As we approach Remembrance Sunday, and thanks to the detective work of pupils from a Lancashire school, a soldier’s name has finally been added to a village War Memorial … nearly 100 years after his death from injuries sustained in the first world war.
Gunner Richard Southworth died in 1920, after the Memorial was commissioned and installed in the village. But his name was never added alongside those of his comrades from Mawdesley who made the ultimate sacrifice.
That didn’t deter the year 6 pupils of Mawdesley St Peter's CofE School.
Daniel Ballard, Headteacher, described how the pupils (all of whom have since moved on to Bishop Rawstorne CofE Academy nearby) were working towards the Archbishop of York’s Young Leaders Award during the last school year when they discovered Gunner Southworth’s story.
Mr Ballard said: “The pupils began their year by thinking about the centenary of the Armistice and the Great War. They welcomed guest speakers who spoke of the conditions and the suffering of the soldiers; visited the graveyard around St Peter’s Church and also the War Memorial in the village. They also tidied the war graves and left appropriate memorial decorations to commemorate the acts of sacrifice.
“Back in the classroom, and spurred on by class teacher Heidi Jackson, they turned detective and began to investigate why some soldiers were interred in the graveyard but not named on the village War Memorial.”
The children wrote to the local Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal organiser, Heide Bamford. Their letters moved her and she, in turn, progressed the children’s concerns to the Parish Council, which had received a grant to have the War Memorial cleaned and refurbished.
As a result of this intervention the Legion discovered that Gunner Richard Southworth was wounded in the 1914-1918 conflict and died not long after, on July 12, 1920, aged 35.
Richard was married to Amelia Southworth and the couple lived at Moss View Cottage, New Street, Mawdesley in Lancashire. Gunner Southworth’s death occurred after the local War Memorial had been commissioned and installed.
The Rector of St Peters, Rev Michael Woods, said: “We at the church and in the village are so pleased with all the work these young people. They not only tidied up the war graves in the churchyard, but through their research they established discrepancies between the graves in the churchyard and the names on the War Memorial.
“This project was part of work for the Archbishop of York Young Leaders award, which aims to build the young people's leadership skills and character through teamwork and engaging with their local communities in active service.
“The children have engaged so well with the church and the wider community here in Mawdesley while making a real and tangible change that will be evident for future generations.”
Meanwhile, Mr Ballard added: “Through the work of pupils participating in the Archbishop’s Young Leaders’ Award, Gunner Southworth will continue to be recognised for his sacrifice.
“If that isn’t an example of our youngsters being the change that we would all want to see in the world, then I don’t know what is. I am proud of their tenacity to see justice for this man whose own life was cut short in service to God, King and Country.”
The story of the youngsters detective work was also praised today by the Diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn, who said: "I was delighted to hear about the diligent work of these young people who first identified the ‘missing’ serviceman, then worked hard to ensure his name was added to the Memorial. I commend them all.
"For Gunner Southworth to be formally recognised in this way nearly 100 years on from his death is a fitting tribute to his sacrifice. Of course, as we approach Remembrance Sunday, this story also reminds us all in a very immediate way of the sacrifices made by so many for the freedoms we enjoy today.
“We should give thanks to God every day for those freedoms and for the people who died to secure them, particularly at this time of year. While, as Christians, we also reflect at this time on how their sacrifices do also mirror the sacrifice of Christ himself, who gave himself to win our freedom."