Lustleigh War Memorial – Albert Edward Arnold

It was raw emotion that compelled Albert Edward Arnold to volunteer his services during WW1. At 45 years of age, he certainly wasn’t the typical recruit, but having just received news of the death of his son, the red in his eyes gave him little choice. With anger pulsing through his veins, he stomped to the recruitment office in Stratford, East London, determined to give the Boche a bloody nose. That opportunity, however, was not to come his way.

Albert’s story begins and ends largely in the West Country. He was born on 17th April 1870 in Wear Gifford where his father was a police constable; he was the fifth of nine siblings, all but one of them boys. His father’s job took the family around the county from Dawlish to Appledore and from Buckland Brewer back to Wear Gifford. By 1879, the family arrived in Lustleigh planting roots that would stretch forward one hundred years.

Upon their arrival, five of the children, including Albert, were registered at Lustleigh Board School. Where they lived initially is unclear, although by 1891, following the death three years earlier of father John, the family were occupying Stable House with a practically unified effort to put bread on the table: mother Mary Ann had become a midwife, sister Lucy was a parlour maid, one brother, Edwin, was a Tram Conductor while another, Ernest, was a page – even 11-year old Charles had become an errand boy, perhaps for the neighbouring post office and general store.

Albert, however, had already left home at this point. He clearly had wider horizons and entered the merchant navy and, while his siblings were turning their hands to all manner of trades to support the family, this wanderlust 21-year old had just sailed back from Barbados and was recovering from a sailor’s complaint in the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich. Following his discharge after 73 days, he resumed his seafaring days based in Southampton where he lodged with his future wife and her widowed mother.

Following his marriage to Rose French in 1893, Albert traded in his life at sea for land-based work, becoming a foreman at an iron works in Southampton, and having five children in that city before moving to London’s dockland at Silvertown (although technically in Essex at that time). There, he found work at an oil wharf and went on to have another three children.

One of his sons, also named Albert Edward Arnold, found work at the same oil wharf which, presumably, caused at least some confusion – perhaps even some jollity – among their co-workers; although, with father as a labourer and son as a fitter’s boy, maybe they escaped constant jibing. Any joking, though, stopped with the outbreak of war and the signing up of Albert junior into the Royal Engineers; sadly, his fighting days were cut short when he died of wounds on 9th March 1915.

Despite having a wife and six children at home, the loss of his son and namesake was too much to bear. Perhaps he wrestled with his conscience for a short while, but the following month, on 24th April, he signed up for action. Revenge, though, was not going to come easy as he was deemed too old for front line action and assigned to the 4th Devons: engaged, according to Revd. Johnson’s roll call of all parishioners who served in the Great War, as a “bomb instructor”; the regimental museum, however, believes the likely munitions involved were hand grenades. This is a moot point, though, as the salient fact is that one of these weapons was accidentally dropped by a recruit killing and wounding several, including Albert severely. The date of the incident is unrecorded, but he was discharged from the army on 13th February 1918 and awarded a Silver War Badge.

It is probable that he returned home to London to be with his wife and children which now included a two-year old boy who had arrived during his war service. A year after the repatriation with his family, his wife died; not long after, his health gave way to the wounds sustained in the training incident and he was admitted to Whipps Cross Hospital, where he died on 3rd November 1920.

While his son is commemorated on the Silverton War Memorial, it is in Lustleigh where we find Albert senior’s name inscribed in memory of his war service. This was clearly due to that part of his family which remained in our village, living at Stable House. His mother died there in 1917, but his brother, Edwin, continued in that residence serving the parish, at various times, as overseer of the poor, water bailiff, clerk to the parish council and school manager.

After the war, some of his nephews and nieces (Albert’s children) would often come to stay, including the eldest, Rose, and the youngest, Alfred. When Edwin passed away in 1946, two nieces took up permanent residence at Stable House; Rose Gladys Arnold, Albert’s first-born, died there in 1978 ending the family’s connection with the house. Their connection with the village, though, lives on through the war memorial.

Albert Edward Arnold will be remembered on Tuesday 3rd November 2020, when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour; regrettably, this will be a reduced peel, using only three bells, due to Covid restrictions.

Chris Wilson

This story draws on various other sources including.

