Lochnagar Crater Today, shares his research into three neighbouring plaques found on the Somme battlefields.

  • Three names

Portrait photograph of Charles Hunt. Image courtesy of Peter Cook

One plaque is dedicated to Gunner Charles Hunt. He died during the Second Battle of Ypres, where he lies in the Ypres Town Cemetery Extension. He experienced the first use of gas by the Germans, and was killed by shellfire.

He came from Cheshire, but had married a Norfolk girl and lived in Great Yarmouth. He was 38 when he died.

The neighbouring plaque remembers Private John Balls, who also came from Great Yarmouth. In early 1916, according to research by Norfolk military historian, Dick Rayner, he was in the trenches in Sub-Sectors E2 and E3 at La Boisselle. From there, he sent one of the strangest requests to a newspaper:

“We have the good old Yarmouth Mercury sent out to us every week, and see other chums have luxuries sent out to them… I think a little gift like this would help us along, and also a real Yarmouth kipper would help a dry biscuit go down”.

John Balls with his wife and daughter. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Cook

Private Balls was killed when a dugout in a reserve line near Regina Trench was shelled. He was struck by a falling piece of timber. He was buried but the grave was lost in subsequent fighting, and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. He was 28 years old and left behind a wife, Ada, and daughter, Jennie. His commanding officer told Ada,

He was a good comrade and a soldier who never shirked his duty and we shall miss him very much.

“He was a good comrade and a soldier who never shirked his duty and we shall miss him very much.”

The third plaque commemorates Private William Lively, who came from a small village called Clifford Chambers by the River Stour just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, where his father was parish clerk. He joined up in March 1915, and had been in France only three weeks before he was killed near High Wood.

William Lively’s name on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. Image courtesy of David Richardson

He too had a battlefield burial but the grave was lost, and his name is on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. He was 31 when he died.

Three men who did not know each other. Three deaths at different times and different places – so why are their names remembered on plaques side-by-side at Lochnagar Crater?

Because, more than a hundred years after they died, they are linked together by their descendants.

  • Remembered by their relatives

John Balls’ grand-daughter, Elizabeth, married Charles Hunt’s grandson, Peter Cook, and the couple live at Framingham Earl near Norwich. And they have a dear friend, David Richardson, who lives in Norwich; David is William Lively’s great nephew.

Descendants of the three men; [L to R]: David Richardson, Elizabeth Cook and Peter Cook. Image courtesy of Rob Kirk

All three have explored the battlefields together, including Lochnagar Crater – within a few yards of where John Balls sent his plea for Yarmouth kippers. They have seen two of the names on the Thiepval Memorial, and Peter has visited his grandfather’s headstone in the cemetery at Ypres.

With the help of these plaques these brave men’s names will live on

Elizabeth says that it is poignant to see the names together on the walkway:

“For most of my life my grandfather was just a face on an old sepia photograph. My mother never knew her father and I guess the subject was too painful to talk about for my grandmother. However, we now have a fuller picture of my grandfather. I’ve been able to share his story with my sons, one of whom has already been to the Thiepval Memorial to find his great-grandfather’s name inscribed there.

Now on Remembrance Sunday each year I remember the man and not just his photograph, and with the help of these plaques these brave men’s names will live on”.

 

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