Memories of a parish in wartime brought back to life

A London parish is finally able to erect a war memorial to its war dead, having rekindled memories on the verge of being lost forever.

Extensive research into wartime St Anselm’s, Tooting Bec, has uncovered the names of 30 people – service personnel and civilians – who are to be commemorated in plaques in the church and a book which tells their story.

The publication, called ‘A Parish in Wartime – Remembering the fallen from two World Wars’ details the lives of former St Anselm’s parishioners – some killed on the field of battle, others shot down over the skies of Germany and still more victims of the Blitz in London.

One account describes how six-year-old Francis Carroll, and his mother, Winifred, lost their lives when a V-1 bomb landed on their home.

Another tells the story of young Albert Austin, recently married, killed on the Somme. There is Peter Keast, a qualified vet, who died off the coast of Norway, reportedly after coming to the aid of his Sergeant, and the de Beauchamp Collenette brothers, both airmen shot down in the heat of the battle.

Many of the stories have been told by surviving siblings – now in their 90s – who were contacted as part of the research into the book.

A Parish in Wartime will be launched at an event at St Anselm’s on 8 November and the following morning – Remembrance Sunday – the memorial plaques will be blessed and dedicated by Father William Hebborn, PhD, the parish priest.

Father Will, who came up with the idea of the war memorial, said the book and the plaques realise a dream he first conceived when he became parish priest at St Anselm’s back in 1997. He said: “I felt compelled to act when I discovered that the church had no memorial to the parish war dead. The trouble has been that we have very few parish records so carrying out the research has been very difficult.

“Over time however, fragments of evidence have been pieced together and at last we have been able to produce memorial plaques erected in the church to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.”

The research has been done by two St Anselm’s parishioners, Nick Dunne and John Pontifex who as well as scouring parish records, have visited libraries, museums and cemeteries both in London and on the continent, as well as putting out appeals for information in church notices and diocesan newspapers.

They were also able to harness new and emerging online research facilities which gave access to electoral records, births, marriages and death certificates, newspaper cuttings, online family trees, telephone books and photographs.

The research yielded extensive results for many if not most of the service personnel but comparatively little could be found relating to the civilians, a number of whom turned out to have unmarked graves.

Father Will said that the lack of existing memorials to some of the St Anselm’s war dead gave added value to the plaques being erected in the church.

A Parish in Wartime is available priced £5 each from St Anselm’s Church, 9 Tooting Bec Road, London SW17 8BS. Postage and packing £1.50. Contact the parish on 020 8672 2179 Email: [email protected]

Tags: Blitz, Father William Hebborn, John Pontifex, parish in wartime, St Anselm's, Tooting Bec, WW1, WW2

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