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On Remembrance Sunday, Chester’s main war memorial is the focus of a familiar ritual. Wreaths are laid, prayers recited and the two minutes’ silence observed. At the centre of this service are the war dead and the bereaved. Although a national day of reflection, Remembrance Sunday remains very much a local event. This is evident from Chester’s war memorial, which was originally dedicated in 1922 “…by a grateful city in honour of her sons…”. At this time, the mourners would also have been local, primarily consisting of the bereaved, what the historian Jay Winter calls a “community of mourning”. 

Yet, this focus on the local war dead can hide other victims of the war. In Chester’s Overleigh Cemetery, Belgians, Australians and Canadians lay alongside the British dead from the First World War. Most of these men succumbed to wounds or disease in Chester Infirmary and were then laid to rest in the city. However, because these men had no previous attachment to the city, their names are missing from the city’s war memorials.

My research has always been concerned with the history and memory of Germany’s involvement in the two world wars. The COVID-19 crisis and local lockdowns encouraged me to hunt out more details of the Germans who died in Chester. These are people who breathed their last in Cheshire, but as they were fighting on the other side, remembering them has been a more complicated process. 

One of the men to fit this category had not even been a soldier. Walter Sick travelled to England in 1910, seeking work as a cook. He eventually settled in Manchester with his English wife and child. But with the outbreak of hostilities, Sick was arrested as an ‘enemy alien’ and interned in Queensferry camp, near Chester. He soon became ill with appendicitis and died in November 1914. A second German to die in Chester was Rudolf Noack, a young soldier captured on the Western Front and taken to Handforth prisoner of war camp in East Cheshire. Like Sick, Noack also died of appendicitis in Chester Infirmary, much later though, in November 1919.

Both Sick and Noack were buried in Overleigh Cemetery, but if you visit today, their graves are nowhere to be seen. In theory, their bodies would have been removed in the 1960s to the new German Cemetery on Cannock Chase, which contains almost 5,000 bodies, but neither Sick nor Noack are remembered there either. The pair died in Chester over 100 years ago and in all likelihood their remains are still in the city today. In the First World War, even in Cheshire, people died far from their country, their home and their loved ones, destined to remain forever in Chester.

If you’d like to know more about the history of Chester, visit our Global History in One City page, where our lecturers feature in a series of videos demonstrating how the local history of Chester is undeniably part of a rich and dynamic global history.

If you have an interest in history, you can find information about our History course here and you can also chat to one of our History students via Unibuddy.

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