All posts by Sheridan

Lionel Arthur Ashfield

Lieutenant Lionel Arthur Ashfield DFC, Royal Air Force, d. 16th July 1918 age 19

Lionel Arthur Ashfield was born at the Manor House in Wootton Bassett (then known as The Lodge) on 1st August 1898 and was christened at St Bartholomew’s on 28th August 1898. He was the second son of Charles Edmund Ashfield, MA, and Ida Lucy nee Hunt. Charles and Ida married in Bedfordshire on 8th August 1885. Some time between 1891 and 1894 they moved to Wootton Bassett. During the Ashfields’ residence at The Lodge their two eldest sons were born. Lionel’s elder brother Reginald Charles Ashfield was born on February 19th 1897, followed by Lionel in 1898.

Lionel’s father Charles was a Marlborough College alumnus and worked as a tutor. He opened a preparatory school for boys at the Lodge, possibly in 1894 as it was advertised in the Herald on November 24th 1894. In 1896 Charles advertised the Lodge, a “modern house”, to let, for six weeks in August and September, presumably coinciding with the school’s summer holiday. In 1899 Charles left Wootton Bassett to become headmaster of Hazelhurst School in Frant, East Sussex, where three more children were born.

Lionel remained in Wiltshire. He attended Marlborough College, (C2 House, Fleur de Lys), from September 1912 to April 1917, like his father and elder brother before him. He represented the school for two years at fives and racquets. He gained extra cricket colours in 1915 and played consistently in the Marlborough College XI during 1916. He played in several inter-college cricket matches between June 1915 and August 1916. He had a batting average of 47. In 1916 he finished a very successful season by making 52 and 129 against Rugby.

Lionel joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 29th April 1917, in the same month that he left Marlborough. He spent 6 weeks training at Crystal Palace. In June 1917 he was stationed at the Eastchurch flying school, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. He gained his flying certificate and after a brief posting to Cranwell, North Kesteven, Lincolnshire in July he was promoted to Flight Sub Lieutenant on 29th of August 1917. In September 1917 he was posted to Freiston, Lincolnshire, then later that month, to Manston, Kent.

Lionel left England on 11th November 1917, and joined the No. 2 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service in Dunkirk, France on 15th November 1917. After the merger of the Royal Naval Air Service with the Royal Flying Corps on 1 April 1918, he served as a Lieutenant in the No. 202 Squadron of the 61st Wing of the newly formed Royal Air Force. The squadron carried out reconnaissance and bombing missions from bases in Belgium and France. It was disbanded on 22 January 1920, although it has been reformed several times since.

Lionel is credited with shooting down seven enemy aircraft during aerial combat. They include two on 27 February 1918, one on 18 March 1918, one on 18 May 1918 over Bruges in a de Havilland DH.4 (A7868), two on 21 May 1918, and one on 31 May 1918 over Ostend in a de Havilland DH.4 (D8402). On 27 June 1918 his observer Lieutenant N H Jenkins DSM was wounded while Lionel was engaged in aerial combat near Middelkerke in DH.4 (A7868).

Early in July Lionel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation describes Lionel as: “a very capable officer of exceptional judgment and courage. He has carried out sixty-two flights behind the enemy lines with invariable success. During the last few months he has engaged seventeen enemy machines, and has been instrumental in destroying five. On one occasion he attacked five enemy aeroplanes at once, bringing down one in flames.” He was Gazetted posthumously, on 3rd August 1918.

Lionel was returning from Bruges on 16th July 1918 in his usual plane, the Airco de Havilland DH.4 (A7868), accompanied by another aircraft (D8402), when they were attacked by seven German Fokkers, over the village of Zevekote in Belgium. Lionel and his observer, 20 year old Lieutenant Maurice Graham English from Derry, Northern Ireland, were shot down by Vizeflugmeister Hans Goerth, a German flying ace. The loss of Lionel’s plane was the third of seven victories for Hans Goerth.

Lionel and Maurice had been reported missing, but nothing was heard of them for several weeks. Lionel’s name was published in a list of missing men on 6th August 1918. On 29th August it was confirmed that they had been killed in action.

The bodies of Lionel and Maurice were later found buried by the enemy at the German military cemetery at Ghistelles, graves 456 and 457. They were reburied side by side at the Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery near Nieuwpoort in West Flanders. Lionel’s father provided no additional wording for the headstone at Ramscappelle. However, there is a memorial tablet for Lionel on the east wall of the nave of Saint Alban Church in Frant, East Sussex. The inscription reads: “To the Glory of God and in the dear memory of Lionel Arthur Ashfield, DFC, RAF, Killed in action 16 July 1918, Second son of Charles and Ida Ashfield of Hazelhurst, Frant, aged 19 years. Faithful unto death.”

Alan Brown

Private Alan Brown, Killed in Action, 10th July 1918, age 19 years.

Alan was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in the closing months of 1898. He was the youngest son of Frederick John Brown and Florence Martha, née Elsworth. He was the last of three brothers who lost their lives in the Great War. Alan had three older brothers, Hedley, Brian, and Albert (Bertie), and two sisters, Florence Irene, known as Irene, and later as Florrie, and Ella Freda, the youngest, who was born in 1912. In the 1890s the family lived at Beech House, Christchurch, Hampshire, and by 1901 they had moved to Garden House, Cold Overton, near to Oakham in Leicestershire, where Frederick was a domestic gardener.

In 1911 Alan was living with his family in Cold Overton. He was 12 and still at school. Alan and his family moved briefly, in 1914, to the gardener’s cottage at Gaynes Hall, St Neots, Huntingdon. Later in 1914, they moved to Seagry, near Chippenham. Here Alan’s youngest sister, little Ella, died, and was buried in Seagry Churchyard. The Browns arrived in Wootton Bassett in about February 1915. In March 1916 the courts transferred the licence of the Cross Keys to Arthur Duck of the brewers Duck and Reed, and Arthur installed Frederick as the new manager. A year later, on February 10th 1917, Frederick applied to transfer the license from Mr Duck to himself. Superintendent Millard confirmed that Frederick had managed the pub for some time and that since his arrival there had been a great improvement in the conduct of the house. He hoped that this would continue.

Alan enlisted in Chippenham. He first joined the 210th Training Reserve Battalion, 8/9134. The 210th was a Graduated Battalion, and was formed in May 1917 from the 37th 9th (Reserve) Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment. The Graduated Battalions were those to which young recruits were sent when they had finished training in a Young Soldier Battalion. Each Graduated Battalion consisted of four companies organised into 3 month age brackets, for young men between 18 and 19 years. Every 3 months 28 companies of newly trained soldiers were ready for drafting to the front. The Battalion was based at Wool, near Bovington.

Alan went on to become a Private in the 8th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, 28341. Until 1916 the battalion was part of the 63rd Brigade, 21st Division. On the 8th of July 1916 the battalion transferred with 63rd Brigade to 37th Division. From 1st July to 18th November 1916 the 8th SLI fought in the Battle of the Somme. In 1917 they took part in the Arras Offensive and the Third Battle of Ypres. In 1918 they returned to The Somme seeing action in the The Battle of the Ancre, from the 5th of April 1918.

Alan was a stretcher bearer. The War Diary reads:

On the night of 7th/8th July the Battalion was relieved from the front line by the 13th Battalion KRRC, and on completion of the relief moved back to the Valley Camp at Souastre. On the night of 10th/11th July the Battalion evacuated Valley Camp. Our B Company relieved D Company of the 6th Lincolnshire Regiment in the Chateau de la Haye Switch Line with Company Headquarters at E.19.a.8.7. The remainder of the Battalion moved into billets at Souastre.”

