At this time of year, thoughts turn towards our ancestors who fought for King/Queen and country, and we begin to polish medals, picture frames, ‘Princess Mary Tins’ and other souvenirs that hold our memories of people we hardly knew, or probably never even met. These people served in two world wars, in Korea or the other smaller conflicts of the 1950s and 1960s, in Northern Ireland, the South Atlantic, Iraq or Afghanistan. Our politicians keep making wars, and young men - and now women - are sent to fight them.  

 My maternal grandfather joined up in August 1914, but was not sent to France until summer 1916, after the Welsh Division was decimated at Mametz Wood in the Somme campaign. He survived the fighting and was not taken by flu, but as a single man, he was retained to help ‘clean up the mess’, and was not discharged until early summer 1919. He married and raised a family, but was always quite an austere man, which he was not before the conflict. My paternal grandfather’s cousin Clive enlisted in February 1918. In late-June, he arrived in Belgium, and at the end of September, he was fatally wounded in France - two weeks before his regiment was withdrawn from the line. 

These facts only became apparent a few years ago, when I actively went looking for them. My grandfather never related his experiences to his family, and young Clive’s family never spoke of his loss. I have his medals. They are still in the original boxes.  

 Across the nation millions of families will have similar vague or partial knowledge of their ancestors’ service and sacrifices, and Sidmouth, Sidford, Sidbury and Salcombe Regis will be no different. We should perhaps add Woolbrook, which in Edwardian days was considered a separate place too. Here follows sketches of some men of the Sid Valley and surrounding area who fought and died. Not all of these fellows were born and bred in the Valley, some originated further afield and moved to Sidmouth for work, others married local girls and moved in, and others were already young men when their parents came here. When the memorials were created though, they were all considered Sidmouth, or Sidbury, or Salcombe Regis ‘War Dead’ - but of course, they are all British war dead. 

 The recent centenaries of the Great War years were poignant for many British citizens, and across the nation, towns and villages raised funds and committed time to perpetuate the memory of their fallen. Special efforts were made to plant trees, restore benches and plaques, repair memorials and construct new ones. Some went even further; in Sidmouth in 2017-18, Christine Hardy and Ruth Lewis consolidated local Great War stories into a play called A Painful Duty, which ran at the main parish church for three nights. It was centred on two local families, the Clodes and the Channings. The latter lost three members of their family; two in Flanders, and a third who survived the carnage, only to be killed in a motor accident not long after getting home. 

Gunner Edward ‘Ralph’ Clode was a member of the Royal Field Artillery, and rather remarkably, his grandson Adrian had a part in the play. Ralph met his end on 12th August 1917 in the first phases of General Haig’s breakout from Ypres. Whilst it was a feasible plan, exceptionally heavy summer rain completely changed the nature of the battlefield, but Haig persisted with his strategy - at great cost. The campaign comprised eight battles, including Pilckem Ridge, Menin Road, and notoriously, Passchendaele - the 10km advance cost well over 500,000 casualties, but the ground gained was surrendered six months later. Passchendaele now symbolises the senseless slaughter wrought upon troops by iron-willed, intransigent generals. 

Ralph’s parents, Edwin and Anna, had run their longstanding family bakery business from what is now Vinnicombe’s in the High Street. A number of the Clode family had succumbed to illnesses common in Edwardian times, and Ralph’s failure to return home from the war to take it on meant that, eventually, the business had to be sold - to the Broughtons. Ralph’s sacrifice is marked on the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium, it is one of four memorials to those whose bodies were not recovered for burial. 

These are the sad tribulations of just two families; other stories are related below. In remembering some men mentioned individually, we remember over 220 collectively, whilst acknowledging that their number does not include local men who died in the Boer War or the conflicts of the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries. 

The memorials in Sidmouth, Sidbury and Salcombe Regis commemorate 154 Sidmouth and district men and one woman, who died in WWI conflict, or of illness or accident, whilst serving in uniform. The majority lost their lives in the mud and trenches of Flanders, but others died much further afield. Marine Arthur Stevens lost his at Gallipoli and others died in Mesopotamia. The one local member of the RAF died in Italy. Others in the Navy lost their lives on the far side of the world, whilst the first man of the Sid Valley to die in WWI - Gilbert Burrows of Sidbury - was killed in Zanzibar when his ship, HMS Pegasus was attacked whilst in dock. 

 The story of the Otton family is perhaps not untypical of the times. In around 1889, George Otton of Branscombe married a Sidmouth girl, Edith, whose maiden name was perhaps Selley, for their first child was christened Lionel Alfred Selley. In late Victorian times, south Wales needed labour, and thousands migrated there from all over the country. George must have been one of them, for his next three children were born in Glamorganshire. The family settled back in Sidmouth around 1895, where two more were born.  

George died aged 45 in 1909, and in 1911, Edith married a Marine, William Hunt. They lived in Beavis Row, Newtown. At this point, Gilbert (b.1896) was a trainee butcher in Sidmouth. When war came, for some reason, he went back to Wales to join up, and was with the 16 Welsh Regiment, and was fighting at Mametz Wood and died of wounds received there on 7th July 1916. 

The aforementioned Lionel, his older brother, a corporal in the Royal Engineers, was killed in 1917. Their youngest brother Samuel (b.1899) served in the Royal Navy but survived the war. Another Sidmouth-born Otton - perhaps a cousin - Edward George, also a corporal in the RE, had been killed earlier in the war in 1915, most likely at St. Julien near Ypres, in late April, where the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time.   

The first Sidmouth-born man killed in the Great War was Robert Searle who was serving in HMS Monmouth on 1st November 1914, when a small force of RN ships fought a modern German cruiser squadron off the coast of Chile on 1st November 1914. The Battle of Coronel saw the sinking of two ships, HMS Monmouth aboard which were Petty Officer Searle and Louis Adlam of Sidmouth, and Stoker James Spiller of Sidbury. HMS Good Hope was also sunk in the engagement, aboard which was Sidmouth man William Turner.   

Similarly, Able Seamen Charles Bailey and George Selley died together when HMS Goliath was torpedoed by a Turkish ship in the Dardanelles in May 1915. As did Leading Seaman Harry Street, 28, Able Seaman George Russell, 33 and Stoker 1 Class William Mutters, 41, at the thunderous Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916. They were aboard the cruiser HMS Defence when it was sunk after heavy gunfire exploded the ship’s own ammunition. Only 10 men of a crew of 903 survived.  

The word ‘devastated’ is ludicrously misused these days. It should be the sole preserve of people like John and Ellen Richards of Sidbury who lost three sons in the Great War: their oldest Edric, a career Royal Marine, of illness, in the Dardanelles in 1915; then two others, possibly twins and probably also regular soldiers of the Devonshire Regiment, Luke in 1916 and Percy in 1917. 

The same dreadful thing happened to Frank and Augusta Taylor, also of Sidbury, who lost sons Frank - a boy sailor - and John in 1915, and then Arthur in 1916. 

If the Richards and Taylor families received terrible shocks, imagine Mrs Emma Solman of Sidbury who lost her 18yr old son, Ernest in July 1916, and then her husband George a few weeks later. In 1942, a Sidbury man by the name of Ernest George Solman was killed at El Alamein in North Africa. 

Two last stories about the Great War - both from spring 1918. On 27th May, the vicar of Salcombe Regis lost a gallant grandson, and the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment lost its commanding officer. Lt Col. Rupert Anderson-Morshead, DSO was killed leading his troops in the Bois des Buttes near Roucy. The action was part of the Third Battle of the Aisne, as the German’s Spring Offensive gathered momentum. The ‘2nd Devons’ fought almost to the last man to stymie the German advance long enough for defences to be bolstered. The fierceness of the fight earned the Devons an immortal battle honour, and the French awarded the regiment the Croix de Guerre. Rupert was the man who led them. 

In stark, dishonourable contrast, a month later, Lt Helmut Patzig committed a war crime, when his submarine, U-86, torpedoed the Llandovery Castle a hospital ship, on a return journey from Canada. On a long summer evening, not yet fully dark, Patzig fired two torpedoes at a brightly-lit hospital ship painted white with red crosses. He then proceeded to run down life-boats and machine-gun survivors in the water. Post-war, Patzig was charged with the murder of 234 men and women - one of them being Sidmouthian Kenneth Thomas. 

Naturally, the Great War had tremendous repercussions for the whole country, but in smaller towns the effects would have been magnified. In 1914, the local population of Sidmouth was about 4,500, so perhaps 6,000 for the whole district. Records show that 154 servicemen of Sidmouth and district lost their lives in WWI, which means that over two per cent of the local population was killed in WWI - which, one roughly estimates, to mean five per cent of local males. An incredible statistic.  

It was certainly something that roused the town, and in 1919, Sidmouth’s citizens decided to do something for veterans and their families. They purchased The Retreat, a large property at the top of Church St, intending that it become a facility for rest, recreation and social support. They also raised more funds - over £1000 - for R W Sampson to design conversion works. The clubhouse opened in June 1922, and became the War Memorial Club, a Sidmouth institution until recently. Six months earlier, the town’s war memorial - also by R W Sampson, and also funded by local subscription - was inaugurated. 

