Lustleigh War Memorial – Henry Wills

Henry Wills

When Ivy Jean Smeeth died in a Hertfordshire care home on 6th December 2011, she did so having lived for 94 years without ever knowing her father. When she was born in June 1917, he was fighting in the trenches of Ypres and five months later he became one of more than half a million Allied and German soldiers who perished in that bloodiest of campaigns.

Elizabeth and John Wills of Higher Hisley

Ivy’s father was Henry Wills, one of the long line from that Lustleigh ‘dynasty’ to have grown up at Higher Hisley. Born on 23rd April 1885, he was the sixth of ten children of John and Elizabeth Wills. He was baptised in the parish church by Henry Tudor two months later and shortly after his fifth birthday he registered at the Board School, of which his father was one-time chairman.

When he was young, it was probable that Henry would have helped his father on the farm – either Higher Hisley or Waye, which he also owned – but it wasn’t a life he wished for himself. By the age of 16, he was apprenticed as a draper in Paignton where he lived with his aunt, coincidentally also in the parish of St John the Baptist. Ten years later, he was working as a drapers’ assistant in Hertford; what took him there is unclear – was his marriage, to Emma Jane Clarke, in neighbouring Bedfordshire, in 1912, the reason or the result?

Some members of the Wills Family outside Higher Hisley Farm

Henry returned to Devon with his wife and he was carrying on his profession in Newton Abbot when he signed up in 1916. In doing so, he was following his youngest brother, Alfred, who was already serving in the Devon Yeomanry at the outbreak of war, and the next youngest brother, George, who had been called up into the Royal Engineers.

Henry attested in Exeter on 18th May 1916, at which time he was put on reserve, not receiving his call-up until September when he was posted to the Royal Field Artillery, initially joining their depot in Portsmouth before moving to a training camp built on Lord Lichfield’s Estate at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. At the beginning of 1917, he was transferred to the Durham Light Infantry, first the 15th Battalion but then on to the 13th with whom he would mobilize to France.

Freezing weather welcomed Henry’s arrival with his unit at Winnipeg Camp, Ypres, where the fighting was comparatively light: deceptively so, that he would have no clues as to the horrors to come. Even then, Henry missed quite a bit of the action, finding himself admitted to hospital on more than one occasion suffering from scabies.

Officially, the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) began on 31 July 1917, but not for Henry and his comrades. The first week of August, for example, saw a concert, a football match, a revolver competition, a boxing competition and a cricket match; but perhaps this was to build moral before engaging in what officers no doubt knew would be a fierce and punishing campaign.

There followed a prolonged period of training, readying the 23rd Division, to which the 13th Battalion of the Durham Light belonged, for their part in this major offensive. Their opportunity came on 20 September with The Battle of Menin Road; despite that day being declared a success, Henry’s battalion lost a captain and 44 other ranks with a further 16 missing and more than 180 men wounded. The battle continued for five days with the allies sustaining over 3,000 losses. At the end of the assault, the 13th DLI received a letter from the 33rd Divisional Artillery saying that we “cannot let you go out without wishing you the best of luck and giving you our heartiest congratulations”.

Of course, other engagements were to follow and on 9 October it was preparing for another attack, moving from its camp at Westoutre, south west of Ypres, to Scottish Wood, described as a rest area before the front line. The following day, as they proceeded to take up their positions, the battalion was met with enemy fire and sustained further casualties with 34 wounded including Henry (and three missing). Initially, he was treated in the field, but a few weeks later was sent back to England, arriving at Bradford War Hospital on 5th November.

It is impossible to know whether he was visited by his wife and daughter living 300 miles away in Newton Abbot. The November parish magazine sympathised with Mr. John Wills, acknowledging “the serious wound to his son”, but such words may infer an expectation of recovery; if so, such optimism may have persuaded Emma from making the trip and thereby missing the only opportunity of introducing father to daughter and vice versa. Even if they had not met, Henry would of course have known that he had become a father, if only via a letter to his locker; perhaps when he was docked five days’ pay for being absent without leave just before Christmas 1916, he had been out celebrating the good news…

Sadly, Henry did not recover from his wounds and he died at 3am on 27th November; his body was sent to Higher Hisley two days later with his funeral taking place in Lustleigh parish church on Saturday 1st December. His final resting place is marked by a headstone, beside the path between the church and the old vestry, which not only recalls his demise but also remembers both his wife and daughter. As a resident of Newton Abbot at the time of joining up, his name appears on that town’s war memorial as well as on our own.


The following June (1918), Mrs Wills was awarded a war pension of 20s 6p per week, but it was a few more years before she received the true recognition of Henry’s contribution in the shape of his British War Medal and Victory Medal. No doubt, these were much cherished by both his wife and daughter; Ivy certainly treasured the few photographs she had of her father, which she kindly donated to Lustleigh Archives some years ago and which are reproduced here.

Henry Wills will be remembered on Monday 27th November when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

Sources used include:

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Great War Forum
  • Tipton Remembers
  • Wikipedia


Lustleigh War Memorial – William Charles White

We probably all have visions of First Wold War soldiers ‘going over the top’ to meet almost certain death as they become target practice for enemy snipers, a futility brought home poignantly in the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Perhaps, few of us, though, are aware of a similar sacrifice made by naval ratings taking to the seas in Q-Ships, but such was the fate of another of the men remembered on our war memorial, William Charles White.

Few traces of William’s civilian life remain, but his association with our village appears to have been quite brief. He had been given birth by Elizabeth, a single woman, in Wells Union Workhouse in Somerset on 27th February 1896, and was baptised there by the chaplain two months later. What then became of either of them is unknown, but it is understood that William was later brought up by the Poor Law Authorities in Newton Abbot. This would suggest a connection with the area as Unions would rarely take on the financial responsibility of an outside parish, but the nature of the link remains a mystery, the only hint being the mention of his next of kin as a Mrs Hatherleigh of Brookfield and later Wreyland: did she foster him perhaps?

