For more than nine hundred years, and its origins as part of a medieval Benedictine Priory, the Church of St. John the Evangelist has stood overlooking Brecon. Serving as the town's parish church until elevation to cathedral status in 1923. Gradually rebuilt (from 1201 onwards), all that now remains of the original Norman structure is the font and some stonework in the east end walls.
|Richard Aveline Maybery
Entering the cathedral, move first to the baptistry at its west end. Here to the right, and below a large fourteenth-century window, a fine marble tablet displays the badges of both the 21st Lancers and Royal Flying Corps. Note the last five lines of the inscription. These taken from the Cavalry Memorial Service held after the war at Hyde Park, London.
"Almighty God..... enable us who remain in the safety of our homes to be worthy of those who have died for us... grant us with a willing spirit to do whatever duty may be laid upon us."
Having left Sandhurst, Richard Aveline Maybery was Gazetted Second-Lieutenant (21st Lancers) on 17 September, 1913. He later joined his regiment in India, where, and during the fighting at Shrabkadr on 15 September, 1915, he was seriously wounded.
Recovered, Richard Maybery was later attached to the Royal Flying Corps, and after training as a pilot in Egypt, obtained his "Wings" on 26 May, 1917.
In one obituary (that published in The Roll Of Honour, by the Marquis de Ruvigny) he is noted as having served in France and Flanders from 5 July, 1917 (he brought down an enemy machine on his first patrol) and killed in aerial action over Bourlon Wood.
The Germans would bury his body in their cemetery at Heynecourt. Eight British graves, notes the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, being removed from there after the Armistice and placed in Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery.
In a letter to Mrs Maybery, Richard`s Commanding Officer wrote: "Your son had just crashed down his 20th Hun in flames, when his own machine was seen to be going down. It was very misty and the fighting was severe, and in the mist another German came from behind and above, and shot him down." Royal Flying Corps Communique No. 119 (dated 19 December, 1917) confirms: "An SE5 formation of 56 Squadron saw eight EA [enemy aircraft] scouts south of Masnieres, so dived at them. Captain R.A. Maybery failed to return from this combat and was last seen behind an EA which he had shot down in flames. This pilot has accounted for 20 EA and his is the only machine missing during the day."
A brother officer also wrote: "I don`t think I ever met a man so capable - he was good at absolutely everything. He has done a tremendous lot of good in the war. I always say that he and Capt. Ball [Albert Ball, VC, also of 56th Squadron] and Lieutenant Rhys Davies did more harm to the moral of the German Flying Corps than any other 15 pilots we have ever had."
Another memorial connected with the Maybery family, and also at the west end of the cathedral, is an illuminated Roll of Honour listing those from the Parish of St. John`s that served in the Great War. By M.K. Vincent, and dated 1920, the Roll comprises two (one large, and one small) matching frames. A small brass plate attached to one having the inscription:
THIS ROLL IS GIVEN TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF RICHARD MAYBERY BY HIS SISTER MURIEL FOWLER.
The larger of the two documents records a total of three hundred and fifty-eight names - together with ranks, regiments and home addresses. Those that were killed (forty-three in number) being shown in gold lettering and grouped together at the beginning of the list. The remaining entries (those that survived) are arranged in five columns below. The Roll ends with a lengthy quotation:
Year after year their life was a fine thing. They were in hell every day of their lives; and they endured. They were in peril of death and worse than death, day after day, night after night; and they endured. They were exposed to all the nerve shattering rage of artillery, artillery which rived the soil like an earthquake, which hurled the bodies of the dead into the air, and flung the bodies of the living into a deeper sepulchre; and they endured. They went into darkness to storm the trenches of the enemy, to destroy machine gun nests, to break a line of fire, the very thunders of which deafened men; and they endured. They endured fire all these years a manner of like utterly unnatural, and horrible beyond the expression of words. There has been nothing like this in the history of the world.
The smaller of the two frames contains a further forty-eight names. Four of which were killed.
Before leaving the baptistry look to the south wall and a brass plaque commemorating five members of the county's police force -
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF THE MEN OF THE BRECKNOCKSHIRE CONSTABULARY WHO FELL IN ACTION OR DIED OF WOUNDS IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918
- reads the dedication on the left side of the memorial. To the right, and below the Constabulary badge, names, ranks, regiments and dates of death of the men are recorded within a wreath of laurels. A scroll at the bottom of which bears the words - THEIR NAMES SHALL LIVE FOR EVERMORE.
For details of the first man (Royal Welsh Fusilier, Lance-Corporal William Davies) see St. Bridge`s Church, Llansantffraed. Then comes two Welsh Guardsmen. Corporal Arthur Allen Griffiths, killed in action on 5 March, 1917, and Private Edward Hatcher who fell 10 September, 1916. On 7 September the Welsh Guards moved forward to new billets at Ville-sur-Ancre on the Somme and at 9 am (9th) went on to Carnoy. Here dinners were eaten, then at 8 pm the Battalion began its advance into the village of Ginchy. The Battalion War Diary records that during the night rifle fire was encountered from small parties of Germans held up in the village. Later next morning, the enemy attacked from the north-east and throughout the day hand-to-hand fighting took place.
Six months later, and still on the Somme, the Welsh Guards began their part in the pursuit of the German army to the Hindenburg Line. On the evening of 4 March, the village of Sailly-Saillisel was reached - the Guardsmen taking up their positions under heavy shell fire which continued throughout the night and next day. C.H. Dudley Ward notes, in his history of the Welsh Guards, how this period was "....one of the hardest tours of duty the battalion ever had." Heavy guns and trench mortars fired consistently into the Guardsmen`s trenches - the line being blown in and the men forced to occupy simple shell-holes - "....enemy snipers waited to catch men moving from one hole to another."
The remaining two men on the Constabulary memorial are Gunner Charles Ellis Martin, who died from his wounds on 16 January, 1917, and Corporal Thomas Pitman - killed in action on 9 May, 1918. Both men served in France and Flanders with the Royal Garrison Artillery.
Built by a local family in the fourteenth century, the Havard Chapel on the north side of the chancel, was, in 1922, made available to the South Wales Borderers. Brecon being for many years the Depôt of the Regiment. Here, much of the Borderers' history (until 1881 known as the 24th Regiment) has been recorded in fine memorial windows, plaques and furniture. One marble tablet bears the Regimental Crest in gold on a red background, and an inscription notes the number of officers and men from the Regiment that gave their lives in the Great War. The South Wales Borderers between 1914-1918 comprising (including reserves) twenty-one battalions.
Restored under the supervision of Sir Charles Nicholson, and now the Regimental Chapel, the area houses sets of Colours dating from 1812 to 1969. These including the Queen's Colour of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment - saved from the enemy after the fighting at Isandlhwana during the Zulu War of 1879. The chapel also houses Roll of Honour books for both world wars and around the walls numerous plaques commemorating battalions and individuals of 1914-1918. Their names recorded below the Regimental Crest, six officers are remembered.
Franklin Macaulay Gillespie
On 28 June, 1915, the 4th (Service) Battalion, South Wales Borderers, under the Command of Lieutenant-Colonel Franklin Macaulay Gillespie, embarked on the White Star liner, SS Megantic, at Avonmouth. The Battalion had been selected for service in the Dadanelles, and would sail next day. Via Malta and Egypt, the Borderers landed at "V" Beach, Gallipoli on 15 June and were soon occupying front-line trenches.
The Battalion War Diary notes that things were generally - save for the occasional bomb throwing and sniper activity - quiet. There were signs of a recent fight, however. The unburied dead of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers still lying think on the ground. Unbearable heat would also be a problem. The men's ration of Bully Beef had actually turned into liquid, which - "....few dared to tackle, and most people lived on dry biscuits with a little jam when the flies would let them eat it."
After a short rest on the island of Mudros, the Borderers returned to Gallipoli on 3 August via a small steamer that had once worked as a ferry between Ardrossen and Belfast. Packed to capacity, the men were warned not to move around too much for fear that the vessel should capsize. The Battalion was to lead a column which would head two miles north along the seashore, and moving inland, attack a strongly held ridge known as Damakjelik Bair.
Leaving camp at 8 pm on 6 August, the Borderers came under fire as they turned inland. Some men fell - but under the steady leadership of their Colonel, the men stood firm. Then "D" Company was ordered forward, and soon the Turkish trench from which the fire had came, had been secured. Further rushes were made, and by 1.30 Damakjelik Bair had been seized.
In this action, the 4th South Wales Borderers and their leader, would win the admiration of Commander-in-Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton. He wrote: "The rapid success of this movement was largely due to Lieutenant-Colonel Gillespie, a very fine man, who commanded the advance Guard, consisting of his own regiment....a corps worthy of such a leader." Colonel Gillespie, a regular soldier, had been commissioned into the South Wales Borderers in July, 1891 and had served on "special operations" with the West African Frontier Force (1897-98), and with distinction, during the Boer War of 1999-1902.
Having dug-in, the Borderers prepared their positions for a counter-attack. But all would be quiet until just before dawn on the 9th. The Turks coming on in great force, Colonel Gillespie at once hurried forward to the right of his line, and while directing the fire of a machine gun was hit in the head by a sniper's bullet and killed. He had achieved much at Damakjelik Bair - later officially named "Gillespie Spur."
Aveling Francis Bell/Hamilton Henry Travers
Three days after the death of Colonel Gillespie, another officer of the 4th South Wales Borderers would be killed. His name, together with that of his cousin, also appearing on a plaque in the chapel. Aveling Francis Bell was among those that sailed from Avonmouth on 29 July, 1915. He was a platoon leader in "D" Company and present when his men cleared the Turks from their trenches just prior to the attack at Damakjelik Bair. Cheers could be heard as the men carried the enemy's position, records one observer and "....there was a sharp fight, but 'D' made short work of the defenders."
Having taken part in the assault on Damakjelik Bair, and survived several counter-attacks in which (notes the Battalion War Diary) Lieutenant Bell distinguished himself, the Borderers would then enjoy a two-day period of quiet. Preparations were now being made for the next operation - an attack on Kabak Kuyu. As a cover for the main assault, Lieutenant Bell (with three other officers and one hundred and twenty men) moved forward at 7 pm on 12 August. Advancing in skirmishing order, the party soon came under rifle and machine gun fire - but nevertheless arrived at their intended position. Losses had been severe however. Among those killed in the darkness being Aveling Bell.
His cousin, Hamilton Henry Travers, left for France shortly after war was declared. The 1st South Wales Borderers embarking at Southampton on 12 August, 1914. Having been in action at the Chemin des Dames Ridge and Troyon, Hamilton Travers was evacuated home sick in the following October. Rejoining his battalion on 2 January, 1915, he was soon in action again and would distinguish himself during the fighting at Givenchy on 26 January. Leading "B" Company in a bayonet charge around the church, clearing the enemy from their positions and taking many prisoners. Having moved to the Festubert area at the end of February, the Borderers on 13 March went to Port Arthur near Neuve Chapelle. There, and while taking his turn in the front line on 28 March, Hamilton Travers was mortally wounded by a sniper. He died next day in hospital and was subsequently buried in the military cemetery at Bethune.
Sir William Lennox Napier
Killed the day after Lieutenant Bell was Sir William Lennox Napier Bt. - an officer with many years of military experience. William Napier had joined the Sussex Artillery Volunteers in 1888 and as a Territorial Force officer later commanded the 7th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Having retired in 1912, he immediately offered his services in August, 1914, and on 24 September was commissioned as Major, 4th South Wales Borderers. He commanded "A" Company, and was killed by a sniper.
John Guith Morgan-Owen
Almost the last to leave Gallipoli, the 4th South Wales Borderers evacuated the Peninsula on 7 January, 1916, and after a short rest on the island of Mudros, sailed for Egypt. Soon, however, the Battalion would be under orders for Mesopotamia and having left Suez on 15 February, 1916 reached Basra on 4 March. Camp beside the River Tigris was set up, and from there on 12 March, the Borderers proceeded up-stream to Sheikh Saad. Here preparations would be made for an attack on 5 April towards the enemy's positions close to El Orah - The Hanna Lines. The Borderers would next be in action on 9 April.
The night attack on Sannaiyat, notes C.T. Atkinson in his history of the South Wales Borderers, "....was a distressing experience", which left the 4th South Wales Borderers seriously depleted in its ranks. Over half had become casualties. The immediate hours after the battle would see the Turks and Arabs in no man's land stripping the dead and killing the wounded. It would also see the heroism of Private James Fynn who was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.
Having moved forward at 7 pm, the Borderers took up positions some six hundred yards from the Turkish trenches. The men are on record as being hungry and bitterly cold. Recent heavy losses had resulted in a situation whereas the Borderers were going into action with a force of newly-joined drafts - mostly inexperienced and untrained recruits. Going into the attack all would go well until the troops were within four hundred yards of the enemy. Then flares went up - followed by a burst of rifle and machine gun fire. Records of the action note that confusion followed, and direction was lost in the darkness. Second-Lieutenant John Guith Morgan-Owen was among the many casualties of the day.
Also to serve at Gallipoli, but with the 2nd South Wales Borderers, was Captain Willie Ross. In April, 1916, having moved to France with the 29th Division, those members of the 2nd Borderers that had taken part in the landings at Gallipoli, attended a special parade before General Hunter-Weston. The Battalion was then in reserve at Louvencourt and the War Diary records that Lieutenant Ross had just rejoined. After the disastrous 1 July attack at Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme (in which almost four hundred of the Borderers became casualties before reaching their own wire) the Battalion was temporally reorganised into two companies. One being under the command of Lieutenant Ross.
A year later, the Battalion was in Flanders, and on 15 August moved up into front-line trenches just north of Pilckem. An attack towards Langemarck next day saw Lieutenant (now Captain) Ross lead his "D" Company once more into action. At 4.45 am, the whole battalion climbed out of their trenches and began to move forward. A slow advance through swamps - which would see men struggling up to their waists in mud and slime - "C" and "D" Companies are noted in the Battalion War Diary as being particularly bothered by machine guns firing from two strongly-held German positions - Champaubert and Montmirail Farms. Pressing on, and with the help of French artillery, these troublesome points were cleared, and by 10 am all objectives had been taken. For what was gained, the one hundred and seventy casualties of the day, are on record as being "reasonable." Captain Ross was among those killed.
3rd Battalion, South Wales Borderers
Two battalions of the South Wales Borderers are commemorated on plaques within the chapel. The first of which (below several sets of Colours) displays the Regimental Crest in gold and set into marble. Dating from 1759, the Royal South Wales Borderers Militia became 3rd Battalion, South Wales Borderers in 1881 and throughout the First World War supplied trained men to other battalions of the Regiment.
Brecknockshire Battalion, South Wales Borderers
The second battalion plaque commemorates a short period in the war service of the South Wales Borderers only Territorial Force battalion - The Brecknockshire Battalion. (see St. Mary`s Church, Brecon). On a brass tablet, and below the Regimental Dragon badge, the inscription:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF THE FOLLOWING N.C.Os, & MEN OF THE BRECKNOCKSHIRE BATTALION SOUTH WALES BORDERERS WHO DIED WHILE ON ACTIVE SERVICE AT ADEN 1914-15 - THIS TABLET IS ERECTED BY THEIR COMRADES OF THE REGIMENT.
The names, ranks and regimental numbers of nineteen men are recorded in two columns.
During the First World War six Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of the South Wales Borderers and the names of five appear on a wooden panel in the chapel: Captain Angus Buchanan and Private James Henry Fynn (both of the 4th Battalion in Mesopotamia, 1916); Sergeant Albert White (2nd Battalion, France, 1917); Sergeant Ivor Rees (11th Battalion, Belgium, 1917) and Company Sergeant Major John Henry Williams (also awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal, 10th Battalion, France, 1918).
Digby and Francis Dickinson
Featuring the figures of St. David and St. George, a window commemorates the deaths of two brothers:
IN MEMORY OF DIGBY CECIL CALEB DICKINSON 2ND LIEUT. 2ND SOUTH WALES BORDERERS WHO FELL IN ACTION AT OULTERSTEEN 18TH AUG. 1918 AGED 20 - ALSO OF FRANCIS JOHN TWYSDEN DICKINSON CAPT. 2ND AND 7TH SOUTH WALES BORDERERS WHO FELL IN ACTION AT DOIRAN 17TH SEPT. 1918 AGED 21. MAKE THEM NUMBERED WITH THEY SAINTS.
After a months rest, the 2nd South Wales Borderers returned to the front line on 15 August, 1918, and at Merris took over a sector from the 1st Australian Division. The Battalion`s trenches laying south-west of the town and astride the Armentières-Hazebrouck railway. Opposite the Borderers' position was the strongly-held Oultersteen Ridge. On 18th August an attack on the ridge was carried out in which the 2nd South Wales Borderers, together with other troops of the 87th Brigade, successfully carried all objectives. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel G.T. Raikes (see St. Gastyn's Church, Llangasty-Talyllyn) the Brigade captured many machine guns, inflicted high casualties on the Germans and took a total of four hundred and fifty prisoners. "Considering the sharpness of the fighting" notes C.T. Atkinson, "the losses were not heavy." Eleven men, including Lieutenant Digby Dickinson, being killed and just twelve wounded.
Also in France with the 2nd South Wales Borderers was Second-Lieutenant Francis Dickinson. Having just arrived from Gallipoli, the Battalion in April, 1916 began its first tour in trenches on the Western Front. This, records C.T. Atkinson, was to be memorable. About 9 pm on 6 April, the enemy commenced a tremendous bombardment of the Borderers trenches at Mary Redan on the Somme. Heavy artillery and trench mortars tore through the line and dug-outs were destroyed. It was "....a terrible shambles", noted one officer, "bay after bay being blown in and killed and wounded being buried..." Casualties, during what amounted to a one-and-a-half-hour bombardment, numbered twenty-nine killed, eighteen missing and thirty-six wounded. Francis Dickinson being among the latter.
Having been passed fit for duty, Captain Dickinson travelled to the Macedonian front where he joined the 7th South Wales Borderers. Due to take part in an assault on Turkish positions at Lake Dorian, this Battalion, on 17 September took up positions on the southern slope of Tortoise Hill and while waiting for the signal to attack was heavily bombarded. Captain Dickinson on this occasion being killed.
Alfred and Edward Bench-Trower
On another window - this time showing St. Andrew and St. Patrick - two more brothers, killed within hours of each other, are remembered:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF LIEUT. ALFRED BENCH-TROWER SCOTS GUARDS KILLED AT ST. AMAND FRANCE 29TH MAY 1918 AGED 38 - ALSO OF MAJOR EDWARD BENCH-TROWER M.C. SOUTH WALES BORDERERS KILLED AT ROMIGNY, FRANCE 30TH MAY 1918 AGED 27. THEY DIED FOR KING AND COUNTRY.
Posted to 1st Scots Guards, Alfred Bench-Trower had only been with his battalion a week when he was killed. Shot by a sniper in Rabbit Wood near Moyenneville, France.
Killed the next day, his brother Edward had been in France since his battalion, the 5th South Wales Borderers, moved there in July, 1915. As Pioneers to the 19th Division, the Borderers travelled to Le Sart (where most of August was spent) and at the end of the month began work in the Festubert sector. Having played an important part in the September fighting at Loos, the Pioneers were heavily engaged during the following year on the Somme. Here in March, 1917, Edward was made Adjutant of the 5th Borderers, and in the following year - its Second in Command. His award of the Military Cross being made in the New Year`s Honours List.
