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Telling the stories of men on their memorial

Elizabeth Cockayne, acting curator and chairman of Woolpit Museum, beside their new World War One display. ANL-141104-144958001

Elizabeth Cockayne, acting curator and chairman of Woolpit Museum, beside their new World War One display. ANL-141104-144958001

What is thought to be the smallest museum in Suffolk reopens for the summer today with a new display on World War One.

You enter Woolpit Museum through the grey 18th century Woolpit Institute, but step through into a 15th century building that was once part of a 100 yard long inn.

Over the winter the history group that run it have researched the impact of WW1 on the village and created a display about the 26 men on the wooden war memorial beside he institute’s front door.

“We’ve traced the stories of them all, except one,” acting curator and chairman Elizabeth Cockayne said. “The only one we can’t find out about is Pte M Fisher.”

He was with the 5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, but even the Regiment Museum has been unable to help.

Elizabeth said: “Fisher was quite a Woolpit name and there was one who could have gone, but we can’t find any more. All we can hope is that someone comes in and can tell us more.”

In fact, there are four Fishers on the memorial and in the museum you can read an account of the war by one, Corp William Fisher.

He mentions being gassed in December 1915 and seeing tanks go into action for the first time on the Somme in 1916. He was a stretcher bearer with the 9th Suffolks and writes of holding up a wounded man to help him eat.

He adds: “Oh the sorrow! I can tell a lot of such sorrows.”

Corp Fisher was hit by shrapnel himself: “It cut through the artery under my right ear. I felt I was bleeding to death and the power began to leave my legs.

“I began to fall, when assistance came.”

He returned to the front only to be wounded on April 28, 1917 and die in hospital at Etaples,France, on May 9.

While many of the names were men with the Suffolk Regiment they also served with other regiments and services, even the Canadians.

Bertram Ruddock was born in Woolpit but emigrated to Canada so was with the Canadian forces when he died.

It was not only enemy action that killed them. The youngest on the memorial is Robert Davey, who died of meningitis in the Royal Navy aged 16.

Some families have more than one son listed. The display has a picture of Pte Albert Rose, of the 7th Suffolks, who died in April 1918 only a month after his brother Leonard.

Elizabeth points out the unusual thing about the Woolpit memorial: it was unveiled in March 1917. But being wood, it could be extended to add more WW1 names, and then those of WW2. The current one is a replica of the original, which began to rot.

It was the idea of Dr Orby Wood, whose daughter unveiled it. The museum also has a display of Dr Wood’s wooden splints, used on patients at about that time.

From Sunday, the museum is open from 2pm to 5pm every weekend and bank holiday Mondays until September 28.

 

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