Saturday, 23 August 2014

Newnham and World War One

My mate Bob sent me this feature from the Citzen about Newnham on Severn:

Commemorative plaques are being placed on walls of homes and public buildings to remember those villagers who fought in, died in, or returned from the Great War. This summer will see eight blue plaques for survivors, but forty-one black plaques for those who died.

Blue plaques represent the soldiers who survived the war and returned to Newnham, while black plaques immortalise the 41 men who left the Forest of Dean village to join the war effort and never returned home.
The treasurer of the Newnham History Group, Nigel Haig told the Citizen that: “There has been a huge interest in the village for this project, which we’re really grateful for. They have been really supportive.”
This was too interesting to ignore and as the plaques will be up for the month of August only, I caught the number 23 from Gloucester on August 21st (btw a Stagecoach explorer ticket got me from Stroud to Newnham and back for £6.50) and made my way to the other side of the river.

It felt like an Ivor Gurney and Will Harvey charabanc ride:
Red apple orchards, sleepy old railway lines,
A slow, stippled, brown mud Severn,
Cyclists, church spires, village fetes,
The smell of farms and the tramp of farmers’ boys,
Big sky cumulus clouds and wood clad hillsides –
So much so that I screened out the electricity pylons,
The endless fields of sweet corn and the relentless traffic
(52 casualties in three years on this busy road),
Until I reached the broad thoroughfare of Newnham,
Where I went hunting for blue plaques.

I started at the top of the street and worked my down,
Then back up again to the bus stop by the church:
The plaques are heritage blue and are of paper rather than metal,
They sit unobtrusively on the walls of shops, cottages and houses,
And will remain there until the end of the month, but
The first ones to catch my eye were on the church wall:
(Every single plaque, whether blue or black, has the same title:
‘The Great War 1914-1918    The men who went to war’,
And then underneath those two lines is the citation)
Three black and three blue on the left hand side of the church gate,
Two black and three blue on the right hand side, two more black,
Then another blue at the lych-gate, then blues down the High Street,
Until two more black at Bailey’s Stores, on the corner of Station Road,
With four blues underneath; then more blues up the High Street,
Until another black (with four blues) at Camerons, Dean Road corner,
Then another black plaque and three more blue plaques,
Before I reached the bus stop opposite the church…

This tells only a part of Newnham’s statistical story,
But this wall marking forcefully shows the density
And extensity of the men who marched away from Newnham,
Whilst the citations tell a vivid tale of a world that has gone,
I choose just four before ‘each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’:
‘James Ferris Enlisted 1914-aged 25 Private, 8th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, Son of James Ferris,
Harbour Master at Bullo Pill Docks’;
‘Stephen Brobyn, Corporal Shoeing-Smith, 46th Brigade,
Royal Field Artillery, Killed in action December 1918,
Son of Robert Brobyn of Church Road’;
‘Edward Archibald Crofton McLaughlin
2nd Lieutenant, 7th Seaforth Highlanders
Killed in action November 1915 aged 20
Son of Vivian McLaughlin,
Headmaster of Brightlands, Church Road’;
‘Herbert Guy Bromlow McLaughlin
2nd Lieutenant, 3rd Seaforth Highlanders
Killed in action October 1916 aged 18
Son of Vivian McLaughlin,
Headmaster of Brightlands, Church Road’;
I looked across at the dilapidated Victoria Hotel,
I could see them all there, having a last pint,
Before walking down the High Street, then along Station Road,
Where so many roads led to France, the loss of innocence
And the loss of the world of Edward Thomas:
“Have many gone
From here?” “Yes.” “Many lost?”  “Yes; a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him…”
“… ‘It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.’
‘And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.’ ‘Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good,’ Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.”

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