FIRST WORLD WAR
ERNEST RICHARD BENFIELD was serving as a Driver with the 5th Brigade Ammunition Column, The Royal Horse Artillery when he died from injuries received in an accident on 26th April 1917. He was aged 26 and is buried in Ecoivres Military Cemetery Mont-St. Eloi Pas-de-Calais.
He was the son of Walter and Ellen Benfield, of Taston, he had worked as a farm labourer before the war. He arrived in France on 5th September 1915.
ALFRED LIONEL COOPER was serving as a Private in the 5th(Service) Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he as killed in action on 5th August 1915. He was aged 16 and his body was never recovered from the field and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.
He was born in Spelsbury in 1898 to parents John and Emily Cooper and at 13 was working as a farm labourer. He arrived in France to join the 5th Ox and Bucks on 7th July 1915, having given a false age to enlist. As part of 42nd brigade in 14th (light) division, the Battalion took part in the action at hooge, which saw the first use of flame throwers against British trenches The battalion war diary for 5th August reads:
"Enemy reply to our bombardment of Hooge was to direct heavy fieled gun fire into our trenches, and some big shell. Enemy mortars active, ours also at work. Situation today more lively than usual, enemy trench mortaring rigourously and firing HE 3" shells into our trenches all day. Enemy aerial torpedo gun located: 9.2" Howitzer fired at it: 1st shot direct hit or very near it: No more aerial torpedoes: Casualties killed OR 2 wounded OR 5."
One of the two other ranks killed was 16 year old Alfred Cooper.
ALFRED JAMES CROSS DCM was serving as a Sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own), when he was killed in action on 31st July 1917 during the Battle of Pilekem Ridge. He was aged 21, his body was never recovered from the field and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.
He was the son of Charles William and Harriett Cross, Ellen's Lodge, Ditchley, Enstone. He joined the Rifle Brigade in July 1914, just before the outbreak of war. He embarked for France on 9th October 1914, joining the 2nd Battalion as part of the 25th Brigade in 8th Division. He saw action in The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, The Battle of Aubers and The action of Bois Grenier (a diversionary attack coinciding with the Battle of Loos) in 1915, The Battle of Albert (the first phase of the Battles of the Somme) in 1916 and the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in 1917. On 18th June 1917, in the run up to the Third Battle of Ypres he received the Distinguished Conduct medal. His citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led out a patrol and established two posts about 70 yards from an enemy strong point. He set a splendid example of courage and initiative."
He was killed on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.
HENRY MOUNTIFORT DILLON DSO was serving as Lieutenant-Colonel with the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he died of disease contracted whilst on active service on 13th January 1918. He was aged 36 and is buried in Spelsbury All Saints Churchyard.
He was the son of Lt. Col. Henry Dillon and Blanche Dillon, born in Thanet, Kent. After retirement from the Royal Engineers his parents and sister Katherine had moved to Spelsbury House, his sister living there until her death in 1958.
Following his father into the Army, Henry Dillon fought with the Ox and Bucks as a Lieutenant in the Boer War. He was then seconded to the North Nigerian Regiment in 1910, by then promoted to Captain. Serving with the 2nd battalion throughout World War One he was twice Mentioned in Despatches on 17th February and 1st June 1915 and decorated with the Distinguished Service Order on 23rd June 1915. He died in the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital in Millbank, Middlesex.
ARTHUR EDWARD HARLING was serving as a Private with the 5th Battalion, The Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry when he killed in action on 24th August 1916, during the Battle of Delville Wood. He was aged 19 and is buried in Delville Wood Cemetery on the Somme.
He was the son of Harry and Fanny Harling husband of Fanny Harling, of Taston. he had worked as a plough boy on a farm before enlisting into the Ox & Bucks, joining the 5th Battalion in France in June 1915. On 23rd August 1916 his Battalion moved up into trenches on the edge of Delville Wood in readiness to assault the German lines, in conjunction with the Worcester Regiment. At 0545 on 24th the leading wave left their trenches. The raid was a success with one machine gun captured, 200 prisoners taken, including 5 officers and between 150-200 Germans killed or wounded. The 5th Battalion took 41 killed, 122 wounded and 9 missing, including Private Harling. His body was buried by the Germans and re-interred after the Armistice.
