Lustleigh War Memorial – Percy Brimblecombe

On 27 May 1918, the German army began one of the most intensive artillery bombardments of the First World War. Some 41 divisions lined up against 16 or 17 allied divisions (sources vary) supported by several thousand guns which fired some two million shells that morning, so starting the Third Battle of the Aisne. The offensive took the allies by surprise and the inequality of the opposing forces resulted in the German army tearing a hole in the front line and progressing 13 miles on the first day, the single biggest advance since the beginning of trench warfare in 1914.

Meanwhile, the 9th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, which had been worn down and depleted during two months of almost constant action, were 450 kilometres away recuperating and allowing time for those new to its ranks to receive proper training. This, though, was brought to an abrupt stop as “warning orders were received that transport must be prepared to move at short notice”. The following day, they commenced their journey by French lorries to the front line, one of the troops on board being Percy George Brimblecombe.

Although Percy grew up and went to school in Lustleigh, he was born in Chagford where his grandfather ran a successful building business and acquired a number of properties in New Street, one of these perhaps housing the workshop from where Percy’s father, Walter, operated as a carpenter. For reasons unknown, it was away from the centre of town, though, that Percy was born: at Broadles (now Broadhalls) Farm on 31 January 1899. Two years later, he was living with his parents, brother and sister in Weymouth House, Mill Street, Chagford, which the family had possibly named to commemorate Walter’s birthplace.

Percy’s initial schooling was at Chagford Infants’ School but, following his family’s move to Brookfield in 1907, he resumed his education at Lustleigh Board School before leaving on his 14th birthday. Whatever his working intentions may have been, he enjoyed community life and, according to Reverend Herbert Johnson, “in all ways held an excellent record as a boy”.

During his first summer away from school, he enjoyed a summer camp with Lustleigh Boy Scouts in Torquay during which they defeated their hosts in a rifle match, rubbing salt in the wounds the following month when they invited Torquay Boys Scouts to home soil and won by an even bigger margin. Another draw for Percy was the church and he became a “frequent communicant at the Alter”, according to Revd. Johnson, and had begun to qualify as a bass singer in the choir.

When war came, he was eager to play his part, but with his age against him, he became “a keen member of the cadet corps so that he might be able to go and fight directly he was old enough”. His impatience, however, won through and like many thousands of teenagers he lied about his age, enlisting in Newton Abbot in March 1916, some nine months short of the legal entry age of 18. Initially, he was in a Cyclist Corps and then the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry before joining the Devon Regiment. Sometime later, he was transferred to the 9th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment with whom he was mobilised to France around the time of his 19th birthday.

Percy, Muriel, Freda and Reg Brimblecombe During WWI

So it was that, in the spring of 1918, he came to be at La Chaussée, south-west of Tours. Then, shaken from their much-needed R&R and travelling all night, Percy’s Battalion arrived near Chambrecy, outside Reims, close to the front line on May 29, the following day taking up reserve positions around Sarcy village to allow other units to withdraw. Two days later, on May 31, “the enemy was massing and an attack was expected”. However, according to the Regimental History, it was most difficult to select, organise and dig a defensive position owing to the standing corn. Shortly after midday, the enemy commenced heavy shelling which increased in violence on the whole Battalion. With the troops lying out in the open with practically no cover, significant casualties were sustained, even more falling in the ensuing attacks and counter-attacks. During this fighting, Percy was killed by a shell along with 41 other men who lost their lives that day.

On 13 July, Revd. Johnson held a memorial service for Lance-Corporal Percival George Brimblecome in St John the Baptist Church, and in the parish magazine that month wrote that “All who knew him will sorrow over his loss… he will be remembered by us as earnest in his religious duties and of upright life. He has left behind him an honourable record. May he rest in peace.”

His body was laid to rest alongside some of his comrades in Chambrecy British Cemetery, not far from where he fell. Also described by Revd. Johnson as “an enthusiastic soldier and a devout Christian”, Percy was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Today, he is not only remembered on the Lustleigh War Memorial, but also that of Bovey Tracey. More touchingly, though, his elder brother, Reginald, who served as a First Air Mechanic in the Royal Air Force, ensured his memory lived on in the family by giving his daughter, Peggy Georgette Brimblecombe, the same initials as his brother.

Percival George Brimblecombe will be remembered on Thursday 31 May when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

 Sources used in compiling this story have included:

  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Lustleigh Parish Magazine
  • Lustleigh and the First World War
  • “Smitten Down yet Not Destroyed”, Bovey’s WW1 book

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 – 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
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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


Ronald Painter

Reprinted from Lustleigh Parish Magazine December 2016

As you are wrapping your Christmas presents later this month, I would ask you to spare a thought for a man who lost his life 75 years ago in one of the most extensive but least known naval disasters of the Second World War. His connections with Lustleigh may only be slight, indeed he is not listed on our war memorial, but the tragedy on 19th December 1941 in which he fell deserves  being brought before a wider audience.