Fewer than 20 years later, Britain was at war again. In WWII, probably the first man with Sidmouth connections to perish was 40-year-old Petty Officer Bernard Blake - husband of Nellie May - who was on the Rawalpindi, a 1923 P&O liner converted to an armed merchant cruiser, charged with escorting the early Atlantic convoys. On 23rd November, she came across two modern German battleships, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. With no prospect of getting away, the skipper - Edward Kennedy, father of the well-known broadcaster Ludovic - attacked, but was swiftly despatched. Bernard was one of 275 men lost. 

The following June, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were also responsible for the death of Sidford man John Selley - son of Henry and Emily, and husband of Violet - when they attacked RN vessels leaving Narvik, Norway. John’s ship HMS Ardent was protecting a troopship and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, and took repeated hits as she attempted to draw the battleships off. 

Before John Selley, three other Sidmouth men lost their lives in the Norway Campaign. The first was the 19-year-old son of Sidney and Gladys Sanders, Richard, a pilot officer of 220 Sqn Coastal Command. His Lockheed Hudson was shot down off Stavanger by two Me-109s. 

Then there was 21-year-old Royal Marine Oliver Bagwell, son of Robert and Anne. Oliver was a tall, athletic, popular young fellow who had fished for a living, and had played rugby for Sidmouth. He joined the Royal Marines in early 1940, and by spring, he had completed his training and was posted to 21st Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RM. In mid-April, his unit was deployed to Norway. The plan was to take the city of Trondheim by attacking from the north (Namsos) and south (Åndalsnes). 

Oliver was a member of the force sent to Åndalsnes, and as an anti-aircraft crew, an essential role as the small port was remorselessly attacked by the Luftwaffe. The campaign went badly, and British forces were forced out of Norway after a fortnight in a hurried ‘mini-Dunkirk’ evacuation. It seems that Oliver was badly wounded in the last day or two. His colleagues got him back to HMS Fleetwood for evacuation, but he succumbed not long afterwards. Sadly, because HMS Fleetwood was heavily overloaded - carrying 440 men, against a usual 100 - Oliver had to be buried at sea. 

Two weeks after Oliver’s death, a new Bagwell entered the world, and he was christened Oliver in tribute, and was known as ‘Little Oliver’ - friends of the Bagwells will know that he died in 2021. It was many, many years before ‘Big Oliver’s’ brother Arthur was able to forgive the Germans. The catalyst was a young German girl studying at the language school and staying with other Bagwells. Learning of the story, she went to visit Arthur with some flowers. Somehow this melted his animosity, and helped him release his grief. 

Shortly after Oliver died, on 3rd May 1940, in the same campaign, 33-year-old RN Telegraphist Robert Mellor - husband of Ida - was amongst 95 men lost when the destroyer HMS Afridi was attacked by Stuka dive-bombers in a similar evacuation from Namsos. 

On 23rd October 1943, Frederick Salter - son of Albert and Annie - died. He had been captured by the Japanese at Singapore in early-1942, and sent to work on the Burma Railway, and was one of 14,500 British POWs not to survive the terrible conditions. He is now commemorated in Kanchanaburi Cemetery.  

On the very same day, in an incident which mirrored the loss Sid Valley sailors in WWI, Petty Officer Edmund Purchase and Seamen William Liverton and Leicester Boyce lost their lives together when HMS Charybdis, and other ships, were ambushed by enemy torpedo-boats off the coast of Brittany. Two sisters - Beryl and Margaret Jewes - who have lived in Sidmouth for many years, lost their youngest brother John in the same action.  

Leicester’s brother Frank would be killed in 1944, as once again, a number of families suffered multiple losses: Mrs Lottie Hodge lost her husband Arthur in June 1941, and then her son, also Arthur, in Italy in November 1943. Pairs of brothers were also taken from the Newbery, Prowse and Selley families. 

Not all of the war dead lost their lives in combat. In autumn 1917 Mary Tindall, a volunteer nurse, was taken by illness, as was her brother a naval commander in Malta, in spring 1919. Cadet George Vallance died in hospital in Plymouth in December 1918, a few months later, so did William Penn - probably both were taken by flu. In WWII, Ordinary Seaman Leslie Bastin succumbed to appendicitis in March 1943, whilst serving in HMS Rotherham in the Far East. Two Sidmouth RN men and one from Salcombe Regis were working in Plymouth in April 1941, and were amongst 900 people killed in the heavy air raids of that month - their names were Henry Rowland, Bertram Pratt and James Burnell. 

