Man honours grandfather in Stanstead after learning of his time in First World War

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood
Picture Mark Westley
Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood Picture Mark Westley

When Colin Garwood’s father died in 1980, he realised he knew little of his own roots or family history.

It sparked a desire to find out about more, and it led to him learning more about the life of his grandfather, from Stanstead, who died in action 100 years ago in the First World War and whose death is commemorated on the village’s war memorial.

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood
Picture Mark Westley

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood Picture Mark Westley

Percy Garwood was born on April 10, 1881. He was married with five children when war broke out.

His unit, the 1/1st Cambridgeshire Regiment, was involved in the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge on the Western Front, where he was killed in action on September 26, 1917. He was 36.

This year is the centenary of his death and, as well as being commemorated on the war memorial at St James’ Church in Stanstead, Percy is listed in the Cambridgeshire Regimental Chapel in Ely Cathedral and his name is on the Suffolk roll of honour at Endeavour House. 

Colin says it was as a small boy growing up in Stanstead that he realised he did not have a grandfather.

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood
Picture Mark Westley

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood Picture Mark Westley

He said: “There were two Garwoods on the brass memorial plaque in the church. Another notice noted P J Garwood had served in France and Flanders and was missing, presumed dead.

“My sisters and I conjectured that maybe our grandad had been blown up, lost his memory and made a new life.

“The family was very reticent to talk about Percy, possibly because they were so severely shocked at losing him that they pretended he never existed.

“Apart from saying, incorrectly, that Percy died at The Somme, my father never talked about him, but he was only six when his father went to war.”

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood
Picture Mark Westley

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood Picture Mark Westley

With no internet in the 1980s, Colin had to rely on visits to record offices and archives at the Suffolk Regimental Museum, as well as letters to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Ministry of Defence to find out what happened to his grandfather.

His aunt offered further information about the Army and that helped Colin build up a picture of the Great War.

A trip to Belgium allowed him to find the place where his grandfather died, and he laid a wreath.

As he has no known grave, Percy is commemorated at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Belgium.

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood
Picture Mark Westley

Colin and Phil Garwood, at St James's Church in Stanstead with the war memorial that mentions their grandfather Percy Garwood Picture Mark Westley

Colin added: “I have visited the cemetery three times and signed the visitors’ register, the second time in the company of my cousin, Phillip. We drank a toast to our grandfather.

“Phillip reports that his father said his mother looked out of the cottage each evening waiting for Percy to come home.”