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Did a war hero once live in your Norwich home?

PUBLISHED: 09:09 06 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:14 06 November 2018

Stephen Thompson (left) and Richard Cockaday (right) standing at memorial in Trinity Church Norwich

Stephen Thompson (left) and Richard Cockaday (right) standing at memorial in Trinity Church Norwich

Archant

The stories behind the names on a parish war memorial are told in a moving tribute to all 164 men killed in the First World War, and the martyr nurse who once worshipped with them.

Stephen Thompson (left) and Richard Cockaday (right) with book 'lest we forget' researching WW1 164 fallen soldiers of Trinity Church parishStephen Thompson (left) and Richard Cockaday (right) with book 'lest we forget' researching WW1 164 fallen soldiers of Trinity Church parish

An author of a book honouring men killed in the First World War will be calling at some of the homes they left behind - to tell the modern-day residents their stories.

Every time an organ chord reverberates through Holy Trinity church, in Trinity Street, Norwich, it honours the war dead of the parish.

The music Richard Cockaday plays every Sunday is a memorial to men who left the surrounding streets of tight-packed terraced houses to fight the First World War - and never returned.

One of them was Robert Muirhead. Robert’s father was also the church organist, and would have been one of the first to play the war memorial organ, given in memory of his son and 163 other lives lost.

A plaque records all 164 names, and now the story of each one of those men has been traced.

There is the 18-year-old; the baby of a family of six siblings, who died of his wounds in July 1918. There was another, also the youngest of six, who lied about his age to go to war, signing up in 1914, aged just 15. There are several families in this small area of Norwich who lost not one, but two sons, including Alfred and Leopold Read, of Newmarket Street, who died just eight days, but thousands of miles, apart in northern France and Gaza in April 1917.

Richard has worked with friends and fellow members of the current Holy Trinity congregation, including John Balls and Stephen Thompson, to pay tribute to the men - and to Edith Cavell who also worshipped here.

A hundred years on, we can only imagine the sadness in nearby homes as the men left Norwich for France, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Iraq… And then the devastation as telegrams, bearing terrible news, began arriving for the families left behind.

John will be knocking on the doors of some of those homes this week – to tell the modern-day owners or tenants about the heroes who once lived in their homes.

Robert Muirhead was just 21 when he died in France in October 1916. He is also commemorated at the cemetery in Thiepval, for men with no known grave. “I understand that Bobbie sang his first solo when he was only seven years old. He was such a bright Chrstian lad, a splendid Sunday School teacher, an excellent violinist, and always ready to help,” said his obituary in the parish magazine. Robert, the younger of two brothers, went to school in Trinity Street and was working as a bank clerk before joining up with the Royal Fusiliers. His father, James was Holy Trinity church organist from 1890 to 1920 and must have played for many desperately sad services during those years.

Young Frank Houghton, of Bury Street, signed up at 15 and almost made it to the end of the war, but was killed in France in September 1918. Frank’s final resting place remains unknown but he is also remembered on a memorial to the almost 10,000 men who died in the final 100 days of the war.

The oldest man commemorated by the Norwich church organ is 47-year-old Rev Stephen John Sullings who died of typhoid, contracted while serving as any army chaplain in Gallipoli.

Alongside these doomed men, a middle-aged vicar’s daughter also worshipped in the Trinity Street church, when home on leave from her job as a matron in a Belgian nurse training school.

She too was silenced by the war.

Edith Cavell’s family had retired to College Road, Norwich, and worshipped at Holy Trinity Church. As soon as war seemed inevitable Edith left Norwich for Belgium, to prepare to help the wounded.

It led her to death by German firing squad and she is remembered in a beautiful carving of the Lord’s Supper, behind the church altar.

Lest We Forget, The War Memorial Roll of Honour, Holy Trinity Church, Norwich, researched by Stephen Thompson with assistance from John Balls, Richard and Ruth Cockaday and Stuart McLaren, is priced £5 and is available from the church or by contacting John Balls via johnb1912@btinternet.com or 01603 433712.

The four year research project has uncovered details of the lives of each of the 164 men commemorated by the Holy Trinity war memorial organ. An appeal was launched in November 1918, with fundraising including people giving money for particular keys and pipes. The completed organ was installed and dedicated exactly three years later.

The Remembrance Sunday service at Holy Trinity Church begins at 10.45am on November 11.

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