  • Keep Military Museum
  • Ancestry, Rootsweb & FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Facebook

Lustleigh War Memorial – William Willman

William James Willman was not fighting fit when he signed up to play his part in the Great War; sadly, too, it was his health that played a large part in his discharge less than a year later. It is only a hypothesis, but perhaps he was not best suited to life outdoors.

William was born in Satterleigh, North Devon to George and Elizabeth Willman on 25th October 1879, no doubt a very welcome arrival, both for them and their two daughters, following the death of their first son four years earlier aged just nine months old. Both parents were incomers, being born in neighbouring counties but choosing Devon to build their family life.

George was a farm labourer and it is perhaps no surprise that William followed in his father’s footsteps. Over time, he gradually moved southwards through Morchard Bishop, where he went to school, and later to Stoke Fleming where he worked as a day labourer on Woodbury Farm. It was in this coastal village that he met his future wife Sarah Jane Ball, whom he married, rather hurriedly it would seem, at Kingsbridge Register Office on 25th March 1903, just two months before the arrival of a son, Charles William Willman.

Insufficient records survive to indicate as to the root cause of William’s poor health: perhaps working on the exposed hills above Dartmouth didn’t suit his constitution. However, his living conditions were clearly found wanting too, causing him to spend six months in bed with scarlet fever in 1914 when the cottages, in which he was living, were declared uninhabitable: the medical officer of health instructing the rural district council to ensure that the well, from which drinking water was obtained, to be freed of pollution.

William upped sticks once more, finding a new home for his family at East Wray Farm, where he continued working as a labourer. If his intention was for an inland setting to be more conducive to his health, it was not entirely successful: when William reported to Newton Abbot recruitment office on 24th July 1917, he was assigned the medical category B2, indicating that he was not sufficiently fit to take up arms on the front line. He was, though, deemed to be capable of undertaking supporting duties overseas and, accordingly, he was posted to the 13th Labour Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, such units being reserved for those of William’s restricted ability.

Despite his shortcomings, it would appear that this 37-year old man was determined to contribute to the war effort to the best of his ability, his military character being classed as “good” with William being further described as “hardworking, willing and temperate”.

William’s battalion was formed the same month in which he attested, with the unit stationed initially at Cosham in Hampshire before being mobilised to France towards the end of September. Just a few months later, however, he was lying in a hospital in Dunkirk, probably Queen Alexandra Hospital at Malo-les-Bains, having gone sick with bronchitis and emphysema. His medical records suggest that his condition was expected to improve but, instead, he grew weaker and weaker.

Due to the gravity of his condition, he was repatriated and sent to Edmonton Military Hospital (now the North Middlesex Hospital) where, according to the Mid-Devon Advertiser, he was “lying very ill”. Indeed, on admission there, he had been additionally diagnosed with myocardial deprivation, a serious heart condition which was said to be “not the result of, but aggravated by, ordinary military service”.

Although he rallied sufficiently to be discharged from hospital, he was clearly severely incapacitated by his illness and was discharged from the army on 28th June 1917, “no longer physically fit for War Service” after just 340 days of military duty. Either immediately on his return to Lustleigh or shortly thereafter, William lived with his wife at Lussacombe until the 17th January 1919, when he died suddenly, “having never been able to resume work owing to serious heart disease” as recorded by Reverend Herbert Johnson.

Private William James Willman 30273 was buried in Lustleigh Churchyard on Tuesday 21st January, his grave being particularly notable, being the only one in the main graveyard marked by a distinctive Commonwealth War Graves headstone. As well as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, he was awarded the Silver War Badge which had been instituted by King George V for all those men who had been discharged due to wounds or illness: it bore the inscription “For King and Empire – Services Rendered”.

William James Willman will be remembered on Thursday 17th January when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

This story is drawn from various sources including.

  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Greatwarforum
  • The Long Long Trail
  • Forces War Records



Lustleigh War Memorial – Frank Lake

In July 1918, Lustleigh Parish Magazine reported that four men were prisoners of war, three of them barely more than boys who had been captured within days of their arrival in France. “Could not Lustleigh, as a parish, do something to relieve the hardship of our friends in their captivity”, pleaded Revd. Herbert Johnson, although precisely what he had in mind is difficult to fathom. Two of the four survived the war, the other two died in captivity including Frank Lake.

Frank was considerably older than the other three men, having been born in 1884 in Cheriton Bishop. He was the only son, among ten children, of Jeremiah and Ellen Lake, both of whom hailed from agricultural stock, although Jeremiah took a break from the soil for a few years around 1890 to run the New Inn at Cheriton Cross.

