The Great War: Stories from a neighbourhood


After returning from war in 1916, Arthur Marshall retrained as a cobbler and set up a business first on Rock Road and then at 66 Blinco Grove.

After returning from war in 1916, Arthur Marshall retrained as a cobbler and set up a business first on Rock Road and then at 66 Blinco Grove.

Two recent exhibitions at Rock Road Library have examined the impact of the First World War on the men and women who lived in the area during that time. The exhibitions have used oral testimonies (from residents whose grandparents/parents were alive then) and historical research (census data, press cuttings, public documentation, photographs etc) to put together a vivid picture of life, home and away, during the years of the Great War.

The first exhibition in 2014 used information from the 1911 census to identify men from the area who went to fight. Their homes were marked on an Ordnance Survey map of the Cherry Hinton area beneath a timeline of significant events in both Europe and Cambridgeshire.

Mrs Bowyer with three of her sons who went to fight in Europe.

Mrs Bowyer with three of her sons who went to fight in Europe.

In 2015 a follow-up exhibition looked more closely at individual stories, following families through the war years. In particular it examined the effect of the war- supplies, rationing etc – on the shops and businesses then trading on Cherry Hinton Road.

The final exhibition in the series will open in November 2016 and will look at the work of hospitals based in the area from 1914 – 1918.

None of this would be possible without the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Friends of Rock Road Library are also immensely grateful to the many people who helped with this project especially the volunteers who captured the oral histories of residents, and those residents themselves who so generously shared their memories, keepsakes and artefacts.




Over the last few years we have trained several volunteers on interviewing and recording the oral testimonies of those who remember being alive during the early part of the twentieth century, and the anecdotes told to them by their parents. Here are three of those interviews.

Bryan Harris

Bryan Harris grew up in the Cherry Hinton area. At the time it was a suburb that was home to many members of the Plymouth Brethren, a religious sect opposed to violence. Bryan’s memories of his father and uncle’s treatment because of their conscientious objection is fascinating.

Janet SladeJanet Slade

Though Janet Slade grew up in the Midlands, her parents were from the Rock Road area. Her father went to France and Belgium but as a cartographer not a soldier. Her mother was a nurse. Though Janet’s mother destroyed many photographs of the time because, she said, they were too painful to look at, Janet vividly remembers them and the paintings her father did of his time on the frontline.

lady bicker and 3 sons henryMichael Bowyer

Michael Bowyer has done extensive research into his family history, discovering his grandfather and great uncles all went to fight. At one time his grandmother had four sons away in Europe. Three of them returned.

Mike Pettys talk

We were delighted that local historian, Mike Petty, was able to give a talk about the history of the area at the launch of both exhibitions. This is his talk from 27th November 2014.



cambridge 105 radio logo

Leigh Chambers and Neil Whiteside from Cambridge 105 ( used the oral testimonies, alongside new interviews with local historians and experts, to produce two excellent documentaries broadcast over Christmas 2015. Both can be listened to by clicking the links below.


The first programme examines the role Cambridge played in war preparations and how Cambridgeshire men contributed – or chose not to contribute – to the war effort.

The second programme recounts the experiences of Cambridgeshire soldiers on the battlefields and how life changed for the women left at home.

 As a permanent legacy of the project, FRRL have purchased for the library a collection of children and young adult books about the war.
%d bloggers like this: