Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, England: Never in darkness

Information is so easy today. We research, we cruise cyber space, we scan media of all types and interpretations. We make our opinions and decisions based upon all this weight of ‘stuff.’ Sometimes I think, we seem almost vulnerable in our need to be informed, to be told, to be offered opinion and debate.

Which is, I think, why I found and continue to find this particular phrase painstakingly inscribed on a gravestone, so jarring. It is because I find it difficult to conceive. That knowledge, true knowledge, and understanding just be so unattainable and accepted as such.

At rest, somewhere in France.

It must have been all too common. But the concept that families could send their menfolk off to battle and know that they would never return; but never know where they ended, never know their final moments, never see or even identify their place of death.

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On a gravestone headed by a tricolore of floral tribute, Elizabeth Reed is remembered. Dearly beloved wife of John Reed of Chipping Sodbury who died January 1st 1910. Below her name is written the name of her son; ordered there by his father.

Private Ernest Reed

Son of the above and dearly loved husband of

Eva Reed of Bristol

Who was killed in action October 5th 1917

Aged 32 years

At rest, somewhere in France.

It seems entirely too romantic of a man, a father to place poetry to such regard:

Some day our eyes shall see

The face we loved so well

Some day our hands will clasp

To never say farewell.

But maybe John Reed believed, maybe in denial or foolish hope, that his son Ernest would walk through his door one day. For how to believe in death if there is no understanding of an end; of a reason why and how. For rumours persisted long after the war of long lost prisoners of war kept hidden deep in Germany; and of men so lost in themselves that they forgot who they were, so deeply agitated, so splintered by their war experience.

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267998 Private E. Reed of the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment was killed in action on the 5th October 1917 and is buried at Belgian Battery Corner on the outskirts of Ypres. He signed up in December 1915, was called up in June 1916 transferring from the Worcestershire Regiment to the Hertfordshire Regiment. He was sent to France in January 1917. The 1st Battalion Hertfordshire fought through 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres; they lost several hundred at St Julien. In September and October 1917, they were back around Ypres involved in Battle of Menin Road and the Battle of Polygon Wood. In early October 1917, the battalion was under the command of the 1st Anzac Corps with the Canadians around the railway lines. Ernest was married, living in Bristol but he was brought up in Chipping Sodbury where his parents lived. His name is on the Chipping Sodbury war memorial cross.

 

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Serjeant W. W. Wynn of the Royal Field Artillery has two faces to his grave; for he is buried here at Chipping Sodbury. His CWGC grave sits amongst the wild flowers and long grass in the middle of another grave. For before the Portland stone and the elegant regulation engraving, there was the grave that his family made for him. For them at least there was no uncertainty; their son was dead. But what was better to live in uncertainty and endless hope or confirmed tragedy?

His grave plain for all to see:

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In

loving memory

of our dear son

Wallace Willie Wynn

Sergt RFA

Who died in military hospital

Whalley Lancs from

wounds received in France

Oct 28th 1916 Aged 26 years

How sleeps the brave who sinks to rest

By all his country’s wishes blest

 

The cross which used to stand atop it, is fallen now. But the Royal Field Artillery emblem still rises from its fallen position. For Wallace William Wynn was a Sergeant in the 72nd Royal Field Artillery. He seems to have enlisted in 1914 with the 38th Royal Field Artillery as a Gunner and then promoted. He died from wounds on the battlefield and passed away at Queen Mary’s Military Hospital, Whalley in Lancashire. At the military ceremony back in Chipping Sodbury, his coffin was covered with a union jack and carried on a gun carriage. At his grave, a firing party attended and the Last Post was sounded. A man of the town.

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Nearby another fallen cross for another fallen soldier.

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Leonard Leslie, son of the above

Alfred and Rosa Tily

Of the Welsh Guards killed in action

At Cambrai, France

December 1st 1917 Aged 19 years

Leonard Leslie Tily, like so many young men eager to show service, patriotism and to seek an opportunity for themselves, enlisted as soon as he was 18 years of age. He was the youngest son of Alfred and Rosa Tily (sometimes referred to as Tiley), a wheelwright from The Parade, Chipping Sodbury.

Leonard Tily was Private 3775 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. He enlisted at Bristol into the Welsh Guards in late March 1917. He was killed in action on the 1st December 1917. His body was never recovered so his name is memorialised on a panel at the Cambrai memorial at Louverval in France.

