The village of Henton sits on a ridge line above the Somerset levels between Wells and Wedmore. The church hosts a stunning viewpoint over the surrounding countryside. A chance discovery. Perched between road and ridge drop, the church sits as though it has been there awhile. Whilst I know that the levels are ancient.
An avenue of trees leads to the church. But before more than a few paces; stop awhile to study the war memorial to the men of Henton. And not far away is the memorial to the Hayes family.
On the grave of his mother is also the memorial to her son. A navy boy aged just 16 years old. A boy who died in the Great War.
Also of a beloved son
who fell in action
in the Jutland Battle
May 31st 1916
Aged 16 years
Boy 1st Class George William Hayes did indeed die on the 31st May 1916 on HMS Queen Mary; although Commonwealth War Graves have his age as 17 years. He was killed in action during the Battle of Jutland. The famous sea battle between Britain and Germany; where arguably no victor won out. But costs were many.
But how did George end up that day at Jutland? George was born in Glastonbury, Somerset on the 13th March 1899. He lived with his family in Godney, a nearby village where his father was a farmer. But his mother died in 1905 when she was just 35 years and he was 6 years old. It appears that he ended up living with his aunt and uncle in Salisbury. How he ended up in the Royal Naval, I do not know but George was on HMS Queen Mary in the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916.
HMS Queen Mary was destroyed by German battlecruisers on that day. Her remains lie even now on the sea bed; a protected marine war grave. Evidence states that the magazine on board HMS Queen Mary was hit by artillery shell fire and the subsequent explosions when the magazines went up, tore the ship apart; sinking quickly with over 1000 men on board including our George.
He has no known grave as no body was ever recovered and so George is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial; he shares the memorial at Southsea with 10,000 other naval personnel from the Great War who were lost or buried at sea as well as 15,000 from the Second World War. His memory lies on the grave here at Henton. A story of a boy, a young man who went to sea and was lost in conflict at Jutland.
The number of men lost to the sea when the HMS Queen Mary sank that day in 1916 was 1,266. Just 18 men were saved from the water. One of those 1,266 men and boys was George Hayes.
The war memorial stands here under the trees, but George’s name is not upon it. And neither is his name upon the other memorial to those of the Great War. For inside the church is a glorious stained glass window. A record of thankfulness, of service and indeed more surprisingly, a level of detail I have not seen before in a window like this.
This window is dedicated to the glory of God in thanks giving for the victory of the allies in the Great War 1914-1918.
And as a memorial to the men from this parish who helped by joining the colours.
There are six men named on this window who ‘made the final sacrifice’ – none of those named are George. That is not to decry those men, or indeed the sacrifice that they made for something other than themselves. But George seemingly had moved away; his memorial not of this parish.
There is more detail in the window; those who were wounded or disabled, those who served abroad and those at served at home. It is perhaps one of the few truly complete records of a parish’s efforts for the Great War. Displayed in a quite magnificent place. Henton.
Call me sentimental if you wish, but the memorial of the boy still lingers large in my memory. That perhaps his footsteps wandered around this church, stopped to mourn at his mother’s grave once or twice; before he moved away and became a boy seaman. To die at perhaps arguably one of the more well-known sea battles ever considered – Jutland.
HMS Queen Mary is a protected maritime war grave; a sunken ghost of history. But that, even now is threatened by those who may seek salvage and economic gain from the bones of what was once a great battle ship, stripping it of metals. For in years to come, it may become even less of a grave.
Here’s to them – the unreturned army of Henton; and perhaps more precisely the unreturned sailors of HMS Queen Mary and, of course to George.