Alan was killed in action in France on July 10th 1918, while waiting to bring in the wounded. Captain H Pople (I believe this was Acting Captain Herbert Keith Pople) wrote to Alan’s parents:

Your son has always done excellent work as one of my most valuable stretcher-bearers, and he was killed by a shell while he was standing by waiting to render assistance to anyone who required it while the company was working in a rather dangerous spot, so he can truly be said to have been killed in action. It will comfort you a little in these sad days for you, I am sure, to know that death was instantaneous, as when the nearest men rushed to him they found that he had passed away, so we know that he was spared that lingering pain which so many are called upon to bear in this terrible war. We all miss him greatly, as he was dearly loved by all his comrades, being most kind and attentive to all the sick and wounded whom he was called upon to assist, and I look upon his death as a great loss to the company, and am able to sympathise with you to the fullest degree in the loss of such a noble son. We buried him this afternoon with full military honours, and the funeral was attended by over 100 of his comrades, who begged me to allow them to attend and pay their last respects. I am arranging to have a nice cross put up over the grave where he lies, and of course the cemetery will be looked after for ever, as one of the sacred places in France.

The Reverend T B Harding, a chaplain, wrote:

It will be a great help to you to think both of the fine work he has done and of the splendid name he has left in the battalion. Stretcherbearers are picked men who have some of the most important and dangerous work to do. The Medical Officer under which they work has said that your son was quite one of his best, and this is heartily agreed to by officers and men alike of his own company, among whom and his fellow-bearers he was very popular. He was buried in the presence of a large number of his comrades in a military cemetery with full military honours. He was borne on a limber [a two wheeled artillery cart] draped with the Union Jack. Stretcher bearers formed the carrying party. The band followed and played on the march, and at the graveside, where the hymn, ‘Now the labourer’s task in o’er,’ was sung, a firing party fired three volleys and the buglers sounded the ‘last post’. With much sympathy and gratitude for what your son has done for our country and the cause of righteousness and justice among nations.

Alan Brown is buried in Couin New British Cemetery, France, a military cemetery used by field ambulances, grave reference F5.

Alan was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

His parents also added him to his little sister’s gravestone in Seagry, which reads: “In loving memory of our dear children, Ella, Hedley, Brian and Alan Brown. 1914-1918.” My thanks to Julia Harle and Seagry Church for identifying and photographing the gravestone.

Grave of Ella Brown at Seagry Church

Albert John Manners

Gunner Albert John Manners, Royal Garrison Artillery, d. 29 May 1918, age 24 years.

Albert was born in Lydiard Tregoze in 1894, the son of Frank Manners and his wife Lydia Maundrell, née Hall. Albert served as Albert James, but on his birth register and his memorial in the Cemetery he is named as Albert John. He was the youngest of five. Frank and Lydia had three daughters, Edith, Daisy and Mabel, and two sons, Frank Henry and Albert. Only Harry and Edith are mentioned on his attestation papers.

Albert lived at Marsh Farm, Lydiard Tregoze, until at least 1905, when he was about 11 years old. His mother Lydia died in 1905. By the age of 17, he and his family were at Cotmarsh Farm, and he was working on the farm.

On 11th December 1915 21 year old Albert attested in Swindon. He was single, 5 feet 10 inches and his chest fully expanded was 37 inches. He was placed on reserve, until, on January 6th 1916 he was posted to the Army Veterinary Corps (14182). However, he was claimed back for agricultural work by his employer on 17th February 1916.

On 31st May 1916 Albert was released and became a gunner in the 249th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery (87469). It seems likely that he regretted losing the opportunity to join the Army Veterinary Corps. However, he qualified first class in signalling and telephony at Hipswell Camp (probably in December 1916). His first RGA posting was to Bere Island off the coast of Ireland and he then went to Catterick Camp.

The 249th were posted to France on March 22nd 1917, and the battery sailed for France, arriving on March 23rd 1917. In February 1918 he had 14 days leave in England, then returned to his battery. The 249th Seige Battery War Diary at the National Archives ends in January 1918, when they transferred into the 53rd (Mixed) Brigade. On May 12th 1918 the 53rd Brigade set up headquarters in a farm in front of Oosthoek (28.H.39.a.7.7). The brigade were supporting operations to take back control of Ridge Wood in the Battles of the Lys. The wood was on high ground between the Kemmel road and Dickebusch Lake. The diary from the 28th to the 29th gives very little information about the particular role of 249 Siege Battery, who were operating 6-8″ Howitzers. It reads only:

28th 6am – 29th 6am: 249 Siege Battery fired 240 S Harrassing Fire and Counter Battery.

