Thomas Woodman was my fathers’, mothers’ father – my great grandfather. My father was called Theodore Thomas Woodman Whittington, which perhaps speaks to his mothers love for her father, naming her first son after him. After reading ‘War and Priest’, I went with Loretta in January 2020, to visit his final resting place. We found his grave, as Richard describes in the book, by the west door of St. Andrew Church, Felmingham in north Norfolk, UK.
The three pictures below show what we found.
They are followed by more which show how it is now.
My first instinct when finding the grave was to unite Thomas with the book about his life. It felt like a respectful way to honour him and to let him know, as it were, that he was remembered. It doesn’t make a good photo but it felt right to do at the time!
Although the granite crucifix was in reasonable condition, considering it had been there for so long, the stone base was green with algae and weather damage. It was only when I looked closer that I noticed there was a single line of text, just visible behind the grass and dirt. To get a better view I pulled the grass and then the earth back. Digging down we saw some more text and realised that we were visiting exactly 100 years after his death.
Thomas Woodman is buried right next to the path that led from his house, the rectory across the road, and the west door entrance to the church itself. For the last three years of his life he would have walked daily up and down that path. I wonder if he mused to himself about his preferred burial plot?
After discovering that there was some more text under the grass I set about finding a restorer. Through the summer months of 2020, while the rest of us were finding ways to stay safe during the global pandemic the stone mason and his team gradually discovered that the grave had sunk several feet into the ground over the one hundred years since his funeral and found rather more of it than they or I had expected.
After lifting the kerb stone and base plinth back to ground level, Thomas’s grave is restored, the fresh earth is planted with grass and the memory of his life and work refreshed for another generation.
Apart from discovering the original ‘kerb stones’ the restorer also discovered that almost the whole of the base stone had also sunk into the ground. Lifting it with a ‘chain hoist’ (it’s all solid granite) and re-setting and then cleaning, it revealed a lot more text and some of the story of Thomas’s extraordinary life.
This picture, taken from Richard’s book, is of Thomas Woodman in 1912. That is five years before he moved to Felmigham and so would perhaps have been taken in or around Exeter where he was living and working between 1900 and 1917. He had been born and bought up in Exeter but moved to Norfolk for his wife’s health.
I felt unexpectedly moved by visiting Thomas’s grave and so would like, if I can, to continue tracing the story of his life – backwards from his death – through the villages of Kings Nympton and North Molton near Exeter where he worked after returning, in 1900, from many years work in Africa. It could be a fascinating journey. With thanks to my uncle Richard for his work in bringing one of our ancestors back into the family consciousness.
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain a child. For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors?”
Marcus Tullius Cicero