The start of the national and international centenary events culminated on Remembrance Sunday with unprecedented interest in the men, stories and events of the Great War, with major services at the Menin Gate in Ypres, at the Cenotaph in London and from a national perspective at the Tower of London, where the sea of ceramic poppies really caught the public’s imagination. In Corsham the attendance and interest in the Remembrance Day service at St. Bartholomew’s and the parade to the War Memorial reflected the level of awareness and importance of the centenary commemorations. Family history and the sense of personal and collective contribution and sacrifice have undoubtedly fuelled the interest, and that has also been at the centre of the Corsham Commemorates approach towards the four-year centenary.
Corsham Commemorates is the initiative taken by Corsham Town Council to bring together those groups in the town that have expressed an interest in marking the centenary years in some way. It is also hoped to bring together all the ongoing research and its results and the record of centenary events as a legacy to the town. One of the legacies of the war being used extensively as a starting point for research is the War Records of Corsham 1914–1919, a book recording Corsham men who died or were killed in the Great War and those who served and returned. It is a remarkable record given to the town in 1920 by Field Marshal Lord Methuen, who chaired a War Record Committee. A copy of this book is available in the Town Hall. It provides the details of the military service of all the men, and women, who served and it provides an excellent basis for deeper research into the names – where they lived, occupations and family situations. Individual records are being updated with research on the Corsham Commemorates website, www.corshamcommemorates.weebly.com, and it is also being used to mark centenary anniversaries in a ‘Today We Remember’ feature.
The names of the Corsham Men who died are, of course, commemorated on the main War Memorial on Lacock Road and on the memorial at St. Bartholomew’s Church. The Church memorial has been expertly cleaned and repainted by Celia James, and it was the centre of a well-attended commemoration service on 3 August that marked the anniversary of the declaration of war. The Church now has a standing display of Corsham war records for visitors coming to the church or specifically to the memorial. The main war memorial has also been cleaned and, with the addition of new commemorative benches, individually named crosses and poppies and the well-maintained flower beds, really looked the part for the annual remembrance parade and service. One should not forget to mention Neston, where there is a First World War memorial plaque for their sons who gave their lives and who were named at their remembrance service and as part of a display.
Other commemorative events have included the period display of a 1914 living room at Arnold’s House by Corsham Area Heritage, which proved popular; the Recruitment Office Re-enactment at the Town Hall, which attracted more than 250 people and a BBC Points West presenter for a feature that was aired on the evening news; and a two-day display and presentation at The Batters by Wiltshire First World War expert Steve Williams. The Batters is the site where practice trenches were dug by Scots Guards during the war, and it provided an authentic backdrop to interesting talks about life in the trenches – which was particularly enjoyed by school children who attended as part of their studies (despite torrential rain that day). Most recently Corsham Area Heritage sponsored a Great War themed concert held at Corsham School on 18 October, with local choirs and actors relating a well-scripted war story through songs of the day and soldiers’ letters. The Pound Arts Centre have been particularly supportive with a varied programme of themed productions, and local schools are involved in their own individual work and in a collective piece being coordinated by Mazy Bartlett from Corsham School that we will hear and see more about in the near future. Further reports about events are on the website.
The challenge for Corsham Commemorates is to maintain the level of interest over the next four years, which it is planned to do around specific events in the war and in related themes – we would particularly like to hear about the thoughts and experiences of children during the war, of local businesses impacted by the war effort and the stories of those men that came back from the war and had to rebuild their lives. If you have family information and photos to share we would love to hear from you through Corsham Spotlight or through the Corsham Commemorates website.
Kevin Gaskin, CCAN Coordinator