Haverhill set to mark WWI centenary

Alan Bumpstead, Bryan Mills (Haverhill RBL) and Charmian Thompson by the unmarked grave of Stephen Webb.
Alan Bumpstead, Bryan Mills (Haverhill RBL) and Charmian Thompson by the unmarked grave of Stephen Webb.

A series of special events are being staged in the coming weeks in Haverhill to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One and the lives of those who died in the conflict.

The poignant events are being organised by the Haverhill and District Family History Group, the Haverhill branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL), Haverhill Town Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

At 2pm on Monday a World War One commemoration sundial will be unveiled at East Town Park.

It has been organised by St Edmundsbury Council - which manages the park - and will involve the attendance of standard bearers and a bugler, to play the last post, from the Haverhill RBL branch.

The idea for a commemorative sundial was initially put forward by Cllr Gordon Cox and supported by the borough council’s Haverhill Area Working Party (HAWP).

It costs £4,000, of which £1,500 has come from the county council locality budget of Cllr Tony Brown.

The sundial will be placed in the former butterfly garden, which has been restocked with a range of flowering plants including a ribbon of red ornamental poppies.

The sundial will be mounted on a rustic stone column and its top inscribed to commemorate WW1 and include the CB9 logo.

On either side of the sundial will be two stone tablets with poems reflecting the hardship levied against those fighting on the battlefields.

Before the arrival of the 100th anniversary the Haverhill RBL will be placing a poppy posey on all of the 40 graves in the town’s cemetery that either have WWI service personnel buried in them or include an inscription to one of the fallen members of the military.

Of the 40 military personnel in the cemetery, 15 have their own grave and the other 25 are mentioned in inscriptions on the headstones of a grave containing one or more family member.

In the build up to the posies being laid, the RBL is teaming up with Army and Air cadets in Haverhill and cemetery staff to tidy up each grave area.

At 3pm on Remembrance Sunday, August 10, a civic service is taking place at St Mary’s Church in Haverhill.

This has been organised by RBL, which will be attending along with civic dignitaries such as the mayor of Haverhill and local councillors.

For many months the Family History Group ahave been putting together the back stories of as many of the 144 men named on the town’s WWI memorial as they can for a Roll of Honour.

At 3pm on Sunday, August 17 the group will be conducting a guided walk through the cemetery, where they will explain the stories behind the 40 graves bearing the name of a WWI casualty.

A maximum of 40 people will be able to join the walks, which are free to attend, but donations are being taken for the RBL.

Alan Bumpstead, chairman of the Haverhill Family History Group, said: “It is a British Legion thing as well.

“It is members of the Family History Group that are doing the walks but the British Legion are keen to promote the recognition of the men as well.

“They are very keen that these men’s lives are not forgotten.

“It’s something we felt we wanted to do. It was a way of commemorating the men who are buried there.”

Should the interest in the guided walk be high, another one will take place at 3pm on September 14.

One of the soldiers among the 40 on the list for the guided walk is Private Stephen Webb, who died of influenza in 1916, three weeks after being discharged from the Army on health grounds.

He is buried in an unmarked grave along with one his sisters, and in February the Haverhill RBL wrote to the War Graves Commission requesting that the grave be given a headstone.

Although this decision could take up to a year to be made, in the interim, funeral director HJ Paintin has agreed to provide a wooden cross marker on the grave in time for the 100th anniversary.

Places on the guided walk can be booked via Haverhill Arts Centre’s box office on 01440 714140.