Hermitage World War One Centenary Memorial Project 2018
Hermitage Remembers 2018
Andrew Murray - November 2018 Remembrance Service
11am on the 11th November 1918 marked the cessation of fighting across the numerous fronts, and with it the Armistice. However for many this didn't mark the end of the First World War, 1000s of men remained overseas as part of the Army of Occupation up to and indeed after the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, which marked (for some) the end of this truly global war, the war to end all wars; and a war that directly and indirectly impacted millions of people, and indeed families in Hermitage.
But how many men....and indeed women from or shall we say 'connected' to 'Hermitage' actually served or at very least attempted to serve in the Great War?
Well that is the question I posed myself two years ago after Remembrance 2016, stood on parade listening to the names of those that fell being read out, as I had for the last seven years. And having just unravelled a 100 mystery of my own grandfather's & great grandfather's war service, I caught the bug (my wife will argue madness) for Military Genealogy. So, I began to research those that fell in the attempt bring the names back to life rather than being a name and initial on a cross. With military genealogy the dead are easier to find and research, as they are tragically captured in a point in time, as such the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have their details and deaths recorded, and a number of other resources help to piece together their poignant tale.
But whilst searching out their stories, I then found two men from Hermitage killed in action not recognised locally or indeed anywhere in West Berkshire.
Firstly, Frank Taylor of Oare Hill, Hermitage (taken from his Soldiers will). A Private in the 6th Battalion, The Royal Berkshire Regiment. On the 1st of July 1916 Frank was stood in an assembly trench near Carnoy on the Somme. At 0728hrs the CASINO POINT mine was exploded causing some own casualties by the debris, at 0730hrs the whistle blew and he and comrades began the assault, advancing forward towards the German Line, and enfilade Maxim machine guns and artillery fire, by 0750 the Battalion had sustained heavy casualties, with one of the leading Companies losing all it’s Officers.....by the end of the 2nd July, the Battalion had lost 78 men killed, 259 men wounded and 11 missing, Frank who was aged about 21 was as one of the missing, presumed killed on the 1st July 1916 and is one of the over 72000 missing from the battlefields of the Somme who are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. Frank was the son of William and Alice Taylor, his brothers Albert, Thomas, Walter, Stanley and Cecil also went off to the "big adventure" and all came home.
Next was Private Henry Ireson, born and lived in Hermitage, his father Giles is buried in the Church yard. The Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment who was killed in trenches near Ploegsteert, Belgium in June 1916; and whilst attempting to do the genealogical back story for these two men and the 15 others on memorial cross in the grounds of Holy Trinity, I started to find other men and indeed women that 'came home' connected to Hermitage. I was then made aware (thanks to Alan Gateley) to the stone tablet in the Church grounds which recognises the men that came back from the Great War of 1914 - 1919, a list of over 70 surnames and initials.
But our memorials were both erected in the early 1920s and were at odds with the other names I found, people were missed off....experience now tells me there will be numerous reasons for this, families moved away by 1920, some may never have got the message (no social media then), family feuds, men and families not wanting recognition (many men threw their medals away) and perhaps even a bit local snobbery.
This was the spark to where we are now nearly two years later and having done close to 500 hours of searching and researching, I have now connected over 200 men and women who served, or at least attempted to serve in the Great War to Hermitage, and two more men killed in action unremembered locally. Private William Charles Gibbs, 19th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps. Born in Hermitage to Emma King (nee Gibbs). William enlisted pre-war into the Royal Berkshire Regiment on the 27th March 1914, mobilising to the Western Front in May 1916, and transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in February 1917. During a German assault on the line near Sarcy, William Died of Wounds (gun shot wounds to his legs) in Number 48 Casualty Clearing Station aged 21, and is buried in Sezanne Communal Cemetery,
Finally, I found William Wernham, Royal Field Artillery. The son Joshua & Martha Wernham who by 1921 were living Hermitage. William enlisted in to the Royal Field Artillery in January 1916, a veteran of the Somme Offensive of 1916. Gunner Wernham, Died of Wounds in Number 12 Casualty Clearing Station, that were likely to have been sustained on the opening day of the Battle of Messines on the 7th June 1917. The Brigade reported coming under German counter artillery fire. William is buried in Mendingham Cemetery, his grave is inscribed with the simple word "Remembered" as requested by his elder sister Sarah, and he is recorded as being a native of Hermitage by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
We do have seven other men who paid the ultimate sacrifice who were from/connected to Hermitage, but they are recognised in other local villages.
Along the way my search has taken me to the war at sea, the 'Fronts' of German East Africa, the beaches of Gallipoli, the deserts of Mespotamia, Italy, and Salonika where malaria was the biggest fear and of course the carnage of the Western Front in France & Flanders. I have for a brief period experienced life & death in the trenches on the battlefields of Nueve Chapelle, Loos, the Somme, Arras, Amiens, Ypres, Vimy, Cambrai, and Passchendaele amongst the many others. The Red Cross Hospitals in Newbury, Cairo and Rouen. I have seen the 'Tank' used for the first time at Flers Courcellette, flown with our early aviators over the battlefields (we had a few 'Fliers' of our own Lieutenants Stanley Herbert Hamblin (an attributed Ace), Auguste Remy, Herbert Lionel Godfrey and Raymond Gillette Cox) and seen the impact of gas used for the first time (by both sides), and the differing realities of the Christmas truce of 1914, all of this has been a fascinating and at times an emotional journey, but frankly a privilege to have been on it.
So as a village we now have a database of these men and women which will be shared with the Community and held by the Church for posterity, I am sure there are more names still out there to find, but thanks to the Luftwaffe who bombed the War Office records in the Second World War over 60% of the personnel files were destroyed! But having scoured the internet, genealogical sites, census records. electoral rolls, births, deaths and marriage records, the Newbury Weekly News archives from 1914 to 1920, War Office casualty lists, Red Cross records, British Newspapers Archives, Officer Files held at the National Archives, and local knowledge from relatives (daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren) I think I have been as thorough as I can.
So with 100 years since the Armistice, I felt we must do something on behalf of these men and women to turn them into real people once more rather than just surnames & initials and 'meta data' on the Internet, and to tell the story of the 26 fallen Hermitage men and honour the four killed in action for the first time in over 100 years, and equally recognise those that served in some fashion in the war that was supposed to end all wars as they all war dead now. With hindsight we can all debate the futility and the loss, the ‘lions led by donkeys’ rhetoric, but as a community we should value & remember them regardless, as many of the Hermitage men were volunteers and not conscripted, they saw it as their duty, all five of the women I found were definitely volunteers, notably Red Cross Nurse Anna Macrobin Case (a resident of Crossways), who served from September 1915 in Egypt no doubt seeing men return from Gallipoli campaign and then No 10 General Hospital Rouen in October 1917.
But the 100 years roll of honour on the church wall goes a long way to demonstrate that we have remembered them!