|The Villages in The Great War
The Building of the Memorial Hall and
the Start of Many Social Gatherings Thereafter
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - November 1995
Here we look mainly at material from the exhibition (held in 1995 to mark the centenary of Birch Parish Council). Luckily the late Don Bishop not only collected early issues of the Parish magazine but he handed them on, for safe keeping, to Mrs Dennis and it is through her good offices that we are able to select items to give a local view of events. We also have the paper by the late Mrs Eames and earlier booklets by Tom Millat, head teacher at Birch School long ago, who died recently. His obituary is in the Essex County Standard, 6th October 1995, and well does it read.
To start with the War Memorial Hall itself, the April 1919 magazine reports a meeting on March 19th at which Capt C F Round suggested that a Parish Hall was the greatest need, "especially in view of the large number of men who have come back to the Parish, and who will feel the desire of social intercourse which was such a feature of their army life." The proposal was enthusiastically endorsed and everone was urged to "give of their best" in order to provide not only a War Memorial but also a Thanks Offering for those who returned safely.
By November 1920 Mr Frank Hutton had prepared an plan free of charge which the Committee unanimously accepted with the accompanying estimate. The land had been gifted by Mr Round in a field known as "the Pytle". The Hall was officially opened on Sunday 9th October 1921 by Gen. Towsey. A wreath was laid at the Village Cross on Church Green before the opening ceremony. It would seem that the Hall was soon fully booked for all manner of functions, cinema evenings, dances, choral societies, and so forth.
The Village Cross down by the School, which many of us pass by daily, was unveiled and dedicated on St Peter's Day 1917. It was designed by Mr Douglass G Round and made by Mr Hutton from two old oak beams taken from the Layer Breton Church so badly damaged by the earthquake in 1884.
Not all of the magazines for 1914 to 1918 have survived but those that have paint a very sad picture of the experiences of those who lived through that war.
We know, from the January 1919 magazine, that 27 men from Birch or Layer Breton were killed out of the 160 men and women who served. Layer Marney Church has a memorial to the 14 men from that Parish who died in the war.It was unveiled by Mrs Round and dedicated by the Bishop of Colchester on June 13th 1920.
Each month of the War brought news of local residents at the front or in prisoner of war camps, so the consecration of the War Memorial brought a very sad chapter to a close.
A few years ago it was suggested that details of those who failed to return should be collected and entered into a book to be kept in the Church - it is not too late to do this now and we would be pleased to hear from anyone having relatives listed on either the Birch, Layer Breton or Layer Marney memorials. The names are read out each year on Remembrance Day, and it would be interesting to know something of those men, whose loss must have been so keenly felt by families and villagers some 80 years ago.
Turning to more cheerful news, the months of June and July 1918 contained items of interest to the women of the parishes. In June it was reported that about 40 women and girls working on the land had been invited to a meeting at Birch School. Their work was praised by Mr Blomfield, a local farmer, and armlets and stripes were distributed. The same month saw the launching of the Women's Institute, a movement originating in Canada, and "intended to help women in country places to work together for the good of their Country". The first two meetings dealt with fruit bottling and a talk on tending the wounded at the front, by Miss Luard a Red Cross nurse on leave.
November 1919 heard a talk on "Citizenship" and ended with a singing of "Jerusalem" "Surely the most fitting motto that could be found for Women's Institutes".