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Not to be missed in this section are the personal recollections of wartime, be it as a soldier, prisoner of war, or on the home front here in Winsham!
The War Memorial is to be found at the focus of the village-the major road junction. The following are accounts published in the Chard & Ilminster News, of how it was erected by public subscription of £150 (approx.£12,000 in our terms 70 years later), together with the generosity of certain individuals. It is followed by a wonderfully detailed account of the memorial's unveiling on the fifth anniversary of the Armistice - Remembrance Day, Sunday 11th November , 1923. Regrettably, there are no photographs of this event
WAR MEMORIAL-The plans and illustrations of the proposed memorial were exhibited at a recent meeting in the Jubilee Hall, and were clearly explained by the Chairman (Mr G.F.Davis). It was unanimously agreed that they should be carried out. The actual cost of the memorial to the people would, it was stated, be £150 ,of which £50 had already been obtained, and it was thought that now the memorial was about to begin, no difficulty would be experienced in getting another £100.
The site, at the entrance to the village has been generously given by Mr Ward Coleridge, while Mr T.Spurdle has kindly offered to give up part of his garden as required. The base of the memorial, etc ,is to be the contribution of Captain Davies. Mr Lee, the builder, is going to erect the memorial itself without profit. To all these gentlemen the meeting passed a cordial & unanimous vote of thanks for their kind and valuable contributions. The Rev.F.D. Richardson(Vicar) ,and the Rev.W.Williams (Congregational Pastor) were chosen on the committee in the place of the former Vicar and the former Congregational Minister.
The committee will make the necessary arrangements for the whole district to be canvassed for subscriptions.
This was a major occasion, and the newspaper produced a well crafted report. It contains much valuable detail , there being no pictures were available for reproduction- a reminder , if one is needed, of how things have changed over the last century or so. Thanks to Anne Rose who provided the source document.
The beautiful memorial to the fallen which the people of Winsham and Cricket St Thomas have been preparing for some considerable time-spurred on by the warm support of Major G.F. Davies of Leigh House, MP for the Yeovil Division of Somerset-was unveiled at an impressive service on Sunday afternoon by Maj.-Gen. Sir Webb Gilman, K.C.M.G.,C.B.,D.S.O., Commander of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
Erected at the cross-roads at the entrance to Winsham, the memorial occupies a quadrant of land in the angle formed by the Chard road and that to Ammerham, and takes the form of a Celtic cross' The base is admirably laid outin circular form, being mounted by steps from the Ammerham road side. On this rises the weathered octagonal base of the memorial, itself indented with two flights of steps to enable visitors to mount to read the inscription on the shaft The cross is a monolith of Ham Hill stone, carved in low relief on two sides. The wreath characteristic of the Celtic cross is in this case formed of the Crown of Thorns. On the side facing the village appears the inscription: "In memory of the men of Winsham and Cricket St. Thomas who fell in the Great War, 1914-1918"; and on the other side are the lines: "True love by life-True love by death is tried: Live thou for England: We for England died." The full Roll of Honour is inscribed as follows:- Frank Bridle, Percy Bridle, Walter Bridle, Augustus Brown, Walter Brown, Edwin Budge, Sidney Butler, Ernest Cottrell, Archibald Forsey, Harold Fry, Charles Garrett, Herbert Gill, William Good, Fred Hawker, Louis Loaring, Wilfred Northcombe, R.N.
John Perrott, William Rowe, Albert Russell, John Spurdle, Sidney Spurdle, John Sylvester, John Trott, R.N. James White.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by not only by a representative gathering of inhabitants of the two parishes concerned, but by a large number of visitors from Chard and other places. The Winsham Coronation Band, children from the village school, the Girl Guides under the District Commissioner( Miss Edith Langdon) and Captain (Miss Budge), members of the British Legion, War Memorial Committee, headed by Mr T.M. Loaring ( Chairman of Winsham Parish Council), choir, Vicar (Rev. F.D. Richardson), and Congregational minister( Rev. W. Williams) formed in procession outside the Parish Church, and walking to the cross, formed the inner ring of the crowded assembly. The Senior Service was represented by Capt. Warren, R.N., and Chard British Legion by its hon. secretary, Mr. G.W. Stembridge, and several members.
The hymns," Fight the good fight" and " O God our help in ages past," were sung, and a short form of dedication service conducted by the Vicar, the lesson from Wisdom iii,1-6, being read by Rev. W.Williams.
After the cross had been unveiled and the words of the dedication pronounced by Major-Gen. Gilmar, the Last Post was sounded, and Major Davies spoke briefly from the steps of the cross.
"We are net together", he said," to witness the realisation and completion of dreams and plans that have been in the making during the past few years. To-day is Armistice Day, the anniversary of that day five years ago when from Switzerland to the sea the roar of the artillery, the rattle of machine guns, the crack of rifle bullets, which had been incessant for four long years, were suddenly hushed, and a great silence fell on the noise of war. That day and that silence have passed into history and wherever the English language is spoken and an English heart beats, year after year, that silence will be served and thought will go out to the Cenotaph in Whitehall and to the grave of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.
"But we are not only celebrating Armistice Day here in Winsham. To-day we are dedicating our own memorial to those men of Winsham and Cricket St. Thomas who gave their lives in the Great War. You will remember that first when I came to live among you three and a half years ago, one of the first things I did was to interest myself in the erection of a War Memorial, and now after all that time we see it completed.
" In too many places the erection of a war memorial has been the cause of friction between people of different religions and other opinions, but here in Winsham I think we can congratulate ourselves that the whole village has been at one in the matter. We have to thank many kind friends whose practical assistance has enabled us to erect a memorial not unworthy of what it stands for.
"First, I would mention Mr Ward Coleridge , K.C., who made a free gift of the land on which this memorial stands. Then Mr Spurdle who surrendered his tenant rights to it; then Messrs Bird & Bird, the firm of London Solicitors whogave their services and , finally Messrs Alexander Poole & Co., in the person of Mr Lee, who erected the memorial at cost without any profit to themselves. I also wish to pay tribute to the architect, Mr Streatfield , who has designed such an artistic monument. And I wish, in the name of you all, to take this opportunity of publicly thanking them for their valued help and assistance.
"There are some here who cannot but think of this occasion with grief and sorrow in their hearts, and there may be others who will say :'To what good was this sacrifice?' To such I would say: 'What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' Obedience to the call of duty is greater than a vain attempt to live for oneself alone. And for us that remain to carry on their work, while we may not be called upon to die for our country, yet we have the harder task to live for our country. At a time like this when we are faced with problems without and within such as we have never had to deal with before, it is the duty of each one of us to do our share in helping to find the right solution to these problems.
"So, while there cannot but be an element of sadness in our gathering here to-day, yet we may finish on a note of triumph and take to ourselves those words which you will see inscribed on this monument:
'True love by life-true love by death is tried,
Live thou for England: We for England died'."
Wreaths and other floral tributes for placing at the foot of the memorial were at the close of the service received by members of the British Legion. The Legion itself was represented by a wreath of laurel and Flanders poppies, while other flowers were from the War Memorial Committee and Parish Council, The Winsham Football Club, Leigh House, Cricket House, Forde Abbey , and various relatives of the fallen.
A clear and sunny afternoon favoured the ceremony.
Despite the passage of many years it seems that the relevance of the War Memorial remains. Those who had any experience of the Great War have passed on, and very few of those who fought in World War II remain. But the abomination of war stays with us. Many armed conflicts have taken place involving British forces since the end of World War II, although they have not claimed the lives of any Winsham people.
