THE lives of Benfleet soldiers during the First World War will be laid bare in a new exhibition to mark its 100th anniversary.
Featuring photographs of the fallen and fascinating war documents, the Benfleet Community Archive team hopes residents may be able to help unlock some of the soldiers’ stories.
Phil Coley, from the archive, researched the stories behind all 37 names on Benfleet War Memorial. Where and when they were born, their parents, where they lived, where they served and how they died.
Mr Coley said: “I’ve dug into the files to find out more about these men.
“I’m trying to not commemorate their deaths, but commemorate their lives. The one thing we are avoiding is simply having a series of graves.
“There are 37 names of men on the war memorial. My question immediately was, who were they?
“For a long time we could not find anything out about some of them.
“This year we’ve had some real breakthroughs from delving deeper and deeper in the records.
My favourite thing to come out of this was learning about their courage.
“They were all up for the war.
Not one of them was moaning about the war and a large number of them were under 25 when they died.
“We know from the dates that many of them signed up voluntarily.
One soldier signed up when he was 19 and died within a week of reaching the front.”
Mr Coley and his team will be on site to show real documents, run movies from the period, answer questions and show artefacts, including a widow’s penny brass medallion.
The event runs until Wednesday, July 16, from 9am to 5.30pm each day at Benfleet Library.
The archive team will be on site from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, Wednesday, July 9, and Saturday, July 12.
On Wednesday, July 16, the archive team will be there from 2pm to 5pm.
Moving stories behind the names etched on Benfleet War Memorial
Sapper STANLEY ELLISON, 21, of 56th Kent Fortress Company, Royal Engineers, was the first man to die from Benfleet – just 20 days after the start of the war.
Born on May 15 1893, he enlisted in 1912 and joined the Corp of Royal Engineers.
On August 22, 1914, he sent a letter to his mother in Thundersley saying he was well.
A day later he died at the Battle of Mons. Unaware of her son’s death, his mother sent him a piece of lucky heather and a letter saying: “Dear Stanley, If this letter reaches you, which I trust it will, let me have a line if possible as we are all very anxious about you. Dad has written asking about you and, of course, I cannot send any news until I hear from you.
Grandma and Amy are also anxious to have news of you.
Fondest Love from mother.”
A letter sent to his parents, Thomas Daniel and Alice Eliza Ellison, at their Kents Hill Road home in October 1915 read: “Dear Mrs. Ellison, On August 23, 1914, your son went into action with me as a cyclist signaller at a place called Nimy, near Mons. At 10am, he received a bullet through the head, death beinginstantaneous.
“I was myself severely wounded at the same time and place, but I am now well again. The sad news I give you with great reluctance and I trust that you may bear up under the shock.
Signed Sapper E. Hargreaves.”
Lance Sergeant CHARLES WALTER THURTELL, 24, of 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment was the third Benfleet man to die in a week on March 25, 1918.
Lance Sergeant Thurtell lived at Hope Green, South Benfleet.
He married Catharine Thomas on April 8, 1915 and they had a daughter Gwendoline Dillys on November 4, 1915, and a son, Ypres Charles George Thurtell, born on September 8, 1918. He enlisted at Southend on January 11, 1916 and joined the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on June 5, 1916, and to Lance Sergeant on December 7, 1917.
He was on leave from December 27, 1917 to January 10, 1918.
He was killed in action in France on March 23, 1918, aged 24.
Private SAMUEL SARGENT, 19, of 13th (Barnsley) Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, came from Southend and died at the Battle of Hazebrouck.
Born at Rawreth in 1898, the eldest son of Samuel and Eliza Sargent lived at 7, The Avenue, Kiln Road, Thundersley.
His mother was still living there in 1918.
He was educated at Hadleigh Council School and was employed by Mr Ruggins, a poultry farmer in Kiln Road.
He enlisted in March 1917 and joined the 13th Battalion (Barnsley) of the York and Lancaster Regiment, the 1st Barnsley Pals.
He was sent to France, being sent home in October 1917 with trench foot.
He returned to France on April 2 1918. His battalion fought at the Battle of Hazebrouck and he was killed in action on the first day April 12, 1918, just sixteen days after returning to duty.
His mother received the following letter: “No doubt you have already heard the sad news of your son’s death, Pte. S. Sargent Y & L, but I wish to join with my brother officers and men in forwarding our deepest sympathy with you in your sad bereavement.
“After we came out from the fighting on the Somme we only had a few days rest before we were sent north to take part in the new offensive which had commenced.
“We arrived at our destination early one morning, and the same evening made a successful counter attack but, unfortunately, your son and a number of his comrades lost their lives as we were going over to take the position.
We mourn with you in the loss of another brave comrade who has laid down his life for all we hold most dear, but we pray that the sacrifice of all those gallant comrades will not have been in vain.
“Our hearts go out to you in your great sorrow, and we pray that God’s blessing may be with you all in your sad bereavement.
Rev. John Calderbank C.F.”