HARRY HARRIS was serving as a Private with the 61st Battalion, The Machine Gun Company when he was killed in action on 26th September 1918 during the Final Advance in Picardy. He was aged 36 and is buried in Estaires Communal Cemetery Extension.
He was the son of Tom and Hannah Harris, of Enstone. In 1902 he married Emily Banner in Spelsbury where he worked as a farm labourer. They had 8 children together. He joined the 4th (Territorial) The Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry in late 1914, before being transferred to the Machine Gun Company.
His youngest son Harry, born in 1919 after he died, was killed at Dunkirk in 1940.
FRANK EDWARD MITCHELL was serving as a Lance Corporal with the 1st/4th Battalion, The Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry when he was killed in action on 14th June 1915. He was aged 20, his final resting place is unknown and he is commemorated on The Ploegsteert Memorial, Ypres.
He was the son of Thomas and Harriet Mitchell, of Spelsbury and had worked as a farm labourer. He joined the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Ox and Bucks when he was 16, in 1912. As part of 1/4 he landed in Boulogne in March 1915. He was in trenches in the Pont de Nieppe near Armienteres when it was hit by shell fire.
BASIL GEORGE STURDY was serving as a Lance Sergeant with the 1st/2nd Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment when he was killed in action on 4th July 1917. He was aged 28 and is buried in Bard Cottage Cemetery in Belgium.
He was the son of James and Ellen Sturdy and was born in Dean. He was living in Abertillery, Wales, working as a haulier, when he enlisted into the 3rd Monmouth Regiment, a Territorial unit, for 4 years service in the United Kingdom, in March 1910. In February 1915 he signed on for a further four years, agreeing to serve abroad and arrived in France with his Battalion on 13th of the month. He was suffered gun shot wounds to the hand and legs on 11th May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres and was evacuated home spending time in the Quarry Hospital, Shrewsbury. returning to his Battalion he was promoted Corporal on 15th November 1915 and Lance Sergeant on 19th January 1916. It is indicative of the conditions the men endured in the trenches that he spent time in the Field Hospital suffering from scabies and boils in 1916. He then survived the Battle of Albert, the opening phase of the Somme in July 1916. In May 1917 he was transferred to 1/2 Battalion, a pioneer battalion, and saw action in the Arras Offensive before returning home on leave between the 10th and 20th June. He was killed in action 15 days after his return to the front.
He is also remembered on the Abertillery War Memorial. His younger brother Spencer also died in 1917, below.
SPENCER SALTER STURDY was serving as a Private in the 2nd/4th Battalion, The Oxfordfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he was killed in action on 10th September 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres. He was aged 26, his body never recovered from the field he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial near Ypres.
He was the son of James and Ellen Sturdy and was born in Dean, and had worked as farm labourer before the war. He had enlisted into the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of The Ox and Bucks in 1911 and arrived in France with them on 24th May 1916.They were soon in action carrying out fighting patrols and trench raids in the run up to the Somme, holding trenches and front posts at Laventie. Although, as part of 184th Brigade, the Battalion played no part in the actual fighting on the Somme, the support work they carried out was arduous and they suffered many casualties. In August 1917 the Battalion were based near Ypres. On 10th September 1917 "A" and "D" companies were detailed to attack Hill 35, a ridge crowned with concrete gun positions, that had stubbornly survived 6 assaults already. The two companies assembled at around 3am in shell holes in front of the hill. They were then assailed by gas shells, which unfortunately had been fired by a British Artillery unit in error. Two men were killed and the morale of the men, which had been high, was shattered. They spent an uncomfortable few hours sheltering in hot sun, pestered by bluebottles and shaken by the odd British shell dropping short of it's target. At 1600 the creeping barrage began and the companies advanced. However due to the huge damage done by shells in the previous attempts to dislodge the Germans, progress was slow. The Germans had plenty of time to man their machine gun posts, and this coupled with shelling fron an adjacent German strong point meant the attack failed 40 yards from it's objective. 16 men were killed including Private Sturdy.