During this first decade of the twenty first century the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a special impact. The electronic media has meant that pictures of the conflicts are seen in the home on a daily basis, along with the sad scenes of the repatriation of the bodies of our young people who have been killed.
Every November, Remembrance Sunday is a big national event focussed on the Cenotaph in London. Viewed on national television this ceremony is mirrored in many cities, towns and villages throughout the United Kingdom. Winsham is no exception.
The War Memorial stands at the centre of the village where four roads meet. When the site was selected it was the obvious place for it to be situated. In recent years, with the growth in the number of large and very large vehicles passing through the village it has been damaged several times. Fortunately the central memorial column has not been struck, but the plinth upon which it stands requires frequent and often costly repair.
Less dramatic but just as important, atmospheric pollution and the ravages of weather have also left their mark. In view of this the Parish Council decided in 2011 that the memorial should be cleaned.
Visitors to the Parish Church may have noted the brass memorial plaque on the north wall commemorating the death of a soldier - 4462 Private Warren of the King’s Dragoon Guards in South Africa on the 28th. August 1901 and dedicated to him by ‘his officers and comrades’. We have not been able to find out much more about him except that his initial was R. and according to the Dragoon Guards records in Cardiff museum he actually died ‘of disease’ in Bloemfontein. He was awarded The Queen’s South Africa medal with clasps denominated as Cape Colony and Orange Free-State.
Somerset Light Infantry
A number of Winsham men joined the Somerset Light Infantry, or were already serving as territorials in that regiment. Towards the end of September 1914, the Divisional General of the Wessex Division received a telegram saying that Lord Kitchener wanted to see him at the War Office next day.
'I went to the War Office and was taken into Lord Kitchener’s room and you can imagine I got a little bit of a shock when he said: ‘I want you to take your Division to India. Will they go?’ You must remember that at that time the Imperial obligation did not apply to the Territorial's. I said, ‘Well sir, I do not think that anybody has had much thought about it, but I am perfectly certain that if you want them to go to India they will go there right enough’. He replied, ‘Very well, go back to your Division now, get hold of them tomorrow morning on Salisbury Plain, use your personal influence and tell them from me that I want them to go to India and that by going to India they will be performing a great Imperial duty. I have to bring white troops back from India and I must replace them there by white troops from home’.
The First Battalion went to France, but the 1st/4th. Territorial battalions went to India and ultimately Mesopotamia.
The 1/4th Somersets reached Bombay November 14th. 1914 and were moved up to Amritsar. In Mesopotamia, British and Indian troops had been fighting the Turks under General Townshend. They captured Kut-al Amarah in September 1915 and were under siege there from December 5th. From Karachi, Somerset men sailed up the Tigris River in February 1916 in an attempt to relieve Kut but after a number of bloody actions, the British Forces surrendered to the Turks on April 29th. 1916. Many men were killed in these actions or died of disease, some as POWs during the next two and a half years. These battalions of the 'Somersets' remained in Mesopotamia for the rest of the war
Fatalities in the Great War
TRUE LOVE BY LIFE
TRUE LOVE BY DEATH IS TRIED.
LIVE THOU FOR ENGLAND
WE FOR ENGLAND DIED.
What do we know about the “we” from the quotation above? This verse on the Winsham and Cricket St Thomas war memorial is followed by the names of 24 men who died in the Great War. If our promise to remember them is to mean anything, it would help if they represented more than just inscriptions in stone.
The Winsham Web Museum has a section (below) outlining the military background to the deaths of most of the men. I have tried to add information about their lives before they joined the services. I am not a trained historian and I have relied on online data sources. There must be far more in various archives, old newspapers, etc and it would be great if someone could add to my basic findings and correct any errors.
The names are listed alphabetically, without reference to rank.
Frank BRIDLE. Born in 1900 to Walter and Kate (see below). At the time, Walter was a farm carter at Lords Leaze near Chard, but in 1911 the family was living at Chalkway. Frank died in Sept 1919 and is buried in Cologne, so it is likely he was in the occupying forces after the war. The Spanish flu pandemic, which killed more people than the war had done, was still raging and soldiers were a susceptible group.
Percy BRIDLE. Born in 1891 to William and Charlotte. Percy was a gardener at Cricket House before the war. He enlisted in the county regiment in Monmouthshire in August 1914. He died in May 1918 and is buried in Berlin, so he was probably a prisoner of war at the time.
Walter BRIDLE. Born in 1878, possibly to unmarried mother, Jane, a domestic servant living in Bridge. Married Kate Singleton in 1899. She died in 1908 and he married Emma Jane Moulton in 1910. Farm worker, and father of Frank (above).
Augustus BROOM. Born in 1892 to Albert and Ellen. Albert was a dairy manager on the Cricket estate and formerly at Broadenham Farm. In 1911 Augustus was an apprentice butcher, living with his parents.
Samuel Walter BROWN. Son of James and Elizabeth Brown, was the middle of 13 children all born in Winsham. In 1901 his father was a horse carter on a farm and Walter (age 13) was described as a coachman. In 1911 his parents were living in Court St and Walter had moved to Llanbradach in S. Wales, working in the colliery. He was lodging with a family that included Hannah Leah Pook, whom he married shortly after. Their son was born in December, and was three when his father was killed. Walter's nephew, Douglas Brown, was among the Winsham war dead in WW2.
R. Edwin BUDGE. Born in 1885 to Alfred and Mary of Broadenham Farm. Alfred was also a school manager and frequently chaired the parish council. Edwin worked on the farm.
Sidney BUTLER. Born in 1886 to Alfred and Mary of Fore Street. Sidney, like his father, became a farm labourer. He married Kate Russell (sister of Albert, below) in 1914. When Sidney was killed, Kate had lost a husband and brother in the space of four months.
Ernest COTTRELL. Born in 1885, son of John and Sarah, who lived in Ammerham. In 1901 he was working in a corn mill on the River Axe in Thorncombe parish. Married Florence, details unknown.
Archibald FORSEY. Son of Sarah Jane and Thomas, a shoemaker, living in Fore Street. Born 1888. He was an estate gardener in 1911 and his sister Mabel taught at the school.
Alfred Harold FRY. Born in Bristol, 1886, to Francis James and Elizabeth Fry. Francis was a member of the Fry’s Chocolate dynasty and in 1897 he bought the Cricket Estate. He was chairman of Winsham Parish Council (in a largely honorary capacity) from 1900 to 1919. The Fry's were a traditionally Quaker family. Harold trained as a barrister and married Margaret Evans in 1912 at All Souls, Langham Place in London. At the time of his death, Margaret was living in Eaton Square. Harold is the only officer among the 24 and is clearly not typical of the Winsham dead, but the Fry's were well respected in the locality.
Charles GARRETT. Born in 1895 to George and Bessie, who lived in Purtington. George was a farm carter and in 1911 Charles was described as a motor cleaner on the estate.
Herbert GILL. His war record has not been located. There was a Herbert Gill who served in the S.L.I. and at different times in three other units, but there is no positive link. In the 1911 census, a Herbert Gill, aged 31, was an agricultural labourer living as a lodger in Fore Street. In a book of local history it is said that ‘Bert’ Gill had a barber’s shop in Back Street around the same time.
William GOOD. The Good family in Winsham go back a long way. The first Good recorded in the church register was baptised in 1584. William was the son of Jane and George, an estate gardener, of West Street. They later moved to Church Street and William became an apprentice baker.
Fred HAWKER was born in 1888 to Jacob and Eliza of Heywood in Thorncombe parish. By 1911 he had enlisted in the regular army as a private in the S.L.I. He was killed in action three weeks after the outbreak of war.
H. Louis LOARING. The Loarings are another old-established Winsham family, recorded in the church register as far back as 1598. H. L. was born in 1888 to Henry, a bootmaker, and Sarah. They lived in Back Street, then Fore Street. Louis emigrated to Canada and enlisted in the army in May 1916 in Winnipeg, where he had been working as a conductor (train or tram?). He had married, but gave his father as next of kin. The attestation form gives his height as 5’3”. He died of shell wounds in the attack on Vimy Ridge.
Wilfred NORTHCOMBE was born in 1888, the son of Walter and Mary (nee Hodder). Walter was village schoolmaster for many years and Mary was teaching there before they married (continuing as infant school mistress). They lived in the School House. Walter was Parish Clerk from 1894 to 1931. The church lych-gate was erected in their memory. Wilfred joined the Royal Navy as an engine room artificer before 1911 and was killed in the Battle of Jutland.
John PERROTT. Born 1893 to John, a farm labourer, and Jane. They lived at Axewater near the bridge and John Jr. followed his father’s profession.
William ROWE was the son of James (a shepherd) and Flora. They lived in Cricket St. Thomas, where William became a dairyman. His war record has not been identified.
Albert RUSSELL also came from Cricket, where his father, John, was a horse carter. John and his wife Mary had 11 children. Albert was born in 1891 and 20 years later was an assistant gamekeeper. He married Annie Elizabeth Paull in 1915. After being widowed in 1917, she married Charles Loaring.
John SPURDLE. There were several Spurdle families in and around Winsham in Edwardian times. At least two Johns and three Sidney's were of military age, so there is scope for confusion. John was born in 1887 to George and Fanny, of Greenham in the parish of Broadwindsor. At the age of 13 he was a farm hand in Ammerham. His father moved to High Street. John and Sidney (below) were cousins.
Sidney SPURDLE. Born in 1890. Son of William and Bessie of Malthouse, Court Street. They had 10 children. Sidney, like his father, was an agricultural labourer, described as a cowman when he enlisted. His parents moved to Hollowells. Sidney and John (see above) were cousins.
Frederick John SYLVESTER. Born 1885 to Robert and Jane. Robert was the postmaster/shopkeeper in Church Street, next to The Bell.
John TROTT. Son of Eliza, born 1898 in Cricket St. Thomas. He volunteered for the Royal Navy and was the youngest when he was killed, aged 17.
James WHITE. His service record has not been confirmed. A James White, who was born in Hawkchurch around 1882, served initially in the S.L.I. and died of wounds at Arras on 28/4/1917. There were Whites living in Winsham in the 1880s and James White married Elizabeth Ann Long in this area in 1913.
The above details, sketchy though they are, highlight the agricultural nature of the parishes a century ago, as well as the importance of the big estates. The people mostly worked where they lived. It must have been a close knit community and one can imagine the devastating impact of the war. Many of the deaths came in clusters. Two died in Oct 1915 , four in the summer (June-Aug) of 1916 and three in April 1917. We do not know when three of the men were killed and we have no record of the numbers returning without limbs, or sight, or with lungs damaged by gas.
The above was researched and presented by John Gapper
Charles Garrett. Son of George Garrett of Purtington. Private 240889 Somerset Light Infantry. Died July 22nd. 1916. Age 21 Buried Baghdad War Cemetery Iraq.
John Spurdle. Son of George Spurdle of High St. Winsham. Private, Somerset Light Infantry Died January 2nd. 1919 age 32. Buried Peshawar.
The 12th Battalion (The West Somerset Yeomanry) moved to Gallipoli in October 1915 and fought in that disastrous and ill-advised campaign.They were returned to Egypt in December 1915.
Augustus Broom. Son of Albert Broom of Cricket St. Thomas and the late Ellen Broom. Private 1060 West Somerset Yeomanry. Died October 27th. 1915 age 23. Buried Alexandra Military Cemetery Egypt.
The Palestine Campaign
The 1st/5th. Battalion also went to India,some of them serving in Mesopotamia but in May 1917 the Battalion were sent to Egypt to join the Expeditionary Force which had been in action against the Turks since their attempt to prize control of the Suez Canal from the British in 1915. After a decisive victory in January 1917, the British advanced intoPalestine wherethe 1/5th. Battalion joined the 75th. Division.
Ernest Cottrell (Cotterell). Son of John and Sarah Cotterell of Chard, husband of Florence E. Cotterell of Lynvale House, Lynton, Devon. Pvte 32160 1st/5th Btn. Somerset Light Infantry. Died Tuesday November 13th. 1917 Buried Jerusalem Memorial Cemetery, Israel.
On September 19th, 1918 a major offensive was launched against the Turks. and their armies were smashed in the ensuing Battle of Megiddo. Two companies of the 1st/5th. under Major Watson were deployed in positions in No Man’s Land in front of the British lines. They successfully captured Turkish advanced posts.
William Good. Son of Mr and Mrs. George Good of Church St. Winsham .Private 241593 1st/5th. Btn.Somerset Light Infantry. Died September 19th 1918 age 25 Buried Jerusalem Memorial, Israel.
The Salonika Expedition, October 1915
Greece asked the Allies for help with their treaty obligations to Serbia which was attacked by Bulgaria in October 1915.The British and French sent a small force that began landing at the Greek port of Salonika at the end of that month. By early 1916 the force had increased from just the 10th Irish Division to the 10th,22nd,26th,27th and 28th. Divisions.
Walter Bridle. Bombardier 57819, "D" Bty. 101st Brigade., Royal Field Artillery who died on Friday 25 August 1916, age 38. Husband of Kate Bridle, of Chalkway, Winsham, Chard, Somerset. Buried in the Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemetery, Greece .
The Western Front 1914
The British Expeditionary Force- six infantry divisions and one cavalry division moved to France in August 1914 and was virtually destroyed in the fighting between August and December of that year. Winsham suffered its first casualty:
Fred Hawker. Private 7699 1st. Btn Somerset Light Infantry died on Wednesday 26th. August 1914 age 26. His name is inscribed on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial Seine-et-Marne, France.
Samuel Walter Brown. Samuel Walter was born 1887 Winsham. Father James Brown, Mother Elizabeth Brown. Samuel died 6th August 1915 and is buried at the Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Guinchy, The Somme. He was a Private in the Irish Guards, Pay No 5370.
The Battle of Loos started on the 25th. September 1915 when, at 6.30am, Captain Edward Moss blew the whistle that signaled the advance of the 10th Battalion of the Gloucester's. By the 13th October when the battle ended, 50,000 British soldiers were dead wounded or missing. The final advance had been about 1500 yards and 309 men of the 10th Battalion Gloucester Regiment were dead including one young man from Winsham.
John Perrott. Private 15577- 10th Btn Gloucester Regiment. Killed in action 13th October 1915, age 23. His name is inscribed on the Loos Memorial, France.
Albert Harold Fry. 2nd Lt. “C” Company 1st/22nd Btn. London Regiment . Son of Francis James and Elizabeth Fry of Cricket St, Thomas. Died Monday 30th. October 1916 age 30. Buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Frederick John Sylvester. Private 21596 6th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, son of Mrs. Jane Sylvester of Winsham died 26.1 1917 age 32 buried Agny Military Cemetery, France.
