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Lest we forget

Lest we forget
he Lych Gate plaques

The Lych Gate plaques

Who were the men from Stowe who fought and lost their lives in World War I? The lychgate at the entrance to the churchyard was constructed as a lasting memorial to the men from the Parish who made the supreme sacrifice. There are 5 names listed on this memorial: Harry Bromfield, Harry Finch, William Middleton, Wallace Weaver and Thomas Poole. But names mean little without some background about these men, who their parents were, and of course, where and when they died.

In the vestry at the back of the church there is also a framed Roll of Honour. This lists 36 people from the Stowe area who served in World War One. In fact the list and those commemorated on the plaque in the lychgate do not match exactly. Both Thomas Poole and Harry Bromfield are missing from the list and William Middleton is not recorded as having been killed. Those who were killed are marked with a cross and from this list it is possible to learn that a sixth Stowe man, Arthur Price, should be included amongst those who lost their lives. The list is particularly useful as it gives the names of the regiments of all those who fought.

The internet makes a project such as this one much easier than hitherto. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (referred to as CWGC in the text) has an excellent site recording the location of graves or memorials of those from both the UK and the Commonwealth who lost their lives in the war. The Canadian Archives provided information about Harry Finch and Thomas Poole while the National Archives site also proved invaluable. The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry Museum in Shrewsbury held a copy of the Regiment’s official history which narrated in detail events on the Western Front. Finally, the Welsh Guards Collection at Park Hall in Oswestry provided photos of Harry Bromfield and detailed information about his career.

Margaret Hay-Campbell, Bucknell
The Roll of Honour from the vestry at Stowe

The Roll of Honour from the vestry at Stowe
showing the small crosses recording those who lost their lives
Harry Bromfield and Thomas Poole do not appear on the list but Arthur Price does

WORLD WAR I
BROMFIELD, Harry Hickman DSO.

Major, Prince of Wales Company, 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards
Killed in action on 10 September 1916. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme in France. This memorial commemorates the 72,000 soldiers who have no known grave and who were killed on the Somme between July 1916 and November 1918. Of those soldiers 65,000 were killed during the First Battle of the Somme from July-November 1916.

Harry was born in 1869, the eldest son of Henry and Mary Bromfield of Snitterfield in Warwickshire. His father’s farm, Hollow Meadow, was quite substantial and provided work for 7 men, 2 boys and 4 women (1871 census). Harry joined the Territorials in 1894 and at the outbreak of the Boer War went with the South Wales Borderers to South Africa. There he fought with distinction in the Transvaal, Orange River Colony and Cape Colony. He rose to the rank of Captain and was awarded the DSO in November 1900 as a reflection of his general performance as an officer. On his return to the UK he joined the police force and by 1911 was Chief Constable for Rhayader. He had married in 1907 Ethel Phillips, the daughter of Sir Charles Phillips of Picton Castle in Haverfordwest. They had a son, Charles Henry Caulfield Bromfield, born in 1908 when Ethel was 37. In February 1915 Harry was appointed to a temporary commission as a Major in the newly formed Welsh Guards. The Welsh Guards came into existence on 26th February 1915 as the direct result of a wish expressed by George V to have a Welsh guard regiment to match the Irish, Scottish, Coldstream and Grenadier Guards. Recruiting was done initially amongst the existing guards regiments and later from the police force. Harry appears in a photo dated March 1915, supporting the view that he was amongst the original officers. His home address at the time that he joined up was given as Llandridod Wells. Later his family moved to The Lee, Knighton, possibly after his death, and one could assume that perhaps St Mary’s became Ethel’s parish church. This could explain both his presence on the lychgate plaque (we could speculate that maybe Ethel made a generous contribution) and his absence from the Roll of Honour which seems to reflect those who had a stronger tie to Stowe parish.

It has been possible to find out quite a few details of the engagement in which Harry lost his life from the comprehensive ‘History of the Welsh Guards’ by C.H. Dudley Ward. On the night of 9th -10th September 1916 the Guards Division had captured and was holding the village of Ginchy. The Welsh Guards were to take over the line to the north of the village. However there was a fierce counter-attack from the Germans. The right flank of the Prince of Wales Company could not stem the rush and fell back into the wrecked orchards and woods surrounding the village. Dudley Ward describes the chaos and confusion of the fighting: ….this wood was a mass of deep shell holes – it had been bombarded by the British guns for some weeks – and there were heaps of brick from the demolished houses by the side of the road, and large heaps of earth from German dugouts: there were fallen trees, too, and a great number of standing ones. It was a confused jumble and the men taking cover in one shell-hole could not possibly tell if anyone was in the next, or if it was friend or foe. (pp116-117). There was fierce hand to hand fighting in the confines of the wood but eventually the Germans began to surrender in small groups and Ginchy remained in Allied hands. The Prince of Wales company lost four officers in this engagement as well as numerous other ranks. The total number of casualties for the 1st Battalion was 205. Ginchy was the first Battle Honour that the Battalion received in World War 1.

