Remembering The Great War

Dyrham, Gloucestershire

St Peter's

A visit to St. Peter's would possibly fit into a day out at Dyrham Park. Just south of Junction 18 on the M4 Motorway (take the A46 Bath road) this fine estate of house, gardens and stables, includes the church - but there is free access to the latter via the minor road to the south of the park's main road entrance if time is short.

The nucleus of St. Peter's dates from the mid-thirteenth century - the church was restored by G. Vialls in 1877 - and is much older than Dyrham Park itself. Note, before leaving, the interesting tomb at the east end of the south aisle belonging to George Wynter who died in 1581 having sailed on the Golden Hind with Drake.

Dyrham Park in 1914-1918 was the country seat of Robert Wynter Blathwayt and on the wall of the sanctuary we find an original battlefield grave marker to one of his family. Simple wooden crosses with small strips of metal attached bearing the name, rank and regiment of the person buried, these temporary markers were later removed and replaced by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the familiar Portland headstones of today. The originals being made available to family members and often findings their way back home and to permanent positions in churches.

Major Henry Wynter Blathwayt (his grave can be seen at Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquieres, about five kilometres south-west of Cambrai) served with the 74th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and was killed during the Cambrai operations as his unit came out of the line on 30 November, 1917. As part of the Guards Division, the 74th Brigade had been continuously in action for five days.

In the south aisle another local family remember a lost and only son. George and Charlotte Ball of "The Gardens", Dyrham erecting just after the war a small white marble tablet to Private Christopher George Ball of the 12th Gloucestershire Regiment. It would be on 14 July, 1916 that the 12th Gloucesters (they were formed in Bristol and known as "Bristol's Own") arrived on the Somme - the big battle had been on for two weeks now, and the men would make their way steadily up to the front line. They saw action on 29 July - the line north of Duke Street taken - and again on 3 September. This time the enemy's trenches running from Wedge Wood to the south-eastern edge of the village of Guillemont were occupied. But the Gloucester's success on this occasion would be at great cost. The total casualties for the day amounting to three hundred and twenty-eight - one of those lost (his body was never found) being Christopher Ball. Twenty-six when he died, he was an original member of "Bristol's Own" and had enlisted into the battalion on 21 September, 1914.

There are two parish memorials at St. Peters. One, a brass plaque listing the names, ranks, regiments, ages and year of death of eight men, the other being in the form of a small stone cross and within the churchyard.

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Copyright © Ray Westlake, October, 2002

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