First World War heroes from Watford – all remembered at last
The topic of remembrance of the First World War heroes is a subject very close to Daren Norris's heart, and is one he has a huge passion for. He was determined to ensure that all those who gave their lives from Watford were remembered on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War on 11th November this year. And it was a goal that was accomplished... Daren tells us about his family connections, his research, and the regulars of his local pub who helped to make the memorial possible.
The back story
In the early 1970s walking with my grandad Sydney and my younger brother Brian in Watford High Street, we stopped at the Peace memorial monument to pay respects. My grandad’s elder brother Frederick Norris (2nd Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment) who was born and brought up in Watford, was killed at Albert in France in 1918, aged just 22, and my grandad felt that all the names of the lads from Watford, including Fred’s should be remembered as he said there were hundreds and hundreds of them, and their names have never been put up. Some of the more wealthy families did have their names put up in church memorials, but not the common working lads like my great-uncle Fred, as their families just could not afford to pay for it. This idea stayed with me for many years and I managed to get a photo of my great-uncle Fred in uniform from an old aunt. The picture brought the idea to life for me and I started gathering information, first from grave yards, museums, plaques and small memorials, and later by searching the internet through specialist research websites. In 2013, I began to review and organise all the information I had gathered and over a period of three years eventually found the details of all 1,429 recorded servicemen from Watford who lost their lives in the First World War.
Unique research & the helpful regulars at the Hammer in Hand pub
This was a completely unique, private and individual piece of research, which has never been done to this extent before by anyone. I organised these names in to an alphabetical list and proposed the construction of a memorial wall next to the Peace memorial sculptures in the High Street. Unfortunately, at that time, the Council was not able to help me plan and finance the construction of the memorial wall due to strict spending constraints, which was understandable. This made my idea lose momentum until regulars at the Hammer in Hand pub suggested we arrange a centennial event at the pub and produce a memorial plaque with the names of all 1,429 local heroes on it. Since then I designed and commissioned the plaque and name plates for erection and unveiling at the pub on 11th November, where we held a short local commemoration service of remembrance. We invited all locals and publicised the event with a view to raising some funds for the Help for Heroes campaign. A permanent main plaque was erected with the following words below, and three large panels with all the 1,429 names on, which will be erected on Remembrance Day every year thereafter.
Hope of a better future
The words on the plaque are: Watford Centennial War Memorial In memory of the 1,429 known Soldiers, Seamen and Airmen of this borough who gave their lives in the service of their King and Country during the Great War of 1914 – 1918. Leaving behind their grieving parents, wives and children over a century ago, they did so bravely in the hope of a better future and that in the face of a mighty tyranny across the sea, we should maintain the liberty we all still freely enjoy in this town today.
Following three years of unique, independent research by pub regular Daren Norris, this plaque was erected on 11th November 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice of Compiègne and the ultimate Allied victory over all enemy forces on land, over sea and in the air. Commissioned by The Hammer In Hand Public House Management and Patrons on behalf of an adoring nation, as a testimony and tribute to their unconquerable valour, endurance, sufferings and devotion. Forever honoured and respected by their fellow countrymen. May their proud names be remembered in these streets forever. God bless them, every one.
My brother and I visited Albert in June this year to pay respects at Fred’s grave, and laid his medals with him, 100 years to the day since he was killed. As I have said above, this is the most accurate and complete list of servicemen from Watford who were killed on the battlefields or who died later of their wounds, and I feel it is right and proper at last to have all their names remembered a century later. I undertook all of the research myself personally and produced this unique piece of local history work entirely on my own.
Daren Norris, 2018