Inside the parish church of St John the Evangelist in Pauntley, Gloucestershire, on the south wall, is small memorial tablet commemorating the men of the parish who died in the First World War. It is not a grand monument like some war memorials, and is very simply and plainly executed. Only the initials and surnames of the men are recorded, together with a simple inscription, a simple tablet in the church, and determined to find out something of the story of these men - perhaps some information from the next generation of relatives and, if I was lucky, a photograph, in the hope that a short account could be published whilst this information was still available. Tracing their stories has not always been easy. Many First World War memorials were, like ours, very simple and basic. There are on the Pauntley memorial no Christian names or regimental information to help in tracing the men. It is also difficult to find information about this generation of soldiers, from the point of view of both family and military records. Census information is available for the late 19th and early 20th century but some of the names could not easily be traced in these records.
There was little consistency in spelling at this time and many sons were also named after their fathers but known in their families by their second name or even a nickname, to avoid confusion. Many of the military records for ordinary soldiers in the First World War were destroyed during bombing in the Second World War and, unless the men were officers or distinguished by some particular gallantry which was recognised with an award, their records seldom survive. Sadly, a search at the National Archives at Kew showed that the service records for the majority of those on the Pauntley memorial are lost. In terms of personal information, the next generation often did not seem to have thought there was any value in keeping old letters and photographs; when parents and grandparents died, many of these were thrown away. Family history was not the popular hobby that it is today. Many ex-soldiers also never talked about the war and it seems not to have been a subject that was discussed in the family, so that experiences of those who returned were not shared and the painful memories of those who were lost were kept private.
Despite these problems there have been great (and pleasant) surprises. One of these men served in the Australian Imperial Force and one in the Royal Navy; their records survived and have been made available through the internet. I have also been astonished by the kindness of many fellow-researchers into both military and family history and their willingness to share information and their much greater knowledge. However, this book really belongs to those relatives of the men of Pauntley, who ransacked their attics, pestered their long-lost cousins for photographs and information, and shared their memories with me. It is also helped by memories of those who lived in Pauntley during the early 20th century and who have provided so much background information. This is therefore a small part of the story of those men of Pauntley who lost their lives in the Great War. It is not a study of that war or of its politics and its battles; these are better told by military historians. Neither does it attempt to be a complete family history of these men, except where I have felt that some of the information about their families and friends will help us learn a little more about them.
It has however turned out to be more of a local history than was intended, mainly because the people cannot (and, more importantly, would not) be isolated from their time and place. I had not foreseen that I would become so involved with the lives of these men and their families. Every new piece of information, however small, shed some new light on them; receiving a faded photograph of one of them from one of their relatives was at once exciting and saddening. Their story has therefore grown and I hope will be the more interesting for it.
Publisher: Reardon Publishing
Number of pages: 104
Weight: 160 g
Dimensions: 210 x 148 x 7 mm