Remembering The Great War

Bridstow and Peterstow - Herefordshire

Bridstow Parish Memorial

Close to the River Wye, these two Herefordshire villages can be visited in conjunction with a trip to Ross, just over a mile to the east, or perhaps Hereford some twelve miles further to the north-west. Turning off the A40 then west onto the A49, Bridstow comes first. Its parish memorial appearing after a short distance on the right and taking the form of a stone cross mounted on a four-sided base.

Bridstow, which also took in the hamlet of Wilton, had a population of Five hundred and seventy-eight in 1914. Some twenty of which were not to return from the Great War and have their names recorded on the base of the cross.

St. Bridget's

A short drive now along the lane signposted "Golf Club" and we come to St. Bridget's. Consecrated here in 1066 and completely rebuild, save for the late fourteenth century west tower, by Thomas Nicholson in 1862. Walk through the south porch and ahead on the north side is the window dedicated to Captain John Ramsay Cox. An officer of the Worcestershire Regiment who was killed at Neuve Chapelle on 12 March, 1915, and the son of Church Warden Captain William Stanley Ramsay Cox.

During the first days of March, 1915, records Captain H. FitzM. Stacke, MC in his history of the Worcestershire Regiment, the trenches in front of Neuve Chapelle held by the 1st Battalion were subject to much activity. Officers from a number of regiments being sent up in order to reconnoitre the ground in preparation for the great attack planned to commence on the 10th. This to smash through the salient in the German line formed by the village of Neuve Chapelle, then hopefully on to take the Aubers Ridge.

Parties of the 1st Worcestershire were in action shortly after the barrage, the heaviest bombardment yet experienced in the war, lifted to the rear of the village around 8 am. In reserve, however, the main body of the Battalion would moved forward later and during the afternoon, two companies were heavily engaged. The following day would be full of disaster. Heavy casualties as the Worcesters advanced, the number being increased due to our own shells falling short, a shortage of ammunition and orders.

Before the first daylight of 12 March the enemy's guns heavily shelled the Worcestershire trenches. Then through the mist a dense mass of infantry were seen surging forward. Two battalions of the 21st Bavarian Reserve Regiment in close formation lead by officers waving swords, noted one eyewitness, and followed by "a fat old blighter on a horse."

"On the right of the Worcestershire the Sherwoods suddenly fell back. The little salient which their line formed had been attacked from both sides and broken in." This was to leave the Worcester's right flank open - "but the Battalion remained unshaken. 'A' Company swiftly formed to the right to face the opened flank and the abandoned trenches of the Foresters." One officer of 'A' Company noted - "A most extra ordinary hush for a few seconds as we held our fire while they closed in on us." The Bavarians now within seventy yards - "From flank to flank the whole line of the Worcestershire broke into the crackling roar of rapid fire. We brought them down in solid chunks. Down went the officers, the sergeant majors and the old blighter on the horse."

At this point the Worcester's broke from their line and charged into the Bavarians. Bayoneting and firing as they went. Much of the enemy now scattered and found its way into an orchard where, reported the Times for 19 April, 1915 - "The Worcesters had a fine scrap with the Germans. The Worcesters had their tails up with a vengeance. They chased the Germans up and down that muddy field like terriers after rats."

Meanwhile to the left of 'A' Company, 'B', 'C' and 'D' were also engaged in a fierce bayonet fight. The end of which saw the "pursued beaten enemy into their own lines." Storming a group of building known as "Point 85", the Worcestershire occupied these. But once again through lack of communication the British guns inflicted casualties among its own troops via sporadic bombardment of the captured area.

Now isolated, the three companies beat off counter-attack after counter-attack until at about 10 am, when it had became clear that the Battalion's position, now encircled by the enemy on three sides, and, notes Captain Stacke, "shelled by both artilleries" was no longer tenable. Reluctantly the Commanding Officer, Colonel E.C.F. Wodehouse gave the order to fall back.

As the three companies withdrew in good order - "officers and men fell fast. The Commanding Officer, the Adjutant, and the last surviving Company Commanders went down, and it was a mere remnant of the three stubborn companies which, still in good order and grimly firing, reached the trenches which they had held at dawn."

Still away to the right, the survivors of 'A' Company, now with hardly any officers, continued the fight in the orchard. But here too, lack of support inevitably forced a withdrawal. The four companies now reunited, the roll was taken and casualties counted. The day's fighting amounting to a total of three hundred and seventy all ranks. With no know grave John Cox's name appears on the Le Touret Memorial to the missing

John Cox was born 29 June, 1873 and educated at Bruton School, Somerset. He had prior to the First World War served with the 6th (Special Reserve) Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, rejoining early in September, 1914. Having been attached to the 11th Worcestershire, and temporally employed as a Staff Captain at the 78th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, he proceeded to France in early January, 1915 as part of a draft for the 1st Worcestershire.