Louis(H.L) Loaring. Private 701125 2nd. Canadian Mounted Rifles (British Columbia Regiment) died Monday 9th. April 1917. According to the family, Louis Loaring emigrated to Canada before the war and when he came back was unable to get leave to visit his family in Winsham before he was killed in action. He is buried at Lapugnoy Military Cemetery in France.
Albert Russell. Private 26574 8th Btn, Somerset Light Infantry. Son of John and Mary Russell of Chaffcombe, Chard. Husband of Anne Eliza Loaring (formerly Russell) of Fore St. Winsham. Died Saturday April 28th age 26. Buried Arras Memorial, Bay4.
Sidney Butler. Private 41836. 7th/8th Btn., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who died on Thursday,23 August 1917, age 30. Son of Alfred and Mary Butler, of Winsham. Husband of Kate Butler, of Chalkway, Winsham. Buried at Harelbeke New British Cemetery, Harelbeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
Edwin Budge. Private 235004. Hampshire Regt. Son of Alfred and Mary Elizabeth Budge of Broadenham, Winsham. Died March 28th 1918, age 32 .Buried Arras Memorial Pas de Calais France.
Percy Bridle. Private 265518. 1st/2nd Bn., Monmouthshire Regiment. Son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Bridle, of High St., Winsham, Chard, Somerset. Died on Monday, 20 May 1918, age 27. Buried in the Berlin South-Western Cemetery, Berlin, Germany.
Sidney Spurdle. Private 54299 Durham Light Infantry. Son of Mr. W. Spurdle of Hollowell’s Cottage, Cricket St. Thomas. Died October 5th. 1918.Buried Guizancourt Farm Cemetery, Gouy Aisne, Aisne, France.
Frank Bridle. Private 30427 Hampshire Regiment. Son of Walter Bridle. Died on 19 September 1919, age 19. Buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery in Germany.
'Lest we forget'
In the Naval battle of Jutland, on May31st 1916,one of eight British Destroyers lost was H.M.S.Ardent, on which one Winsham man was serving.
William Northcombe, Artificer, H.M.S.Ardent. Son of Walter & Mary Northcombe, of School House, Winsham. Died 1st June,1916, age28.
Four days later, H.M.S.Hampshire left Scapa Flow bound for Archangel. On board was Lord Kitchener, sent to Russia on a diplomatic mission. On 5th June, the Hampshire struck a mine. She sank with the loss of 643 officers and men, and with the loss of Lord Kitchener, the Germans had dealt the British a terrible blow.
John Trott, Boy 1st Class. J/33420,H.M.S. Hampshire. Son of Eliza Cornelius (formerly Trott), of Old Road ,Ilminster. Died 5th June,1916,age 17.
Douglas Brown .Royal Air Force. Sergeant Air Gunner
Died aged 22 on a Lancaster bombing raid in Italy on August 8th. 1943. Buried in Milan War Cemetery. He is well remembered by Roy Frecknell (RASC ambulance driver) of Church Street as he was Best Man at Roy’s wedding. The last time Roy saw him was when they said goodbye to each other on a London bound train, returning from leave.
Ronald Davies. Lt. Royal Navy, H.M.S. Wryneck.
Son of Sir George and Lady Davies of Leigh House, Winsham. Died April 27th. 1941. On that day, H.M.S.Wryneck was attacked by German aircraft during the evacuation of troops from Greece and sunk off Nauplia. She had earlier, with H.M.SD. Diamond, rescued 700 crew and troops from the 11,600 ton Dutch liner Slamat which had come under British control after the fall of Holland to the Germans and which had been attacked previously. Both H.M.S. Diamond and H.M.S. Wryneck were lost along with nearly all of their crews and the survivors from the Slamat .
Graham Loveridge. Craftsman 14650021 R.E.M.E. Son of Ernest Albert and Alice Loveridge. The only soldier buried in Winsham Cemetery. He died on August 2nd. 1944.
William March. - Private 14433597 1st. Btn. Dorsetshire Regiment. Son of Frederick and Dorothy March of Fore Street, Winsham. William was an expert marksman like his brother Ted who has won many trophies and who lives in the same family house today. William died on Thursday 8th June 1944, two days after the Normandy landings and is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery.
The Story of Fred Newton - Private RASC British prisoner of war number 1004 captured by the Japanese in the fall of Singapore. During his period of captivity he saw the Atomic Bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki was the second of the two Atomic Bombs dropped on Japan. It had the power of 22kilotons of TNT The Japanese surrendered shortly afterwards.
As told to Peter Duffell
Fred Newton first served in Europe at the beginning of the War. When France collapsed and the British Army evacuated at Dunkirk, Fred was one of those who did not manage to get aboard any vessel and finally got home from St. Nazaire. But, as he put it, ‘it was out of the frying pan into the fire’ for early in 1941 he went overseas again and along with his unit went via Halifax in Canada, and the Cape of Good Hope to Singapore. He and six of his mates said that they would stick together through thick or thin. They arrived in Singapore in January 1942. When Singapore fell on the 15th of February, Fred like many other servicemen was herded into Changi prison camp and began the terrible three and a half years as a Prisoner of War of the Japanese.
The Burma Railroad
After a period working in Singapore itself, repairing lorries which had been sabotaged before the Japs arrived, Fred, with thousands of other prisoners was sent to Thailand to work on the infamous railway planned to connect Bangkok and Singapore to the existing Burma railroad. The conditions under which the POWs lived and worked were a kind of hell. The Japanese guards beat them mercilessly for the slightest infringement of the rules, real or imaginary; rations were barely enough to keep the men alive, medical assistance for the sick was practically non-existent and the death rate was horrendous.
“Four prisoners escaped from the camp- I think they were Northumberland Fusiliers, and they got so far in the jungle and they couldn’t get any further so they decided they’d turn round and come back. They came back so far and then the Japanese escorted them back to Chungkai, the camp, and we heard that they were being shot at four o’clock in the morning. I don’t think there was anyone who slept during that night waiting to see what did happen and early in the morning we heard the shots ring out and the next morning, we could see the mounds the graves being covered in. Six of us used to go out from there - we palled up together in this company from England stuck together all through and we used to go up into the hill and collect bamboo for the fires to cook the rice. They’d give you a big board to hang round your neck with Japanese slogans to say that you were permitted and we used to see these little kids coming along in the mornings with these bunches of flowers and put them on the graves. When the wife and I went out in 1995 I was telling her about that and there were two little girls inside the cemetery and they saw me standing in front of the grave that I found which was one of our mates - he died; he had both legs amputated. He died on Christmas Eve 1943, and they saw me standing there I suppose I broke down a bit. Next thing standing beside me, they gave us some flowers and pointed to put them on that grave. That was very touching indeed. Reminded me of those children going up to where the graves were - they’ve been moved now into the cemetery.”
Fred remained in camps Nong Pladuk and Kanchanaburi until April or May in 1944. At this time he and his mates decided to volunteer to be sent to Japan, thinking that they would be more likely to survive there when the Japs were ultimately defeated as nobody knew what they might do to the POW’S in Burma and Thailand.
Transfer to Omuta, nr Nagasaki
In Japan he was sent to the infamous Camp 17 at Omuta across the bay from Nagasaki on the southernmost island of Japan. There he worked in a zinc foundry where zinc scrap was melted down for re-use.
