Remembrance Sunday: A closer look at the Great War and the two Kings

Poppy wreaths on the war memorial, Saffron Walden. Picture: Celia Bartlett Photography

Poppy wreaths on the war memorial, Saffron Walden. Picture: Celia Bartlett Photography - Credit: Celia Bartlett Photography

Saffron Walden historian Robert E Pike reflects on the stories behind the names.

One hundred years ago, Saffron Walden came to a standstill and men, women and children gathered silently at the top of the High Street to see the unveiling of the town’s war memorial.  

On it were inscribed the names of 158 men who fought on land, sea and in the skies and who died in all the different theatres and, some of wounds, in England itself. 

On that bright May afternoon, the address spoke of “The Victor Heroes (who) rest in many lands, but here the symbol of their glory stands”. 

Take the trouble to stop and read the names on the memorial, they are simply recorded by surname and forename in alphabetical order.  

You notice immediately that many are as familiar today as they were 100 years ago: Cornell, Bacon, Ketteridge, Pearson, Porter and many more. 

The names are a litany of tragedy and sacrifice typical of communities and families all over the country. 

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Look further on at the Second World War panels and the same names repeat the same story.

Private Frederick Smith was killed in Belgium in 1917.

His son, also Frederick, died of wounds received in France in 1944 and lies in our town cemetery. 

In 1921 the total number of casualties on the war memorial amounted to 158.

Today it shows 159 names and this is due to two men called George King, one of whom was originally missed out and added at a later date. 

These two men enlisted in the Essex Regiment and their combined war service covered a period from 1915 to 1917 and typified the life of an infantryman on the Western front. 

George King was the son of Walter and Elizabeth King of 6 Upper Square, Castle Street.

After schooling he was employed by the Anglo-American Oil Company at their Railway Sidings in Saffron Walden until the war broke out when he immediately enlisted. 

In late September 1915, George and his friends arrived at Loos, described in the regimental history as “their first view of a modern battlefield……The weather was atrocious and the scene horrifying….... bodies of men lay strewn about. Dead horses, limbers smashed to pieces and indescribable muddle and odour remain in the memory.” 

The front-line trench was a mere mud-logged ditch, so this had to be improved and over 400 men toiled, under enfilading fire, to build a new trench on the western side of the Chalkpit. 

On October 18 it was decided to seize the whole of the enemy trench on the south-western face of the Quarries.  

As George was in the grenade section, he was part of one of the squads deputed for this task.  

The enemy fought desperately but, resisting strongly, were driven back along the trench where near their objective a barricade was erected and the trench - later called Essex Trench - was consolidated.  

Casualties, however, were heavy and George was counted amongst the missing. 

It was not until March 1916 that news filtered home of George’s fate, but his body was never recovered from the constantly bombarded battlefield. 

Pte George KING (10619) 9tn Essex Regt, killed in action aged 19 on October 18 1915, commemorated on the Loos Memorial Panels 98 to 99. 

The Loos Memorial commemorates the names of 20,593 casualties who have no known graves.

George King's name on Saffron Walden war memorial

George King's name on Saffron Walden war memorial - Credit: Carol Pike

Names on Saffron Walden's war memorial

Saffron Walden's war memorial - Credit: Carol Pike

 Alfred George King lived at 90 High Street.  

He had attended the Boys British School before working at Saffron Walden Brewery Stores of Watney Combe Reid at 17 High Street.  

On June 2, 1916 he enlisted in the Essex Regiment (No. 400282), before being transferred first to the Suffolks (No.28380) and finally to a Territorial battalion of the Royal Warwicks, the 1/6th. 

August 1917 saw Alfred in training at Riegersburg Camp, near St. Julien, but on August 26 the battalion was moved to positions north and south of the St. Julien - Winnipeg Road.  

The following day they attacked enemy positions at Winnipeg Farm at 1.55pm.  

They were forced to clear the occupied shell holes, and at least one concrete bunker as they went.

The troops found it almost impossible to advance due to the state of the ground and concentrated fire from machine-gunners and snipers protected by concrete emplacements at Springfield Farm on the right and Vancouver Farm in the centre.  

Three officers and 25 other ranks were killed, 120 other ranks wounded and 14 missing. 

It was not until December that Mrs King had any news of Alfred.  

She was told that with five others he had not been seen since August 27 and they had been reported killed.  

The Red Cross Prisoner of War Committee had no news, so it was most likely that the report regrettably was true and so it proved to be. 

Pte. Alfred GEORGE King 260116 1st/6th Royal Warwickshire Regt. Killed in action August 27, 1917 aged 30 and commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial Panels 23 to 28. 

The Tyne Cot Memorial commemorates 34,946 casualties who have no known grave. 

On Remembrance Sunday let us remember the two Kings and the other 157 men who gave their lives in the Great War.

In the words of the poet Siegfried Sassoon: “Look up and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.”