Tag Archives: West Somerset Yeomanry

CWG: Private David Percy

Private David Percy

David Percy was born in 1896, one of ten children to Elizabeth Percy. By the time of the 1901 census – the first one on which David appeared – Elizabeth was widowed, so there is no record of who his or his siblings’ father was.

Elizabeth, working to make ends meet, found employment as a cook at Taunton Boys’ School, in her home town. The 1911 census shows her two youngest sons – David and his older brother Douglas – were living with her, as was a lodger, Owen Howe. David, by this time, had left school and found work as a labourer, while Douglas was employed as a carter.

David soon found a new job as a printer for Hammett & Co. in the town, but war was beckoning across the Channel. In October 1914 he enlisted, joining the West Somerset Yeomanry as a Private and was sent to Minehead for training.

The local newspaper picked up his story:

He there caught a chill and was in hospital for some time. At Easter [1915] he was removed to the Taunton Hospital, and subsequently sent home.

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser: 26th May 1915

Sadly, after Private Percy’s discharge home, he passed away from his ‘chill’, breathing his last on 15th May 1915. He was just 19 years old.

David Percy was buried in St James’ Cemetery in his home town of Taunton.

CWG: Private William Phillips

Private William Phillips

William Phillips was born in 1895, the youngest of seven children to Frank and Emily Phillips. Frank was a joiner and carpenter and, while his young family initially grew up in his home village of Thurloxton, Somerset, he and Emily soon moved them to nearby Taunton, where there would be more work and more opportunities.

By the time of the 1911 census, the young family were all tied up with different jobs. While William had become an office boy for an accountant when he left school, his siblings all had varying different roles: one was a boiler cleaner, another a mason, a third a cellarman and the fourth a shop assistant. With Frank’s own work, this meant that there were five wages coming into the home, albeit on a much smaller scale that we are used to these days.

War was coming, however, and, at the beginning of 1915, William enlisted in the West Somerset Yeomanry. Little information remains of his military service, but it is known that Private Phillips’ experience as a clerk was made use of, and he worked in admin at the reserve depot in Minehead.

William had, by this time, got himself a lady friend, who worked at the hospital in Taunton, and, while they did not see each other a lot, they corresponded regularly.

His new-found freedom from the family home seemed to have led to William being a bit freer with his money than his parents would like, and it appears that he may have run up e few debts He reassured his mother that he did not want to worry them with any business that he had. However, financial matters may well have played on his mind more than he would have liked to admit.

On Saturday 20th February 1915, Private Phillips travelled to Taunton to see his girlfriend; she was working, but he caught up with his sister instead, before returning to the base in Minehead that evening.

The following Tuesday morning, he received a letter from his girl and was last seen heading to breakfast in the hotel digs where he was billeted.

That afternoon, a local engineer was walking along the seafront, when he saw a body lying on the foreshore, about four feet (1.21m) from the high-water mark. The body – which was later identified as William – was wearing some clothing, but other bits were scattered around him. The police were called and Private Phillips’ body was taken to nearby Dunster.

The coroner confirmed William had drowned; the letter he had received was amongst his clothing, but there was nothing in it to suggest that anything was amiss. At the inquest, he suggested that “he could hardly suppose at this time of year that the deceased had taken off his clothing in order to bathe. [His conclusion was that William] got into the water with intent to drown himself.” [Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser: Wednesday 3rd March 1915]

The jury at the inquest returned the verdict of ‘found drowned’. Private Phillips was just 20 years old.

William’s body was brought back to Taunton for burial. He lies at rest in the St James Cemetery there.

William Phillips
(from britishnewspaperarchives.com)

CWG: Private Albert Percy

Private Albert Percy

Albert Rudolph Percy was born in April 1889 in Taunton, Somerset. His parents were William Percy, a draper, and his wife, Elise, who had been born in Baden Baden, Germany. Elise’s background certainly influenced the naming of the couple’s five children, all sons with middle names ranging from Rudolph and Frederick, to Leopold and Felix.

