Private Tom Backhouse, Leeds soldier killed during the First World War whose remains were repatriated in 1924.

Following the well-publicised return to Britain of the remains of a few dozen soldiers killed during the early stages of the First World War, the British government outlawed the practice. One of the most high-profile of the returnees had been Lieutenant William Gladstone MP, grandson of the eminent Victorian Prime Minister and Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire.

As only the wealthy and well-connected could afford the time and resources to arrange for the removal of their loved one’s corpse, it was considered bad for morale on the home front to see a handful of families able to mourn at a dead soldier’s grave, whilst for the majority their son or husband would forever lie, as the poet soldier Rupert Brooke put it, in `some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England’.

Upon the signing of the Armistice in 1918, the debate was reopened but the government remained firm. Those who fought together and died together would rest together near to where they fell. The Imperial War Graves Commission, under the leadership of Fabian Ware, would ensure the creation and maintenance in perpetuity of beautiful cemeteries in their honour. Despite bereaved relatives forming groups such as the British War Graves Association to press for the right to retrieve the remains of their loved ones, no legal repatriations took place.

However there was one Leeds family who were able to circumvent this embargo and arrange for the return of their dead son.

Tom Backhouse had been born in Leeds but had emigrated to the USA with his brother, both of them becoming naturalised American citizens in 1913.

Private Tom Backhouse body repatriated
Private Tom Backhouse

According to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s In Memoriam column of 19 October 1920, Tom had been killed in the Argonne on 19 October 1918 whilst serving with 325 Infantry, 82nd Division of the US Army. His grieving parents had inserted the lines:

`Years roll on and many tell us
Wounds are healed by passing time
But while life and memory lasteth
Dearest Tom ‘twill not heal mine.

When the war had been at its height, Tom’s mother Emma had written lines of verse which she had printed on postcards and sold to passers-by in Leeds City Centre. The money she raised was used to fund three spinal chairs and a bed rest in Seacroft Hospital for convalescing soldiers. Her work had won widespread praise, and Emma had received letters of commendation from Princess Mary, the Prince of Wales and Lord Kitchener.
One such poem, written in 1917, was titled Lest We Forget:

This is no time for dreaming,
No time for idle scorn;
All should be up and doing,
To cheer some heart folorn
For while our lads are fighting
On land and sea to-day,
Our thoughts should all be centred,
On each one far away
Dear friends I often wonder
When you pass through City Square,
If you notice all the heroes
That are oft assembled there?
Have you watched our gallant heroes,
How they smile and murmur not?
Tis out duty now to help them,
They should never be forgot.
If you read the daily papers,
You will know the City’s needs;
Two thousand beds are wanted,
In our own dear City – Leeds.
What a sad and darkened picture,
To imprint upon your mind,
But to each wounded hero,
‘Tis our duty to be kind.
Then to each Nurse and Doctor,
May aid and strength be given,
To nurse and tend the wounded,
While some find rest in heaven.
Some sleep upon the battle-field,
And some in a foreign grave;
While some sleep in the ocean
Beneath the angry wave.
To Thee who taught us how the pray.
And say “Thy will be done”.
We freely give each one we love,
To dwell with Thee at home.
Then may God’s blessing from above,
Be showered on those that weep,
The mother, wife and children deer,
Do Thou their foot-steps keep.
Oh! Help them on life’s rugged way,
To reach that heavenly shore,
Where loved ones they have only gone
A little while before.
Roll on then day of victory,

When shot and shell shal cease,
When guns shall all be silenced,
And the world be wrapped in peace.
Dear friends, I wish to thank you all,
For help to freely given;
And my our herous when they fall,
Fine rest, sweet rest, in heaven.
Mrs E Backhouse

Emma Backhouse poem


Unlike the British government, the American authorities had allowed for the repatriation of its war dead. Families were offered the option of their loved one remaining in a military cemetery in Europe or having the body shipped back to the USA. Around 40,000 families, about 60% of the total, availed themselves of the latter option. The created the opportunity for Emma Backhouse to have her son returned home to Leeds.

Emma, of Altofts Place, Beeston Hill, was involved with the Leeds War Graves Association, which organised for Tom’s body to be returned to his home city. The Leeds Mercury of 6 May 1924 reported on a `​Leeds Family’s Sacrifice, Recalled by Exhumation of a Soldier‘. It was reported that Tom’s body was to be exhumed and brought back to England, to be interred at the Holbeck Cemetery. For Mrs Backhouse, who had had another son killed in the war and another `so badly shocked by a bursting shell that he became a mental wreck, and is now being cared for in the Wakefield Asylum’, the return of Tom’s remains to his boyhood home would provide some degree of closure.

Tom was return on the SS Hull via the eponymous Yorkshire port and then be transported by train to Leeds for interment at Holbeck. Sadly, Tom’s younger brother, Fred, was not to overcome his mental affliction, remaining in the Wakefield Asylum until his early death in 1944. Emma lived to see his tragic decline, dying aged eighty-four in 1946.

I have yet to ascertain if there is a headstone commemorating the life of Tom Backhouse in Holbeck Cemetery.

