IN the early hours of November 11, 1918, German diplomats signed the armistice document which would bring an end to the First World War.

It was signed in a railway carriage deep in the forest of Compiegne at 5am, though it only came into effect six hours later, ending four years of bloodshed.

But while the Allies celebrated, the day brought heartbreak for the family of Lance Corporal Edward George Sirett, the son of a Charlbury pastor, killed in the war’s final hours.

The 19-year-old’s tragic story is included in a new exhibition, Charlbury in the First World War, housed at the Charlbury Museum, in the Corner House, Market Street.

Charlbury Museum committee member Janet Jeffs said: “It’s a tragic story that this young man who might very well have escaped being called up in the war was one of the last soldiers to be killed.

“His parents must have been rejoicing because the war was at an end.”

L/Cpl’s Sirett’s poignant story is one of scores compiled in a book of remembrance included at the exhibition.

Funded through the museum committee member’s own pockets, it also includes displays on town life in 1914, soldiers who died and also on those who returned from the war along with memorabilia including World War I Bronze Memorial Plaques, known as “death pennies”, given by the Government to families of the Fallen.

Witney Gazette:

Celia Faulkner holding three death pennies from soldiers killed during the First World War

The museum’s curator, Celia Faulkner, said the exhibition would paint a picture of life in Charlbury during the war.

The 63-year-old said: “We wanted to get a picture of Charlbury as a whole so we focused on what the place was like in 1914.

“There’s a display on soldiers who went to war and came back because we thought they are not given as much prominence.

“Usually it is those who died who get the most publicity, but we thought it would be rather nice to look at other people as well because we wanted to get the Charlbury people interested.”

About 1,300 people lived in Charlbury in 1914. Of the 200 men from the town who fought in the war, 36 died.

Mrs Faulkner said: “There were officers, medical workers, labourers. It was a whole cross section of society.

“They died at Gallipoli, at Ypres and there was Eddie Sirett who died on Armistice Day.”

Her research showed L/Cpl Sirett lived with his widowed father, Caleb, and two sisters, Alice and Mary, in Chadlington, in 1901. By 1911 the family had moved to Newton House, a draper’s shop in Charlbury’s Sheep Street.

It is not known when L/Cpl Sirett was called up, though a notice in our sister paper The Oxford Times from December 1918, said he had only served in France a few weeks.

He served in the 1/5 Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, a territorial unit which only returned to France in September 1918 after being in Italy since the previous November.

The unit was part of 25 Division, which captured the French town of Landrecies near the Belgian border a week before the Armistice.

It is also the home of L/Cpl Sirett’s grave in the immaculately maintained Landrecies Communal Cemetery, looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Mrs Faulkner said: “It’s a sad story. This young man wanted to go, I think they felt a loyalty to the crown.

“What a waste of a young life it was, and this applies to many of the others.”

The exhibition is open from 10am to noon on Saturdays and 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Sundays and bank holidays until the end of September.

Perhaps on a wave of patriotism, he was a year under recruiting age

Witney Gazette:

CHRISTOPHER Handel Dyke, above, was a year under the recruiting age when he signed up for King and Country in 1914; possibly swept up in a wave of patriotic fever.
The 17-year-old, of Hazeldene Cottage, Charlbury, enlisted as a Private in the 1st Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
His papers, including enlistment documents and letters to his family are on display at the town’s exhibition on the First World War.

Witney Gazette:

A collection of items commemorating the life of Private Handel Dyke

His unit was part of the Indian Expeditionary Force, destined for the Mesopotamian sands tasked with keeping Britain’s oil fields from the clutches of the Ottoman Empire.
But within two years the former Superintendant of Charlbury Methodist Church, was dead; killed in an ill-fated assault at Sanniyat along the banks of the River Tigris in modern day Iraq.
The attack was a final gamble as British commanders tried in vain to relieve thousands of troops besieged 15 miles up the river at Kut-al-Amara.
Barely 30 men survived after a maelstrom of Turkish small arms fire tore the regiment to shreds.
The waters of the Suwachi Marsh, driven by a north east wind, began to swell after the attack drowning many injured men as it went.
On May 9, 1916, Pte Dyke’s parents, Edward and Annie, received a letter from the War Office telling them their son had been killed. He was 19-years-old.

Fallen soldier wanted to ‘have a pop’ at Germans

ERNEST Harold Price was killed on April 10, 1917, on the second day of the Battle of Arras as he helped lead his men into battle.

Witney Gazette:

Jennifer Bartlett holding the medals and death penny for her Uncle Harold Price

A fragment from an exploding shell felled the Sergeant, in A Squadron of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars.
Among the Charlbury Museum’s exhibition on the First World War are letters from Sgt Price to his family and other memorabilia which his niece, Jennifer Bartlett, donated to the museum.
The 79-year-old, of Ticknell Piece Road, Charlbury, said: “He wrote a letter to his family which says something about the attitude of the troops and that he couldn’t wait to have a pop at the Germans.
“That sort of language horrifies me but I think it was quite general. He was very enthusiastic about joining up. There are photos of him when he joined up and another in 1916 or 1917 and he had aged so much it was incredible. He was a boy and then he was a man.”
Ernest Harold Price, known as Harold, was one of five sons of Henry and Edith Price, who lived in Myrtle Cottage, Church Street, Charlbury.
He was born on March 18, 1894, as the seventh of nine children.
Before war broke out he moved to Surrey to work as an apprentice butcher, but returned to enlist in Oxford.
He is buried in the Tilloy British Cemetery, near Arras, France.

Women in wartime

ON the early evening of April 22, 1915, Allied troops north of the Belgian town of Ypres watched in horror as a greenish cloud of chlorine gas drifted slowly towards them.
It was the first use of gas on the Western Front and presented a ghastly spectacle for the medical nurses tasked with caring for the wounded, many who were blinded and left coughing up blood.
One of these nurses was Nora Constable, born in Charlbury and daughter of the landlord of The Bell Hotel, in Church Street.
Her story is part of the Women in Wartime display at Charlbury Museum’s exhibition on the town in the First World War.
Charlbury Museum committee member, Sue Rangeley, came across Nora’s story while researching women in the town during the war.
She said: “These were horrific injuries they were dealing with.
“The nurses were also the confidants of those who were injured. They would lay flowers and tidy the graves of those who passed away. They went far beyond the medical care that they were giving.”

Witney Gazette:

Sue Rangeley with a replica Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) uniform she made for the exhibition

Nora’s records are held at The National Archives, in Kew, which Ms Rangeley said gave a detailed insight into her time at the front.
Nora trained as a nurse aged 18 before enlisting in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in 1914.
In January 1915 she was sent to the Western Front, where in April and May she would have treated the first chemical warfare casualties after the German gas attack at Ypres.
Mr Rangeley believes Nora was then stationed far behind the front line at Etretat in 1916.
This is because Nora befriended another nurse, Edith Appleton, whose published diary A Nurse at the Front, mention ‘Constable’ during entries that year at the French coastal town.
Nora stayed on as a nurse before returning to Britain in the early 1920s.

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