Introduction

1.         Between the years 1914 – 1919 this country found itself caught up in a military conflict on an industrial scale, the like of which had never been seen before.  By the war’s end about 8 million men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth had been called to arms.  Of these some 3 million became casualties, of which about 1 million were killed.  Afterwards parishes all over the country erected memorials to those of their number who had died in this war to end all wars.  Only 32 parishes – sometimes known as thankful parishes – saw all their sons return home.  Unfortunately St Michael & All Angels and its daughter church of St Katharine’s in Redland Parish were not one of these and 81 men from these churches died in that conflict, including 6 pairs of brothers.  As memorials go, ours is quite a modest one – a simple list on a brass plaque recording the names and initials of all those who died in service of their country.  It was put together largely at the urging of Herbert Coram who wanted to ensure that the sacrifice made by his sons, and those of other members of the Parish, was remembered.

2.         Many years have now passed since this conflict ended and for only a few of us do these names have any meaning or relevance.  However, these people all had parents, brothers and sisters, wives and children who grieved for them as the years faded into distant memory.  They all lived nearby; worked hard during the week and some of them certainly came to church to pray on Sundays.  Although the last of the First World War veterans (Charles Choules) died in Australia in 2011, their children and grandchildren still remember them and so should we.  However it is difficult to justice to the memory of someone if they are just a name on a brass plaque.  There are so many questions that I would have liked to ask them.  Who were your parents and did you have any brothers or sisters?  Did you marry and have children?  Did you live nearby and participate in the local clubs and organizations and come to church regularly on a Sunday?  What hopes and dreams did you aspire to and what became of your families.  My purpose in writing these brief biographies is to restore to the church some of the memories that have been lost in the passage of time.  It is my sincere hope that when you have read through these few pages you will know a little more about these men and the sacrifices that they made that we might be free.

The Call to Serve in Serbia

3.         When war broke out in August 1914 the Rev. Archibald Hankey Sewell MA was the Vicar in charge at St Michael’s & All Angels, ably assisted by his 3 curates – the Rev. J R Worters, Rev. Norman Grey and Rev. E Beachey.  The Rev W A Herbert was also serving as a curate with the church but on the outbreak of war he gave up his post and joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.  He was reported missing believed killed on the 1st of October 1916 (Bristol Times & Mirror, 8th of January 1917) but is not listed on the church war memorial.  Like a lot of people at that time, the Vicar also felt he should do his bit and in April 1915 at the suggestion of Bishop Bury (Bishop for North & Central Europe and Assistant Bishop for central London), and in response to an appeal by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he decided to serve with the British Mission in Serbia.  He and his wife (who was also a qualified nurse) then spent the next 5 months ministering to the needs of the English civil and military personnel serving in Serbia.  The management of the Parish meanwhile was left in the capable hands of the Rev Worters, who was then serving as parish administrator.

4.         This was quite a courageous act on the part of the Rev Sewell and his wife, as Serbia was in the midst of a typhus epidemic at this time and the country was later overrun by the Bulgarian Army at the end of the year.  He was very modest about his achievements and said very little about his adventures, other than to say what an uplifting experience it was to administer to the needs of such a varied and enthusiastic congregation.  He preached to a mixture of denominations, including Serbs and British Marines and Naval personnel.  He made particular mention of a Canadian citizen who travelled 40 miles on horseback to attend one of his services.

5.         He spent most of his time in Belgrade and was back in England by the end of October, just before the country was overrun by Bulgaria and so avoided having to choose between internment or retreating with the Serbian soldiers and civilians over poor mountain roads to safety in Albania.  In terrible weather and with hardly any food, thousands were lost to hunger disease and enemy attacks.  In all Serbia lost 1.1 million people in the war, which amounted to about 27% of its total population.  His sermon recounting his experiences in Serbia was reported in the Bristol Times and Mirror on the 25th of October and repeated on the 1st November.  It also reported on the subsequent presentation of an engraving of Christ, given by his parishioners of in commemoration of his safe return.

6.         Shortly after this Bishop Bury invited the Rev. Sewell to take up the Bishop’s Chaplaincy in London and the plan was to sort out his affairs in Bishopston and eventually take up the post at the end of 1917.  However, the Home Office intervened and asked him to take up the Army Chaplaincy in Woolwich and he spent the whole of 1916 there, while his wife worked as an Army nurse, leaving the Parish once more in the hands of the Rev Worter.  However by the end of the year the Rev Worter had been forced to resign on health grounds and the Rev Sewell felt compelled to resign from the Army Chaplaincy, in order to allow time for another cleric to take over the management of the Parish (reported in the Bristol Times & Mirror on the 20th of December 1916).   By 1917 he had moved to Switzerland, although it is not clear quite what he was doing there, and in 1920 he returned to Bristol to take up the post of Diocesan Missionary.  His place in Bishopston was taken up first by the Rev. Charles W Dixon (who had been the Vicar in 1906), and then the Rev. Harold Henry Mathew, before the Rev. J C Ridgewell Barker took up final residence at the end of 1917 and continued serving there until 1930.

The Rev Archibald h Sewell – Vicar of St Michael & All Angels

at the outbreak of the First World War

The Call to Arms

7.         The Church itself was thriving at that time, with some 851 communicants attending the Easter service that year and 2000 at a special service in 1917.  As in most parishes there was an immediate rush to answer Lord Kitchener’s call to arms and by April 1916 about 300 parishioners had enlisted, of whom about 50% were thought to be regular church attendees.  More were to follow in subsequent years as the new conscription laws started to bite.  A list of these first volunteers was pinned up in the church for a while but does not seem to have survived the passage of time.  By the end of the Second World War some 630 men from this church had served in the armed forces and it is likely that a similar number served in the First.  A smaller number of women may also have served in the nursing and auxiliary services.

8.         Most of these returned safely, although about one third of these would have become casualties and of these 81 made the supreme sacrifice.  The youngest to die was aged just 18 and the oldest was 50.  The majority, however, were aged between 20 and 34.  The general age distribution of those who died was as follows:

Aged 18                       = 3

Aged 19                       = 9

Aged 20-24                 = 25

Aged 25-29                 = 19

Aged 30-34                 = 17

Aged 35-39                 = 6

Aged 45-49                 = 1

Aged 50                       = 1

A list of the units in which these men served is provided in the Annex to this introduction below.  It is of course a great pity that I have not been able to include the service record of those many former members of this church who survived the war, but a brief account of the distinguished military career of Brigadier General Manley Angell James VC, DSO, MC – a highly decorated soldier who served with distinction in both World Wars – is available on request.

Where they Served

9.         Of those who died, 75 served in Army, 4 served in the Navy and 2 in the Royal Air Force/Royal Flying Corps.  Of those who served in the Army 7 served with the Royal Artillery (including one who served in the Royal Garrison Artillery), 5 served with the Cavalry, 4 served with the Royal Engineers, 3 with the Royal Army Service Corps, 1 with the Machine Gun Corps, 1 with the Canadian Army and 1 with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.  The remaining 53 served in the British Infantry.  Of these 31 served in one or other of the 11 Battalions of the Gloucester Regiment listed below.

10.       The largest single number (9) served with the 12th (Bristol’s Own) Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment – a Kitchener Unit formed mainly of Bristol men recruited by the Lord Mayor (Dr Barclay Baron) in September 1914 and a brief summary of its service history is available on request.  Overall, 28 men served in one of the Regular units, 23 in one of the Territorial units and 24 in one of the new Kitchener units.    Although most served on the Western Front (69), others saw service on the North Sea (4), in Salonika (2) Gallipoli (1), Syria (1), Italy (2) and Mesopotamia (1), while one person never left these shores at all.  Of those who served in the Royal Navy, 2 went down with their ships at the battle of Jutland and 2 were killed in collisions at sea.  All were lost while serving in home waters.

11.       The tide of deaths rose inexorably as the war progressed in ever greater intensity.  Two died in 1914, 7 in 1915, 28 in 1916, 17 in 1917, 23 in 1918 and 2 in 1919.  Of these 51 were killed in action, 14 died of wounds and 16 from disease. Four of these died after the war had ended from the effects of disease contracted while on service.  Disease was a constant companion to war, particularly in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East, while the great Flu pandemic of 1918 also contributed its toll with some 228,000 deaths in the UK and about 70 Million worldwide.

12.       It may be wondered why so many of our men served in Battalions that had no direct link to Bristol.  In some cases this may be because there was a family link or other previous connection with that battalion.  In most cases, however, these soldiers would have been conscripted or assigned to training battalions and then sent wherever they were needed most.  Also wounded men did not always return to their original unit, particularly if it was at full complement when the soldier in question was declared fit for duty.  Some units were also broken up during the war and their men transferred to other units, particularly in February 1918 when all Brigades were reduced from 4 to 3 Battalions in order to save on manpower.

Voluntary Enlistment

13.       Some 30,000 Bristol men enlisted voluntarily during the first 12 months of the war but this initial enthusiasm gradually waned.  By July 1915 there was considerable debate as to whether conscription should be introduced to round up the more reluctant Bristol men.  At first the Government stuck to the voluntary principle and made ever stronger appeals for new recruits.  In Bristol this resulted in large adverts for young men to join the 4th and 6th Territorial Battalions of the Gloucestershire Regiment and other specialist units attached to the South Midland Division, such as the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers.  The Bristol Times and Mirror made a particular effort to encourage recruitment by publicising the activities of the troops as they underwent training, marched off to war, served overseas or recovered in hospital.  They also published rolls of honour listing those men and women from each district who were already serving their country.

14.       On the 28th of September 1915 the Bristol Recruiting Offices launched a recruitment rally, backed up by local parades and marches, to encourage men to turn up and enlist as one of the following recruiting halls:

The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars – St Stephen Street

The Gloucestershire Royal Field Artillery (TF) – Whiteladies road

The South Midland Brigade Royal Engineers – Park Row

The 4th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment (TF) – Old Market Street

The 6th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment (TF) – St Michael’s Hill

The Royal Army Medical corps (TF) – Colston Fort, Kingsdown

The Local Regular Army Units – Guildhall, Broad St

The Mayor of Bristol (Dr Barclay Baron) also made use of the National Register (see paragraph 15 below) to call men up for a private interview in an effort to persuade them to volunteer.  Each man was asked to bring their marriage certificate and the birth certificates of any children, in order to be able to confirm the number of people dependent on them.

Introduction of Conscription

15.      By these, and various other means, the quotas for 1915 were eventually filled up but it was not enough and on the 11th of October Lord Derby was appointed Director-General of Recruiting.  Five days later he introduced the so called “Derby Scheme” whereby all men aged 18-40 were told they could continue to enlist voluntarily, or attest with an obligation to come if called up.  This built on the National Registration Act introduced by the Government on the 15th of July 1915, which required all men aged between 15 and 65 to register details of their employment and marital status to help identify those eligible for service overseas and not employed in vital war work.  They were then issued with a registration card by the local registration authority.

16.       Under the “Derby Scheme” the last day for registration was the 15th December and voluntary enlistment ceased thereafter.  The men listed on the register were then grouped according to age and marital status – thus Group 1 consisted of unmarried 18 year olds, moving up each year to Group 23 for married 18 year olds and ending with Group 46 for married 40 year olds.  Groups 2-5 were the first to be called up on the 20th  of January 1916 and Groups 6-9 followed on the 1st of February – a picture of the first Group being sworn in by the Lord Mayor of Bristol was published in the Bristol Times and Mirror on the 29th January 1916.  A photograph of Derby recruits marching to Temple Meads station on their way to the training depot at Taunton was also published on the 12th of February.

17.       Some 215,000 men enlisted under this scheme (many of them from Bristol) and 2,185,000 attested for later enlistment.  Although promises were made to place them in their preferred unit, the greater attrition amongst infantrymen meant that they were usually sent wherever the need was greatest.  Despite this effort 38% of single men and 54% of married men not in “starred” jobs had still avoided this form of recruitment and the Government was therefore obliged to introduce the Military Service Act on the 27th of January 1916, which deemed that all single men between the aged 19 and 41 had been enlisted in the Army Reserve.  In May 1916 this Act was extended to include all married men.

18.       These were then classed according to their year of birth and called up gradually over the rest of the year, with the younger age groups being called first.  Those 18 year olds in Class 1, however, had the option of going straight into training, or waiting until they were called up on their 19th birthday.  By 1918 all these Groups/Classes had been called up and thereafter the Government was forced to call up those due for military service in 1919, which is why so many 18 year olds were killed in the last months of the war.

The Bristol Territorial Divisions

19.       There were particularly strong connections to the 48th (1st South Midland) and 61st (2nd South Midland) Divisions, with 10 of our men serving in the former and 11 in the latter.  This should not be surprising since both were Territorial units with strong links to Bristol.  The South Midland Division, as it was then known, was one of 14 Divisions in the pre war Territorial Force set up under the reforms introduced in 1908 under the then Secretary of State for War – Richard Burdon Haldane.  In August 1914 the South Midland Division had just departed for its annual summer camp when emergency orders were received mobilising it for war service on the 5th of August and it was concentrated in the Chelmsford area by mid August.

20.       Meanwhile on the 31st of August 1914 the War Office issued instructions to all units of the Territorial Force to form a reserve unit.  The men who had agreed to serve overseas were separated from the rest.  Those left as “home service only” were formed into second line units, which provided a reserve, which would be joined by many new recruits from September 1914 onwards.  The first line 48th (1st South Midland) Division was eventually sent to France on the 13th of March 1915.  However, the second line 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was sadly lacking in equipment and training and was not ready to go to France until the 24th of May 1916.   Both Divisions saw considerable action in France at the battles of the Somme and 3rd Ypres.  The 48th Division had an easier time in 1918, seeing out the war in Northern Italy.  The 61st Division saw almost continuous action between August 1917 and May 1918, being reduced to cadre strength by the end of the German Spring Offensive.  However, while it took several months to rebuild, it was back in the front line by October and played an important part in the final defeat of the German Army.

The Battle of Vitoria Veneto

21.       Every Division had its defining moment that some how summed up its experience of the First World War.  Mostly these involved particular bloody battles like those fought by the Pals Battalions on the opening day of the Somme, or the 57th (Western Lancashire) Division’s heroic defensive action at Guinchy in April 1918.  For the 48th Division, however, this moment came in Italy on the 3rd of November 1918 at the battle of Vitoria Veneto, when it surrounded and captured the commander of the Austrian III Corps, together with 3 Divisional commanders and 14 Battalion commanders.  By the time of the Armistice on the 4th of November it had pushed forward into Trentino, gaining the distinction of being the first British formation to enter the “enemy’s home ground”.

The Battle of Fromelles

22.       For the 61st Division, despite its many desperate battles later in the war, its defining moment undoubtedly came with the Battle of Fromelles on the 19th of July 1916.  The Division had only arrived in France a few weeks before and this was generally regarded as a “nursery sector” where troops went to learn the business of trench warfare, before being sent to more active parts of the line. However the XI Corps commander (Lt General Sir Richard Haking) had planned a diversionary action intended to pin down German units and prevent them being used in the larger battle of the Somme to the south.  So the 61st Division and the equally green 5th Australian Division were launched into an attack on Adolph Hitler’s former unit, the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division.  This unit had been dug in around Fromelles for most of the war and knew the terrain backwards.

23.       The attack was launched at 6 pm on the evening of the 19th of July, and proved a complete fiasco.  The 61st Division attacked in the centre and was mown down by machine gun fire.  It then asked the Australians to support a second attack only to cancel it without telling them.  The Diggers attacked alone and even broke into the German trenches but were outflanked and had to withdraw under heavy fire the next morning.  The Australians lost 1,700 dead and the British 500 for no significant gain, nor were any enemy reserves diverted.  Such was the damage to the 61st Division and its reputation that it was not used again other than for trench holding activities until 1917.  The British refused the opportunity to collect their dead, so the Bavarians buried them in 8 pits in Pheasant Wood.  These have only recently been uncovered and the slow work of identifying their remains for the benefit of their surviving families is ongoing.

Who Were These Men

24.       The soldiers listed in this document came from all walks of life.  Some were mere boys like William Cooke and Ewart Edgerley, seeking glory and adventure, who had enlisted while under age and barely out of school.  Indeed they were fortunate not to find themselves in Court – as in the case of Alfie Smith who was prosecuted for trying to enlist first in the Gloucestershire Regiment and then in the North Somerset Yeomanry while only 14 years of age (reported in the Bristol Times & Mirror on the 11th of November 1915).  The ranks also included clerks, bankers, accountants, solicitors and insurance salesmen, as well as builders, carpenters, paperhangers, machinists, boot makers, factory hands and general/agricultural workers.  There were even a few grizzled veterans like John Ovington and Fred Mayo who had already seen several years’ service in the peacetime Army.

25.       All of them were swept up in one of the most momentous events of the century.  No one was unaffected by what happened and for those who survived the world would never be the same again.   Several took part in epic events that were to stand out in the history of warfare.  Charles Bishop, for example, was with the 2nd Worcesters’ at Gheluvelt (31st of October 1914) where 364 men charged over 1,000 yards of open ground to clear some 1,200 Prussian Guards from the British trenches they had just taken.  In doing so they closed a dangerous gap in the line and saved the BEF from annihilation.  He continued to serve throughout the war, only to die on the Kemmel Ridge where the British Army successfully prevented a second attempt to breakthrough to the Channel Ports at the end of April 1918.

26.       Sydney Monkton fought at the battle of Jutland only to drown a few weeks later on a submarine training exercise.  William Redwood took part in Lt General Henry Chauvel’s famous cavalry march through the Syrian Desert, covering an epic 83 miles in 33 hours – a record in cavalry history – before dying of malaria a few weeks later.  However, not all of our soldiers participated in such momentous events.  Some died after only a few weeks in the trenches like William Bishop or Henry Denning or, like Burleigh Dixon, had their health ground down by the physical hardships endured while serving in the front line.  However, all were heroes in their own way and all deserved to be remembered.

Sources

27.       In putting this information together I have used the following sources:

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (CWGC)
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War*
  • Census Records for 1871-1901*
  • Medal Rolls Index *
  • Pension Records*
  • Service Records*
  • Birth, Marriage and Death Records*
  • Christening Records*
  • Probate Records*
  • Passenger Lists*
  • Divisional and Battalion Histories**
  • Minutes of Vestry and Parish Meetings+
  • Wright’s Street Directories 1906-1921++
  • London Gazette++
  • Bristol Times & Mirror++
  • Rev Denis B (“Spider”) Hall – letters sent to members of St Michael & all Angels’ church serving with the forces during the Second World War.

Most of this information was found on the Internet, or via the local Archive Office or Library.

*National Archive records

** The Long, Long Trail – The British Army 1914-1918

+Bristol Archive Office

++Bristol Central Library

Interpreting Divisional Histories

28.       A word of caution on the battle histories.  Service records were not available for most of the soldiers and I have had to work out which actions they participated in on the basis of the history of the Division in which they served.  However, since I do not always know when exactly they went overseas, they may not have seen action in all of the battles in which their Divisions were engaged. Also, although some of these battles lasted for several weeks the soldiers themselves would not have seen continuous action over these periods.  Soldiers were often left out of battle or served in the rear areas while their Division was in action.  They were also rotated between duty on the front line, in support or in reserve while a battle was in operation and it would be very rare for a soldier to see continuous fighting for more than 2 or 3 days at a time.

29.       It should also be noted that although the troops were mostly engaged in line holding operations rather than constant battle, these were not always quiet affairs.  Many parts of the line were subject to frequent trench raids and exchanges of fire that made them quite dangerous places to operate.  An example of just how dangerous is provided in a report published in the Bristol times & Mirror on the 26th of March 1916, regarding an action that took place on the 18th March.  This recounts the story of how the 1/6th Battalion fought off a trench raid by the Germans, which had been preceded by an intense 2 hour bombardment of gas and artillery shells.  In this action Private Robert Leslie Vincent Helps (who lived at 55 Belmont Road, St Andrews, Bristol) distinguished himself by fighting a rearguard action with bomb and bayonet, which enabled the rest of his section to retire to safety.  He himself was wounded and captured but was later found on the wire where he had been left for dead as the counter attacking troops forced the Germans out of the British trenches.  He died later in hospital.  This was typical of many such actions that occurred throughout the war and which were to cause as many, if not more, casualties as the major battles themselves.

30.       My aim in these few pages is to restore to this generation a brief recollection of those lives lost, so that this memorial will not just be a list of names but a tribute to the lives they led and the sacrifice they made.  Needless to say my researches have found out more about some individuals than others and there are still gaps in the narrative and areas of uncertainty.  It should also be noted that the War Memorial was itself drawn up in a rather haphazard fashion, with local parishioners being invited by public notice to supply details of family members who died in the war, so it is not surprising that some names are out of place and initials missing.  So if you do find any inaccuracies or feel you can fill in some of the gaps I should be glad to hear from you.