A little place in North Somerset in the Chew Valley. The church tucked down a dead-end lane. Echoes of history seem to be all around. It seems a very old place. With much to say.
William Warford lived with his widowed mother in the village of Chew Stoke in Somerset before the war. He worked, like so many of the working population, as a labourer. General help on farms and estates; lifting, digging, fixing, ploughing, mending, carrying. In many ways the general labouring workforce was the workforce that built Britain.
William was the only son amongst two sisters. His father Joseph died in 1910 leaving him the only ‘man’ in the family. He enlisted in Taunton and married late in 1915 to his wife Victoria living in Weston-Super-Mare on the coast overlooking the Bristol Channel. His service record awards him no 1914/1915 Star so his action must have begun at its earliest 1916.
He seems to have served with the Somerset Light Infantry but was transferred to the Dorsets.
The 5th Dorsetshire Regiment were not sent to the Western Front until July 1916 but missing the bloody awfulness of the early days of the Somme, instead being placed around Arras, much quieter at this time. But by September, their efforts were moved to Thiepval around ‘Mucky’ Farm aka Mouquet Farm. In actions here, they lost nearly 70% of their number – dead or wounded, out of action. By the new year 1917, the 5th had been debilitated by further losses at Beaucourt. Will might have joined here to make up numbers. Who knows for sure? But the 5th Dorsetshire would face another massive test in June 1917.
The place – Messines.
Will was killed in action on the 13th June 1917 with the 5th Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment. On June 13th 1917, two working parties from the 5th were out at night digging communication trenches. They were hit. Several fatalities were reports, many wounded. Seemingly one of these might have been William Warford. Whether he died outright or in time from wounds.
William Warford was buried at Lindenhoek Chalet Military Cemetery, south of Ypres in Belgium. A Private of the 5th Dorset Regiment.
Back at Chew Stoke in Somerset, his memorial may not reflect the precise details of his death but it does show the thought of the lost boy on his parents’ grave.
Also their son William Warford S.L.I. fell in action 16th June 1917 aged 35
His mother Margaret died in 1924. His name also lies on the bronze war memorial tablet inside the church at Chew Stoke.
Cecil Mostyn Wedlake
Cecil Mostyn Wedlake or Mostyn Cecil Wedlake was born into a very large family. He was one of the younger siblings. He enlisted with the 8th (Service) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment initially as 17726 Private but was promoted to a Lance-Corporal. Cecil enlisted at Porth in Glamorgan in Wales where one of his eldest brother’s was living and working as a collier with this family.
Cecil arrived on the Western Front in early August 1915.
He was killed in action on the 3rd July 1916.
The 8th Glosters had been in the vicinity of Albert at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916. On the 3rd July 1916 they attacked at La Boisselle, Lieutenant Colonel A. Carton de Wiart, commanding the 8th Glosters, won the Victoria Cross for personally leading an attack after all other commanders had become casualties. Carton de Wiart was nicknamed ‘Nelson’ as he wore a black eye patch after losing an eye in the war, as well as a hand. He said that the VC he won at La Boisselle was actually won by the 8th Glosters, all of them. A true leader of men.
By the 6th of July, the 8th had been withdrawn back to Albert to count their losses. The 8th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment had six officers dead, 14 officers wounded and 282 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. A high price to pay for a few days action. One of those 282 was Cecil Wedlake. Shellfire, mud, machine gun fire – we shall never know the precise details of his death. But my guess is that as Lance-Corporal he was leading men, just as his commanding officer was doing. A 19 year old.
Someone wrote after the deaths of both his mother and his father in 1923, a memorial to a missing son and a missing brother and had it placed upon their headstone in Chew Stoke churchyard:
Also Cecil Mostyn Wedlake Their son, who was killed in action in France July 4th 1916 Aged 19 years
Cecil Wedlake has no known grave. His name lies on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme in northern France. There are over 72,000 British and South African names who died before March 1918 but who have no grave to call their own. Most of these men died in the Battle of the Somme of 1916.
The memorial at Chew Stoke is the last personal memorial to the young man who never came home from war. His name stands the test of time on Chew Stoke war memorial tablet inside the church. But maybe, just maybe Lieutenant Colonel Carton de Wiart was right, that some small part of that Victoria Cross belongs to Cecil, and the rest of his glorious 8th.
Frederick Thomas Cole
It seems strange, at least at first, to me that I should be sitting here writing about a New Zealand Regiment. But on the side of his father Thomas’ grave here at Chew Stoke is a memorial to a son who died at Gallipoli. His son was Frederick Thomas Cole.
