BRINGING THEM HOME: Volunteers help reunite communities with Doncaster First World War heroes

Ypres in 1917
Ypres in 1917

Following over 4,000 hours of detective work by Doncaster 1914-18 project volunteers and history societies, the ‘missing people’ of Doncaster’s First World War are being brought home to the communities where they lived and worked, in a new series of free trails and touring exhibitions visiting over 125 community venues across the borough over the next six months.

“You’ll be able to meet the people who walked on your street – or even lived next door – during the First World War,” explains Jude Holland, Project Manager of Doncaster 1914-18, a four-year project supported by National Lottery Players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), marking the centenary of the First World War. “Many of their faces and extraordinary stories will be revealed for the first time in the trails and touring exhibitions – but most importantly, back within their original neighbourhoods. This is only possible, thanks to the tireless work of local volunteers and groups, researching and sharing stories. But there’s still so much to learn. We’d like to include more towns and villages in the future, so we’re urging everyone to get involved and share their own family stories.”

The new touring exhibitions and trails for 2017 include:

Two new exhibitions - Our Communities At War, Doncaster At War 1917. The Great War on Tour also features hands-on, family-friendly activities and a chance to handle original wartime objects. Together these will be touring over 125 community venues across the borough through the year.

Three new trails - the Victoria Cross Trail, exploring the lives of the six local men who were awarded the UK’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross during the First Word War, available as a free leaflet and to download for free on the Doncaster 1914-18 App; and two new walking trails through Hyde Park Cemetery and Tickhill produced by local history groups (with a further walking trail in Thorne to be launched in summer), and available on the free Doncaster 1914-18 App.

Three exhibitions at museums across the borough - Lives on the Line 1917, at the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum at Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery; Estate of War: Doncaster’s Country Houses at Cusworth Hall & Park; Riding High: Doncaster’s Airfields and the Zeppelin Raid on Sheffield at South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum.

Special free events taking place across the borough, including Life on the Home Front Day on 23 July at Cusworth Hall & Park.

To help local people explore their wartime connections, volunteer Jean Walker has also spent the last two years painstakingly enriching a database of the names of 10,000 soldiers and civilians from across borough; an investigation that was originally started by another volunteer Wyn Bulmer. It’s an invaluable resource, now available to everybody online at www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk.

Barrie Dalby of Conisbrough and Denaby Main Heritage Group, who has been involved with both the new Victoria Cross trial and Communities At War touring exhibition, says: “Unearthing these stories of outstanding bravery and sacrifice has been emotional and humbling – these were local men, women, and children who could have been our neighbours, or even our family 100 years ago.”

“The new exhibitions and trails help bring home men who were lost in action or buried far from family,” Barrie continues, “but they also shed new light on how local communities coped with war on the Home Front. Food and labour shortages provoked strikes and riots, but people also helped each other by growing their own food, and converting land into allotments. Meanwhile, many local people kept the area’s industrial fires burning for the war effort, especially after the town became one of nine national recruitment centres for women’s work. Sadly, our work also revealed how war could tear communities apart, with the family of Laurence Calvert – who was awarded the Victoria Cross, the country’s highest military honour, living close to the family of John Hubert Brocklesby, a conscientious objector imprisoned for his principles, having refused to enlist or contribute in any way to the way effort.”

Jude adds: “Wherever you live, you’ll discover something new about familiar places. Mexborough’s nurses treated over 2,000 servicemen during the war; one fifth of Tickhill’s population left to join the army; and all four of Doncaster’s wartime mayors are buried in Hyde Park Cemetery, along with Charles Gilvray, Doncaster’s first casualty of the Great War. The First World War touched every life in Doncaster: men and women, old and young - we are all connected to the people and places of the First World War, and you can find out all about it at free local events like the Great War on Tour, or by exploring online resources and archives on the Doncaster 1914-18 website.”

Those involved in researching and producing this year’s Doncaster 1914-18 exhibitions and trails include Mexborough and District Heritage Society, Conisbrough and Denaby Main Heritage Group, Friends of Doncaster Mansion House, Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery, the Hatfield War Memorial Group, Tickhill and District History Society, the Victoria Cross Trust, and Thorne local historians Tony and Rose Brookes.

For full details about events, exhibitions and trails in your area during 2017, or to find out more about getting involved in Doncaster 1914-18, visit www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk.