Saffron Walden: Stories Behind The Names Of War Memorials



12:00 p.m. on November 4, 2021

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

One hundred years ago, Saffron Walden stopped and men, women and children gathered in silence at the top of the High Street to witness 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 heavens and who died in all the different theaters and, some of wounds, in England itself.

On that bright May afternoon, the speech spoke of “Victor’s heroes (who) rest in many countries, but here stands the symbol of their glory.”

Take the trouble to stop and read the names on the memorial, they are simply listed by first and last name in alphabetical order.

You’ll immediately notice 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 tragedies and sacrifices typical of communities and families across the country.

Look further at the WWII signs and the same names repeat the same story.

Private Frederick Smith was killed in Belgium in 1917.

His son, also Frédéric, died of injuries received in France in 1944 and is buried in the cemetery of our city.

In 1921, the total number of victims at the war memorial stood at 158.

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

These two men enlisted in the Essex Regiment and their combined war service spanned a period from 1915 to 1917 and characterized 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 graduation he was employed by the Anglo-American Oil Company at their tracks at Saffron Walden until war broke out when he immediately enlisted.

At the end of September 1915, George and his friends arrived in Loos, described in the regiment’s history as “their first sight of a modern battlefield …… The weather was excruciating and the scene horrific… .. bodies of men lay scattered. Dead horses, moose shattered into pieces and an indescribable confusion and smell are remembered.

The front line trench was just a ditch dug out of mud, so it needed improvement and over 400 men worked hard, under fire from the rows, to build a new trench on the west side of the Chalkpit.

On October 18, it was decided to seize the whole of the enemy trenches on the southwest face of the Quarries.

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

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

The losses, however, were heavy and George was counted among the missing.

It wasn’t until March 1916 that news broke about George’s fate, but his body was never found on the constantly bombarded battlefield.

Pte George KING (10619) 9tn Essex Regt, killed in action at age 19 on October 18, 1915, commemorated on commemorative signs for Loos 98-99.

The Loos Memorial commemorates the names of 20,593 victims who have no known grave.

George King’s name on Saffron Walden’s war memorial
– Credit: Carol Pike

Names on Saffron Walden's War Memorial

Saffron Walden War Memorial
– Credit: Carol Pike

Alfred George King lived at 90 High Street.

He had attended Boys British School before working in the shops at Watney Combe Reid’s Saffron Walden Brewery 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, on 1 / 6th .

In August 1917 Alfred trained at Riegersburg camp near St. Julien, but on August 26 the battalion was moved to positions north and south of the St. Julien – Winnipeg route.

The next day, they attacked enemy positions at Winnipeg Farm at 1:55 p.m.

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

The troops found it nearly impossible to advance due to the state of the ground and the concentrated fire from machine gunners and snipers protected by concrete pitches at Springfield Farm on the right and Vancouver Farm on the right. center.

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

It was not until December that Mrs. King heard from Alfred.

He was told that along with five others he had not been seen since August 27 and that they were said to have been killed.

The Red Cross Prisoners of War Committee had no news, so it was highly likely that the report was sadly true and it turned out to be.

Pte. Alfred GEORGE King 260116 1st / 6th Royal Warwickshire Regt. Killed in Action on August 27, 1917 at age 30 and commemorated on Tyne Cot Memorial Boards 23-28.

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

On Remembrance Sunday, let us remember the two kings and the 157 other 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 spring that you will never forget”.



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