WWI Project

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 Rd. and then at 66 Blinco Grove

A series of three exhibitions at Rock Road Library examined the impact of the First World War on the men and women who lived in the area during that time. The exhibitions 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.  The Exhibition was launched with a talk by Cambridge historian, Mike Petty: ‘Cambridge at War 1914-18: from the Front to the Backs‘.  Recordings made Antony Carpen Part 1 -> https://vimeo.com/113055939Part 2 -> https://vimeo.com/113057928

Robyn Llewellyn, head of HLF East of England, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £15million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global Centenary; with our new small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in the Friends of Rock Road Library’s ‘Stories from a Neighbourhood’ to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help people to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.” 

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, also introduced with a talk by Mike Petty, 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 looked at the work of hospitals based in the area from 1914 – 1918.  At the opening, in November 2016, Sarah Bayliss presented a screening of her film about wartime hospitals in Cambridge.  ‘Cherryhinton News’  – a 1916-style newspaper based on some of the research undertaken over the previous two years concerning Armistice Day, 11 November was also launched at the event –  download the PDF newspaper.

The project also included a living history day for local school children who created a WWI hospital co-ordinated by local drama teacher and author, Kay Blayney and  ‘Poppy Plaque‘ posters designed by local artist Emma Bennett –  displayed in the front windows of the homes of 215 people who lived near to the Library and were involved directly in the war effort.

WWI Hospital Transport on Cherry Hinton Road


As a permanent legacy of the project, a collection of children and young adult books about the war was acquired for the Library (indentifiable by the Emma Bennett designed book plate in each one)  FRRL Children and Young Adult’s Book Collection.


Friends of Rock Road Library are immensely grateful to  the Heritage Lottery Fund who supported the exhibitions and 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.

The project team was led by Claire Adler:

Heritage Consultant: Learning, Community, Development.

For more stories about historical Cambridge see: Capturing Cambridge .


Several volunteers received training 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.





cambridge 105 radio logo



Leigh Chambers and Neil Whiteside from Cambridge 105 (www.cambridge105.fm) 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.

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