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Chippenham wartime tales up for film awards

Chippenham wartime tales up for film awards

A film telling the stories of people from Chippenham in the First World War has made it through to the finals of the Houston International Film Festival.

Finding the Forgotten made an hour-long film last year, called Lost Generation, which is to form part of a display in the town’s museum from this April.

An edited version will also be shown at this year’s film festivals in London, Cannes and Edinburgh.

Founder member Richard Broadhead spent two months writing the script, formulating the stories from authentic wartime letters given to him as he researched books commemorating those who served in the war.

Now he has edited it down to 15 minutes and renamed it Letters From a Small Town. It has been entered into the documentary and historical film categories at Houston Worldfest, as well as the new short film section of the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Lost Generation, made with funding from the Lottery and Chippenham Area Board, will be part of two interactive units in the museum commemorating the centenary of the start of the Great War. Each of the town’s three secondary schools will also be given a unit to use as part of their history classes.

Mr Broadhead said, on the advice of the schools, he had hired professional actors.

Chippenham Museum curator Mel Barnett said people were very moved when it was shown to about 150 viewers on Remembrance Sunday.

Mr Broadhead said he thought it had a good chance at Cannes: “It’ll make you think. It’s more about the people than the war.

“We don’t mention the names of battles. A whole generation grew up without fathers. It was the biggest loss of life in Wiltshire since the plague. It stands out as a film because it’s real things that actually happened.”

Cannes created a section for short films in 2011, to encourage filmmakers of the future. The jury will be headed by Jane Campion.

Bid to change war records

A young Cheddar soldier who was one of millions who died in the First World War officially did not exist.

Arthur Blakeman's name is carved on war memorial in the centre of Weston-super-Mare but his service and death in the first battle of Ypres has no official record.

His name does not appear on the Menin Gate, and his existence is not registered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

What happened to Arthur, the soldier who apparently vanished without a trace, always mystified his family. So when his niece, Jeannette Climmer, from South Gloucestershire, enlisted the help of Wiltshire-based author Richard Broadhead, it was a challenge that they thought he wouldn't be able to meet.

Mr Broadhead said: "In the end, the truth was ridiculously simple but it explained why they couldn't find him.

"On the Menin Gate, and with the War Graves Commission, he's down as 'Arthur Blackmac', not 'Blakeman', so it was no wonder no one could find anything out."

Now the researcher is campaigning for the records to be changed and for the young Arthur, who was just 21 when he was killed, to be given his proper place in history.

But despite the fact that Mr Broadhead has proved no one called Arthur Blackmac was born in Cheddar in 1895 and that there was an Arthur Blakeman, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is refusing to change the records.

Mr Broadhead said:"I've shown that when he joined the Army he was Arthur Blakeman, but somewhere in the Scottish regiment he was assigned to, someone wrote his name down as Blackmac. Maybe the Scottish officers couldn't understand his Somerset accent."

A spokesman for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said: "Unfortunately the only thing that supports the name being changed is the birth certificate provided.

"Other documentation from official sources support the name as we have it, but the case is not closed and we are always open to hearing more information."

Heroes of Great War Exhibition

MILITARY heroes of yesteryear will be the focus of a new exhibition in Lacock being organised by a specialist World War One historian.

The free display set up by Richard Broadhead will run from September 3-11, between 9.30am and 5pm, in the Tithe Barn opposite the Red Lion pub.

Mr Broadhead has written a series of books on soldiers from various Wiltshire towns and has now applied his expertise to his travelling exhibition.

Rachael Holtom, the visitor experience officer for the National Trust at Lacock, said: “This is a great exhibition, with lots of detailed information about the local men who laid down their lives for their country.

“There are some fascinating stories here and it is of great interest to people whose families have lived here for many generations, those compiling family trees or just wanting an interesting and thought provoking day out.”

Mr Broadhead will also be giving an illustrated talk on his subject on September 8 at 7.30pm.

The venue for the talk will be the Manger Barn in High Street, Lacock.

Talk tickets cost £6 and are available by calling 0844 249 1895 or going to the website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ lacock.

We Must Not Forget

The repatriations of British soldiers through Lyneham and Wootton Bassett are covered extensively in the media but how much do we know about those who served in the First World War?

Hilmarton author Richard Broadhead has published his fifth book on the war and it features the stories of more than 650 men from Devizes and surrounding villages.

To accompany the book an exhibition opened this week at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes.

The men featured in Mr Broadhead’s book include Private John Burbidge of Worton who at the age of 14 volunteered for service and arrived in France in November 1914. He joined the 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment but was killed in action near Roye, France, during the German offensive. He was 18 and has no known grave.

Private Stafford Venton, from the Devizes area, was a painter in the engineering department of the Kennet and Avon Canal. He served with the Lincoln Regiment and was killed near Arras, France, in November 1917, aged 24, and is buried in a cemetery in France.

Another soldier, Lance Corporal John Martin, of Potterne, suffered tuberculosis as a result of active service and exposure in the trenches in France in 1914.

Mr Martin was married with a young son but died five years later, aged 34.

He was buried in Devizes Cemetery but Mr Broadhead said his grave is overgrown and not commemorated by the Commonwealth War Grave Commission.

Mr Broadhead said it was important that the men who died in the First World War are not forgotten.

He said: “My book allows people to find out the fate of the fallen listed on their local war memorials and discovers what became of these almost forgotten men. Some were soldiers or sailors, many volunteered, but not all.

“Many, like Stafford, were probably conscripted into the Army and spent only a short time at the front before being killed and buried far from their families.”

The exhibition runs until July 10. A lecture to accompany the exhibition is on June 30 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £6 from the museum.

Mr Broadhead’s book, The Great War Devizes District Soldiers, is available at Wiltshire Heritage Museum price £16.99. After the exhibition has finished the book will be on sale in local bookshops and on Amazon.

100-year mystery of missing soldier Arthur finally solved

He stands in full Scottish military dress, a proud member of the First Cameron Highlanders with a castle behind him and his future ahead of him.

This extraordinary 100-year-old photograph was colour-tinted in the Edwardian fashion of the day. To our modern eyes, it looks like it could illustrate a tourist-friendly tin of Scottish shortbread.

But this is not some young, ruddy-cheeked clansman in the kilt and the sporran, but a lad from the Mendips whose Somerset burr sparked a century of tragic mystery – a conundrum that has finally been solved by a West author.

Arthur Blakeman's name is still carved on the memorial to the Great War in the centre of Weston-super-Mare. A son of Cheddar, he joined the Army straight from school in his mid-teens, in 1910.

But Arthur Blakeman's service and death in the first battle of Ypres, in the early days of the horrors of the trenches of the First World War, has no official record. His name does not appear on the Menin Gate, and his existence is not registered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, whose on-line database has provided hugely valuable information for historians.

What happened to Arthur, the soldier who apparently vanished without a trace, always mystified his family. So when his niece, Jeannette Climmer, from South Gloucestershire, enlisted the help of Wiltshire-based author Richard Broadhead, it was a challenge that they thought he wouldn't be able to meet.

"Jeannette said that the family had tried for years to find out what happened to Arthur," said Mr Broadhead, whose research into the fallen soldiers of the Great War has sparked several local history books.

"She said, 'You'll never be able to find out what happened to him', so that was a bit of a challenge. It took years of investigation, but now the case has been cracked, as it were," he explained.

Arthur's grieving family would have been given the standard cursory letter of condolence, saying he was missing or killed in Flanders in November 1914. Generations and decades later, the family's efforts to find out more hit a dead end – no record of their long-lost uncle could be found.

"In the end, the truth was ridiculously simple but it explained why they couldn't find him," said Mr Broadhead. "On the Menin Gate, and with the War Graves Commission, he's down as 'Arthur Blackmac', not 'Blakeman', so it was no wonder no one could find anything out," he added.

"I've written to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and they asked for evidence. I've presented all the evidence there is. His Army records show that 'Arthur Blackmac' was born in Cheddar, and I've shown that there aren't any birth records for a birth in Cheddar in 1895 by that name.

"I've shown that when he joined the Army he was Arthur Blakeman, but somewhere in the Scottish regiment he was assigned to, someone wrote his name down as Blackmac and it stuck on his records. Maybe the Scottish officers couldn't understand his Somerset accent, or maybe it was just written down with poor handwriting and copied wrong.

"I've had meetings with the CWGC showing them all this, but it's still not enough. I've been working on it for five or six years and it's wonderful to be able to show the family what actually happened to him, but to get closure we need to have his name changed," he added.

A spokesman for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said they would investigate the issue. "We have investigated this application, but unfortunately the only thing that supports the name being changed is the birth certificate provided," said a spokesman.

"Other documentation from official sources support the name as we have it, but the case is not closed and we are always open to hearing more information," he added.

Battle to save old soldier's Chippenham grave

Pensioner Don Little hopes to have his great uncle’s memorial recognised as a war grave to save it from being dug up.

Percy Little, who lived in Tugela Road, Chippenham, fought in the First World War, but was discharged from the Army after falling ill and dying of TB in 1918 aged 25.

He was buried, possibly in a grave marked with a wooden cross, at St Paul’s Church near his home. There is no marker now and in eight years it could be claimed and re-used if the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does not formally recognise it.

Don Little, a volunteer at Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre, found out about the grave after a Civic Society talk by Hilmarton historian Richard Broadhead.

Mr Little, 72, of St Mary’s Place, said: “I knew he was buried in Chippenham but I didn’t know where to begin looking. We also have discovered this is where my great-grandfather and great grandmother were buried, so it’s very exciting for me.

“I had looked for a long time. It would be terrible if his grave was not appropriately honoured and was re-used,” said Mr Little, who has been in hospital, but hopes to visit the site soon.

Mr Broadhead said: “There is a period of 100 years after a person dies that if their grave bears no marker and so cannot be identified, it can be re-used, unless it is a recognised war grave.

“This is a man who fought in the Great War and died of an illness almost certainly contracted in that time. He is honoured on the Chippenham war memorial but the War Graves Commission won’t accept that he died as a result of the war because he had been discharged for a year by the time he died. But where would Percy Little have contracted TB if not in the trenches?”

North Wilts MP James Gray said: “It seems quite clear Percy Little died of an illness he contracted during his service in the First World War, and where someone deserves to be honoured by the War Graves Commission then they jolly well should be.”

A Commission spokesman said: “In the case of Percy Little, there is insufficient evidence that his discharge from the Army in 1917 was due to tuberculosis, which caused his death in 1918.”

Devizes grave's spring clean

Improvements will be made to an overgrown war grave in Devizes Cemetery after the Gazette highlighted the sorry state it was in.

The grave of Devizes soldier Private Herbert Ashton Gait, who served in the First World War and died in 1917 aged 36, is the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Author Richard Broadhead, of Hilmarton, expressed concerns about the state of the grave and the headstone being laid flat when he was at the cemetery to research his latest book on Devizes soldiers.

A spokesman for the Commission said Pte Gait’s grave, which is privately owned, had been inspected every three years and cleaned every two years in accordance with its regulations.

The spokesman said a new headstone had been installed in 2006 as the previous one, which had been laid flat, had become unreadable.

He said the headstone was laid flat due to kerb stones surrounding the plot and the close proximity of another headstone at the base of the grave prevented it being installed in an upright position.

The spokesman said: “The residue from an overhanging pine tree has discoloured Pte Gait’s headstone but that residue will be cleaned by Commission staff this week. They will also remove soil from around the headstone and introduce marble chippings to minimise plant growth.”

 

Mr Broadhead was delighted that the Commission was making improvement’s to Pte Gait’s grave.

He said: “I’m over the moon but I just find it amazing that a war grave had got into that condition.”

 

Devizes War Grave left in sorry state

It’s a sorry sight, the overgrown grave of a Devizes soldier who served in the First World War.

Author Richard Broadhead, of Hilmarton, was horrified when he visited Devizes Cemetery on Monday to do research for his latest book on The Great War featuring Devizes soldiers.

He could not believe the condition of Private Herbert Ashton Gait’s grave. “I was shocked,” he said. “The headstone is laid flat and it’s been down for a while, I think a few years, and the grave is covered by weed. The headstone is supposed to be bleached white.

“It’s awful, this is a war grave that should be looked after. It’s probably one of the worst I have seen in the country.”

Mr Broadhead, 46, said Pte Gait served in the 4th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment and lived in St John’s Street with his wife, Emma. They had at least one son. Pte Gait, a fishmonger and fruiter in the town, died on February 4 1917 aged 36.

Mr Broadhead, who has written four books about Wiltshire soldiers, believes Pte Gait served in this country during World War One, possibly guarding installations. “I think Pte Gait died during training or soon after. He served enough to have a military funeral and have a headstone.,” he said.

 

“It’s quite a sad tale and I think quite disrespectful that we have this chap who was in the Army in Devizes, which was a military town with barracks, and nearly 100 years on he’s been forgotten.”

By contrast, in front of Pte Gait’s grave is another of Pte Henry Jordan, who died on October 25 1916. His headstone is in pristine condition.

The cemetery is run by Devizes town and parish councils but war graves are the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which inspects war graves every three years and cleans the headstones every two years.

Simon Fisher, deputy town clerk at Devizes, said he had no record of when the headstone was laid down.

A CWGC spokesman said they were taking the matter seriously and had begun an investigation into the state of the grave.

 

Book launch at Chippenham for Hilmarton author

Hilmarton author and historian Richard Broadhead launched his latest book at the Chippenham museum this week.

MP Duncan Hames, Mayor Sandra Oakes and leader of Wiltshire Council Jane Scott all attended the launch of The Great War: Chippenham Soldiers on Wednesday.

Full honours at last for Calne soldier

A soldier from Calne who died during the First World War and was buried under a civilian gravestone is finally to have full honours.

Ernest Bennett, who died on Christmas Day 1916 of an illness after being discharged as unfit for service, received a full military funeral.

However, he was buried in Trowbridge Cemetery without the usual plain white, military gravestone and his name was not included on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission roll.

Historian Richard Broadhead of Hilmarton has been campaigning since finding that around 60 Wiltshire soldiers were buried without proper honours.

He said: “It is a victory, but at the same time I cannot celebrate until the others have received the appropriate gravestones.”

He said it was important to get the correct names on the War Graves Commission roll because statistics are taken from it.

“It’s just something that got under my skin,” he said.“It’s similar to a service man dying in Afghanistan or Iraq and then being thrown in a pauper’s grave.

“We wouldn’t stand for it, quite rightly, and yet this is what has happened.”

Mr Bennett was born in 1886 and signed up with the Wiltshire Territorial Force on September 1 1914.

He developed frost bite and rheumatism while serving in Belgium and was evacuated to hospital, being discharged in September. He left a widow and two small children living in Calne.

Mr Broadhead’s The Great War Chippenham Soldiers is to be released in November.

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