Memories of First World War shared in Merton ahead of centenary

Rosemary Lever with pictures of her grandfather Robert Law

Rosemary Lever with pictures of her grandfather Robert Law

First published in News
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This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

"Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

"Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons."

War as portrayed by WWI soldier and former Wimbledon holiday resident Wilfred Owen in his celebrated poem, "Anthem for Doomed Youth".

As the centenary of Britain's entry into the First World War approaches, Merton residents are coming forward with stories of their lesser-known ancestors who fought in the Great War.

To read more stories around the World War One centenary visit wimbledonguardian.co.uk/ww1

More than 100 in-depth interviews have been conducted across London as part of Age Exchange reminiscence charity's Children of the Great War project, which hopes to capture the human impact of the First World War over time, through stories and artefacts.

Sharing tales of their own family histories at the New Wimbledon Theatre event earlier this year, Merton's own war children explain why they took part in the project.

Rosemary Lever, a New Wimbledon Theatre steward from Raynes Park, shared pictures of her grandfather, Robert Law.

Born in Scotland, he joined the Scottish Territorials in 1912, fought and was wounded at the Battle of Messines on October 31 and was wounded again at the Battle of Loos, before training as an officer and joining the Royal Flying Corps as an observer and photographer.

Mrs Lever, 57, said: "I was aware my grandfather had been injured during the Great War but hadn't realised just how many times he'd been wounded.

"I hadn't realised that half of his regiment lost their lives and most of them were wounded and that just brings home how lucky I am to be here and how lucky he was to get through."

Mrs Lever said her seemingly ordinary grandfather joined them on family holidays to France. She said: "At the time the whole family were not blissfully unaware, but didn't realise just how much history was there."

She intends to commemorate the centenary by attending a Bridewell Theatre performance inspired by the collected stories on Saturday, before going to watch the Surbiton Royal British Legion youth marching band in the evening.

Michael Norman-Smith, a retired teacher who lives in The Grange, Wimbledon, shared the stories of his two grandfathers, who both played important non-combatant roles during the war.

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Michael Norman-Smith.

Frank Norman, a civil servant, helped arrange refugee evacuation from Belgium and was awarded an OBE in 1918 and Commander of the Order of Leopold the Second of Belgium.

His other grandfather, Sergeant Montague Smith, served in Istanbul from 1917 with the Army Service Corps and later wrote a private memoir for his grandchildren.

Mr Norman-Smith said: "I thought they showed different aspects of the war that people might not know about. Both grandfathers weren't fighting but they played supportive roles and they both wrote about it.

"I think it's important to catch the stories whilst they are still around."

Mr Norman-Smith also contributed a book to the archive: The Grange, Wimbledon - A Centenary Portrait. Written by his parents about the inhabitants of their street, the book includes stories of those living there at the time of the Great War.

Pamela Jean Allen, a retired civil servant from Mitcham, told of her father, Joseph Allen, a railwayman from Nottingham who joined up in 1915 and served as a gunner in the 83rd Brigade Indian Expeditionary Force in France.

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Pamela Jean Allen with David Savill from Age Exchange.

Mr Allen kept a diary in 1917 of some of his experiences at Ypres.

Miss Allen, 67, said: "He was born in 1889 and he was 16 when he joined up. He was a gunner and he drew pictures, one of a farmer at Ypres.

"As soon as I saw the diary and the contents I thought this is fascinating as my father was very Victorian, very reserved. When we were children we were seen and not heard.

"I knew my dad fought in the First World War but I didn't know what he did. We still don't know the regiment he was in."

She believes her father, who forbade her to enter the room where he kept his army uniform, was greatly affected by his experiences on the battlefield.

Full details of the Children of the Great War project can be found at on the website

Children of the Great War film installation; Bridewell Theatre, 4 Bride Lane, London; from Wednesday, July 30; free entry; performances, August 1, 7pm and August 2, 3pm; Tickets can be purchased for £5. Email alex.mustapha@age-exchange.org.uk or call 020 8318 9105.

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