All but the eldest of William and Elise’s children followed their father into the drapery business; after initially doing so when he left school, Albert’s older brother Frederick took holy orders, a following he continued for the rest of his days.

On the outbreak of war 1914, Albert volunteered for military service, leaving his father’s business behind him. Enlisting in the West Somerset Yeomanry, he was shipped off to to Colchester in Essex for training.

While taking two days’ leave in September that year, Private Percy returned home, and, on the first evening complained of feeling unwell. A doctor was summoned and diagnosed spinal meningitis. Albert was swift to succumb to the illness, passing away on 4th October 1914. He was just 25 years old and likely one of the first from Taunton to die whilst on active service.

Albert Rudolph Percy lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in his home town of Taunton, Somerset.

CWG: Serjeant Sydney Peters

Serjeant Sydney Peters

Sydney Edward Peters was born at the end of 1891, the only child to farmers Edward and Annie Peters. The family lived in Bishop’s Hull, near Taunton, where Edward also employed two members of staff to help with the household and his dairy herd.

Sydney went on to manage the neighbouring farm to his father, and looked to be making a living with this. Keen on sport, he went on to captain the village cricket team, and took an interest in physical fitness.

War broke out and Sydney was quick to enlist. Joining the West Somerset Yeomanry, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion. Initially the regiment were based on home turf, and he spent a lot of that time in East Anglia. He must have made a positive commitment to the troop, and was soon promoted to Serjeant.

In the early summer of 1915, he returned to Taunton, to help drill recruits at the Territorial Depot there. A short while after returning to his Essex he fell ill, and before the battalion were due to be shipped overseas, Serjeant Peters went back to Somerset on leave.

By the time he reached home, however, he was severely ill, and very quickly died from what turned out to be blood poisoning. Serjeant Peters was just 23 years old.

Sydney Edward Peters was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in his home town of Taunton.

Serjeant Sydney Peters

CWG: Private Thomas Grabham

Private Thomas Grabham

Thomas William Grabham was born in September 1883, one of six children to Thomas Richard Grabham and his wife Emma. Thomas Sr was a labourer and drayman for a brewery and the family lived in Taunton, Somerset.

When Thomas Jr left school, he found work as a grocer’s porter, before he too found work in a brewery, working as a maltster. He married a local woman, Maria Rowsell, and the couple went on to have a son, who they named after Thomas’ father.

Details of Thomas’ military service are sketchy; he enlisted in the West Somerset Yeomanry, but there are no details of when this was.

Sadly, Private Grabham’s period of service was short; his pension records show that he passed away from a perforated gastric ulcer on 28th March 1915. He was just 32 years old.

Thomas William Grabham lies at peace in St Mary’s Cemetery in his home town of Taunton.

Sadly, the tragedy for the young Grabham family was not to end there. Maria, Thomas’ widow, died just five months after her husband.

Young Thomas was just eight years old when his parents died; he seems to have been brought up by a Mrs Kate Barnes, possibly a maternal aunt. Here, however, the family’s trail goes cold.

CWG: Private John Russell

Private John Russell

Born in September 1896, John Russell was one of thirteen children to Henry and Ellen Russell. Henry worked as a turf cutter on the Somerset levels, and the family lived in the village of Meare, near Glastonbury.

By the time of the 1911 census, John, aged 15, had left school and joined his father’s business.

When war broke out, John joined up; sadly, his military records are absent, but what we do know for certain is that he enlisted in the West Somerset Yeomanry, and was based at the Stanway Camp near Colchester in Essex.

Sadly, much is written of Private Russell’s death. He was acting as a sentry at the camp on the morning of Tuesday 19th October 1915 when he was hit by a car; taken to the military hospital in Colchester, he passed away the following morning.

An inquest was held into the incident, and the following was ascertained:

Vera Coysh, aged 19, was driving near the camp with two friends and her gardener; as she was approaching the entrance, a horse-drawn military wagon ahead of her turned and she swerved to avoid it. In doing so, she hit Private Russell “and carried him some way along the ground”.