The Bewicke-Copley Brothers, Sprotbrough, Doncaster

The parish church of St Mary the Virgin at Sprotbrough, near Doncaster, is one of those warm, welcoming and perpetually open churches which can tell the visitor a wealth of information about the life of the community.

One striking part of Sprotbrough’s story is found in a beautiful stained glass window in the St. Thomas chapel, designed by the noted artist and sculptor Sir Ninian Comper.

It is dedicated to two brothers-in-law, one of whom,  Redvers Lionel Calverley Bewicke-Copley, is the initial subject of this post.


Redvers Bewicke-Copley2

Redvers Bewicke-Copley

Born in London on 17 Sept. 1890, but brought up at Sprotbrough Hall, Redvers was descended on his mother’s side from Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Chief Minister. He was educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. In 1910 he was gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant, promoted to Lieutenant in 1913 and Captain in July 1915.

Redvers was one of the `Old Contemptibles’, a nickname given to the British Expeditionary Force to France and Flanders in the autumn of 1914, on account of the Kaiser describing Britain as having a `contemptible little army.’

He was wounded 23 Oct. 1914 while helping a wounded comrade & sent home to England on sick leave;

A brother officer wrote: “On 14 Sept, on the first day of the Battle of the Aisne, isolated parties had made their way up to the edge of the wood on the northern slope & had been driven in. Thinking the wood had been made good, I took a machine-gun section up to the edge of it. Here I found D.L., Bewicke-Copley & a Coldstream Sergeant with a bunch of some 25 German prisoners. As soon as I mounted my guns, a heavy fire from snipers started & D.L. & the sergeant were killed, but Copley covered the prisoners with his revolver & ordered them to shout to their friends to cease-fire or to be killed themselves. Copley came in under cover when the sniping diminished. He then said he was not going to leave the prisoners & was going back for them. It seemed certain death & I told him so, but he went out and brought them in quite calmly. I think it was about the most cold-blooded piece of daring I have seen in the war.”

Having spent nearly two years convalescing in Britain, Redvers returned to the front in late 1916. However whilst leading a party repairing trench wiring at Sailly, France, he was shot clean through the head by a sniper within 20 yards of the German line and killed outright on 21st December 1916. He was Buried at Combles.

Sprotbrough war window.jpg

The magnificent war memorial window in St Mary the Virgin, Sprotbrough

Left to right, the panels are  Martin, a Roman soldier who cut his cloak in two, and gave half to a beggar. The next panel shows St Michael with the Devil at his feet, as referred to in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, v7-9

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

The third panel depicts St  George with a dragon at his feet.  The final panel with the figure holding his sword upwards, in a sign of peace, is believed to be Christ

As a footnote, a sword believed to be Redvers’ regimental souvenir, was listed for auction in 2015 with a guide price of £200-400

Redvers Bewicke-Copley sword

 Redvers Bewicke-Copley graveRedvers Bewicke-Copley’s grave at Combles, France

However the story of the Bewicke-Copleys and twentieth century warfare was not to end there. Redvers’ younger brother, Robert Godfrey Wolsley Copley, had also served in the First World War.

NPG x166873; Robert Godfrey Wolseley Bewicke-Copley, 5th Baron Cromwell by Walter Stoneman

Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Robert was commissioned in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and first saw action out in France and Flanders with the 3rd Battalion in the period May-November 1915. He then departed for the Mediterranean theatre of war, transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in May 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross. He was also mentioned in despatches and received the Italian Al Valore Militare in bronze. He was also wounded. Having then witnessed further active service in Russia 1918-19, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Following the war, he succeeded to the title of Lord Cromwell, and gained the rank of Colonel in the service of the Royal Army Reserve of Officers.

Robert assumed command of ‘D’ Company, 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps. In 1939 he was recalled to active service army and led the defence of Calais in May 1940.  Robert was wounded in both of his arms and his head. Despite this he remained in command at his barricade and taken as a POW by the Germans. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

An account of Robert’s bravery on this occasion was left by Airey Neave, whom some might remember was killed by a terrorist car bomb at the Houses of Parliament in 1979.

‘The situation of the 60th was desperate. A death-struggle at the bridges. Barricades of   burned-out lorries and trucks off the Rue Edison and Place Richelieu were manned by the surviving officers and riflemen. Houses in the area had long been devastated by the flames and blown by shellfire into heaps of rubble behind which the defenders fired on the Germans. The mortar bombs came in an endless stream exploding dead on the road-blocks. The 60th, lying without cover in the streets, had little protection from the Stukas. No one who experienced the attack on the morning of the 26th is ever likely to forget it. A hundred aircraft attacked the Citadel and the old town in waves. They dived in threes, with a prolonged scream, dropping one high explosive and three or four incendiaries. They machine-gunned the streets and dropped a few heavy bombs between the 60th H.Q. in the Rue des Marechaux and the docks. The first effects on the defence were paralysing but, as others had experienced with Stukas, the damage was moral rather than physical. Within a few minutes, the riflemen eagerly fired Bren guns and engaged the Stukas, one of which was brought down on the seashore … ’ Neave continues: ‘At the Place Richelieu, Lord Cromwell, firing a Bren gun, was three times wounded that morning. He had already shown all those qualities that add up to real leadership in war. He was hit by bullets in both arms and in the head, the sight of one eye being badly affected. And yet he remained in command when all the men at his barricade, save himself and two riflemen were dead. At 11.30 a.m. he was compelled to fall back to the line of the Rue des Marechaux.’