Some officers and NCOs from the 53rd (Mixed) Brigade were decorated for their actions on the 28th May, during which the French were driven out of Ridge Wood. On the next day the war diary reads:

29th 6am – 23th 6am: 249 Siege Battery fired 216 S Harrassing and Counter Battery.

Details on the events of the 29th May are supplied by Brigadier Hanway Robert Cumming in his book “A Brigadier In France – 1917-1918”.

The artillery activity of the enemy, which had been gradually increasing in its intensity, culminated on the 29th in a terrific bombardment of the G.H.Q. line, Bedford House area, Ridge Wood, and all battery positions and approaches to the line. This bombardment started at about 3am, and at 6am the infantry assault started. This was chiefly concentrated on Ridge Wood and the GHQ Line as far as Kruistraathoek cross roads, and a subsidiary attack also developed on the outpost line along the Canal from Lock 8.

Albert was killed in this action, on May 29th 1918. He was buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No 3, grave reference IV B 7, 6.5 km west of Ypres. Brandhoek was used mainly for burials from the local Field Ambulance and Casualty Clearing Station. 75 of the graves are Royal Garrison Artillery due to the many gun positions in the vicinity.

Albert’s legateee was his father Frank. On 10th September 1918 Albert’s personal possessions were returned to his father via Dover. They included letters, photos, two pipes, two wallets, certificate of discharge, tobacco pouch, silver cigarette case, Ingersoll watch (broken), penknife (broken), key, and purse.

Albert is remembered on his parents’ grave in Wootton Bassett cemetery. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Additional notes relevant to Cotmarsh Farm
In May 1917 Herbert Manners, age 18, met the tribunal. He was a milker for Robert Maundrell of Wootton Bassett. His relationship to Lydia has not yet been identified. He was given an exemption until September 1st 1917. George Brown, a retired farmer age 82 years, died at Cotmarsh on August 11th 1915.

Arthur Robert Leonard Eacott

Private Arthur Robert Leonard Eacott, died from illness 6th May 1918

Arthur Robert Leonard Eacott, known as Len, was born on 13th May 1884, in Purton, Wiltshire. His mother was Lydia Mary Tucker, and his father was Thomas Eacott, a farm labourer. In 1843 Thomas married Constant Constable, whose remarriage or death I have not yet traced. Thomas and Constant do not appear to have had any children. In 1844 Thomas was sent to Marlborough Bridewell Prison for two months for assaulting Caroline Bedford. In 1848 he was sent there again for 21 days for assaulting Jane Constable at Highworth, who I believe was Constant’s sister. Constant herself was then imprisoned for one month in Devizes prison in January 1849 for stealing turnips in Broad Blunsdon. After a final reference to Constant (and possibly Thomas) in Mangotsfield in 1861 I can find no further record of her. It appears that she did not have any children with Thomas.

Thomas was not free to marry, so understandably there is no record of Thomas and Arthur’s mother Lydia ever marrying, although they were together for about thirteen years. Lydia’s first three children, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, and William John, were all registered with the last name Tucker, but were probably Thomas’s children. Their birth certificates might confirm this. They were followed by Louisa Ann, James Thomas and Henry George. Arthur was their youngest child.

Arthur’s father died in 1888 when Arthur was four years old. The following year, Arthur’s mother married James Ricks, a general labourer, declaring herself a spinster. In 1891 the family were living in Barkfield Cottage, near Purton. On 31st July 1900, age 16, Arthur and his brother George started work at the Great Western Railway as a cleaner in Swindon Station. Although George stayed for nearly a year, Arthur only stayed a few days, leaving on 18th August 1900.

In 1901 Arthur, still age 16, was working as errand boy in Hornsey, Middlesex. He was boarding with William Bridgeman and his wife Emily, nee Hedges. I have not confirmed any relationship between the Bridgemans and Arthur’s parents Lydia and James. William was a navvy born in Dauntsey in about 1851. Emily, who was from Purton, may have been a friend of the Lydia’s, as she was close to her in age.

