The village of King’s Stanley in the part of Gloucestershire which sits not far from Stonehouse and Stroud seems well acquainted with its war dead. When I visited the church which sits in splendour down a yew-draped pathway, there were many signs of remembrance and an appreciation of what had gone before including two war graves – one from the First War and one the Second. There is a rather wonderful war memorial inside the church now resplendent in copper metal work with the names of those who fell from this Gloucestershire village. But for all that, there are more hidden truths to reveal.
Brave men. Brave women. Sacrifice. War.
Richard William Jennings
On a brass memorial plaque is a rather wonderful memorial to one of the King’s Stanley men from World War One.
To the dear memory of
Richard William Jennings
Born March 6th 1889 at King’s Stanley Rectory
BA LLB Jesus College Cambridge
Lieut. Of the 10th Worcestershire Regiment
Fatally wounded leading the Company to the capture of La Boisselle in the Battle of the Somme July 3rd 1916.
Mentioned in Despatches
“Strong in the Lord and in the Power of his Might.”
Richard enlisted in September 1914 and was given a commission in the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. He arrived in France in mid 1915. He was the son of the Rev A. C. Jennings of King’s Stanley Rectory. He had gone to school at Bradfield College and Jesus College Cambridge where he had been a handy light-weight boxer and had gained a law degree becoming a solicitor. He was Mentioned in Despatches a month before his death after serving over a year on the Western Front for gallant and distinguished service.
On July 3rd 1916, Lieutenant Richard William Jennings advanced with a bombing party attacking the German lines at La Boisselle on the Somme. Private Tommy Turrall sent a letter to Mrs Jennings, his Lieutenant’s mother to describe what happened that day:
I hope that you will not think me taking a liberty in writing to you in this manner, but I feel it my duty to do so, as I was with him the whole time, and I think you would like to hear the part we played. I must first of all congratulate you in possessing such a plucky son, for he led our company with unflinching pluck that we were not in taking the enemy’s front line
I might say that when we reached it we came across a dugout held by the Huns. Here your son remarked: ‘Give me a bomb. I will clear them out.’ He did so. From there we went on to the second line. This proved to be an easy thing, for we did not find anyone there, so that made it more enterprising. We were not long before we were in the third line. This is, I a sorry to say, the starting of our hard times, for it was here he received his first wound, a rifle shot in the muscle of the left arm.
Nothing daunted him. He kept on until he received another wound, a bomb this time which caught him in the right thigh. I might say that it was from this time that we found ourselves practically cut off from the remainder of the battalion. It was here that a brother officer advised your son to seek medical aid, but he pluckily refused, although had be have chosen to act as advised I am afraid he could not have done so as we two were now completely cut off.
It was advisable to get what cover we could. So we retired to a shell hole some distance in the rear. In doing so your son, I am sorry to say, received two more wounds, one in the right knee and the other shattered his left leg a little below the knee. As we could get no further I did all I could for him, using my entrenchment tool handle and bayonet scabbard as splints, and my puttees as bandages. It is hard to tell you that we were obliged to remain like this for something like 3 ½ to 4 hours before I at last carried him in.
How he bore his pain was surprising, for he continually chatted and smoked with me until I at last managed to get him to the dressing station. It was here that we parted, but not without his thanking me for the part I played. I am sure in the success of the Worcesters at ___ your son played a very prominent part although badly handicapped by his wounds. Hoping this little but thrilling account will afford you some small consolation in your great loss and at the same tending mine and all his comrades’ sympathy.
Evening Despatch 11th September 1916 page 3
The newspaper account also reported that Mrs Jennings, his mother had sent a small booklet published in the memory of her son to Tommy Turrall’s parents with a message which said that when
Turrall is home in England again I will go anywhere in England to see him and give him some special thing in memory of Lieutenant Jennings.
His rescuer that day was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery – on the testimony of Richard before his untimely death from wounds received that day. Private Thomas Turrall from Small Heath in Birmingham was gazetted:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. During a bombing attack by a small party against the enemy, the officer in charge was badly wounded, and the party having penetrated the portion to a great depth, was compelled eventually to retire. Private Turrall remained with the wounded officer for three hours under continuous and very heavy fire from machine guns and bombs, and notwithstanding that both himself and the officer were at one time completely cut off from our troops, he held to his ground with determination, and finally carried the officer into our lines after out counterattack had made this possible.
The 10th Worcesters lost a third of their battalion that day on the storming of La Boisselle including their senior commanders and Richard.
One of the most interesting parts of this tale is that Private Turrall had put on a charge and was only released for the attack on the permission of Lieutenant Jennings. I suspect had Tommy Turrall not retrieved Richard, bringing him back to the line, that his body would have been lost.
Richard died of wounds received at No 103 Casualty Clearing Station.
Richard was buried in Meaulte Cemetery on the Somme in France. On his headstone, it reads
BA. LLB. Cantab. Age 27.
Sponte Ascriptus, Virtute Clarus, Deliciae Omnium
Richard is remembered at Jesus College, Cambridge on their war memorial. And of course here at King's Stanley where his father was rector for twenty years until 1916.
John Graham Wilkins
And in the graveyard at King’s Stanley, a family grave:
In loving memory of
Gunner Patrick James Wilkins R.A.
Who died 26th Sept. 1945. Aged 18 years
Not my will but Thine. O Lord
Flt. Lieut. John Graham Wilkins R.A.F.
Who died 25th Nov. 1948. Aged 26 years
This inscription sits above the grave memorial to their parents Evelyn Louise Wilkins who died in 1949 and John Francis Wilkins who died in 1957. Also sat upon the grave a memorial tablet to Peter Gordon Joseph Wilkins who died in 2008.
Patrick was the third son of Evelyn and John Wilkins. He is buried here at King’s Stanley as a result of an accident whilst serving in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
But also listed on this memorial is Flight Lieutenant John Graham Wilkins. He was 26 years of age when he died from his wounds after the Dakota he and three other men were flying in crashed on an approach to an airfield during the Berlin Airlift in 1948.
During 1948 and 1948, one of the first major incidents of the Cold War occurred when the Soviet Union blockaded all access to West Berlin. The Soviets objected to certain changes occurring in the area controlled by the Western allies.
In response to this, the air forces of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and Britain completed an ‘around the clock’ delivery of supplies for West Berlin. Known as the Berlin Airlift, KP223 a Dakota being flown out of RAF Oakington was flying between Gatow and Berlin, one of number from 30 Squadron when it crashed on its approach back to Gatow, ending up outside of the airport which was under the control of the Soviets. John Wilkins was a navigator on that flight.
The three comrades who died were:
Frank Dowling Philip Arthur Lough Francis Ivor Trezona
His three crewmen died immediately as the plane caught fire but John was badly wounded. He was picked up in the Russian zone and taken to hospital at Schöneberg. He was operated upon by Russian medical personnel but news was received of his poorly condition, as a result a RAF medical officer was allowed to see him.
It appears that the Russian authorities were keen to get Mrs Wilkins, his wife to see her husband. Amazingly, the Iron Curtain was lifted to allow her to fly in, cross the east/west line. His wife was given permission to enter the Russian zone, escorted by Russian security to where her husband was. The Soviet authorities waived all objections to her going to see her injured husband.
But John died from his injuries a few days later, on the 25th November 1948 and is buried at Ohlsdorf Military Cemetery in Hamburg, Germany.
His death unfortunately became a source of propaganda when they was some blame/counter blame for his eventual death.
It must have been incredibly difficult and incredibly brave for Mrs Wilkins to leave rural Shropshire where she lived, flying into the heart of the Cold War, crossing the Iron Curtain to see her poorly husband.
John is not listed on war memorials despite it being the Cold War. He is listed on the Berlin Airlift Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. But his parents never forgot their sons, a memorial for both remains here at King’s Stanley in Gloucestershire.
These are the men who never returned from War whose memorials lie at King’s Stanley in Gloucestershire:
Lieutenant Richard William Jennings
DoB 1889 King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire DoD 3rd July 1916 Somme, France age 27
C Company, 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
Mentioned in Despatches
Buried: Meaulte Military Cemetery, Somme, France
Flight Lieutenant John Graham Wilkins
DoB 6th February 1922 Monmouth, Wales DoD 25th November 1948 Germany age 26
55636 Royal Air Force
Buried: Ohlsdorf Military Cemetery, Hamburg, Germany