Major Harry Bromfield, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards

Major Harry Bromfield, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards

Officers of the Welsh Guards photographed in March 1915 just weeks after the regiment was formed

Officers of the Welsh Guards photographed in March 1915 just weeks after the regiment was formed
Major Bromfield is third from left in the front row

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards resting in the trenches

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards resting in the trenches

FINCH Harry

Lance corporal, 49th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Alberta Regiment).
Service number: 434813<
Killed in action 7th November 1916. Buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont-St. Eloi, France.

Harry was the son of Fred and Margaret Finch who lived at Stanage Park. He was born at Stanage on 16th March 1893 (Attestation Paper). His father was a coachman and his mother a housekeeper (1901 census). They lived in Waterloo Cottage on the estate. There were eight children (1901 census) including another brother Fred who served with the Royal Field Artillery. In the 1911 census he was 18 years old and was apprenticed to a wheelwright. He emigrated to Canada where he settled in Alberta joining an older brother, George, who had emigrated in 1910. Harry worked as a carpenter while George’s occupation is given as a linesman. George is recorded on the Roll of Honour in Stowe church as serving with the COEF (Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force). Both George and Fred survived the war. On 5th February 1915 Harry joined up in Calgary, just a week after his elder brother had signed on in the same regiment. Harry’s Attestation Paper shows that he had been in the 1st Hereford Territorials for two years.

The Official War Diaries for the Battalion are available on-line through the Canadian Archives website. The diary for the 49th Battalion is very brief. War Diaries are simply a factual record of what happened on a particular day. Some diary pages have been written by officers with more of a flair for language and occasionally it is possible to get a feel for what conditions were like at the front. Unfortunately this is not the case in November 1916. All that we know about what happened to the 49th Battalion on 7th is that “Battalion in front line, weather very good and condition of trenches improving.” There is no mention of casualties during this period. Sometimes soldiers killed in an earlier engagement and whose bodies were retrieved from No-Man’s Land on a particular date are recorded as having died on the day they were found. This perhaps could explain Harry’s date of death. The Battalion was in reserve in Neuville St Vaast in the area just to the north of Arras. From there they went up to the front line for a five day spell during which time Harry was killed. This was in the final days of the Battle of the Somme which concluded with the capture of fortress of Beaumont Hamel on 13 November.

Harry Finch’s attestation papers

Harry Finch’s attestation papers showing his place of birth and his home address, Stange Park
(From the Library and Archives of Canada)

MIDDLETON, William Thomas

Private, 7th Battalion, King’s (Shropshire Light Infantry).
Service number: 19857
Killed in action 18th August 1916 and buried at Guillemont Road Cemetery, France.

William Middleton was born in 1892 and grew up in the parish of Nantmel, Radnorshire where his father, Philip, was a carpenter (1901 census). His mother’s name was Elizabeth. The family lived in the Vulcan Arm’s Inn next door to Doldowlod Station on the old Mid Wales Railway line which connected Builth Wells and Rhayader. William was the youngest of five children. He appears in the 1911 census still living at home, working as a farm labourer. He actually enlisted in Knighton so one could assume that perhaps he had moved to work in the Stowe area (possibly at Stanage) sometime after 1911.

The battle in which William lost his life was part of the Battle of the Somme. The village of Guillemont was an important point in the German defences. It was taken, first in July, and then after the British forces fell back, retaken on 18 August. On this day the Battalion were told to support the attack of the 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. By evening they ‘had connected the shell holes together and made a good fire trench.’ This brief statement in the official War Diary masked a day of fierce fighting. In fact they were involved in capturing Lonely Trench which they succeeded in doing on the 19th. The trench was then christened “Shropshire Trench” in honour of the Battalion. During the three days of fighting from 18 – 20 August there were 168 casualties of which 20 were killed, 124 wounded, 23 were missing and one was gassed.

PRICE, Arthur

Royal Field Artillery

Unfortunately it has been impossible to find any details about Arthur Price. Although we know from the Roll of Honour that he was in the Royal Field Artillery, the only Arthur Price listed in that Regiment who was killed in World War I was from Welshpool and did not seem to have any links with Knighton or Stowe. Searches using variations on the name also proved fruitless. Was the ‘RFA’ noted on the Roll of Honour incorrect, then? Census searches (1901 and 1911) have also failed to produce an Arthur Price in Stowe or Stanage. The closest possibility is an Arthur Price who lived in Bucknell but as he was born in 1876 it seems unlikely that he is the person in question. He would have been 38 in 1914 – not an impossible age to join up but unlikely. There was also an Arthur Price (born in 1886) living in Leintwardine with strong family connections to the area (his father was born in Presteigne and his mother in Wigmore). On the other hand the Arthur we are searching for could have come from any part of the UK and have been working on the Stanage Estate at some point after the 1911 census.