“One day, two of us were carrying these - on the shoulder an iron bar. A Jap would put another bar . . drag this crucible out . . . drag it out so far and you got near the fire with the iron bar pour this stuff out turn round and walk . .Tip it down a great big pit get a new one and put back, tripped over something - you couldn’t help it - things lying about all over the place We tripped over it and fell down and of course the Japs went mad about that. It was an accident, you can’t help that. Hurt my hip and was sent to the physiotherapy room. I laid on the table there, then they said they were going to send for someone. When he came in - great big bloke, about six foot something, tall hefty great bloke I don’t know if you’ve watched all-in wrestling . . . Leg stretch . . so he got hold of my leg, he put it right over . . Walked back behind me and went Phew, Gee whiz, that did hurt. Think if he’d left it where it was! Done a few exercises would have been better off because it did hurt. Any way they had to send me home on a tram. You had to march home when you finished work. An extra guard was put on the tram with me so instead of walking back I had a ride home. So I was off - couldn’t work for two or three days after that when it got better it was all right, it was painful that was. . . Then I burnt the bottom of my foot - they gave me rubber shoes. The Japs pinched all the Red Cross parcels . . . .trod on a hot cinder - burnt right through.”
In Camp 17, when the meagre rations were handed out to the prisoners, there was a pegboard with each man’s number on it by a hole. When he received his food, a peg was put in its hole to ensure that no man was given more than one ration. After returning to camp at the end of the days work at the foundry, Fred lined up for his food, but an American orderly who was handing it out said that his peg was already in the board and so he must have had it. Fred insisted that he had not but the orderly threatened to report him to the Japanese so he gave in. Later he encountered a British officer. One Geoffrey Pharoah Adams who listened to his story and marched back to the canteen area with him, out-ranked and out-faced the corrupt orderly who was forced to concede. Many years later (Capt?) Adams who wrote several books about his experiences as a POW was in contact with Fred who he remembered well as the Prisoner No 1004 who he had helped at Camp 17.
“We were just across the bay from Nagasaki . . . it turned out it was April 29th because it was bombed - incendiary bombs - it was all they needed in Japan really- incendiary bombs - everything would go up in flames . . . Unfortunately, the wind was blowing that night - blew some of them over into the camp, set that on fire but they did drop two high explosive bombs one went off and one didn’t detonate. They got an American and made him pick that up and walk to the water edge and dump it over the side . . . Anyway, he was lucky it didn’t go off. We had one or two scares after that. Eventually we knew something was happening, the Japs came round and gave you a good beating for nothing . . . So they were losing . . .One day we saw this huge cloud go up from across the bay and we all said oh they’ve hit the oil places over there . . . because we knew Nagasaki was a big naval base . . . We heard a few days afterwards that that was the second atomic bomb. And then we heard that we were being set free but we had to stay where we were. The Japanese had moved outside the camp and we had to remain . . . I should say there were about 4000 of us - there were Americans, Dutch, British and some Indians . . .”
“We just marched out down to the railway station. We were taken by Nagasaki and we could see the result of the atomic bomb - nothing standing, only the railway line, that was okay. Trees uprooted, just blown right out of the ground and planted somewhere else. When we were boarding the boat a USS mobile cruiser and the American sailors there . . . A nice big old-fashioned scrubbing brush a bar of carbolic soap and we were scrubbed from head to foot . . . I imagine there were about six to eight hundred of us on that boat. We were in a very poor condition. They give you three options- to fly back, go by boat or go by train. I volunteered to fly back but no - they’d keep you hanging about because when I left Japan I was between eight and nine stone - before that (in Thailand) well down below eight stone . . ."
"We were taken down to Okinawa, from there we flew to Manila in one of the old Liberators, which had just been taken out of action - the bomb doors didn’t close properly. We sat there looking down at all the little islands . . . Then we could go up in the cockpit, take it in turns, go back to the rear gunners place have a look there, it was quite exciting. Came into Clark’s Field in Manila and into another plane to fly us across to another little airport and then on board the Implacable - the aircraft carrier. It took us to Vancouver in Canada and then from Vancouver I came all through the Rockies. Three days and three nights on the same train right across to Halifax. By the time I reached Halifax I had completed an around the world trip. (originally he travelled via Halifax to Cape Town and Mombasa to Singapore). I shall never forget that journey through the Rockies.”
Fred was reported missing and every card that his Mother had sent to him over those three and a half years was returned as ‘not known’. The first word from him in all that time was a cable sent by him from on board the Implacable.
"By the time I got back to England back to Southampton on the Isle de France I weighed 13 stone ten, On that Canadian train . . . Beautiful . . . Same train all the time, they changed the sheets and bedding . . . Marvellous trip . . . I always wanted to go back. Unfortunately I left it too late. Can’t make it now . . ."
"Landed at Southampton, couple of days there, sent me home on leave, after Christmas I had to report back to Trowbridge a couple of days there and then they sent me to Taunton for demob. We had our passes late. I had to get a later train and got to Chard Junction at three o’clock in the afternoon. My uncle was there to fetch me in the car. He went so far up the road he went the other way . . .he went round Forde Grange, I couldn’t make it out. Anyway, I didn’t ask questions, I looked around, it was nice to feel I was home and recognise places. We got to the bottom of the village, lo and behold, they were all waiting with a great big rope and they pulled the car through the village, all dressed up with ribbons and everything."
Fred’s mother wanted to give him rice pudding as a treat not realizing how his miserable diet over those three and a half years had been little else.
"My mother said ‘we’ve saved your dinner for you, Fred. Got a lovely cooked dinner for you’. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘that’s lovely- I’ll look forward to that’. ‘But I’m sorry, we haven’t got any sweet left, we’ve eaten it all’. ‘Oh, what a pity’, I said, ‘what was it? ‘ She said ‘rice pudding. So I said - I laid down a law then. I said ‘whoever puts a rice pudding down in front of me - the rice pudding goes out the window & whoever made it follows it !"
Among those who pulled the car up through the village was Gwen, a girl in the WAAF who Fred had known from school days when he used to work the bellows on the organ at Sunday School and she used to sing in the choir.
"I used to give her a wink every now & then when I was on the organ, so I made up my mind then - you know - but it took a long time. We both went our own ways, but I came back & she was one of those helping to pull the car up through the village. We got chatting & I found that she was still free & still eligible so it started all over again."
Copyright reserved by Fred Newton and Peter Duffell
Clifford Fowler was born at Yonder Hill in 1916 and after the war, he returned to work at Chard Junction, where he met Marjorie Fowler (nee Good). They were married in 1947 and Clifford lived in the village until his death in 2002.
Images of the diary pages below and the transcribed entries are typed underneath.
50 years ago
From our issue of May 26, 1945
Thorncombe’s only prisoner-of-war, Pte Clifford Fowler, Queen’s Royal Regiment, of Yonder Hill, Chard Junction, returned home last week after being in enemy hands for five years.
Coach Tour of Death March Route
In January 1945, with Russian forces rapidly advancing westwards, many thousands of British prisoners of war were hastily evacuated by the enemy from Poland and eastern Germany towards Bavaria. The route of this march, which lasted many weeks, may be re-covered soonby many of the ex-prisoners who took part in it - but this time it will be covered in the luxury of a coach.
A 16-day coach tour of the route is being organised by Mr. Victor Croxford who kept a diary of the march - and Polish, Czechoslovak and German authority have kindly revised the list of 189 place names along the evacuation route which were spelt differently during the wartime occupation. Among the places he hopes to visit are East and West Berlin, Warsaw, Auschwitz, Prague, Nuremberg and Munich. The tour is planned to begin from London on August 14.
Former P.O.W.’s interested in this 20th anniversary tour should contact Mr. Croxford at 9 Croham Close, South Croydon, Surrey.
Wednesday 14th January 1945: 2Gr Mausdorf to Neuteich” (Nauminsterburg)
Thurs 25th: Danzig
26th to 27th: Karthous
28th: Lamenburg - 1 days rest
Feb 2nd: Stolp
Feb 3rd: Schlawe
Up to date 220 kilos
Feb 4th and 5th: 57 kilos through Koslin
Feb 6th: off main road - 1 days rest
Feb 7th: Frist good wash
Feb 8th: Gr. Gaten - 30 kilos
Feb 9th: Darnau - 25 kilos
Feb 10th: Through Treptow
Feb 11th: 35 kilos
Feb 12th: Long day - 45 kilos
Feb 13th: Swinemunde
Feb 14th: 30 kilos
Feb 15th: 1 days rest
Feb 16th: Through Auklam - 30 kilos
Feb 17th: To Alterhagen
Feb 18th to Feb 27th: Wolhwitz - 620 kilos - Rest. Deadly place.
Feb 27th: Marching through Stavenhagen
Feb 28th: Same
March 1st: Dammed cold.
March 2nd: First Red Cross parcel
March 3rd: Half days rest
March 4th: Through Parchin one Yanky R.C.P between 4 men
March 5th: Strawkershim - billetted village hall
March 6th: On to Rostow joined main company
March 16th: started work demenition - our planes - Ludwizlust
March 17th: Ditto
March 18th: Ditto
March 19th: Rest
March 20th: off again marched through Ludwizlust - Grabow - 33 kilos
March 21st: On again 23 kilos
March 22nd: Wittenburg crossed Elbe - 24 kilos
March 23rd: rest
March 24th: Through Seehausen 18 kilos
March 25th: Through Osterberg nr. Stendal - 24 kilos
To date 938 killos
March 26th: 15 kilos, bad road
March 27th: Rest
March 28th: 15 kilos bad road
March 29th: Angaran - Rogätz to Glindenberg - 27 kilos
March 30th: To magdeburg - 10 kilos
March 31st: Rest in supposed stallag
April 11th: Boys here quick move 27 kilos
Night march 4 ½ hrs without break
April 12th: 18 kilos. Mouldy bread
April 13th: 20 kilos
April 14th: 18 kilos through Belzig
April 15th: 20 kilos
April 16th: Through Sadda to Shadwalde - 16 kilos
April 17th:Through Annaberg Jessen to Naundorf - 25 kilos
April 18th: Rest - no grub
April 19th: Rest, parcel between four
April 20th: No grub. Plenty bombing.
April 21st: Quick move. 17 kilos. Slept in wood, pretty cold.
April 22nd: Short move 1 ½ kilos. Big barn. “Surrounded”
April 23rd: Rest. Deadly hole.
April 24th: Moved out 2 o-clock arrived midnight (spuds and coffee) - 24 kilos
April 25th: Rest - Gossa
April 26th: Great day - liberated by Yanks. Marched 10 kilos. Issued with army field rations.
April 27th: Taken in trucks to Halle. Big German Air Force barracks.
Total 1202 Kilometers
In 2021, her granddaughter Bethany Fowler, created a short video of Marjorie's memories of Winsham during the war.
Apologies for the changing focus in the footage.
The Home Guard, for anybody under the age of sixty in 2004, will only be known by reputation, and its humorous depiction in 'Dad's Army', the classic TV comedy series which for many years has been immensely popular. However, when the Home Guard, or 'The Local Defence Volunteers' as it was first known, was formed, it was a deadly serious matter. Great Britain and the British Empire, as it was then, was fighting for its very existence, against Hitler and the Third Reich, a much better prepared and powerful foe, Of course none of the ordinary people of our Islands thought that defeat was possible, but everybody knew that we had a fight on our hands, and an attempt at invasion was always a possibility.
With conscription taking most of the younger men, inevitably older men, and the younger ones who were in the vital 'reserved occupations' were needed to supplement the armed forces in home defence duties. The response to their Nation's call was immediate. A quarter of a million men of all ages volunteered within twenty four hours of the announcement. Eventually, the Home Guard, as it was renamed by Churchill, was to increase to 1.7million men. Ironically, the Governments principle motivation behind forming the force was the fear of airborne invasion. It emerged after the war that this threat had never really existed.They were trained first to a basic level, and then further depending on the tasks they carried out. These were very varied. Some were equestrian units ,carrying out patrols on horseback. Others manned anti aircraft gun batteries and, then carried out all manner of duties essential to our defence. They carried out their normal jobs during the day, and then when they were finished, they reported for Home Guard duties. They were never paid for their work, although after a while they were able to recover out of pocket expenses.
Many had seen action in the Great War, and their experience was invaluable. However, senior rank in the Great War did not automatically ensure senior status in the second World War. One World War General served as an NCO!
In recent years, it has emerged that some of the younger ones were secretly trained in guerilla warfare, in the event of the unthinkable happening-Britain being invaded.
In Winsham the main duty of the Home Guard was to defend and protect the the bridges over the railway at Ammerham and Bridge. The units were housed in adjacent huts.
Winsham Web Museum is seeking information about the men of Winsham Home Guard, and the duties they performed. Should you have any information or photographs that could be used in this section of the Web Museum. For further reading try 'The Real Dad's Army' by Norman Longmate, published by Arrow.
Norman was born in 1933 and was a young boy during WW2. Below are his memories on the Home Guard, as told to Helen Fowler.
The area behind their house at Chalkway was called BlackMoore, there were no trees at the top of the hill these were planted by the Taylors of Cricket St Thomas. There was a footpath to Lue and the hill was good for sledging
On Sunday mornings the home guard used the area as a firing range they fired at targets on the top of the hill from the oak tree in the middle of the field, this was 200 yards. The target was at the top of the hill with a trench in front, when two men hid the trench and when the firing had stopped they waved a white flag to say they were coming out and then had a pointer to indicate the shots on the target. There was a ramp built by the tree, big enough for two people to stand on and fire at the targets at the same time
Sometimes on a Sunday another Home Guard group e.g. Tatworth would join them for a competition.
The Home Guard were sometimes required to carry out guard duties on the railway bridges, Ammerham bridge etc. They had a dome topped hut in Column Lane (potentially the same hut as the pound) - might’ve stored ammunition there.
The person in charge of the Home Guard was Major Gearing who lived in Stuckeys farm and the Sergant was Burt Lacey who lived in Fore Street (next door to Granny Lawrence nee Norris). Uncle Sid was in the Home Guard, he was ‘always cidered up’ and they wouldn’t let him fire a gun so during target practice Uncle Sid had to wave the red flag to stop people crossing the field. Uncle Sid worked at Chard Road picking up the rubbish.
Norm reported that they were supposed to pick up their cartridges after firing practice but when they finished he usually find some. He remembers Denis Summers asking him for some. Norm cannot remember any of the Winsham home guard being injured but Tom White in the Tatworth Home Guard was injured whilst they practiced throwing bombs - they caught his backside!