By the age of 15, he had found employment at Rudge where he helped farmer, Edwin May, with the cattle, working alongside the farmer’s son, another casualty of WW1, Edwin Wilfred Wrayford May. Whatever may have been his early experiences, they were perhaps not strong enough to give him a sense of belonging or at least made him sufficiently restless to consider a life on the open seas: so, at 16, this diminutive (5’ 1’’) fresh-faced youth became a Boy 2nd class at Devonport.

Following a natural progression path, he was elevated to Boy 1st class six months later and on his 18th birthday he officially signed to the Royal Navy ranks as Ordinary Seamen: he had enlisted for a minimum of 12 years, but had barely recorded a quarter of that time when he met his fate.

His first taste of active service was aboard cruisers and battleships, and when war broke out, William was aboard HMS Cumberland, a 10,000-ton Monmouth-class armoured cruiser with fourteen 100-pounder guns, ten 12-pounders, three 3-pounder guns and two torpedo tubes. Initially, she served in West Africa where she captured ten German merchant ships in September 1914 before moving on to convoy escort duties and patrolling for German commerce raiders, or Handelskrieg as it is known in the native tongue.

However, a different kind of war was destined for William, when in the spring of 1917, already by now elevated to Able Seaman, he joined the crew of HMS Vala. This was not a conventional naval warship, rather what was known as a Q-ship, a merchant vessel, in this case an ex-collier, with the express raison d’être to attract the attention of German U-boats targeting allied shipping. The theory was that a lone merchant ship would draw the U-boat to the surface, opting to use its cannon and so saving their expensive torpedoes for greater prizes, at which point the Q-ship would drop its sides and open fire with hitherto concealed guns.

A cunning plan, as Baldrick would have put it, but one which owes a significant degree of its success to the element of surprise. The deceit seems to have worked initially, but as war wore on and U-boat commanders became wise to the subterfuge, the efficacy wore off. In 1915, six U-boats were sunk without any loss of Q-ships; the following year, the ratio was three to two; in 1917 six U-boats were sunk but so too were 18 Q-ships, including five in August alone. It was clearly a tactic that had run its course.

During the first half of 1917, HMS Vala had been involved in gun fights with five different U-boats, so not only was the Q-ship tactic becoming better known to the enemy, so too was HMS Vala’s appearance.

On 20th August 1917, she was cruising in the Atlantic approaches to the English Channel around the northern fringes of the Bay of Biscay some 120 miles south west of the Scilly Isles. There, she was spotted by UB.54 under the experienced command of Captain Egon von Werner who, on spotting six look-outs aboard HMS Vala saw through the disguise and, without surfacing, launched two torpedoes, the first striking a forward hold, the second an aft hold.

The precise sequence of subsequent events is unclear. Some reports seem to imply that most of the 43 crew went down with their ship, while other accounts record that many of the men took to lifeboats which were launched in two waves, firstly with around a dozen or so men and another with as many as 20. With the admiralty recording William’s official date of death as August 21st, they clearly believe that the men perished in their lifeboats during the ensuing hours in a worsening sea state.

It would have taken some time for news to reach Lustleigh, it always does take longer when a fate is unclear, and in November’s parish magazine that year, villagers were prepared to expect the worse when it was announced that “we fear that there can be no doubt that he has gone down with his ship”.

Who exactly, though, would have been the first to know? According to Rector Herbert Johnson, William’s next of kin known to the admiralty was the aforesaid Mrs Hatherleigh, although other naval records indicate that the relative to be notified was a sister, Mrs S.A. Sewell of Harrogate while the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record him as the brother of Mrs. Mary Rowe of Southampton. All may be true, but we are unlikely to ever know.

As well as the various memorials in the village, William is remembered alongside comrades on the Plymouth Naval Memorial which was erected specifically to commemorate those members of the Royal Navy who had no known grave, the majority having lost their lives at sea where no permanent memorial could be provided. Perhaps another memorial should be considered to acknowledge the sacrifice of the crews of the more than forty Q-ships sunk by their prey in WW1. Knowingly becoming cannon fodder takes a different sort of bravery.

William Charles White will be remembered on Monday 21st August when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

Sources used include:

  • Commonwealth War Graces Commission
  • Great War Forum
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Britain’s Small Forgotten Wars
  • net
  • The University of Edinburgh


Lustleigh War Memorial – Charles Ellicombe Williams

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to have lost one son in a military conflict must be heart-breaking, but to lose two must be agony. That is the fate that befell Brigadier-General Raymond Burlton Williams CB, whose eldest son died during the Second Boer War, unfortunately due to the accidental discharge of his own revolver, and his third son, Charles Ellicombe Williams, who was killed on the battlefields of Salonika in WW1.

There is reason to be thankful, though, as two other sons returned home safely. Charles’ older brother, Harold Radcliffe Williams, rose to the rank of major in the Gurkha Rifles serving in Burma and Mesopotamia. His young brother, Lionel Stewart Williams, who was serving with the Camel Corps at the outbreak of war, received a commission in the Flying Corps and miraculously survived a crash when his plane was brought down at 6,000 feet. One of their brothers-in-law also survived the Great War.

Charles was born on 7th October 1889 in Pennycross, Plymouth at which time his father was a captain in the Somerset Light Infantry and his mother, Ella Maud Radcliffe, was fending with four other children. Little is known about his early childhood, but in May 1905, Charles started at King’s School, Bruton in Somerset where “he soon gained a reputation for being a larger than life character; he approached everything he did with great enthusiasm, gusto and humour, and he was understandably a very popular member of the School” according to the school’s obituary for him.

Cricket was a major passion for Charles and his skill not only earned him a place in King’s Cricket XI, but also the Somerset County Juniors, his proficiency being such that he is listed in “Wisden on the Great War: The Lives of Cricket’s Fallen 1914-1918”. He enjoyed other sports too, being in both the King’s Football XI and their Hockey XI, crowning his achievements as Captain of Sports in his final year.


On leaving school in 1909, he went to Ceylon to work on a tea plantation and became an Assistant Superintendent on the Ratganga Estate. At the outbreak of war, he joined the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, a volunteer (reserve) regiment based in Kandy, made up of European tea and rubber planters. In October 1914, the unit sailed for Egypt and was initially deployed in defence of the Suez Canal against the Turkish threat.

The following year, Charles fleetingly joined the 9th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, before gaining a commission as a Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion South Wales Borderers on 23 March 1915. In June, he was appointed Adjutant and in September his unit landed at Boulogne: for a short while, they were concentrated near Flesselles in the Somme, but the following month were diverted for service in Salonika. They saw their first action in December in the Retreat from Serbia and the following year were engaged in various actions against the Bulgarian army including The Battle of Horseshoe Hill and The Battle of Machukovo.

Between 22 April and 8 May, 1917, the First Battle of Doiran took place, a major military offensive which began with a four-day artillery barrage in which the British fired about 100,000 shells. The action over these couple of weeks, though, was futile and the campaign had to be abandoned with the loss of 12,000 lives. After this, there was comparatively little activity on the British part of the Macedonian front except for local skirmishes.

Towards the end of May, the South Wales Borderers were in a defensive position at Whaleback Ridge, south west of Doiran; at 1600 hours, the enemy started shelling with at least one of the munitions having Williams name on it. Coincidentally, a Captain Leonard Vincent Williams was killed during the onslaught while Captain Charles Ellicombe Williams (he had relinquished his post as Adjutant and appointed Captain the previous month) was seriously wounded. Charles was transferred to a Dressing Station at Chaushitsa, the first unit of the medical services evacuation chain where injured soldiers were treated and prepared for the casualty clearing station. Sadly, Charles was so seriously injured that he died of his wounds.

Initially, Charles was buried at the newly constructed military cemetery at Chaushitsa (also known as Caussica), but the graves from here were transferred to Karasouli Military Cemetery in November 1920 where his gravestone stands today bearing the words “For God, King and Country”.

The 1917 summer edition of King’s School Bruton’s magazine, The Dolphin, reported Charles loss, stating that “Though not intellectually gifted, his intense keenness and enthusiasm soon won him a real position in the School. He was a sportsman of the best type, a prominent member of all our elevens, and probably the best remembered of them by our visitors. His cheerful aggressiveness and dauntless determination were such as leave an enduring recollection. But unhappily it is just such lives that War most surely claims among its victims. England is poorer by the loss of such a life and example.”

Charles, himself, was probably little known to Lustleigh, the connection being through his parents who moved to Pinkhurst (now Combe Hill) after his father retired from his post as Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General of the Gibraltar Garrison in 1912, an appointment which capped a distinguished military career including the Zulu War, South African War and the Relief of Ladysmith. He served again in the Great War, was churchwarden in Lustleigh from 1916 to 1920, shortly after which he and his wife moved to Ashprington.

 Charles Ellicombe Williams will be remembered on Saturday 27th May when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

Sources used in compiling this story have included:

  • King’s School, Bruton
  • Alan Greveson’s World War 1 Forum
  • The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh
  • The British Newspaper Archive
  • The Wartime Memories Project
  • Google Books
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • The Long, Long Trail
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Wikipedia

Lustleigh War Memorial – George Bunclark

Winston Churchill, commenting on the fighting that took place in Macedonia during World War 1, said that “it was upon this much-abused front that the final collapse of the Central Empires first began”. Thus, the beginning of the end, as he would have put it, took place in the Balkans where, history tells us, it all started with Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination. It is also where Lustleigh lad, George Bunclark, was to lose his life.

George was born at Moor House, Hennock on 2 March 1893, the first of 10 children of Eliza Ann  and James Bunclark, a carter at a stone quarry. Shortly after George’s birth, they moved to Wreyland where a second child was born, Mabel, who was later to become the first May Queen following the tradition’s revival by Cecil Torr in 1905.

As with most of his siblings, George attended Lustleigh County Primary school; after the turn of the century, the family moved from Wreyland via Lone Park (near Casely) to Lower Coombe; but by 1911 he had moved away from the village and was employed as a garden boy in Teignmouth.

When war broke out, George travelled to Exeter to enlist in D Company of the 10th Devonshire Regiment. In so doing, he was following in the footsteps of his father who had served in the Devonshires for 12 years, largely in India where he was awarded the Burma Clasp 1889-1892, and who rejoined at the outbreak of the Great War, aged 45, serving at the Dardenelles, in Egypt and in Palestine.

Yet more Bunclarks were to join the fight in WW1. George’s brother Percy was a private in the Prince of Wales 5th Devon (Territorial) Regiment, which was immediately sent to India at the start of the war; later he went to Egypt, Palestine and France. Another brother William joined the Royal Navy, initially in the Boy’s Service but was put to sea as soon as he was of age and continued in the service after the war. Two cousins also served with the Devonshires: another William who served with the Regiment at home and John who was a sergeant in the Devonshire Regiment and sadly lost his life in November 1918.

George wasn’t sent to the front until 1915, arriving in France on 22nd September. Before reaching the trenches, however, his battalion was diverted via Marseilles to the Macedonian Front, arriving in Salonika on 21st November: the allies needed to counter any Bulgarian aggression following their alliance with Germany and Austria.

His time there would have been both frustrating and unpleasant. In the beginning, they were perceived to spend more time digging trenches than fighting, an image which earnt the French-led allied forces the nickname “The Gardeners of Salonika” by France’s war time leader, Georges Clemenceau (an interesting label considering George Bunclark’s earlier profession). On the other hand, it was an inhospitable environment leading to nearly one third of his battalion being admitted to hospital with either malaria or dysentery.

By October 1916, the 10th Devons had taken up a position opposite the Petit Couronne ridge. Due to the rocky terrain and topography of the area, the Bulgarian line was almost impregnable and deterred our men from all but occasional skirmishes. It was, however, seen as a strategic objective: its capture would split the enemy’s front line and open the way to an advance on Bulgaria. Consequently, there were occasional forays, more for gaining intelligence than gaining ground.

A raid to test the Bulgarian defences was planned for the night of 9th February 1917, but a violent blizzard delayed the offensive to the following night. It is thought that enemy intelligence predicted the action on the 10th February and launched a heavy barrage at the planned ‘zero hour’; thankfully the attack was delayed by 30 minutes and saved many casualties. Boosted by this fortuitous error, the Devons pressed on and begun to make headway. After two hours of fighting and inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, the battalion could not capitalise on their progress and, running out of ammunition, were forced to withdraw. During the course of the operation, the Devons lost over 30 men, including George Bunclark.

“Your boy was by my side when he was hit and fell asleep apparently without any suffering”, wrote the head of his platoon to his mother. “It is all the more sad as he advanced as a stretcher bearer and was consequently unarmed. He died doing his duty. We shall all miss him as he was very popular”. His popularity was further reinforced by the large congregation which attended his memorial service in Lustleigh church; two notable absences, though, were his father and brother Percy, also a stretcher bearer, both of whom were still at the front.

Private Bunclark, No 12006, is today commemorated on the Doiran Memorial which stands roughly in the centre of the line occupied for two years by the Allies in Macedonia, and marks the scene of the fierce fighting of 1917-1918 which caused the majority of the Commonwealth battle casualties.

Chris Wilson


The Keep Military Museum, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, FindMyPast, Lustleigh and the First World War, Mid-Devon Advertiser, The Book of Lustleigh, Book of the Devonshire Regiment


Lustleigh War Memorial – Herbert Ernest Smith

In January 1926, Mr Vanstone, headmaster of Lustleigh School, and Mr Horrell, a co-committee member of the Royal British Legion’s Lustleigh branch, moved to right a wrong by having a name added to the war memorial which had hitherto been omitted. I hereby salute their action and pay tribute to the man they honoured, but who so nearly suffered a major injustice.

As with all men on the memorial, there is a slight sense of anonymity with just a surname and initials. With this man, the information of ‘killed while serving at home’ somehow seems to condemn him further to the sidelines. H E Smith may not have fought in WW1, but he’d already served King and Country well and rightfully deserves his place on our memorial.

Herbert Ernest Smith was born on the 14th November 1880 in Paignton, one of nine children of police constable, John Smith and his wife, Sarah. Likely, a heavy weight of expectation was placed on his shoulders when he was named after twin brothers, Ernest Herbert Smith and Herbert Ernest Smith, both of whom had died less than a year earlier just six and seven months old. His military record would surely have repaid his parents’ faith.

After pounding the beat in Paignton, Stoke Gabriel and Ashprington, John Smith retired from the police force and settled with his family in Brookfield, mending boots and shoes and thereby returning to a profession in which he apprenticed before donning the blue uniform. At this time, his teenaged son, Herbert was in service at Lustleigh rectory, probably as a groom, but on 20th October 1898, he attested into the Royal Field Artillery and subsequently served in the Boer War receiving the Queen’s medal and two bars.

On returning from the war in South Africa, Herbert served as a gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery at Shoeburyness on the Thames Estuary, a hugely important military facility which served, among other things, as a School of Gunnery for the Royal Arsenal and would have particularly specialised in training during his time there.

A year or two later, he was transferred to Ireland, and while stationed at Clogheen Barracks in Tipperary, met and married his wife, Henrietta Gertrude Browne on 30th August 1906. Shortly afterwards, he was moved to Ballincollig Barracks, County Cork, where his wife gave birth to 2 children: Florence in 1907 and William in 1910, the latter dying in infancy. His final posting in Ireland was at the Royal Field Artillery’s No 2 Depot at Athlone Military Barracks (formerly Victoria Barracks), Westmeath.

On returning to England, he found himself stationed on Salisbury Plain, possibly at the Royal Field Artillery’s Knighton Camp, a couple of miles from Amesbury, where the birth of their third child was registered in 1913 with the name Herbert Ernest. Shortly afterwards, HE Smith, snr, was invalided out of the army, suffering, it is believed, from wounds inflicted during a military riding accident.

His 15 years of army service had made him very much a military man, so his absence from the ranks was unsurprisingly short-lived, re-joining on the outbreak of WW1 in August 1914 despite his incapacity. Serving with the 7th Reserve Battery, 170th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, as Quartermaster Sergeant, he was chiefly engaged in training artillery recruits. Sadly, his health gave way, his earlier wounds causing the onset of cancer, and he was taken to No. 5 VAD Hospital, Exeter, located at the College Hostel, Bradninch House. The joy of a fourth child, Hilda, in May 1915, was sadly countered by sadness when he died on 22 January 1916, aged 36.

