Friday, 8 November 2013

Features: Silent Witnesses remembering Horbury's First World War heroes

When the horrors of the Battle of the Somme came to an end in November 1916, the exhausted troops faced one of the coldest winters on record.

Forced to dig in, the servicemen were offered no respite from the bitter winds and relentless rain as the trenches flooded to waist level with putrid water.

The troops were surrounded by the stench of stagnant water and sewerage, with hypothermia and disease becoming a real and urgent threat.

If the conditions in the trenches weren't bad enough, the troops had to endure barrages from German artillery units and infantrymen – the war continued on for another two years.

Private Alfred Fisher of King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 1/4th Battalion from Horbury was killed in such an assault on January 13, 1917.

Private Fisher is one of the 14 fallen soldiers' stories told in John Heywood's new book, Silent Witnesses - Stories of Horbury’s Fallen Heroes.

John said that he was inspired to tell these stories after seeing the names of fallen soldiers on a memorial window in St Peter's Church, Horbury.

He said: “I saw the list and realised that I knew nothing about any of these people – I thought that was very sad – I wanted to find out who these men were and tell their stories.

“The vast majority of them were in their early-20s – they were no more than schoolboys.

“Most of them were ordinary men from ordinary jobs, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country,” he added.

For John it is in knowing the stories of these individuals that will enable us to remember the sacrifices made.

“Names and dates are important, but they don't tell you about the person. It's the social history side of it that's important,” he said.

“There was one poor lad who was under five foot tall, he weight less than eight stone and had flat feet – he wasn't the epitome of a rough, tough soldier.

“You can imagine him going out there with his rifle the would have been nearly as tall as he was, and he was out there and was killed. It's just so sad,” he added.

With the 100th anniversary of the First World War next year, it's a war that is no longer in living memory.

John said: ““I really wanted to get across the fact that we live at a time where we're in danger of forgetting because there's no one left now who fought in the First World War.

“These people fought for the freedoms we take for granted now. If we do forget what happened in both the Great War and the Second World War, we're in danger of it happening again.

“There hasn't be a year since the Second World War when there hasn't been some form of conflict around the world – so we don't learn.

“It's important at this anniversary time that we remember the sacrifices of these people,” he added.

Silent Witnesses - Stories of Horbury’s Fallen Heroes is release on November 11 by Beech Genealogy.

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