Homeguard were typical dads army and went on parade on special occasions (Church events etc.)
One day Norm was walking up towards Chalkway (high street) and there was an evacuee at the top of the village who threw a stone at him, Norm threw it back and it bounced and broke one of Major Gearing's (from Stuckeys Farm) windows. Major Gearing caught the evacuee who said it was Norman! The next day, Major Gearing asked Auntie Floss (who was his cleaner) if she knew Norman Good, Aunt Floss told Norman's father and Norman had to write a letter of apology.
Albert Good (Norman's father) was a Winsham ARP Warden and Jimmy Lomax was in charge (school master). Jimmy Lomax reckoned he could hear them bombing Bristol some evenings. ARP wardens were expected to stay in the school overnight x amount of nights a week – in case there was a bomb/emergency in the village. Albert was unable to do this in the Winter because of his bad chest and the cold. They walked around village telling people to put their lights out. Loads of army trucks drove up church street with their lights on and had to tell them to turn them off.
Harold Laurence (Norman's uncle) patrolled the village evenings and weekends
If the invader comes...
Only a few survive who remember the threat under which the people of the United Kingdom lived during the years of 1940 and 1941.
Below are two leaflets distributed by the Ministry of Information in conjunction with the War Office
and the Ministry of Home Security. They reveal the immediacy and seriousness of the threat, with realistic advice in the event of the invasion. Central to all this is the idea of 'duty' and 'standing firm'.
Having lived through all this as a youngster I can vouch for the fact that loosing the war was not an option that anyone even considered. Seventy years later it is sad to reflect that many hundreds of thousand still live in fear of events similar to that endured by the British during the early 1940s.
Thanks to Trish Baxter for providing these leaflets
The 'black-out' laws were however a real trial, especially in urban areas, where the streets were patrolled by 'black-out' wardens who enforced the rules with vigour!
War Time deprivation - World War II - an interesting record of facts and figures prepared by Anne Rose, prepared for the VE Day Jubilee Celebration Exhibition in 1995...
At the end of the war in 1945, each adult was allowed, each week: 8oz (227grms) of sugar, 4oz(113grms) each of Margarine, Bacon and Ham, and 2oz (57grms) each of Lard, loose tea and butter. Meat was rationed by value (1s 2p per week-5p, but one must not forget inflation since the war!). Special allowances were made for special circumstances. Many items were effectively rationed by short supply. Clothing and soap were also rationed.
In the early 21st Century, with obesity, especially among children at a very serious level, we are told that the general standard of health in the War years was very high, thanks to the small but adequate food rations. As for the level of bath water, most only bathed once a week, and the number of times men changed their socks in the course of a week or month remains a secret unlikely ever to be revealed.
The First World War
Frank Bridle Percy Bridle Walter Bridle
Augustus Broom Walter Brown
Edwin Budge Sidney Butler
Ernest Cottrell Archibald Forsey Harold Fry
Charles Garrett Herbert Gill William Good
Fred Hawker Louis Loaring Wilfred Northcombe
John Perrott William Rowe Albert Russell
John Spurdle Sidney Spurdle John Sylvester
John Trott James White
The Second World War
Douglas Brown Ronald Davies
Graham Loveridge William March
What passing bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
Wilfred Owen-Anthem for Doomed Youth
The commemoration of the centenary of the armistice that marked the end of the First World War proved to be a significant event recognised in many parts of the world.
In the United Kingdom it was marked with great ceremony and solemnity at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. In Winsham a substantial group filled St. Stephen's, and afterwards went to the War Memorial to lay wreaths. For many an emotional experience, as of course the service recognised the loss of many others: in the Second World War, and the many subsequent wars that have ,and still are, taking place around the world.
To mark the special nature of the event, when it was over, Winsham Parish Council funded and organised a very good tea, to which all were invited, held in the Jubilee Hall. This included a small exhibition of First World War memorabilia, and information about those from the village who had fallen fighting for their country.
The following is the moving ,unabridged account by Peter Duffell of a short visit to Flanders, made by him with his wife Ros to the Western Front of World War 1. It appeared in a shortened form in the Joint Parish Magazine in November 2007.
A four day visit to the Western Front, is too short a time in which to take in the enormity of what happened in Flanders and Picardy during those four long years, and yet, in that short time, we found ourselves emotionally exhausted by the sheer weight of the sad history of this flat country where, ninety odd years after the terrible slaughters which marked it for ever, the shards of the battlegrounds still come to the surface in fields and ridges. We had planned to visit Ypres and the Somme and took with us, two invaluable books. Stephen O’Shea’s Back to The Front, the story of his amazing endurance feat of walking the whole length of the Western Front, some four hundred and fifty miles of it, from Nieuport to the Swiss frontier, and Tonie and Valmai Holt’s Battlefields of the First World War, a less personal account but combining a concise narrative account of many major actions with practical guides and maps for daily tours of each battlefield area.
On our first night in the Ypres Salient, we stayed at Varlet Farm, an attractive farmhouse on the edge of the village Poelkapelle close to Passchendaele, which the owners run as a very successful bed and breakfast. As recently as 1999, they told us, they had unearthed, in their fields, a German Maxim Gun stillin quite good condition.We saw this artefact in one of their barns, along with a small collection of such items which they had found over the years in the fields of their farmland. Everywhere there are such small private museums; shell cases, spent bullets, hand grenades, tin helmets, decaying scraps of gas masks and other military impedimenta, are on display in barns and sheds, where the owners hope to make a little money from the war buffs and tourists, and every village has a cemetery or even two with the rows of crosses and gravestones.
But of course, Second Lieutenant James Angus Scott had no grave; he was just one of the thousands of men listed on the marble wall which backs the cemetery who had been blown to bits or lost in the mud to be eaten by rats - for whom the ‘fortunes of war’ as the inscriptions everywhere in Flanders and Picardy put it, ‘denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death’. We found Lt. Scott’s name and I dutifully took photographs of it and the thousands of gravestones of unidentified soldiers. Perhaps one of them was his but as the inscriptions have it, he and all the rest are known 'only to God'. To us they are The Missing, of the three battles of Ypres, the Somme and all the other fields of death whose names resonate in the memory; Mametz Wood, the Messines Ridge, Vimy, Cambrai, Hill 60 and so on.
Nearby, was the Passchendaele Museum with the inevitable reconstruction of a section of a trench and dugouts. At a place called Hooge, there is a enormous mine crater in the grounds of a hotel and nearby a small museum claiming to be the best private museum in Flanders. It houses among other things a copy of a German Fokker DR1 Triplane, the machine flown by the Red Baron von Richthofen and one of the war planes that I modelled as a schoolboy, along with the SE5s and Sopwith Camels.
Also nearby is Sanctuary Wood, another private museum the owner of which, one Jacques Schier, would probably contest the Hooge claim to be the best. Behind it is a preserved stretch of trench on the Schier property and it costs six euros to visit it. The entrance is through a shabby shop and cafe with Coca Cola signs and souvenirs for sale. The owner, we gathered, is scathingly called ‘Jack Money’ by the locals who are not profiting so well from the war industry. Part of the attraction of the Schier museum is a collection of wooden stereoscopic viewing devices which can be used to view a collection of horrific war photography - pictures of bodies in trees, heads and limbs and dead horses in the mud. Major Holt says these photographs are a must - ‘the true horror of war - dead horses, bodies in trees, heads and legs in trenches and everywhere mud, mud, mud.’ The Canadian writer Stephen O’Shea calls them war porn and finds the act of pouring over these photographs repulsive. We did not look at them, but I suspect that if I go back again to the Western Front, I will have to.
