Out of the autumn sky, no warning. A shell shreds the silence. The shell ends George’s war, his life. ‘Proud? If my sons were standing here with me I would be. Must be proud!’
Creating the Centena
On Armistice Day 2017, the fiery fiefdom of Lewes paid a Bonfire-inspired tribute to every citizen who’d given their lives in the Great War. 236, twenty-first century men and boys – the same ages as all of those who died – walked from where the fallen had lived, bringing flaming torches to the town’s war memorial. As names were read out, they extinguished their flames, one by one.
A remarkable, scalp-tightening congregation, making personal the tragedy of war. At an individual and town-wide level.
Most remarkable of all were the last four in the procession, who represented four brothers from the same family. Petty Officer Thomas Crock who died aged 40 on 22.09.14 off the Dutch coast.
Sergeant William Henry Crock aged 32, died 26.06.17, buried in Steenwerk. Lance Corporal George Crock, killed in Northern France aged 36 on 05.09.18. And their brother Samuel Crock, died aged 42 in Greece, less than a month before the end of the war, on 13.10.18. I was touched by the raw emotion, calmness, and beauty of theLewes Remembers event.
I found George’s story the most compelling and touching. At the moment he died, George was writing a letter to his wife in Lewes. No trace of that letter remains, but my centena imagines him writing the letter just nine weeks before the end of the war.
I benefitted from the research done by the team who staged the event. I spoke to Brigitte Lardinois, research fellow at the London College of Communication, who curated Lewes Remembers. The event culminated with the torchlit procession through the streets of my county town. But it was preceded by an exhibition of photos of Lewes’ Great War dead on lightboxes in the windows of the town’s shops.
The images came from the archive of town photographer Edward Reeves, in business since Victorian times. Reeves has an unmatched archive of the town since photography began. The photo I’ve chosen – from the project/Reeves website – shows George, his brother, his mother, his wife. Yes. The wife he was writing to on 5 September when the unexpected shell shattered their lives.
Brigitte shared her research and many links, plus the story of Crock’s father snorting derision at the rector for suggesting he should be proud of his four sons’ names on the memorial. That was reported in the Sussex Express at the time.
I also spoke to Chris Kempshall at the First World War East Sussex Project Team. He confirmed what I’d expected: that Brigitte had discovered all they thought could be discovered out about the Crocks. To confirm dates, names, and places, I spent time perusing both the National Archives and Commonwealth War Graves Commission web databases.
“Proud?” As George’s father said to the rector at the unveiling of the memorial: “What have I got to be proud about? If those names were not on the war memorial and my sons were standing here with me, then I would be a proud man.”
About the Writer
With special thanks
This Centena was researched and created with the assistance of: Brigitte Lardinois, research fellow at the London College of Communication, Chris Kempshall at the First World War East Sussex Project Team, the National Archives and Commonwealth War Graves Commission web databases.
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