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Weedon War Memorial - A personal journey of discovery in 2009 by Ralph Followell, Weedon resident

Yorkshire stone can become hazardous to walk on when wet due to a green slimy mould which grows on it. After cleaning the path to the Chapel with a new pressure hose, it was so easy to see that the War Memorial which stands in the grounds of the Chapel in Weedon could do with a cleanup too. What was not easy was to see the names of the men recorded there. After some difficulty, all were identified and the Parish Council had brass plates made which are now attached to the memorial and copies displayed inside the Chapel so that their names would be preserved.

With the exception of the Ming family, it was realised that none of those recorded had any descendents living in Weedon. The memorial was erected in the early 1920s by the Parish Council with a similar one in Hardwick. The names are the same on both memorials. These words are the result of an attempt to find out as much as possible about these men from historical records. It has been my privilege to visit every grave and memorial of all but Charles Jones, who died in Basra in Iraq. It took me to Northern France and Belgium. What follows is hopefully correct but I would appreciate help with any incorrect factual information herein.

It is a deeply moving and humbling experience to stand in the cemeteries and memorials of these men and spend a few moments reflecting and praying for them. They gave their lives that those like me could enjoy the life we have. Three were aged 19; five were in their 20s and three in their 30s with one a 43-year-old. Leonard Halsey was the only married man - to Vera Ming. Their daughter, whom he probably never saw, died was buried on 5th May just two months after his death.

THE WAR ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 – 1918

In the First World War, the Western Front – a battle line extending from the Channel coast to Switzerland along which for four years, millions of men fought and died, was the principal and vital theatre. Against the German Army were arrayed the Armies of the British Commonwealth, France, Belgium and latterly, the United States. The first two months, a war of movement, saw the containment and partial repulse of the initial German thrust. There then followed three and half years of static trench fighting, a war of attrition, during which defensive power was paramount. Neither side could effect a breakthrough and great battles were fought for small territorial gains. The last seven months were again, a war of movement, culminating in the Allied offensive, starting in August, which finally achieved the breakthrough leading to the Armistice of 11th November 1918.

The six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force which went to France at the outset in 1914 were deployed amongst the French armies and played their full part from 23rd August in the Battle of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. The next three weeks during which the battle line moved every day, were a highly critical period in which the German plan for ending the war at a stroke was foiled and the issue deferred.

In the first two weeks of October, the BEF was moved from the central sector of the front to Flanders. This move shortened its lines of communication, which ran through Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne and enabled it to protect these ports which were vital both to its own supply and reinforcement and to the Royal Navy’s command of the Channel. Over the next four years during which its strength rose to fifty British and twelve overseas Commonwealth divisions – Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian and troops from Newfoundland, the British West Indies and other territories – the BEF progressively took over more of the northern sector of the Allied line and fought a series of battles of attrition of which the greatest was the First Battle of the Somme in 1916.

After the German offensives of late March to mid July 1918 had been contained, the advance to victory began on 8th August with the Battle of Amiens, continued on a broadening front with the Second Battles of the Somme and of Arras and, in September, extended to the Ypres Salient. The advance swiftly gathered momentum and by the day of the armistice the front line ran fifty miles or more eastward of the starting points.

Nearly 750,000 Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen died on the Western Front. 200,000 in Belgium and over 500,000 in France. They are commemorated upon headstones marking graves in over 1,000 war cemeteries and 2,000 civil cemeteries or on one of the six memorials in Belgium and twenty in France which carry the names of more than 300,000 who have no known grave.

Weedon War Memorial - The Fallen from World War I

William George Ming and Herbert Jeffs died within 5 days of each other and their names are recorded on the panels, albeit under different regiments, at the Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. William was 23 years older that Herbert but they lived, according to the census records, in Providence Place. William would have known Herbert throughout his life from a small baby to a young adult. Being in different regiments, they may not have known that they were both in Belgium or indeed at the Battle of Passchendaele. They both may be buried in one of the 8,637 unnamed, out of the 11,954, graves of those soldiers who fell during the fighting there in August 1917.

Herbert William Ming joined the Grenadier Guards but would have known Herbert Jeffs and his cousin (first removed) William. If you examine the Weedon census records over a number of decades, you soon realise that there were a number of families who lived in adjacent dwellings in Providence Place. The Mings lived at No. 55; both father George in 1881 and then son Tom with grandson Herbert William after 1891. The Jeffs were at No. 63 from 1891 onwards. When son Tom, after 1891, took over No. 55, George and his wife with unmarried son William George moved into No. 61. Tom’s wife was Annie Arnold and the Arnold family lived at No.59.