Arthur enlisted on the 24th August 1904 and joined the 1st Wiltshire Regiment (6995) A Company. George followed him into the 1st Wilts the following year. In 1911 Arthur was a Private serving as a Signaller in South Africa.

When the Great War began Arthur was immediately posted to France, arriving in Rouen on the 14th August 1914. He took part in the Battle of Mons and the subsequent fighting retreat, the Battle of Le Cateau, the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of the Aisne, The Battles of La Bassee and Messines, the First Battle of Ypres, the Winter Operations of 1914-15. On May 10th 1915 Arthur was admitted to 76 Field Ambulance (a mobile hospital, not a vehicle) which was attached to the 25th Division. Arthur was diagnosed with disordered heart action, and as there is no record of a later discharge date it is likely that he was immediately sent back to the field. He then took part in the First Attack on Bellewaarde, the Actions of Hooge and the Second Attack on Bellewaarde. Finally he took part in the counter attacks on Vimy Ridge on 21st May 1916. The Battalion was relieved from the line on June 1st 1916 and moved back for a period of rest, reorganisation and training. On 18th June they arrived at Halley Les Pernois.

Arthur was admitted to No.2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport on 26th 1916. On July 6th he was noted as dangerously ill. On July 12th 1916 he was diagnosed with pleurisy, an inflamation of the lungs which could be caused by a variety of conditions, including infection, tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, cancer, pulmonary embolism, and collagen vascular disease. Arthur was sent home via No.2 General Hospital at Le Havre. He crossed the channel on one of the New Zealand Hospital Ships, Maheno or Marama, which were evacuating men back to England at that time.

Arthur was discharged as medically unfit on 11th October 1916, and was awarded a Silver War Badge. He returned to Wiltshire with an army pension. His mother Lydia Mary died on 9th January 1917. After working as a general labourer, Arthur joined his brother George at Chaddington Farm. George had been discharged wounded in 1915. George and Arthur soon moved on to Padbrook Farm, where Arthur died aged 33 on May 6th 1918. Arthur was buried in Wootton Bassett cemetery on May 10th 1918.

Arthur’s legatees were his brother George, his sister Bessie Dutton, and sister Louisa’s husband Thomas Hyde. Arthur was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal, and the 1914 Star. As his illness was not war related he is not remembered by the CWGC or on any war memorial, despite serving in the 1st Wiltshires for twelve years.

Photographs of Arthur Robert Leonard Eacott with thanks to the Eacott family.

German PoWs

The nearest PoW Camp was at Chiseldon military camp. However, ‘List of Places of Internment’ published by the Prisoner of War Information Bureau in 1919 includes a handful of sites which were independent of the military camps. In North Wiltshire there included an agricultural camp in Chippenham, an agricultural depot in Devizes, Barney Farm near Ramsbury, and an agricultural camp in Wootton Bassett. Wootton Bassett’s camp came under the control of the larger PoW camp at Dorchester, Dorset. The Wootton Bassett camp was based at Corner House (which I have not as yet identified). Security was the responsibility of men of the Royal Defence Corps, and duties covered the usual seasonal range of agricultural activities. The men were recruited from among the internees in larger camps, using a trade testing party to determine the aptitudes of prisoners. They were given payment, averaging at about 1.5 pence per day, as well as superior food rations. Bob Lloyd remarks that men from the camp generally walked to local farms, usually under the watch of a single armed guard. The camp was the subject of an inspection by Dr A de Sturler. His report is held at the National Archives.

With thanks to Judy Conybeare for alerting me to this omission.

Frank Watts

Lance Corporal Frank Watts, 8th Royal Fusiliers, died 19th July 1917, age 27 years.

Research due to be updated, please return again.

1 Church Street, now the Croft, was a bakehouse owned and managed by George James Watts and his wife Maria. George was born in Wootton Bassett in about 1854. George and Maria had five children, George Ernest, Frank, Dorothy Marie, Charles Albert, known as Charlie, and Kate. George died at 1 Church Street in 1929 and his wife Maria died in 1942. Both are buried in the cemetery.

