Kingham is a village and civil parish in the Cotswolds about 4 miles southwest of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
HARVEY FREDERICK BILES was serving as Private in the 1st Battalion, The Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire) Regiment when he died of wounds on the 13th October 1915. He was aged 32 and is buried in Chocques Military Cemetery in the Pas de Calais.
He was the son of George and Elizabeth Biles, of Kingham. In December 1902 he had enlisted into the Royal Berkshire Regiment, serving for 5 years in the colours before joining the reserves. In 1907 he married Jane Elizabeth Finlay at Kingham Parish Church. They lived in Kingham where he worked as a general labourer and had a son and daughter together.
He was recalled for service at the outbreak of war and arrived in France on 14th August 1914 with the 1st Battalion, as part of the 2nd Division. They advanced to Mons and took up positions to the south east of the town. On 23rd August they were in action against the Germans, and although outnumbered held their advance up 24 hours before having to retreat on the following day. A continuous rearguard action was fought all the way back to the outskirts of Paris, where on 6th September 1914 the Allies turned to face the Germans, halting their advance in the Battle of the Marne. The Allies then went on the offensive in the Battle of the Aisne from 13th to 20th September, pushing the Germans back some 43 miles to the Aisne River. The Battalion was next in action in the First Battle of Ypres from 19th October to 11th November 1914, as the Allies sucessfully defended the strategic town from German assaults.
In 1915 they took part in the Battle of Festubert on 15th May. On 25th September as troops were assembling for the Battle of Loos the 2nd Division made a diversionary attack on German lines at Givenchy-les-la-Bassee. They managed to get through belts of barbed wire to occupy first line vacated German trenches but on moving up to second line trenches were driven back by heavy machine gun fire. On 13th September 1915, as part of the Battle of Loos, Private Biles was wounded in an attack on Hohenzollern Redoubt, a network of trenches, deep shelters and machine gun posts, situated on the edge of the mining town of Auchy-lez-La-Bassee. He was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station at Choques where he died later that day.
EDWARD EDEN was serving as a Private in the 32nd Battalion, The Machine Gun Company when he died of wounds received on the 3rd April 1918, defending against the German Spring Offensive. He was aged 29 and is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No 1 on the Somme.
He was the son of James and Sarah Verina Eden, of Kingham. He worked as a farm labourer and in 1915 married Kate Durran in St Mary's Chipping Norton. He was now working as a stationary engine driver and they had a daughter called Verina.
He had enlisted originally into the 3rd (Depot) Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was then transferred to the 71st Brigade Machine Gun Corps, joining them in France in March 1916. The Machine Gun Company was one of the most difficult and dangerous roles in the Army, operating the Vickers .303 Mk 1 water-cooled machine gun, capable of firing 450-550 rounds a minute.
He was hospitalised for 5 days in April with an inflammed left foot. He then went on to see action in the Somme Offensive from 21st September 1916 beginning with the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, The Battle of Morval and finishing with the Battle of Transloy Ridges on 9th October. After this he transferred to the 97th Brigade MGC. On 10th February he was sent to hospital on No 27 Hospital train, suffering from trench foot. After he returned to his unit they cautiously pursued the Germans in their strategic withdrawal to pre-prepared defences on the Hindenburg line. They were held in reserve for the rest of 1917 and in January 1918 the 97th Company were taken into the 32nd Battalion, The Machine Gun Company, in the 32nd Division.
The German Spring offensive of 1918 was a series of German attacks along the Western front during the, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914. The Germans had realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the overwhelming human and material resources of the United States could be fully deployed. They also had the temporary advantage in numbers afforded by the nearly 50 divisions freed by the Russian surrender. The 31st Division had been training north of Ypres. They were rushed to support troops defending an advance on Arras, arriving at Ransart, north of the city, on 27th March. Private Eden was wounded by shellfire and evacuated to the 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens where he died.
CYRIL AUGUSTINE HITCHMAN was serving as a Private in the 1/1st Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars when he killed in action on the 28th October 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres. He was aged 24 and is buried in the Cement House Cemetery in Belgium.
