World War One at Mill Road Cemetery
I confess that I do have a favourite cemetery in Cambridge (The Ascension Burial Ground, up Huntingdon Road, just opposite my house). But I now have a close running second -- The Mill Road Cemetery, on the other side of town. Until today, I hadn't been there for gettimg on for 40 years (and I suspect that the last time I visited with a bloke who had a room nearby, it was to do something on the border between the naughtly and the illegal...).
Amyway, I went today to see a wonderful performance of monologues by the students from the Parkside Federation that related to the graves commemorating WW1 casualties. It was a really tremendous way to skive off marking (though actually I was caught out by meeting one of my PhD students whose thesis I should also have been reading -- she was there to watch her daughter perform). The Parkside kids, together with some local residents, had investigated (and in some cases cleared) the graves of the men who had fallen in WW1and they were there to tell some of the stories (with the help of some inspired scripting from their teacher, Kay Blayney).
They had done a great job unearthing the life stories. We heard of William Douglas Saint, the son of a Cambridge buildier, who went to work on Canada, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, served in France, returned to England and died of meningitis on Salisbury Plain. Then there was the story of the son of a local butcher, Frank Radford, killed in France in 1918 (his brother had been killed in Basrah, Iraq a couple of years earlier -- nothing changes). And there was Henry Hunt too, the Recruiting Sergeant, who survived the war to die in 1942 (one of his descendants was there to help tell his tale).
The students told (and sang) the stories by the graves or memorials, and there was a tent to find out more info (with help from the excellent Emma (above) in Suffragette colours, as you can see). There was music and food -- and well over a hundred people in the hour that I was there. Best of all though, there was a great local Cambridge feel: some old Cambridge names were being remembered (the young Ryder of Ryder and Amies, was one of those who died, as well as the people who lived in the houses that we still live in (casualties from Ainsworth Street to Perowne Street), and who ran the shops that we still shop at).
One of the most moving entries in the commemorative booklet was that of Maurice George Warland who died in Iraq in 1917. He had had to face his friend John Robins being "shot at dawn" in Gallipoli for "wilful disobeience"; he wasn't pardoned till 2007.
I have got to be very onside with the WW1 commemorations (and have a very tiny foot in the official planning). So I'm biased. But there is a whole history here -- of the poor and the rich, officers and men, and young people from Cambridge, from butchers shops, upmarket tailors, gown and town, dying all over the world. Happily our own sons (and daughters) no longer die in Belgium. But they have been dying in all too recently in Iraq, just like Maurice George Warland and the Radford brother.