Lustleigh War Memorial – Cecil Bradford

As well as the war memorial, a plaque hangs in St John the Baptist Church, commemorating some of the men who lost their lives in WW1: it was unveiled in February 1921 by Lieut-Colonel O J Bradford. The mixed emotions that must have been running through his mind, one can scarcely imagine. Both pride and sadness would surely have been jostling for his thoughts, for all of the men listed no doubt, but particularly the first name inscribed, that of his son, Cecil Aubrey Bradford.

The family had moved to Welparke in Lustleigh when Cecil was an infant. He had been born at Thurborough House in Sutcombe, North Devon on 20th February 1886 to his mother, Mary Anne Ellen Bradford (nee Hutchinson). Only a few years of his childhood were spent in Lustleigh, though, as by the age of nine he was boarding at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School in Marlow, Buckinghamshire; later, progressing through Wellington College before entering Sandhurst in June 1905.

That Cecil wanted to emulate his father, a life-long officer who served in Canada, Bermuda and India and who rose to become a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Dorsets, may not have been a surprise but neither was it assured. His older brother followed a very different path, taking holy orders and being ordained at Exeter Cathedral before serving in Ashburton with Buckland-on-the-Moor. Perhaps, though, it was Cecil’s calling.

Cecil Bradford in 1909. Photo Courtesy of Green Howards Museum

Cecil passed from Sandhurst on 7th November 1906, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment. He served with them in South Africa from the following January until they returned to England, at which point he transferred to the 1st Battalion in Egypt at one time being attached to the Camel Corps.

Later, Cecil was stationed with his regiment in Khartoum, by which time he had been promoted to Lieutenant, and while in the Sudan he was able to indulge in big game hunting. He had previously demonstrated himself to be an all-round sportsman, not just taking part in cricket, polo, golf, athletics, running etc, but excelling at them. Unsurprisingly, therefore, he was a successful hunter, bagging “many fine heads” on expeditions on the Blue and the White Nile.

He proceeded to India with his Battalion in 1912 and the following year, after a short period of home leave, was sent to West Africa seconded to the Colonial Office. His WW1 induction came on 18th September 1914 when, attached to the Nigeria Regiment (part of the Royal West African Frontier Force), he arrived in Cameroon where the British and French were embarking on an 18-month offensive against the German colonial occupiers, not that Cecil was going to witness all of the action, having to return to England the following summer on sick leave.

Capitalising on the opportunity, two weeks after setting foot on home soil, on 5th August 1915, the newly-appointed Captain Bradford married Mildred Hillyard at Upton Pyne (her father was rector there), to whom he had become engaged on his last home visit. He was able to enjoy quite a few months of married life before sailing back to Cameroon the following January in time to see the fall of the final German garrison there two months later.

By 1917, Cecil was back in Nigeria and, that April, he boarded the SS Abosso in Lagos bound for Liverpool and a spell of home leave. His stiff upper, officer’s lip was probably no cover for the excitement of resuming married life which had been extended by the addition of a daughter, Margaret, born shortly after his last departure. Sadly, though, he was never to experience the true, hands-on joys of fatherhood.

Shortly after 9pm on the still, dark night of 24th April 1917, the 3,500-ton steamer was making good way at around 12 knots some 180 miles from Fastnet off the Bay of Bantry when she was struck abaft by a torpedo from a German U-boat. Although she didn’t sink immediately and the captain was able to launch all of the lifeboats, 65 lives were lost, many aboard three lifeboats which had been lowered prematurely and consequently swamped by water. Cecil was among those who perished.

Lustleigh parish magazine in June 1917 said that “the sympathy of the village has gone out to his aged father”. Rather oddly, it was his father who first received the news of Cecil’s demise, via telegram on 2nd May, as the admiralty had no record that he was married, let alone had a child. Despite receiving the news second-hand, his widow, Mildred, would have no doubt found comfort in the letters she received, particularly from those with whom he had served.

“Everyone who ever met him in Lagos loved him: there’s no other word for it. We shall all miss him more than I can say”, said one letter, while another echoed these thoughts while also recalling one of Kipling’s ‘Barrack Room Ballads’, a few lines of which he felt formed “the most suitable epitaph for a gallant gentleman, a loyal friend and, I am sure, a splendid husband and father.” The latter trait, of course, was one which he did not get the opportunity to show.

Cecil Aubrey Bradford is widely remembered. In addition to the memorials in Lustleigh, his name appears on War Memorials in Bovey Tracey and in Upton Pyne. He is remembered on the students’ War Memorial board of the chapel at the Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School. He is also commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial at Southampton, was erected to remember the 1900 service personnel lost at sea, many whose vessels were torpedoed in home waters.

Posthumously, Cecil was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Cecil Aubrey Bradford will be remembered on Monday 24th April when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson & Chris Vittle

Sources used in compiling this story have included:

  • Green Howards Museum
  • Great War in Africa Association
  • Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School
  • “Smitten Down yet Not Destroyed”, Bovey’s WW1 book
  • The National Archives
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graces Commission


Lustleigh War Memorial – John Riddler

John Riddler came from Devon farming stock. His father was born into a farming family in Chudleigh and continued to work on various farms in the area for most of his life and his older brother (John was the second of nine children) followed suit. So, it wasn’t long before John started down the same track, by the age of 13 being employed as a farm servant at Ruggadon (also in Chudleigh parish).

However, it was clearly not the life for him and in 1892, aged 15, he joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd class. There would likely have been a height requirement, but this brown-haired, blue-eyed boy’s 5ft 1¼ins were seemingly sufficient to pass the regulations. It is also probable that he would have needed his parents’ consent, but perhaps they acquiesced as he was not officially signing up at this point. Clearly, the choice suited him as, having progressed to Boy 1st class after the first year, on his 18th birthday, 20th April 1895, he put pen to paper and committed to serve for 12 years.

Following training at the Seamanship, Signalling and Telegraphy School at Devonport, Vivid I, John became a Signalman. His service record suggests his time alternated between serving on battleships and further stints in the classroom. In 1897, he joined the crew of HMS Amphion, a Leander-class cruiser that spent the next few years serving on the Pacific Station which, at that time, played a crucial role in defending British Columbia from US aggression and its threat to annex the territory.

During his time in the Pacific, John was promoted to 2nd Signalman and, following the ship’s return in 1900 he transferred back to battleships although largely serving in home waters. Was it the lack of action that propelled him to buy himself out of the navy in June 1901 or was it the love of a good woman, one Alice Maud Short in particular, who he married on October 3rd of the same year?

He quickly settled into family life in Chudleigh and they produced their only child, Caroline Florence Louise the following September. John became a granite quarryman and by 1911 he was living in Lustleigh, boarding at Rock Cottage with George and Mary Maunder; this was presumably to be closer to work as his wife and daughter were still living in Chudleigh and didn’t follow on to Rock Cottage until some time later.

After war broke out, the Navy beckoned again and in June 1916 he enrolled in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, being called into full service the following year. Thus, on 20 March 1917, John was back at Vivid I as an ordinary seaman. Quite what duties he might have been called upon to undertake during the Great War, we shall never know as barely three weeks had passed when he died in his hammock, after only a few hours of illness, from cerebro spinal fever, otherwise known as meningitis; his passing, on April 12th coming just eight days before his 40th birthday.

Alarmingly, John’s death was not unusual: close inspection of comrades buried alongside him in the ensuing weeks reveal this to be a common cause. Indeed, according to a lecture given to the Royal College of Physicians in London in 1919, cerebro spinal fever became a prominent issue during the war due to the crowding of recruits into camps and barracks. Epidemics typically lasted for 6 months and in 1916-1917 more than 20 per cent of the cases occurred within three weeks of joining the service, with new entrants being most at risk, a statistic which chillingly echoes John Riddler’s own fate.

John’s funeral took place five days later with his coffin borne on a gun carriage draped with the Union Jack and then carried by his comrades to the graveside where he was buried with full naval honours and respects. Many of his family attended, although three of his brothers were prevented from doing so, themselves being on active service at the time. He was laid to rest at the Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Cemetery (now known as Ford Park Cemetery), but this wasn’t the original plan: according to his granddaughter, Winifred Horrell, the burial had been scheduled for Lustleigh, but on the evening before the funeral, his widow received a telegram informing her that it had been switched to Plymouth. The precise reasons for this are unclear.

His body may not be here, but his spirit is of course, remembered on our war memorial, honouring the strong local connection he had established: he had become an active resident and, according to his obituary, “took a keen interest in everything that was for the welfare of the village”; he was secretary of the flower show and of the Constitutional Club. His links were maintained through his wife who remained here until she died in 1960 and his granddaughter who was born, baptised, confirmed and married at St John the Baptist Church. His association with Chudleigh was not forgotten either, and his name also appears on their war memorial.

John Riddler will be remembered on Wednesday 12th April when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

I am enormously appreciative to John Riddler’s great, great granddaughter, Carole Chick, for the photograph accompanying this article as well as one or two snippets of information. Other sources used have included:

  • The National Archives
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graces Commission
  • org
  • Find-A-Grave
  • Wikipedia