Sunday 14 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday in Chesham

This is a scene played out all over Britain at 11am today, Remembrance Sunday. Veterans, members of the forces, the British Legion and a number of local organisations marched down the High Street to the war memorial. As always, a crowd waited expentantly as the sound of the band heralded the arrival of the parade, and the reception party headed by the Mayor included two guests of honour, Chelsea Pensioners, in their red dress uniforms and their medals.  

The Last Post was played, and the two minutes silence was observed by all present. People had brought their children to watch, and many children took part in the parade and the ceremony, Cadets, Scouts, Guides and even the little Beaver Scouts who are only about 6 or 7. Wreaths were laid, and speeches made; one speaker reminded us that the number of people who lived through the Second World War is dwindling - even the youngest are now in their late 60s. Another gentleman, originally from Pakistan, drew our attention to the millions of Empire troops who had fought for the Allies, and they were volunteers, too. I won't call this a reminder, because I'm sure many people weren't even aware of this in the first place. It turned out this his own grandfather had not only served, but had been Monty's driver.

The comment about the Second World War fading from living memory, and the presence of the Chelsea Pensioners set me thinking about Remembrance Days past. I remember watching the Festival of Remembrance broadcast from the Albert Hall, as a child in the 1960s, and seeing Chelsea Pensioners, veterans of the Boer War (1899-1902) marching in the parade. My father used to tut disapprovingly at what he considered the sloppy standard of marching by the regular army; lines not straight enough, arms bent when they shouldn't be etc. He said the Army would never have stood for it when he did his National Service in the 1940s!

So what has all this to do with genealogy? Well, quite a lot. Most British people have ancestors who served in the First World War, and on some days it feels as though they have all come to The National Archives at once to look for their records! Local historians are also researching the names on their local war memorials to find out more about the fallen from their town. Chesham is no exception, and a local historian, Lesley Perry, who is also chairman of Chesham Museum, has been researching the stories of Chesham's First World War casualties.

Understandably, most of the interest is in the Army, and it's fairly well known that many of the records were destroyed during the Second World War. But the records of Royal Navy and the Royal Marines survived intact, and they are on DocumentsOnline My grandfather is recorded there three times! He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, then the Royal Naval Division, and finally the Royal Navy. In civilian life, he worked in the shipyards on the Clyde, so maybe he was just keen to get on board one of the ships, instead of just building them.  

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