Remembering The Great War

St. Matthew's Church
Monkswood - Monmouthshire

Engraving taken from Sir Joseph Bradney's "A History of Monmouthshire"
and reproduced by kind permission of the Merton Priory Press.

Monkswood lies on the A472 between Usk and Pontypool. Its old church being completely rebuild during 1883-4 from plans provided by Hereford architect E. Lingen-Barker. About a mile west of Monkswood, the Monmouthshire Reformatory at Little Mill was established in February, 1859. The "Juvenile Offenders Act" (1854), together with the "Reformatory Schools Bill" (1857), having provided for special schools to be set up throughout England and Wales. By the end of its first year the school held some thirty-five boys (ages ranging between eight and fifteen) sentenced by magistrates to terms of between two and five years. Each Sunday the boys were marched down from Little Mill for the service at St. Matthew`s. Surviving to this day, and carved into the pews, are the names of several that attended the services.

[Image] The decision to erect a brass tablet in memory of former boys from the school that fell during the Great War was taken in September, 1921. The reformatory was to be closed during the following year, and so it was that the memorial was placed on the north wall of the nave at St. Matthew`s. In the unveiling ceremony that took place on 23 March, 1922, Colonel J.A. Bradney, CB, made mention of the fact that some one hundred and thirty boys from the reformatory had served in the armed forces. A number of them having received honours and decorations. (The Director's Minute Book notes on 22 November, 1915, a visit by former inmate - Corporal Frank Pearce. Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for services during operations the previous September near Hullock).

Charles Brown was born at 64 Bartholomew Buildings in the City of London and was sent to the reformatory via the Old Street Juvenile Court in June, 1913. He had stoleN six shillings from a gas meter and sentenced to four years detention. From the records kept by the reformatory (now at the Gwent Record Office) we learn that Charles Brown had enlistment into the Royal Sussex Regiment at Chichester Depot on 5 August, 1915. Another note (a field post card dated 3 July, 1916) gives him as then being '...at the front...', and this followed on 29 August by a letter from Charlie's mother stating that her 'lad' had been killed in action. Private Charles Brown fell near High Wood on 15 August, 1916 while serving with the 2nd Royal Sussex.

Born at Hockley, Birmingham, fifteen-year-old Joseph Byng was sentenced in 1909 (Victoria Courts for stealing a revolver) and having served four years of his five-year term was released on licence in February, 1913. Working out his time on a farm at Parthcawl (Glamorgan), he later went out to Canada, where, prior to joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he was employed as a timber cutter. Joseph Byng was killed in action near Ypres on 23 March, 1915 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate.

There is no record of service for Alfred Coombes of 43 Celynon Terrace, Abercarn. Sentenced (Abercarn Petty Sessions) to five years for the theft of ten shillings in 1902, his reformatory notes show that in 1911 he was working at the Victoria Docks in London.

From Sparbrook, Birmingham, Richard Henry Curtis was sentenced in June, 1912 for begging in the street. 'A lazy boy, beyond the control of his father...' notes his reformatory record, which also includes several letters reporting his enlistment and subsequent service at the front: 'Enlisted into Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Warwick' (12 August, 1914); 'At Parkhurst Camp, Isle of Wight' (14 September, 1914); 'Wounded' (14 April, 1916); 'Back at Albany Barracks, Parkhurst - now 3017 Signaller Richard Curtis, and "...going out again shortly..."' (17 December, 1916). Richard Curtis was killed while serving with the 2nd Royal Warwickshire on 3 September, 1916 and is buried at Guillemont Road Cemetery on the Somme.

Also from Sparbrook, Alfred George Hammond (born 14 September, 1896) was sentenced to five years in 1910 for stealing boots. His records noting that although medically fit and having been treated well at home, the boy was - '...beyond father's control.' Having enlisted into the South Wales Borderers at Brecon in September, 1914, Alfred would be found at No.9 Camp, Codford (near Salisbury) by 21 September and serving as Private No. 17571 of No.3 Company, 6th Battalion. As Pioneer Battalion to the 25th Division, 6th Borderers landed in France on 25 September, 1915 where, just weeks later, the Pioneers would find themselves working in the waist-deep mud and slime of the Armentières sector front line trenches. Just over two months later (26 November) the Pontypool Free Press reported Alfred's death.

Committed at Salisbury City Court for embezzlement in 1911 (there were previous convictions including 'wilful damage', 'stone throwing' and 'stealing a screwdriver'), Leonard Walter Oram Head enlisted into the Grenadier Guards in March, 1913. As a regular soldier he went out to France with the British Expeditionary Force on 12 August, 1914 and was killed just three months later at Bodmin Copse near Ypres (commemorated on the Menin Gate), on 7 November.

Killed near Neuve Eglise on 13 April, 1918 while serving with the 18th Welsh Regiment, Arthur Pinfield came to the reformatory from Birmingham in February, 1915. A boy - 'lazy, quite indifferent, associate of very bad company and beyond control of parents' (notes his record) - sentenced to four years for stealing 'wearing apparel'.

A letter sent by Mrs A. Robinson (dated 3 November, 1918) informed the reformatory that her son, nineteen-year-old Private Edward Percy Robinson of 6 George Street, New Sarum, Salisbury, had been killed while serving with the 1st Middlesex Regiment. 'He had been recommended' - she noted - 'for the Military Medal.' Having stole a pair of boots, Edward was sentenced to three years in June, 1913. He already had two previous convictions.

The remaining name on the Monmouthshire Reformatory Memorial at St. Matthew`s is that of Henry Winwood who, having stolen one gross of boot laces, was sentenced at Blaenavon Court in 1906 to four years detention. Records note that Henry's father (Emanuel) was a peddler from Woodland Street, Blaenavon, and that having left school, his son (aged thirteen) worked as a haulier at Kays Slope Colliery. The headquarters of "E" Company, 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment were at Blaenavon. This battalion landing in France on 7 November, 1914 and by the 21st holding trenches near Le Touquet. Henry Winwood was killed a month later and subsequently buried at Calvaire (Essex) Military Cemetery near Ploegsteert.

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Copyright © Ray Westlake, July, 2002

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