Parkend Forest of Dean

On the 25th October 1916, eight men of C Company of the 13th Pioneer Forest of Dean Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment were killed near the Schwaben Redoubt on the Somme. It seems singular to imagine that in one foul swoop, eight men’s identities and lives could be extinguished. They were buried as one in that action. And as war sometimes does, their identities and graves were lost. Found once again, they became eight men of the Gloucester Pioneer Regiment; that was their identifier. Until sometime in the 1920s when those eight soldiers were identified. Identified as men once again; as a collective.




I never set out to find this, I stumbled upon it. Eight men. One night.


On the 25th October 1916, eight men of C Company of the 13th Pioneer Forest of Dean Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment were killed near the Schwaben Redoubt on the Somme. It seems singular to imagine that in one foul swoop, eight men’s identities and lives could be extinguished. They were buried as one in that action. And as war sometimes does, their identities and graves were lost. Found once again, they became eight men of the Gloucester Pioneer Regiment; that was their identifier. Until sometime in the 1920s when those eight soldiers were identified. Identified as men once again; as a collective.

18310 Private Sidney Cornock, aged 32 years, Gloucestershire Regiment C Company 13th Bn.
19897 Private James Cunningham, aged 21 years, Gloucestershire Regiment 13th Bn.
19443 Private Thomas Patrick Flynn, aged 39 years, Gloucestershire Regiment 13th Bn.
19970 Private Sydney Hodgson, aged 20 years, Gloucestershire Regiment 13th Bn.
19332 Private Thomas Humes, Gloucestershire Regiment 13th Bn.
18453 Private William Oakley, Gloucestershire Regiment 13th Bn.
2510 Private Edward Augustus Ryan, aged 18 years, Gloucestershire Regiment C Company 13th Bn.
18484 Private Alex Lawrence, aged 22 years, Gloucestershire Regiment 13th Bn.

I can tell you that Sidney Cornock was one of eight brothers who served in the army and navy during the Great War. That his mother, a widow from Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire was praised for her stoicism when she was told she had lost three sons in the war; Ralph at sea with HMS Monmouth which sank with all hands after a battle off Chile, Archibald at Gallipoli with the Border Regiment and Sidney himself on the Somme. That he was the secretary of his local football association team and a bell-ringer.


I can tell you that James Cunningham was from Spennymoor in County Durham; he worked the collieries. The eldest son. The son of a blacksmith.


I can tell you that Thomas Patrick Flynn was from Castlerea, County Roscommon in Ireland. He was married with children, living in Birmingham working in the brewery industry when he enlisted in 1915. His name is listed on the Irish Roll of Honour.


I can tell you that Sydney Hodgson was from West Cornforth in County Durham. That his grandmother was his only living relative; it is her name Mrs Ann Hodgson who was his next of kin.


That Thomas Humes was married, enlisted in Sunderland.


That William Oakley was actually born Robert William Oakley in Dowlais, Glamorgan in 1890 but signed up in Cinderford in the Forest despite living in Rhymney in Monmouthshire. He was the oldest son; his father widowed. They called him a hero of the rank and file.


That Edward Augustus Ryan was the youngest son of William and Bridget Ryan of Lansdown, Bath. That his parents were Irish and he was just 18 years old when he died. His name lies on the Bath war memorial. He had been in the army less than a year and had been sent to France in April 1916 without being able to say goodbye.


Which just leaves me with the reason I came upon the tale of these eight men. Alex Lawrence.


In a quiet part of the Forest of Dean, where bees hum and the sunlight dapples through the tree line, Parkend sits. A village of note for those who like bikes and trains and birds. Up a lane and down another sits the handsome church at Parkend and its slip-sliding churchyard which sits adjacent. In 1945, Leonard Lawrence died and his grave lies in quiet isolation at the bottom of the bank. It stares out at the woodland. But sometimes after that, someone got the name of another son, and his brother Alex written on his grave in Parkend graveyard:


Also of Alex
Their Son
Killed in action in France 1916

These were the sons of Charles and Hannah Lawrence. Alex Laurence was one of the eight men of the 13th Glosters who died that fateful night of the 25th October 1916.


Charles and Hannah Lawrence had asked that the words below be written on his gravestone in France:

In a greater care, Mother, Father, Sisters, Brothers

The Lawrence family came from Whitecroft in the Forest of Dean where the 13th Glosters had begun. Its roots in the heavy working labourers of the mines of this place. The Lawrences were a family of miners – his father and brothers and Alex. It is no surprise that he ended up in the 13th Gloucestershire Pioneers. The hard tasks, the digging, the man-handling, the delicacy of wire work, the hard yards.


So what about that night?


On the night of the 25th October 1916, the war diary for the 13th Glosters reads that C Company were digging trenches near the Schwaben Redoubt under Royal Engineer direction. They wrote that it was a total failure because the points could not be treated and as the shellfire was very heavy, digging was made impossible due to the state of the ground. It states this: C Company sustained heavy casualties. But nothing more.


These men are buried at Serre Road Cemetery No 1 on the Somme. They are forever united as a band of brothers.


After the men were killed, Sergeant Nash of the 13th Glosters sent a letter to Edward Ryan’s parents. His son was affectionately referred to as Teddy, he said, then explained:

He was with a party at work, and a German shell dropped in the midst of them, and your son unfortunately met his death. But perhaps it will console you a little bit to know that he died instantaneously. He was a good soldier, never grumbled, always did all his duties smiling, and he was liked and loved by his chums and officers. Please accept our deepest sympathy.

So this is the eight men of the 13th Glosters, eight men who fought and died as one. Remembered by one family thirty odd years later, enough to write a memorial to Alex Lawrence in Parkend, in the Forest of Dean, a memorial that I would read seventy years later. A memorial that still does its job.


A reminder to those who might never understand that young men like them committed to serve under a flag; amateurs of war trying to fight both to make their families proud and end a war which had cost so much. To build a better life for all. And it was left for the families to make sense of that amidst the loss and the absence, life carried on. And not everyone remembered or wanted to. So they wrote words and they held a silent vigil in the corners of their hearts.


These are the men who never returned from the Great War whose memorials lie at PARKEND in THE FOREST OF DEAN IN Gloucestershire:


PrIVATE ALEX LAWRENCE

DoB 1895 Whitecroft, Gloucestershire DoD 25th October 1916 France aged 22

18484 13th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment

Buried: Serre Road Cemetery No 1, Pas de Calais, France