His elder brother Basil, above, also died in 1917.
SECOND WORLD WAR
WILLIAM EDWARD DONOVAN was serving as an Aircraftman 1st Class when was killed on active service at RAF Marham on 17th September 1941. He was aged 30 and is buried in Charlbury Cemetery.
He was the son of William and Elizabeth Donovan, having been born in Claines in Worcestershire. In summer 1934 he married Annie Archer in Market Harborough, Leicestershire and in 1938 had a daughter together. He was serving at RAF Marham when a Vickers Wellington of 57 Squadron returning from a raid on Hamburg crashed landed and burst into flames. Two crew members and two on the ground, including AC Donovan, were killed.
HARRY GAMAGE was serving as a Private in the 4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he was killed in action on 3rd June 1940. He was aged 21 and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery.
He was the son of Charles Henry and Ethel Gamage of Taston, Spelsbury. He married Rose Sherbourne in 1939 and had a daughter Gwynneth registered in Chipping Norton in the summer of 1940.
The 4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were a Territorial battalion sent to France in January 1940. The 4ths along with the 2nd Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment held Cassel for three days as part of the defensive screen around Dunkirk evacuation between 27th May and 30th May 1940. The British forces had prepared a defence on the hilltop, emplacing anti-tank guns and barricading the narrow streets of the town. After scoring initial successes against the tanks of Panzer Regiment 11, which had made the mistake of advancing without infantry support, the British garrison was heavily attacked from the ground and the air by German forces. Much of the town was reduced to ruins by bombing. Most of the garrison's members were killed or captured by the Germans during the fighting or the subsequent attempted breakout towards Dunkirk, but the defence they had put up played an important role in holding up the Germans and allowing the BEF to escape accross the channel.
HARRY WILFRED THOMAS HARRIS was serving as a Private in The 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he was killed in action between 20th May and 4th June 1940. He was aged 21 and is buried in Eeklo Communal Cemetery in Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
He was the son of Harry and Emily Harris of Spelsbury, his father having been killed in the First World War.
The 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, a regular army unit, were sent to France as part of The British Expeditionary Force in September 1939. Between 26th and 28th May 1940 the Battalion was involved in the Battle of the Ypres-Comines Canal, as part of the 5th Division. Despite being outnumbered, but with the support of superior artillery they managed to halt the German advance. Their stand had been critical in allowing a substantial part of the fighting strength of the BEF to reach Dunkirk. Therefore, although total British casualties (including captured) exceeded those of the Germans, the battle was an important success for the BEF. Private Harris was killed during or after the Battle, his body recovered later and buried by local people.
TREVOR WILLIAM HUNT was serving as a Sergeant, Pilot, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 104 Squadron, Royal Air Force when he was killed on active service on the 2nd July 1944. He was aged 20 and is buried in Belgrade War Cemetery in Serbia.
He was the son of William Charles and Mary Ellen Hunt, of Spelsbury.
104 Squadron formed at Driffield as an operation bomber squadron on 1 April 1941, serving as a night bomber squadron, but this phase in the squadron's history lasted for less than a year. In October 1941 fifteen aircraft were flow to Malta, from where they attacked targets in Libya, Sicily and Italy. This detachment then moved to Egypt, where it was joined by its ground echelon. The squadron spent the rest of the war in the Mediterranean, first operating in the Western Desert, moving west behind the advancing armies, then at the end of 1943 moving to southern Italy, from where it carried out raids across the Balkans and northern Italy, operating the Vickers Wellington MkX.
Sergeant Hunt with a crew of six had taken off from Foggia Main Airfield in Italy, on the evening of 1st July 1944, in Vickers Wellington Mk X MF137 EP-H, on a minelaying operation on the Danube. The aircraft failed to return with the loss of all 7 crew.
