FIRST WORLD WAR
PRIVATE FRANK BANNER
He was born in January 1890, one of 6 children, to parents Edwin Banner, a gardener, and his wife Ann of Spelsbury. By 1911 Frank was living at the Bothy, Shaw Farm, Old Windsor, where he worked as a horseman. On the outbreak of war in August 1914, he enlisted into the Princess of Wales Royal Berkshire Regiment in Reading. He was posted to the 5th (Service) Battalion, part of Kitchener's New Armies, formed in Reading on 25th August 1914. In the Autumn of 1914 he married Florence Moore, a housemaid who lived nearby, in Windsor. The Battalion trained at Shornecliffe Camp and Folkestone in Kent before moving to Aldershot Barracks on 1st March 1915. The Battalion arrived in France on 31st May 1915 part of the 35th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division.
On 23rd June 1915 the Division took over a sector of the front line for the first time, at Ploegsteert Wood, by 15th July the Divisional front had extended south to reach east of Armentieres, around 7000 yards. Private Frank Banner was killed in action on 10th August 1915, being hit in the chest by shrapnel. He was aged 25 and was is buried in Rifle House Cemetery in Hainaut, Belgium. He had a son called Frank born in 1916 who he never saw and is commemorate on Datchet War Memorial and in Spelsbury Church.
DRIVER ERNEST RICHARD BENFIELD
He was born in August 1890, the son of Walter Benfield, a stone mason and Ellen Benfield, of Taston. He had worked as a farm labourer before the war. He enlisted into the Royal Horse Artillery in Oxford and mustered as a Driver. He joined 5th Brigade Ammunition Column, The Royal Horse Artillery in France on 5th September 1915. As a Driver he had the arduous and dangerous job of bringing ammunition for the field guns of the RHA from the dumps to the front line, driving the teams of horses and caring for them after. the 5th Brigade supported actions in the 1916 Somme Offensive.
Between 9th and 12th April 1917, his column had been supplying the 5th Divisions artillery component as they supported the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Arras Offensive, Shortly after 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.
LANCE COPORAL ALFRED LIONEL COOPER
He was born in Spelsbury in November 1898 to parents John Cooper, a gardener and Emily Cooper. By the age of 13 he was working as a farm labourer. The family were living at the Gardens, Leafield when Alfred enlisted into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in Oxford as a Private in 1914, giving a false age. He was posted to France to join the 5th(Service) Battalion, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 7th July 1915. He was appointed an acting Lance Corporal in the field. 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 field gun fire into our trenches, and some big shells. 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 on 5th August 1915 was Lance Corporal Alfred Cooper, who was aged 16. His burial place was lost and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.
SERGEANT ALFRED JAMES CROSS DCM
He was born in Taston in November 1895, the son of Charles Cross, a gamekeeper and Harriett Cross, They later moved to Ellen's Lodge, Ditchley, Enstone, where he worked as a farm labourer. He enlisted into the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) in Oxford in July 1914, just before the outbreak of war and joined the 1st Battalion in France on 9th October 1914. He joined the 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade after they arrived in France in November 1914, as part of the 25th Brigade in 8th Division. He saw action in The Battle of Neuve Chapelle between 10th and 13th March in which the village was captured and a fierce German counter attack repulsed. The Battalion suffered 377 casualties killed and wounded. On 9th May they attacked German lines in the Battle of Auber, a disaster for the British which saw the Battalion suffer 760 casualties, killed, missing or wounded. Only 195 men and 3 officers marched back to their billets after the battle. Private Cross was wounded in action by a German shell hitting his trench on 25th May 1915. On 25th September the Battalion assaulted German lines at Bois Grenier, a diversionary attack coinciding with the Battle of Loos. Alfred Cross was appointed Lance Corporal then Corporal during this period.
On 1st July 1916 the Battalion were involved in The Battle of Albert, the first phase of the Somme Offensive. They moved up to the front line as second wave on an attack German positions at Ovillers-La Boiselle. However as the first wave had been cut down by machine gun fire and their trenches were under heavy artillery fire the assault was cancelled. For the rest of 1916 they were in and out of front line trenches, involved in trench raids and local operations, but in no major actions.
