Behind every statistic, there is a human story. The 129 SED informants who fought in the Great War and lived to tell their tales represent a fraction of those who served, but their voices echo through the decades, giving us a precious insight into their wartime experiences. 

When conducting the Survey, the fieldworkers wrote short biographies of each informant with information on where they grew up, their schooling, parents, spouses, and if they spent much time away from their village. In these brief snapshots of people’s lives, fieldworkers note whether informants had served.

Wilf Thompson from Melsonby, Yorkshire, born in 1876, was 38 years old in 1914. The fieldworker noted: “Left school at age 12 and became a farm boy. Father a farm labourer, Farm at Gayles, mother b. near Northallerton. Had two years as railway policeman and served in Gt war for 3 years.” 

A man in a suit standing in front of his front door.

W. H. Thompson, Melsonby, farm worker, railway policeman & quarryman, North Yorkshire

Response book page.

Biography of Wilf Thompson, recorded in SED fieldbook.

Mr W. Manton from Lyddington, Rutland, born in 1889, was 25 years old when the war began. His biography states: “Four years in the First World War… The Mantons have lived there for several generations. His father had a small farm.” 

Response book page.

Horace Jenkins, Llanfrechfa, Monmouthshire. Response book.

Response book page.

Mr W Manton, Lyddington, Rutland. Response book.

Horace Jenkins of Llanfrechfa, Monmouthshire, born in 1893, was just 21 when he went off to war. The fieldworker described him as a “splendid informant” who “preserves the sounds & lexical forms” of his dialect. 

For these men and the majority of the 129 men informants who served, going to war was the first time they had left their villages.  

This hadn’t changed but by the outbreak of the Second World War, as highlighted by Mary when reflecting on her father’s service during WWII. 

Listen to Mary here.


That’s right. I mean, my father was eighteen when the Second World War broke out, and he volunteered to go into the Air Force because by his own admission, he was scared stiff of submarines. So he didn’t want to be er press-ganged into the Navy or whatever. And to think that he was sent to airfields in Lincolnshire, it was Bomber Command so it was Lincolnshire, which must have seemed at the end of the world to a lad who really hadn’t left the village much. And — and the same for grandad, you know, I know he would take the cart into Stowmarket to the market. And I mean, that was probably a whole day’s expedition then.