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First World war centenary: Local stories of loss and heartache

Undated file photo of British infantrymen marching towards the front lines in the River Somme valley. [Picture: PA] Undated file photo of British infantrymen marching towards the front lines in the River Somme valley. [Picture: PA]

Saturday, May 10, 2014
9:00 AM

The First World War centenary means it is more important than ever to remember fallen soldiers.

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British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive. [Picture: PA]British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive. [Picture: PA]

Here we look at some of the stories highlighted by Redbridge Museum and the Information and Heritage Service.

Ernest Abrams

A former Recorder paperboy was the only soldier in his company to survive a bloody battle.

Ernest Abrams fought alongside his 50-strong company, along with other soldiers, in the First Battle of Gaza, which took place in March 1917 against the Turkish people of the Ottoman Empire.

File photo dated 01/11/1915 of a British soldier paying his respects at the grave of a colleague near Cape Helles, where the Gallipoli landings took place. [Picture: PA]File photo dated 01/11/1915 of a British soldier paying his respects at the grave of a colleague near Cape Helles, where the Gallipoli landings took place. [Picture: PA]

Mr Abrams, who was injured in the attack, was the only person out of 120 soldiers to survive. The battle was lost by the British, who retreated.

The soldier was born in 1895 and joined the Essex Regiment in 1912, before becoming part of the 4th Battalion – a territorial unit.

Ilford’s territorials were based in Gordon Road.

The sergeant was sent home after the battle and survived the war. His service had also seen him fight in the Gallipoli campaign, as well as in Egypt and the Suez Canal.

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial Ypres, Belgium. [Picture: Chris Radburn/PA]Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial Ypres, Belgium. [Picture: Chris Radburn/PA]

Abrams was a police officer with the Met for 30 years before becoming a part-time hall porter for Tottenham Council.

In 1991, a year before his death, he was interviewed by staff at what is now the Information and Heritage Service at Redbridge Central Library.

He spoke of his guilt at surviving the conflict and was still mourning the loss of his fellow soldiers and friends. He also lent 100 war photographs to the service.

He died on June 11 1992 at Clacton Hospital, Essex, after a short illness.

Remembrance Day poppiesRemembrance Day poppies

In a Recorder article dated June 25, 1992, which announced Mr Abrams’ death, his son Peter, 67, said: “He thought it was marvellous that someone would take such an interest in his photographs.

“He was delighted that there would be a permanent tribute to his colleagues at the library. He never stopped talking about it until the day he died.”

Herbert Musgrove Beck

A pilot who died during the conflict was at the centre of a mystery for over a decade.

Undated file photo of British infantrymen occupying a shallow trench in a ruined landscape before an advance during the Battle of the Somme. [Picture: PA]Undated file photo of British infantrymen occupying a shallow trench in a ruined landscape before an advance during the Battle of the Somme. [Picture: PA]

After 2nd Lt Herbert Musgrove Beck’s death, the cross which had originally been on his grave vanished and was only discovered by chance years later by the police.

Beck grew up in Mayfair Avenue, Ilford, and enlisted with the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 after joining the London Rifle Brigade aged 18.

But the 22-year-old was killed in a flying accident in 1918.

A Recorder report from 1992 featured quotes from the diary of his squadron leader, which was found by historian John Barfoot after a police officer asked him for help identifying the cross.

An entry said “expert” Beck, who trained others in aerial combat, died after a training session.

His engine appeared to have failed at 500ft, causing the aircraft to plunge into a hillside at Amiens, France.

The cross was situated on his grave in an Amiens cemetery, but when a permanent gravestone was erected, the War Graves Commission offered it to his parents.

They gave it to St Clement’s Church, Ilford, but the cross vanished after the church was demolished in 1977 and moved into its church hall.

It was discovered lying in a road by a police officer in 1992. It was then passed on to Pc Jim Mitchell, who spent more than a week trying to trace its owners.

The Recorder reported the story in its February 27 1992 issue.

Thelma Ives, wife of the priest Father John Ives, said: “A lot of things disappeared from the church at that time. We know it

belonged here because Herbert Beck’s name is on the war memorial in the church.”

Pc Mitchell said: “We will never know where it has been for the last 13 years. I am just delighted to be able to return it to its rightful owners.”

The church closed in 2005, with the cross donated to Redbridge Museum and the church’s war memorial moving to Redbridge Town Hall.

Cyril Page

The story of a soldier who died just months before the war ended has been kept alive by the Information and Heritage Service.

Cyril Page was killed in action in 1918, but his medals and papers passed on by his family ensure his bravery is remembered.

The young man was born in 1899 and, after growing up in the East End, he moved with his family to Gordon Road, Wanstead.

Cyril joined the Army as an 18-year-old in August 1917 and ended up on the Western Front in France.

On August 23 1918, he sent a postcard to his mother, stating he was “quite well” and that a “letter would follow at first opportunity”.

Cyril’s battalion was involved in the Allies’ final offensive, but he was not to see the conflict end.

On September 1 1918, his mother Minnie was informed that he had been killed in action. His war medals were sent to his family.

His mother and sister held on to them and his papers before they were passed on to the Information and Heritage Service.

The O’Donoghue brothers

The war ripped apart countless families, with some enduring the heartbreak of losing more than one relative.

The O’Donoghues were an example of that. Dennis Alfred and Reginald Charles O’Donoghue lived at 101 St Albans Road, which was part of Ilford but is now Seven Kings.

After the outbreak of the conflict, they both enlisted and ended up fighting at the Battle of the Somme.

During the battle’s infamous first day, which is one of the worst in history for British military casualties, Reginald wrote a letter.

He said: “We were occupied all night carrying stores in heavy boxes, I struggled along with one myself up a trench knee deep in mud and felt pretty fed up with life afterwards...

“I fell asleep but was awakened two hours later by a shell bursting outside the entrance of the dug-out. A good many more followed it.”

Both brothers were killed in October 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele. They were still in their early 20s.

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