First World War
In 1911 the population of Wokingham numbered 4,300. By 1918 after 4 years of fighting in conflict around the world, 217 men of the town had given their lives in the service of their country.
Such was the upswell of patriotism in August 1914 that the men and womenwho couldn’t join the forces were encouraged to support the War Effort by working in factories; promoting patriotism; morale; fund-raising and making comforts for the troops. The reaction throughout the country was mainly positive and Wokingham and the surrounding areas were no exception. The public energetically responded to the call and also gave financial assistance to families who had lost their bread-winners in battle.
Organising National Savings programmes, events, and entertainment was nothing new to the people of Wokingham. Many were members of local churches and associations, which regularly held fetes, fairs bazaars and concerts for fund-raising and entertainment. So for the people of Wokingham supporting the War Effort was simply a matter of redirecting their already-developed expertise towards a different cause.
In addition they supplied timber, grew crops and collected thousands of eggs for the troops, warship crews and hospitals. The logistics of collecting and transporting eggs from so many donors and over miles of unsurfaced roads by means of primitive carts and poorly sprung motor vehicles without damaging them must have been daunting to say the least.
Wokingham Town Council, headed by Mayor Henry Charles Mylne, and his wife the Mayoress, promoted the War Effort by chairing various meetings. In 1916 the Mayoress formed the Town Hall Working Party which held bazaars in Wokingham Town Hall to raise funds to purchase materials with which to make comforts for the troops and hospitals. Requisitions were received from the government and parcels were sent to hospitals in the south of England, to ambulance trains in France, and to Egypt, Aden, Dar-es-Salaam, el Kantara, East Africa, Italy, Mesopotamia etc.
After the war a War Memorial Committee was set up to commemorate the men of Wokingham who had fallen. With subscriptions from the people of Wokingham, in the 1920s the Memorial in the Town Hall together with with the Celtic cross in the grounds of All Saint’s churchyard was created. The First World War Memorial Committee and residents of Wokingham also funded the Orthopaedic Hospital in Denmark Street which was opened in April 1923 by the Marchioness of Downshire. This was a huge investment for the benefit of the children of the town.
The memorial in the annex of the Town Hall, upon which is the list of those who died was unveiled in February 1924 by Admiral of the Fleet, Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee.
Men from Wokingham did not only join the British Army. The period before the Great War was one of much emigration and many local people set off for new lands. When the war came they too took up the fight with Commonwealth forces and five men from Wokingham were killed whilst serving with the Canadian forces and one with the Australians.
Of the 217 men named on this memorial at least 188 served in the Army and 19 in the Royal Navy. The highest ranking man a Lieutenant-General (Samuel Lomax) the lowest rank a “boy” (Frank Potter). The eldest was 63 (William Cockrell) the youngest, 16 years (Frederick Fullbrook).
It was decided quite early on in the war not to repatriate the bodies of those who died abroad but to bury them with their comrades near where they fell, thus only 11 of the men are buried in this country and whilst the majority are buried in Commonwealth War Graves in Europe and the Middle East at least 74 have no known grave thus their names are commemorated on memorials to the missing.
We do not know who decided which names appear here but it was usually because the soldier came from the town or his parents or a relative had moved to the town and wanted to have their name commemorated nearby. We know of others from the town who lost their lives but whose names are not here. We honour them too and will continue to research their stories.