I would like to start with a passage written from the trenches
‘One finds it hard to realise [that] the Germans are only 75yds away until a machine gun or two opens fire. There was a lull in the fighting, and they lifted their heads above the parapets and called to each other in mockery. One said: ‘Come on over here,’ in the best German he could. He got a reply from a German trying an English accent, saying: ‘Not blooming likely!’ Then, after about half-an-hour, they started fighting again…if you raised your head, it would have been blown off. There are scores of men lying dead. These grenades are murderous things. Found watercress growing in a stream – went alright with bread and cheese’.
These straightforward, uncomplicated, words were not written by a celebrated poet or a prominent commentator; they are not part of any regimental diary or official war record nor are they the voice of authority or rank – indeed, far from it. These lines were written in the war diary of Sapper John French ─ a Redruth tin miner serving with the Royal Engineers in northern France who spent much of his time burrowing beneath enemy lines or franticly building structures to facilitate the advance of his comrades towards their adversaries.
Sapper French, like the men of this parish, were amongst the 9 million men from the British Empire who were recruited for the war effort. War, on the ground, was predominantly a working class occupation. His diary gives us a day-to-day portrayal of war, in the trenches and in the field. It tells us about emotions, comradeship, survival and sustenance in a poignant, often humorous commentary. Most war recruits from this parish were working class. From their work in agriculture or the service industry they travelled to various theatres of war safe in the knowledge that hostilities would be short-lived and that the foregone conclusion was a celebrated victory and a swift return to their families. The harsh reality was that they found themselves far from home, in some of the most inhospitable places on earth, living in squalid, disease-ridden, conditions, facing death on a daily basis and witnessing destruction on an unimaginable scale.
The men listed on our war memorial were amongst 3 million British casualties. Our purpose today is to remember these men; to acknowledge their sacrifice and to observe a silence that will evoke and embrace the spirit of continuity and memory. However, in order to remember we need to understand. My aim is to reveal their stories so that we can begin to understand. Yet, we can never fully appreciate − the hardships, the fear, the stress, the comradeship, the loss − all I can ever hope to achieve is to breathe some life back into the cold chiselled names on the plaque above the south door. I feel honoured to tell their stories but am well aware that I do so from the fortunate position that I have never witnessed, first-hand, conflict on any scale. Therefore their worlds are far from mine and their fears I shall never share ─ only gratitude and remembrance can I impart.
Here are their stories
William Beare, son of an Egloshayle miller, and Thomas Fewell of Chelmsford in Essex, were best friends. They first met in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry when stationed together at Gravesend Barracks in 1911. In 1913 Private Beare married Emily Rusk, daughter of an Irish farm labourer living at Treffry Cottages. Performing best man duties that day was Thomas Fewell, a duty that William reciprocated in 1915 at the wedding of Thomas and, Emily’s sister, Sarah Rusk.
Private Beare joined the army in 1910 and served on the home front. In March 1918 he travelled to France to re-enforce the front line after severe losses. In April he transferred to the1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, promoted to Sergeant and was ordered to lead his men towards the French/Belgium boarder.
As they arrived at the front line, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig – Commander-in-Chief of the British Army – issued a Special Order from the comfort of his French Chateaux. It read
Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.
Perhaps with this rhetoric in his mind, on 15 April, during the battle of Hazebrouck, Sergeant Beare advanced his men through barbed wire defences into relentless German Calvalry machine gun fire in an attempt to gain control of Pacult Woods. They failed, and were driven back. He was listed as one of 215 who died during the assault, his name now appears on the Loos Memorial.
By the end of hostilities four further members of his immediate family had been killed in military action, one of them, William’s brother, Harvey, being killed only seven days prior.
Thomas Fewell, the son of a Chelmsford tanner, was stationed in Ireland at the outbreak of the war but soon transferred to the continent to be amongst the first British infantrymen to engage the enemy at the Battle of Mons. Perhaps injured, Fewell returned to Falmouth where he was deployed in training new recruits. It was here he married Sarah Rusk.
In July 1916 he joined the British and Commonwealth forces on the Somme battlefields. At the end of July the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry advanced to relieve the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and engaged with a prolonged and destructive enemy artillery barrage – described by a contemporary as ‘… a truly terribly sight and a nerve-wracking experience for those who had to endure that awful holocaust’. On this day Acting Corporal Thomas Fewell, aged 25, was officially declared ‘killed in action’. He has no known grave and his name can be found upon the Thiepval Memorial to the 72,000 missing of the Somme. The Essex County Chronicle reported his death and added ‘Mrs. Fewell has four other sons and her husband serving with the Colours’.
One of the witnesses to Thomas Fewell’s marriage was William Roberts,
most likely the father of William Roberts junior who lived at Carminow Cross, Bodmin, and had worked on the Lanhydrock estate between 1904 and 1912. Sapper Roberts signed his enlistment papers in Sydney, Australia, and in June 1915 transferred with the Australian Engineers to Gallipoli. In July 1916, 2nd Corporal Roberts, led a successful attack on Pozieres during the Somme offensive. One contemporary report recorded
All day long ground rocked and swayed backwards and forwards from the concussion . . . men were driven stark staring mad and more than one of them rushed out of the trench over towards the Germans, any amount of them could be seen crying and sobbing like children their nerves completely gone . . . we were nearly all in a state of silliness and half dazed but still the Australians refused to give ground. Men were buried by the dozen, but were frantically dug out again some dead and some alive.
During August the Australians, despite heavy German gun-fire, were repairing captured trenches, during which time 2nd Corporal William Roberts, received, according to his Casualty Record a ‘G[un] S[hot] W[ound to the] Head’. He was buried in a small military cemetery which was later violated by further fighting in 1918.
Another to loose their life on the Somme battlefields was Clarence Hawken of Garden House. Clarence was an assistant gardener to his father James, who was also a local Methodist preacher. Like William Roberts, Hawken sought is fortunes overseas and, in June 1915, joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Ontario. Private Hawken arrived at the Somme battlefield in the summer of 1915 and by 9 October was reported ‘missing’ near Courcelette. The regimental war diary said that the men were ‘as cool as cucumbers and as bright and keen as harmless babies’.
Another reported missing in the Somme was Private Alfred Walkley. His association with the parish is unclear however he was living in Bodmin in 1916 when he enlisted in the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment. In August 1916 an assault was made on an area known as High Woods where four companies of the London Regiment advanced through a strong mist towards the enemy lines. Ninety minutes into the advance reports said that the soldiers advanced beyond their target. However, confusion reigned when the Germans launched a counter attack which resulted in 22 officers and 565 men in the ranks killed, wounded or reported missing from the London Regiment alone – Private Walkley was amongst them. Two and a half hours later High Wood was taken.
Private William Vanderwolf of Quarry Park Cottage survived the Somme. The 1911 census shows a dozen members of the Vanderwolf family living in the small cottage, most in some way serving the local community as a blacksmith, dressmaker, assistant school teacher, labourers, parlour-maids and farm hands. William Vanderwolf enlisted with the 10th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1916 as soon as he turned 18. After the Somme he served at Ypres, specifically tasked with recapturing a strategic position known as the Messines ridge. Yet, within a fortnight of his arrival he was dead. He has no known grave. After the war the family relocated to Cutmaddock Farm.
Some of those who enlisted from the parish found themselves in some unusual places.
At the outbreak of war Sergeant Charles Johns served with the Territorial 4th Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry based in Truro. Most likely from Tywardreath, Johns is listed on the 1911 census as a car driver so feasibly he served the family here as a chauffeur. His military service is equally sketchy; however he is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq, one of over 40,000 men who died in the campaign against the Turks. He has no known grave.
Joseph Coad was brought-up at Trebyan, his father, also Joseph, being a butcher and farmer. He is pictured with the bell-ringers on the back wall of this church. In 1911 Joseph Coad junior was married, with a son William, living in Lostwithiel and working as a butcher’s apprentice. Enlisted into the Devonshire Regiment, Private Coad transferred to France with the 9th Battalion in 1916 most likely serving on the Somme before serving in an offensive on the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line in France. In August 1916 he moved north to Flanders to fight on the flooded battlefields of Passchendaele.
On 9 October the Devonshire’s were called into action on the front line at short notice. The conditions were so horrendous, it was impossible to dig new trenches, and enemy gun positions soon found an accurate range – 270 officers and men of the 9th were killed. Later that month the Cornish Guardian reported
Quite a gloom was cast over the parish when it became know that Pte Joe Coad, son of Mr and Mrs H Coad, had been killed by a sniper on the Western Front. ‘Joe’ was well known throughout the district, and his bright, cheerful disposition in all circumstances made him a general favourite. [The] Deceased was one of the church ringers, and was also a member of the cricket and football teams. He was a good sport, always keen in either game. He was always a good emergency man, on many occasions winning the game for his side …
His commanding officer wrote to his widow ‘He did not suffer, death was instantaneous …’ his body was never recovered.
Frank Blake from St Winnow, was living above Colgare Stables in 1911 and was employed as a domestic groom. After turning 18 he sailed for Gallipoli with the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry. The main combat was over by the time of his arrival and the regiment transferred first to Egypt, and then with the 16th Devonshire Regiment to Jerusalem. Severely weakened by weeks of extensive fighting, shortages of food and ineffective horses the Devonshire’s braved very difficult terrain and strong Turkish opposition, much of which was close quarter fighting. After fierce fighting the Devonshire’s retreated ─ amongst the dead was Private Frank Blake ─ again, his body was never found.
Two men who did have marked graves are Sidney Smith and the Honourable Tommy Agar-Robartes. Smith is buried at St Martin’s Church, Liskeard, Tommy’s body remained in France near Loos where he fell. Their stories could not be more different. Smith was a groom here at Lanhydrock and lived above the stable block in two modest rooms. Tommy meanwhile was son and heir to the vast Lanydrock estates and the Viscount Clifden title. Tommy was a Member of Parliament whose duty arguably was in this country politically managing the war effort. However, he insisted that his life of no more importance that that of any other Englishman. Such bravery wouldn’t have been lost on the likes of Smith nor, I am sure, was the death of his master at Loos in September 1915.
It is likely that Private Smith served either on the Western Front or in the Middle East but injury forced him home. Once fit he became attached to the Labour Corps which afforded non-combatant roles in uniform. Being attached to an agricultural company it is likely that worked to overcome food shortages. Private Smith died in Wandsworth four days after the Armistice was declared, possibly of the influenza virus that was sweeping the country.
At the back of the church is another war commemoration, a brass plague commemorating the death of Nicholas Lewarne, one of seven children born to John Lewarne, one time innkeeper of the White Hart Inn at Respryn who rose to prominence as Lord Robartes’ estate steward and Guardian of Lanhydrock parish. Nicholas was raised in Newton House and joined the army at a young age. He became a Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters, Derbyshire regiment, and in August 1897 was promoted to Captain by the British Indian Army being assigned to the 15th Sikh infantry regiment. Lewarne was immediately assigned to the North West Frontier of India where he died during an ineffectual campaign to control the Khyber Pass.
By understanding these stories we can appreciate the sacrifice. Through our gratitude we will honour those who served and remember those who died. The lessons will live with us for ever.