The First European War, the Great War, the First World War – which ever term you use to describe the war which took place between 1914 and 1918, most will associate war with loss. Death, it seems is the ubiquitous association with war. Loss.
Alveston is a small village about ten miles from Bristol; it now seems to cling the coat-tails of Thornbury but once must have stood alone. The war memorial sits on the edge of the churchyard, next to the main road which runs past it. Prominently, two Commonwealth War Graves sit near it; both from World War Two. Unlike others, this war memorial was updated after the second of the World War’s to put all the names united on it.
A symbol of unity. A reminder of the cost of war. That the second war wasn’t just an add-on?
Speaking of unity, pals battalions were a unique British part of the First World War. The small professional British army of 1914 was not large enough to cope with a conflict of this scale. Pals. Battalions instead, were formed by friends, colleagues, families. The 12th Battalion of the Gloucestershire regiment was a pals battalion formed in late August 1914; ‘Bristol’s Own’ it was affectionately called. Over the period of a few months, between July and September 1916, the 12th as part of the 5th Division was in action near Guillemont and Longueval in France.
Walter James Hurn was a Private in the 12th Gloucestershire regiment; born and raised not far from Alveston and Bristol. He was killed in action and buried at Guillemont Road Cemetery on the Somme on the 3rd September 1916, along with fifteen of his fellow Gloster ‘Bristol’s Own’ men. Men of Bishopston, Fishponds and Easton in Bristol; and of Sharpness from the Shire. A slice of west country gone in one day. It seems unfair. There is a cross at Longueval dedicated to the ‘Bristol’s Own’ from whence they once marched out. Walter’s older brothers both enlisted, Arthur and Clement. Walter’s name was added to the gravestone of Clement’s wife who died in 1913. Three went away to war, two came back. His name stands on the Alveston War Memorial in the churchyard at St. Helens.
Frederick Samuel Jones was born and raised in Alveston, but emigrated to Canada where he had been working age 19 years as a farmer. Fred enlisted in January 1916 to join the 18th Battalion Canadian Infantry in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He left Halifax, Nova Scotia for Britain in August 1916 to fight for the empire. On the frontline he suffered a severe gunshot wound in 1917, but patched himself up back in Britain before he was killed in action on the 8th August 1918; he was shot through the heart by a machine gun. Fred left everything to his widowed mother Mrs Mary Ann Jones; his father George died in 1906.
William George Jones was Fred’s older brother. He served with the South Wales Borderers and then transferred as a Sapper to the 180th Tunnelling Company. He is named on the monument dedicated to the missing of the Somme, Thiepval. William has no known grave. His date of death is given as the 29th September 1916.
The two Jones brothers are engraved on the headstone to their father George and their mother Mary who would die in 1921; ‘Sons of the above’ so it says ‘who fell in the Great War.’ A Canadian. A Briton.
‘Twenty years soldier and hero’
This was written as part of the memorial to Charles Edward Saxton. He was 36 years of age, had been given a good conduct and long service medal for his service in the Royal Marine Light Infantry when he died on December 30th 1915 from wounds received in action. His mother Edith and father George lived at Rudgeway working as a grocer. A gravestone to his youngest brother John who died in 1912 was added with Charles’ name; his burial in Malta too far from home to contemplate. Charles Saxton suffered a fractured skull from a gun shot wound; he had been on Gallipoli. You might be forgiven for associating Gallipoli with the ANZACs, the Australians and New Zealanders; but many others nationalities fell and were wounded on the Mediterranean campaign that was the attack on the Gallipoli peninsula against the Turkish army. Charles Edward Saxton was a Marine with twenty years experience, popular, bright, full of stories about his days I’m sure. He is buried at Malta Cappucini Naval Cemetery. ‘Twenty years soldier and hero’ they wrote. Indeed.
Scan the war memorial and you might notice one or two more Saxtons. For Charles was not the only son to die for the sake of World War One. Four months earlier, William Harold Saxton, his older brother newly arrived in April 1915 on the Western Front would die on the 10th May 1915 age 36 years. He was a brand new recruit and was killed at Ypres with the 2nd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment; but unlike Charles, William had no known grave at the end of the war – his name appears, with many others, on the Menin Gate at Ypres.
James William Saxton was a younger brother of Charles and William. He appears to have been killed when his battalion, 1st Battalion Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Royal Berkshire Regiment was in action on the Somme, specifically the Redan Ridge and Serre. His death on the 14th November 1916 is the same day that his battalion made heavy losses taking Munich Trench. Unfortunately, like his brother William, he has no known grave and his name appears on the memorial to the missing on the Somme at Thiepval.
Why was Charles memorialised in the churchyard, and not James and William? The Saxton family shows the cost of the war, but also its breadth – 3 sons dying. One at Gallipoli, one on the Ypres salient, and one on the Somme.