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Armistice 100: Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park volunteers preserve forgotten stories of First World War memorial’s fallen soldiers

PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 November 2018

The war memorial in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

The war memorial in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

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They are listed on war memorials across the East End, but their stories have long been forgotten.

The war memorial in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.The war memorial in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

But the men and women whose names are carved into stone in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park’s First World War memorial in Bow have come to life thanks to a group of 25 volunteers determined not to let them be forgotten.

The Friends of the park have painstakingly researched the lives and service records of the 204 people listed on the memorial for a book and exhibition, all thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Trustee and heritage lead, Diane Kendall, said: “We wanted to know how these people ended up on the memorial. It was a very important project. We stand in Remembrance Day services and just see names, but hopefully through our work we have managed to turn them back into people. Future generations need to know what happened.”

Two men on the memorial are Royal Marines George West, who lived in Augusta Street, Poplar, and George Jones, of Devas Street, Bromley-by-Bow.

The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in front of the war memorial. Pic: DIANE KENDALLThe Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in front of the war memorial. Pic: DIANE KENDALL

The team pieced together their stories using surviving war records – many had been destroyed during the Second World War – and death certificates bought using the Lottery money.

Both died in a British raid on the Belgian port Zeebrugge used by the Imperial German Navy as a base for U-boats used to attack supply carrying ships.

The plan was to sink disused ships at the entrance to stop German vessels from leaving.

Historians estimate 200 to 227 men died in the operation, with most returning to England, including George West, 32, and 20-year-old George Jones who were both given full military funerals.

The team tracked down four relatives whose grandfathers or great grandfathers appear on the memorial.

“They are very proud of their ancestors,” Miss Kendall said. “We don’t know everything about [the 204 people on the memorial]. Hopefully, people will come forward and tell us more.”

Miss Kendall, now at the end of the two year project, said: “It was a lot of hard work, but well worth it.”

Hidden Histories is available from The Soans Centre in Southern Grove.

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