Researchers compiling the stories of soldiers who passed through a local train station are asking for information on a Grantham man who died during the First World War.
Lieutenant John Jack Bonshor was one of hundreds of servicemen who penned messages in two visitor books during 1916 and 1917 as they stopped off at Peterborough East Railway Station on their way to and from war and enjoyed some comfort and kind words provided by the temperance ladies who brewed them a cuppa in the station tea room.
Their stories came to light when the visitor books were unearthed in the city’s archives in Peterborough Library and a project began to find out more about the lives of the servicemen whose fleeting thoughts are preserved in the two slim volumes dating from 1916 and 1917.
John Bonshor was born in 1895 in Grantham and before joining up was training to be a teacher at St Peter’s Training College in Peterborough. He started his war service with the Huntingdonshire Cycling Battalion and transferred to the South Staffordshire Regiment in 1918. He was captured by the Germans on March 21 1918, the first day of the German Spring Offensive. He was held at Stendal POW Camp in Germany and died of tuberculosis on July 26, 1918 at the age of 23. Researchers are trying to trace anyone who might have more information about Mr Bonshor.
From May 5 2016 - 100 years to the day that the books started – their stories and the stories of the other men who wrote in the books, will be published in real time on a website, via social media and on video screens at relevant sites in Peterborough city centre. As a tribute to each individual, Peterborough Archives wants to provide as much information about them as they can, so that each message and the story of the serviceman who wrote it can be shared, on the anniversary of the day that he passed through the city.
The website launches in advance today to give descendants the opportunity to share information and photographs of their relatives to add to their story. Those wishing to find out if their ancestor wrote in the books will find a list of their names and service details on the website at www.peterboroughww1.co.uk
The men came from each of the services – including the Royal Navy and the Army, which at that time included the Royal Flying Corps - and from many regiments and corps. The Royal Marines, Merchant Navy and police are also represented.
Richard Hunt, archives manager for Vivacity Culture and Leisure, which manages Peterborough Library, said: “There are over 580 entries in all. Some are simple words of thanks, others talk of love and hope. Together, they provide a unique insight to the servicemen’s thoughts and feelings and we want to try to paint a personal picture of the men who once found comfort in Peterborough. We have found out some of the facts of some of their lives, but are appealing for their descendants to come forward to add colour to the stories of these heroes.”
Peterborough East Station is now derelict and the tea rooms, run by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council to deter servicemen from drinking alcohol, only existed for a few short years.