 Perhaps it was his cause of death, on the surface seemingly non-military, which was the reason for his initial omission from the war memorial. Clearly, though, he was rightfully added due to his dedicated military service and his Lustleigh connections: his parents continuing to live in the village during his service (although his father passed away just a month before he did) and with at least three of his siblings marrying in St John the Baptist church. Also, as the parish magazine, in February 1916 noted, Herbert was one of three family members to have attained to high non-commissioned rank in the army.

Herbert Ernest Smith’s funeral took place on Tuesday 25th January 1916 at Exeter Higher Cemetery with his coffin conveyed there on a gun carriage, draped with the Union Jack and escorted by a detachment from the Royal Field Artillery’s Topsham Barracks. The service was very largely attended including both family and other injured soldiers from the hospital. As well as his grave and our war memorial, his name is among those on a plaque in the church in Sidbury, close to the home of his widow.

Herbert Ernest Smith will be remembered on Sunday 22nd January, 101 years after his death, when the Bell Ringers will sound a muffled peel in his honour.

 Chris Wilson

This story is drawn from various sources including.

  • Alan Greveson’s World War 1 Forum
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • FindMyPast & Ancestry
  • The Western Times


Lustleigh War Memorial – Newdigate

Richard Francis Newdigate

From the English Civil War to the Somme, the Newdigate name has had a regular presence in military history. Sadly, that bloody battle of 100 years ago felled one of its younger kin before the chance to show his full potential. Although 22-year old Richard Francis Newdigate had already risen to the rank of Captain before being cut down on the front line on Monday 4th September 1916, surely there would have been much more to come.

After all, the Newdigate family were of English nobility, owning significant lands in Warwickshire, particularly the Arbury Estate, of which Richard was said to be heir-presumptive (it was also the birth place of author George Elliot: her father being agent to the estate). The family has also provided 20 members of parliament since 1360 when William Newdigate represented a Surrey village from which the family took its name, nearly a dozen family members have been knighted and several were made baronets.

One who knelt before his monarch was Richard’s father, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Richard Legge Newdigate who served in Crimea, the Indian Mutiny (being mentioned in despatches for the capture of Lucknow) and commanded the Infantry Brigade in Gibraltar. Sir Henry married Phillis Shirley, also descended from Warwickshire aristocracy, who gave him three daughters as well as Richard who was born on 17th May 1894 in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Richard became orphaned in 1908 when his father suffered a stroke, his young mother having already lost a battle with illness two years earlier, at which point he became the ward of his uncle, Arthur Horatio Shirley, a retired Royal Navy captain residing at St Andrews in Lustleigh. Richard was educated at Wellington College, where he received his officers’ training, taking his army entrance exam in November 1913.

He received his commission, in August 1914, as 2nd Lieutenant in the Special Reserve of the 3rd Border Regiment, but it was the 2nd Battalion with which he was to carry out his service. Leaving England at the end of that year, he arrived on the Western Front on the 4th of January at Sailly, mid-way between Paris and Rouen. This was a brief foray, though, as he was invalided home less than two weeks later suffering from symptoms that were variously reported as bronchitis, influenza, laryngitis and epilepsy: an unusual example of the fog of war, perhaps!

2nd Lieutenant R.F. Newdigate was back on the front line by mid-February and it wasn’t long before he took part in what was described as “the first large scale organised attack undertaken by the British army during the First World War”, the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which was to see him return home for far more serious reasons.

The night before the first attack was wet, with light snow, turning to damp mist on the morning of 10th March. Despite poor weather conditions, the early stages of the battle went extremely well helped by the first prominent use of aerial photography to map German lines. The objective was to rupture those lines, break through to Aubers Ridge and maybe even push on to Lille, a major enemy communications centre. The battle opened at 7.30am with the heaviest bombardment that would be fired until 1917, a 35-minute onslaught involving over 180 artillery batteries and over 3,000 shells, more than the British Army used in the whole of the Boer War fifteen years earlier.

Despite the promising start to this offensive, fortunes turned against the allies and on the 12th March, amid some of the fiercest fighting, a breakdown in communication prevented orders for the attack to be postponed getting through. In the ensuing frenzy, Richard Newdigate was seriously wounded with early reports being more than a little concerning, April’s issue of Lustleigh Parish Magazine reporting that “We regret to hear that Mr. R.F. Newdigate has been wounded in action. We understand that the wound, though serious, is yet one from which he may be expected to recover”. A telegram to his sister was more reassuring: “gunshot wound right shoulder fracture doing well”.

Following treatment at the Royal Herbert Hospital at Woolwich in Kent, Richard went to Dorchester in Dorset to recuperate with his sisters, Violet and Millicent, who lived there with another uncle: no doubt the ten or so servants in the 26-roomed house made it a particularly comfortable environment in which to mend his wounds and prepare again for war. It was to be many months before he was declared fit, first for light duties and later ready to face the enemy once more which he did in November 1915.

Almost a year to the day of his injury, on 13th March 1916, he became Captain Newdigate. Following another short return to England suffering from sub-acute laryngitis, he returned to the front line with time edging ever closer to July 1st, the first day of the Somme offensive which saw the British Army sustain 57,000 casualties (19,240 losing their lives), the bloodiest day in its history. On that day, the 2nd Border Regiment were lined up alongside the 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, the same band of men they were to fight alongside 2 months later aiming to capture the village of Ginchy.

On 4th September, they arrived at Montauban at 2am and continued under heavy fire to collect guides and tools from Bernafay Wood before taking up position at about 5.30am: Captain R F Newdigate was in a support trench north of Ginchy Avenue in charge of ‘B’ Company. Ginchy was a key target for the allies, it being much prized by the Germans for its commanding view of the area; indeed, such was its importance that it was recorded “the Germans never fought better than they did at Ginchy in 1916”.

The war diaries report that the 2nd Border Regiment was under heavy shell fire all day and this indeed was where Captain Newdigate fell, being instantaneously killed by the explosion of a shell along with two comrades with whom he was standing – 2nd Lieutenants J.A. Malkin and S Martindale.

On 9th September, his sister Violet received a telegram to state “Deeply regret to inform you Capt R F Newdigate Border Regt was killed in action Sept 4th The Army Council express their Sympathy”. Many months later, she was informed that he had been laid to rest “about seven hundred yards South East of Longeuval Church… the grave marked by a durable wooden cross”.

Longer lasting tributes can be found in many places. As well as the Lustleigh war memorial and the Menin Gate, his name is included on a Great Ormside WW1 plaque and Roll of Honour (this is where he was living when he enlisted) and there is a memorial tablet in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Astley (another Newdigate estate adjoining Arbury) where it notes that he fell “while taking his part fighting for his King and Country in the advance on Ginchy”.

Chris Wilson



Lustleigh War Memorial – May

Edwin Wilfred Wrayford May

Mr Edwin May must have taken great solace in the gathering that assembled in Lustleigh Church on Saturday 15th July 1916 to remember his only son who had fallen at the front less than two weeks earlier.  People came from far and near with one villager reporting that he had never seen so many people in the church before; many of them not regular church-goers and some who had not been since their wedding, but they came to show their respect for the boy they all loved and sympathy for his father.

In his address, Rev. Johnson said, about Edwin Wilfred Wrayford May, that he was not someone who could have ever chosen the army as a profession, nor did he have any taste for fighting; rather he possessed a great sense of beauty and was far more in his element working in his garden or putting a touch to a vase of flowers. Similarly, a friend had once said “it will not do for you to join up, you are too gentle”, to which he countered that he would never be a coward. So, seeing his duty, and with his father’s blessing, he joined the cause.

It must have been especially hard for Edwin to wave off his son from their house at Rudge Farm, which had become increasingly empty in recent years. His only daughter was married in 1909, his wife died in 1911, one of his main farm hands had joined the Royal Navy in 1912 and even his son’s  bay jumping pony, Rex, had been requisitioned by the army the day after war was declared. Indeed, the worry for his son weighed so heavily on Edwin that he felt unable to continue as Churchwarden, resigning in May 1916 after 22 years service.

Edwin Wilfred Wrayford May, had been baptised in Lustleigh on Ascension Day 1891. As well as helping his father farm the 135 acres at Rudge, Wilfred (as he was known, or Fred to his army pals) was a prize-winning amateur gardener, a very fine horseman and, it was said, it took a good man to equal him with his gun, rod, bat or racket.  Perhaps little wonder then, that it was the Sportsmen’s Battalion that would have him among its ranks.

Wilfred answered the call of Lieut. AE Dunn, one time MP and Mayor of Exeter, who held many rallies in the city and surrounding areas calling upon men to form a special Western Company of sportsmen from Devon and Cornwall, later to be known as ‘C’ Company of the 2nd Sportsmen’s Battalion. On February 22nd 1915, he enlisted at the recruitment centre in Castle House, Castle Street, Exeter, the offices of the solicitors Dunn and Baker, of which AE Dunn was a founder.

A few days later, the Battalion was given a farewell concert at Barnfield Hall, followed a week later by an inspection by the Mayor of Exeter at Bury Meadow. Then, on March 16th, after a supper the previous evening at King’s Hall, St Thomas, the men began their journey, parading past throngs of well-wishers along Sidwell Street, the High Street and Queen Street before departing St David’s station on their way to camp at Hornchurch.

They later moved to Tidworth in Wiltshire where, on 8th November 1915, Wilfred took part in review of the 33rd Division and a march past in front of The Queen. One week later, the 2nd Sportsmen’s Battalion, otherwise known as the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers had landed in France. The early days were occupied with training interspersed with football matches, but it wasn’t long before the men proceeded to the front and engaged in fighting with the enemy often entrenched as little as 250 yards apart.

By the end of June, they were on the front line at Carency, north of Arras in the Pas-de-Calais. The night of July 3rd saw particularly frantic action. The Germans had blown a crater of strategic value to the allies, so it was quickly occupied by a small band of bombers and a party of two NCOs and thirty men who worked through the night to consolidate the crater.  As the work continued, a heavy bombardment was exchanged between the two sides; Private 3193 caught some shrapnel and died within minutes.

“It is with deepest regret that I write to you, to condole with you on the loss of your son”, wrote a comrade from the trenches. “Fred and I stood side by side when we took the oath of service to our King. In training, we were always together. In France, we slept next to each other, and in the trenches, we stood shoulder to shoulder. The night you lost a son, I an incomparable companion in arms. A mine exploded, and Fred was amongst the first to jump the parapet and take up a position on the top of the crater. In the willing discharge of his duty, he was hit by pieces of a grenade and was mortally wounded, dying in my arms”.

He went on to mention the high esteem in which he was regarded, “his quiet unassuming manner endeared him to us all, and gained for him a popularity envied by us all. His loss stings us deeply”.

May Photo-tryThe following night, Wilfred was buried by the Chaplain in the valley behind their lines.  Today, a few kilometres away, he is remembered at Zouave Valley Cemetery, on the outskirts of Souchez. He is also commemorated by The Royal Fusiliers memorial at Holborn in London, erected as a tribute to the 22,000 men of the regiment who lost their lives in the Great War. He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal, which were respectively and endearingly, nick-named Pip, Squeak and, most appropriately, Wilfred.

During his short time in the army, Wilfred was twice offered a commission, but he refused on both occasions, preferring to stay with his friends and fight in the ranks where “he was a splendid soldier”, according to his Captain. “Admired and respected by his officers, beloved by his comrades”. His quiet and gentle personality, says his obituary “endeared him to the whole countryside, and made him the favourite in the village”.

Chris Wilson



Lustleigh War Memorial – Baillie

Humphrey John Baillie
Humphrey John Baillie was born on 14th June 1893 at Newnham-on-Severn Gloucestershire, the son of Rev. William Gordon Baillie and Mary Harriet (Evans) Baillie. He moved to Lustleigh aged eleven when his father became Rector here in 1904, a living he held until 1910. He was educated at Haileybury College, a public school 20 miles north of London from 1906 to 1912. Whilst he was at Haileybury he became the Cadet Colour–Sergeant in the Officers Training Corps and on 27th May joined the Regular Army as a Second Lieutenant (on probation) in 2nd Battalion the Dorsetshire Regiment.
On 3rdMarch 1915, just one year before his death, he distinguished himself at the battle of Ahwaz, then part of Persia. An Expeditionary Force was dispatched from India in mid October 1914 to protect British interests in the region, in particular the oil pipeline, which the Turks were targeting. The British garrison at Ahwaz included 20 Rifles of the Dorsetshire Regiment, alongside many Troops and Companies of the Indian Army and sections of Royal Horse Artillery plus the 23rd (Peshawar) Mounted Battery. In all about 1000 British soldiers faced overwhelming enemy troops numbering 12000 men- 2000 of them Turks. They were forced to retreat and the 20 men of Number 10 Platoon 2nd Battalion Dorsets became the solid defensive rock during this period of battle. Despite their prominence in action, the Dorsets only suffered one casualty who was wounded. The regimental history records that Lieutenant Baillie was recommended for the Victoria Cross but was awarded a Military Cross. Eight of his men were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The Lustleigh parish magazine of September 1915 recorded the relevant extract from despatches of Sir Arthur Barret, General Officer The Indian Expeditionary Force in Mesopotamia and the Rev. Johnson wrote that “Lustleigh would like to take off its hat to Lieut. Baillie, as he now is, and to offer its congratulations to his parents in their hour of pride”
One year later on 2nd March 1916, aged 23, Lieut Baillie was killed by a sniper during a later action when the Ottoman forces laid siege to Kut-el-Amar. He was buried in the Kut war cemetery. Of the 350 men of the 2nd Dorsets only 70 survived the siege, and the British were forced to surrender on 29th April 1916. This was one of the greatest humiliations to befall the British Army in its history. For the Turks – and for Germany – it proved a morale booster and weakened British influence in the Middle East.
In May 1916, the parish magazine published a letter from Rev. W. Gordon Baillie including the following. “My wife and I have been deeply touched by the generous gift of the people of my old parish in memory of our dear son……..we propose to devote it to a cause which is very dear to our hearts, whereby we hope to found a room and bed in his memory at the “Star and Garter” home for disabled sailors and soldiers … we are sure that my son, had he lived, would have been keenly interested in such a scheme, for he was always full of sympathy for his men.

Lustleigh War Memorial – Maunder

Samuel Maunder

In the North East corner of our churchyard, you will find a memorial to Samuel Maunder.  Sam died on June 5th 1915 and was buried there five days later. On the grave, there is a single red rose and a note reading
ALWAYS REMEMBERED BY HIS SWEETHEART MARY MAUDE (MORTIMORE) MARSDEN AND HER FAMILY This rose and the note bears witness to the great love and loyalty that Samuel inspired in another, as will be explained later.


Samuel Maunder was born in Lustleigh on December 2nd 1888, the son of William Maunder and Elizabeth née Osborne of Bowhouse Wreyland. He was baptised by Rev. Tudor. We know little of Samuels’s early life as he grew up in Lustleigh, but have found a clue that he was full of mischief. In Cecil Torr’s Small Talk in Wreyland, Torr wrote about the Wild Beast Shows, which moved round the towns of Devon, the camels and elephants being walked along the roads. He wrote that there was a salamander in one of these that an old lady described to him as “a critter as they calls a Sammy maunder”. Torr explained that Sammy was a Lustleigh boy that died in the war that used to play tricks on her, and she thought his fame had spread!

Samuel moved away from the village for three years to serve as a sapper in the Royal Engineers as soon as he was old enough. When he returned to Lustleigh aged about 20, he became an army reservist for six years before being called up in August 1914. We know he had just set up as a fish and poultry dealer living at 1 Pound Cottage when he was recalled to serve with the Royal Engineers. The only clue we have as to how he earned his living before that comes from a local newspaper report in 1913 of the funeral of an ex Kelly miner. The report said that his mates from the Kelly Mine were the bearers at his funeral and S. Maunder was listed as one of them, so it could be that he was employed there. There is no other evidence to support this however.  In 1911 when Sam was aged about 22, Lustleigh joined the celebrations for the Coronation of King George V. One of the events held was a sports day at Woodpark Meadow. Samuel came first in the high jump, second in the quarter mile, and was leader of the winning tug of war team. He was also listed as winner of the cock fighting! This had been banned since 1835 so it must have been the human equivalent,
In the early part of 1915, whilst serving abroad Samuel became very ill with TB and was sent back from France. He was sent to Dunrobin Castle in the North East of Scotland where huts had been built in the grounds for TB patents. The Duchess of Sutherland, who owned Dunrobin Castle, went to Belgium and France in August 1914 to set up field hospitals and worked in some of them. It might be that Sam was one of her patients, which would explain why he was sent to a hospital so far from his home.
Sam died three months after arriving in Scotland. In the July 1915 Parish Magazine the Rev. Johnson wrote about the remarkable demonstration of sympathy at Samuels’s funeral in Lustleigh. He wrote that a large assembly of parishioners of all classes were present at Sam’s funeral, and noted that Samuel had settled down in Lustleigh and had “marriage in view”.
These words “marriage in view” take us forward 100 years to explain the red rose now on the grave in our churchyard and the love story behind it*. In August 2014, the archive was contacted by the granddaughter of Mary Maude Mortimore. She explained that Sam and Mary were childhood sweethearts who grew up together in Lustleigh. Mary was born in Brook House in 1894, one of twelve children of William Mortimore. When the rest of Mary’s family moved to London, she stayed in the care of her aunt and uncle – Lillian and Scott Painter – who ran the Cleave Hotel. Aunt Lillian did not approve of Sam as she considered him of a different class. When Sam returned from France Mary joined him, and his Mother, in Scotland against Aunt Lillian’s wishes.  When Samuel died, Mary stayed on in Scotland for a time, and never returned to Lustleigh She did meet her Aunt again but not until 1934.  Mary never forgot Sam even after she got married. She would often cry when she thought about him years later, and always on Armistice Day. Mary’s son is now 94 years old but still came to Lustleigh last year to visit the grave of his mother’s great love, even though Sam was not his father. It was during this visit that flowers were put on the war memorial, and the rose on the grave.

