My Village Heroes

The Jan 2010 edition of the Willingham Magazine included an article about the work of Alan King researching the names on the village war memorial. This article is reproduced below and the work of Alan King is available on-line by clicking the links below.




Back in November and along with the rest of the country, Willingham was remembering its own war dead. Over a period of three years in the 1980s, Alan King was busy creating his own personal remembrance of his 'Village Heroes' whose names grace our war memorial.

Alan was born in Willingham in 1936, grandson of Henry King who died in 1921, and lived in Millfield and later Short Lane. He subsequently moved to Cottenham where he now lives. Alan explains that he had a good knowledge of events from the Second World War, having lived through it; but had little knowledge of the Great War as children of his generation were never taught about it. In the 1980s, he and his wife, Pamela, saw an advertisement for a battlefield tour of Ypres and the Somme in Cambridge Evening News and run by a Major and Mrs Holt. In all, they participated in 12 such tours, later making similar trips under their own steam. An evening feature of these tours was for participants to talk of their experiences in researching the stories of those named on their own war memorials. Alan decided that he would do the same. All through this process Alan continued to be greatly encouraged by the unstinting support of Pamela.

The starting point for Alan's Great War research was the 80 volumes held by Cambridge University relating to servicemen killed in that war, and providing links to the cemeteries where they were commemorated. As a University employee, Alan was initially granted access to these volumes, and, following representations by his head of department, later permitted to borrow them; this latter permission strangely being rescinded when he retired. He was also greatly helped by one of the University photographers. Following the cemetery link, his next stop was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Most of Alan's research for the Second World War centred on the infamous 'Death Railway' linking Thailand and Burma and built by POWs, some 16000 of whom died in the attempt. Victor Bolton was one of these and his sister generously helped Alan with Victor's details. On a stopover during a flight to Australia, Alan grabbed the opportunity to visit the Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery near the railway bridge over the River Kwai to place a poppy on Victor's grave - an emotional and rewarding tribute. Again, Alan made good use of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for his detective work.

Major Holt had previously urged Alan to publish his work. In a roundabout way, this may now happen. Alan has offered his work for public record. The manuscripts have been scanned for access via the Old Willingham website with the originals going to the Cambridgeshire Collection. Hard copy and a DVD for Willingham Library will also be produced from the scans.

A debt of gratitude is owed to Alan by the families and friends of his heroes and the village in general for his herculean efforts in producing such a remarkable legacy of these significant world-wide events and their impact on Willingham.