Honiton’s forgotten war heroes

Honiton Remembrance Day Service, 2017. Picture: Matt Round

Honiton Remembrance Day Service, 2017. Picture: Matt Round - Credit: Archant

Honiton’s war memorial at St Paul’s Church in High Street pays a fitting tribute to 66 local men who fell in World War One, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Steve Jennings remembers the 74 Honiton men not named and spoke to Margaret Lewis, who feels passionately that they should be.

William James Clarke.

William James Clarke. - Credit: Archant

Alfred Tidwell was born on April 16, 1887, in Branscombe, the son of Edward and Elizabeth (nee Berry).

He married Emily Flora Hawker in January 1903 at Buckerell and their son Edwin was born in May 1905 in Broadhembury. He joined the 8th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and saw active service in France and Belgium.

Alfred was part of a Great Allied offensive - the biggest British attack of 1915 - that began on Saturday, September 25, 1915, when the French and British tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne with only partial success. The Franco-British attacks were contained by the German armies in an attempt to capture the town of Loos-en-Gohelle and British losses were devastating, with casualties twice as high as German losses.

This was generally considered the bloodiest day of World War One.

Thomas Batten

Thomas Batten - Credit: Archant


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Out of nearly 10,000 British soldiers, 8,246 enlisted men were killed that day, 1,115 from the 8th and 9th Devonshire Regiments.

Private Alfred Tidwell, 10544, of the Devonshires was one who died in the Battle of Loos alongside another eight Honiton men, only two of whom are named on Honiton’s war memorial. Alfred is commemorated on Loos Memorial, which commemorates more than 20,000 soldiers who, like him, fell in the battle and have no known grave.

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Sergeant Reginald Northam of the same Battalion is also named on Loos Memorial.

Born in Awliscombe in July 1893, the son of Bess Northam, he was killed by a sniper during the attack on Hulloch and Cite St Elie. So too Private John Bishop, of Buckerell, the son of John and Agnes, and Private Charles Foxwell who was born in Honiton and enlisted in Exeter.

Hointon War Memorial. Picture: Terry Ife

Hointon War Memorial. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

In their home town, these are forgotten heroes as they are four of 74 not commemorated on the Honiton War Memorial.

There are several reasons why these men’s names may have been omitted from the memorial.

In most cases because their body could not be recovered from the battle scene therefore there is no known grave.

Or the body could not be identified. And in some cases the soldier’s families preferred the names not to be included.

Remembrance sunday poppy

Remembrance sunday poppy - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Margaret Lewis, who is the curator at Allhallows Museum in Honiton, is one of the people whose painstaking research has given more information about Honiton’s forgotten soldiers, much of which came to light when she was researching the 66 men named.

“About 16 years ago, we realised that we didn’t know much about World War One and the men named on the memorial,” she explains. “Information was very scarce then and there is certainly a lot more information available today.

“As we were researching the 66 names of Honiton men on the memorial, we found a further 74 who either lived here or were born here. We have the names of 74 men at the moment, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we found more.”

Names like Charles Smallbones, who was born in Honiton in 1879, the son of Charles and Eliza. Charles, who, like so many others in his Battalion, died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in France. He was 37. He was posthumously awarded the Military Medal in 1917 for bravery in the field. His name appears in a list of men who had ‘been killed in action or died of wounds or disease subsequent to the date of the award’ in the Supplement to the Military Gazette.

He had also served in the African campaign and is remembered on the Camberley and Ash war memorials, but not in his home town.

Margaret feels passionately that the names of the 74 men should be added to Honiton’s War Memorial and has taken this information to various organisations, but her requests have thus far fallen on deaf ears: “We have been told that just about every memorial in the country would need updating,” she says. “And there just isn’t the money available to do that.

“I haven’t formally approached Honiton Town Council, but I have spoken to some councillors off the record and it is quite clear there is no appetite to carry out this work. I would certainly welcome someone to come and talk to me about this though, as it is very frustrating.”

As long as this is the case, then brave men like Roger Radford will remain a forgotten hero. He was born in Honiton in 1895, the son of Henry, a coach smith, and Elizabeth Ann (nee Davey) and they lived in Swan Yard.

He was a fitter in the Royal Field Artillery who enlisted in Bristol and was killed in action on the Western Front on December 13, 1917, aged 23. He is buried in Minty Farm Cemetery, Belgium.

Margaret has carried out so much research, and has read plenty of tales: “I have read so many really sad stories that I am so glad I wasn’t around then”, she admits. “When I think of all those people that were affected.

“Honiton lost eight men in one week! You can’t imagine that happening today – it would be devastating.

“Some families would have been holding their breath every day, just anticipating bad news. That’s a horrible thought. And it’s not just those that died in battle. So many men returned home with missing limbs and mental problems and received no help. They just had to get on with things.”