Robert was repatriated in 1943 due to his injuries and continued to be active in public life, serving as  Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire between 1949 and 1966.He was invested as a Knight, Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (K.St.J.).

In 2012 Robert’s medals came up for auction and fetched £8,200. However the value of the contribution of two generations of men in the wars of the twentieth century cannot be valued in monetary terms.

Robert Bewicke-Copley Medals.jpg

Robert Bewicke-Copley’s medals, from the 1914-15 star through to the Order of St John of Jerusalem

Once again, familiar themes demonstrate themselves in the instance of the Bewicke-Copley brothers:-

1. The memorialisation of war death in a parish church, as using Christian motifs. This reminds us that the an appreciation of the importance of Christianity in the minds of our ancestors is an essential prerequisite for a fully-rounded understanding of twentieth century warfare.
2. The sense of duty held by most of the ruling class of the time that led to such high casualty rates amongst junior officers such as Redvers.
3. The importance of the Church of England, as the guardian of so much of our shared history, of making that history as accessible as possible as was originally intended, rather than shutting out the visitor with a locked-door / Sundays only policy.
Sprotbrough church
The wonderful St Mary the Virgin, Sprotbrough. Well worth a visit.
The theme of Christianity in twentieth century warfare is explored in detail in my two books:
Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2

Major Lanoe George Hawker VC, DSO, RFC


Nearing the end of a long day’s driving, we came across the village of Longparish, Hampshire. Remarking that we had not seen a war memorial window for quite some time, we eventually found the picturesque church of St Nicholas. On entering, I noticed a striking window at the far end of the north wall, and our patience was more than rewarded.


Depicting St Michael looking down in triumph from the heavens, with representations of two airmen gazing at their hangars, it is dedicated to Major Lanoe George Hawker VC, DSO, RFC. It sits amongst a series of memorials to members of the Hawker family, many with military connections stretching back to the eighteenth century. The airfield shown is that at Bertangles, from which Hawker flew.

Hawker 1Detail from the Hawker window

Hawker 2

Lanoe Hawker was one of the early flying `aces’ of the First World War. Serving in France from 1914 onwards, he was instrumental in the development of many mechanical improvements in the operation of aircraft in warfare. He also introduced the idea of thigh-length sheepskin boots to protect pilots from frostbite whilst in the air.

Lanoe Hawker

Major Lanoe Hawker, VC, DSO

In April 1915, Hawker was awarded the DSO for an engagement with a German Zeppelin. His citation, reported in the London Gazette of 8th May 1915, read:

For conspicuous gallantry on 19 April 1915, when he succeeded in dropping bombs on the German airship shed at Gontrode from a height of only 200 feet under circumstances of the greatest risk. Lieutenant Hawker displayed remarkable ingenuity in utilizing an unoccupied German captive balloon to shield him from fire while maneuvering to drop the bombs.

On 25th July 1915, he became the first fighter pilot to be awarded the Victoria Cross. The London Gazette of 24th August 1915 reported:

For most conspicuous bravery and very great ability on 25 July 1915. When flying alone he attacked three enemy aeroplanes in succession. The first managed eventually to escape, the second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third, which he attacked at the height of about 10,000 feet, was driven to earth in our lines, the pilot and observer being killed. The personal bravery shown by this officer was of the very highest order, as the enemy’s aircraft were armed with machine guns, and all carried a passenger as well as a pilot.

Eventually Hawker’s luck ran out, and he was shot down and killed by the `Red Baron’, Manfred von Richtofen on 23rd November 1916. Von Richtofen gave an account of this engagement in his autobiography, Red Air Fighter (1917)

In view of the character of our fight it was clear to me that I had been tackling a flying champion. One day I was blithely flying to give chase when I noticed three Englishmen who also had apparently gone a-hunting. I noticed that they were watching me and as I felt much inclination to have a fight I did not want to disappoint them.

I was flying at a lower altitude. Consequently I had to wait until one of my English friends tried to drop on me. After a short while one of the three came sailing along and attempted to tackle me in the rear. After firing five shots he had to stop for I had swerved in a sharp curve.

The Englishman tried to catch me up in the rear while I tried to get behind him. So we circled round and round like madmen after one another at an altitude of about 10,000 feet.

First we circled twenty times to the left, and then thirty times to the right. Each tried to get behind and above the other. Soon I discovered that I was not meeting a beginner. He had not the slightest intention of breaking off the fight. He was traveling in a machine which turned beautifully. However, my own was better at rising than his, and I succeeded at last in getting above and beyond my English waltzing partner.