He was born in Barton on the Heath to parents Joseph and Rose Hitchman and moved to Kingham, where he worked as a florist gardener.
The Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars, nicknamed by men of the regular army 'Queer Objects On Horseback' or 'agricultural cavalry' were one of the first Territorial units to be sent to France, at behest of Winston Churchill who had once served with them.The QOOH took part in many actions from Ypres 1914 to winning many battle honours and the lasting respect of their fellow members of the 2nd Cavalry Division.
As cavalry they spent frustrating periods waiting in readiness to push on through the gap in the enemy's line, which never came. They toiled in working parties bringing up supplies, digging defensive positions, suffering the discomforts of appalling conditions, and frequently dismounting to fight fierce engagements on foot and in the trenches themselves.
ARTHUR KEEN MM was serving as a Sergeant in the 35th Seige Battery, The Royal Garrison Artillery when he died of wounds received on the 31st March 1917. He was aged 25 and is buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty in the Pas de Calais.
He was the son of James and Clara Keen of Kingham and joined the RGA as a professional soldier in 1910. He joined the 35th Seige Battery and arrived with them in France on 16th September 1915. On the 11th October 1916 he won the Military Medal during the Battle of the Ancre. He died in the 1/1st South Midland Casualty Clearing Station.
ARTHUR GUY MACE was serving as a Lance-Corporal in the 1/4th (Territorial) Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Piave River in Italy, on the 15th June 1918. He was aged 32 and is buried in Boscon British Cemetery.
He was born in Milton under Wychwood to parents John and Elizabeth Mace, and was a boarder at Burford Grammar School. He later lived in Witney, working as a bank clerk for Midland Bank. InAugust 1914 he enlisted into the 4th Battalion Ox & Bucks, at the time he was living in Manor Farm, Kingham. After seven months’ training at Writtle, Essex, the Battalion, now the 1/4th proceeded to France on March 29th, 1915, underwent a period of instruction, and took over the line near Ploegsteert on April 17th, remaining in this area till July, when it moved south to Hebuterne. Trench routine continued till the Somme battle of July, 1916, when the Battalion was soon in action, on the 19th near Albert and again about Pozieres on the 23rd, while on August 13th it beat off a heavy attack by the Prussian Guard near Ovillers. In March 1917, in the British advance, the Battalion captured Roisel, helped to take Ronssoy, and made a gallant but unsuccessful attack on Guillemont Farm on April 19th. On August 16th it took part in an attack north of St. Julien (Langemarck), and on November 23rd proceeded with the 48th Division to Italy. For six months the Battalion was holding the line, and at rest, and in support. It was in the trenches opposite Canove when the Austrian attack burst on June 15th, 1918, and though driven out of the front line, held on to the position, and completely restored it at nightfall, capturing hundreds of prisoners and much material, and earning a Mention in the Despatch of the British Commander-in-Chief in Italy.
HENRY GEORGE PADBURY was serving as a Cook's Mate aboard HMS Vanguard when he died on active service on the 9th July 1917, when his ship blew up. He was aged 20, his body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
He was the son of John and Alice Padbury, of Trellis Villa, Kingham, having been born in Alderminster. He joined the Royal Navy for the duration of hostilities on the 13th August 1915. After training at Chatham he joined the crew of HMS Vanguard on the 15th April 1916. On the 31st May 1916, Vanguard, under the command of Captain James Dick, was assigned to the 4th Division of the 4th Battle Squadron at the Battle of Jutland, being the eighteenth ship from the head of the battle line after deployment. During the first stage of the general engagement, the ship fired 42 rounds from her main guns at the crippled light cruiser SMS Wiesbaden from 1830, claiming several hits. Between 1920 and 1930, Vanguard engaged several German destroyer flotillas with her main armament without result. This was the last time that the ship fired her guns during the battle.
On the evening of the 18th August 1916 Vanguard sailed as part of the Grand Fleet of 29 dreadnoughts and 6 battlecruisers in an attempt to intercept the German Fleet which had the objective of bombarding Sunderland. No contact was made between the fleets, both sides returning to port the following day.
On the afternoon of 9 July 1917, the ship's crew had been exercising, practising the routine for abandoning ship. Returning at about 1830 she anchored in the northern part of Scapa Flow. At about 2330 witnesses on nearby ships reported a small explosion with a white glare between the foremast and the two turrets amidships , followed after a brief interval by two much larger explosions. A great cloud of smoke enveloped the area and when it cleared Vanguard had disappeared, taking 804 men with her, including Henry Padbury.
Initially there were fears a German submarine had been responsible and orders to protect the anchorage were given at 2330. These were lifted at 0730 the next morning when the Admiralty were satisfied the loss of the Vanguard had been caused by a internal explosion. A court of inquiry heard accounts from many witnesses on nearby ships. They accepted the consensus that there had been a small explosion with a white glare between the foremast and "A" turret, followed after a brief interval by two much larger explosions.The Court decided, on the balance of the available evidence, that the main detonations were in either "P" magazine, "Q" magazine, or both. A great deal of debris thrown out by the explosion landed on nearby ships; a section of plating measuring five feet by six feet landed on board Bellerophon. It was matched with a sister ship, and was found to be from the central dynamo room, which reinforced the evidence suggesting that the explosion took place in the central part of the ship.
Although the explosion was obviously an explosion of the cordite charges in a main magazine, the reason for it was much less obvious. There were several theories. The inquiry found that some of the cordite on board, which had been temporarily offloaded in December 1916 and catalogued at that time, was past its stated safe life. The possibility of spontaneous detonation was raised, but could not be proved.It was also noted that a number of ship's boilers were still in use, and some watertight doors which should have been closed in war-time, were open as the ship was in port. It was suggested that this might have contributed to a dangerously high temperature in the magazines. The final conclusion of the board was that a fire started in a 4-inch magazine, perhaps when a raised temperature caused spontaneous ignition of cordite, spreading to one or the other main magazines which then exploded. On 12 September 1975 a detailed investigation carried out by the Royal Navy's Command Clearance Diving Team confirmed that the original explosion destroyed virtually all the explosive ordnance on board and blew the wreck apart.
WILLIAM HENRY TIMMS was serving as a Private in the 1st/7th Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment when he was killed in action during the Third Battle of Ypres on the 19th August 1917. He was aged 20 and is buried in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery near Ypres.
He was the son of Frederick and Bessie Timms of Kingham. At the age of 13 he, and his two brothers were lodging and working as domestic house boys in the village. He had served previously in the Norfolk Regiment, before joining the 1st/7th Worcesters in France. The battalion were in action at the Battle of Langemarck from 16th August 1917, the second major Allied attack of the Third Battle of Ypres. The attack succeeded in the north, from Langemarck to Drie Grachten (Three Canals) but early advances in the south, on the Gheluvelt Plateau, were forced back by powerful German counter-attacks. The course of the battle was hampered by the atrocious weather and ground conditions which affected the British attack through low-lying areas that had been heavily bombed.Private Timms was killed in action during the battle.
His elder brother Frederick James Timms served as a Private in the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light infantry, see below.
EDWARD WILLETTS DCM was serving as a Private with the 9th (Service) Battalion, The Welsh Regiment when he was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, on the 11th July 1916. He was aged 25 and is buried in Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension in the Somme region.
He was the son of Phillip and Elizabeth Willetts of Kingham, having been born in Old Swindford, Worcestershire. In February 1907 he joined the Great Western Railway as a Lamp Lad at Chipping Norton. He progressed as a porter at Bridgnorth then Ledbury and by 1912 was District Lampman at Honeybourne. He then went on to be a shunter then brakeman at Pontyrhyl until he resigned in February of 1914.
He enlisted into the Welsh Regiment in Maesteg, joining the 9th Battalion, a Territorial unit, in France on the 16th December 1915. They saw action in the Battle of Loos from 25th September 1915, when their objectives were the trenches opposite, west of Rue d'Ouvert and Chapelle St Roch, but they hardly managed to get out of their own front line. The gas and smoke cloud cover was ineffective and with 2nd Division on the right unable to advance, leaving the Brigade's right flank open to enfilade machine-gun fire, the attack was a disaster.