Ronald Painter was born on 13th March 1914 to William Scott Painter and Mary Ann Painter of Court Street, Moretonhampstead and baptised in that town on 18th April 1915. Eagle-eyed readers will, no doubt, immediately spot a connection between our village and Ronald’s father’s name, but more of that later.

The Painter family pictured behind their house Haytor View, Court Street, Moreton Front row - Willaim Scott, Ronald (aged 3) Mary Ann Back Row - Harold, Kathleen, Frank
The Painter family pictured behind their house Haytor View, Court Street, Moreton
Front row – William Scott, Ronald (aged 3) Mary Ann
Back Row – Harold, Kathleen, Frank

The Painters were a large Chagford family of stone and monumental masons. William had moved to Leigh House, Brookfield by 1901 with his mother and two of his brothers. It is thought that they may have run East Wrey quarry, and hence the move; the 1901 census entry showing William as an employer and a 1902 trade directory listing the Painters of Lustleigh as granite quarry proprietors would certainly fit with this theory.

Following William’s marriage to Mary Ann Casely in Wandsworth (her father was a prison warder there) in 1901, they had two sons born in Lustleigh before relocating to Moretonhampstead around 1905 where they had a daughter and, much later, their third son, Ronald.

Ronald attended Pound Street School in Moretonhampstead between 1922 and 1928, after which he embarked on an apprenticeship at a motor garage in Newton Abbot. Shortly after his father died in 1935, Ronald decided to follow his older brother, Harold, into the Royal Navy; unsurprisingly, with his mechanical background, becoming an Engine Room Artificer.

Ronald with Harold’s Austin Seven in the yard behind Haytor View, Moreton

Ronald’s precise history with his ship, HMS Neptune is unknown. The Leander Class Cruiser certainly spent the initial months of WW2 patrolling the south Atlantic where, in November 1939, she was part of Force “K” looking for Admiral Graf Spee. The following year, she was transferred to operations in the Mediterranean and following a refit in 1941 hunted for German supply ships supporting Bismark.

Towards the end of 1941, Ronald and HMS Neptune were back in the Mediterranean and back with “K” Force which this time was tasked with seeking and destroying German and Italian convoys carrying troops and supplies to Libya in support of Rommel’s army in North Africa. It was to be a fateful mission.

ERA Ronald Painter
ERA Ronald Painter

On the afternoon of December 18th the squadron was despatched from Malta to intercept an important enemy convoy bound for Tripoli. Neptune was leading two other cruisers, Aurora and Penelope, with the support of four destroyers, when at 0106 am, she struck a mine. The cruiser force had run into a minefield in a depth of water and at a distance from land which made it utterly unexpected.

Attempting to exit the minefield, she backed her engines, but 10 minutes later hit another mine, losing propellers and rudder and going dead in the water. Now at the mercy of wind and heavy seas, she struck a third mine. One of the destroyers, Kandahar, attempted to take Neptune in tow, but caught a mine herself, at which point Captain O’Conor of the Neptune flashed a warning, “Keep away”. At 0403 she struck a fourth mine which exploded amidships: this was more than her hull could take and she turned over and sank within minutes.

Thirty crew managed to reach Carley rafts; with all ships ordered to leave the area due to the extreme danger, these survivors had to fend for themselves. Newspapers as late as January were reporting that enemy statements said some of the survivors had been picked up and taken prisoner. In reality, left exposed to the elements and without food or water, all but one of the initial survivors perished. After five days adrift, Leading Seaman Norman Walton was found by an Italian torpedo boat, Calliope, on 24 December.

As well as being one of the worst losses of life at sea in World War II, with 763 crew of Neptune being despatched along with 73 men from HMS Kandahar, it was the worst naval tragedy for New Zealand who had contributed greatly to the crew. As well as being remembered on many national memorials (Ronald on Plymouth Naval Memorial), all 837 men are commemorated on a special Neptune and Kandahar Memorial. Unveiled in 2005 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, its pyramid base is orientated towards the point north of Tripoli where HMS Neptune went down. Ronald is additionally listed on Moretonhampstead’s war memorial.

Although a Board of Inquiry was held within a week of the disaster, the British worked hard to conceal the scale of the calamity with details of the losses of HMS Neptune not being released for six months. This probably explains why Ronald was officially logged as being the son of Mary Ann Painter of Lustleigh: for although she was living in Seaton when the tragedy struck, by the time the loss was made official, she had moved to Brookside in Lustleigh to live next door to her brother-in-law, Scott Thorn Painter, who ran the Cleave Hotel.

The Moretonhampstead Memorial. Ronald’s name is at bottom line centre
The Moretonhampstead Memorial. Ronald’s name is at bottom line centre

As well as various sources from which this story is drawn (and which are cited on the Lustleigh Society website, along with a couple of photographs), I would like to pay a special thanks to Norman Tregaskis, Ronald’s nephew, who has supplied additional material.

Sources used:

  • The Neptune Association
  • net
  • com
  • FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Moretonhampstead History Society

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