Acton Turville is a pretty little village sat in the corner of South Gloucestershire where Wiltshire comes close. It is more farming and Cotswold in its design and was once busy with life but now slumbers to a different beat. But once, men left for war and never returned – there are memorials here to remember their legacy.
Arthur William Hobbs
Private Arthur Williams Hobbs died on the 9th November 1918, just two days before the Armistice which brought the First World War to a ceasefire. He was just 17 years of age; his cause of death was pneumonia. The scourge of the last year of the war and the post-war period.
He is the only official war dead at Acton Turville church in South Gloucestershire. He served with the 53rd Young Soldiers Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment that was on home service.
Rupert Charles Rowe
On a gravestone endeared to her mother Ellen Munsey, an epitaph to her husband who never came back from the Great War:
My beloved husband
Rupert Charles Rowe
Sgt Major 5th Wilts
Killed in action in Mesopotamia
January 21st 1917 age 32 years
Greater love hath no man that he lay down his life for his friends
In 1911, Rupert Charles Rowe was a railway porter working for the Great Western Railway in Acton Turville station; a station which was closed down by Dr Beeching. He was married to Beatrice Elizabeth Musto in 1908. It was Beatrice who wrote the epitaph on her mother’s grave.
He enlisted in Warminster and was living in Trowbridge at that time. He first entered the war in June 1915at Gallipoli facing the Turkish army - the overall plan to open up another front and take the Turks out of the war.
Rupert or Bert was serving with the new 5th (Service) Battalion Wiltshire Regiment which had been formed at the start of the war. It was sent from England to the join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force assigned to the Dardanelles in July 1915 - first to Cape Helles and then Anzac Cove on Gallipoli. It was the attempt to open up another front and remove the Turkish forces from the war. In August 1915, they attacked at Sari Bair but in the counter attack by an efficient Turkish Division, the battalion was overrun, decimated – over half of the battalion was never seen again. Three men were awarded Distinguished Conduct Medalss when they crawled out from the mountains unarmed, injured and without food and water after 16 days. These were the men who had attempted to hide or had been injured in the valley when the Turks attacked them chasing them into a ravine sealed by Turkish machine guns. The 5th Wiltshire had been told that they were in a safe location, they had slept, weapons off, until woken by the charge of the Turks with no warning.
The adjutant wrote in the war diary that the men had three choices:
1) Run as quickly as they could past the machine guns – many did with fatal consequences
2) Climb up the cliff sides under gunfire – some managed to escape
3) Play dead in the valley and hope that they don’t find you
It is worth noting that the 5th Wiltshire had been on Gallipoli scarcely three weeks when this occurred.
Reinforcement and reorganisation of the 5th Wiltshires allowed them to return to the trenches on the Gallipoli peninsula at Suvla Bay but illness and disease led to many casualties. In addition, the battalion never really recovered their numbers or their officers required to make an efficient fighting force. Successive adjutants (replacing others who had gone sick) noted about the men, and about the lack of particular junior officers required to manage the men productively. In December 1915, they sat in their trenches whilst blizzard conditions froze them causing frostbite and further casualties from exposure.
When the order was made to make a general withdrawal from Gallipoli, the 5th Wiltshire were nearly the last ones off the rock. But in one last kick in the teeth for the battalion, the senior officer barracked for the execution of a man ‘convicted’ of refusing to follow orders. That man was Sergeant John Robins. A man who had seen service in India, married with children told a Lieutenant that he would not go on duty with him as he was sick, seen by a doctor who saw nothing wrong with him, Robins once again refused. The trial was a mockery, with Robins defending himself, as well as the doctor, who gave a written statement and was not able to be cross-examined by the defendant. His record was also lost in a flood and his character was summarised by an officer in short terms. Whether commuting the sentence would have been possible sitting as they did on Gallipoli, Ronins had to wait a month whilst the British Commander (then in Salonika) made a final decision about the man) – the leading officer of the 5th wrote a leader demanding his execution stating that he was a bad NCO. His future was settled. After waiting a month, sat in a tent whilst his men around him were arranging to leave Gallipoli, he was stripped of his rank, and executed by a firing squad. Still on Gallipoli, he was buried there. Whilst his comrades left, he never did. Where he lies still – labelled simply Private John Robins – his date of death 2nd January 1916. His wife got no pension, his family received no medals. Absolved now, but then one has to ask the question – what his comrades believed was right and fair? After everything they had been through, after the events at Chunuk Bair, the decimation of the battalion – was it the right thing for the men?
For Rupert or Bert as he was known, we will never know. Rumour suggests that he was a volunteer who returned to the mountains to search for the dead and dying left in that valley in August when their comrades stumbled in half-dead. Rupert had been promoted from Private to Company Sergeant Major, maybe he steadied the ship. Who knows?!