Frank, himself, was not averse to turning his hand to different professions. In 1901, he was working in a bakehouse in Cheriton Bishop, while at the time of his first marriage to Ethel Maunder, he was living in Newton St. Cyres working as a groom, only to change again a few years later to become a gardener.

At the time of their wedding, on 9th July 1910, Ethel was working alongside her mother, at the Confectionery & Lozenge Works located just behind East Street in Crediton, where they were living cheek by jowl with many of their co-workers. The factory was that of Ernest Jackson & Co Ltd which produced a range of medicinal sweets, pastilles and lozenges and was first founded to develop ‘something effective but soothing for a troublesome sore throat’. Sadly, Ethel died little more than half way through their first year of marriage.

Frank was working, at this point, as a stableman groom in Newton St Cyres. Precisely where is unknown, but a few years later, he was earning his living as a gardener at the prestigious Newton House, home to Lady Audrey Buller, widow of General Sir Redvers Buller, the decorated British Army officer.

Newton House was once the seat of the Quicke family, founders of the eponymous cheese brand. While they relinquished Newton House in favour of Sherwood House, the Quickes continued as Lords of the Manor and would occasionally hold tea parties for their tenants. At these events, it was not unheard of for Lady Buller to offer the services of Frank Lake to decorate the room with evergreens and flowers.

Frank remarried in 1914 to Eva Lowton, a milliner from the St. Thomas district of Exeter. This time it was war that interrupted his marriage and in September 1915, he enlisted in the Army Service Corps at Aldershot. The following year, he was mobilised to France and was transferred, first to 11th Battalion (Finsbury Rifles) London Regiment and later to 1st Battalion of the 20th London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich).

Little has been found about his movements in France until we reach March 1918, a peaceful time being had at the beginning of the month spent in rest and reorganisation with the odd gymkhana and boxing match thrown in for entertainment. Then came a massive assault on the allies known as the German Spring Offensive.

Opposition forces had just been boosted by Russia’s withdrawal from the war, giving the Germans the ability to redeploy some 500,000 troops to the Western Front: this was their chance, they felt, to push for victory; they were particularly keen to do so before American troops arrived on the scene in significant numbers.

On 21st March, the German’s launched a massive offensive against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army, the gap between the two being covered by the 47th Division of which Frank’s regiment was part. The assault began with a heavy bombardment of high explosives and gas shells, the Germans later using the ensuing smoke screen to launch its large-scale attack. The operation saw the deepest advances made by either side since 1914 and at the end of the first day, British casualties amounted to over 7,500 dead and 10,000 wounded, and by the following day the Fifth Army was in full retreat.

More significantly, in this story, is that by the end of the first day, 21,000 British soldiers had been taken prisoner. Whether, Frank was one of the first wave of our men to be captured, or whether it happened over the following few days, is of little consequence; what does matter is that he fell into enemy hands. Frank had been wounded in the leg and how badly he was treated or how poorly his injury was attended to is not known, but it is well documented that the German captors had little respect for their prisoners. “The likelihood of dying in a camp during the First World War was higher than the likelihood of dying in battle”, wrote John Lewis-Stempel in “The War Behind the Wire: The Life, Death and Glory of British Prisoners of War 1914-1918.

Frank Lake died in captivity, in the Alexandrinenstrasse Lazaret, a special military hospital for POWs in Berlin, on 9th September 1918. Revd. Johnson noted that he died from his wounds although one of his POW index cards says that death was the result of exhaustion: perhaps both are true. The precise cause may be unknown, but his resting place is: he is buried in Berlin South-Western Cemetery alongside 1,175 other fallen comrades.

“There is a special pathos attaching to those who, like him, have been called away just at the end, when the fighting had almost ceased, and the Victory almost ours” wrote Revd. Johnson in the parish magazine in December 1918. Interestingly, Frank never lived in Lustleigh, so it is the residency of his parents at Brookfield before and during the war that earnt him a place on the war memorials of both Lustleigh and Bovey Tracey.

Frank Lake will be remembered on Sunday 9th September when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

Sources used include:

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • “Smitten Down yet Not Destroyed”, Bovey’s WW1 book
  • Lustleigh Parish Magazine
  • Wikipedia


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 – 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