When we had got down to about 6,000 feet without having achieved anything in particular, my opponent ought to have discovered that it was time for him to take his leave. The wind was favorable to me for it drove us more and more towards the German position. At last we were above Bapaume, about half a mile behind the German front. The impertinent fellow was full of cheek and when we had got down to about 3,000 feet he merrily waved to me as if he would say, “Well, how do you do?”

The circles which we made around one another were so narrow that their diameter was probably no more than 250 or 300 feet. I had time to take a good look at my opponent. I looked down into his carriage and could see every movement of his head. If he had not had his cap on I would have noticed what kind of a face he was making.

My Englishmen was a good sportsman, but by and by the thing became a little too hot for him. He had to decide whether he would land on German ground or whether he would fly back to the English lines. Of course he tried the latter, after having endeavored in vain to escape me by loopings and such like tricks. At that time his first bullets were flying around me, for hitherto neither of us had been able to do any shooting.

When he had come down to about three hundred feet he tried to escape by flying in a zig-zag course during which, as is well known, it is difficult for an observer to shoot. That was my most favorable moment. I followed him at an altitude of from two hundred and fifty feet to one hundred and fifty feet, firing all the time. The Englishman could not help falling. But the jamming of my gun nearly robbed me of my success.

My opponent fell, shot through the head, one hundred and fifty feet behind our line

Hawker’s machine gun was removed from the wreckage of his aircraft and von Richthofen kept it as a trophy at his family’s castle. The body was buried by German infantry soldiers and precisely recorded as 250 yards (230 metres) east of Luisenhof Farm along the roadside. However as the land was fought over many times in the subsequent two years, the exact location was lost, and Lanoe Hawker is officially commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial.

Therefore the memorial window, designed by Francis Skeete and installed in 1968, is a striking and fitting memorial to an individual who played an important role in the development of aerial combat. In addition, his is one of many memorials which places the nature of his sacrifice within the wider context of that of his family and community, an aspect of war which can be found in many parish churches across the country.

John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War and Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2


Restoring the memory of Private George Wallace Jackson, Sherwood Foresters

Whilst touring north Nottinghamshire in February 2016 I was shocked and saddened to come across this memorial headstone in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Carlton-in-Lindrick.

George Jackson

 One of the most poignant sights I have seen in years of research. The memorial to Private George Jackson, Sherwood Foresters.

Of the many hundreds of memorials I have come across, this was the first example of a statue on the grave of an individual, rather than for a community monument.

The inscription read:

“To the glorious memory of Pte George Wallace Jackson, 2/5 Sherwood Foresters, who fell in action in France, March 21st 1918, aged 22 years.

‘Greater Love Hath No Man Than This: That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends.’

This memorial was erected by his sorrowing mother.”

A further inscription marked the death of that mother, Charlotte Padley (formerly Jackson) in 1926.

I wondered if how the monument came to be that, hoping it was nature rather than vandalism. George Jackson’s mother had sought to come to terms with her loss through the use of the quotation from John 15:13, seen on so many memorials.

I decided that I could not leave this situation as it was and that further research was in order.

A search of the newspaper archives revealed this moving report from the Worksop Guardian of 1st August 1919:

After many months of suspense, the news has reached Mrs Charlotte W. Padley, Carlton that her son, Pte George Wallace Jackson, 2nd / 5th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, reported missing since March 21st 1918, was killed on that date. Pte Jackson, who was 22 years of age, was a well-conducted youth and respected by all who knew him.

Before enlisting, he was employed by the Worksop Co-operative society, where he went as soon a he left school, his brother and sister also being employed by the same society.

Pte Jackson was a son any mother might be proud of, and he leaves behind a memory which will long be cherished.

The Army Council forward a message of sympathy from the King and Queen, and his mother has also the sympathy of all who knew her gallant son in her bereavement.

George’s body was never recovered and he is one of nearly 35,000 names on the Arrass Memorial.

His mother, Charlotte, would have received the £24 12s 6d owing to George in back pay and war gratuity. I wonder if this money, a sum of around £1200 at 2016 values, was used to pay for the memorial?

George Jackson effects

The page from the Army’s Register of Soldiers’ Personal Effects relating to George Jackson (c)

So we have managed to find some further details about George Jackson, but what of the distressing state of his memorial? I emailed the vicar of the church who passed my contact on to Maurice Stokes, a parishioner who is investigating the possibility of restoration. To date (27th February 2016) a request has been made for an authentic copy of the complete uniform of the Sherwood Foresters. In addition an appeal is to be launched to trace any living relatives of George Jackson.

Mr Stokes has also gathered an estimate for the cost of the repair of the memorial, valued at £1000 to £1500.

Therefore, using the reach of social media, I am putting out an appeal to trace any relatives of George Jackson.

George had four surviving siblings plus a half brother.

His siblings were:

Evelyn Georgina Jackson (1888-1945)
Bazell Jackson (1891-1914)
Mildred Jackson (1895-?)
George Jackson (1896-1918)

Evelyn married George Betts in 1909 a they had five surviving children. These people were the nieces and nephews of Private George Jackson.

