WHAT were their ancestors doing in 1917?

Andover Genealogy Society started their November meeting by sitting around in small groups to discuss this.

Many of their ancestors were fighting in France and some of those who were taken prisoner had their photos taken by the Germans and some of these are held by the Red Cross.

One member’s grandfather was fighting in India, another was fighting near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Two members’ grandfathers worked on the railway ensuring that the trains carrying troops and armaments got through to the ports. Another member spoke about his female ancestor who appeared in concerts which were organised to keep up morale.

During the tea break members had an opportunity to look at the many displays.

In the second part of the evening one member spoke about her grandfather, 2nd Lt William Thomas Goddard who fought at Passchendaele and died in hospital at Le Touquet. She had just returned from visiting his grave in France and was able to find the old hospital building. Some members had stories of Zeppelins dropping bombs where their families lived. The Zeppelins relied on visual sightings to reach their targets and, because of the bad weather conditions, missed these targets and killed a number of civilians including children. A new memorial in Ladywell Cemetery commemorates civilian victims of enemy air raids of the First World War. Members were shown a small piece of a Zeppelin which had come from one which had come down near Billericay in Essex.

There was then a talk about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). Fabian Ware was too old to fight in WW1 so he joined the Red Cross in 1914. He became very distressed about the state of the graves, so his unit began recording and caring for all the graves they could find. In May 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter. Leading architects of the day Lutyens, Baker and Blomfield, joined later by Hill from Kew Gardens, were commissioned to design the memorials and Rudyard Kipling became literary advisor for the inscriptions.

Some families wanted their loved ones repatriated or at least be able to choose the inscription. It was agreed, however, that all headstones would be the same, no distinction between rank, race, creed or wealth. The cemeteries are lovingly maintained by locals and the stones are replaced if showing signs of age. One member said that she had been lucky enough to attend the CWGC Thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey in May, which was very moving but especially so when the Maori choir sang the song that their soldiers sang before and after a battle.

The meeting was finished with a minute’s silence.