They were just ordinary working class men, used to hard slog, dawn till dusk occupations in the factories, down the mines, the dirt and grime, the banter in the pub bar, the church services on a Sunday, nothing out of the ordinary from pay day to pay day.
It was a life virtually planned out from the day they were born.
But in 1914 these ordinary working-class men were called upon to do something quite extraordinary, a job that again would mean hard work.
But this time the sacrifices they were to make would differ completely from those made at home such as going without food to make sure the kids had a decent meal, or wrapping up warm with blankets and extra socks because there wasn’t enough fuel to light a fire.
Now they would be putting their life in jeopardy every minute of every day, witnessing the most horrendous suffering, death and destruction, and ultimately in many cases sacrificing their own lives for King and Country, never to return home.
At the end of the First World War hundreds of communities were mourning the death of many young men who had died in battle on land and at sea. Severely wounded soldiers who could be moved were brought home to recover, but inevitably many died and their funerals would be held several months, if not years, after the war.
But for the vast majority of those who died in battle their last resting place wasn’t to be on home soil but in marked graves in the war cemeteries of France, Belgium and further afield, and for those who went missing in action, simply a name etched in stone on a granite memorial.
Early in 1919, at the request of the Prime Minister Lloyd George, the Cenotaph in London was commissioned, and on the first anniversary of the Armistice a wood and plaster construction was unveiled.
After the service the grief felt by the crowd was overwhelming and in a spontaneous act the base of the monument became covered in a mountain of wreaths and flowers to the dead and missing.
It was later decided that the Cenotaph should become a permanent and lasting memorial, a focal point for the nation’s remembrance. Built entirely of Portland stone it was unveiled one year later by King George V at a service that has changed very little over the past 93 years.
It was now left to the villages and towns to remember their ‘Glorious Dead’ in the most appropriate way.
Memorials began to be erected by public subscription in churchyards and other public places, where the names of individuals from the local community, whose bodies had not been repatriated with their families, could be remembered forever.
In the years immediately after the war communities like Rowley Regis were still reeling from the impact of the hostilities.
In a parish that included Rowley Regis, Blackheath, Cradley Heath and Old Hill, there were a total of 98 known casualties, a statistic that inevitably created many widows and bereaved parents, brothers and sisters.
With a sense of grief still hanging over the Rowley Hills the locals rallied round.
Enough money was raised to erect a monument in memory of the fallen in the grounds of St Giles Church, and just over two months before the London Cenotaph was unveiled, the people of Rowley Regis gathered together on the afternoon of Saturday, September 4, 1920, to witness the unveiling and dedication of their own monument to the ‘Glorious Dead’ against the backdrop of the ruined St. Giles Church, which had been destroyed by fire in 1913.
Over the intervening years the War Memorial Cross in Rowley Regis has stood resolute against the vagaries of the weather, but it was beginning to show signs of wear and some of the names etched upon it were almost impossible to read.
In 2003 Malcolm Warby, a local parishioner and keen historian who had recently retired, was asked by the vicar of St Giles whether he would consider putting the church archives into some sort of order.
About the same time a lady approached the vicar asking for information about a soldier killed in the First World War whose name appeared on the war memorial.
It was then realised how badly eroded the names had become and Malcolm, with help from his son Richard, began the exhausting job of researching every single one of the 98 ‘Glorious Dead’ of Rowley Regis, a noble effort that in the end took a decade to complete.
The time and effort that both men applied to the task deserves the greatest of credit and a small book published from the research managed to raise £750 for church funds just a few years ago.
Then a St Giles Church working group and representatives from Sandwell Council joined forces and agreed to renovate and restore the Rowley Regis War Memorial Cross to something like its original state.
It was decided to relocate the names of the fallen from the cross.
They are now engraved into granite slabs that surround the memorial, and last Saturday (September 28) the rededication and unveiling of the memorial took place.
But it is only due to the diligent research carried out by Richard Warby and his father Malcolm that every one of the 98 names appear.
We managed to catch up with Richard just days before the rededication ceremony at his workplace in Birmingham.
He told us his father had sadly died before the decision was made to go ahead with the restoration.
But he would have been as proud as punch with the way things have turned out.
“I will be at the rededication service on Saturday and, of course, wish my dad was able to be there with me.
“But I'm sure he would have agreed with me that it was more important to remember and reflect on the sacrifice made by the 98 chaps from Rowley Regis, who were just ordinary working class men doing an extraordinary job, for us.”