In the Spring of 1917 the Germans began to withdraw from the Somme to pre-prepared defensive positions on the Hindenburg Line near Arras. The 2nd Rifle Brigade were one of the units cautiously pursuing the Germans as they destroyed everything in their path and left booby traps. On 5th April 1917 Alfred Cross , now a Sergeant, was in charge of two battle attack platoons ordered to attack a German stronghold in mill buildings near the town of Fins. He succeeded in driving the Germans out and down a slope, inflicting heavy casualties until halted by German Artillery fire. He and his platoons held the captured buildings until relieved. For his actions he was awarded 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."
The Battalion were next involved in the Third Battle of Ypres and attacked on 31st July 1917 in the opening phase, the Battle of Pilekem Ridge. Sergeant Cross was killed in action during the assault. He was aged 21, his body was never recovered from the field and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL HENRY MOUNTIFORT DILLON DSO
He was born in January 1881, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Dillon, late of the Royal Engineers and Blanche Dillon, born in Margate, Kent. After retirement from the Army his father and his family moved to Spelsbury House. He was educated at Wellington College and in April 1900 gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
Henry Dillon joined the 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the Boer War, he was appointed Lieutenant in October 1902. He remained in Africa joining the Western African Frontier Force, seconded to the North Nigerian Regiment from April 1905 to February 1910 when he returned to the UK. He was promoted to Captain in May 1910, joining the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, based at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent. He served a second spell with the Western African Frontier Force between July 1911 and January 1913 before returning home.
He arrived with the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in France on 14th August 1914, where they were part of the 5th Brigade in the 2nd Division. He was 2nd in command of A Company, the Battalion were involved in the Battle of Mons on 25th August 1914, where outnumbered the British were able to hold up the German advance for a crucial 24 hours. They then fought a fighting retreat back to 30 miles outside Paris where the German advance was halted in the Battle of the Marne, 6th to 12th September, and then pushed back in the Battle of the Aisne, between 13th and 28th September 1914. Between 19th October and 22nd November they were fighting in the First Battle of Ypres, a series of battles that led to stalemate and trench warfare on the Western Front. Captain Dillon assumed command of A Company at this time.
In 1915 Captain Dillon took over command of B Company and was Mentioned in Despatches on 17th February 1915. On 15th May the Battalion were in action in the Battle of Festubert and Captain Dillon was wounded in action during the fighting. On 1st June 1915 he was Mentioned in Despatches and decorated with the Distinguished Service Order on 23rd June 1915 for his actions.
He was promoted to Major on 1st September 1915 and although still officially serving with the 2nd Battalion was attached to other units. He was made acting Lieutenant Colonel in December 1916, in charge of a Reserve Battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the UK. Between 20th and 31st October 1916 he was briefly in charge of an unspecified Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. On 27th April 1917 he took over the command of the 6th (Service) Battalion, the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He left on 13th July 1917 to take over the command of the Corps Reinforcement Depot in Le Havre. He contracted pneumonia while serving there and was invalided back to England. He died in the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital in Millbank, Middlesex on 13th January 1918. He was aged 36 and is buried in Spelsbury Churchyard.
PRIVATE ARTHUR EDWARD HARLING
He was born in August 1897, the son of Harry Harling, a farm carter and Fanny Harling. He had worked as a plough boy on a farm before enlisting into the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in Oxford as a Private. He was posted to France on 10th June 1915, joining the 5th Battalion, the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 14th June, part of a draft of 90 men from the Depot Battalion. During 1915 and early 1916 they were in and out of front line trenches in the Ypres sector. On 25th September 1915 the Battalion, as part of the 14th Division were involved in an attack on German positions at Bellewaarde Farm. This was a diversionary action to divert German reserves from The Battle of Loos. The Battalion took German front line trenches but were unable to consolidate the position due to heavy German artillery fire and forced to retire. The Battalion suffered 467 casualties including Private Harling who was wounded in action.
On 23rd August 1916, as part of the Somme Offensive, 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 suffered casualties of 41 killed, 122 wounded and 9 missing. Private Harling was one of those reported missing, he was last seen wounded in front of German lines. He was presumed to have been killed in action on 24th August 1916, aged 19. Later it was found that his body had been buried by the Germans and he was identified and buried in Delville Wood Cemetery after the Armistice.
PRIVATE HARRY HARRIS
He was born in 1882, the son of Tom and Hannah Harris, of Enstone. In 1902 he married Emily Banner, sister of Frank, above, in Spelsbury, where he worked as a farm labourer, they had 8 children together. He joined the 4th (Territorial) Battalion, The Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry in December 1914. He served on the Home Front before being embodied into the 184th Machine Gun Company, operating the Vickers water cooled machine gun, one of the most demanding and dangerous roles in the First World War. The 184th MGC were sent to France on 20th June 1916, joining the 61st Division. On 19th and 20th July they supported an attack at on German lines at Fromelles, a subsidiary action of the Somme Offensive. The Division suffered very heavy casualties for no significant gain and no enemy reserves were diverted from the Somme. Such was the damage to the Division and its reputation that it was not used again other than for holding trench lines until 1917.
In the Spring of 1917 the Germans began to withdraw from the Somme area to pre-prepared defences on the Hindenburg Line hear Arras. The 61st Division were one of the first to cautiously pursue the Germans as they retreated, leaving a trail of destruction behind them, poisoning water supplies. Their next major action was in the Battle of Langemarck, between 16th and 19th August 1917, a phase of the Third Battle of Ypres. In late November 1917 they fought against German counter attacks after the successful operations at Cambrai.
In February 1918 the three Machine Gun Companies in the 61st Division were merged to form the 61st Battalion, The Machine Gun Corps. On 21th March 1918, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive in the Battle of St Quentin. With troops released from the Eastern Front by the surrender of Russia, they attacked the British Fifth and Third Armies on the Somme in overwhelming strength, hoping to influence the course of the war before the Americans arrived in numbers. The 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was holding the forward zone of defences in the area northwest of Saint Quentin in the area of Ham and lost many men as it fought a chaotic but ultimately successful withdrawal back over the Somme crossings over the next ten days. In the initial clash, the South Midland faced three enemy Divisions and only began to retire on the afternoon of 22nd March, when ordered to do so in consequence of the enemy’s progress at other parts of the line. By the time it was relieved after fighting all the way back to the very gates of Amiens in the First Battles of the Somme 1918, the Division had been involved in continuous action since August 1917 and was most exhausted. The remnants were moved north to what had been a quieter part of the line on the La Bassee Canal near Bethune. Unfortunately it was near where the Germans launched the second phase of their offensive on 9th April 1918, in the Battle of Lys, the Division became involved and many casualties were incurred. The Division was not able to return to action until October when it took part in the Battle of the Selle, part of the final advance in Picardy. Private Harris was killed in action at Vendegies, near the Belgian border, on 26th September 1918. He was aged 36 and is buried in Estaires Communal Cemetery Extension.
His youngest son Harry, born in 1919 after he died, was killed at Dunkirk in 1940.
LANCE CORPORAL FRANK EDWARD MITCHELL
He was born in Reading in August 1894, the son of Thomas and Harriet Mitchell. He moved to Spelsbury where his father worked as a house painter and he as a farm labourer. He joined the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as a part-time soldier, when he was 16, in 1912. He was embodied into the full time Army and joined the 1/4th Battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was appointed Lance Corporal and landed in Boulogne with his Battalion on 29th March 1915. He was in trenches, part of D Company, in the Pont de Nieppe near Armienteres when it was hit by shell fire on 14th June 1915. He was killed in action aged 20. His burial place was lost and he is commemorated on The Ploegsteert Memorial, Ypres.
LANCE SERGEANT BASIL GEORGE STURDY
He was born in January 1889, the son of James Sturdy, a carpenter and Ellen Sturdy in Dean. In February 1907 he was employed by the Great Western Railway as a porter in Abertillery, Wales, but resigned in October 1909. He then worked as an ironmonger's haulier, and also enlisted as a part-time soldier into the 3rd Monmouth Regiment, a Territorial unit, for 4 years service in March 1910.
He was appointed Lance Corporal and in February 1915 he signed on for a further four years, agreeing to serve abroad. Re-designated the 1/3rd Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment they were sent to France on 13th February 1915, serving in the 28th Division. The Battalion arrived in Ypres on 8th April 1915 during the the Second Battle of Ypres. Lance Corporal Sturdy was wounded in action during the Battle of Frezenberg, suffering gun shot wounds to the hand and legs on 8th May. He was evacuated home on 23rd May spending time in the Quarry Hospital, Shrewsbury before returning to his Battalion on 8th August 1915. He was promoted Corporal on 15th November 1915 and Lance Sergeant on 19th January 1916. On 12th March 1916 he was admitted to the 3rd West Riding Field Ambulance suffering from scabies and boils, due to the dreadful conditions in the trenches. He was further treated in the 29th Casualty Clearing Station and then on to No 11 Stationary |Hospital in Rouen. He then served at the No 2 Territorial Base Depot in Rouen until 12th May 1917. He was posted to the 1/2nd Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment, a pioneer battalion for the 29th Division, trained as infantry but also specialising in construction work for the 29th Division. The Battalion were based in Arras, working on roads, trenches and defences, often coming under German shell fire. Lance Sergeant Sturdy was granted leave home to the UK between 10th and 20th June 1917. At the end of June the Battalion moved to the Yser Canal Banks, north west of Ypres, working on trench systems prior to the Third Battle of Ypres. On 4th July 1917 the trenches were shelled by the Germans and Lance Sergeant Sturdy was killed in action. He was aged 28 and is buried in Bard Cottage Cemetery in Belgium.
He is also remembered on the Abertillery War Memorial. His younger brother Spencer also died in 1917, below.
PRIVATE SPENCER SALTER STURDY
He was the son of James and Ellen Sturdy and was born in Dean and younger brother of Basil. He worked as farm labourer before the war and in 1911 enlisted into the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as a part time soldier, serving as a Private. He was embodied into the full time army and arrived with the 2/4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 24th May 1916.They were soon in action carrying out fighting patrols and trench raids in the run up to the Somme Offensive of 1916, holding trenches and front posts at Laventie, as part of the subsidary attack at Fromelles. 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 to take part in the Third Battle of 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 from an adjacent German strong point meant the attack failed 40 yards from it's objective. Private Sturdy was one of sixteen men killed in action on 10th September 1917. He was aged 26, his body never recovered from the field he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial near Ypres.
Two other brothers served in the war, eldest brother Edward served with the Labour Corps on the home front. Youngest brother Harold served with the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, his story is told below.
Above from left Basil, Harold and Spencer Sturdy
SOME OF THOSE WHO SERVED AND SURVIVED IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
PRIVATE EDWARD BANNER
He was born in April 1896, one of 6 children, to parents Edwin Banner, a gardener, and his wife Ann of Spelsbury. His elder brother Frank was killed in action in 1915, above. He worked as farm hand and later lived with his brother in law, Harry Harris who was killed in action in 1918. On 31st July 1914 he sailed from London on the Orient liner "Otway" bound for Brisbane and a new life in Australia. On 12th January 1916 he enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force as a Private for service abroad. After training with various depot battalions he joined the 13th/26th Battalion. They boarded the Cunard liner "Franconia", serving as a troopship, on 4th May 1916. Sailing via Alexandria, they arrived in England on 15th June 1915 moving to Larkfield Camp on Salisbury Plain, where Private Banner was treated in Fargo Hospital for an ingrowing toenail. On the 20th October 1916 Private Banner was sent to France and joined the 49th Battalion in the field on 3rd November. Based on the Somme they were alternating between holding front line trenches and training and labouring. On 22nd November 1916 he was wounded in the left arm by shrapnel and treated at the 38th Casualty Clearing Station before being admitted to the 12th General Hospital at Rouen. He returned to his Battalion at the end of November but was wounded again on 2nd December 1916 by shrapnel wounds to his left hand. He was evacuated back He was invalided back to the UK on the Hospital Ship Asturias, below.
