The pretty village of Holford in west Somerset lies on one side of the Quantock Hills. I have passed by it en route for Dunster on the Coleridge Way. But the church required further examination…
Pte Ernest Giles
28 Batt Canadian Infantry
Son of the above
Who was killed in Belgium
19th April 1916
Aged 28 years
In a soldier’s grave at Voormoozelle
N913, Row C, Plot B, No 3 Enclosure
This memorial appears in the tiny church of St Mary the Virgin at Holford in west Somerset, not far from the Bristol Channel where water meets the land. On the grave of William John and Sarah Ann Giles, is this last memory of a man who died fighting in the Canadian army.
Born in 1887, he was working as a gamekeeper living with his widowed mother and family in Holford. The Giles family ran the Plough Hotel – a coaching inn and general drinking house – but his father died in 1903 leaving his mother and family to manage it. The Plough Hotel is now the Plough Inn in Holford. They had previously run the Greyhound Inn in nearby Stogursey where Ernest was born.
In April 1911, Ernest boarded a ship from Bristol bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada as a labourer.
Private Ernest Giles enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in October 1914. He was 26 years of age, with blue eyes and brown hair. He set off for England in May 1915 where he was then transferred in September to the Machine Gun Section within the 28th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Ernest got to France in mid September 1915.
He was granted a week’s leave in March/April 1916 when I am sure that he would have gone back to Holford to see his family. He returned but was killed just a few short weeks later.
He was killed in action in trenches in the vicinity of St Eloi. In March and April 1916, the 28th C.E.F. were in action at the Battle of the St Eloi Craters. The Canadians inherited the St Eloi trenchline pockmarked by massive craters caused by underground explosions. British and Canadians were confused, distraught and terrified by the extreme battlefield conditions. Mud. Bodies. The dead. The dying. Counter-attacks and offensives. Short on experience and equipment, the Canadians were felled in vast numbers and the Germans held on.
He was killed the same day – the 19th April 1916 as another Canadian of the 28th Battalion – 74232 Private J.S. Scrimgeour/Scrymgeour. In fact they were exhumed in 1919 from the same grid reference with a cross marking their graves.
Ernest’s body was discovered in the area of St Eloi about 800 yards south of Triangle Wood near Ruin Farm, about 1 mile south of Voormezeele. He was buried at the time in the rear of a trench noted in his record.
John Sharp Scrymgeour was killed immediately when a high explosive shell hit his position whilst on machine gun duty. It seems entirely likely that Ernest too died when that shell hit. For he too was in the Machine Gun Section. Their graves so close together on the same day, the same section makes it highly likely that they died in the same event.
John Sharp Scrymgeour came from Perth in Scotland originally before heading to Canada where he too enlisted for the 28th Battalion (North West) C.E.F.. A keen cricketer – he played for Perth Grammar School and in Winnipeg, Canada.
Ernest’s name lies on the war memorial brass which appears inside the church at Holford. His mother went on to receive a war pension from the Canadian government until her death in 1923.
There is one official war grave at Holford – that of John Burnaford Davey. Although, you would never know that his grave is an official war grave – there is no Portland white stone, no insignia and no touching phrasing about war and sacrifice – just these words:
In loving memory of John Burnaford Davey
Born April 28th 1887
Died March 2nd 1919
Faith shall be blest, we know now how
And love fulfilled we know not where
He was born in Cannington in north Somerset, not far from Holford. He married during the war in July 1917 in Spitalfields Christ Church in London to Katherine Winifred Trayler. He had a daughter who was just an infant when he died. He was living in Bridgwater when he died on the 2nd March 1919, a few months after the war ended. He was buried at Holford.
John initially served with the Natal Light Horse as Private 164 before transferring to the Royal Field Artillery as a Lieutenant.
Clearly John was in South Africa when war broke out. The Natal Light Horse were a unit created by Colonel John Robinson Royston, an experienced South African soldier with much experience fighting in the Boer frontiers. He recruited for the N.L.H. with predominantly Australian men who had fought in the Second Boer War. The unit went into action against rebels and German troops in German South-West Africa.
After success there, it returned back to Natal and discharged. After consultation with London, Royston recruited for a new regiment ‘Royston’s Horse’ for the Western Front or beyond. On arrival in England, he was told that the attritional nature of warfare meant there was little use for a cavalry unit. It was disbanded, and individuals sent to different regiments. Royston himself went on to success with the Australian Light Horse in the Middle East.
John Davey was at some point one of those men of the Natal Light Horse before transfer to the Royal Field Artillery.
How he died, or from what? I know not. The flu? Wounds received? A simple cause of death?
His simple headstone would speak of a man felled by life, but more he was a soldier who died from his life. A husband. A father.
These are the men who never returned from the Great War whose memorials lie at Holford in Somerset:
Private Ernest Giles
DoB 3rd December 1887 Stogursey, Somerset DoD 19th April 1916 Ypres, Belgium
73900 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment)
Buried: Voormezeele Enclosure No. 3, Ypres, Belgium