Sometimes the memorials to the dead of World War One are dated 1914 to 1919, not 1918. The memorial at Great Brickhill is one of them.
There are various reasons given for this. One is that soldiers were sent to fight the Bolsheviks in Russia until 1919. Another is that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, and that was the official end of hostilities.
Of course the Armistice was declared in 1918.
Some men stayed in the forces in Europe after 1918 but died after hostilities had ended, and William James Dickens was one of them.
He died on his way home to be demobilised on Sunday, 2nd March 1919, and was buried at the communal cemetery at Theux in Belgium. It’s not a military cemetery, but some of the dead of both world wars are there.
Casualty Clearing Station 61 was in the village at that time and it seems likely that he had been at the station. He was 33.
William James Dickens was a sapper with the 10th Railway Company of the Royal Engineers. It was a dangerous job. Although the Royal Engineers were not always directly involved in the fighting, the railways they built were important to our war effort and frequently targeted by enemy artillery and the German Air Force.
He appears in the 1911 census, aged 25. The son of Jesse and Martha Dickens, he lived in Church Street in Great Brickhill and in 1911 had two younger brothers and a younger sister.
In 1911 he was a farm labourer, like his dad and his 20 year old brother Charlie. His sister Leah was 12 and his brother John was 10.
It seems that Charlie survived the war; he isn’t on the memorial. However in 1941 a Charles Dickens of Great Brickhill unearthed in Bletchley over £600 in gold and £40 in silver. There was a watch and a chain in the haul.
He would have been 50. If this is the same man, he was given £607 17s and 1d, the net value of his find.
The memorial is by the church of St. Mary. I found the church was open, and I had a few spare minutes to look round. As you might expect, it’s an old church, so it’s grade II listed.
The tower is in the centre of the building between the nave and the chancel. Under its North and South walls it is supported by two large masses of stone masonry. Between them are two arches that support the West and East walls of the tower.
The North support has had a problem in the past, and is strapped a few feet above floor level. The straps stop it from spreading under the tons of stone above. The straps are steel rods, threaded at one end but flattened at the other.
At each of the four corners, the threaded end of each rod passes through the flattened end of the one on the adjacent wall, and there’s a great big square nut securing it.
I had a close look at two of the corners. On one, the nut is pretty much as when it was installed, but the nut on the next corner by the pulpit has worn smooth and rounded under the hands of the vicars as they climbed into the pulpit each Sunday, over many years.
The South doorway has received quite a lot of amateur carving, possibly since the porch was added when the church was restored in 1865-67.
The defacing could then have been done out of sight, perhaps during poor weather. The straps around the thirteenth century tower's supporting masonry may have been added at the same time.
Great Brickhill is a nice hill top village. The Red Lion in Ivy Lane is worth a visit too; there’s a lovely view across the valley from the garden.
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