The human stories behind the WWI soldiers of Warwick

Christine Shaw (centre) with members of the Unlocking Warwick research team.
Christine Shaw (centre) with members of the Unlocking Warwick research team.

There has been a ‘magnificent and moving’ response to the appeal for information for a project about the Warwick soldiers who died in the First World War.

The Warwick War Memorial project, which was launched by the team at Unlocking Warwick earlier this year, sought to find the human stories behind the 358 names on the memorial in Church Street, and commemorate them on a website for the centenary year of the Armistice that ended the war.

Jimmy Baly.

Jimmy Baly.

Project leader Christine Shaw said: “We asked people to look for any old photos, letters or family memories about relatives who had been killed in the Great War, while the volunteers combed through newspaper reports and official documents at the County Record Office.

“The response from local people has been magnificent with some very moving stories of those who left Warwick for the Western Front or the war zones in the Middle East, never to return.

“We now have personal information for the majority of the names on the memorial, and a lot of old pictures have been uncovered. They are being posted for all to see on our war memorial website. But we would still like more.

“It is right that in this 100th anniversary year we should remember the impact the war had on so many families in Warwick.”

Alfred Greatrex Kemp. Picture courtesy of Juliet Homer.

Alfred Greatrex Kemp. Picture courtesy of Juliet Homer.

One of the soldiers the project received information on was Gilbert Pettigrew who lived in Wharf Street.

They learnt that after leaving Warwick School he joined the Warwickshire Advertiser (now the Courier) as a reporter. He enlisted and sent despatches to the paper from the Western Front, which were censored. He describes watching the airmen of the Royal Flying Corps soaring through the smoke of the exploding shells above the trenches and admired ‘the iron nerve of these brave men’.

After being wounded in the trench warfare Gilbert was brought home, but went on to join as an airman with the RFC, but died aged 24 during a training flight when his plane was caught in bad weather.

They have also found information on Jimmy Baly – full name Cyril James Price Tyson Sugar Baly - who was the uncle of one of the project volunteers. The Baly family opened The Porridge Pot – now a Pizza Express. Jimmy joined up directly from Warwick School and died on the Western Front aged 19.

Talking about another name, Christine said: “The project did not know much about the name of the memorial of A G Kemp, until his great niece, Juliet Homer, responded to our appeal with an amazing album of photographs with letters and diaries.

“The Kemps lived on the corner of The Butts and Eastgate. Alfred Greatrex Kemp joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and died in the Gallipoli campaign. The family album has some splendid photographs of Alfred in his Sub-Lieutenant’s uniform with other officers and his brigade while they were training at Blackdown.”

The Unlocking Warwick team is still looking to discover more about some of the names on the memorial. To get in touch with email: info@warwickwarmemorial.org.uk

To read the personal stories of the soldiers go to: www.warwickwarmemorial.org.uk