Two Leonards died on the same day in March 1918, one Leonard Hughes, from Hardwick, of the Hampshire Yeomanry, who was helping defend positions during the sixteen days of the German big advance and the other Leonard Halsey, from Weedon, of the Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment who was in the same area of conflict. Their cemeteries are less than 10 kilometres apart. Leonard Halsey came from Aston Abbotts and married Vera Ming, the daughter of Tom Ming whose son Herbert William had died in 1915.

All these four men Herbert William Ming, William George Ming, Herbert Jeffs and Leonard Halsey would have known each other well. They joined different regiments and saw different areas of France and Belgium. None of them has a known grave and it is only on the panels of their regiments that their names are found, although there are many graves in the cemeteries where they could be. Sadly, some of them could have no remains as nothing of them was ever found.

By contrast, all of the men lost in Hardwick have graves and lay with comrades from the battles in which they fought. Lionel Allen, Charles Hopcraft and Leonard Hughes are buried in France within 20 kilometres of the British Memorial at Thiepval. Herbert Todd is in Hardwick cemetery.

William Abbey, who rests in Belgium, was the only Weedon man to have a known grave and was the last man in the villages to die. Frederick Jones is listed on a memorial east of Arras and his brother Charles is somewhere in Basra, in Iraq. These three may well have known each other as they all resided, before the war, in Stockaway. Charles and Frederick Jones were the sons of the publican who lived at the Five Elms from 1899 to 1917.

Musgrave Wroughton who was apparently known as Bob by all who knew him, was also buried and was the first soldier in the villages to be killed. However, he was not born in Weedon but in London. His mother was married in Hardwick Church but the family left Weedon before Musgrave was born. A plaque was placed by his mother in Hardwick Church and his grandparents Henry Cazenove and wife were known benefactors. Maybe Musgrave’s mother helped towards the costs of erecting the memorials in both villages. Maybe she felt that as her son who went to school in Harrow and Oxford and then joined the army had no roots in London and Weedon was her childhood home. Who knows? There is no doubt that he had a very distinguished service career and was a very gallant soldier, who was very attached to his mother’s family home.

Nothing of course in this appraisal refers to the many men who served in the war and returned home wounded, lost limbs, suffered from shell shock, were gassed and may have had to contend with Spanish Flu. ‘The War to end all Wars’ certainly failed to achieve that.

WILLIAM GEORGE ABBEY

LIONEL EDWARD ALLEN

LEONARD HALSEY

CHARLES FREDERICK HOPCRAFT

LEONARD WILLIAM HUGHES

HERBERT WILLIAM JEFFS

CHARLES JONES

FREDERIC JONES

HERBERT WILLIAM MING

WILLIAM GEORGE MING

HERBERT OWEN TODD

MUSGRAVE CAZENOVE WROUGHTON

 

Weedon War Memorial - Bucks Herald report 1921

The Bucks Herald Saturday 7th May 1921

[transcribed by Ralph Followell 2009]

The twin parishes of Hardwicke and Weedon have honoured the memory of their sons who fell in the Great War by erecting a Clipsham stone cross set on three octagonal bases and comprising a moulded die, and taper shaft surmounted by a highly carved cross-head with Gothic ornamentation.  The inscription chiselled out on the front of the die reads

“1914-1918, To the Glory of God and in loving memory of those who laid down their lives in The Great War”.

The base immediately below the die records the names of the fallen as follows:-

William George Abbey, Lionel  Allen, Leonard Halsey, Charles Frederic Hopcraft, Leonard Williams Hughes, Herbert William Jeffs, Charles Jones, Frederick Jones, Herbert  William Ming, William Ming, Herbert Owen Todd, and Musgrave Cazenove Wroughton.  

The whole of the work of preparation, carving and erection has been skilfully performed by Messrs. Newman and Harper, monumental masons, of Aylesbury, who worked on the design of an Oxford architect.  A similar cross, identical in every respect, even to the inscription and roll of honour was unveiled in Weedon on Thursday, a joint scheme having been agreed for the two parishes, and successfully carried out by a representative committee which included Rev. H.B.Walton (Chairman), Messrs W.A. Woods, G.E. Moore, H. Bates, J. Abbey, F. Hopcraft, J. Clarke, H. Rickard, R. Rickard and T. Rolls (hon. secretary).  The estimated cost of the scheme is £390, towards which the two parishes have raised £345 by voluntary subscription, no special functions having been arranged with a view to augmenting the fund.

