Wraxall Somerset

Wraxall Church in Somerset sits on the bottom of a hill, views spread out before it. There are echoes of other histories here - men who lost their lives at sea, the wealthy who immortalised their lot at death and many others. The story of the Great War can be seen here at Wraxall; brother sons of a gamekeeper from Tyntesfield and the son of a woman born and buried at Tyntesfield.

Joseph Thomas Butchers and Charles Butchers

On the grave of a husband and wife, are the memorials to two of their sons who died in the Great War. Sarah Ann and William Butchers, who died respectively in 1911 and 1922, were buried at Wraxall churchyard in Somerset. After their deaths, the names of their two sons killed in the First World War were added:

Also of
Joseph Thomas Butchers
Killed in action September 27th 1918
Aged 29 years
Also of Charles Butchers
Killed in action March 16th 1916
Aged 19 years
Sons of the above
Peace Perfect Peace

Joseph Thomas Butchers was a Guardsman in the 1st Grenadier Guards when he was killed on September 27th 1918. He is buried at Sanders Keep Military Cemetery, which on the date that Joseph was killed was a German fortification stormed by the Guards Division. Joseph is buried alongside many other Grenadiers Guardsmen who must have offered their final sacrifice in that attack. It is near a little village at Graincourt-les-Havrincourt, south-west of Cambrai in France.

His father William was a gamekeeper at Tyntesfield estate near Wraxall where he was born. He followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1911 was working as a gamekeeper in Little Chart near Ashford in Kent. Joseph enlisted in Bristol enlisting with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, his death on the 27th September 1918 was part of the Battle of Canal Du Nord, the Guards Division attacked Sanders Keep through machine gunfire and across ditches; two Victoria Crosses were won that day.

His younger brother Charlie Butchers enlisted as a private in the 1st/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment as a member of the territorial force. The youngest child of the Butchers family who was working as a farm labourer on the Tyntesfield estate before the war. The 1st/6th Glosters were in frontline trenches in March 1916; it is probable he died from shelling.

The Butchers brothers are both names on the war memorial in the centre of the graveyard.

Nathaniel George Dawes

On his mother Fanny’s grave at Wraxall churchyard is the name of her son, Nathaniel. It reads:

Nathaniel George Dawes RGA
Son of the above
Who gave his life for his country
August 16th 1917 Aged 31 years
He did his duty

Nathaniel was married to Gertrude Jessie Chennell in 1912 at Marylebone in London and they were living at East Finchley in Middlesex. He enlisted in Hampstead and joined the 138th Hampstead Royal Garrison Artillery which became the 138th Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner.

Nathaniel was a civil servant, having moved to London to work. His father was a gardener and it was his mother who was from Wraxall which is why the memorial stands here.

The ‘Hampstead Heavies’ as the 138th Heavy Battery R.G.A. was known, was a 60 pounder Battery. A memoir of their activities was written in 1926 by Walter Wright and published. There is a memorial at the front of the book to Major Harold Graham Paris R.A. MC and Bar who ‘commanded the 138th Heavy Battery, and who was in command when he was killed in action at Estrees October 6th 1918.’

It describes how in July 1915, the Mayor of Hampstead, Alderman O’Brien with the agreement of the War Office, decided to raise a Heavy Artillery Battery in Hampstead. A Brigade of Royal Field Artillery had already been recruited. Captain Paris was put in charge to sort them out. They attained full numbers by September 1915, drilling and training on Hampstead Heath. They were ordered out in April 1916, heading for the Western Front. Having arrived in Le Havre, they headed for the frontline.

They ended up right in the action, near Mazingarbe. It was a swift learning curve for the recruits, experiencing conditions and improving their artillery technique. The first few fatalities to the Battery occurred with a direct shell hit on a dug out killing their men direct. Walter Wright describes their growing familiarity to Bethune and in particular Bully, where they frequented the house of Madame Lavogiez and her children (her husband was away at Verdun fighting); he nicknamed her the ‘mother of the 138 Heavy Battery’ for her endless coffee pots and feasts.

By August 1916, they were converted into a six gun battery with the addition of more men. Weather conditions were challenging. By April 1917, they were involved in the artillery attack on Vimy Ridge. Walter describes the death of four men – 3 blown to pieces, 1 who died of shock with no injury on him and 1 man with them who survived. Such was the lot of an artillery man.

By May 1917, they were moved on to Ypres stationed between the Cloth Hall and the Prison. Immediately they discovered the dangerousness of their situation, with constant enemy bombardment and the threat of enemy aircraft. But they were fairly swiftly moved on to a position near the Belgian coastline. They pitched camp at a holiday resort near Malo les Bains near Dunkirk where the men swam in the sea, so too the horses. Quite the holiday. Before being ordered to replace a French battery on the sand dunes, a mile west of Nieuport and 400 yards from the shore.

Fresh food and the seemingly quiet of the front lulled them into a false sense until problems like access to fresh water and sand flies and mosquitos got to them. They guessed that the enemy had noticed the change in personnel and started shelling them. At one point, putting all bar one gun out of action and it was noted, practically ‘wiping out’ three battalions of infantry driven back to the Yser Canal. The battery had six men wounded and twenty gassed. The author notes that only two men were killed whilst at Nieuport – one of these must have been Nathaniel. He would most certainly have been killed by shellfire.

Nathaniel was buried at Coxyde Military Cemetery outside Nieuport, not far from the French border in Belgium. It sits very close to the coastline and the English Channel. The section of the frontline between Nieuport and the sea was held by Commonwealth forces from the French in June 1917. Coxyde was used for the burial of the dead brought back from the frontline. The French returned in December 1917. It was during this period Nathaniel was killed and buried here.

By the end of the war, the 138th had only 1 officer and 30 other ranks of the original 200 officers and men who landed with the original Hampstead Heavies Battery.

There are three official war graves at Wraxall.

PLY/10259 Serjeant G. J. Vowles Royal Marine Light Infantry April 6th 1916 age 35

T4/262951 Driver A. V. Partridge Royal Army Service Corps May 24th 1918 age 32

And a personal memorial to a man who died in the Second World War:

1810906 Bombardier Howard Clifford Gay 140 H.A.A. Regiment, Royal Artillery 20th June 1944 age 27

In sacred memory of
Howard Clifford Gay
Dearly loved husband of Molly
And youngest son of
Ben and Ellen Gay
Killed on active service
20th June 1944 aged 27
In God’s keeping

These are the men who never returned from the Great War whose memorials lie at Wraxall in Somerset:

Guardsman Joseph Thomas Butchers

DoB 1888 Wraxall, Somerset DoD September 27th 1918 France

25889 1st Grenadier Guards

Buried: Sanders Keep Military Cemetery, Graincourt-les-Havrincourt, France

Private Charles Butchers

DoB 1897 Wraxall, Somerset DoD 16th March 1916 France age 19

3051 TF 1st/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment

Buried: Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps, France

Gunner Nathaniel George Dawes

DoB 1886 Bitton, Gloucestershire DoD 16th August 1917 Belgium age 31

293051 138th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

Also served as 1685 138th Hampstead R.G.A.

Buried: Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium