Fallen 54 to be honoured

Diss, Norfolk. Diss War Memorial which was hit by a car and damaged the railings due to the winter weather. ENGANL00120130121110538
Diss, Norfolk. Diss War Memorial which was hit by a car and damaged the railings due to the winter weather. ENGANL00120130121110538

The names of 54 forgotten Diss soldiers who fought and died in the First World War will finally be honoured in the town.

A major research project to uncover the true extent of the Diss’ losses during the war will lead to the men, some who died as teenagers, being added to the Diss war memorial.

On Sunday, June 1, Diss town centre hosts a series of events to commemorate those men whose identities have been unearthed.

These include a Spitfire flypast at 2.30pm and a reading of a First World War short story, The Bowmen, by BBC ‘Allo ‘Allo! star Richard Gibson, who played German Gestapo officer Herr Otto Flick.

Helen Kennett, the Norwich social historian who has researched the missing names, said: “I thought there were names missing. I said it would be nice to commemorate them. I felt they should be remembered and I felt it was so unfair that they were not being remembered.”

Quite why the names are not included on the memorial is a mystery, according to Mrs Kennett.

“It is difficult to go back to the mindset of those days,” she said.

“People could have moved away, or simply not accepted that their son had been killed.”

There are even odd quirks, such as the two Bendall brothers who died in the war. One is included on the current memorial, while the other isn’t.

Mrs Kennett said she has not simply researched the names. As a social historian, she has also found out as much as she can about the men, their background, status, and their families.

“This has been a worthwhile project - and a full time job,” she said.

“I don’t mind because I find it very interesting, from a social history point of view. It is how people felt at the time, their families - this is not just name listing. The war was woven into the fabric of society.

“There was an awful lot of heroism. I know at least two men should have been given the Victoria Cross for what they did. Why didn’t they get more recognition? It is very sad.

“My husband told me that it should be turned into a book - which it is.”

The book, Diss and District in World War I, will be released by November this year.

Diss was slow to get its memorial built, compared to other towns and villages in the area. It was not installed until 1921 - and not without some effort.

The then chairman of Diss Town Council, Clement Gaze, had to work hard to fundraise in the community for the necessary funds. Perhaps the town was war weary, Mrs Kennett suggested.

Diss Museum manager Basil Abbott, who has organised the June 1 events, said: “It is a very important part of local history that should not be forgotten.”

The June 1 events begin at 2pm with Norwich Early Dance Group, in Market Place. The Spitfire flypast follows, with the reading from actor Richard Gibson of Alan Machen’s The Bowmen at about 3pm.

The event was due to coincide with the unveiling of the war memorial with the new names added. Sadly, this is now not possible, owing to red tape.

Mr Abbott said: “The church said that a faculty was necessary from the diocesan office and approached the Town Council, who asked the stonemasons for information. Somehow things didn’t happen in time. Even when permission is granted there has to be a 28 day period before the event.”