After recovery he was granted furlough and then served in training and depot units until returning the the 49th Battalion on 29th December 1917. On 9th February 1918 he was taken ill with trench fever and admitted to 24th General Hospital at Etaples. He re-joined his Battalion in the field on 16th June 1918. From 8th August 1918, the Battalion took part in the 100 Days Offensive fighting in and around Bray and again on 18th September, attacking German positions on the Hindenburg Line. After this, having suffered heavy casualties in the fighting throughout 1918, it was withdrawn from the line for rest and refitting. Between 27th September and 2nd October 1918 he served with the 2nd American Army Corps. He was on leave in the UK when the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918, returning to the 49th Battalion in France on 15th November. He broke his leg on 3rd February 1919 and was evacuated back to the UK on the Hospital ship "Jan Bruydel" on 14th February, being treated at the Fulham Military Hospital. During his stay in hospital he managed to accidentally break his ankle too. He returned to Australia in the Troopship "Marathon" on 26th July 1919.
PRIVATE HARRY EDGAR BENFIELD
He was born in September 1886, the son of Walter Benfield, a stone mason and Ellen Benfield, of Taston. He had worked as a farm labourer before the war. His younger brother Ernest was killed in the war in 1917. He enlisted into the 4th Territorial Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in late 1915. In June 1916 he married Lucy Niblett in Spelsbury and they moved to Fulwell.
He was called up for service in June 1916 and posted to France on 14th July 1916, joining the 1/4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the field on 1st August 1916, part of a draft of 160 reinforcements. They were in action during the 1916 Somme Offensive rotating between holding front line trenches and rest and training. They faced a rough winter on the Somme and on 23rd December 1916 Private Benfield was taken to the 46th Field Ambulance suffering from bronco-pneumonia, being admitted to the 14th General Hospital in Wimereaux. He was invalided home and treated in West Bridgeford Military Hospital and Eastbourne Convalescence Hospital. He returned to France on 24th July 1917,joining the 5th (Service) Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the field on 30th August 1917. On 24th October 1917 he was hospitalised once more suffering from inflammation of the connective tissue of his right hand re-joining the 5th Battalion on 30th January 1918. On 21th March 1918, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive in the Battle of St Quentin. With troops released from the Eastern Front by the surrender of Russia, they attacked the British Fifth and Third Armies on the Somme in overwhelming strength, hoping to influence the course of the war before the Americans arrived in numbers. The Battalion fought a fighting retreat back across the Somme Crossings and then fought in the Battle of the Avre, where the German advance was halted outside Amiens. They suffered heavy casualties and on 26th April the Battalion was reduced to a training cadre. Private Benfield was transferred to the Divisional Brigade Infantry Depot in Etaples. He was then posted to the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Berkshire Regiment on 18th June 1918. They took part in the 100 Days Offensive, starting with the Battle of Amiens in August 1918, the Battle of the Scarpe and the Final Advance into Artois. He returned to England for demobilisation on 19th January 1919. He returned to live at Fulwell working as a stonemason and died in 1964 aged 77.
PRIVATE WILLIAM ALFRED CROSS
He was born in Taston in September 1893, the son of Charles Cross, a gamekeeper and Harriett Cross, They later moved to Ellen's Lodge, Ditchley, Enstone, his younger brother Alfred was killed in action in 1917. He had worked as a farm labourer but was a gamekeeper when he enlisted into the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in Oxford on 12th July 1915. After training with the 3rd Depot Battalion he was posted to the 2nd Battalion in France on 17th December 1915. His stay was short however as on 23rd December 1915 he was invalided back to the UK suffering from a hernia. He was treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, he was medically downgraded to B2, fit for service in lines of communications in France. After recovery he was posted to the Labour Corps and served in France with them from 10th February 1917 until returning to the UK for demobilisation in February 1919.
He married Edith Newman in Enstone in May 1920. Before the Second World War he was living in Chadlington, working still as a gamekeeper and a member of the Police War Reserve. He died in 1975 aged 81.
PRIVATE FRANK HILL LODGE
He was born in South Hinksey in June 1870, his father was a farmer and the family moved to Lee's Rest, Charlbury in 1880, later farming in Spelsbury. Frank Lodge worked on the family farm and in June 1892 married Florence Cross in Spelsbury in June 1892. They lived at the Post Office in Spelsbury, where Frank was sub post master and a general labourer, they had 5 children together.
In January 1915, at the age of 44, Frank Hill enlisted into the Army Veterinary Corps in Oxford and was attested as a Horse Keeper with the rank of Private. He was posted to the 3rd Veterinary Hospital at Bulford on Salisbury Plain. He was sent to France with to join the 3rd Mobile Veterinary Hospital on 19th January 1915, arriving at Le Havre. The 3rd Mobile Veterinary Section came under command of the Headquarters of the 3rd Division. It was in effect a first aid unit, providing medical care for sick, wounded or injured horses used by the units of the Division. On 5th June 1915 he was admitted to the 12th General Hospital in Rouen hospital and invalided home for further treatment on 28th, the cause of this is not recorded. He returned to his unit in France on 25th June 1915 and served with them on the Western Front until 11th March 1919 when he returned to England for demobilisation to the Reserves.
He returned to Spelsbury and died there in May 1953 aged 82. His two eldest sons both served in the war, see below.
PRIVATE HARRY HILL LODGE
He was born in Spelsbury in January 1896 and had worked as a ploughboy on a farm. He enlisted into an unspecified battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry arriving in France in 1916. He was wounded in action in September 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres. He returned to Spelsbury after the war and married Ann Sandells there in April 1922, working as a sawmill labourer. He died in April 1975 aged 80.
PRIVATE VICTOR FRANK LODGE
He was born in January 1898 and before the war had worked as a farm labourer. He enlisted into the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as a Private in Oxford in April 1915, giving his age as 19 years and 2 months. After training he was posted to the 5th (Service) Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in France on 6th July 1915, joining the Battalion in the field on 31st July along with 266 reinforcements. On 25th September 1915 the Battalion were in action during an assault on German positions at Bellewaarde Farm, a diversionary attack to draw attention from the Battle of Loos. The Battalion managed to capture some German front line trenches but were isolated by German artillery fire and then forced to retire after a counter attack. Only 180 men from the Battalion marched backed to their billets after the attack. Private Lodge was diagnosed with suffering from shell shock on 16th October 1915, returning to his unit on 23rd October.
The Battalion's next major engagement came during the 1916 Somme Offensive when they were on of the battalions tasked with clearing the Germans out of Delville |Wood from 24th August 1916. The operation was a success but the Battalion suffered 180 casualties, dead, missing or wounded. On 16th and 17th September 1916 they advanced out of Delville Wood in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Private Lodge was given leave back to the UK between 26th October and 2nd November 1916. They then moved to the Arras area where in 1917 they began training for the forthcoming Arras offensive, assaulting German defensive positions on the Hindenburg Line. They went into action on 9th April 1917, during the First Battle of the Scarpe where they took German redoubts on the Harp. On 3rd May they continued the assault in the Third Battle of the Scarpe. In August 1917 they held positions on the Menin Road, during the Third Battle of Ypres. On 22nd August 1917 his company were acting as a carrying party bringing up supplies to the front when they were caught in a German gas shell attack. Private Lodge was treated for the effects of gas poisoning in the 42nd Field Ambulance, returning to his Battalion three days later. On October 16th the Battalion were moving back to positions on the Menin Road when they were caught in a German Artillery barrage. About 40 men were wounded including Private Lodge who suffered shrapnel wounds to his thigh. He was treated in the 69th Field Hospital and 37th Casualty Clearing Station before being admitted to the 18th General Hospital in Camiers. On 25th October 1917 he was evacuated back to the UK.
After recovery he served with the 3rd Depot Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry based at Hill Camp in Dover. Here he fell foul of Army authority being absent from drill and a tattoo and improper conduct in having his trousers taken up, being given loss of pay and confined to barracks as a result. He was also deemed unfit to return to front line service and in May 1918 transferred to D Company of the 2/1st Kent Cycling Battalion based in Lydd. Here he also got in trouble for the unlawful possession of a machine gun, being confined to barracks for 7 days as a result. He was demobilised to the Reserves in February 1919 and returned to Spelsbury. He married Irene Knightley in 1938 and worked as a permanent way labourer on the railway. He died in June 1977 aged 79.
STOKER PETTY OFFICER JOSEPH PRATLEY
He 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. He married Maud Springett in Ipswich in 1908. 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. He returned to Spelsbury where he worked as a general labourer. He died in 1942 aged 62.
PRIVATE HAROLD KIRTLAND STURDY
He was born in December 1892, the son of James Sturdy, a carpenter and Ellen Sturdy in Dean. His elder brothers Spencer and Basil were both killed in 1917, above. He was working as a farm labourer when he enlisted into the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. After training with the 3rd Depot Battalion, he was sent to France on 17th January 1915, joining the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the field on 25th January, part of a reinforcement of 153 men, joining D Company. Between 15th and 18th May 1915, the Battalion attacked German positions in the Battle of Festubert, suffering 395 casualties including 47 killed in action. On 25th September 1915 the Battalion attacked German positions at Givenchy, as part of the Battle of Loos. After some initial successes they were forced to retire due to heavy German artillery and machine gun fire. They suffered 197 casualties including 34 killed in action.
From 13th October 1916 the Battalion was involved in the Battle of Ancre, the last phase of the Somme Offensive before winter brought and end to operations in the area. They suffered 248 casualties in the operation including 12 killed. In the Spring of 1917 the Germans began to withdraw from the Somme area to pre-prepared defences on the Hindenburg Line hear Arras. The Battalion was one of those to cautiously pursue the Germans as they retreated, leaving a trail of destruction behind them, poisoning water supplies. From the 9th April 1917 the Battalion were involved in attacks on these positions as part of the Arras Offensive, taking part in the First Battle of the Scarpe, the Second Battle of the Scarpe and the Battle of Arleux that month. From 30th November 1917 the Battalion were in action in the Battle of Cambrai and Private Sturdy who was serving as an Officer's orderly was at the Battalion's Headquarters when it was hit by German artillery fire. He received shrapnel wounds to the chest and was treated at the 5th Field Ambulance and evacuated from the front on No 8 Ambulance Train. After recovery he was posted to the 2nd Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment and took part in the 100 Days Offensive that led to victory on the Western Front.
He married Louisa Bennett in Spelsbury in 1932 and lived in Taston, next door to his elder brother Edward. He died in 1978 aged 84.
Footnote: While researching this I discovered the record of Harold Kirtland Sturdy, born in Spelsbury in 1893 who enlisted into the South Wales Borderers on 1st February 1915, when the man above was already in France. He was a coal miner living in Abertillery where Basil Sturdy had lived. He only lasted 4 days in the Regiment before being discharged as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. A man desperate to serve his country who had been discharged before and used a borrowed identity to try again?
SECOND WORLD WAR
AIRCRAFTMAN 1st CLASS WILLIAM EDWARD DONOVAN
He was the son of William and Elizabeth Donovan, having been born in Claines in Worcestershire. In the summer of 1934 he married Annie Archer in Market Harborough, Leicestershire and in 1938 had a daughter together. They moved to the |Timber Yard, Ditchley, where he worked as a gardener. He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1940, and was serving at RAF Marham in Norfolk with 115 Squadron. On 17th September 1941 a Vickers Wellington of 57 Squadron returning from a raid on Hamburg crashed landed and burst into flames at Marham. Two crew members and two on the ground, including AC Donovan, were killed. He was aged 30 and is buried in Charlbury Cemetery.
PRIVATE HARRY GAMAGE
He was born in January 1918, the son of Charles Henry Gamage, a cattleman and Ethel Gamage of Taston, Spelsbury. Before the war he had worked as a road labourer with Oxfordshire County Council. He was also a part-time soldier in the 4th (Territorial) Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, as a Private. He married Rose Sherbourne from Monmouthshire in 1939 and had a daughter Gwynneth, her birth registered in Chipping Norton in the summer of 1940.
The 4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were 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 across the channel.
Private Gamage was reported missing in July 1940.He was later found to have been wounded in action and taken to Etaples Military Hospital where he died on 3rd June 1940. He was aged 21 and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery.