At the start of the Battle of the Somme, on the 1st July 1916, they were based in the Albert Area and took part in the attacks on La Boisselle and Bailiff Wood. Edward Willetts was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, his citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry during operations. He bombed a dug-out from which he captured and brought back 28 prisoners".
He was killed in action on 11th July.
HORACE ALBERT WOODWARD was serving as Driver with the 86th Battery, 32nd Brigade, The Royal Field Artillery when he died, probably from natural causes, on 29th January 1919. He was aged 38 and is buried in La Louviere Town Cemetery in Belgium.
He was born Horace Rathbone in 1881, in 1884 his mother Sarah Rathbone married John Woodward. In the summer of 1910 he married Lizzie Gillett and they had a son Horace, living with his mother in Little Rollright and working as a farm labourer. He enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery. He joined the 86th Battery, 12 (Howitzer) Brigade and arrived in France with them landing at St Nazaire on the 14th September 1914, and proceeding to the Western Front. The Division arrived in time to reinforce the hard-pressed BEF on the Aisne, before the whole army was moved north into Flanders. The Battery left for 127 Brigade of 4th Division on 18th May 1915, taking part in the Second Battle of Ypres. The Battery joined 14th Brigade in May 1916 taking part in the Battle of the Somme and then joining the 32nd Brigade in January 1917, taking part in the Third Battle of Ypres, defending against the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and then supporting the advance to the Hindenburg line and beyond.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
BERNARD ALBERT BELCHER was serving as a Leading Aircraftman, with the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve when he died on active service on 3rd July 1941 aged 30. He was the son of Albert and Kate Belcher of Church Street, Kingham. William and Frederick Timms, above, lodged with his family. In early 1940 he married Winifred Wilkes in Worcester. He joined the RAFVR and was sent to Canada under The Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He was sent to Medicine Hat in Alberta to train as a pilot with 34 Service Flying Training School. On the 3rd July he was killed when the Airspeed Oxford he was training on crashed. The casualty report reads:
"Flying Officer B Simms took off in Oxford V3268 at 1200 hours to give dual instruction before solo to Leading Aircraftman B Belcher. At 1220 Sergeant Shaw, the duty pilot, heard a loud report and looked up to see white smoke pouring from the starboard engine, followed soon after by flames. The aircraft was at about 4,000ft and it then glided with the right wing down, until he lost sight of it behind a hill. The aircraft landed downwind in a field, with the undercarriage retracted and burst into flames with a cloud of black smoke. Both occupants were killed and the aircraft burnt out"
Bernard Belcher is buried in Medicine Hat cemetery.
ARTHUR THOMAS BRIDGE was born in October 1919 to parents to parents Thomas and Helena Bridges of Kingham.
He joined the Royal Navy in January 1940 and trained as a telegraphist, joining the crew of HMS Hood on 30th September 1940. The Hood was an Admiral class battle cruiser launched in 1918, armed with 15 inch guns and capable of speed of about 33 knots.
