Recently Europe has been paying tribute to the men who died during the Battle of the Somme, which took place 100 years ago.
At the forefront of commemorations in Sutton is local historian Andy Arnold, who has created a website dedicated to Carshalton’s fallen, Carshalton War Memorial, and written a book on the subject.
I spoke to Andy about the role Sutton men played during the First World War and how a Carshalton Beeches resident made one of the most popular films in British cinema history.
How did your interest in the First World War come about? I have always had an interest in military history but it was not until my grandmother passed away in 2008 that I realised there was a family connection to the First World War.
When we were going through her possessions we found a family tree; my great great uncle was on there with the note ‘Died in the Great War, 1917’. This was the first I had heard of any of my relatives serving during the war and I set out to research his life.
Later that year I visited the Somme battlefields for the first time. Visiting the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing had a huge impact – there are 72,000 names inscribed on its panels, and it is difficult to comprehend the scale of the loss.
How did that initial spark see you go on to become an expert in Sutton’s involvement in the First World War? I have lived in the area since 2005 but had never really paid much attention to the local war memorials. Shortly after returning from the Somme, however, I happened to visit Carshalton war memorial and started to look up a few of the names.
My research developed into a website and in 2014 my book, Their Name Liveth For Evermore, about the men was published. Since then I have continued to research the stories of the local men who lost their lives during the war.
What’s the story that stays with you the most? I have come across many personal stories, from tales of gallantry on the battlefield to details of the lives that were shattered from the war.
One of the most poignant stories for me is that of the Brooks brothers, of Stanley Road, Carshalton. Caleb Brooks was killed during the German advance of 21st March 1918; Reginald Brooks lost his life aboard a torpedoed boat on 15th April 1918, aged just 15, and the third brother William Brooks died on 24th April 1918. For a family to lose three sons is extremely tragic, but how the family coped with losing three sons in a little over one month I do not know.
Are there any stories that make you proud to be from Sutton? The men from Sutton and the surrounding areas were involved in all stages of the war, from the opening battles of 1914 to the final push of 1918.
One story that surprised me was finding out that the famous The Battle of the Somme film footage was taken by Carshalton Beeches resident Geoffrey Malins. Although not a soldier, he put his life in danger to record the battle, and the iconic scenes he shot form a large part of the legacy of the battle as we remember it today. It remains one of the most popular films in British cinema history.
What lessons do you think we learned from the First World War? It’s a tough one. Many people believed it would be the ‘war to end all wars,’ yet many of the combatants from the First World War were still alive to witness the Second World War.
In terms of warfare, I think many lessons were learned and applied during later wars. I think the longer term legacy of the First World War has contributed more recently to anti-war feeling (such as around the Iraq War), but has also contributed to our national consciousness.
Do you think the importance of the sacrifice the men of the First World War made for us is still felt by the younger generation, or do you see interest slipping away? It is more difficult as the younger generation become more distant from the past, and of course there are no longer any veterans from the First World War to give their personal reminiscence.
My own experience giving talks to schools and leading trips to the former battlefields is that children are still interested, particularly when they discover a connection to their family or community. I think the difficulty is maintaining that connection and interest beyond education. Organisations such as the Western Front Association play a pivotal role in promoting an interest.
What makes Sutton such a great place to live? Sutton has a fantastic community and I have seen the positive impact that can be achieved by community groups working together.For example, the extremely well-attended service marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the unveiling of the new Second World War memorial in Carshalton in summer 2014.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Sutton? Having a young daughter I have really come to appreciate the parks and open spaces in the borough and the opportunities for learning and play that they provide.
Where’s the best place to eat and drink in the borough? I love the diverse selection of food outlets. My favourites are Westmead Halal for a takeaway curry, The Sun or Greyhound pubs in Carshalton for a drink, or the tearoom at Honeywood Museum for a coffee and cake overlooking the ponds and Carshalton war memorial.
Tell us something we might find surprising about Sutton? I find the heritage of the borough fascinating. There are a number of Facebook groups that post historic pictures of the borough, and it is interesting to see the extent of change over the last 100 years, although I think many people would be surprised as to how much remains the same.