Catalogue of errors on Wheathampstead war memorial

A CATALOGUE of errors on a village’s war memorials will be set right this Remembrance Day thanks to painstaking research undertaken by a local couple.

Terry and Margaret Pankhurst set out to research Wheathampstead’s war casualties but unearthed 103 names which had either been omitted from lists, been recorded inaccurately or misspelt. These will now be corrected on November 13 when all of the village’s war heroes will be remembered.

The couple have spent the last two years trawling through the service records of those killed during the two World Wars, using the Herts Advertiser’s archive files along with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, County Records Office and the internet.

They soon discovered the list of names they found did not tally with the names on the war memorial in the village or the memorial board in one of the churches.

The greatest errors were in the Roll of Honour, the current one of which was inscribed and bound in 1951. Since then, it has been the source of names read out during the village’s Remembrance Day Service.

A number of those from the village who gave their lives were omitted, others were given the wrong forenames or surnames were misspelt.

Some are buried in St Helen’s Churchyard with War Graves Commission headstones.

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The one servicewoman from World War Two whose name is on the village war memorial was overlooked on the Roll of Honour.

But this year, that will all be put right when the definitive list of new names will correct previous errors and oversights.

Terry and Margaret believe the reason for the inaccuracies was the method of information gathering around the village which was rather informal. There was, they say, a lot of “hearsay” involved, rather than using official data from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which was established in 1917.

Confusion also arose around the recording of those who returned wounded and in some cases were discharged but died from their war wounds in this country.

The discovery has led the couple to wonder how many other towns and villages up and down the country have also accidentally left names off their memorials.

Margaret said: “While it’s incredibly unlikely that the war memorials themselves will now be changed, the most important thing is that these names have been found or corrected and will now be read out as we remember those who died.”

Rector of St Helen’s Church, the Rev Richard Banham, said: “We, as a village, will remember these courageous comrades, whose sacrifice means that we all enjoy the freedom and democracy which we should never take for granted.

“While there have been errors over the last 90-plus years, we can be confident that our all-knowing God has always had them in his care.

“As we remember that ‘the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ we trust our fallen heroes to Christ who laid down his life for all people.”

The Pankhursts say they have about six more months of extra research to complete their findings, but that they were confident they had now brought to light all the names of Wheathampstead’s war dead.

The village’s Remembrance Day Service is organised by Wheathampstead Churches Together and is attended by around 300 people each year, with many others marking the day in the High Street.