Joseph Norman Betts (1913-1995)
John Charles Betts (1915-1991)
Irene Betts (1917-1998)
Charlotte Betts (1920-2013)

They all seemed to have retained a connection to North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

So the appeal at the moment is threefold:-

  1. To find further information on Private George Jackson, and to see if family members can provide a photograph and any knowledge as to where his campaign medals and `death penny’ might be.
  2. To find any further examples of gravestone / memorials like this one to get as an authentic reproduction as possible.
  3. To raise the funds for a proper restoration so that the memory of Private Jackson can be restored and full respect given to the sacrifice he gave, emblematic of that of hundreds of thousands of other young shop assistants, factory workers, clerks, postmen, teachers and people from all walks of life across the land.


Therefore if anyone can help with any of these three objectives, please contact me at

Donations towards the restoration can be made by clicking here

Update March 2016 –





Many thanks

Update May 2016

I have received communication from members of George Jackson’s family who were able to provide the following information:

George Wallace Jackson’s father, George Jackson, had been killed in a mining accident in 1898 whilst working at Wath Main Colliery in South Yorkshire. He was 30 years old and was run over by a wagon on an inclined plane.

It has been possible to find a picture of Charlotte, the widow of George Jackson sr and the mother of Private George Wallace Jackson. It was Charlotte who paid to have the vandalised memorial erected.

Charlotte Jackson Padley.jpg

In addition, a photograph is in existence of a young man in the uniform of the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) to which both George Wallace Jackson and his half-brother, Cyril Padley, belonged. At this stage it is not known which of these it is. Cyril died in 1976, aged 77, in Retford, Nottinghamshire. Therefore the next stage is to contact the regional press to see if the photograph can be identified.

In addition I was given details of other family members which I shall be following up to see if they can shed any further light on the mystery.

Charlotte Jackson's son (2).jpg


The search continues…

Update August 2016

Due to enquiries made by family members with whom I have been in contact, a photograph of George Wallace Jackson himself has come to light. It looks as if it was taken in his mid-teens, probably at the time he started work with the Worksop Co-operative Society. My impression on seeing it was of the innocence and hope of youth, and a further example of the promise that was destroyed during the war. I now feel the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together.

George Wallace Jackson


John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, published by Pen and Sword.

Fight the Good Fight


Walkeringham’s Sunday School Prayer List

John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, published by Pen and Sword in 2015.

Fight the Good Fight


Whilst revisiting the secluded but welcoming St. Mary Magdalene Church at Walkeringham, North Nottinghamshire on a crisp winter day in February 2016, I came across a new addition to the war commemoration memorabilia in the church.

St Mary Magdalene, Walkeringham.jpg

St Mary Magdalene, Walkeringham (c) John Broom

Whilst restoring the First World War Roll of Honour for display during the years of centenary commemorations, a beautiful hand made prayer board had been discovered lodged behind the frame. On it, each member of the Sunday School had been asked to nominate a male relative on active service, and to state which service that relative was in.

Walkeringham Roll of Honour.jpg

Walkeringham’s Roll of Honour

The churchwarden had asked for comments as to whether the prayer board should be placed back where it was found, behind the Roll of Honour, or to be separately mounted for display. For me the answer is not in question. This prayer board provides a further connection to the people of a hundred years ago, and demonstrates the bonds between children and men on active service being strengthened by the Christian faith. However perhaps you may have a view you may wish to put forward? The contact details can be found here:-

Walkeringham Sunday School Prayer Board.jpg

Children’s Corner Prayer Board (c) John Broom

Bonds between children and those in uniform in an educational context have been explored in an excellent new book by Dr Barry Blades, Roll of Honour: Schooling and the Great War (Pen and Sword, 2015). However this is the first example I have seen in the hundreds of churches I have visited of such a prayer board for Sunday School Scholars.

Sadly four of the men being prayed for did not return home safely from the war. The small Nottinghamshire village sustained a death list of 26 men, with 4 more being found by subsequent research on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.


I thought it appropriate to transcribe the names on the board

Margaret Parkrin Sapper G. Valentine Royal Engineers
Thomas Hill Pte. John H. Hill King’s Liverpool Rgt.
Roland Dawson L/C W. Dawson Sherwood Rangers
Alice Spray Pte. F.H. Parke Leicester Rgt
Gladys Greaves Corp. G.S. Garrard Royal Engineers
Albert Willerton Pte. J.W. Willerton East Surrey Rgt
John Spencer Lockwood Pte. J. Lockwood A.S.C.
Vera Willerton Corp. J.T. Mackfall Royal Engineers
Charles Spencer Pte. H. Spencer Lincolns
Edith Daniels Pte. H. Lobley Sherwood Foresters
Ethel West Pte. F. West Lancashire Fusiliers
Eric Taylor Pte. W.T. Adams R.A.M.C.
Alice Horberry Pte. T. Horberry Derbyshire Yeomanry
May Walker Pte. George Walker Fourth Leicester
Myrintha Cave Sgt. Arthur Shaw Sherwood Foresters
Sarah & Nellie Spencer Driver A. Anderson King’s Liverpool Reg
Leslie Pikett Pte. Charles Otter Royal Field Auxiliary
Hilda Spencer Pte. W. Davison & Pte. W, Clark Notts & Derby & 8th Lincoln Reg
Philip Robinson Pte. Edward Stamp
Albert E., Charlotte & Mabel Lockwood Pte. J. Lockwood Mechanical Transport
Geoffrey Farnsworth Robert Pinck & George Playford Training Reserve & Royal Flying Corp.
Tom Lancaster Corp. J.G. Lancaster Army Vet Corp.