John’s injuries were significant. When admitted to hospital, he “was suffering from bruises on the back of the head and haemorrhage from the right ear and nose. His left hand and the lower part of his left arm were swollen from bruising. He was semi-conscious and restless…”

The inquest identified some discrepancies in what happened.

Witnesses in the military wagon and a second one following it all saw a turning signal being given, although not necessarily in time for Vera to slow down or stop. All of the army witnesses stated that she was driving at a quick speed, possibly as much as 35mph.

Vera and her passengers all stated that they saw no signal, saying that the wagon pulled across without indication. They also stated that they were not travelling at speed.

The inquest was a lengthy one, but the final verdict was one of accidental death, with a recommendation that signs were put up on the road to warn of the entrance to the camp.

John Russell was just 19 years old when he died. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints in his home village of Meare, Somerset.

It’s worth also having a look into the life of the driver of that fated motor car.

Vera Murdoch Coysh was born in September 1896, the eldest child of Commander William Henry Coysh and his wife Beatrice Murdoch. The family lived in Yorkshire and, by the time of the incident, William and Beatrice had had four other children – Humphrey Cecil (who became a Commander), Geoffrey Ernest (who went on to be Sub Lieutenant), John William and Barbara Daphne.

Three months after the accident, Vera married Second Lieutenant Trevor Davidson, of the Essex Regiment, and the couple soon emigrated to Mozambique.

All was not well, however, as, by 1924, Vera has moved back to England, the couple had divorced and she had remarried, to a Douglas Stuart-Jervis. The couple went on to have two children.

Meanwhile, Vera was also making a bit of a name for herself in the literary world, writing a number of novels under the name of Jane England. While rarely seen nowadays, she wrote books with such ‘pulp fiction’ titles as Red Earth, Romantic Stranger, Flowering Harvest, Stormy Passage and Winter Jasmine.

It’s bittersweet to see that Vera made a life for herself, in the way that John Russell was sadly unable to.

CWG: Lance Corporal Harold Russell

Lance Corporal Harold Russell

Harold Stanley Russell was born in 1895, the third of six children to carpenter Henry Russell and his wife Mary. The family lived in Sherborne, Dorset, and this is where Harold grew up; by the time of the 1911 census, he was working as a hairdresser in the town.

While Harold’s military records are not readily available online, his last few weeks can be determined through the local press of the day.

He enlisted in the Dorsetshire Regiment in the summer of 1915, but was attached to the Wiltshire Regiment when battalions went to France in May 1916.

Lance Corporal Russell’s Lieutenant wrote to his parents to report on Harold’s injury:

[He] was wounded by a bomb on the morning of July 28th while on duty in the trenches. “At the moment of writing I do not know if it is a very serious case, but I do know he will lose the use of his left hand. He was a most popular fellow, and always willing to do his part nobly with a brave heart, and nothing grieved me more than to see him in pain. His wants were immediately attended to, and I suppose by now he is under treatment in the hospital. He is being well cared for, and the authorities will let you know how he is progressing.

Western Gazette, Friday 4th August 1916

A week later, the newspaper reported an update:

Lance-Corporal Harold Russell… is now at the Leicester Military Hospital in a critical condition. His parents were telegraphed for on Friday last, and visited him. They found he had been very seriously wounded by a bomb whilst on duty in the trenches in France. His injuries are in the chest and right arm, while his left hand has been amputated. [He] was acting platoon-sergeant at the time he was wounded, and had taken part in three battles. After being wounded he walked one and a-half miles to the dressing-station, but afterwards collapsed. His parents returned to Sherborne on Tuesday as he was slightly better, but were telegraphed for again on Wednesday.

Western Gazette, Friday 11th August 1916

The day of the second article, Lance Corporal Harold Russell lost his fight for life, dying in a Military Hospital in Leicester. He was just 21 years old.

The next week, the young soldier featured in the newspaper again, with an 80-line report on his funeral being featured on the Roll of Honour page.