Not far away is Hill 60 once the most visited place on the Flanders Front. It was actually not a natural hill at all, but a mound created from the rubble from a nearby railway cutting, but now, the trenches which for years were sandbagged have filled in and one walks around a series of grass filled cavities and mounds and memorials.
The facts are there to be read and understood, but there is little to feed the visual imagination. There was prolonged tunnel warfare at Hill 60 from February 1915 onwards and many of the men who died there are still there under the ground. It is a mere 60 metres above sea level, but classifies as a hill in ‘le plat pays’.
In 1992, some 5 kilometres from the centre of Ypres, a section of trench was discovered by chance. It is called the Yorkshire Trench and some 70 metres of trench have been restored and preserved. We took the straight and rather characterless road from Poelkapelle to Langemark to visit it. In O’Shea’s book we had read that, in 1914, it was on both sides of this road. thousands of untrained young student volunteers, sent to these fields by the German general staff when the planned Race to the Sea was not going to plan, had died in a ‘Massacre of the Innocents’. Marching into battle as thought they were on Sunday hiking outings, singing with linked arms, they were mowed down by British machine gunners. The Germans called it Der Kindermord von Ypern and and in Langemarck, there is a Germany cemetery with over 44,000 bodies many in massed graves. The Yorkshire Trench is incongruously in the middle of an industrial development. and it was very easy to drive past it . Reaching the next crossroad, we realised we had done just that and turned back There are new duckboards for one to walk the length of the trench and peer down into the two dugouts which are full of water. The surrounding sheds and industrial buildings militate against any real atmosphere and there was no sign of any other visitors. One can do little but read the information boards and take in the fact that it was in this sector that a new kind of duckboard was designed which made walking down the trenches marginally less unpleasant for the poor bloody infantry who occupied them.
The city of Ypres itself was, of course totally destroyed during the war, but never fell to the Germans. Winston Churchill, famously said of Ypres that ‘a more sacred place for the British race does not exist in the world’ and he wanted the town to be left in ruins as an eternal monument to the million men who fought in the Salient. The people of Flanders, however, had other ideas and recreated the city and its famous Cloth Hall in the city centre. The Cloth Hall houses the war museum and, as one enters, one hears the voice of the folk singer June Tabor. Will ye go to Flanders my man? she sings and one walks through the rooms to the sound of voices, and music; J McCrae’s In Flanders Field and Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est are mixed with recordings recreating the verbal testimony, in Flemish, English, German and French, from men and women who were there.
It is no celebration of glory or sacrifice, no sentimental patriotism, simply a threnody for wasted lives. McRae’s poem was written in 1915; Owen’s in late 1917. The change of tone is dramatic; In McCrae’s poem the dead ‘saw sunset glow’ and ‘lie in Flanders's field’ and they implore us to ‘take up our quarrel with the foe’. which critics have since condemned as a deplorable jingoism. But, two years later, the fields had become a sea of filthy stinking mud and Owen sees a man drowning, 'the white eyes writhing in his face’, with ‘froth corrupted lungs’. The sentimentality of Rupert Brooke and John McCrae is no longer acceptable and yet McCrae’s poem had a staying power along with other First World War clichés like ‘It’s a Long Way To Tipperary’ and ‘Over There’.
That evening, we did what all visitors to Ypres do. We went to the Menin gate where at eight o’clock every night, the Last Post is played. Often as Stephen O’Shea found when he was there, there are only a few curious people but on this particular September evening, there was a large crowd. Moving amongst them were a group of Englishmen all dressed in the same green blazers; they were a male voice choir from Sheffield and they were part of what turned out to be a ceremony of some proportion. Speeches were made by various town worthies, the choir sang ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ and the English National anthem. Along with the Belgian trumpeters, was a tall grizzled old kilted Scotsman playing the bagpipes providing a drone accompaniment to the buglers of the Last Post. Of course, it was impossible not to be moved to tears by the moment, despite a feeling of guilt at what might be simply a personal indulgence. Ones eyes turned up to the thousands more names of the missing inscribed on every surface of the memorial - fifty-five thousand of them, regiment by regiment, from Britain South Africa and India and among them, as O’Shea noted, the names of men from regiments raised in India.
Everywhere in Flanders and Picardy there are these lists of the fallen, ending sometimes with the word Addenda carved followed by a few extra names, which somehow or other had not been included in the original count.
If there is one place where it becomes almost easy to actually visualise the Western Front as it was, that place is Newfoundland Park on the Somme - where, on 1 July 1916 the First Battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went into action and, in less than half an hour, suffered what was probably the highest casualty count on that terrible day. The land was bought by the then Government of Newfoundland, an area of over eighty acres with many preserved trench lines through which it is possible to walk. Where only a small section of trench or crater has been preserved, often with its nearby cemetery of French or Belgian, British or Canadian, Australian or New Zealanders, it is not easy to do more than take in the depressing facts. Here, in this large memorial ground, it is not difficult for the mind’s eye to, as it were, dissolve out the memorials -the Caribou emblem of the Newfoundland Regiment and the kilted Highlander of the Scottish 51 Division, and visualize the sandbags, the wire, the mud and the blasted trees perhaps even the ghosts of the men who fought and died on the Somme, who we have seen so often in still photographs and silent film, in museums and television documentaries.
Suddenly one felt suffocated by lists; lists everywhere, on memorials, names, names and more names of so many nationalities. Thiepval, the largest British War memorial in the world, has even more names than the Menin Gate, over 73,000 of them under the simple bald inscription The Missing of The Somme which was taken for the title of Geoff Dyer’sremarkable book about the war. Thiepval, the prime example of what O’Shea calls ‘a mix of accountancy exactitude and the notion of universal victimhood’. The British, he writes, invented the twentieth-century response to war.‘Determine the correct tally of the dead, etch their names in stone, and avoid the sticky question of responsibility by implying that such a regrettable calamity occurred independently of human agency.’ So today, along with the tourist parties and their paid guides, groups of carefree school children are ushered by their harassed looking teachers through the well laid out museum and across the carefully tended paths to the gigantic red brick memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, many of them laughing and giggling, but how much they related to the history around them, how much it affects them, is far from clear.
The front line at the time of the first battle of Ypres cut through the village of Zandvoorde to the south east where the family of the singer song-writer Jacques Brel had lived. Being so close, we could not resist a visit there. We stopped in the centre of the village and asked a morose looking local if he could direct us to the family house. He stared at us for a moment - was he being militantly Flemish and showing a quiet disdain for the French language? I wondered - and then he gestured behind him. We were actually right in front of the Brel house and a small plaque on the front wall confirmed the fact. Then he gestured to his right and indicated the memorial to Brel which stood there on the pavement. It was a small stone structure and carved on it were the words of Brel’s song about his home land - ‘Le Plat Pays’ - in Flemish not in the French. Although Brel did not sing directly about the War - the nearest he got to it was perhaps his song ‘Pourquoi ont ils tue Jaurez?’ - it reminds us that Belgian soldiers fought this war too and so much of the worst of it was in their own country and when Brel sings that ‘it is mine’, it echoes the determination of the people who came back to Flanders and Picardy, determined to reclaim the flat country, to rebuild the ruined cities and villages and plough the fields again.