When the forces were withdrawn from the peninsula in January 1916 after dismal returns, the Division was sent to Egypt before the 5th Wiltshires were sent on to Mesopotamia to help in the relief at Kut. It seemed, again, a touch unfair that after the sickness, disease, dysentery and difficulties faced on Gallipoli that fate now sent them to the Middle East. Where once again disease, sickness, dysentery would be close at hand.
The Siege of Kut should be far more known by those who have at least touched upon the history of the First World War. The 5th Wiltshires headed for Mesopotamia and landed in March 1916. They were headed for the relief of Kut. General Townsend’s army had become besieged in the town of Kut near the Tigris since December. The Wiltshires along with the rest of the division under General Gorringe faced several skirmishes along the way with thousands of casualties on both sides. Despite negotiations, General Townsend surrendered from the siege at Kut in April 1916. Most of those taken prisoner of war suffered through bad conditions under Ottoman control or were made to march across the desert to the POW camps in Anatolia.
The British, desperate for success, sent more men under General Maude to attempt to take control of the area and re-take Kut. With more strategic advances, the British divisions headed up to push back the Ottoman forces. They successfully re-took Kut and continued to go forward, looking for ways to get around the enemy forces.
The 5th Wiltshires stayed in the area for the rest of the war – one of two battalions who crossed the Diyalah River bridging it with pontoons by the Royal Engineers and taking part in the fall of Baghdad; despite the death of General Maude in late 1917.
Rupert was killed in action on the 21st January 1917. The Wiltshires were in trenches near the Ottoman frontline. The loss of the Company Sergeant Major must have been great for the men and the officers; he was the lynch pin between the two. He is buried in the Amara War Cemetery II in Iraq.
On the 25th January 1919, the first new year without the war hanging over them, the second anniversary of his death, his wife placed an obituary in the local newspaper, the Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser:
In proud and devoted memory of my beloved husband, Co. Sergeant Major Rupert Charles Rowe (Bert), 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment, who fell in action in Mesopotamia, 21st January 1917
Call him not dead, my brave, my noble hero
Death is too cold a word for such as he;
Nay, rather say he sleeps in happy dreaming
Awaking to heaven’s everlasting day
And we who mourn must weep not,
Because he loved us we are blessed indeed.
Never forgotten by his devoted wife and five little ones.
1, Home Mill Buildings, Castle Street, Trowbridge
He left his grieving wife Beatrice and his five young children aged 8, 7, 6, 5 and 3 years of age. Beatrice went on to live until 1979.
George Clifford White
It is hard to think that thirty five years after Bert died that more service personnel would die in another war. But in 1942, George Clifford White, the eldest son of Percy and Alma White would die – killed in action in one of the most significant battles of the Second World War. The Second Battle of El Alamein.
It was, for the British at least, a battle they had to win. General Rommel, the German commander of the German and Italian forces in North Africa faced off against the British alternative – General Montgomery of the British Eighth Army.
It was a battle which waged on the Egyptian border between the 23rd October and the 4th November 1942.
The North African campaign had been triggered by Italian forces attacking the British controlled Egyptian state from Libya in 1940. But when repelled, the Germans sent in support to aid their Axcis colleague. The British looked to defend the Suez Canal and its oilfields in the Middle East.
Rommel’s forces defeated the British heavily at Tobruk. The British looked to turn the corner.
In mid 1942, General Bernard Law Montgomery was put in charge of the British Eighth Army. He wanted to focus on morale. At El Alamein, he commanded 190,000 men from Britain, the British Empire, Poland, Greece and France. With over 1000 tanks, and hundred of artillery, Montgomery looked to turn the tide on Rommel.
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel or the ‘Desert Fox’ as he was sometimes known because of his tactical astuteness and marshalling of the German ‘Akrikakorps’ – his 116,000 German and Italian forces and over 500 tanks.
Despite pleas from Churchill, Montgomery took his time to train, build morale and wait for sufficient numbers of men and equipment. Meanwhile in September 1942, Rommel was ill and was forced to relinquish control to General Von Stumme.
On the 23rd October 1942, the Second Battle of El Alamein began with a massive artillery bombardment. But the biggest problem for the allies was the so-called ‘Devil’s Gardens’ – a vast area of land mine and barbed wire that protected the axis powers between the Mediterranean Sea and the Qattara Depression south. As many as 3 million mines were laid before the battle; many of them are still there to the detriment of those that live in the vicinity now. Montgomery initiated Operation Lightfoot – a plan to create two channels through the minefield using sapper, engineers and infantry to remove the anti-vehicle mines. The Scorpion tank was used to explode the mines with limited success so manual methods had to be initiated. A dangerous job under pressure. But a job that allowed their armoured vehicles through.
