CAPTURED MOMENT: Crowds gather in Cambridge Street in 1919 to celebrate the end of War I the previous November. Neville Markham can be seen as a five-year-old in the parade dressed as John Bull. Neville still remembers the names of all the people pictured. Inset, Neville Markham with mother Naomi and father Martin.
An extraordinary DVD has captured the memories of a life-long resident of Godmanchester, giving a fascinating insight into the town throughout the majority of the last century.
Neville Markham remembers peering out of a bedroom window in his home in Cambridge Street and watching a procession of German prisoners being marched to work on the land.
The year was 1918 and the country was at war. Mr Markham was only four at the time. The 96-year-old's remarkable photographic memory means he is able to recall in accurate detail events, people and places that would otherwise be long-forgotten. Voices of Godmanchester, a 42-minute DVD produced by Kate Hadley, ensures those memories will never be lost and helps to put them into their historical context. Mr Markham begins by describing the tragic impact of World War I on the town, which lost dozens of its fathers, brothers and sons.
A grim roll call of the town's war dead features on the DVD, revealing how whole swathes of families, sometimes as many as five people with the same surname, were killed. Worried wives and mothers would take the long and excruciating walk to The Grove, which served as an army information centre, to learn the whereabouts of their men-folk.
Mr Markham remembers watching his own mother Naomi in tears because she had heard no word from her husband, Martin, who was fighting in France.
His father was one of the few to return from war, though Martin Markham spent the rest of his life suffering with a crippling cough after surviving a gas attack.
Many families were not so lucky. Mr Markham's aunt Lil was one of the town's many widows after her husband John never returned. Mr Markham said: "Everywhere there were wounded and disabled people. I remember wives on their own. The majority of them never got married again. It's hard to lose ' your husband in war when it seems unnecessary."
Mr Markham's grandfather and great- grandfather are buried in Godmanchester churchyard. His family were master builders and responsible for many of the town's homes before World War I.
After the war, the building business collapsed as recession took its toll. But Mr Markham, who left school at 14, was determined to start work.
He began by helping on his family's farm, which he describes as a "terrible job". "I had to get up at 5am to milk the cows and then go round the houses with a half a pint measure and big can delivering milk. I had to start up at night if a cow was going to calve. I hated the job, but I stuck it out for 12 months. He also helped his mother to produce her own cheese.
While families like his own struggled to make ends meet, the gentry owners of the big houses in Godmanchester, lived in a different world, Mr Markham said. They employed a whole raft of servants to do household chores.
Girl servants, sometimes as young as 12, were 'bought' at the annual Easter horse fair, known then as the largest horse fair in the county. The horse fair ended before Mr Markham's birth but he was told about it by his grandmother.
Mothers would take their daughters to the Three Horseshoes Pub, now an estate agents on the comer of Cambridge Street, where they would be I picked out by butlers or housekeepers in need of an extra pair of hands.
Through the Hunts Post, Huntingdonshire's newspaper since I870, Mr Markham learned of a place available in St Ives as an apprentice butcher and so began a 40-year career. He set up his own business in Godmanchester and to this day his sausages are locally renowned though the recipe is closely guarded secret. "The secret to my sausages was the flavouring but I've never told anyone my recipe."
Producer and director Mrs Hadley hopes the DVD, available for £10 at Godmanchester's Porch Museum from this month, will provide an insight into life in the 1920's and 1930's. She said: "Neville has seen cars come, planes arrive and the introduction of electricity. He can completely portray a time before the world changed."
"It is important for everyone to see it and for future generations to hear it and imagine what it was like. The present is rooted in the past."
INFORMATION: The Voices of Godmanchester DVD will be I launched on Friday, March 18 at the Porch Museum, by the Chinese Bridge. A new book, Godmanchester: A celebration of 800 years, by Pam and Ken Sneath, will also be launched on the night, and the museum's new 3D map of Roman Godmanchester will be unveiled.
Tickets for the launch night are £3. Proceeds from the night and from DVD sales will go to the museum, part of educational charity the Friends of Queen Elizabeth School.
For more information or to order copies of the DVD call Mike Brown on 07979 240972.
FAMILY PET: Neville with the family cow. Despite this image, Neville had no aptitude for farming after spending a year working on the farm when 14.