Uncle in the archive of tea room visitors

Troops board the train at Peterborough station
Troops board the train at Peterborough station

A family history enthusiast from Springfield has helped launch a search for relatives of First World War servicemen.

Joy Coster’s uncle, Private Alf Davis, was one of hundreds of servicemen from across the country who penned messages in two visitor books at the Peterborough East Railway Station tea room as they passed through on their way to and from the Great War.

His story came to light when the visitor books were unearthed in the city’s archives in Peterborough Library, and Joy was contacted as part of a project to find out more about the lives of the servicemen who wrote in the books during 1916 and 1917.

Gallant stretcher-bearer Alf Davis inadvertently shot and killed a colleague, Cpl Arthur Cecil Rawson in 1914.

The accident took place before Private Davis left for war when, as the men slept, the button of his greatcoat caught the trigger of his rifle and a shot was fired which hit Cpl Rawson.

Private Davis went on to be awarded the DCM when he rescued a wounded officer at Fosse Wood in Belgium in 1915. In the process he himself was badly wounded. His leg amputated and he spent many months in hospital before being discharged in 1916 as no longer fit for war service.

A team of volunteers have been researching the stories of the men who wrote in the books, and their entries will be published in real time from May 5 – 100 years to the day that the books started – on a website, via social media and on video screens in the city centre.

The website launched yesterday, Wednesday, to give descendants the opportunity to share information and photographs of their relatives to add to their story.

There are over 580 entries in all from men who used the tea rooms, run by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council to deter servicemen from drinking alcohol.

For a list of names, see www.peterboroughww1.co.uk