Thomas Horberry, Henry Lobley, Charles Otter and Harry Spencer were the men who did not return.

Perhaps you, the reader, know of further examples? If so I would love to know.

(Dr. Stephen Parker, author of Faith on the Home Front: Aspects of Church Life and Popular Religion in Birmingham, 1939-1945 (Peter Lang, 2005), has responded by saying he has come across many examples of prayers for Sunday School scholars in Birmingham parish magazines during his research. There was a regular special service in one city centre church for this purpose.)


As a further point of interest in the church, there are two separate war memorials containing exactly the same names; one made of wood and one of bronze. Again, this is very rare in my experience. I wonder why two such memorials are there? Perhaps a benefactor provided the funds for the bronze one as they thought it would be more robust than the wooden one?

Walkeringham Wooden War Memorial

Wooden War Memorial, St. Mary Magdalene, Walkeringham (c) John Broom

Walkeringham Bronze War Memorial

Bronze War Memorial, (c) John Broom

Francis Meynell’s Hunger Strike

One of the more remarkable acts of resistance to military conscription in the First World War came from a young Catholic man with good society connections.

Francis Meynell was the son of the poet Alice Meynell, and one of his ancestors, William Tuke, had been imprisoned for his opposition to the Militia Act of 1688, a fact of which Francis was proud.

Whilst studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Francis got to know Thomas MacDonagh and James Connolly, both of whom were later executed for their roles in the 1916 Easter Rising. Back in London he became friendly with H.G. Wells and Ezra Pound.

Francis Meynell

Francis Meynell as a young man

In 1913 Francis met George Lansbury, one of the early leaders of the Labour Party and a pacifist, and became general manager of the Daily Herald newspaper. On the introduction of conscription in 1916 he helped to form the Guild of the Pope’s Peace, supporting Pope Benedict XV’s call for a negotiated peace.

Francis was sent to appear before a military tribunal, and argued his conscience was a material possession and he was standing in the tradition of Catholics who had refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century. Whilst the chairman accepted the beliefs were sincere, he ordered Francis to undertake non-combatant work, something which, as an absolutist objector, he refused to do. He was therefore sent to Hounslow Barracks.

There he resolved to start a hunger and thirst strike, reckoning the authorities would either have to let him die or release him. To weaken his body’s strength, he would march vigorously during exercise periods and walk up and down the guardroom at other times. He wore no coat in a biting wind and rubbed snow on his head. On the ninth day of fasting he took two morphine tablets to allow him to sleep.

Francis took an ice-cold bath to shock his body and after twelve painful days he collapsed and was taken to a military hospital. He was too far gone to undergo the force-feeding that had been the lot of some suffragettes, and was promised that if he took food and drink he would be exempted from military service. He agreed.

Francis’ discharge papers commented that he was `unlikely to become an efficient soldier’! He received a further letter stating that he would not qualify for an army pension!

Francis Meynell had been prepared to sacrifice his life for his religious and political principles. His is one of twenty-three stories featured in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith From the First World War, published by Pen and Sword.  A personalised copy  can be purchased by sending an email to

Fight the Good Fight

Lord Reith of the BBC – John Reith of the 5th Scottish Rifles

As the nation remembers its war dead over the coming weeks, central to that commemoration will be the BBC broadcast of the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph, Whitehall.

Her Majesty the Queen steps back to pay her respects after laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during the Remembrance Sunday service. The Queen led the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in London, as commemorations were held across the UK in honour of those who died in wars and conflicts. Thousands of current and former military personnel joined the Queen, together with the main party leaders, who also laid wreaths. 2010 marked the 90th anniversary of both the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, who was interred in Westminster Abbey. The Queen was the first to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, followed by other members of the Royal Family, Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and opposition leader Ed Miliband. About 4,500 ex-servicemen and women took part in a march past the Cenotaph.

However, many of those watching may not be aware of the role the founder and first Director-General of the BBC, John (later Baron) Reith played in the First World War, and how his Scottish Presbyterian background informed that role.

Born the son of a church minister in 1889, John had trained as an engineer before the war, but on its outbreak, was made transport officer of the 5th Scottish Rifles. He was sent to France in October 1914, and saw it his role to look after the spiritual as well as the physical wellbeing of his men.

John Reith

John Reith, with his trademark scar earned by a sniper’s bullet in 1915

In the run up to Easter 1915, shocked that his batman did not know the words of Psalm 23, he urged his men to read the Bible daily, something he noted they added to their list of routine duties. Twenty-two of them were later admitted to the Presbyterian Church, with his mother sending out Bibles for each of them.

