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those, from Burpham and Jacobs Well who gave their lives in the 1914-1918 war

‘Burpham Will Remember Them’

In the early 1900s Burpham was in the Parish of Worplesdon and together with Jacob’s Well was essentially one large, scattered, community.

‘The War to End All Wars’ - Part 3: The Trenches

The trenches are the defining visual image of the Great War. Both sides created them when it became obvious that for all the 'pushes' and counter-attacks not much was happening geographically. A hilly ridge would be taken, at enormous human cost. A month later it would be recaptured.

The trenches stretched for hundreds of miles across northern France, once the earlier ones in Southern Belgium were abandoned, and they became 'home' to hundreds of

thousands of soldiers.

The trench was a narrow but deep ditch, designed to shield the men who were on look-out duty from enemy fire. Behind the trenches were the living quarters - dug out of the earth, usually with roofs of corrugated iron, where there were bunks for sleeping and rudimentary facilities for washing and eating.

Hot food came from the Company cook-house behind the lines. 'Too much bully beef, my father complained - corned beef to us. Very nice as an occasional choice, but a bit unexciting as a regular diet. Surprisingly, perhaps, to those of us who only know of the War from films and books, in between major outbreaks of fighting the trench provided an adequate if modest degree of normality.

Every day, my father told me, the newspaper seller would visit with copies of the Daily Mail. No escaping from the football results and news from home. The trouble was that periodically the senior officers would decide that it was time for another desperate attempt to dislodge the enemy. Bayonets would be fixed, ashen faced young men would line up in the trenches awaiting the signal - usually a blast on a whistle - which would

summon them to climb the steps out into the open, there to face, inevitably, the devastating fire of the German machine guns. It was some time into the War before the Allies were equipped with these deadly weapons, and it was the multiple, sustained rain of bullets that caused most of the casualties.

Above all this was the constant barrage of the big guns, firing from both sides but well behind the lines. Their thunderous roar could be heard at times far away across the Channel in Kent. Most of the shells simply exploded in the soft soil of Flanders or the Somme - they are still being ploughed up by farmers today, a century later. But some were what became known as 'direct hits', and those could be devastating.

In the midst of all this - the mud, the stench, the noise and the imminent possibility of death - were the soldiers themselves. Among them moved the medics, the nurses, the chaplains - agents of care and compassion in a world which seemed to have gone mad.

Some soldiers simply couldn't stand it. 'Shell-shocked' was the diagnosis in those days. The wonder is that anybody could.

David Winter


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