Easton-on-the-Hill’s plan to honour those who fought in Battle of the Somme

Andrew Baker, Jim Mason and Ted Ford pictured beside Easton-on-the-Hills war memorial
Andrew Baker, Jim Mason and Ted Ford pictured beside Easton-on-the-Hills war memorial

As whistles sounded at 7.30am on July 1, 1916, thousands of British soldiers laden with kit climbed out of their trenches near the River Somme and began heading towards German lines.

By the end of the day, 19,240 British men had been killed and nearly twice that number wounded – the highest number of casualties ever suffered in a single day by the British Army.

Albert Howell Curtis

Albert Howell Curtis

The Battle of the Somme, which lasted just four months, saw more than 1.5 million killed, wounded or go missing. It was one of the largest battles of the First World War and is regarded as one of the most tragic episodes in human history.

As the centenary approaches, plans are well underway in Easton-on-the-Hill for a commemoration in honour of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In total, 213 men from the village went to fight in the First World War - 45 of whom lost their lives.

Of those brave men, three were killed at the Battle of the Somme and another was wounded.

George Hallam

George Hallam

A trio of present day Easton-on-the-Hill residents have been researching the soldiers in run up the 100th anniversary of the battle - and planning a weekend of events in their honour.

On the morning of Friday, July 1, a whistle will be sounded at the village war memorial marking the moment the battle commenced and 45 candles will be lit.

The information uncovered on the local soldiers will form part of an exhibition at the village hall on July 2 and 3 - alongside artefacts including shells, medals, photos, uniforms and video footage.

A commemoration service will be held on the Sunday at 10.30am and the names of Easton-on-the-Hill’s fallen will be read out.

The events are being organised by Ted Ford, Jim Mason and Andrew Baker.

Mr Ford, who lives in High Street, said: “When the First World War began there would only have been around 500 people living in the village, so to see 213 go off to fight would have changed the lives of many people. It was a small, tight-knit community.

“We are very keen to ensure that the sacrifices made by those who served are remembered.”

Albert Howell Curtis was the second son of six children. Born at Easton-on-the-Hill on October 29, 1892, he went on to study at Stamford Grammar School and later became a teacher of maths, Latin and Greek.

He enlisted with Royal Fusiliers on April 5, 1916 and went to fight in the trenches. Within three weeks he was killed by a shell.

George Hallam, third son of Alfred and Florence, was born in 1895 and was a farm foreman in Easton.

He enlisted with the 1st Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and fought in both France and Belgium.

Private Hallam was killed in action on April 19, 1916 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Walter Cooke was born in Preston, Rutland, in 1878 and by 1911 he was living in Bell Street, Easton-on-the-Hill, with parents Daniel and Anne, and sister Clara.

Private Cooke served with the Northamptonshire Regiment and was killed in action on October 13, 1916.

Less is known about Percy Perkins, who was injured at the Somme.

Andrew Baker, a stonemason who has lived in Easton-on-the-Hill since 2000, has visited the battlefields of France and Belgium on a number of occasions.

He said: “The scale of the battles fought during the First World War, like the Somme, is almost impossible to comprehend.

“Around 1.5 billions shells were fired. Something like 67 million military personnel fought. The numbers are huge.

“Going out to France and seeing the trenches is a very humbling experience and brings home the horrors of war.

“It may be 100 years ago now, but it’s really important we do everything we can to keep this subject at the forefront of people’s minds and we hope people will come along in July and show their support.”

Easton-on-the-Hill’s commemoration of the start of the Battle of the Somme follows a highly successful event in 2014 when the start of the First World War itself was remembered.

Easton-on-the-Hill’s war dead include three Curtis brothers: Albert, Harry and Horace and five Nicholls brothers: Arthur, killed on August 23, 2015; Cecil, reported missing on December 2, 1917; Charles, killed on September 30, 1916; George, killed on April 12, 1917; and John, killed on October 26, 1917.

The Government and Royal British Legion are calling on the public to hold candlelit vigils to recall the ‘zero hour’, when soldiers waited to go over the top of the trenches.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has proposed vigils at sundown on June 30 or during July 1, with other remembrance events taking place across the 141 days of battle at the Somme.

The huge number of fatalities at Battle of the Somme ensures that, for many people, it defines what they mean when they talk of the ‘tragedy’, the ‘waste’ and ‘futility’ of the First World War.

Many famous individuals fought at the Somme, including Raymond Asquith, son of the Prime Minister.

The latter visited the frontline in early September and saw his son. It was their last meeting, as Raymond was killed with the Grenadier Guards on September 15.

Ted, Jim and Andrew are keen to hear from anyone who has further information on the role of local soldiers during the Battle of the Somme, or memorabilia to display. Ted can be contacted on 01780 762502.