Just as they had for the Clode family post-WWI, deaths in WWII also had ramifications for Sidmouth businesses. Young George Vallance was heir to Sidmouth’s principal brewery business. His father died in 1935. This left his younger brother William, but he lost his life at Easter 1942, as an officer in HMS Cornwall, which along with HMS Dorsetshire, was sunk by Japanese aircraft off Ceylon. William was the last Vallance, and when the boys’ uncle, John died in 1944, the business was sold within two years. 

On 6th December 1941, just as Japan was manoeuvring its forces into place to invade SE Asia, and strike Pearl Harbour, a Catalina seaplane, of 205 Squadron was shot down as it shadowed the Japanese invasion fleet in the Gulf of Siam. F/Sgt. Edward Bailey was a member of the crew which became the war’s very first Allied casualties of Japanese action. Edward’s widowed mother owned a newsagents in Temple Street, and before joining the RAF as an apprentice in 1935, Edward had attended King’s School Ottery. In 2019, Edward’s story was the subject of a Sidmouth Museum project - which remains on display. 

No branch of any Allied service saw a higher proportion of casualties than RAF Bomber Command. The formation lost 55,733 airmen, and perhaps only German submariners died in greater numbers. One of those lost was F/Sgt Walter Thomas of 101 Squadron - a famous unit that still exists today. Walter was a north Devon man, who married, Mildred, a Sidford girl. On the night of 5th October 1944, his aircraft was detailed to fly electronic jamming duties in a raid on Saarbrucken. His plane crashed near Liege, Belgium, killing all on board. It is not known what brought it down. 

One of the earliest deaths in Bomber Command was that of Herbert Gaut, born in Sidbury in 1913. He was killed when his Whitley bomber crashed in the process of 102 Squadron moving bases. It was overloaded, and went down during take-off. His father, Percy a Sussex man who had married a Sidbury girl, had been killed at Richebourg, when the ‘South Downs Brigade’ launched a diversionary attack the day before the Battle of the Somme. Perhaps fortunately, Mrs Gaut predeceased her son. 

All told, 65 men of the Sid Valley and surrounds gave their lives in WWII, but the area had one more sacrifice to offer. Local British Legion stalwart Dave O’Connor has researched the life of the last Sidmouth man to be killed fighting for his country. He was a young man called David Hamson who was born in 1932, and lived at the top of town. When Manstone Estate was completed around 1938, his family moved in there, and he was schooled at Woolbrook, leaving at 15 to go and work in the engine sheds at Exmouth Junction Station. In 1950 he turned 18 and was called for National Service. David joined the Devonshire Regiment, and on completion of training at Topsham - now Wyvern - Barracks, Exeter, he was sent out to Malaya where a Communist-led guerrilla war was going on.  

Simultaneously, the Korean War - where British troops represented the United Nations - had escalated, and reinforcements were required. British troops in Malaya were asked to transfer to other regiments to bolster numbers. David Hamson volunteered, and found himself in the Gloucestershire Regiment, just as they were about to engage the enemy in an extremely long and fierce fight at Imjin River. 

The battle was fought, day and night, 22nd - 25th April 1951, and became part of British Army folklore as 750 men of the ‘Glorious Glosters’ (and a troop of Royal Artillery) atop a hill held off 10,000 enemy long enough for UN forces to retreat and construct solid defences to Seoul. This probably saved the war. David met his end there on the last day of the battle, and he was buried in Pusan, South Korea, in what is the world’s only UN war cemetery. The story does not end there. Over 50 years after the great battle, Dave O’Connor was able to procure David’s medals for his surviving sisters, and a memorial tablet for him in the parish church. 

Lastly, perhaps we should also remember that war and conflict also takes a toll on those who survive conflict. Men saw and did things that they would much rather not have - things that damaged them, to various degrees. Families also suffered, losing sons, husbands, fathers and brothers, creating holes in lives that were never filled. 

 Wherever they may be at 11am on Friday 11th November, townspeople are invited to pause and pay respects to the men mentioned above - and those whose stories were not told - with a minute’s silence. Similarly, people are encouraged to go down to their local formal services of remembrance on Sunday 13th November at about 10:45a.m. We shall remember them.  

 With sincere thanks to John McCarthy, Dave O’Connor, Martyn Bagwell and Adrian Clode for sharing their knowledge. Also acknowledging the superb work of the late Muriel Brine -