Herts at War: ‘We’re proud that our servicemen and women have not been forgotten’

PUBLISHED: 17:01 25 November 2018

The British Schools Museum in Hitchin has been hosting a Herts at War exhibition. Picture: DANNY LOO

The British Schools Museum in Hitchin has been hosting a Herts at War exhibition. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved

Following the centenary of the WWI Armistice being signed and the conclusion of a weekly column in the Comet to mark every week of the conflict for the past four years, military historian and Herts at War project manager Dan Hill reflects on what has been achieved

Back at the very start: Herts at War project co-ordinator Dan Hill, guide Clive Harris, North Herts district councillor David Levett and North East Hertfordshire MP Sir Oliver Heald at the grave of Private John Goodwin in Bedford House Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. Picture: Alan MillardBack at the very start: Herts at War project co-ordinator Dan Hill, guide Clive Harris, North Herts district councillor David Levett and North East Hertfordshire MP Sir Oliver Heald at the grave of Private John Goodwin in Bedford House Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. Picture: Alan Millard

As we have now passed November 11, 2018, the 100-year anniversary of the guns finally falling silent on the Western Front, now might be as good a chance as any to draw breath and reflect on Hertfordshire’s contribution to the Great War centenary.

There is no doubt that this county played a huge role and paid a huge price during the First World War. More than 15,000 men and women who shared our homes answered the call, and gave their lives over that four-year period.

More than 100,000 answered that same call, but came home, many of them change forever.

On the home front Herts hosted 38 convalescent homes, caring for more than 300,000 wounded throughout the war.

Herts at War's Dan Hill, pictured with North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald. Picture: Harry HubbardHerts at War's Dan Hill, pictured with North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald. Picture: Harry Hubbard

It was here that the first two Zeppelin aircraft shot down in the Great War came to earth.

Munitions, clothing, boots and medical equipment were all made within the county; wives and daughters sent care packages to soldiers at the front, children had collection days and fetes to support the fighting troops. In short, the Great War was the world’s first truly ‘total war’.

When it came to commemorating the monumental effort made by those at home and abroad, the Herts at War team – made up of more than 100 staff and volunteers – worked hard to deliver a project and programme of commemoration that would to justice to that sacrifice.

Since 2014, we have held exhibitions in Letchworth, Sawbridgeworth and Hitchin, hosting many one-day and weekend events, led schools outreach projects, social media campaigns and much more, sharing individual stories of our county ancestors.

Denise Knight looking at memorabilia from World War I at the Herts at War Letchworth exhibition. 
Picture: Peter AlveyDenise Knight looking at memorabilia from World War I at the Herts at War Letchworth exhibition. Picture: Peter Alvey

For the Herts at War team, each name on a memorial was, and is, so much more than just a name – it marks a life, a story, a sacrifice.

The project has to date uncovered thousands of such stories, each one now preserved online for all to explore.

Working with the Comet, we have been proud to see records of North Hertfordshire’s war, week-by-week, preserved for future generations to explore.

With the help of the Hertfordshire public in 2017 we unveiled the county’s first memorial on the Western Front, remembering the attack on the opening day of the battle of Passchendaele when the Herts Territorials were all but wiped out.

'E' company of the Hertfordshire Regiment 1st Battalion leaving Letchworth railway station to go to war in 1914. Picture: Colourised by Doug Banks of Colourising History in partnership with Herts at War'E' company of the Hertfordshire Regiment 1st Battalion leaving Letchworth railway station to go to war in 1914. Picture: Colourised by Doug Banks of Colourising History in partnership with Herts at War

We have held talks each month, bringing some of the UK’s finest speakers to our county and have shared more than 500 personal histories with visitors to our exhibitions, providing history which in many cases had been long forgotten.

Over the four-year centenary we have engaged tens of thousands of people from all across the county.

The success we have enjoyed since 2014, and the amount we have been able to achieve has been due to the passion and pride that the public, local companies, organisations and the county as a whole have shown about such an important subject.

That has been our driving force throughout. Working with these individuals and groups such as the Comet, we are proud to think that our servicemen and women have not been forgotten, and we offer our sincere thanks to you in helping us achieve that goal.

However, for the Herts at War team, the fighting is not over. The centenary of the fighting may be finished, but it does not mean that we will stop remembering.

In a strange way, November 11, 2018, marks the start of a new journey – a journey to keep those stories alive; to continue educating the people of Hertfordshire about those who came before.

Our aim is to educate the next generation, and the one after that, so that in 2114, when it comes to the 200th anniversary, our great-great grandchildren will still be proud to share the story of Hertfordshire at War.

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