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All Saints, Shouldham
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Parish churches provide a continuity down the centuries, down the long generations; but they are also touchstones to a more recent and more haunting past. When I was a child there were still many men alive who had fought in the trenches of the Western Front. Men who had fought on the Somme and at Passchendaele, in the Dardanelles and the Middle East, were then in their late seventies, and were set apart. People did not talk about the War when I was child, and so few of these men were ever able to share and heal their memories. As I grew older, so a general interest in the War and the experience of it for ordinary soldiers grew; but those men, boys really, who had fought in it were dying out. A few weeks after I sat here on this beautiful lonely hillside, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, the last two British survivors of the conflict, were both dead.
now of my great-grandfather and my great-great-uncle, who
were both killed in the Battle of the Somme. My
Great-Great-Uncle Harry was one of the very first to die
on the very first day of the Somme. He was a private
soldier in the 11th Suffolks, the renowned Cambridge
Battallion, who went over the top at 7.32am on that
beautiful summer morning along with the Grimsby Chums, at
at a place known as Sausage
Valley, just south of La Boisselle, to the east of the
town of Albert.
On the war memorial in the tiny village on the outskirts of Cambridge where he was born, my great-great-uncle's is the first name. But there are eleven other names on the memorial in that parish of fewer than a hundred people, and three of them were also killed in the same attack. How dreadful it must have been when the news reached the village one morning in the early days of July 1916. He was nineteen years old. My mother's side of the family was forever shadowed by the pain and grief of losing him, and every name on the Shouldham war memorial must have been the catalyst of a similar pain, a similar grief.
I would have liked to have wandered into the numinous interior of All Saints church to contemplate further; but this church is kept locked, and there is no keyholder notice. I have spoken to several other Norfolk church explorers, and none of them has ever seen the inside of Shouldham church. And so, it is a dying church, I suppose; for what use is a church if it is only there for the Sunday club? As for the exterior, it is grand, the combination of 14th Century Catholic piety and 19th Century Anglican triumphalism. The use of carstone in the tower makes it seem even more substantial, and the chancel is all of its 1870s rebuilding. I suppose that there are things of interest inside.
Simon Knott, September 2009
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