ROGER MORTLOCK RANSON (BA Cantab) was serving as a Pilot Officer, Pilot, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve with 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force when he was killed on active service on 6th June 1942. He was aged 29 and is buried in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
He was the son of Frank Mortlock Ranson, and of Florence Sylvia Ranson, of Kingston, Sussex. He was living and farming at Spelsbury Downs Farm in Dean before being called up for service.
He took off from RAF Waddington on 5th July, piloting Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5516 KM-F, the target being Essen. Crossing the Dutch coast his aircraft was hit by AA flak and he ditched into the North Sea, west of Egmond an Zee. All 7 crew members died, PO Ranson's body being washed up on 28th June.
DENNIS FREDERICK WAKEFIELD was serving as a Trooper with the 43rd (Wessex) Reconnaissance Corps, Royal Armoured Corps, attached to the 2/5th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment when he died on 6th October 1944. He was aged 24 and is buried in Spelsbury All Saints Churchyard.
The 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment was formed out of the 5th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment in October 1941 and joined the Royal Armoured Corps in January 1944. They trained for the Normandy Landings in the Eastbourne area.
He was the son of Frederick and Agnes Mary Wakefield, of Fulwell.
TIMOTHY WINSER was serving as a Lieutenant with the 13th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, The Army Air Corps, (2/4th Battalion, The South Lancashire Regiment) when he was killed in action on 3rd January 1945. He was aged and is buried in Hotton War Cemetery in Luxembourg.
He was the youngest son of Brigadier General Charles Rupert Peter and Adeline Margaret Winser of Dean Buildings, Dean. He was granted a commission in the Royal Artillery (Territorial Army) with the Oxfordshire Yeomanry in 1939 and promoted to Lieutenant in January 1941. Lieutenant Winser volunteered for airborne forces and transferred to The Parachute Regiment in August 1944. He qualified as a military parachutist on course 132 at RAF Ringway, which ran from 4th to 14th September 1944, and subsequently served with the 13th (Lancs) Parachute Battalion. During the heavy winter fighting in 1944-5 in the Ardennes Battle of the Bulge, the 13th Battalion was tasked to capture the village of Bure. He was a Platoon Commander in "B" Company when he was killed during heavy shelling.
SOME OF THOSE WHO SERVED IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
JOSEPH PRATLEY was born in Dean in November 1879 to parents Samuel and Sarah Pratley. He had been working as a farm labourer when he enlisted into the Royal Navy in Chatham in November 1899. After training he joined the newly commissioned pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath (below) as a Stoker 2nd Class.
He served with her in the China Station until October 1900 when he returned home. His next ship was HMS Leda a torpedo gunship and he served with her until September 1906, being made up to a Stoker 1st Class. He then saw service on the pre-Dreadnought battleship HMS Ramilies and a number of destroyer depot ships. On 1st May 1907 he joined the compliment of the cruiser HMS Blenheim serving with the Channel Squadron until May 1908 when she joined the Mediterranean Squadron as a destroyer depot ship. During this time he was made up to Leading Stoker and returned home to Portsmouth on 19th January 1909. After serving on various shore establishments he joined the crew of the Torpedo Boat Destroyer HMS Cossack (below)
Based with the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in Harwich he was promoted to Stoker Petty Officer whilst serving with her until 7th August 1911. He was then posted to Malta serving on depot ships and shore bases returning to England on 12th October 1913. After a brief spell aboard the scout cruiser HMS Forward he was assigned to another destroyer depot ship HMS Dido on 1st January 1914. He served on the torpedo boat destroyer HMS Lysander carrying out patrols in the English Channel until 2nd February 1917. On 9th June 1917 he joined the recently launched "C" Class cruiser HMS Calypso (below).
Calypso was involved in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight on 17th November 1917, when she and her sister ship Caledon were part of the force that intercepted German minesweepers near the German coast. During the battle, Calypso's bridge was struck by a 5.9 in shell which killed all personnel on the bridge including the captain, and causing the accidental firing of a ready torpedo. He served out the rest of the war with her before being transferred to Pembroke II shore base on 1st September 1920 and discharged on 8th July 1921 after 22 years service.