George was a baker and grocer, selling among other things, superior seed and currant cake, self raising flour, and ‘En Avant’ yeast. He also owned premises at 22 High Street where his daughter Dorothy ran a sweet shop and tea shop, having learned her trade as her father’s assistant in the bakery. Dorothy never married. She died in Wootton Bassett in 1987.

Charlie helped in the bakery and in due course took it over from his father. He married Lucy May Palmer in 1931.

George (junior) was a headmaster at Marcham School near Abingdon. He married in the second week of the war, just before taking up residence at the school.

George and Maria’s second son, Frank Watts, was born in Wootton Bassett about 1890. By 1911 he had moved to Greenhithe in Kent, where he was employed as a baker. He was well known and generally liked, and he was thought of as ‘no shirker’. He enlisted in Whyteleafe at the end of December 1914 and became a Private in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (E/1524). His medal roll gives his regiment as “17 Royal Fusiliers” which may refer to the Division.

He went into training in Croydon and was then sent out to France on the 17th of November 1915. He suffered the many hardships of trench life and warfare in the neighbourhood of La Bassée and Givenchy. On May 2nd 1916, he volunteered with a small company to go out at night and repair some barbed wire entanglements at Souchez. During this mission he was badly wounded in the arm and leg and was sent home to England, to the Wharnecliffe Hospital in Sheffield.

Owing to the excellent attention he was given and his strong constitution he quickly made progress and was transferred to the convalescent home at Eastbourne and thence to Portobello. As he recovered, he became restless, and volunteered for Salonika. Before his departure he was granted the usual leave, but during his return journey there was an air raid on London and he was stranded at King’s Cross. His detachment left before he could reach them. In October 1916 he was sent to France, where he endured the harsh winter of 1916 to 1917. He took part in the battles of Arras and Vimy Ridge, and his family reported that he sent home a vivid account of the fighting. His company suffered great losses, but Frank came through it all unscathed, and was in due course promoted to Lance Corporal. He continued to assist in holding the line in the neighbourhood of Arras.

Frank was killed in action on July 19th 1917, age 27. The following letter was sent by Captain H V Wells to his father:

Dear Mr Watts, Please accept my deepest sympathy in the loss of that valiant soldier, Lance Corporal Frank Watts. A very gallant fellow who knew not fear, he died instantly and lies buried at Monchy le Preux. It is men of his type that one cannot afford to lose. He gave his life for the greatest of all causes, and was always so cheerful and bright.

The information in this letter, that Frank Watts is buried at Monchy le Preux, was probably meant to be a comfort to his father. If Frank was buried at all, at best it was a field burial, for Frank’s body was never recovered. He is not listed at the British Cemetery at Monchy le Preux. Frank was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal, and the 1914-15 Star. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Bay 3.

Ernest Hodgson Leslie

Captain Ernest Hodgson Leslie, d. 16th March 1919

Research in progress, please return again later.

Ernest Hodgson Leslie was born in Wootton Bassett on September 28th 1884, the son of Thomas and Janet Leslie. Thomas and Janet Leslie lived on the High Street in the vicinity of number 61; the exact number is unknown as the family were not referenced in the 1911 census or the house numbering survey. Thomas was an estate clerk.

As a young man Ernest served with 6th Regiment of the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles. Ernest emigrated to Canada in 1913, sailing from Liverpool on the Mauretania. He married Beatrice Cornelia Fraser on 23rd April 1916 in Vancouver. Ernest was a surveyor.

When war broke out Ernest enlisted in Vancouver. He served as a Lieutenant in the 158th Battalion and as a Captain in the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, Western Ontario Regiment. In the meantime his parents settled at Hawthorne Lodge, Latchford, Warrington. His wife returned to England and lived nearby at 31 Grappenhall Road, Stockton Heath, Warrington.

Ernest died of illness contracted on active service, in Fazakerley Hospital, Liverpool, on the 16th March 1919, age 34. He is buried at St Thomas, Stockton Heath, Cheshire, grave reference: 1462.