Ordered to take back lost territory, it seems likely that Leonard died in the attack toward Gonnelieu, a ridge on the Somme. The 1st Welsh Guards attacked on the 1st December 1917 out of the Sunken Road but were held up by the late arrival of tanks and problems of barbed wire and then machine gun fire. Most of the casualties were in the first twenty minutes of the action. Leonard may well have died in this advance. The 1st Welsh Guards lost over two-thirds of their men. There are 69 men named as dying from the Welsh Guards on the 1st December 1917. Reports suggest that these men were cut down by machine gun fire; Austrian gunners aimed at the walking men approaching them but focused on their ankles. Men went down in large numbers as the machine gunners waited until the Guards hit the skyline. The lateness of the tanks (owing to mechanical problems and a sudden realisation about a lack of fuel) and the difficulties faced by the strands of wire complicated matters. The Welsh Guards were unable to advance further but took large numbers of prisoners of war and machine guns. They were replaced in the line the next day.

The men of Chipping Sodbury appear on the town memorial cross. Leonard Tily is on that cross. He had barely scratched the surface of his young life. But some, some had come even further to die on the Western Front.

 

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Thomas Percy Arnold’s name was added to the bottom of a family grave:

Thomas Percy Arnold

Son of the above killed in action at Bullecourt

May 10 1917 aged 30 years

His father’s name above is Richard Wickham Arnold who died in 1910, so too his mother Sarah Ann who died in 1889 when Thomas was just 2 years old. Born in Chipping Sodbury in 1887, his father was a grocer and a draper. He moved to London to work as an apprentice draper with Jones Bros. and finally took the plunge and emigrated to Australia to continue work as a draper. On the 11th January 1915, Thomas enlisted as a Private with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Melbourne as part of the 5th Reinforcements aged 27 years. He left Australia in April 1915 heading for firstly Egypt, and then to reinforce the troops on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Mediterranean. In April 1915 large numbers of British, French and Imperial forces had landed to try and open up a second frontier on the war and take out the Ottoman forces. He landed in Alexandria, Egypt in July 1915 and was swiftly transported to the Dardanelles where by the 9th July 1915, Thomas was attached to the 5th Battalion AIF. The 5th AIF were at Anzac Cove protecting the beachhead and some were involved in the Battle of Lone Pine. At the end of August 1915, Thomas Arnold was injured in the head by a shell, it seems to be have slight as he re-joined the battalion within a week. Gallipoli ended in December 1915 with a withdrawal by the allied forces; all forces were withdrawn off the peninsula. It had been a difficult and costly campaign. The 5th Battalion AIF were sent to Egypt to await orders. He was promoted Lance-Corporal in February 1916 and the next month, March 1916 the battalion were sent to Marseilles to join up with the main British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front. Having survived Gallipoli, these men were now going to be facing the next major attack – Somme.

In July 1916, the 5th AIF were in action at Pozieres on the Somme, then they were sent back up to the Ypres Salient before they returned once again back to the Somme Valley in France. Life cannot have been easy. In November 1916, Thomas was sent back to England and the 4th Southern General Hospital suffering from trench foot and an infected heel. He ended up in England until February 1917 whereupon he was sent back to his battalion via the Etaples training camp and then the front line. On his return, he was made Corporal in March 1917.

His last action would be at Bullecourt on the Somme. The 5th were involved in the major action to try and take the small village of Bullecourt as part of a greater attack; particularly after the German army had pulled back to the Siegfried/Hindenburg line. The initial attempt in April 1917 led to massive losses for the Australians (as well as a great deal of mistrust in the British commanders) after problems with tank reliability but the Second Battle of Bullecourt took place on the 3rd May 1917. It lasted until the 17th May and it is here that our Thomas Percy Arnold was killed in action. This offensive led to a horrific loss of life; it led to another major discussion about whether Australia should enforce conscription (which it never did despite two plebiscites). The Germans eventually withdraw from Bullecourt at a cost of nearly 7,500 Australian servicemen.

 

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1908 Corporal Thomas Percy Arnold has no known grave; his name is immortalised on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux along with over 10,000 other men. But he was a son of Chipping Sodbury, a man who had spread his wings to find opportunity on the other side of the world and when war was done with him, he was just another casualty. Except for here, at Chipping Sodbury where his name was written on a gravestone, and his identity added to the war memorial cross that still stands in the town. An old market cross now marked with the ink of the names of the war dead.

It reads:

In grateful memory

of the gallant soldiers of this town

who gave their lives

in the Great War 1914 – 1919

And World War 1939 – 1945

We will remember them by day and in the night season we will not forget.

 

In 1920 when the war memorial was unveiled, the old market cross of this town was changed into a focal point. A lamp with a reflector was fitted to its base to reflect light on the cross. It was to be kept burning all night, so that the fallen ‘would never be in darkness.’ It seems to me that even though the light may have been dimmed over the years, that the remembrance remains.

At rest, somewhere.

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