Drinkstone unveils ‘lost’ memorial to First World War casualty

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A memorial to a fallen Drinkstone soldier was unveiled today in the village hall, where it is to remain on permanent display.

The grieving family of Drinkstone-born Private Arthur Pryke are thought to have commissioned the memorial - a special commemorative finely-worked embroidery - in the aftermath of the First World War.

Suffolk county councillor Penny Otton and Drinkstone War Memorial Institute vice chairman Robin Sharp with the memorial to fallen Drinkstone soldier, Private Arthur Pryke

Suffolk county councillor Penny Otton and Drinkstone War Memorial Institute vice chairman Robin Sharp with the memorial to fallen Drinkstone soldier, Private Arthur Pryke

It was discovered by chance on an Internet auction site in June 2009 by Drinkstone resident Robin Sharp and, after being carefully restored and framed, has gone on display in Drinkstone’s village hall in Gedding Road, which is due to be designated as Drinkstone’s official War Memorial after Sunday’s service of Remembrance at All Saints’ Church.

Mr Sharp, vice chairman of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (the village hall), said: “I was surprised to stumble across the item on eBay and I recognised the name at once as one of the 15 Drinkstone men who did not return from the First World War, and who are listed on a plaque in the parish church. I quickly telephoned the secretary of the village History Group and we agreed we should do our utmost to win the auction and bring the memorial home to Drinkstone – and I’m pleased to say we were successful.”

Before handing over to Suffolk county councillor Penny Otton, he added: “It’s a memorial, not just to Pryke himself, but to all those from the village who passed out of the sight of men for country, king and community. So, it really does gives me great pleasure and immense satisfaction to invite Cllr Penny Otton to unveil the memorial and restore it to the village today on November 2, 2013, which is 95 years and one day after Arthur Pryke lost his life.”

Cllr Otton said: “I’m actually quite humbled to be asked to do this unveiling. I think it’s so timely that here we are just one year away from the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, and I believe it was 10,000 men from the Suffolk Regiment who were killed during that conflict.”

The memorial was sold to Drinkstone by a collector and Great War enthusiast from Bury St Edmunds who had kept it in a shed since buying it at a car boot fair in Woolpit in around 1998.

Before going on display, it was cleaned and restored by Sudbury-based textile conservator May Berkouwer, re-glazed by her team and returned to its restored original oak frame by Bill Henderson of Sudbury Picture Frames.

The restoration project, which cost around £1,500, was delayed until a major campaign to fund and build Drinkstone’s new village hall was completed earlier this year.

Funds for the project were raised through a number of events, personal donations and other sources, including Cllr Otton’s Locality Budget, the Waitrose ‘Community Matters’ scheme and contributions from Stowmarket Lions Club, Suffolk Old Comrades Association (Stowmarket), Princess Louise’s Kensington Regimental Association, the Kensington Battalion Lodge (No 3624) and The Clothworkers’ Company.

Mr Sharp said: “We’re so pleased that we’ve been able to bring this memorial home for permanent display where it was intended to be, here in Drinkstone, thanks to the generosity and goodwill of many folk. It is a poignant reminder of the loss felt at the time by those families whose husbands, brothers, sons did not come back from the Great War. It is fitting that this memorial to one of those who was lost, Private Pryke, should be unveiled 95 years and one day after he died, and in time for this year’s Remembrance Sunday.”

Speaking after the unveiling, Taff Gillingham, Suffolk Regiment historian and chairman of the Suffolk branch of The Western Front Association, who also bid on the item when it was listed for sale on eBay, said the village hall was ‘just the right place for it’.

He added: “Things like this are interesting because they show Suffolk Regiment soldiers that have gone on to do other things.”

Private Pryke, of Mead Cottage, Tostock Road, Drinkstone, joined the 8th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment before transferring to the 13th Princess Louise’s Kensington Battalion, the London Regiment. He arrived for service in France on July 26, 1915, and died on November 1, 1918, aged 26. He was laid to rest in the British military cemetery at Étaples, near Boulogne.

Mr Gillingham said it was ‘very unusual to be posted out of one unit to another’ and so he believed that Private Pryke had returned home wounded and, when fit and ready to go back, had changed to the London Regiment because it had needed recruits when the Suffolk’s had not.

He also said he thought Private Pryke had ‘probably survived everything that the German Army could throw at him’ and succumbed to Spanish Flu.

“That’s what I think happened to Arthur Pryke, and I’m really, really chuffed that the people of Drinkstone have not forgotten him,” he said.

Mr Sharp would like to hear from anyone who knew, or is still in touch with Private Pryke’s family. To contact him, email louise.robin@btinternet.com