The unveiling ceremony at Hardwicke on Thursday week was attended by a large number of parishioners, many carrying floral tributes which they eventually laid at the base of the memorial.   Ex-service men paraded in command of Lieut.-Col. Haughton and a contingent of Bucks Defence Corps. was officered by Major F. Lawson D.S.O., M.C. (Royal Bucks Hussars) and Capt. and Adjutant W.A.Seaton (Royal Bucks Hussars). The Rector Rev. H.B. Walton officiated at the ceremony, assisted by the Warden of New College, Oxford (Rev. A.W. Spooner), who performed the unveiling.  Rev. F.E. Allen, late rector of Hardwicke; Rev. J.R.C. Forrest (Swanbourne), H.Wood (Whitchurch) and J.E. Pugh (Aston Abbotts), and Mr. J.S.Clark (representing Hardwicke Mission Hall).  A deeply impressive and reverent service commenced with the hymn “O God our help in ages past”, the surpliced choir of Hardwicke Church leading the singing under the direction of Mr. Gardiner, choir master.  Rev. F.E.Allen, who appeared to enjoy good health in spite of advancing years, read a prayer of thanksgiving for the memory of men who “fought a good fight and finished their course with joy,” and of comfort for those that mourn.  Another appropriate hymn sung was “For all the saints who from their labours rest,” and Mr. J.S. Clark read a passage from Revelations.

Rev. H.B.Walton invited the large assembly to remember with thanksgiving before Almighty God those who laid down their lives in the Great War, especially the men of the parish, whom they mourned.  He read their names, as they are inscribed on the war memorial.

Mr. W.A.Woods (people’s warden), invited the Warden of New College to unveil the cross, at the same time welcoming him to “An ancient parish which had for centuries had close connection with that College”.

The Warden removed the Union Jack which covered the face of the memorial, and immediately dedicated the cross “to the glory of God and in memory of the men, faithful even unto death, who gave their lives in defence of our country”.  He prayed that the cross might bear witness to all who passed by, inspiring them to deny themselves and take up their cross.

Addressing the congregation the Warden drew an analogy between the cenotaph erected at Westminster then permanently in Whitehall, and local war memorials. The cenotaph, he said, was a common monument dedicated to the memory of all those – whether in England or in the Dominions beyond the sea – who laid down their lives in the defence of their country. That was right and truthful, because the victory had been won and the work accomplished by the united efforts of this land and the Dominions. Also, there had been erected, or were being erected in every part of our country, memorials to the fallen who came from a district or county or parish, and it was right that such local memorials should be erected. There were many good reasons for it.

In the first place it was a natural instinct that those who had done worthy deeds should be held in memory by those who, in their lives, were their neighbours, relatives or friends. All knew how the greatest and most distinguished men in the country had ever loved, as their lives came to an end, to visit once more, or to be remembered in the houses where they lived in their youth, and among neighbours with whom they were familiar. He could not doubt that those whose memory they in Hardwicke cherished that day would have had something of that feeling, too – that it would have been pleasing and grateful to them to be assured that what they suffered and accomplished was not forgotten among those in the midst of whom they passed their youth and that their own district and parish held them in grateful remembrance.

Secondly, that memorial was a real proof of the gratitude and affection felt for the men for what they did and suffered. It was also a sign of gratitude to those who went to war with the men who fell – who were their comrades in danger, hardship and battle – and who returned. He hoped they would take that message and assurance of gratitude.

Thirdly, the memorial served to remind people of their common unity and common purpose. There were, among the names recorded on it, those who held in life different stations, who followed different occupations, who had different prospects. In their lives, when they went to the war, they were not divided; in their death still they were not divided. As one looked at the monument and thought  of how the men shared in a common work, there must be a reminder of the value of national unity – that if we in the future are to be a happy and prosperous nation we must not forget the comradeship and unity which the war created; that in peace no less than in war, in difficulties, in dangers that lie before us , we could only surmount them if we were prepared to sacrifice something for the sake of others, feeling that they were in truth all brothers. There was a lesson in the words of the prophet to two of the nations who quarrelled – “Sirs, ye are brothers, why do ye wrong one to another”.

The memorial spoke too of the future. The congregation met that day to commemorate the brave deeds of those who had been taken from them, because they wished to preserve their good example and to hand on to their children and remote descendants the memory of those brave deeds, by which the country was preserved and strengthened. The form which the memorial had taken should surely bring that lesson home to them. They were reminded in the words of the dedication of Him who being the Saviour of men was content to live and die for them, and that cross bore witness to, and reminded all who passed by, day by day, week by week, of the call to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ.

 A minute of silent prayer was observed at the close of the address. Finally the Lord’s Prayer was recited and the congregation sang the hymn “Through the night of doubt and sorrow”. The Rector pronounced the Blessing and the National Anthem was sung. The solemn notes of the Last Post were sounded by Mr A. Guntrip, of Aylesbury, then there was heard the Long Reveille, crisp and clear, with its vigorous awakening call. A wreath from the ex-service men of Hardwicke and Weedon was first placed on the memorial by Sergt. J. Abbey and others followed, in profusion, from relatives and friends of the fallen.