The Glorious Dead. That is what they are called here on the war memorial at Kempsey. The Glorious Dead. The war dead of this place in Worcestershire.
When I visited Kempsey in Worcestershire, the river Severn was on its tiptoes teetering over the edge of Kempsey. From the church, water peeped into my eyesight. A reminder to me that the river and the village continue to be intrinsically linked through history and time. There are plenty of reminders of Kempsey’s history around the church here at St Mary’s.
Joseph William Pope
On a father’s grave was also added the name of his son. Joseph William Pope of Clerkenwell Farm, north of Kempsey died in 1908. His son Joseph William fought in the First World War. He never returned.
Pte Joseph William Pope
Royal Sussex Regiment 1915
Elder son of the above
Who died of wounds
In France August 4th 1917 aged 35
After his father’s death, the family moved away from Kempsey. They were living in Sussex and from there, Joseph William Pope enlisted to fight in the Great War. He was a Private in D Company, 9th Royal Sussex Regiment having enlisted in Eastbourne but also served with the 7th Royal Sussex.
Joseph was born in Much Marcle, Herefordshire but he grew up in Kempsey, Worcestershire.
The Royal Sussex Regiment had been in action in June 1917 at the Battle of Messines Ridge, where they had achieved their objectives but at a cost. It may have been that Joseph was injured in this battle or in the month or so after, the regiment was heavily shelled by gas shells which gave the men horrific injuries.
Joseph died at No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station on the 4th August 1917 aged 35 years. They wrote on his grave stone:
He did his duty
Joseph is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, east of Ypres in Belgium. It is one of the largest Commonwealth military cemeteries in Belgium, it was centred on the communication route away from Ypres where several casualty clearing stations were based.
On a wall of Manners-Smiths inside St Mary’s church, one more stands out for closer assessment:
Major Frederick Manners-Smith
2nd Batt. 3rd Q.A.O. Gurkha Rifles
Who fell near La Bassee Flanders
Whilst serving with his regiment Nov 3rd 1914
Aged 43 years
Frederick was the youngest son of the former Surgeon-General, Charles Manners-Smith and his wife Lydia Davies. He had a long and illustrious career with the 2nd Battalion 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles. He served in India and whilst at Lucknow, married his wife Hilda. He had attended Sandhurst Military College like so many warriors in training. He initially served a couple of years with the Gloucestershire Regiment before transferring to the Indian Army. Whilst there, he served in the Chitral Campaign (1893).
A Major with plenty of experience, he would have been a source of advice and inspiration to his men. Whilst serving with his regiment in the trenches at La Bassee, he was wounded and later died on the 3rd November 1914. In many ways, his war was over before it had actually begun.
He is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery with over 3000 others who fought in the two world wars. Bethune was a divisional and corps headquarters in World War One, as well as a transit town for movements away from the front lines and to casualty clearing. The 33rd Casualty Clearing Station was based here for much of the war. Frederick died from the effects of wounds received in action, it was probably here that he took his last breath.
Frederick Manners-Smith is buried in Plot 1 of the CWGC Bethune Town Cemetery, first used in October 1914. He lies in the first row, along with his comrades – 1 Lieutenant Colonel, 4 Majors, 8 Captains,7 Lieutenants and 1 2nd Lieutenant. Such was the cost of the first few months of the war – these were all seasoned officers, men of the Indian Army, men of the old regiments, men who had faced wars before. All dead before the end of November 1914. Who would replace these seasoned campaigners? The new recruits? The plucky upstarts? The young, too young boys of the university Officer Training Corps (OTCs)?
One man who lies in the first row is the first Jewish and Indian Army Officer who won a Victoria Cross for bravery. His name – Frank Alexander de Pass, a Lieutenant in the 34th Prince Albert Victor's Own Poona Horse. He won a VC on November 24th 1914 for attacking a German trench and rescuing a man under fire. He was killed the following day doing the exact same thing.
Frederick’s older brother John Manners-Smith also in the Indian Army, like most of his brothers, won a VC in 1891 for actions in India. He died in 1927. His wife Hilda also served as a war worker during the war.
Inside St Mary’s Church at Kempsey is displayed an original war grave marker from the Great War. The intriguing aspect about this, is that it seems to have been used for two different men who died in the war. One with links to Kempsey. And at some point, this marker was brought back to Kempsey. But intriguingly, it was the first man who died who had connections with Kempsey. So questions amass, how did this end up here at Kempsey? And who brought it back?
The two men it commemorates are:
2nd Lieutenant Arthur James Basil Butcher 6th Battalion attached 17th King’s Royal Rifle Corps killed in action 3rd September 1916
Captain S. F. Johnson 2nd Border Regiment killed in action 10th January 1917
Arthur James Basil Butcher
Arthur J. B. Butcher was serving with the 17th King’s Royal Rifle Corps (K.R.R.C.) when he was killed on the 3rd September 1916. His father Colonel Henry Townsend Butcher was killed in action before his death serving with the Royal Field Artillery. He had only been at the front since July after receiving a commission. He had returned to Britain to serve after working in China on the railway and in Malay on the rubber plantations. He had an address in Kempsey with his wife Gertrude who came from the village herself.
His father, as I said, was a Brevet Colonel of the 108th Royal Field Artillery. He was killed in action nearly a year before on the 20th September 1915. He was 58 years of age, he returned to action after retiring in 1908. He is buried at Dud Corner Cemetery, Loos where he was re-buried post-war from the battlefield. He died at Grenay after bringing in wounded under heavy shell fire.
His son Arthur is buried at Ancre British Cemetery on the Somme in France. He was re-buried in 1919 after being moved from the ‘Royal Naval Division Cemetery’ to the Ancre British Cemetery. He was killed in the major attack which took place on the 3rd September 1916 between Hamel and Beaumont-Hamel.
Arthur’s brother Trevor was also killed – but in the Second World War. A Lieutenant Colonel in the 11th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps on the 1st December 1942. He was 49 years of age. He is buried in Tunisia at Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery. The allies had only just begun their offensive in North Africa.
Arthur’s name appears on the Singapore Cenotaph as J. B. Butcher – due to his work in Malacca before he enlisted. His daughter was also born in 1915 in Malacca.
But back to the pertinent question: which is, how did Arthur’s grave marker end up marking the grave of another man?
Sidney Frederick Johnson
That other man was Sidney Frederick Johnson. He worked before the war as a produce merchant. He was married in 1914 in Montreal, Canada to Helen Robertson. The family lived in Streatham, London for a long time and he and his brothers attended Westminster School.
He is ‘believed to be’ buried at New Munich Trench British Cemetery not far from the village of Beaumont-Hamel having been killed on the 10th January 1917. So not far from where Arthur was killed. Maybe there was a re-cycling of old grave markers, maybe his was misplaced, maybe Sidney was not killed there, but killed closer to Arthur. But on his gravestone, his family wrote:
Although wounded earlier he took the front line
Also wounded Festubert 1915
Sidney was the second son of George and Johnson; his father was a secretary for P & O Steam Navigation Company. He went to school at Lindenthorpe School in Broadstairs in Kent. He had many business dealings with Canada. On the outbreak of war, he gained a commission with the Border Regiment. He was badly wounded at Festubert in 1915 (as his gravestone states) and was appointed as a brigade bombing officer on his recovery. He had only been back to the front for a few days when he led his men into battle and was killed.
He left a son when he was killed in action – Sidney Frederick Farquhar Johnson. His son Sidney would also died in a war – the Second World War. Killed when his plane crashed on the 26th February 1941 at Collingbourne Ducis. He had run out of fuel. He flew as part of the 256 Air Squadron in the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) fighting in the Battle of Britain. He was 25 years of age and is buried at Cliveden War Cemetery in Buckinghamshire.
Two men commemorated on one grave marker, both born in India and both with family members who would die in the next war. Who knows how the grave marker made it to Kempsey? But there now at St Mary’s Church, is a memorial to those two men.
There are two official war graves from World War One here at Kempsey. One is Corporal Charles Rivers who died on the 2nd March 1916 serving at no 2 Depot with the Royal Garrison Artillery and the other is Major Francis Gerald Gilson. His grave reads:
Major F. G. Gilson, Worcestershire 17th September 1920 aged 40
Ypres October 1914
Gassed in action June 1918
Francis Gerald Gilson was a Major in the 6th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. His father Charles Rawlinson Gilson had died at sea when he was just 1 year old. His mother died before he was 18 years old having re-married and moved to India. Francis joined the army in the early 1900s, enlisting with the Worcestershire Regiment. He married before the war and had three children, one of whom did not survive. They were young when he died in 1920, having made it home from the war, only to die because of it - gas. His son Eric Louis Rawlinson Gilson became a Captain in the Worcestershire Regiment. He was 28 years old when he was killed in the Second World War in 1944. He is buried in Italy at the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery. Father and son, both officers in the Worcesters, both died from war.
There is perhaps one more consideration to note from Kempsey. The grave of a man who won a Victoria Cross. Major General Edward William Derrington Bell buried at Kempsey, won a VC – the highest award for bravery during the Crimean War in 1854. He also won the French Legion D’Honneur, the Turkish award for bravery and was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath. He went on to be present during the Indian Mutiny and the Siege of Lucknow, before his death in Belfast in command of northern forces.
So who knew? Kempsey is a major hub for Victoria Crosses, a major source of all things historical and interesting. But men who gave of themselves for the war effort, and families who remembered them the best way they could.
These are the men who never returned from the Great War whose memorials lie at Kempsey in Worcestershire:
Private Joseph William Pope
DoB 1882 Much Marcle, Herefordshire DoD 4th August 1917 Belgium age 35
G/8124 D Company, 9th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment
Also served: 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment
Buried: Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium
Major Frederick Manners-Smith
DoB 15th November 1871 Kempsey, Worcestershire DoD 3rd November 1914 La Bassee, France age 43
2nd Battalion 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles
Buried: Bethune Town Cemetery
2nd Lieutenant Arthur James Basil Butcher
DoB 27th April 1884 Hyderabad, India DoD 3rd September 1916 France age 32
6th Battalion attached 17th King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Buried: Ancre British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, France
Captain Sidney Frederick Johnson
DoB 1887 Bombay, India DoD 10th January 1917 France age 29
3rd Battalion attached 2nd Border Regiment
Buried: New Munich Trench British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, France