First Remembrance service in Long Sutton in 1920
The 1911 Census put the population of Long Sutton at just over 2,800 and many of the schoolboys in that count found themselves in one of the armed services just a few short years later, facing the horrors of battle.
We don’t know how many local lads went to war, but at least 90 did not return. The number of soldiers and sailors wounded is also unknown.
Detailed records were not kept then but it has been estimated that for every death there were nearly two-and-a-half men wounded. The town could consequently have seen more than 300 of its young men lost or damaged by the conflict. Every local family touched in some way.
Before commemoration though came celebration. The History of Long Sutton describes the local events following the Armistice… ‘When the awfulness was over and peace was marked, relief swelled through the land and those who felt able to celebrate did so in a flag-waving extravaganza in the Market Place.
'Tables, benches and chairs were set lengthways along each side of the Market Place, bright tablecloths, crockery and cutlery was set out and the town’s children, in their finery, enjoyed an open air meal and all the arranged merriment that went with it.
There was also a parade including soldiers and a motor ambulance, horse-drawn decorated carts and floats and people in fancy dress. The town was decorated with patriotic bunting, Union flags by the dozen and at least one Stars and Stripes.
In 1919, land was purchased locally by the Ministry of Agriculture to provide smallholdings for ex-Servicemen. Much of Sutton Bridge village was registered by the Land Registry and then sold off by auction to some 100 or so private purchasers.
A 5.9 inch German howitzer, which had been presented to the town, stood for many years at the junction of the Sutton Bridge and Wisbech roads.”
There was a proposal in 1932 to remove the gun, but this was rejected by the parish council. The gun, a symbol of World War One, was regarded by some as an unpleasant sign for those who had served and those who had lost family members. Others thought it helped remind younger generations of what had gone before. The gun was finally moved in 1939.
Formal public commemoration started locally on November 11, 1920, in a solemn and tearful ceremony attended by most of the residents of the town, when the new 1914-18 War Memorial, in the shape of a pink granite obelisk, was unveiled in the Market Place. A brass plaque of three panels dedicated to the Fallen of the First World War was also erected in St Mary’s church.
The big turnout for this year's Remembrance Parade around that same obelisk shows that, 98 years later, the people of Long Sutton have still not forgotten the sacrifice made by so many young men from the town in that and later conflicts. We will continue to remember them.