RQG member Richard Tolson shares with us his eight year journey researching the men of Stannington in Northumberland in World War One.
“In 2014 with the 100th anniversary of the commencement of WW1 approaching, I decided to research the men of my home parish of Stannington in Northumberland who gave their lives in that conflict. Stannington Parish Church has a modest memorial on a wall which lists the names of 24 men, and in common with many memorials is simply a list of names in alphabetical order.
Once I had identified when each of these men had died, I began to research and publish their stories in chronological order each month in the parish magazine. This created a lot of interest in the parish, and it was suggested that I should maybe put the stories into a book. Not long after, a friend came across some Stannington Parish Magazines from 1915 and 1917 on eBay of all places. He purchased these for interest and found they contained the names of every man from the parish who had joined the military to serve in the war, faithfully recorded by the then Vicar and totalling 224 by February 1917. Why don’t you research them all he said? Why not I replied not having any idea of the magnitude of the task I had just set myself.
Three years later in 2017 I finished the task, which had become a three volume book entitled Stannington for King and Country which also told the story of the parish in the years leading up to the war, and the activities on the home front as well as the stories of the now 270 men I had identified.
Whilst I had been working on the project, I had also become part of a committee organising a Commemoration and re-enactment event for the 100th anniversary of the end of the war in November 2018. This was part funded by a lottery grant and just grew and grew.
My books formed part of the event which astonishingly attracted 3,000 people, though if I might say it was pretty spectacular for a small rural parish. We had a realistic replica trench, a WW1 tank and a plane, a Cavalry display, a field kitchen, an aid station and numerous exhibits and displays. Consequently, we raised a decent sum of money from the event, part of which is funding a similar WW2 event on the 18th of June.
One thing I wanted to do with the some of the money was to produce a memorial for the fallen which provided more detail than the established one in the church. We had a metal disc produced for each man. similar to the blue plaques you see on historic buildings which gave his name, rank, regiment, date of death and in where he is buried or remembered.
These were to be mounted on a granite plaque and placed opposite a 1910 fountain which serves as a sort of village war memorial for non church goers, though it actually commemorates the introduction of mains water to the village. As with many things Covid got in the way and the memorial which should have been in place by early 2020 was put on the back burner.
However, I am proud to say that what began as a small project in 2014 which led to a large project in 2017 and a successful event in 2018 has finally today culminated in what I hope it will be a fitting memorial to the fallen of Stannington in WW1 for many years to come.”