I live in a town called Rowley Regis in the West Midlands. The town itself is more like a district in size and as such, there are five smaller towns that make up the wider area which are Blackheath, Whiteheath, Rowley Village, Old Hill and Cradley Heath. When I went out one day for my allocated exercise not long after lockdown started, I found myself walking past one of the local churches, which has a memorial to the members of the congregation killed during both the First and Second World War. I stood there and read the names over and over again. I thought to myself, all of these names are people who have stories; lives they’ve lived, people they’ve loved. It was at that point I decided to compile a list of the men killed from my local town.
I knew that this would be quite an undertaking and that I had to define the parameters of my search so that I didn’t get overwhelmed by the sheer number of names to uncover. I decided not to include Cradley Heath in my first round of research as it has since become its own separate town in the West Midlands conurbation even though the Rowley Regis Urban District which was formed in 1894, did cover the village of Cradley Heath along with Rowley, Blackheath, and Old Hill. I also know from preliminary searches based off local landmarks like pubs, that the area now known as Whiteheath fell mostly under Blackheath in the early 1900s. This meant that my initial search parameters were set for Rowley Regis, Blackheath, Rowley Village and Old Hill. Again, I needed to further define the parameters just for these places. For example, if you type in Blackheath in the additional information of the CWGC website, it will bring up results for the Blackheath in London as well as the Midlands Blackheath. Also 100 years ago, the borough of Sandwell where Rowley Regis now sits did not exist, so I had to consider which counties covered the area at the time, as the county borders ran almost through the centre of Rowley Regis. Through trial and error, I came up with the following parameters for my search functions:
- Blackheath, Birmingham
- Blackheath, Staffordshire
- Rowley Regis
- Rowley Regis, Staffordshire
- Rowley Village
- Old Hill
- Old Hill, Staffordshire
- Halesowen, Worcestershire (some addresses now considered Blackheath were originally in Halesowen)
The easiest way to carry out this feat was to create a spreadsheet and table to order all of the results as I came across them. In order to find the casualties, I would input the above search parameter into the additional information feature. This would then bring up a list of names. I then read through each name to filter out results that may not fit the criteria. As I found a casualty that fit what I was looking for, I inputted their data into the spreadsheet – Rank, First Name, Surname, Age, Date of Death, Unit, commemorated on/at, Additional Information and Inscription, should they have one. I carried on with this until I had uncovered all those I could. I also used local memorials that have names of them and added them to my list that I needed to search for.
The list is still continuing to grow, but at the moment I have 234 confirmed casualties who were from the Rowley Regis area. In addition to those names, I have 9 others that are featured on the memorial that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post who I am struggling to trace, mainly because there are too many results that come back when I search for them on the CWGC. An example being the name E Bolton – of which there are 16 possibilities on the CWGC website. I could try and use a process of elimination to narrow down the results, but this would still leave too many results. Not all casualties on the CWGC website have additional information detailing their family details which means that I could not use that information to narrow down my outstanding names. This also means that I cannot fully rule out the possibility that there are other casualties from my town, who are either not named on local memorials or have not got the personal details on the CWGC website for me to find out about them. However, at this moment in time, I think that I have created a thorough database of the young men I definitely know about. The outstanding nine names I have are being investigated by the local church that I mentioned at the start and they will update me with information they have in their archives.
This research has helped me to have a better understanding of my local town and the stories of these men. I recognise so many of the addresses that these men lived at, with a couple living on the next two roads along from where I live now. There are also many surnames that appear on the list that are still very common in my area today. I have also discovered that two of the young men who were killed were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second highest bravery award that can be given in the British Army, only after the Victoria Cross. I want to write about them in further detail in a separate post but I will briefly mention that by finding out some basic information about them for my database, I have managed to find the citations for their awards and other wonderful information about them, which I will reveal in good time.
This has been a task that I have needed to put a lot of work into, and one that I only really thought about because I needed something to do in lockdown, but it is a task that I believe that has definitely been worth the effort. By pulling together this list, I have managed to start bringing together the stories of these men, and hopefully I can fill out their stories. I have already started doing this for those who were killed during the Battle of the Somme, by publishing their names on twitter on the day that they died. This may be the first time that their name has been published somewhere in a hundred years, which is something I feel immensely proud to do. It is my intention, to visit as many of these men as I possibly can. I have already visited one in France and will start on the UK ones too. For those in France, Belgium or the UK, that will be easy, but Iraq and Israel maybe not so much! This will be a project that goes on for some time and I am looking forward to the stories that I get to uncover in the future.