THREE young men from the Yorkshire village of Minskip died in the Great War, and, although their names are inscribed on the altar rail in the church, the 300 residents know little of them today.
A relative of one of them, however, is determined to restore their names to the community’s collective memory. So far, Jill Boyes has unearthed the story of Edwin Mawtus, a second cousin of hers, who was 19 when he was killed on the Somme, a week before Armistice Day. She knows a few details about the second name, Walter Blades, but her search for the third, Joseph Crooks, has so far drawn a blank.
Now she plans to plant a cherry tree in their memory in the grounds of St John’s, on 4 November, a century to the day on which Mawtus was killed. Mrs Boyes, who lives 60 miles away in Scarborough, first learnt about him when she began researching her family tree eight years ago. “I went to Minskip, and I found that beautiful altar rail in the church,” she said.
“Then, this year, as people began considering marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, I thought: Eddie had no family of his own, but he would have been well-known in Minskip. I wanted him to be remembered.”
Her research led her to Gill Johnson, another second cousin, who lives in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. She recalled childhood visits in the early 1950s to Mawtus’s widowed father, Ned, in Minskip. “Edwin’s picture was on the piano in the parlour, always with fresh flowers. I remember that shrine. His parents never got over his death. My cousin still wears Eddie’s signet ring, which came home with his personal effects.”
At first, Mawtus was listed as missing: it was six months before his body was formally identified. Mrs Johnson said: “It is absolutely, desperately sad. He was an only child. I just can’t contemplate the agony his parents went through waiting to find out what the truth was.”
She has a cutting from the parish magazine of May 1919, confirming his death. It reports how “any lingering doubts” of his fate had been dispelled with news that his grave had been discovered in the Forest of Mormal, in north-eastern France.
The report goes on: “Great sympathy has been felt for his parents during their long-drawn-out suspense, waiting — always waiting — for news, with that hope deferred which maketh the heart sick, and, now that the worst is known, it is with renewed sympathy that we approach them and with tender regrets in our hearts for their loss — yes, and for ours, too. He was a good, pure, straight lad, cheerful, always happy, whom God hath called for work elsewhere.”
Walter Blades was born at Preston-under-Scar, near Leyburn, in North Yorkshire, in 1886, the son of a postman. A stonemason, he married in May 1915, and his son, Thomas, was born three months later in Boroughbridge. He enlisted that December. Details of his death are unknown.
The churchwarden of St John’s, Robert Beaumont, said: “I have always been fascinated by the altar rail, and have often thought about these three brave men who died, but knew nothing more than that. Today, the church is an integral part of life in Minskip, and it was probably just as much as a focal point when these young men were in our little community.
“To have a cherry tree in our churchyard is a wonderful way to remember these brave young men. The ceremony will not just be about remembering them, but everybody who died in the Great War.”