Posted by: michaeldaybath | July 9, 2017

Somerset bellringers at Tilloy British Cemetery, Arras

Sometimes when researching the people named on war memorials one can sometimes notice that casualties are occasionally concentrated in particular cemeteries or memorials. This is, perhaps, not surprising on a village or town memorial, where more than one person would have ended up serving in the same battalion of a county regiment. This effect is sometimes amplified on the larger Memorials to the Missing, particularly the Menin Gate and the Thiepval Memorial, but it is also noticeable in the names of many Dorset villagers present on the Dorsetshire Regiment section of the Helles Memorial. However, sometimes these concentrations seem to happen purely by chance, as the casualties are seemingly not linked by any particular geographical origin, date-of-death, or military unit.

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

One of these strange concentrations is apparent on one of the memorials that I have been researching, that of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers in Bath Abbey.

Plot I, Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy les Mofflaines

Plot I, Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy les Mofflaines

The cemetery in question is Tilloy British Cemetery at Tilloy les Mofflaines, just to the south east of the city of Arras in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. Three of the persons named on the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association memorial are buried in a single plot of that cemetery (Plot I). According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), the plot was “begun in April 1917 by fighting units and burial officers, and Rows A to H in Plot I largely represent burials from the battlefield” [1]. It notes that those buried in Plot I, Row J (and part of Plot II) come from the later fighting in 1917.

All three of the persons named on the memorial in Bath Abbey died in 1917, in the aftermath of the Battle of Arras — which officially ran from the 9th April to the 16th May. Two of them served with batteries of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, the other with the infantry, a territorial battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. All three came from a relatively small area of north-west Somerset.

117061 Gunner Wilfred Comer, Badgworth, 21 May 1917

CWGC gravestone for Wilfred Comer, Tilloy British Cemetery

CWGC gravestone for Wilfred Comer, Tilloy British Cemetery

The first to die was Gunner Wilfred Comer of the 261 Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, who was killed-in-action on the 21 May 1917 when serving with No. 261 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.

Gunner Comer’s service records survive [2]. He attested, age 23, at Weston-Super-Mare on the 8 December 1915, but was almost immediately released to the Reserve. He was mobilised on the 5 September 1916 and posted to No. 3 Depot, RGA in Plymouth. After a brief spell there and at Portland, he was posted first to 30 Battalion, then to No. 261 Siege Battery, RGA on 6 October 1916. He embarked at Folkestone for France on the 8th February 1917, disembarking at Boulogne. He and four other members of his battery were killed near Arras on the 21 May 1917; they are all buried in the same row in Tilloy British Cemetery. His death was reported in the Western Daily Press, Bristol, of 18th June 1917, noting that some of his relatives were resident at Rooks Bridge, near East Brent.

Church of St Congar, Badgworth (Somerset)

Church of St Congar, Badgworth (Somerset)

At the time he enlisted, Wilfred Comer was a cowman living at Tarnock in Somerset, between East Brent and Badgworth. In his service records, Wilfred Comer’s next-of-kin is listed as his mother, Eliza Jane Field, who was at that time living at Bath — Juda Place in Walcot (an area that is now part of Snow Hill). The 1911 Census records that Eliza Jane was by then married to Francis Field, a gardener domestic, and that they were resident at 21 Berkeley Street, Bath with their seven children. I could not find Wilfred Comer at all in the 1911 Census, but in 1901 he was aged nine and living with his grandparents, William and Matilda Comer, at Tarnock, in the parish of Badgworth. It seems that Wilfred had been born out of wedlock and may have remained with his grandparents at Badgworth while his mother moved to Bath and married Francis Field (the couple were married at Bath (district) in the 3rd Quarter of 1893). Gunner Comer’s personal effects (and later his medals) were sent to his aunt, Bessie Stone, who lived at Burnham-on-Sea.

The 1901 Census suggests that Wilfred Comer had been born in Badgworth in around 1892. The closest match that I was able to find in birth, marriage and death (BMD) records was a Wilfred Clarance Coomer, born in the Axbridge district in the 1st Quarter of 1892 (which would broadly fit).

Badgworth War Memorial (Somerset)

Badgworth War Memorial (Somerset)

In addition to the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association war memorial, Wilfred Comer’s name also appears on the war memorial cross outside the Church of St Congar in Badgworth.

265946 Private Leslie W. Fisher, Congresbury, 3rd June 1917

CWGC gravestone for Leslie Fisher, Tilloy British Cemetery

CWGC gravestone for Leslie Fisher, Tilloy British Cemetery

A little closer to Bristol is the large village of Congresbury, whose church is dedicated to St Andrew, but which (like Badgworth) has a strong link with St. Congar — a Welsh-born saint now mostly associated with Somerset. The second Somerset bellringer buried in Tilloy British Cemetery is Private Leslie William Fisher of the 2/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, who died on the 3rd June 1917, aged 19. Private Fisher’s CWGC entry (and thus the cemetery register) describes him as a “late chorister and bell-ringer at Congresbury parish church.”