On 7th October 1915, during the Battle of Loos, John was struck in the cheek by a sniper’s bullet and invalided back to England. In February 1916 he was sent to the USA to negotiate the supply of munitions to the UK. He became a popular and striking figure in Christian circles in Philedelphia, urging the Americans to join the war on the side of the allies. In one speech, made in January 1917 to the Presbyterian Social Union, he quoted from the Book of Judges:

Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.

Throughout the war, John Reith displayed a forcefulness of character and utter belief in his own philosophy and approach to the tasks he was given.

You can read more about his war experiences in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, available to purchase from Pen and Sword Publishing.

Fight the Good Fight

Southwell Minster (1) The RAF, Katyn Forest Massacre and the Battle of Britain

The main reason for a visit to Southwell Minster today was that Russell Barry had served as Bishop of the diocese between 1941 and 1963. He had been an Army Chaplain in the First World War, and his experiences there are featured in my first book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War. Russell Barry will be the subject of a further post.

However Southwell Minster turned out to be a real gem of a place. It boasts many superb architectural features, including a complete Romanesque Norman nave and a beautifully decorated octagonal Chapter House. The more recent art instillations, especially the Stations of the Cross, are moving and blend well with the overall ambience of the building, and the stained glass windows reflect both Victorian style and more recent work which is modern without being overtly modernist.

There is also much to appreciate in terms of reference to twentieth century warfare. Firstly, there is a carved wooden memorial containing the names of those men from Southwell who were killed in the two wars, flanked by paintings of St Nicholas and St Mary. The centrepiece shows the crucifixion of Christ, positioning his sacrifice with that of the servicemen. It is a living piece of work, as the names of eighteen men were added in 2011, following research by the local Royal British Legion.

Southwell Minster 9

To the north-east corner of the minster there is an Airmen’s Chapel. In there hang the flags of the RAF and the Polish nation.

Southwell Minster 8

The altar in the chapel was made in 1919 by apprentices at RAF Norton using wood recovered from broken propeller blades found on Western Front battlefields. The communion rail was made at RAF Newton in 1984.

Southwell Minster 5

Airmen’s Chapel Altar Table, made from propeller blades brought back from the Western Front

In the chapel there is also a memorial to the Katyn Forest Massacre of 1941, an event I first became aware of during an undergraduate lecture given in 1990 by Professor Colin Holmes as part of the Eastern Europe 1939-1968 module he taught at the University of Sheffield. Around 14,500 Polish prisoners of war were systematically killed by Soviet forces on the orders of Stalin following the invasion of Poland in 1939-40. Many of the bodies were buried in Katyn Forest, and were discovered in 1943 by Nazi forces.  For five decades the Soviet Union denied responsibility for the massacre, blaming the Nazis, until finally admitting guilt in 1990. Half the Polish officer class was wiped out, ensuring that any independent post-war reconstruction of Poland would be rendered more difficult, thus paving the way for the country’s incorporation into the Eastern Bloc until the fall of communism in the early 1990s. This extermination was backed up by the execution of many professionals who would also have helped to build an independent Poland, including 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers, and more than 100 writers and journalists.

Southwell Minster 4

Katyn Massacre Memorial

The link between the Katyn Massacre and this small Nottinghamshire town came with the arrival of many Polish refugees in the area, some of whom served in the RAF and others who served in the Nottinghamshire coalfields. Behind the memorial tablet there is an urn containing soil from the Katyn Forest.

Nearby hangs a large lace panel commemorating the Battle of Britain. The lace industry has been associated with Nottinghamshire for many centuries, and the piece is one of thirty-eight made by the Nottingham firm of Dobsons and M. Browne and Co between 1942 and 1946. They mainly made mosquito and camouflage netting during the war. However their designers and draughtsmen found their skills underused, so the company came up with the idea of employing them to design the panels.

Southwell Minster 10

The detail of the Battle of Britain lace panel, this one held by the Australian War Memorial

The panel depicts scenes of the bombing of London, and the types of aircraft used in the battle, as well as the badges of the Allied air forces involved and the floral emblems of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. Also included are the names of the firm and the craftsmen from Dobsons and Browne. At the bottom on a scroll are Winston Churchill’s famous words: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral are depicted, as well as some of the London churches destroyed in the blitz. The edging of the curtain is composed of ripening ears of corn representing the season during which the Battle of Britain took place. Interwoven with these are Tudor roses, thistles, shamrocks, and oak leaves.

Thirty-eight panels were woven before the jacquards were destroyed. King George VI and  Winston Churchill were each presented with one, and others were distributed to various RAF units, and to Westminster Abbey, the City of Nottingham (where the panels were woven), the City of London, and personnel from Dobsons and Browne. As airmen from New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Australia had been attached to various RAF units, these countries also received a panel.

Today the whereabouts of thirty of those panels are known, therefore Southwell Minster contains yet another very special piece of war related memorabilia.

Pastor Pieter-Jozef Dergent, Martyr of Gelrode

I first became aware of the moving story of Pastor Dergent through an exercise book completed by a young man, Samuel Ching, at Mrs Hayman’s Boys’ Bible Class in Bournemouth during the First World War. In it reference was made to a Father Dergent standing up for his faith against the German onslaught into Belgium in 1914.