PRIVATE HARRY WILFRED THOMAS HARRIS
He was born in March 1919, the son of Harry and Emily Harris of Spelsbury, his father having been killed in action in September 1918, during the First World War, above. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was lodging in Market Street, Charlbury where he worked as a butcher's assistant. He enlisted into the 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as a Private in 1939.
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 reported missing after the battle on 31st May 1940. He was later confirmed as being killed inaction between 20th May and 4th June 1940, his body recovered later and buried by local people. He was aged 21 and is buried in Eeklo Communal Cemetery in Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
SERGEANT TREVOR WILLIAM HUNT
He was born in May 1924, the son of William Charles Hunt, a farmer and Mary Ellen Hunt, of Taston. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was assisting on the family farm and also an Air Cadet. He enlisted into The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in Oxford 1941 and qualified as a pilot with the rank of Sergeant. He was posted to 104 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, based in Egypt and flying the Vickers Wellington Mk X. 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. Sergeant Hunt with a crew of four had taken off from Foggia Main Airfield in Italy, on the evening of 1st July 1944, in Vickers Wellington Mk X MF137 EP-H, below, on a mine laying operation on the Danube. During their approach they were hit by anti-aircraft fire from both sides of the target, the aircraft crashed about midnight about 500 yards from the north bank of the Danube with the loss of all 5 crew on 2nd July 1944. He was aged 20 and is buried in Belgrade War Cemetery in Serbia.
PILOT OFFICER ROGER MORTLOCK RANSON (BA Cantab)
He was born in December 1912, the son of Frank Mortlock Ranson, and of Florence Sylvia Ranson, of Kingston, Lewes in Sussex. He went up to Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1931 and got his degree in agriculture in 1934. He then living and farmed at Spelsbury Downs Farm in Dean.
He enlisted into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve at the end of 1940 in Oxford. He qualified as a pilot was commissioned as Pilot Officer on 24th January 1942. He then joined 44 (Rhodesian) Squadron equipped withe Avro Lancaser Mk I. He took off from RAF Waddington at 2330 on 5th June, piloting Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5516 KM-F, the target being the steel producing city of Essen. On the return journey whilst crossing the Dutch coast his aircraft was hit by AA flak and he ditched into the North Sea, west of Egmond an Zee at around 0150 on 6th June 1942. All 7 crew members died, PO Ranson's body being washed up on 28th June. He was aged 29 and is buried in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
TROOPER DENNIS FREDERICK WAKEFIELD
He was the son of Frederick Wakefield, a gardener and Agnes Mary Wakefield, of Fulwell. He enlisted into the 43rd (Wessex) Reconnaissance Corps, serving as a Trooper. 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. In the months before the Normandy landings the regiment was based at Eastbourne on the South Coast of England and trained in the area.
On 18th June 1944 HQ, A and C squadrons embarked at West India Docks, London, aboard Motor Transport Ship Derrycunihy. She joined a convoy off Southend-on-Sea and arrived off Sword Beach on the evening of 20th June. High seas and enemy shelling prevented unloading for three days and it was decided to move her to Juno Beach for disembarkation. As the ship started engines at 0740 on 24th June it detonated an acoustic mine dropped by one of the nightly Luftwaffe raiders. The mine exploded under the keel, splitting the ship in two, and the after part, packed with men of 43 Recce, sank rapidly. Worse still, a 3-tonner ammunition lorry caught fire, and oil floating on the water was set alight. Landing craft and the gunboat HMS Locust quickly came alongside and picked up survivors, most of whom were evacuated to SS Cap Touraine, a former French liner.
Trooper Wakefield was one of those rescued but he died of his wounds in hospital in Surrey on 6th October 1944. He was aged 24 and is buried in Spelsbury All Saints Churchyard.
LIEUTENANT TIMOTHY WINSER
He was born in January 1921, 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. He then joined the 13th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, The Army Air Corps, (2/4th Battalion, The South Lancashire Regiment), serving as Platoon Commander in "B" Company. 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. Lieutenant Winser was killed in action during heavy shelling on 3rd January 1945. He was aged 24 was originally buried in a temporary burial ground in Bure, being reinterred in Hotton War Cemetery in Luxembourg in 1947.