As promised last month here is some more information about the graffiti that inspired the Scars of War project that took place in West Norfolk this autumn. We are very grateful to Kevin Hitchcock for all the research he has undertaken uncovering the fascinating stories behind the names. This post is all about one man who left his mark, literally in the tower of King’s Lynn library.
Alexander Edward Lovegrove.
Alex Lovegrove was born in Oxford, the only child of Edward and Matilda. Edward was a Brewer’s agent and by 1901 the family was living in Caversham on the Oxfordshire-Berkshire border. At the age of 14, Alex was already in full-time work as a clerk and photographer for the John Warwick Motor and Cycle works, known for its famous Monarch cycles.
Alex had also found fame, he was an outstanding athlete. His exploits as a member of the Reading Athletics Club were reported in papers across the country at a time when athletics was still strictly amateur and, in an age, when to be famous, you had to be good at something!
On the 6th April 1915, Alex volunteered to join the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, his county’s Yeomanry, part of the 2/2 Mounted Division and stationed in King’s Lynn by June that same year. But this didn’t stop his sporting fame. In several special athletic events organised by the Yeomanry in King’s Lynn, Alex’s sporting prowess was reported again across the country and of course noted in the local papers too. His participation drawing in the crowds.
Alas, the games couldn’t last, as Alex found himself on the Library tower, and although from a very different back ground to the farm hands who made up his new comrades, along with his new pals he too scratched his name onto the Library Tower.
He missed the first draft into the 6th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry but after his last inoculation in December 1916 he was declared fit for foreign service and joined the 1/4 Ox and Bucks regiment in France, just in time for Christmas! He would’ve known by now that many of his friends who stood beside him on the Library tower, who left their names alongside his, were already dead. He was going to the front in the middle of winter, facing miserable conditions that the regimental diary described as bitterly cold. The summer of sports in King’s Lynn must’ve seemed like a distant memory.
But Alex had a secret. He had gone to the front and had never mentioned that he had already had an epileptic fit. But on the 25th February 1917, whilst in a front-line trench, he suffered a fit. Perhaps he was afraid he wouldn’t be believed, or he would suffer from discrimination. Epilepsy was still a misunderstood condition at that time. To make matters worse he was also suffering from what was known as P.O.U.O, Pyrexia of Unknown Origin, sometimes referred to as Trench Fever and he had Myalgia in his feet, later revealed to be frost bite. He then had another fit while in hospital at Rouen, this time witnessed and certified by a R.A.M.C Doctor. A special Medical Board discharged Alex from the army, with a disability pension and giving the reason for his discharge as epilepsy due to ‘combat stress’.
After his discharge, Alex’s photo appeared in a local paper. It mentioned the frostbite and the trench fever but remained silent on the epilepsy. Perhaps Alex was concerned he might face discrimination, accusations of shirking, cowardice or loss of his job or perhaps he, like many other soldiers, remained silent on their experiences. He never competed again, his athletic career brought to an abrupt end.
We can only hope that Alex lived the rest of his life happily, but we’ll never know if this was the case. Or if, like many others, he carried the nightmares of his experiences to the grave. Alex Edward Lovegrove is a reminder that the Scars of War are not always visible.
Kevin Hitchcock (September 2018)