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We will remember them

Armistice Day on November 11 will mark the centenary of the end of the First World War and every town and village across the country has its own stories to tell of loved ones lost. JOHN HERRING talked to local historian Phil Wood, who runs the West Berkshire War Memorials project

Geraldine Gardner


01635 886684

We will remember them

Phil Wood at the Newbury War Memorial

LOCAL historian Phil Wood has left no stone unturned in his quest to ensure Newbury’s war dead are not forgotten. He has been researching all 339 First World War names on Newbury’s War Memorial – and even some who have been overlooked.

His mission, to uncover the people behind the carved names, stems from Mr Wood’s West Berkshire War Memorials project, which contains information about all war memorials in the district.

He has covered 285 names and the majority of memorials in the area, but there are some still to be researched.
When asked which of the personalities was the most interesting, Mr Wood said: “There are so many. It is often the most recently researched that sticks in the mind when asked this question.

“Today I finished (until something else crops up) writing the story of Frederick Sainsbury, son of a grocer who had a small shop in Russell Road. He went to South Africa in the Boer War, got the Africa bug and lived a life in the true Boys’ Own style – went gold mining, served in the Cape police, guided big game hunts, started a rubber plantation in German East Africa, was interned when war broke out, escaped, joined the East Africa Labour Corps and rose to the rank of Captain, was seriously gored by a wild buffalo and then died from influenza on board a ship taking him back to Dar-es-Salaam after convalescent leave.

“There are, of course, many stories of men dying in the trenches, but one of the nicest things about Frederick’s story is that it is so atypical, so unlike what one expects from the First World War.”

Mr Wood also used the Newbury Weekly News archives to help fill some of the gaps in his research. The newspaper ran a Local War Notes section throughout the four-year conflict, reporting on events, deaths and awards.

The fascinating and extensive project started on a whim, after Mr Wood put together a slide show of local memorials for West Berkshire Heritage Forum.

“As a family historian, I recognised the value of a site that would enable commemorations of relatives to be tracked down – hence the site is searchable by name.

“A few months after creating the site I found myself bedridden for a couple of weeks. I spent the time cross-referencing the names on all the memorials with the casualty entries on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. This work is far from complete as it can take a lot of research to be sure the entries match.

“I am extremely pleased to have uncovered a number of casualties who had been overlooked by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and who, as a result, have now been properly recognised on the national roll of honour.”

For those wanting to trace their own ancestry or just looking to delve into the past Mr Wood’s advice is: “Leave no stone unturned, never give up looking … and don’t expect it all to be online.” 

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