Bravery of the West Ham Battalion remembered in new book
- Credit: Archant
As memories of the First World War fade more and more as the years go by, Elliot Taylor decided the “heroic efforts” of soldiers must be kept alive.
His interest was sparked after stumbling across a family photograph of his great-grandfather, who he was enthralled to learn had served in the West Ham Battalion.
Eight years of research later and he has published a book, “Up the Hammers,” documenting the day-to-day lives of the local men who put their lives on the line.
Elliot, 47, from Leyton, also fought hard to erect a memorial at the football club’s grounds, after discovering there was nothing in place to remember his ancestor’s bravery.
“The thing that made this really special for me was the idea that the battalion had more or less become forgotten,” he said.
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“These guys fought for civilisation and stood up and defended their families and yet their efforts had been forgotten, that’s why I wanted to do the memorial and write this book.
“Nobody knew. West Ham fans had no idea there was a West Ham Battalion, no one was aware of this unit.”
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In the Great War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, more than nine million combatants are believed to have lost their lives.
The West Ham Battalion was made up of volunteers with no military experience and Elliot was shocked to discover his great-grandfather joined at the age of 40.
“I was stunned to find out he was a member of the Essex regiment but in the West Ham Battalion.
“Being a West Ham fan myself I found that quite amazing and it made me feel proud.
“I wanted to find the memorial, I presumed there’d be one somewhere in the area, but it turns out they never had one! So I set about getting one put up.
“Sir Trevor Brooking unveiled it in 2009. It’s at West Ham’s Boleyn ground, right by the club shop. I wanted it somewhere central.”
The book explores the day-to-day lives of the soldiers, with his primary sources being war diaries, action reports, newspaper clippings and letters from loved ones at the National Archives.
He discovered there were no West Ham Players in the West Ham Battalion but they served alongside the Middlesex regiment which was formed by professional football players, including the entire first team of the Clapton Orient, which later became Leyton Orient.
The West Ham Battalion marched around Stratford and trained near Wanstead flats and in November 1915, sailed off to France.
“My great-grandfather was killed in action in France,” Elliot said.
“I was very humbled when I found out how he died but I’m lucky he has a grave there which I have visited. Lots of the men don’t even have graves”
The research on the West Ham Battalion was started by co-author Barney Alston 15 years ago, but Elliot picked up the baton and “took it a lot further.”
You can buy the book on Amazon for £14.99.
It is also available from Newham Bookstore in Barking Road and the Chelmsford Museum
You can follow his blog at http://westhampals.blogspot.co.uk/