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.

Update February 26th, 2018:

[*] I did finally manage to trace Wilfred Comer in the 1911 Census (his name was incorrectly transcribed in Findmypast as “Gomer”). Wilfred was 19 years old and working as a farm labourer. He was resident at Tarnock, near Axbridge, with his 73 year old grandmother, Matilda Comer, an old age penisioner.

 

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Responses

  1. […] in 1917, Second  Lieutenant Philip Edward Thomas (the well-known writer and poet), Gunner Wilfred Comer of 261st Siege Battery (a bellringer at Badgworth, Somerset), Second Lieutenant Stanley William […]

  2. […] home casualty was T4/234068 Driver William Stitch of the Army Service Corps (ASC), who (like Gunner Wilfred Comer) was also a bellringer at the Church of St Congar, Badgworth (Somerset). Driver Stitch drowned in a […]

  3. Hello

    Interested to find you refer to Wilfred Comer on your blog here as being a bellringer. He is my wife’s great-uncle. All of your information is familiar to us – he was the illegitmate child of Eliza Comer, who later married Francis Field in Bath. I am a Great War Geek myself (!) and we have visited his grave a couple of times now. Interesting to see the others.

    The one thing which is new to us is that he was a bell-ringer. Do you have a definite link that the W.Comer on the war memorial in Bath Abbey is the same one you talk about here (i.e. my wife’s g-uncle)?

    • Dear Alasdair,

      Many thanks for your comment and question.

      As you will know, it can sometimes be difficult to be absolutely definitive about Great War memorial identifications. However, in this particular case, there is a quite a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that Wilfred Comer was a bellringer at Badgworth (and thus the person listed on the memorial in Bath Abbey).

      The memorial books compiled after the war by the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers includes a “W. Comer” from Badgworth, also noting membership of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association (the local group to which Badgworth tower would have been affiliated). The Badgworth war memorial contains five names, one of which is “Wilfrid Comer, R.G.A.” Gunner Comer’s service records (available from Findmypast) show that he was living at Tarnock (near Badgworth) when he joined up, so it seems highly-likely that it is his name that features on the Badgworth war memorial. In any case, there are no other obvious candidates for the person listed in the Central Council rolls of honour and on the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association memorial.

      In case you are interested, the relevant page of the Central Council memorial book (kept at St Paul’s Cathedral) can be found at: https://cccbr.org.uk/rolls-of-honour/great-war-memorial-book-1/

      The online Central Council rolls of honour also identify W. Comer with 117061 Gunner W. Comer, 261st Siege Battery, RGA: https://cccbr.org.uk/rolls-of-honour/casualty-details/?id=565689

      I hope that this helps. If you have any further comments or questions, please do let me know.

      Michael

      • Thank you for your reply Michael, and for the links. We know so little about him, that it’s very interesting to know even the slightest additional bit of information, such as this, to flesh out the story. He was never really talked about by his half-siblings. It’s also good to know that someone else has visited his grave. Many thanks

        Alasdair

      • At some point I’ll need to track down the Bath and Wells DACR annual reports to see whether Wilfred Comer is mentioned in those.

        I did take another look in the British Newspaper Archive, and found a few additional items of potential interest. For example, the Weston-super-Mare Gazette of 28 September 1910 reported that Wilfred Comer was a witness in a case heard at the Axbridge Sessions:

