Earlier this year, I came across a memorial project called “1,245 Sunflowers.” It’s a tribute to the 1,245 soldiers listed in Stockton-on-Tees’ Book of Remembrance who went to fight in World War I and never came home. To mark the centennial of the Great War, interested residents were given a packet of sunflower seeds. Each packet of seeds was accompanied by tags bearing the name and date of birth of the soldier it represented. The tags could then be tied around the plant stalks as they grew. Then, on August 4th 2014, residents cut down their tagged sunflowers and took them to the Stockton’s Parish Gardens to create a Garden of Memory: 1,245 Sunflowers. Why did organizers choose to use sunflowers rather than the more traditional poppy? Here’s a couple of quotes from organizers:
“Although sunflowers are not traditionally associated with the war, the bright flowers have been chosen to signify the vibrancy and youthfulness of those who fought in the war.” ~ Bob Cook
“Significantly, sunflowers are expected to reach full bloom at the end of the summer but these will be cut down early in August as a fitting tribute to the lives lost prematurely during battle.” ~ Mike McGrother
The project also resulted in a website being created to ensure the fallen from Stockton are never forgotten. The website is called 1,245 Sunflowers and it lists all the men who perished and provides details about their lives. I spent quite a while browsing the website because my great great uncle, Samuel Carter, is one of Stockton’s fallen.
Samuel Carter was the brother of George Carter (Nanny P’s father). Samuel was born on February 25, 1901 in Stockton-on-Tees and, according to his sister, Lizzie, he died for his country during World War 1. He can’t have been more than 19 when he died, and, what makes his death even more tragic, is that Samuel had already experienced a great deal of hardship in his life before World War I even began. Although both his parents were still alive, Samuel, along with his brother George, grew up in an orphanage while their mother resided in the workhouse. Meanwhile, their little sister, Margaret, was living in another orphanage. And older brother, Thomas, joined the army in 1907 and was killed while on active service on August 13, 1913 at Colchester. I’ll be talking more about Samuel’s siblings and parents in my next post.
Samuel’s tragic tale is compounded further by the fact that the sands of time seem to have erased him from existence. He is not listed on the Commonwealth Graves Commission website, which is a website that seeks to ensure that the 1.7 million men who died in World War I and World War II are never forgotten. Nor is he listed on the 1,245 Sunflowers website. And, to top things off, I haven’t even been able to locate his service record.
Now, at this point, a cynical reader may be thinking, “well, if there’s no record of him, perhaps he never did fight in World War I at all?” The thing is though, he’s likely not the only “lost” soldier. For one thing, according to Samuel’s brother, George, the two of them were both underage when they signed up for World War 1. According to the BBC, 250,000 World War I recruits were actually underage, and many signed up under false names so that their parents/guardians couldn’t track them down and make them come back to England. It’s entirely possible that Samuel was one of the soldiers who used a false name. If that’s the case, he may actually be listed on the Commonwealth Graves Commission and 1,245 Sunflowers websites, but I can’t identify him because his name is falsified.
As for the fact that Samuel’s service record is missing: well, that too is entirely plausible. World War I records are known to genealogists collectively as The Burnt Records. Sixty percent of World War I soldiers records were destroyed when a German bombing raid struck the War Office Repository in London in 1940. Samuel’s record could very likely be one of those destroyed.
As a result of the all the uncertainty, I’m not sure if Samuel is one of Stockton’s 1,245 Sunflowers. Is Samuel listed, under a false name, as one of the fallen on that website? Or, alternatively, had he moved away from the Stockton area before the war began, and as a result, he is not listed on the Stockton memorial even though he was born and raised there? In that case, I like to think of him as the 1,246th Sunflower.
And so, the search for information about Samuel continues and, whether or not I ever find official documentation about him, I plan on remembering him this summer by planting a sunflower in his honor . . .