On 28 May, 1918, the 5th South Wales Borderers moved up to Chaumuzy in preparation for the Battle of the Aisne. Next morning, having advanced closer to the fighting area, "B" Company began work on a new line to the rear of Romigny, while "C" and "D" Companies took up positions in the front line astride the Romigny-Chatillon road. "The enemy were soon attacking this line", records C.T. Atkinson, "but, thanks to having a good field of fire, the 5th punished its opponents heavily." Casualties were high, however and amounted to twenty-one killed, ninety-seven wounded and nineteen missing. Among the latter (his body was never found) Major Bench-Trower's name was placed on the Soissons memorial to those who have no known grave.
Hilary Francis Cleveland Skinner
Close to the Bench-Trower brothers' window, a prayer-desk bears the inscription:
IN MEMORY OF ALL RANKS OF THE SOUTH WALES BORDERERS AND 2ND LIEUTENANT H.C.F. SKINNER ARTIST AND SOLDIER THIS GIFT IS DEDICATED TO THE WORSHIP OF ALMIGHTY GOD BY A MEMBER OF QUEEN MARY'S ARMY AUXILIARY CORPS.
Commissioned on 7 August, 1915, Second-Lieutenant Hilary Francis Cleveland Skinner went out to France where he was attached to the 1st South Wales Borderers. On the Somme, the Battalion had advanced into reserve trenches at Lozenge Wood on 14 July, 1916. Next day a support line was taken up at Mametz Wood, and from there a successful attack was made on the enemy's trenches near Bazentine-le-Petit Wood. Having rested between 18 and 24 July, the Borderers then took over part of the front line near Contalmaison, and on the 25th, stormed the German position at Munster Alley. This heavily defended trench south of the Bapaume road, had already repulsed several attacks. But now it was the turn of the 1st South Wales Borderers, who, having climbed from their trenches at 2 am, notes the Battalion records, would be immediately met by heavy machine gun fire. Also on record is the great courage and resolution shown by the men, who were "....backed up magnificently by their young subalterns."
Second-Lieutenant Skinner was hit while leading his platoon to the assistance of a party of men held up in a shallow trench just short of their objective. The enemy put out a strong counter-attack, and soon the Commanding Officer was forced to order a withdrawal. Dawn was approaching, and in what was left of the darkness, parties searched the battle area for the wounded. Company Sergeant Major Power, who had done much to fight off the Germans in the shallow trench, is on record as going out to rescue Lieutenant Skinner who had been seen lying in a shell-hole. But he could not be reached.
Many of the Cathedral`s long oak pews are dedicated to past members and battalions of the South Wales Borderers. Three have been noted relevant to the First World War. On one the inscription:
MAJOR SIR H. HARMOOD BANNER BART. LATE 3RD BN. SOUTH WALES BORDERERS IN MEMORY OF HIS BROTHER WALCOT CAPTAIN 3RD BN. KILLED CAMBRIN 1915.
Captain Walcot Harmood-Banner was killed in action on 30 August, 1915 while attached to the 1st Battalion.
Two of the Regiment's battalions are commemorated:
TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE BRECKNOCKSHIRE BATTALION WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR
(see St. Mary`s, Brecon); and presented by Lieutenant-Colonel The Right Hon. Viscount Greenwood:
IN MEMORY OF THE OFFICERS, N.C.OS AND MEN OF THE 10TH BATTN. S.W.B. (1ST GWENT) WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918.
As part of "Kitchener`s New Army," the 10th Borderers fought in France and Belgium with the 38th (Welsh) Division. At Mametz Wood (on the Somme in 1916); the Battles of Ypres (including that at Pilckem Ridge, in 1917); the Somme again in 1918 (Ancre on 5 April, Albert and Bapaume, 21 August to 3 September); the Battles of the Hindenburg Line (Havrincourt, Epehy, the Beurevoir Line and Cambrai), and in the final months of the war - the Selle and Sambre.
Copyright © Ray Westlake, August, 2002
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