Remembering The Great War

Much Dewchurch - Herefordshire

Lying below low wooded hills south of Hereford, Much Dewchurch has been a Christian parish since Roman times. Its name being a corruption of an earlier version - Llandewi (Church of St. David). The village is situated on the Ross to Hay-on-Wye road (B4348) about six miles south-west of Hereford. Its church being mostly Norman and comprising nave and chancel. Enter St. David's by its timber south porch. Fourteenth century and for many years welcoming members of the Symonds family. In 1914 Captain Thomas Raymond Symonds being Lord of the Manor and resident at The Mynde - a Tudor house just south-west of the village.

[Image] Among many monuments to the family, we see in the church a small white-marble tablet set into a recess on the south side. This mentioning Lieutenant Thomas Edward Raymond Symonds - son of Captain Symonds and an officer of the Grenadier Guards who fought with the 1st Battalion during the First World War. But he was not killed. The memorial being erected by him as a commemoration to his servant - Private Owen Edward Slater.

Born at Cheadle in Staffordshire, Owen Slater landed in Belgium with his officer on 7 October, 1914. The 1st Grenadier Guards having arrived at Southampton two days before and crossing in two vessels - the SS Armenian and SS Turcoman. The latter, recalled The Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick Ponsonby in his war history of the Grenadier guards, being "....just a cattle-boat." Two train journeys later the Grenadiers were at Ghent on 9 October, where, from a local dye-works, the Belgian authorities issued large rolls of velvet in lieu of blankets.

The enemy (parties of Uhlans) were first sighted on 14 October just outside Ypres - but it would be five days later, and further forward at Kruiseecke, that the Grenadiers went into action for the first time. For the next ten days the Battalion would be under constant fire - almost half its strength being lost as the enemy pushed its way forward. German shells would also account for a great number of deaths and casualties. Some sixty per minute being calculated as landing on part of the Grenadiers' line during 26 October alone. Buried alive, many had to be rescued from under as much as three foot of earth. Fatally wounded sometime during this period, Owen Slater would die on 30 October. He has no know grave and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing at Ypres. He was twenty-four.

Also to lose his life during the early weeks of the war, and commemorated at St. David's (brass plaque, south wall of nave), was Captain Harold Lutwyche Helme of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. The only son of Harold and Mary Helme (King's Thorn, west of the village), Captain Helme was born on 3 August, 1878 (baptised at St. David's on 15 September) and having been educated at Haileybury College obtained his commission in 1899. He subsequently served in the Boar War of 1899-1902, in which he was wounded, and later in West Africa took part in the Onitsha Hinterland and Bende-Onitsha and Hinterland Expeditions.

Leaving Tournay Barracks, Aldershot on 12 August, 1914, the 1st Loyal North Lancashire sailed on the SS Agapenor from Southampton next day. The Battalion then moving forward from Havre via train and road and reaching Givry on 23 August. The British Expeditionary Force was now in retreat, and falling back, the Battalion would arrive at Bernay on 5 September. But it was now time to advance and moving forward again, the Marne was crossed at Nogent on 9 September, followed by the Aisne at Bourg four days later. Next day, 14 September and date of Harold Helme's death, the Loyals went into action at Troyon - where heavy fighting was going on at a factory. "The position was reached", notes the Battalion records, "the factory was carried and held; but the enemy was in great strength and counter-attacked heavily...." With ammunition beginning to run out, the Loyals were forced to withdraw. Their casualties numbering some fourteen officers and more than five hundred other ranks.

Captain Harold Lutwyche Helme's name also appears on the La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial. A monument close to the South (or left) bank of the Marne commemorating those with no known graves who fell in action during the Retreat from Mons and subsequent advance to the Aisne.


To the churchyard now where buried therein is twenty-one-year-old Private Albert Ivor Stanley Probert of the 1st Herefordshire Regiment. The only son of Albert and Martha Elizabeth Probert, who died on 17 February, 1917. Albert Probert is one of seven names appearing on a tall stone cross close to the church. Erected by parishioners and found to the side of the road as you leave the village heading north-west.

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Copyright © Ray Westlake, August, 2002

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