Chris Vittle

* One hundred and thirty-nine friends and neighbours from the village paid for Sam’s memorial (a list of their names is held in the Archive Room).
On Friday 5th June 2015 there will be a muffled peal rung in memory of Samuel Maunder who died 100 years ago, the second of those on our memorial to die in the Great War.

Lustleigh War Memorial – Boileau

Col. Frank Ridley Farrer Boileau

As the country commemorates the centenary of the start of World War I, in 1914, it is a time to focus more closely on Lustleigh’s own war memorial, and those listed on it whose association with the village was so tragically cut short when they gave their lives for their country. It is a time to remember that behind each name etched into the stone was an individual with their own story and with all of the hopes and dreams that we can also associate with, and someone that was as familiar with the village as we are.boileauOn 28th August 1914, just three weeks after the start of the Great War the first of those commemorated on the Lustleigh war memorial died of his wounds in France. It was tragic to die so soon after the start of the war but at least Col. Frank Boileau reached the age of 46 having had a life full of achievement. The average age of those listed on the Lustleigh memorial for the first war is below twenty-five.
Born into a military family on the 28th of November 1867, in Lucknow, India, Col. Boileau’s father was a Colonel, his grandfather was a Major General, and his uncle was Colonel Bradford of Welparke, Lustleigh. Educated at Cheltenham College, his family background meant that he was always destined for the military, and after undergoing military training, he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in February 1887, as 2nd Lieutenant. There followed seven years’ service in India, with him becoming a Captain in the Royal Engineers from 1897.
As a Royal Engineer the then ‘Captain’ Boileau was heavily involved in the logistics for the British army’s relief of the siege of Chitral from warring tribesmen in March and April 1895, in what was then northern India. The action has gone down as a major victory in the annals of British military history.
Postings in Africa followed for the Captain, including action with the Royal Engineers alongside the 9th Infantry Division in the South Africa war, which lead to him being mentioned in despatches by Lord Roberts in March 1900.
Whilst back in England in January 1902, he married Mary Aurora Tudor, the daughter of Sub-Dean Tudor, Rector of Lustleigh, at a ceremony in Newton Abbot. Since her father’s death, Mary Tudor had been an advowson* of the parish of Lustleigh.
Following four years back in India from 1906, teaching at the staff college in Quetta, Baluchistan, Captain Boileau was promoted to Colonel on the 21st of January 1910 and was with HS3 Division as GSO 1 (General Service Officer) when the Great War broke out.
The 22nd of August 1914 was the bloodiest day of the entire western war when the French alone lost 27,000 dead. Colonel Boileau was wounded four days later at Ham, France, immediately before the battle of Le Cateau. He was evacuated to a military hospital in Boulogne but died of his wounds on the 28th August. He is buried at Terlincthun British Cemetery near Boulogne, Plot 16 Row AB, Grave 1.
The battle of Le Cateau was an extraordinary action by the British, under the command of General Sir Horace Smith Dorrien against the oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in History. Unlike the earlier battle of Mons, just to the north, where the majority of casualties were from rifle fire, Le Cateau was an artilleryman’s battle, demonstrating the devastating results, which modern quick-firing artillery using air-bursting shrapnel shells could have on infantry advancing in the open.
After the war, his widow Mrs Mary A Boileau resided at Windout Hill House in Exeter. She died in 1958 aged 83. They had three sons – Etienne Henry Tudor, Peter Claude and Hugh Even Ridley. In the Lustleigh Parish Magazine of October 1914 the rector, Herbert Johnson, wrote how “the death of Colonel Boileau had touched many hearts in Lustleigh, and that Lustleigh should feel some of the pride as well as of the sorrow caused by his death – R.I.P.”
In August 1916, the Parish Magazine noted that the memorial tablet on the south wall in Lustleigh Church to Colonel Boileau had been approved and the September issue recorded that it was now in place. Mrs Mary Boileau and her three sons were present at a short dedication service held on 26th September. The rector noted, “There will, we think, be a general admiration of its taste, execution and agreement with its position and surroundings”.
Colonel Frank Boileau is also listed on the village memorial at the foot of Mapstone Hill, which was erected a few years after the war.

Chris Vittle

* In ecclesiastical law, from advow or advocare, a right of presentation to a church or benefice.
We wish to acknowledge the help of Colin Gibson with editing this piece.

On Thursday August 28th, the church will ring a muffled peal in honour of Col. Boileau.