North Devon’s Great War stories brought to life

Brian Barrow with just some of the many stories of North Devon First World War casualties he has unearthed researching local war memorials. Brian Barrow with just some of the many stories of North Devon First World War casualties he has unearthed researching local war memorials.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
11:30 AM

Two decades of researching local war memorials has revealed the tales behind the men who marched off to war and did not return.

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The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.

THE stories behind the lists of names on local war memorials have been brought to life by one Barnstaple man.

Brian Barrow has spent more than two decades researching the names of local men who lost their lives in the First World War, but of whom little was known apart from the stark etching on a grey stone memorial.

Learning about North Devon men who went off to war has been a lifelong interest for Mr Barrow, but after receiving a Millennium grant via Barnstaple Museum and curator Alison Mills he was able to begin his research in earnest.

Since then he has completed 71 ‘books’ on individual war memorials right across North Devon, and unearthed around a thousand stories behind the names on the stones.

The pace has picked up again as the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war approaches this August.

“I began it all when my mother used to tell me stories about the war,” recalled Mr Barrow.

“When I was a boy I worked on a farm and the old farmer there had lost two brothers. He told me how his father used to hide a horse away so it wouldn’t become a war horse.

“Shirwell was my native village, but bar one or two on the memorial, no one knew anything about the names there.”

He began his studies at the Shirwell memorial during the 1990s, but following the grant was able to research the eight Barnstaple memorials, plus the men of local business who went to war, such as Shapland and Petter plus Brannam Pottery.

Ring binder folders of his work can be viewed at Barnstaple Museum, as well as the museums in Ilfracombe and South Molton, plus there are books at the parish churches in Combe Martin, Kentisbury and Pilton.

“There is a story behind every name and it’s quite moving,” he added.

“I enjoy helping people and have had more than 100 requests from people who want to find out more about their relatives. The Kiff family from Arlington for example saw five go to war and only three come back.

“There was a chap at Loxhore whose son Francis Barrow went to war aged 17 and was listed as missing in France. His father even had ‘missing’ put on his gravestone and would tell everyone his ‘boy was missing in France’.”

“I have done most of the research, but a lot of others have helped, with typing, entering information into the computer and providing pictures.”

People are welcome to go along and view Mr Barrow’s research at the local museums or churches mentioned.

He is still keen to hear from anyone who has photographs of their North Devon relatives who served in the First World War, so that copies can be made. Anyone who can help is asked to call the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon on 01271 346747.

The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.

Contact the newsdesk on 01271 345056, email newsdesk@northdevongazette.co.uk or write to us at Unit 3, Old Station Road, Barnstaple, EX32 8PB.

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