When Arthur Bridge joined her in 1940 she was based at Scapa Flow. Operations included covering the attack on Tromso, Norway by Force D, with HMS Repulse and 15th Cruiser Squadron, covering the approaches to Brest and Lorient against return of Admiral Scheer following attack on HMS Jervis Bay and convoy HX84 and patrolling in Iceland-Faeroes gap against passage of Admiral Hipper. 1941 found the Hood still based in Scapa flow and early in that she she covered convoys and mine-laying operations. Fom the 18th March Hood was involved in the search for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and patrols to prevent their break out from Brest. On 19th April she set course for Norwegian Sea following reports that the Bismarck had left Kiel and was heading north-west with two Leipzig-class cruisers and three destroyers.Two days later she diverted to Hvalfjord, Iceland with the destroyer Inglefield against breakout of Bismarck into Atlantic. It was ultimately discovered that Bismarck had gone east and had not attempted to break-out. On 22nd My 1941 the Hood left Scapa Flow in company of the battleship Prince of Wales, and 6 destroyers . The force proceeded to waters off southern Iceland in case Bismarck and the accompanying cruiser Prinz Eugen attempted a breakout into the Atlantic in that vicinity. On 23rd May Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were sighted by HMS Suffolk in Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. On 24th May 1941 The British squadron spotted the Germans at 0537 , The Battle of the Denmark Straits commenced shortly after dawn. The British opened fire at 0552 with Hood engaging Prinz Eugen, the lead ship in the German formation, and the Germans returned fire at 0555, both ships concentrating on Hood. Prinz Eugen was probably the first ship to score when a shell hit Hood's boat deck, between her funnels, and started a large fire among the ready-use ammunition for the anti-aircraft guns. Just before 0600, while Hood was turning 20° to port to unmask her rear turrets, she was hit again on the boat deck by one or more shells from Bismarck's fifth salvo, fired from a range of approximately 118,210 yards. A shell from this salvo appears to have hit the spotting top, as the boat deck was showered with body parts and debris. A huge jet of flame burst out of Hood from the vicinity of the mainmast,followed by a devastating magazine explosion that destroyed the aft part of the ship. This explosion broke the back of Hood and the last sight of the ship, which sank in only three minutes, was her bow, nearly vertical in the water. Out of a crew of 1,418 only three survived. Despite the loss of Hood, the action did achieve the result of effectively cancelling the German sortie. Though Prinz Eugen escaped, Bismarck was later defeated and sunk with a heavy loss of life. No convoys were lost to either ship.
Arthur Bridge was aged 21 and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
With thanks to the HMS Hood Association.
RICHARD JAMES NORMAN NORTHWAY was a volunteer with the Kingham Platoon, Home Guard, 3rd Battalion (Chipping Norton) of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, when he died on 20th July 1941. He was aged 52 and is buried in Kingham St Andrew Churchyard.
He was the son of Richard and Mary Ann Northway of Exeter in Devon. In May 1905 he had enlisted into the Devonshire Regiment and served with the in Malta with the 2nd Battalion. He was discharged to the reserves, but recalled to service on the outbreak of the First World War. He was posted to the 1st Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment as a Private and arrived in France with them on 22nd August 1914. He saw action at the Battle of the Aisne and the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 but was then invalided home, suffering from illness. He was discharged from the Army on 3rd June 1915 as permanently unfit and awarded the Silver Badge, issued to stop honourably discharged soldiers being accused of cowardice.
In September 1924 he married Violet Routley in Devonport, and in 1937 he and his wife arrived in Oxfordshire to look after Clyde House at Kingham Hill School. He collapsed during a Home Guard Exercise on 20th July 1941 and died in Clyde House later that day.
SOME OF THOSE WHO SERVED IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
FREDERICK JAMES TIMMS was born in 1895 in Kingham to parents Frederick and Bessie Timms. He and his two younger brothers all worked as domestic house boys for Mr and Mrs Belcher of Church Street, Kingham. He later worked as a groom and enlisted into The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, as a Private, in Oxford on 4th August 1915.
He seemed to have struggled with army discipline, being confined to barracks twice for missing early morning parades in 1915 and early 1916. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion in France on 8th May 1916. The Battalion were in action on 27th July at Delville Wood, a phase of the Somme Offensive. On 29th he was wounded in action, suffering a gunshot wound to the left buttock . He was evacuated to England on 4th August 1916. He rejoined the 2nd Battalion in France on 7th August 1917 being transferred to the 1st/4th Battalion on 22nd August. He saw action with this Battalion during the Third Battle of Ypres, starting with the Battle of Langemarck on 16th August 1917. On 21st November the Battalion was moved to Italy and took part in the Battle of Piave in June 1918 and the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on 1st November 1918. He remainrd in Italy, returning home to be demobilized on 29th January 1919.
He married Norah Attewell in Chipping Norton in 1923. He died in the Cirencester area in December 1970, aged 75.