IT is quite astonishing how much material the Bugle has received from readers as a result of the commemoration of the start of the First World War this year, and every item deserves time and respect to enable us to tell its own unique story.
Maurice Ivor Birch from Aldridge came to see us here at Bugle House back in February with a Roll of Honour that is probably a very rare item not normally seen outside a museum, and he told us the story behind it: "If I remember correctly it was in 1980 when my wife Beryl and I were doing a house clearance for my mother and father-in-law William and Ethel Reaney who lived in Beeches Road, Leamore, Walsall.
"They were moving to Aldridge to be nearer where we lived and during our rummage through a lifetime of tranklements we came across a Roll of Honour that had been issued by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) to honour their employers who had lost their lives while serving during the Great War. I thought the inclusion of such an unusual Great War artefact would add to the Bugle's already brimming collection of stories and began to do some digging of my own to find out why William and Ethel had it in their possession.
"The Roll of Honour was given to the wife of Mr A. Bradley who survived the fighting during the First World War but sadly died from pneumonia shortly afterwards as a result of the terrible conditions the soldiers had to endure in the trenches. Neither Beryl nor I knew much about this man other than he was Beryl's great uncle who had married Alice Poole. Alice and my wife's paternal grandmother, Sarah Anne Poole, were sisters.
"Occasionally in the past his name cropped up in conversation, but he was always referred to by Beryl's father as uncle John. We never did find out the reason for this name as his initial was 'A'. John and Alice lived in Victor Street, Palfrey, Walsall, and prior to signing up to the armed forces, John worked at Bescot sidings, hence his association with the LNWR. Unfortunately there is no known photograph of great uncle John, nor information regarding the regiment he served with. But the contents of this extraordinary book include the details of over 4,000 LNWR employees who died during or immediately after the Great War of 1914-1918."
Maurice is correct about the extraordinary amount of detail contained in this book and on this occasion we can only scatch at the front cover. But this memorial to A. Bradley and over one hundred more Black Country LNWR railway workers who are listed in its pages will continue next week.
The LNWR War Album was sent to Mrs Bradley in September, 1921, with an accompanying letter which reads as follows. "As the nearest relative to the late Private A Bradley, the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company ask your acceptance of the enclosed War Album which has been compiled as a record of the glorious share taken by the staff of the London and Western Railway in the Great War 1914-1919.
"The War Memorial which has been erected at Euston will be unveiled by Field-Marshall Earl Haig, K.T., G.C.B., on Friday, October 21, at 2.15pm, and should you and another near relative desire to attend, free travelling facilities (so far as this Company is concerned) will be granted." The letter was signed by the Chairman.
The opening panel in the book included the name of A. Bradley, his railway grade and station (Temp. Labourer Bescot), and his military rank (Private), followed by, "The London and North Western Railway Company's Roll of Honour gratefully dedicated to the memory of London and North Western Railwaymen who lost their lives while serving their country during the Great War 1914-19 among whom was the above."
"In asking acceptance of this commemorative album the shareholders of the company wish to place on record their deep and sincere sympathy with the relatives and friends of those men to whom this album is dedicated."
There then follows page after page of employees who died, their name, grade within the company, the station they worked at and their military rank. And even though the number who died during the Great War is often used as a bland statistic (Britain alone incurred 888,246 dead and 1,663,435 wounded), it is only when the names, each one of them a father's son, and mother's child, a brother, husband, etc, is read individually that the enormity of sacrifice made by so many during the Great War is properly realised.
This story, with its accompanying artifacts kindly supplied by Maurice Ivor Birch, is a memorial to Private A. Bradley and a record of his contribution during the Great War. Next week more names will be revealed of the Black Country railway workers who left their jobs as loco cleaners, carters, booking clerks, porters, undermen, firemen and bridge painters, etc, to fight in the trenches and who never came home.