Private Harold Lyttleton George Tayler, known as Lit, d. 10th November 1917.
I am delighted to have had access to Lit’s brother Charlie Tayler’s memoirs whilst writing this account. I have referred to this with the kind permission of his granddaughter.
Harold Lyttleton George Tayler, known as Lit, was born on August 12th 1895. His father, James Tayler, was a farmer’s son, born in Minety in about 1852. Initially James and his two brothers followed their father into farming, but by 1881 James had found a job at Godwin’s brewery in Swindon. In 1883 he married Alice Amelia Scrivens. Their first baby, Frederick James, died age seven months in 1884. In September 1891 Godwin’s offered James the tenancy of the Angel Inn in Wootton Bassett. According to Charlie, this large old pub had become something of a white elephant for the brewers, but it suited James with his wife and four young children, Elizabeth Winifred, known as Bessie, Herbert Edward, Gertrude Alice, and Ernest Charles, known as Charlie. After moving to the Angel two more children quickly followed, Dorothy Frances Emily, and Lit.
(The name given as the occupier in the house numbering book of 1914, E Alexander, may have been a representative of Godwin’s).
In about 1895, the year of Lit’s birth, eight year old Gertrude suffered a fall and hurt her arm badly. It remained permanently bent and the doctors insisted that she carry weights to straighten the arm. She later underwent hospital treatment at Cold Ash, Newbury, for spinal curvature, which the family blamed on the weights. Throughout her suffering, she was patient and thoughtful and bore her pain gracefully. She was well known for her bright and cheerful disposition and did much good in her quiet way. Gertrude managed to continue working in the dairy making butter and cream, and helping at home, until October 1919 when her condition deteriorated. She died age 32 on January 2nd 1920.
James worked hard at the Angel, keeping the pub open all day until 11pm at night. There were stables, coach-houses, and chicken runs behind the pub, surrounding a fair sized yard, so James bought a horse and a dog cart, which could carry three passengers, and set himself up as a taxi service. This did so well that he eventually added a second horse and a wagonette which could carry seven passengers. The horses were kept in a four acre field by the gas house in Station Road. James also kept a cow there. James also kept pigs in the yard. Behind the pub’s stables was a quarter acre garden, where James grew vegetables and fruit.
The business continued to expand, until James had six horses, four wagons of various kinds, a couple of Airedale dogs and eight cows. Charlie suspects that he was the first in Wootton Bassett to retail milk. In 1911 Dorothy was a draper’s assistant but during the war years Elizabeth and Dorothy helped their parents with the family business. Lit was a member of the Wootton Bassett Scouts. By 1911, when he was 15, he was working on the family farm.
There were two boarders at the Angel in 1911: Felix John Harding, a wheelwright and coach-builder from Castle Eaton, and Benjamin Philip Cooksey, later at 129 High Street. Charlie also remembers James Knight, a chauffeur, later at 105 High Street, and Alec Amos, a woodworker.
Lit married Evelyn M Tuck in July 1912, when he was only 16 years old. His first son Albert Ronald Tayler was born on 2nd Aug 1912. The birth was registered in Bristol.
Lit emigrated to Canada in November of 1912. He settled in Niverville, Manitoba, and worked as a farm labourer.
In July 26th 1916 Lit attested with the 8th Battalion of the Winnipeg Rifles (830322) in the Canadian Infantry, at Camp Hughes, Manitoba. He was 20 years 11 months old, 5 feet 3½ inches tall, with a 31 inch chest, dark brown hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. He was Church of England. He gave as his next of kin his wife, Evelyn, at Wootton Bassett High Street. Lit’s battalion sailed for England in September 1916.
Before he left for the front, Lit must have spent some time with Evelyn, as she gave birth to another son, Lyttleton Gordon James Tayler, in the winter of 1917. Tragically he died a year later, in November 1918, and was buried in Wootton Bassett exactly a year and a day after his father was killed.
Lit’s regiment proceeded to France in April 1917. Whilst in the trenches he received a welcome visit from his brother, Charlie, who he had not seen for seven years. After November 10th 1917, the Battle of Bourlon Wood, nothing was seen or heard of him.
On November 27th 1917 his wife, Evelyn, received notification from the Canadian Records Office to the effect that Lit was “missing, believed killed”. Struggling to come to terms with the implications, Evelyn wrote to his Commanding Officer. She soon received a reply:
I am sorry that I cannot add anything to the official intimation referred to in your letter of the 1st instant. Your husband was in my platoon, and from information I have obtained he and others were in a shell hole, when a shell fell and blew them out. One of them was killed, but the others escaped, but your husband could not be found after that. As you will understand, it is difficult to assume anything definite in regard to it. He might have been killed, or he might have been wounded and made prisoner. I always found Tayler a splendid soldier, trustworthy and brave. He was well liked by all his comrades, and I always saw much to admire in him; in fact, I had him in line for promotion. I regret that I cannot give you anything more definite, but you will understand that in battles of the nature of that on November 10th, or even any, one has to mostly rely on his men for information as to missing casualties, and unfortunately the information obtainable is usually meagre. I can assure you that you have my heartfelt sympathy, and if it eventually transpires that your husband has made the supreme sacrifice, I know that the Great Ruler, who is ever with us in our hour of tribulation, will tender you that great condolence and spiritual comfort which is His alone to bestow.
The message could not have been clearer. Lit was officially presumed killed in May 1918 and it was subsequently recorded that he died in Belgium, 10th November 1917, age 22. On November 8th 1918 the Herald published two tributes to him. The first was inserted by his father, mother, brothers and sisters, and read:
In ever present and unfading memory of our dear son and brother, as deeply mourned as he was dearly loved, reported missing, believed killed, November 10th 1917, now officially presumed killed. Pte H L Tayler, Winnipeg Rifles, Canadian Forces, youngest son of Mr and Mrs James Tayler, Angel Hotel, Wootton Bassett.
Had he asked us well we know,
We should cry, “Oh, spare this blow,”
Yes with streaming tears should pray,
“Lord we love him, let him stay.”
The second, inserted by his wife Evelyn, read:
In ever loving and devoted memory of my dear husband, Private H L Tayler, Winnipeg Rifles, Canadian Forces, who was reported missing, believed killed, November 10th 1917, now officially presumed killed. “Thy purpose Lord we cannot see, but all is well that’s done by thee.” Inserted by his sorrowing Wife.
Lit is commemorated at the Menin Gate memorial to the missing at Ypres, Panel Reference 24-26-28-30. He is listed in the Wootton Bassett Scouts 1914-1918 Roll of Honour, and is remembered on the Wootton Bassett memorial tablet.
Evelyn eventually remarried in 1920, to Henry Radford, and later lived at 178 High Street.
In 1924, just over a year after their son Charlie and his new wife Elizabeth took over the Angel, James and Alice retired to 155 High Street. Alice died in 1931 after a long illness of six or seven years, and James died in 1938. They are buried together in Wootton Bassett Cemetery. 155 High Street then became the home of their eldest daughter, Bessie Cooksey.