The Interview: John Chapman, former Ilkeston footy ref

John Chapman is trying to map all the graves of Ilkeston's war dead.
John Chapman is trying to map all the graves of Ilkeston's war dead.

John Chapman first took a keen interest in mapping the graves of Ilkeston’s war dead when he lost his wife Gillian in 2011.

“When I went to her grave there were quite a few official headstones from the war,” he said.

“I started checking some of them online and got the names of all the dead soldiers buried in there.

“As I was walking out of the cemetery, at the top of the hill, in front of me was the grave of Leonard Parkinson. He was on the HMS Barham in 1941 when it was torpedoed by a German submarine.

“There is a lot more in these stories. The interesting thing about that was that it suddenly brought to life everything that had happened.

“There are 40 First World War soldiers commemorated in Park Cemetery and ten from the Second World War.

“Their deaths are marked on their parents’ headstones, including Walter Potter who drowned in 1915.”

John has done much research into Ilkeston’s war dead, with the help of the Royal British Legion. There are details for 164 soldiers from the Erewash area and more are being added all the time as he unearths information.

Some of Ilkeston’s war dead are buried in other parts of the country, or abroad.

‘I’m sure there must be a number of others,” said John, 71. “The original books show 600 to 700 from the Erewash borough.”

John grew up in Ilkeston and enjoyed a career working as a pattern maker and tool maker, mainly at Rolls Royce. He also worked at Denby Pottery for a decade and spent the last 12 years of his career at the Rolls Royce research and development department at the University of Nottingham.

He was also a referee for local football leagues and a Scout leader for 20 years. During his time as a referee he sent off about three players and booked around 40.

He met Gillian in 1966, two years after his father’s death.

He recalls that on their first date they went to see the film How to Murder Your Wife. He said: “When my mum and brother met Gill’s family it was like an automatic extended version of our family, we got on that well. In fact my brother Arthur married my wife’s sister.”

He and Gillian, who he said was ‘the biggest driving force in his life, had three children and three grandchildren.

Born in 1944, John says he was a ‘war baby’. His dad served in the RAF in the south of England. John recalls his father telling him about a time he had a lucky escape.

He had left his vehicle to get a cup of coffee and when he returned it had been blown up by the Germans.

John has been investigating Ilkeston’s war graves for four years and still plans on doing more in the future, though at the moment he is trying to find out more about his own family history.

He is also involved with the Friends of Park Cemetery group, which is made up of six people.