In Mitcheldean churchyard, in the most eastern part of the Forest of Dean in most rural Gloucestershire, amongst a crowded silent audience, I pick out the words:
We do not know; we cannot tell;
What pains he had to bear
We hope in heaven to meet again
And all its glories share.
No more sorrow, no more pain
But God shall wipe away all tears.
This was the family of Wallace Robert Voyce. An attempt to understand? Their grief? Their only solace religion? Who knows.
But in 1922 when his father Robert died aged 78 years, and then his mother Felicia died in 1928 aged 77 years, they had survived their son by several years. On their grave they wrote:
Also of Wallace Robert,
His son, died of wounds in France
October 7th 1917 aged 37 years
In truth 51520 Private W. R. Voyce was in the 21st Battalion, Manchester Regiment. He was a long way from home. He died on the 7th October 1917 and was buried at Godewaersvelde British Cemetery not far from the Belgium border.
Wallace enlisted in Newport, Monmouthshire and his name appears on the Newport Cenotaph. He married in early 1915 in Newport and his wife went on to get re-married after his death. He had been No 47588 in the Liverpool Regiment prior to the Manchester Regiment.
He probably died at 41st Casualty Clearing Station which between July 1917 and January 1918 was based at Godewaersvelde; where he is buried.
Wallace seems to have worked as a butcher’s assistant before the war; specifically in Newport where he enlisted. His family lived in Abenhall where his father worked as a miner for the large family. It seems unlikely that the Voyce family would ever have made it to their son’s grave so his memory was etched into their gravestone in the 1920s.
Nestled just behind the church, close to its foundations lies a weighted piece of stone dedicated to the memory of a brother. In block capitals, as if the words are laid with heavy emotion:
Arthur Thomas Barfoot
Killed in action in France
November 22nd 1917
Aged 20 years
Sometimes you come across mysteries. Where there seems to be no reason why things should be.
For Arthur Thomas Barfoot, or Thomas Arthur, had no connection with the Forest of Dean. There seems no reason why this memorial lies here in singular isolation.
He was only son of Arthur and Sarah Barfoot of Hillsborough in Sheffield. No 242368 of the Yorkshire Dragoons Yeomanry attached to the 2nd/5th York and Lancaster Regiment. He was killed on November 22nd 1917, a mere 20 years of age.
His local newspaper reveals the family’s heartbreak:
No 242368 Arthur Thomas Barfoot (sometimes also referred to as Thomas Arthur Barfoot), Yorkshire Dragoons Yeomanry attached 2/5th York and Lancaster Regiment. Killed in action 22nd November 1917. Only beloved son of Mr and Mrs Arthur Walter and Sarah Barfoot, 517 Middlewood Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield.
But his older sister lived in Blaisdon, a few miles away and worked at Blaisdon School and it seems that this maybe the reason why Thomas Arthur is at Mitcheldean. Their other sister is also buried in the churchyard.
The 2nd/5th York and Lancaster Regiment was a territorial force; they eventually made it to France in January 1917. Actions in 1917 included Bullecourt, Arras and Cambrai.
The name of Thomas Arthur Barfoot is written on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval in Northern France; for he has no known grave. The memorial has the name of 7,000 men who have no known grave but fought in the Battle of Cambrai between November and December 1917. It is infamous for the first use of tanks by the British with varying degree of success.
His name is written on the St Polycarps Church Roll of Honour, Wisewood in Sheffield; and also possibly the Wadsley Parish Church Roll of Honour as there is a mention of an A. T. Barfoot in Sheffield. Despite strong Yorkshire connections and never coming to Gloucestershire, the name of Thomas Arthur Barfoot lives on here.
Whilst despite the name Barfoot does not appear on the roll of honour or the war memorial, Wallace Voyce appears on the British Legion Names of the Fallen plaque outside in the churchyard, the Roll of Honour inside and also the rather splendid carved and engraved wooden pulpit.