Parish memorial, St. Bridget's

Moving now to the south aisle, and to the right of the Norman arch leading to the chancel, we find another parish memorial. This time in the form of a tablet erected by the parishioners in March, 1922. Here the same twenty names are listed, this time with the addition of ranks and regiments.

Still on the south side of the church we find another plaque connected with the Great War. Brass this time and bearing the regimental badge and motto Quis Separabit (Who shall separate us) of the Royal Irish Rifles. Below the badge an inscription that tells much about an old and gallant soldier: In Loving Memory Of Herbert Clifford Bernard, Colonel Indian Army, Sometime In Command Of Rattray's Sikhs, Who Was Killed At Thiepval 1 July 1916, While Gallantly Leading His Regiment, 10th Royal Irish Rifles.

Born in Cheltenham, his father at one time Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets, Colonel Bernard had fought in the Burmese War of 1885-1891 and was Commandant of the 45th (Rattray's) Sikhs Regiment from 1909 until his retirement early in 1914. Quickly formed when war was declared in August, 1914 was Kitchener's "New Army." Made up entirely of volunteers, it would be the experienced old and often retired soldiers of all ranks that would take responsibility of command and training. So it was that Colonel Bernard took command of once such formation. The 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (South Belfast), part of the 36th (Ulster) Division.

Having landing in France with his Battalion, the Colonel, now in his fiftieth year would lead his men forward from Aveluy Wood, across the River Ancre and into the western edge of Thiepval Wood. It was the early hours of 1 July, 1916 and the first day of the great Battle of the Somme was about to begin. In reserve for the time being, the Rifles would have an hour to wait before going forward. An hour in which they would see other men of the 36th Division leave their trenches and in good and steady order enter No Man's Land. The men of the 10th Rifles would also witness the devastation that followed. Machine gun and shell cutting through the ranks as they disappeared into the smoke. But the Rifles would themselves come under fire. Colonel Barnard being one of the first to be hit as he stood at the head of his men. His body was taken back and later buried in Martinsart British Cemetery on the south side of the village and the road to Aveluy.

St. Bridget's, Bridstow. Sainsbury family headstones in

To the churchyard now and the section that lies to the south-east of the church. Look for a dark stone cross, this marking a Sainsbury family grave, and from this we learn how on 31 January, 1919, Partridge George Sainsbury died - "Due to the effects of war." Thirty-five years old, he had served as a sergeant with the Worcestershire Yeomanry, but did not, according to regimental records, go overseas. Both he and his father are listed in the 1913 edition of Kelly's Directory of Herefordshire and Shropshire, as Farmers and Dairymen of Whitecross and Church Farms.

Before leaving St. Bridget's walk across the road to the churchyard extension where upon entering the gate, the eye is immediately drawn to a regimental badge carved into a tall headstone. Below this the inscription tells how, erected by the Commissioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the stone marks the final resting place of five old soldiers. Soldiers that, according to their dates of death during the 1940s, were possible veterans of 1914-1918 and resident in the area as in-pensioners at the nearby Moraston House.

Look to the left now and moving along we come to the first of two graves whose headstones also commemorate members of the family that died while serving in the Great War. A Celtic cross belonging to the Gwyne family tells how a son, twenty year old Albert Edward Gwyne, was killed in action on 19 August, 1917 while in France. He was from Weirend just to the south-west of Bridstow, and was with the 14th Gloucestershire Regiment (formally Herefordshire Regiment) at Lempire when he died. The Battalion war diary for that day recording how after an attack by 105th Brigade that day the 14th Gloucestershire were engaged throughout the night wiring the newly gained trenches. Casualties are noted as one killed, four wounded.

Little information can be gleaned regarding the soldier commemorated on his wife's Gothic style headstone further along to the left. No records so far having been found to the Sergeant T.R. Bennetts of the 14th Canadian Battalion mentioned.
Back to the main road, turn right and now a short drive along to Peterstow looking out for the Sainsbury's old home, Whitecross Farm, just a few hundred yards down on the left. Past the pub on the right, and there across the road standing in a green, the village memorial which records the names of seven men that fought: For God King And Country 1914-1918 - William Hall, Arthur W. Llewellyn, Henry Miles, David R. Matthews, John F.L. Woodall, Charles Ryder and Thomas Ryder.

Note the Ryder brothers. Charles who was twenty-seven when he died serving with the 1/1st Herefordshire Regiment in Palestine on 6 November, 1917; and Thomas, a member of the 1st King's Shropshire Light Infantry who fell on the Western Front eight months earlier on 10 March, 1917. He was twenty.

Peterstow Parish Memorial

No First World War memorials were found at Peterstow church. But do take time to visit. Completely restored in 1866, but still including traces of the original Norman building, St. Peter's with its notable spire will be found just along from the memorial and down the lane to the right.

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Copyright © Ray Westlake, June, 2002

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