Villagers sign up to step in soldiers’ shoes

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With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, traditional remembrance commemorations took on a special significance with residents of Exning taking part in a re-enactment remembering how village men signed up for the conflict.

On Saturday almost 100 people walked from the homes of the men whose names are recorded on the Rolls of Honour in St Martin’s Church and war memorial.

They included members of the men’s families, current residents of their former homes, and children from Exning Primary School.

The parade included Exning’s own war horse, Walter, who was ridden from the Laceys Lane home of Private John Davis, who had worked in racing before joining the Army Veterinary Corps so he could continue to care for horses. Walter walked in the name of the thousands of horses that served in the war.

The parade’s destination was the village school and the Enlistment Room where villagers signed their names against the names of the men they were honouring in a specially prepared book. After being presented with a packet of poppy seeds they were drilled into ranks before marching off, led by Walter, to war.

In the school hall First World War newsreels were played and there was a special presentation prepared by the pupils, Those who had marched to war returned in four groups with large poppies indicating those who were unscathed, those psychologically damaged and those physically wounded.

Representing the boys who never came home, the last group stood by sandbags and barbed wire and laid 80 poppy crosses, each with the name of a man who had made the ultimate sacrifice as the Last Post was played.

The school had prepared a museum of memorabilia donated for the day by villagers who wanted to share precious items from their family members who served.

The event was organised by Exning resident, John Saville. “When we started to think about ways of commemorating the First World War we thought this event would not only honour all those men who served, but would involve the village and build a sense of community and provide an opportunity for people to both remember and understand, in a small part, what it was like to enlist or see one’s loved ones going away,” he said.

“From the feedback we received it seems to have worked. The event itself may become part of the village’s long history. The signed Enlistment Book will be held in St Martin’s Church and I’d love to think that people will commemorate the 150th anniversary and that some of the children who took part today will return to show their grandchildren where they signed the book.”