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Church of the Ascension, Burghclere

A Letter from the Rector

At the end of July an exhibition of World War One memorabilia was held in Burghclere Church. Thank you to all who contributed and those who organised it.

I sometimes think I can catch a very faint echo of 1914. I don’t expect the fields, the woods and the little streams around here have changed that much since. The school buildings, the churches, the Portal hall would have been familiar to the people of 1914 and would still be recognisable to them. Walking down the old coach road, when the noise of the A34 stops, when there are no helicopters or aircraft around, when the 21st century drops away, just for a brief moment you might be back 100 hundred years ago. We catch an echo too in the names that are read out every November. We can only guess at their experiences, taken away from the places they knew, from the familiar to places overseas that probably they had never heard of, surrounded by languages and people they did not understand. 

A war that had its origins in the competing aims and ambitions of the European super powers, a war that was triggered by some shots fired in a side street in Sarajevo that killed the heir to the Austrian empire, a war that engulfed the lives of millions, took men away from their working lives on the farms and in the villages around here, from their wives, children and families. 

19 from Ecchinswell did not return home, 25 from Burghclere. We can look at the names on the village war memorials, on plaques in church and wonder at the folly and the waste of it all. Yet there is too a nobility about it, not a glorification of war, but a recognition of the courage and resolution that these men displayed. And not just the men of course, war was hard on the families, the children and the animals, especially the horses.

We look at the names and we can only begin to imagine what they experienced.  Harry Cram  from Burghclere, a carter married on Christmas day 1915 in Ecchinswell Church to Elsie Miles, killed in 1918, two of the witnesses to the marriage, Albert Cram his brother,  the brides brother Frederick John Miles [shepherd], both killed. Tom Talmage, a bell ringer in Burghclere church, Harry Sheerman from Old Burghclere killed in the last few weeks of the war aged 18, William and Leslie Stratton from Ecchinswell killed within a few weeks of each other in 1918, John Appleby from Peak Gate Ecchinswell buried in Basra in Iraq. Two are buried in Burghclere churchyard; William Harding who died of wounds in hospital in Exmouth and Herbert Jewel [RN] aged 17.

While we catch echoes of the individuals of 1914 the results and consequences of the conflict are very much still with us – look at the Balkans today, the Middle East, the mistakes of the peace that lead to the Second World war.

But today I think is not a time to look at the big picture. It is a time to pay tribute to those individuals, men and women across Europe and men and women in these Hampshire villages whose lives were about to change forever in the face of a remorseless conflict.

Our exhibition in Burghclere Church evoked some of those lives, those experiences in all its poignancy and helped us to catch an echo of their lives.

The Reverend David Bartholomew .... August 2014