This is not a time to apportion blame and shame but this wrong has to be put right. It is time to pay a fitting tribute to Honiton’s forgotten heroes of WWI; 74 brave men who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and whose names we must never forget.

Honiton’s forgotten war heroes

L = Lived in Honiton

BN = Born in Honiton

22 10 1914 SAMUEL JAMES LARCOMBE BN

27 10 1914 WALTER REGINALD CLARKE L

10 03 1915 SIDNEY FRANCIS GIGG BN

12 03 1915 FREDERICK CHARLES PEARCE L

22 04 1915 HENRY BILLINGS L

09 05 1915 REGINALD SMITH BN

16 06 1915 WILLIAM JAMES CLARKE BN

06 07 1915 GILBERT GEORGE NORTHAM BN

19 09 1915 JAMES (JESSE) LOCK BN

25 09 1915 WILFRED HENRY MORRIS L

25 09 1915 BERTRUM CONNETT BN

25 09 1915 HARRY PEARCE BN

25 09 1915 JOHN BISHOP L

25 09 1915 CHARLES FOXWELL L

25 09 1915 ALFRED TIDWELL L

25 09 1915 REGINALD NORTHAM BN

30 09 1915 REGINALD DIMON L

08 03 1916 GEORGE WHITE L

19 04 1916 ERNEST BISHOP L

28 04 1916 SUMMERS ERNEST BN

12 05 1916 JAMES REED BN

01 07 1916 CHARLES GEORGE SMALLBONES BN

01 07 1916 ALBERT BOWLES L

01 07 1916 WILLIAM JAMES GLADE L

01 07 1916 CHRISTOPHER PAYNE L

05 07 1916 WILLIAM GEORGE GOSLING L

12 07 1916 ALBERT PHILLIPS BN

14 07 1916 GEORGE HINE L

14 07 1916 ERNEST JOHN MORRIS L

20 07 1916 WALTER LOCK BN

17 08 1916 THOMAS SOLMAN BN

02 09 1916 SIDNEY HARRIS BN

09 09 1916 GILBERT ROBINS BN

26 09 1916 ALBERT JAMES DARE L

19 11 1916 WILLIAM ROWLAND L

19 11 1916 SYDNEY BARRETT BN

16 01 1917 JAMES DAN KEY BN

03 02 1917 ARTHUR LANE L

12 03 1917 EDWIN FREDERICK DARE L

16 03 1917 ALBERT JAMES LLEWELLYN L

25 03 1917 HARRY FOXWELL BN

10 04 1917 HORACE BERNARD PROUT BN

17 04 1917 SAMUEL CARNELL L

23 04 1917 JOHN PERCY FRENCH BN

23 04 1917 JONATHAN HEELS BN

27 04 1917 FRANK TOTTLE L

02 05 1917 GILBERT GEORGE BLATCHFORD BN

07 05 1917 TOLA GEORGE SPILLER BN

09 05 1917 HAROLD JAMES COLLIER L

11 05 1917 BEN FREDERICK FOXWELL BN

25 06 1917 NORMAN ROBERT LEWIS BN

08 08 1917 WILLIS ALBERT WARE BN

16 08 1917 FREDERICK BATTEN L

02 10 1917 ALBERT JOHN DOMMETT BN

04 10 1917 THOMAS HINNEM BN

05 10 1917 HARRY WHEATON CHANNON L

06 10 1917 WILLIAM FRANK GIGG BN

07 10 1917 FRED PULMAN L

29 11 1917 FREDERICK TRIMLETT BN

03 12 1917 JOHN TUCKER L

13 12 1917 ROGER RADFORD BN

25 03 1918 FREDERICK JAMES HURFORD L

01 04 1918 THOMAS BATTEN L

10 04 1918 WILLIAM FLATMAN L

13 04 1918 JAMES NORTHAM BN

14 04 1918 SAMUEL JOHN ALFORD L

26 04 1918 ALBERT ERNEST HARTNELL BN

08 05 1918 ALFRED WILLIAM NORRIS L

14 07 1918 ROBERT JAMES MIFFLIN BN

20 07 1918 RICHARD VIVIAN SMITH HONITON VAD HOSPITAL

25 07 1918 ERNEST WILLIAM TRIM L

10 08 1918 GEORGE COMPTON BN

28 08 1918 FREDERICK GEORGE TUCKER L

18 09 1918 WILLIAM IRISH L

19 09 1918 ALBERT VICTOR REYNOLDS BN

19 10 1918 ARTHUR FRANCIS CHAMBERLAIN BN

22 10 1918 CHRISTOPHER FRANK PILTON L

31 10 1918 JOHN LENTLE L

07 11 1918 WILLIAM JOHN APLIN L

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