Then the next part, termed ‘crumbling’ was a war of attrition between the allied and axis forces, wearing them down through brutal close-quarter fighting. Montgomery’s tanks got stuck in a log-jam through the corridors hammered by anti-tank fire.
On the 25th October, General von Stumme died from a heart attack during the battle forcing Rommel to return from Germany.
But Rommel’s army was short on supplies – their supply lines depleted.
The last part of the Battle was called Operation Supercharge on November 1st and 2nd whereby Montgomery launched a final attack. But by then George was already dead. He had died in the first 48 hours of battle. The 2nd Seaforth Highlanders had been in reserve but on the 24th October were ordered to push through the 1st Black Wash in the frontline, to act as a bridge for the 2nd Armoured Brigade. Casualties were extensive. Somewhere here between the 24th and the 25th George was killed in action.
Rommel's forces were compelled to withdraw, forcing a victory which provided a turning point to encourage the US to enter the North African campaign with Operation Torch, meaning more landings in Morocco and Algeria, more men. The tide was turning.
George was buried in El Alamein Cemetery in Egypt. His parents added this epitaph to his gravestone:
A much beloved son and a brave soldier.
Sorely missed by all who knew him.
And here at Acton Turville, a memorial lies on their own gravestone; for Percy J and Alma Lavinia White and...
Of their son
George Clifford White
2nd Seaforth Highlanders
Killed in action at El Alamein
October 24/25th 1942 Aged 24
William Victor Minett
On Francis and Elizabeth Louisa’s gravestone, a memorial to their son who died in the Great War.
Also in ever loving remembrance of
William Victor Minett
Son of the above
Reported missing in the Great War
September 20th 1917
Aged 20 years
Death swallowed up in victory
William was a Private in the 15th Hampshire Regiment; he also served with the 14th Hampshire Regiment. He was reported missing on the 20th September 1917 and then presumed dead on that date.
His parents were farmers. His parents’ address was Melrose House, Corsham in Wiltshire. William went to school in The College, Clevedon. He enlisted in Cinderford within the Forest of Dean.
There seems to be unfortunately little written evidence on William. He did not get to the Western Front until 1916 at the earliest, but maybe in 1917.
What we do know is that between the 20th and 25th September 1917, the Battle of Menin Ridge Road began. Over a front of 8 miles, battalions lined up to take their objectives and at 5:40 they went over the top. The 15th Hampshires attacked at achieving their first two objectives but struggled massively to complete the third and final position – the Green Line. It was close to Tower Trench and the German nexus of concrete dugouts called Tower Hamlets. Only 130 men could be found to attack but did press forward. Prisoners were taken. But then, as happened in the Great War, the British barrage attacked their own men. With heavy shells coming down on their heads.
The 15th Hampshires, or what was left, pulled back slightly but then pushed forward again when the barrage moved. But then calamity again when another British barrage destroyed the rifles and rations of the surviving group forcing the men back to the second line. Of the 130 men who had started the attack 36 hours earlier, 10 remained.
The Battalion suffered large casualties from this battle:
Killed - 6 officers 49 other ranks
Wounded - 6 officers 248 other ranks
Missing believed dead - 3
Missing - 31
Not yet diagnosed - 5
Total - 349 men
William has no known grave and is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Flanders, Belgium along with over 35,000 other men lost in this part of the Western Front. He was just 20 years of age.
Amongst those 35,000 men are many other 15th Hampshires who died and were lost on the 20th September 1917. Men killed whose bodies were lost on the battlefield or men whose bodies were lost to the heavy shelling from both the German side and the unfortunate British side. Such was the war.
William’s name appears on the memorial lych gate in Yate churchyard. And of course, here on his parents’ headstone.
One last thing to note about William Victor Minett – when his father died in 1929, he left the remainder of his estate, property and wealth to his wife and his other children but noted that ‘my younger son, William Victor Minett, having however, been reported as missing or killed in action in the Great War.’ Was Francis Minett one of those fathers who refused to believe that his son was dead? Maybe he believed that one day he would walk through the day? Maybe he left a stipulation that should his son William ever appear that it would show his father never forgot him.
These are the men of the Great War whose memorials lie at Acton Turville in South Gloucestershire:
Company Sergeant Major Rupert Charles Rowe
DoB 1884 Steeple Langford DoD January 21st 1917 Mesopotamia age 32
6238 5th Wiltshire Regiment
Buried: Amara War Cemetery II, Iraq
Private George Clifford White
DoB 1919 Winchcombe, Gloucestershire DoD 24/25th October 1942 El Alamein, Egypt age 24
5573240 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders
Buried: El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt
Private William Victor Minett
DoD 1897 Acton Turville, South Gloucestershire DoD 20th September 1917 Belgium age 20
23477 15th Battalion Hampshire Regiment
Commemorated: Tyne Cot Memorial, Flanders, Belgium