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Tales of Hadleigh soldiers during First World War brought to life for future generations in new book





The stories of Suffolk soldiers, who fought in all corners of the globe during the First World War, will be revived in a fresh historical account set for release next month.

Small Town Duty – Tales of Hadleigh’s Great War is launching on Remembrance Day to illuminate the experiences of almost 500 servicemen from the town.

The 400-page book has been compiled by historian Nigel Crisp, building upon the Hadleigh Royal British Legion’s (RBL) Great War Centenary Project that took place between 2014 and 2019.

Angel Street, Hadleigh, Suffolk.Nigel Crisp is launching a new local history book, ‘Small Town Duty – Tales of Hadleigh’s Great War’, to coincide with Remembrance Day. Picture by Mark Westley. (60239338)
Angel Street, Hadleigh, Suffolk.Nigel Crisp is launching a new local history book, ‘Small Town Duty – Tales of Hadleigh’s Great War’, to coincide with Remembrance Day. Picture by Mark Westley. (60239338)

Supported by the RBL and Friends of the Suffolk Regiment, Mr Crisp revealed the genesis of his interest in local war history stemmed from childhood memories of surviving veterans and his years at The Bridge Street Boy’s School.

The starting point for the book, he explained, was delving into the weekly war reports by the school’s wartime headteacher, Alfred Harriss, in the Suffolk Free Press.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s, I remember a lot of men who were old soldiers,” he said. “There were men from Hadleigh in every corner of the world during the conflict – not just the western front.

“Not only did I want to expand on the men who had fallen, but the men who survived. I had a particular interest in them, because I have lived in Hadleigh all of my life.

“From Harriss’ war items, they were like jigsaw pieces. None of the items told the full story, so it was a matter of putting the pieces together and then digging deeper into records, ancestries and the Suffolk Regiment Museum archives.”

Among the tales detailed in Small Town Duty are those of 90 Hadleigh soldiers who travelled with the Suffolk Regiment’s 5th Battalion to Gallipoli in July 1915.

The individuals highlighted include former St Mary’s Church organist Pvt Frederick Hinton Hockey, who enlisted at the end of 1914 and died in 1916.

Mr Crisp, of Angel Street, said that, while he focused on Hadleigh men, the accounts are reflective of many small towns and the sense of duty their soldiers felt to each other, which informed the book’s title.

“I think history repeats itself,” he said. “What went on in the war then, there are similarities with Russia and Ukraine at the moment.

“From a historical point of view, there’s a case to state what happened 100 years ago, but also it’s important to dig down into family history.

“If I had started this in the 1950s and talked to the old soldiers more, they might have revealed more, but today, there is so much information that can be dug into and that’s not always immediately obvious.

“I think, in some ways, doing it now has been an optimal time to do it. It’s part of the history of the town. I think it’s important knowledge to be aware of.

“Even if you’ve not got that fascination with history, I hope the book would inspire that fascination and get people to look further.

“I’d like to think the book will still be there 100 years from now and people will say, ‘that’s what happened 200 years ago’.”

The book launch event will be held at Hadleigh Old School on November 11 at 7pm and continue from 10am to 1pm on November 12.

Copies will also be available directly from Mr Crisp on 01473 822208 or at nigel.o.crisp@gmail.com.