Look Back With Little: Village war effort retold

Eydon Memorial Cross front
Eydon Memorial Cross front

In March of this year the Eydon Historical Research Group published another of its reports. Unsurprisingly their theme was the First World War and its impact on the village.

After eight previous volumes we have come to expect a very searching spirit of enquiry.

Volume 9 ‘Lest we Forget’ does not disappoint as it features related events such as the massive 1913 military exercise, as well as an investigation into local war memorials and the extent to which they reveal tensions about the key issue ‘who were the men of Eydon’.

It is because of this approach that interested readers may well be moved to discover how many other villages wrestled with such sensitive matters.

The story of the military manoeuvres is related in an entertaining way by Mike Weston.

These were carried out in order to discover the extent to which the British Army had learned lessons from the Crimean and Boer Wars and also earlier exercises held in East Anglia in 1912.

The activities of late September 1913 were given special significance by the appearance of King George V, who took tea in the Eydon Reading Room.

Another notable visitor was Winston Churchill, for whom Eydon blacksmith John Humphries replaced one of his horse’s shoes.

A brief account of the King’s appearance can be found in Peter Webb’s book Portrait of Northamptonshire. In it he records that King George ‘rode a beautiful black horse and looked just like the pictures we’d seen of him’.

Understandably the visits by the King and Winston were a cause of great excitement especially for Mrs Humphries who was a former lady’s maid.

Her attention to the goings-on prompted local writer Syd Tyrell to make a caustic comment to the effect that she showed ‘reverence due to the angelic host and not according to ordinary flesh and blood’.

Mike Watson concludes his article by noting that there was a postscript to the manoeuvres and this was a conference at Weedon Barracks.

It was discovered that in an area of rural lanes bicycles were an effective means of transport, as was an Austin 2-3 ton truck. By contrast the hedges that bounded Northamptonshire lanes made the cavalry exposed to rifle and machine gun fire.

Interestingly the story of the pre-war activities was related by Syd Tyrell in a broadcast on BBC Midlands Home Service in 1948.

In the final article of the booklet, Kevin Lodge explores the background to the contrasting reactions of village people to different war memorials.

The one which was placed in the village hall contained only the names of those departed who belonged to true village stock.

A second memorial was in the form of a cross erected on land donated by the Revd W Lewis, Rector of Eydon. The names on it include some people who for various reasons moved away from the village at some stage.

Despite the fact that the Great War was a remarkable leveller of class and area background, the memorials reflected differing commitments to the locality and also revived tensions between gentry and those of working class background.

By now it will not surprise my readers to learn that Syd Tyrell was in the vanguard of those local people who wanted a memorial in the village hall, which would be the villagers’ understanding as to who were ‘the men of Eydon’.

‘Lest we Forget’ contains six other articles.

These were compiled by David Kench, Caroline Bedford, Mike Watson and Kevin Lodge.

Two of these articles especially will have strong echoes in other villages. One is in the form of extracts from the diary of Frederick Charles Kench and can be regarded as a Great War soldier’s story.

A second features Eydon Hall and recalls that it was a First World War Auxiliary Home Hospital, similar in function to Banbury’s Red Cross Hospital in Grimsbury. This article reveals the impact of the war on women.

lCopies of the booklet are available from David Kench, 20 High Street, Eydon, Daventry, Northants NN11 3PP price £5 + p&p.