Also of his son Frederick Thomas Cole who died at Gallipoli June 5th 1915
Fred was the son of Thomas and Anna Cole, of Pitt Farm, East Harptree near Bristol. Although Fred gave his next of kin as his father Thomas Cole of Butcombe Farm at Blagdon.
Gallipoli is a word that is synonymous with the ANZACs; the Australian and New Zealand Corps that came to fight in the Great War. They came in part because of empire’s call, and in part because men and women of the far flung colonies felt a duty to return to fight for their families whom they had left to find their fortunes. One of those was Fred Cole.
Gallipoli is a peninsula of land in the eastern Mediterranean. A plan was hatched to open up another front to weaken the Alliance on the Western Front and put pressure on the weakening allies – removing Turkey from the war and setting up a supply route through the Dardenelles Strait to the Black Sea and Russia. The notion was to attack along the Gallipoli peninsula, swiftly take control by neutralising the Ottoman/Turkish forces and push up into that corner of Europe. It was designed as a naval landing of large numbers of forces with support from the sea. The ANZACs had made it to Alexandria in Egypt in early 1915 and now awaited their instructions for a mass landing at Gallipoli.
Now they call it ANZAC Cove. But in April 1915, it had another name. In late April 1915, landings were made at Suvla Bay, north of Gaba Tepe and Cape Helles by French and Commonwealth troops. Their arrival was unwanted. Their attempts to move up the peninsula were ineffectual, slow and costly. Further attempts were made with more troops in months to come. But after nine months, the decision was made to withdraw from Gallipoli. Costly mistake or worthy attempt?
Casualties were vast. Conditions were terrible. In the summer months, lack of water, flies and disease led to so many deaths. In the winter, snow and ice led to frostbite. Fighting was brutal. The Turkish forces, equipped with German guns and officers, kept the upper hand with their understanding of the landscape; the deep gullies and ravines, the hillside tunnels and knowledge of high points.
The evacuation meant that the war dead were left to the environment, the weather, the animals and the Turks. Graves were disturbed. Bones were moved. Grave markers were allegedly burned for firewood. When the Imperial administrators returned after war’s end, they found so many bones; bones and no identities.
Fred Cole has no known grave. His name is on the largest memorial to the lost of Gallipoli – the Lone Pine Memorial. It stands on a site where fierce fighting took place and overlooks the whole area. It commemorate nearly 5,000 Australian and New Zealand fighting men who died in the area.
For Fred Cole served in the 3rd Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (N.Z.E.F). He enlisted as a Private – Service Number 6/1489. He had been working as a farmer and was living in the Epsom area of Auckland in New Zealand; having left England in 1913 to try his hand out there. His date of enlistment is given as December 1914; perhaps after realisation that the much-vaunted ‘over by Christmas’ mantra by the politicians was untrue.
He got to Egypt at the end of March 1915; just in time for the build-up to Gallipoli.
He was listed as missing in action on the 5th June 1915. A Court of Proceedings declared his death on the date he was reported missing – the 5th June 1915.
At Gallipoli, Fred was in action at Cape Helles and Anzac Cove. His father Thomas reported that his death came about after a group of volunteers, including Fred, were asked to clear and hold a Turkish trench at Quinn’s Post. He was killed in the attempt. Quinn’s Post was one of the most dangerous positions, the last trench in the ANZAC line; Turkish snipers could target men coming going from this post on a hilltop.
Fred’s medals and memorial scroll were sent to his father. His name is not on the war memorial here at Chew Stoke but at some point his father was buried here. Kiwi, Brit, ANZAC, Englishman – you decide? One of the unreturned – certainly. And his parents’ son; their son.
The church at Chew Stoke is a wander in history. The war memorial to those who were lost to the Great War stands proud.
These are the men who never returned from the Great War whose memorials lie at Chew Stoke in Somerset:
Private William Warford
DoB 1882 Chew Stoke, Somerset DoD 13th June 1917 Belgium 35 years
19930 5th Battalion Dorset Regiment
Also served 25872 Somerset Light Infantry
Buried: Lindenhoek Chalet Military Cemetery, Belgium
Lance Corporal Cecil Mostyn Wedlake
DoB 1897 DoD 3rd July 1916 France 19 years
17726 8th Gloucestershire Regiment
Memorial: Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme, France
Private Frederick Thomas Cole
DoB 29th November 1881 DoD 5th June 1915 Gallipoli 33 years
6/1489 Canterbury Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force (N.Z.E.F.)
Memorial: Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli, Turkey