POOLE, Thomas

Private, 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg) Canadian Infantry.
Service number: 71635
Killed in action 4th June 1918. Buried at Bellacourt Military Cemetery, Riviere, Pas de Calais, France.

Thomas was born in Wellington, Shropshire on 2nd March 1889, one of a family of ten children (9 sons and 1 daughter). His father, Philip, was a farmer “ on his own account” (1901 census). By 1911 Thomas was working as a blacksmith, living with his family at Grove Farm, Leighton, Ironbridge. His mother, Elizabeth, was born in Llanwyddyn, Montgomeryshire. Two of the children were born in Knighton and eventually the family moved to Little Lurkenhope Farm, Knighton at some point after 1914 as Thomas gives the Leighton address on his Attestation Paper when he joined up

On 20 June 1913 Thomas sailed on the ‘Victorian’ to Quebec, Canada. He settled in Manitoba and continued to work as a blacksmith. In October 1914 he joined the City of Winnipeg Battalion. So, within just over a year, he was preparing to return to Britain to fight in Europe. Through the winter of 1914-15 units were mobilised and trained. Then in spring 1915 the 2nd Contingent, which included the 27th Battalion, sailed for England. The summer of 1915 was spent in training in Shorncliffe on the coast of Kent and finally in September, they left for the Front as the 2nd Canadian Division.

By June 1918 Thomas would have been an experienced soldier. The Battalion started the month in a support position but on 4th June moved up to the front line at Mercatel. This was the period following the first phase of the Second Battle of the Somme (from 21st March – 4th April) part of the German offensive in the Spring and summer of 1918. The official war diary for 4th June reports “At 12.20 am hostile barrage on our right company front in conjunction with raid on the 2nd Battalion…..Day fairly quiet. Fighting patrols reconnoitred enemy posts… Work carried on at night improving right company front line and reserve company positions. 4 O.R. (other ranks) killed and 2 O.R. wounded.” A typical day in the front line – no great attack or engagement but the continual exposure to gunfire from the enemy line leading to four deaths including that of Thomas Poole.

WEAVER, Wallace

Private 7th Battalion King’s (Shropshire Light Infantry).
Service number:13533
Killed in action on 21 March 1916 and buried at Dickebusche New Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium.

Wallace was the son of George and Naomi Weaver. He was born in 1893 in Bromsash, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire where his father worked as a domestic gardener. Wallace appears in the 1911 census living at home with his family and, like his father, working as a gardener. It is not clear what his connection with Stowe is. Perhaps he moved to work in this area after 1911 as his record on the roll of ‘UK Soldiers Died in the Great War’ records that he enlisted in Knighton. Did he perhaps find a job as a gardener at Stanage Park?

On the 19th March 1916 the Battalion was in reserve, preparing for an attack on the Mound at St Eloi, near Poperinge not far from Ypres. The official history of the KSLI records that on 21st March Lieutenant Townsend, who had trained and organised the Battalion snipers “with great devotion and ability” was killed while out on patrol. Several mines exploded in front of the Mound but the attack of the 21st March was only partially successful. Unfortunately the War Diary for the Battalion for the months of March and April has been lost so it is not possible to discover the details of the casualties one of which would have been Wallace Weaver.

The area around St Eloi was famous for the protracted mine warfare that started a year earlier when the Germans fired their first mine in March 1915. The area was pockmarked with mine craters, the largest of which was fired just a few days after Wallace Weaver’s death on the 27th March. Two of the largest craters still exist nearly 100 years later, used now as fish ponds and swimming pools (“Before Endeavours Fade” by Rose Coombs, p55).

Bibliography

Before Endeavours Fade by Rose Coombs, MBE pub. After the Battle Publications 1983
The History of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry in the Great War edited by Major W. de B. Wood, The Medici Society Ltd, 1925
The History of the Welsh Guards by C.H.Dudley Ward DSO, MC pub. John Murray, London 1920

Websites:

link_iconThe Commonwealth War Graves Commission

link_iconThe National Archives – UK Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914 – 1919

link_iconLibrary and Archives Canada

lwf

I have tried to keep this information as accurate as possible from the available sources. If anyone can add more to the story of the Bucknell war dead or have family photographs to illustrate their lives, do please contact me.

Researched and written by Margaret Hay-Campbell, High House, Bucknell