Some online newspaper and magazine searches revealed that Dergent’s case had made front-page news in the British and American press during the early part of 1915, as stories of German atrocities in Belgium were circulated, both to encourage people in Britain to volunteer for the army, and to stimulate sympathy for the allied cause in then-neutral America.

Only one published work exists about the life of Pastor Dergent, a book written in Dutch by a friend of his who investigated the case in the late 1940s. With the help of this book, and a visit to the sites associated with Pastor Dergent undertaken in Easter 2015, it was possible to piece together the story of tragic heroism; a story that probably touched me as deeply as any of those I came across during my research.

Paster Dergent

Pieter-Josef Dergent was a 44-year-old Catholic priest in the tiny parish of Gelrode, in the Leuven region of Belgium. He was well-loved by his parishioners, and he took care of children and the infirm, and it was considered that he was beginning a Christian revival in Gelrode, where he had been in post for just under a year.

On 19th August 1914, German troops occupied Gelrode and the nearby town of Aarschot. They considered priests to be dangerous partisans, capable of inspiring resistance from the Belgian people. The following week, Pastor Dergent ignored a ruling to stay within the village of Gelrode, setting off to take wounded civilians to a nearby monastery. On returning through Aarschot, he was arrested and imprisoned.

The following day he was taken to the outside of the church at Aarschot, where 3,000 prisoners were being held, and repeatedly brutalised in a disgusting manner, whilst being taunted to renounce his faith. He raised two fingers of his right hand and said:

I swear before God and the saints that I will not renounce my faith.

Aarschot church

The church at Aarschot, showing the place where the torture of Pastor Dergent occurred

He was then beaten and stoned, and his body thrown into the nearby river Demer, from where it was recovered on 2nd September and hastily buried

On 14th November his body was reburied at Gelrode, and today a beautiful memorial marks the place.

Pastor Dergent Grave

The author visiting Pastor Dergent’s grave in April 2015

There is also a statue in his honour on the main rode, and the local primary school is named VBS Pastor Dergent in his honour.

Pastor Dergent Statue

The full story of Pastor Dergent is one of twenty-three case studies contained in my first book, Fight the Good Fight, Voices of Faith from the First World War. The book also contains a foreword by respected MP Dan Jarvis, Labour’s spokesman on war commemoration

Fight the Good Fight


The Greg Brothers of Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire

In my  previous post I had remarked on the inclusion of two members of the Greg family on the war memorial plaque in St Bartholemew Church, Wilmslow.

A further search revealed a marble plaque to the members of the family killed in the war in a seperate chapel.

Wilmslow church war memorial cheshire
Wilmslow church war memorial cheshire


Quarry Bank Mill is one of the premier National Trust sites in the country.  I have taken several school parties there to investigate working conditions in cotton factories in the Industrial Revolution. The story of the family at that time has been told in the Channel 4 series The Mill. ( However a recent project has brought to light letters written by Captain Arthur Greg and allowed researchers to bring his story to a wider audience.

Arthur and Robert were the sons of Ernest William Greg and it was their other brother Alexander Carlton Greg who donated Quarry Bank Mill to the National Trust.

Like many serving at the front, he tried to underplay the horror of what he was experiencing.

He wrote: “Eighteen days in a fire trench with heavy engagements only a few hundred yards to our right, and more critical fighting a mile or so on our left, was not calculated to act as nerve tonic.”

Arthur began his military career at the age of 20 in 1914, when he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion Cheshire Regiment, serving as a bombing officer. In May 1915 he was attached to the First Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, 15th Brigade, 5th Division, and was stationed in Ypres, Belgium.

Arthur led several reconnaissance missions, searching for enemy spies, often under heavy shell fire.

During a German attack on the trenches, Arthur was severely wounded after a shell dropped nearby.

He wrote: “I went down like a log and was next aware of a loose, horrid and disconnected feeling about the lower part of my face… At one time I thought I should not live as I was bleeding so furiously. I thought it a pity that one more so young should have to go.”

In November of 1915 Arthur became a captain and in 1917 he was graded as a flying officer and posted to the British Expeditionary Force, 55 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.

On April 23, 1917, flying the DH4 bomber A7408, Arthur performed his final sacrifice.

He was involved in an air battle with German pilots – including, it is believed, Herman Goering – and was shot at 18,000ft. Although he managed to land the plane, he later died of his wounds.

His death was reported in the Cheshire Observer on 5th May 1917

Arthur Greg Cheshire Observer 5 May 1917

 Arthur Greg

Captain A.T. Greg

Robert Greg

Robert Greg

This story again leads me to reflect on the sense of duty that led the sons of even the most wealthy and prominent families to do what was seen as their duty.  Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had a son killed.  Wealth and position was no insurance against the ultimate sacrifice.  Why was it this generation of all those who had enjoyed the wealth and privilige of being the proprietors of Quarry Bank Mill who had to lay down their lives alongside the men of their parish?

John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, an examination of the different ways in which the Christian faith was experienced during the war. It features a foreword by respected MP Dan Jarvis, Labour’s spokesman on war commemoration and an ex-army officer.

John has also produced a similar book on the Second World War, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2