Flaxley, Gloucestershire, England: The Dragon-Hearted Warriors

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It says:

Remember ye with thanksgiving and with all honor before God and men those who went forth from this place in the service of their country during the years of the Great War 1914 – 1919 and returned not again, to those this window is dedicated.

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Their names:

Edward Martin Crawley-Boevey

Thomas Russell Crawley-Boevey

Albert James Harris

Francis Charles Watts

Percy Edward Young

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Percy Edward Young sits resolute in the churchyard here at Flaxley. It is peaceful here in a valley, few passing vehicles and the big abbey behind. This young man got home. He died in the country of his birth. He was 19 years and 2 months old when he enlisted on the 31st January 1917. He wanted to join the artillery, but ended up by way of the Gloucesters in the Machine Gun Corps. I’m not sure what I was like when I was 19 but I’m pretty sure that fighting in a world war wasn’t a high priority. He was 5 ft 6 and a farm labourer.

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Percy came from Cliftview down nearer Newnham, a village down on the Severnside, on the banks of the river Severn in Gloucestershire. In early May 1918, Percy’s mother was sent a telegram from the King George Hospital in Stamford Street, London:

I regret to inform you that the soldier listed in the margin is suffering from:

GSW Spine

and is:

dangerously ill

A GSW in his spine; otherwise known as a gun shot wound.

Percy had been admitted into a hospital in England on the 23rd April 1918 with a bullet lodged in a bone near his sacrum in his back. He had been shot in the back on the 12th April and had finally been transferred to Blighty. He began to suffer from infection in his bladder. At 7:30 am on the 4th May 1918, Percy died from secondary meningitis caused by the bullet in his body. His body was sent home for burial.

Another telegram was sent:

Regret report death No 97554 Private Percy Edward Young MGC at 7:30 am today 4th May wounds in action relatives present

He was the youngest of twelve children and his family buried him in the churchyard at Flaxley. His gravestone is not one of the Commonwealth War Grave’s finest, but one chosen by his family:

In loving memory

of

Percy Edward Young

Died May 4 1918

Aged 20

‘He gave his life for his friends.’

There is no mention of his war service, no mention of his having died in war service. Just a simple but elegant memorial to his passing.

Percy’s name is not singular in this place for their sacrifice to the war effort. Venture inside the church and the memorial window beams out to you. Light does amazing things inside this church.

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The figures of St George and the Dragon gaze markedly from above; light flooding through. For alongside the name of Percy Edward Young are the names of those four other men who lost their life in the Great War from Flaxley and its environs.

Edward Martin Crawley-Boevey

Thomas Russell Crawley-Boevey

Albert James Harris

Francis Charles Watts

Stained glass windows sometimes have a funny way of catching you. You glance up, your eyes may catch the light, the religious symbolism or the latin motto. But it is the light. For on the right day, in the right hour, in the right weather – sunlight makes music of the stained glass. And the message that it was designed to make echoes like a voice rather than a piece of art.

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It reminds me of another stained glass window; and another memorial to those lost during the Great War; that of Rangeworthy in South Gloucestershire. It is entitled Rangeworthy: Windows to the souls.

This window was notionally an idea by Baronet Sir Francis Crawley-Boevey of Flaxley Abbey to put in place a stained glass window in the nave of Flaxley Parish Church as a memorial to his two brothers who died in the Great War: Edward Martin and Thomas Russell. However, the local parishioners heard about this and asked whether it could be made into a representative window for the parish; to honour all those from the village who were killed in the war. The plan was agreed and the Crawley-Boevey family, local parishioners and relatives all contributed towards the cost of the window.

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Edward Martin Crawley-Boevey, Captain 1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment attached Royal Fusiliers was killed in action on Christmas Eve 1914. He was 41 years of age. He is buried at Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery in Flanders, south of Ypres. He was married and left one son who was born in 1908. He had gained his commission in the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1895 and had seen service in South Africa. He was the second son of the late Baronet Sir Thomas Hyde Crawley-Boevey who died in 1912. He was also present at the coronation of Edward VII. Edward Martin Crawley-Boevey was killed in the trenches near Bailleul whilst trying to shoot a sniper. An expert shot, he attended Rugby School and Sandhurst.

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Thomas Russell Crawley-Boevey was a 36 year old Captain in the 14th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. It was the 30th August 1916. The date when he died from wounds received in action. He was buried at La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie. Educated at Clifton College and then Trinity College, Oxford, he returned to become an assistant master at Clifton College before the war. On the outbreak of war, Thomas joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps, a territorial unit closely linked to the law offices nearby, as a Private before getting a commission with the Glosters. There is a memorial obelisk on Berkhamsted Common in Hertfordshire to the men of the Inns of Court OTC; the miles of trenches they dug in readiness for the war are still visible. He was made temporary Captain in April 1916 before the major offensive at the Somme in July. He was wounded on the 21st August 1916 and died of his wounds on the 30th August 1916. The youngest of the Crawley-Boevey brothers, he was renowned for his cricketing ability at Clifton. He was injured after an enemy attack in the Guillemont area on the Somme, his wounds finally taking his life.

Albert James Harris was living on Pope’s Hill near Flaxley when he enlisted first with the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars and then as a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. He was killed in action on the 26th September 1917 on the Western Front. Before the war, he had worked in the colliery. He has no known grave and is listed on the memorial wall at Tyne Cot. The 2nd Worcesters had been asked to attack in a new phase of Passchendaele. Through the mud and the intense barrage, the Worcesters attacked on the first day of the Battle of Polygon Wood. It brought back strange memories for the Worcesters; for three long years back the originals of the Worcesters had attacked at Gheluvelt. One can only imagine the landscape – pulverised afresh, sinuous with mud and dangerous as hell. When the 2nd Worcesters came out of the line two days later, they had lost 36 men dead, 145 men wounded and 29 men missing. It was half the company. One of those lost to the mud of Polygon Wood and Passchendaele was our man, Albert James Harris. It does not say on his memorial, but Albert was 21 years old, the son of Sarah and Joseph and a brother to many. A man of the Dean.

Francis Charles Watts, better known as Frank Watts went to war, he ended up as a Gunner in the 232nd Royal Field Artillery. Brought up on Pope’s Hill with an extended family. Like Albert, he worked the colliery; they probably knew each other. It seems likely that Frank was either killed in action or died of wounds under the guard of the Germans as a POW. Either way, he is buried at Avesnes-sur-Helpe Communal Cemetery in northern France. It wasn’t taken by the allied forces until November 1918 and Frank was killed on the 25th April 1918.

From the lowest class of worker to the landed gentry, Flaxley is about an England that no longer exists. But the war and the stained glass window here at Flaxley demonstrates that war is a leveller; rich or poor, humble private or ranking officer, it mattered not. So here Percy Edward Young, labourer and family man is marked in the same honourable way as Edward Martin Crawley-Boevey, military man and brother to the Baronet.

So the light continues to shine through… and their memories linger on a little longer. Men of Flaxley and beyond.

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