        “Three Months.
        John Chas. Pavey, 24 Goulter-street, Bartley Hill, Bristol, was charged with being found on certain enclosed premises in the occupation of Hy Bailey, at Tarnock, on the 21st inst., for an unlawful purpose.
        Prisoner pleaded not guilty.
        Wilfred Comer, labourer, in the employ of prosecutor, said on the 21st he saw defendant about 100 yards from Mr Bailey’s farm house and premises.
        Mrs Alberta Bailey, wife of Hy Bailey, said about 6 a.m. on the day in question, she was aroused by hearing a noise underneath her bedroom window. She heard a door rattle, and it continued for ten minutes. She got out of bed and saw a man trying the back door. It was defendant, and he asked for a cup of tea, which witness refused. He then left. Afterwards she found that the catch of the window underneath her window was broken. It was all right on the previous Monday.
        Prosecutor said in consequence of what his wife told him, he searched around the windows, and found the catch (produced). He gave information to the police.
        P.C. Whatton gave evidence of arresting prisoner on the Bridgwater-road. When witness saw him, prisoner took off his coat and wanted to fight.
        Prisoner — Don’t tell lies.
        The Constable continuing, said when charged, prisoner denied the offence.
        Prisoner said he did not know the constable was an officer of the law. He thought he was a vagabond who wanted to run through his pockets. He denied that he attempted to break into the house.
        There were several previous convictions, and prisoner who had served 15 years in the Navy, was sent down for three months hard labour.”

        There were also a couple of references in the Weston Mercury to Band of Hope entertainments held at Rooksbridge in the first decade of the century. The first, published on the 16 December 1905, recorded that Wilfred Comer and Herbert Vincent performed a dialogue entitled, “How to save.” The second, published on the 1 December 1906, recorded that Wilfred recited, “The penny bank” and performed another dialogue with H. Sandiford and H. Vincent. I’m not sure what this really tells us, but it is perhaps interesting that the young Wilfred was involved in some way with the Band of Hope (a popular temperance movement). Penny banks were a means of promoting the “habits of carefulness and saving,” especially amongst the working poor.

  4. I had a look in the newspaper archive too – but found that there was a Wilfred Comer attending the funeral in Weston-s-M of a George Comer in 1929! So there are others. It looks as though George was in the Salvation Army, so the ‘Band of Hope’ references could be to this one….. but we digress.

    • I agree that it is best to be careful about making definitive identifications, especially as the Wilfred Comer that you mention was born in Glamorgan in around 1896, but grew up at Weston-super-Mare. His father, George Comer, was born in Devon (Trentishoe) in around 1838, and was a stone mason and (at least for some time) also a Wesleyan local preacher. As far as I can work out, George was (at least) twice married, the final time to Emma Hewins in 1894. As far as I can work out, their son Wilfred had no obvious connection with Tarnock or Rooksbridge.

      This family seem to be distinct from the Wilfred Comer mentioned in the blog. Eliza Jane Comer, Wilfred’s mother, was the daughter of William Godwin Comer and Matilda Comer (née Hemmens). William was in turn the son of William and Hannah Comer, who were already resident at Rooksbridge (East Brent) in 1841. Eliza Jane was born in 1871. The 1881 Census records her living at Tarnock (Badgworth) with her parents and three siblings (Annie, Joseph and Bessie). By the time of the 1891 Census, Eliza Jane was working as a general servant for the curate of St John’s Church, Weston-super-Mare and his wife (Edmund and Mary Morris). The census return records her sister Bessie (also a general servant) visiting her at Westbourne Terrace, Bristol Road, Weston. A year or so after that, she would have given birth to Wilfred, and then married Francis Field at Bath in the 3rd quarter of 1893.It seems that Wilfred remained at Tarnock with his grandparents until he was mobilized in 1916.

  5. I am related to Alisdair Mackie’s wife and he told me about this correspondence. Wilfred Comer was the uncle I never knew I had until after my father’s death when my mother told me my father had had a brother “born the wrong side of the blanket” (her very words) and he died in WW1. None of his other siblings (my aunts and uncles) ever gave a hint of his existence but if my mother knew I am sure they all did.

    Like Alisdair I have him in my family tree so learning he was a “Gomer” in FindMyPast I looked again in Ancestry but failed at first until I made a house by house search in the summary books for the 1911 census. But when I found the right house it was to see ANOTHER transcription error because they are indexed as “CORNER”

    It seems not only the family kept his existence a secret but the family research sites seem to be doing their best to hide him!

    • Dear Ken,

      Many thanks for your comment. I’ve submitted a transcription error request to Findmypast, but it may take some time before it gets approved. The “name variants” option on the search page was not very helpful in this case. Like you, I eventually found the relevant census return by searching for all residents in Badgworth and then going through the results pages one-by-one.


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