Our 15:Remembered Lives
Centenary of the First World War

The years 2014-18 will be a significant time in our national history as we remember and reflect on the First World War.  For us it is a time for remembrance, recognition and understanding.   The Great War was meant to be “the war to end all wars” and yet today we continue to pray for peace and for an end to the continuing conflicts throughout the world.  It transformed not only our own country but also touched the entire world, and its after-effects continue to this day.

After the First World War there was no focus for the grief felt by a nation that had lost a generation of young men.  Most of the war dead were buried near where they fell, in graves and cemeteries on foreign soil.  This was usually too far away for the majority of families to visit even once and many of their loved ones had no known grave.

The need for peace, acceptance and remembrance created a national debate in the early years after the war. Committees were set up in cities, towns and villages across the country and people decided that the names of the fallen should be remembered forever.  This resulted in the building and placement of War Memorials.  These are now so common everywhere that they have become part of our national psyche and part of the very landscape of our country.  They are at the heart of our national day of remembrance in November and they are where we place our wreaths, flowers and poppy crosses.

Wanstead Congregational Church, as we were known then, was touched by fifteen family tragedies during WW1. In 1921, a Memorial Tablet was unveiled; the names of the fifteen young men who worshipped with their families in our Church are engraved on this stone plaque near the pulpit.  

 

  The pain, grief and loss was felt by parents, wives, girl-friends and
  offspring as well as our church family and the local community.
  A whole generation of young men lost their lives as a result of this  
  monumental human catastrophe.

  Each year on Remembrance Sunday
we remember all those who
  died in WW1, WW2 and subsequent conflicts.  With the passage
  of time, however, our War Memorial is in danger of becoming just a
  list of names, with no power to move us emotionally, becoming as
  distant and remote as ancient history. 

  Thankfully, the memory of those who served and died continues to
  be held by sons and daughters, nieces and nephews.  Their stories
  will be passed down through the generations by their family
  members, no longer just names on a memorial but real peopl
e
  once more, real lives.
 
At our Church Meeting on the 27th February 2014, we decided unanimously that we should attempt to turn the names in stone back into remembered lives, to record and tell the family stories of the fifteen “names” on our War Memorial.  

It was at this point that we realised that only one of the fifteen families still worshipped in our Church.  We are indeed fortunate that the Forster family can still remember and hold in their collective memory Arthur Ernest Blogg who was killed in action on 6th October 1916 and is the fourth name on our War Memorial.  Fourteen young men were remembered just as names carved in stone.  The passage of time had left us with only their names. We had no collective memory or written record of their families or indeed the lives that they had led in our local community of Wanstead.

So began the Our 15 project … Our aim is to discover as much as possible about the lives of  these young men, who lived, fought and died in the Great War.  This may help to forge lasting connections between past, present and future generations whilst outlining the horror and impact of war.  

The research work progressed well and when the First World War Centenary began in August 2014 we were ready to hold a small exhibition in the Church as part of our Christian witness. Here we can affirm that our fifteen names are not forgotten, they were all individuals.  They were fathers, sons, brothers, cousins – they were loved.  Ian Hislop’s words encompass something of what we are trying to achieve,  “To turn the names in stone back, however briefly and incompletely, into remembered lives”.