Harold Stanley Russell lies at rest in the cemetery of his home town, Sherborne.

CWG: Private Gilbert Drew

Private Gilbert Drew

Gilbert Victor Drew was born in Dinder, Somerset in 1898, the youngest of the eight children of James and Theresa Drew, a groom/coachman and laundress respectively.

Gilbert initially enlisted in the West Somerset Yeomanry on 11th December 1915, serving on the Home Front.

Private Drew then transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry and was shipped overseas as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 1st August 1916.

He first reported to a medic in mid-November 1916; his records pick up the story from there:

First noticed he was passing a larger quantity of water than usual and was also feeling very thirsty.

2nd December 1916, caught influenza and was sent to England. Thirst has been great and urine very large in quantity since November. General condition good. Passes from 14 to 17 pints of urine each 24 hours – large quantity of sugar contained. No evidence of other disease. No improvement since admission.

Result of AS[?] Prolonged strain – especially during Somme offensive.

Medical Records

Private Drew was discharged from the army on 3rd February 1917 as “no longer physically fit for war service” due to diabetes.

Gilbert Victor Drew died on 1st July 1917; he was just 19 years of age. He was buried in the graveyard of the Church of St Michael in his home village of Dinder, Somerset.

He was one of six villagers to fall during the Great War.

CWG: Private Stephen Rawle

Private Stephen John Rawle

Stephen John Rawle was born in 1894, the second of four sons of George Rawle, a sailor, and Louisa, his wife.

By the time war broke out, Stephen was working as a groom in Wheddon Cross, just south of Minehead.

As the Great War loomed, he enlisted and Private Rawle serving on the home front. His record show that he stood at 5ft 9.5ins (1.76m) and was of good enough health to be enrolled for the Territorial Force. He was assigned to the West Somerset Yeomanry.

He was medically discharged from service on 29th March 1915, having served for one year and 31 days.

The records show no signs of injury or wounds, and newspapers of the period do not link him with any misadventure. I can only assume, therefore, that he died of natural causes, possibly linked to the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Stephen died on 5th September 1918. He was 25 years old.

Private Stephen John Rawle lies at rest in the churchyard of Lydeard St Lawrence, alongside two of his brothers, Ernest and William.

It should be noted that, by June 1921, Louisa Rawle had lost three of her four sons to the Great War. Her husband, George, had also passed away in 1915.

Louisa’s other son – Edward – also served, enlisting in the Somerset Light Infantry and fighting in the Balkans. Private Edward Rawle survived the war, returning home in March 1919.

CWG: Private Ernest Rawle

Private Ernest Charles Rawle

Ernest Charles Rawle was born in 1899, the fourth son of George Rawle, a sailor, and Louisa, his wife.

Ernest was still at school at the time of the 1911 census, and enlisted in the West Somerset Yeomanry, but enlisted in the army in April 1915. His served on the Home Front, but was discharged as being unfit for war service on 22nd July 1916.

Private Rawle’s discharge records confirm that he had pulmonary tuberculosis, which he had contracted a couple of months before. They go on to suggest that it was not a permanent condition, but was likely to render him unfit for service for a number of months.

Eager to do his bit, Ernest’s record show that he re-enlisted in August 1916, and that he was considered fit for military service by the November of that year.

His medical records continue further – he was admitted to a field hospital again in March 1917, again suffering from tuberculosis. He was moved back to base as he was “a danger to his comrades”.

His records after March 1917 are not available, but he passed way from TB in November 1919. He was just 21 years old.

Private Ernest Rawle lies at peace in the churchyard of Lydeard St Lawrence, alongside his two brothers, Stephen and William.

It should be noted that, by June 1921, Louisa Rawle had lost three of her four sons to the Great War. Her husband, George, had also passed away in 1915.

Louisa’s other son – Edward – also served, enlisting in the Somerset Light Infantry and fighting in the Balkans. Private Edward Rawle survived the war, returning home in March 1919.