Church of St Andrew, Congresbury (Somerset)

Church of St Andrew, Congresbury (Somerset)

Leslie William Fisher was the son of George and Louisa Fisher of Congresbury. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were living at the Causeway, Congresbury, and the 33-year old George was described as a walling mason working for a builder. In 1911, the 13-year old Leslie William was working as an errand boy for a miller. There were also two younger brothers, named Robert and Edward.

The 2/5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment were a second line Territorial infantry battalion, formed at Gloucester in September 1914. Arriving in France in May 1916, the battalion served throughout the war as part of 184th Brigade in 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. From the 24th May 1917, the battalion had been based near Duisans, to the north-west of Arras. On the 31st, they moved to Tilloy, relieving the 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (who were part of 37th Division). The village having been captured on the 9th April, Tilloy was by now some way behind the front line. On the 1st June, part of the battalion relieved the 13th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in front of Guemappe. In the following few days, the battalion were involved in strengthening the wire defences in both front and support lines, in preparation for an upcoming attack. The battalion war diary for the 3rd June [3] recorded, “support line wired and front line deepened; men from ARRAS assist.” The diary also noted three casualties: 1 killed, 1 wounded, and 1 evacuated sick.

War Memorial in St Andrew's Church, Congresbury (Somerset)

War Memorial in St Andrew’s Church, Congresbury (Somerset)

Leslie William Fisher is also commemorated on the war memorial inside St Andrew’s Church, Congresbury.

184261 Gunner William Ivor Caple, Easton-in-Gordano, 9th July 1917

CWGC gravestone for William Ivor Caple, Tilloy British Cemetery

CWGC gravestone for William Ivor Caple, Tilloy British Cemetery

Even closer to Bristol than Congresbury is the village of Easton-in-Gordano. The third Somerset bellringer to be buried in Tilloy British Cemetery was Gunner William Ivor Caple, of “A” Bty., 62nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, who died on the 9th July 1917, aged 19.

Memorial plaque in St George's Church, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Memorial plaque in St George’s Church, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Private Caple has a memorial plaque inside the Church of St George at Easton-in-Gordano. It reads:

IN LOVING MEMORY OF
SIG. WILLIAM IVOR CAPLE, R.F.A.
KILLED IN ACTION AT ARRAS, JULY 9TH 1917.
AGED 19½ YEARS.
HE WAS BAPTISED, CONFIRMED, AND BECAME A
COMMUNICANT AND RINGER IN THIS CHURCH.
R.I.P.

William Ivor Caple was the son of William and Amelia Caple, of Easton-in-Gordano. At the time of the 1901 Census, William and Amelia were living at the Rocks in Easton, with two young children: William Ivor (then aged 3) and Ellen (6 months). The elder William was at that time working as a bricklayer. By 1911, the family had moved to the Old Post Office at Easton, and two more children had arrived. At that point, William Ivor was 13 years old, and still at school.

Church of St George, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Church of St George, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Gunner Caple’s service records do not appear to have survived. By July 1917, 62nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery had been in the Arras sector for several months. They had taken part in the initial attacks of the Battle of Arras on the 9th April, operating in support of 12th (Eastern) Division, just north of Tilloy [4]. By July 1917, they were based around the village of Monchy-le-Preux, supporting attacks on trenches around Infantry Hill to the east (where the 8th East Lancashires had been fighting back in May). The 62nd Brigade war diary [5] does not always contain daily entries. On the 3rd to 5th July, it simply records that the batteries “were ordered to bombard lines of consolidated shell-holes in [grid reference] which were attacked by 7 Royal Sussex Rgt. at 2.30 am 4/7/17; Attack was not successful! Bombardment was continued on 5/7/17.” Detailed trench maps are included in the war diary appendices, but there is no continuous narrative or record of brigade casualties. The next entry, made on the 10th July, simply reads “Normal.”

Easton-in-Gordano War Memorial (Somerset)

Easton-in-Gordano War Memorial (Somerset)

William Caple is also commemorated on the war memorial cross outside St. George’s Church, Easton-in-Gordano.

References:

[1] Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy les Mofflaines: http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/62600/TILLOY%20BRITISH%20CEMETERY,%20TILLOY-LES-MOFFLAINES

[2] WO 363/4, via Findmypast

[3] War Diary, 2/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, WO 95/3066/1, The National Archives, Kew.

[4] Peter Hughes, Visiting the fallen: Arras south (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2015), pp. 57-58.

[5] War Diary, 62 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, WO 95/1837/2, The National Archives, Kew.

 

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