As a small boy in the 1930's I cycled to Over School and every day my route took me past the War Memorial. The 14 names on it then meant nothing to me of course. The war had been over nearly twenty years before and small boys are not interested in the past. Certainly the name Symonds does not appear on the Memorial and my parents seldom spoke of the war. Indeed until I began researching this book two years ago the only thing I knew about the first World War names on the Memorial was that William Kirby had been a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.
I was still at Over School when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and the village was filled with evacuees from London. For six years the war dominated everyone's life. As news of casualties were announced from 1940 onwards I naturally knew some of the men killed and their families. But when ten new names were added to the Memorial after the war there were still some of them - such as Arthur Adams and Frank Kemp - who were unknown to me.
Now as the Millennium approaches, and the village having tripled in population and become full of `strangers', it is time perhaps to remember the sacrifices of those two earlier generations of brave Over men and women who gave their lives for their country. It is after all 86 years since the First World War began and the bare list of names on the Memorial will mean nothing to the new generation of Over children today. hence the need to research when and where those men died, their regiments, squadrons and ships and, if possible, the circumstances of their death. As British Legion membership inevitably declines we owe it to these men that their sacrifices were not forgotten. As the poet A. E. Houseman reminds us:
`Here dead we lie because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life to be sure is nothing much to lose.
But young men think it is and we were young.'
Apart from family information, research for this book has involved many trips to London. At the Public Record Office in Kew are held the Service Records of the First World War (though unfortunately only about half have survived), the Battalion War Diaries and Squadron records of both world wars. Past copies of the Cambridge Independent Press and Cambridge Daily News can be seen at the National Newspaper Library in Colindale, near Hendon. Whilst Birth and Death Certificates and Census records can be consulted at the Family Records Centre in Islington. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission supplies full details of all war graves and these are also available on C.D. Rom. Other information has been obtained from various Regimental Histories, Official Histories and campaign histories (see Bibliography).
Although this book mainly centres on the men who died I shall also include reports from the local newspapers concerning the village during the First World War such as reports of wounded men. Another chapter will discuss campaign medals awarded in both wars plus details of five Over men awarded medals or commendations for bravery. I shall also refer to the building of the War Memorial in 1920.
Appendices will include the Rolls of Honour of both world wars, as well as a full list of all war deaths in chronological order, plus two simplified maps showing the distribution of all the Over First World War graves in France and Belgium, all of which I visited and photographed this summer. Other maps will show the Burma-Siam Railway and the islands south of Singapore where the Vynah Brooke was sunk.
This is only the "Introduction" to "Heroes of Over", the full text with over one hundred photos & illustrations can be obtained direct from the author John Symonds at 144 Stakes Hill Road, Waterlooville, PO7 7BG. Price £6 + 50p package & posting.