This war memorial plaque speaks so much of the loss of this village; the people that made this place what it was at the turn of the century. On the wall of this small church is a metal plaque, copper or brass painstakingly etched with a name and a memory. An angel bends down to anoint a dying soldier.
The views up to Bredon Hill are spectacular and in this quiet and sleepy village on the edge of Bredon Hill sits Little Comberton’s St Peter’s Church.
The bronze war memorial on the wall lists three men. Three men from this lovely place.
Private Harry Fletcher, Worcestershire Regiment 5th December 1916 aged 22 Lance-Corporal James Hawker Winwood, Worcestershire Regiment 2nd April 1917 aged 20 Private William Salsbury, Somerset Light Infantry 21st March 1918 aged 19
Harry Fletcher, a young gardener who lived in Little Comberton with his parents; the only son. He died within one year of enlisting for war and within six months of his arrival in France. They wrote ‘He died for freedom and honour’ on his gravestone; he is buried at Warlencourt Military Cemetery in northern France.
James Hawker Winwood, also of the 1/8th Worcestershire Regiment died merely thee months after Harry. He is believed to be buried at Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, not far from Peronne on the Somme. The son of the school mistress of Little Comberton.
Nineteen year old William Salsbury died on the first day of the Spring Offensive. The only child of the wheelwright and his wife of Little Comberton. He has no known grave and is listed on the Pozieres Memorial.
William Henry Abell
The memorial on the other side of the wall speaks of a single man, not listed on the official war memorial. Quite probably one of the first to fall in the Great War.
To the dear memory of William Henry Abell Major of the Middlesex Regiment Son of Martin Abell of Norton Hall, Worcestershire Killed in action at Obourg, near Mons On 23rd August 1914 Aged 40 years Until the day break and the shadows flee away
William Henry Abell, a Major in the 4th Middlesex Regiment left Devonport for the front when war was first declared. Born in 1873 in Norton in Worcestershire, he was the second son of Martin Abell, a name associated with Lloyds Bank. He attended schools in Malvern, Rugby and Brasenose College, Oxford. A career soldier, he joined the regulars (Middlesex Regiment) from the militia in 1896; and was commissioned Lieutenant in 1899 just before the start of the Boer War which he served throughout, on St Helena. He was promoted to Captain in 1900 and was married in 1905. He had two children, a boy and a girl.
Between 1907 and 1910, he was Adjutant for the 19th Battalion, London Regiment, Territorial Force.
In 1912 he was promoted Major and thus was part of the British Expeditionary Force which left for France when war broke out. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of Mons; the first battle of the war before trenches were dug and the war became what it did.
William was certainly one of the first officers to die in the Great War (although arguments surrounds this particular issue). Source suggest that Major Abell was shot as some German forces emerged from woodland.
News of his death was slow to make it home. It seems that news made it to his wife in September that he had been seriously wounded; it wasn’t until October that confirmation was received from the War Office about his death on the 23rd August 1914.
He is listed on the Mill Hill War Memorial in Greater London, Middlesex. He is named on the Brasenose College, Oxford Roll of Honour. His obituary was written in The Brazen Nose College Magazine. It spoke of a young man kind, chivalrous but with a quest for adventure, fearlessness and soldiering.
Harry as he was known, was buried at Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons. His grave sits alongside those who died at the very beginning of the Great War and those who died right at the very end of it. Upon his grave, the phrase that sits on the memorial in Little Comberton:
Until the day break and the shadows flee away
Major William Henry Abell, one of the first many to fall. Did they watch over whilst time passed over those frontlines? Until the very end.
Little Comberton speaks of the war, from end to end. From man to man.