Sunflowers, poems and candles ensure town's 1,245 war dead are not forgotten

Sunflowers, poems and candles ensure town's 1,245 war dead are not forgotten

WAR DEAD REMEMBERED: An event held at the Parish Gardens in Stockton to remember the 1,245 men who died in the First World War. Candles and sunflowers were the order of the day

WAR DEAD REMEMBERED: An event held at the Parish Gardens in Stockton to remember the 1,245 men who died in the First World War. Candles and sunflowers were the order of the day

WAR DEAD REMEMBERED: An event held at the Parish Gardens in Stockton to remember the 1,245 men who died in the First World War. The war memorial lit up gold

WAR DEAD REMEMBERED: An event held at the Parish Gardens in Stockton to remember the 1,245 men who died in the First World War. Candles and sunflowers were the order of the day

WAR DEAD REMEMBERED: An event held at the Parish Gardens in Stockton to remember the 1,245 men who died in the First World War. Candles and sunflowers were the order of the day

First published in News
Last updated
Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Stockton/Hartlepool)

ON this day 100 years ago, 1,245 young men, sons of the ordinary working town of Stockton, went about their lives, the shadow of a new war hanging over them.

Four years later, each of them were dead.

And yet the memory of all of them shone brightly tonight - bright as the golden light that lit the war memorial as Stockton town centre was plunged into darkness.

The memorial was highlighted in gold to reflect the 1,245 sunflowers that had been planted and then cut in memory of the town's war dead. The sunflower seeds had been planted by some of today's sons and daughters of Stockton who had first researched each of their lives.

Many of those researchers, including ladies as old as 94 and children as young as four, were at the ceremony at Stockton Parish Gardens last night.

Here was an old soldier in his beret sat in a mobility scooter, there a middle aged Sikh man stood quietly by his teenage son, all of them, about 500 in number, to pay their respects at an event very different to the usual uniformed solemnity of a Remembrance Sunday service.

One of the 1,245 stories was particularly well told in a special garden by the church with candles forming a love heart and bottles containing letters.

It was the story of Thomas Hughes, a young father and husband who wrote a love letter to his wife and threw it in a French river in 1914. Two days later he was killed. That letter was found in 1989. His widow long-dead but his daughter still alive.

"That was Thomas's Last Post," said event organiser Mike McGrother. "Those men and boys breathed the same air as us, dreamed the same dreams and had the same hopes."

Looking around the gardens filled with sunflowers Mr McGrother said: "As you can see, as soon as the sunflowers are cut down they wilt - the life is vanished. But we ask you to face them to the sun."

Young people were all around, having organised the event.

"Why young people?" asked Mr McGrother, speaking from a dimly lit bandstand. "Because of our more than 1,000 dead, more than 100 were aged 16 to 19."

Poems were read and a "home fire" was lit which will remain alight for 1,245 minutes. Each of the names of the dead were read over three hours deep into the night inside Stockton Parish Church, packed with sunflowers.

Your reporter, who has walked past Stockton's War Memorial thousands of times, read the words on the inscribed there for the very first time. It reads: "See ye to it that these shall not have died in vain."

It was clear not one of them had been forgotten.

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