I find it hard to take in that 100 years ago, families across our six towns – indeed across the whole country – were enjoying the last few months of peace before the start of the First World War.
Before long, thousands of local lads were making their way to fight in the bloodiest of conflicts – and many tragically never returned.
It’s only fitting that here in Sandwell we will be marking the centenary of the First World War, remembering those who fought, those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who lost loved ones.
It’s important our young people today hear the stories, so they can pass them on to future generations.
We’ll be holding a number of events and activities over the next four years to commemorate the 1914-18 war, and we’re starting by inviting you to send in your family memories for an exhibition we’re planning this autumn at our museums.
We need 250-word stories about relatives who fought in the war – or about family memories of the home front, including the Zeppelin raids on Tipton and Wednesbury.
I’m proud, too, that we’ll be laying paving stones to three men born in the borough who were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour. This is part of a government-funded centenary commemoration scheme.
Our museums staff have already tracked down the descendants of two, Robert Edwin Phillips, of West Bromwich, who fought in Kut, Iraq, and was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 and Joseph John Davies, from Tipton, who was awarded his medal in 1916.
We’re desperately trying to trace the family of Harold John Colley, from Smethwick – my home town. Harold was killed on the Western Front and awarded the highest military honour posthumously in 1918. If you can help us find his descendants, please let us know.
The paving stones will be placed at the nearest cenotaph to where each of the men were born and we want their families to have a say in the placement of the stone honouring their bravery.
Two other Victoria Crosses went to Herbert James, who had been a teacher at Brasshouse Lane and fought in Gallipoli in 1915, and Thomas Barratt, who was born in Sedgley but lived and worked in Wednesbury, and died on the Western Front.
Next time I’m walking past the war memorial at Smethwick Council House, I’ll be thinking about Harold Colley and all these men, their families and friends, enjoying those last months of peace in 1914, of what lay ahead for them and the bravery they showed in circumstances few of us today can truly comprehend.
We owe it to them – and to all those who served in the Great War – to remember.
If you have a family story to tell or can help us track down Harold Colley’s descendants, please contact Frank Caldwell, our Sandwell museums service manager, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0121 569 8342.