Remembering The Great War

St Michael and All Angels Church

Walford-on-Wye, Herefordshire

At Walford, close to the Wye and just below Ross, its church provides 'value for money' in its collection of war graves and memorials. Starting as they do literally at the beginning of the tree-lined lane leading up to its entrance, carrying on up through the lychgate, there in the churchyard, and throughout the church itself. First, and greeting us as we arrive, a fine monument by Gilbert Boulton of Grosvenor Studios, Cheltenham, forms the first of two parish memorials. This a tall pillar in the front of which stands the figure of St George. At his feet, and carved into two stone tablets, the twenty-four names of those that died 'For King and Country'.

St. George and Walford's
Avenue of Remembrance

As you begin walking up the path you are now literally in Walford's second memorial. The 'Avenue of Remembrance' with its lime trees planted in 1923. A slab of local stone placed at the end, and to the left of the lychgate, tells the story: 'The avenue lining the approach to the church commemorates those men of the village who fell in the 1914-1918 War. A tree was planted for each life given. Each man is named on the war memorial at the church main gate. We will remember them.'

At the foot of each tree a small rectangle of stone was placed bearing the name of a single soldier, along with date and place of his death-'St Eloe', 'Sulva Bay', 'Ypres', 'Gommecourt', 'Arras', 'Alexandria', 'Cambrai' 'Marne' and others from all theatres of war. The stones we see today are recent replacements, but many of the originals, now worn, broken and discarded in the undergrowth, remain still.

Through the lychgate now (this too is a memorial, but to those killed 1939-1945) then into the churchyard. First the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones marking the graves of three soldiers: On the west side Private John Morgan of the 2nd King's (Shropshire Light Infantry) - twenty-six when he died on May 25th 1915 - and from the Herefordshire Regiment, Private Harold Ernest Huntly Evans whose date of death is given as June 10th 1920. To the south side of the churchyard now, where we have the grave of nineteen-year-old Private Kenneth Percival Stevens Bevan who served with the 6th KSLI and lived at Whitings Lane, Walford.

Look now for three family graves. Each commemorating on their headstone relatives lost and buried overseas. West of the church first, and on one belonging to Winifred Sarah Hawker of Hill Court Gardens, we see reference to her brother. Sergeant Arthur Allen Hawker who was killed in action on September 9th 1918. He served with No.1 Company of the 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards and St Michael's has a plaque inside the church (to the left of the door on the north side) which was placed there by his father and mother (Arthur and Rhoda) in 1924.

The Hawker Headstone

Also on the west side a cross marking the graves of several members of the Butt family tells how two brothers died elsewhere: Richard Acton and Frederick Claude Butt, eldest and youngest sons of G.W. and E.S. Butt of Holcombe. We will hear more of the Butt brothers inside the church. But first, over to the lychgate where close by another headstone gives reference to Harold William Symonds. Killed on the Marne on May 30th 1918.

The church guide tells how St Michael's and All Angels was once dedicated to St Leonard (the change coinciding with the restoration of the building in 1887) and how the church is one of the earliest in Herefordshire - the centre part of its nave being built c1100. But the church is essentially thirteenth century, the tower being added then and at first standing alone and topped by a spire. This being struck during a thunderstorm in February 1813 and falling to the ground.

Remember the Butt brothers from the churchyard? Well at the west end of the church you will find a fine window to their memory. Below St David and St Jonathan, two angels hold a scroll bearing the dedication which tells how the boys '…were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in death they were not divided.' Then below this a marble tablet shows the devices of two regiments: the King's (Shropshire Light Infantry) and the 5th (City of London) Bn., The London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade).

Butt Brothers Window

A Second-Lieutenant attached to 5th KSLI, Richard Butt - who having reported for duty while the battalion was in billets at Houtkerque - was killed near Ypres within days of his arrival on January 9th. The tablet also noting that he was twenty-four and buried at Brielin. Turning now to his brother, we learn from the memorial that Frederick was taken prisoner at Gommecourt on July 1st 1916. On this day, the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the London Rifle Brigade with other units from the 56th (1st London) Division, suffered heavy losses. The battalion's strength when going into battle shortly after 7.30 am being over eight hundred, and upon returning to the British lines at 5 pm, numbering just eighty-nine unwounded men. It would appear that Frederick Butt's burial - 'with military honours in the cemetery at Le Cateau" - six days after he was captured, was by the Germans.

Collins memorial

Turn now to face the church's fine north door and to the left of it a small brass plaque commemorates the Sergeant Arthur Allen Hawker that we saw mentioned on his sister's headstone in the churchyard. And on the right of this another memorial. This time a bronze plaque mounted on wood, and telling below a family crest of the death at Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana, of one Lionel Beale Kyrle Collins in 1894. But it is the name below that is of First World War interest: Lionel Drummond Kyrle Collins, Second-Lieutenant, 3rd (attached 13th) Battalion, Royal Scots, killed in action on May 12th, 1916 aged twenty-two.

The 13th Royal Scots were holding trenches facing the heavily defended German position known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt in the Loos sector. 'The enemy's success', notes the historian of the Royal Scots, Major John Ewing, MC, 'had given him a firmer grip on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, which had been a veritable cockpit ever since the 25th September, 1915. Mining, counter-mining, and infantry clashes were almost a matter of daily routine…' It was one such 'infantry clash' that led up to the death of Lionel Collins. On the day before, the enemy, after terrific bombardment of the battalion's trenches, attacked and succeeded in entering part of their front line. Subsequent attempts to penetrate deeper, and into the support and reserve trenches, were all, however, repelled- '…heavy rifle and Lewis gun fire was poured into the Boches, inflicting on them many casualties.'

But the battalion's losses had to be reclaimed, and at 1.30 am on May 12th, the Royal Scots charged across open land:  '…but the Boches were ready for this move and shattered the assault by the accuracy of their fire.' Total losses amounted to more than two hundred and thirty killed, wounded or missing. Lionel Collins being among the latter.

The last memorial at St Michael's and All Angels will be found in the chancel where to the left of the altar a brass missal stand recalls the death near Ypres on August 19th, 1917 of twenty-two-year-old Colin Eric Baumgarte. A lance-corporal serving with the 2/8th Worcestershire Regiment, he was killed by shell fire as the battalion occupied positions running from Pommern Castle to Spree Farm. The stand was presented to the church by his mother Annie Baumgarte.


Relevant regimental and unit histories and war diaries.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.

Remembering the Great War in Gloucestershire & Herefordshire. Ray Westlake, Brewin Books, Studley, 2002.

Copyright © Ray Westlake June, 2006

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