People’s stories


By Frances Casey, Project Manager

We are often asked whether it is possible for someone to be named on more than one war memorial. The answer is yes. For my last blog, I want to give the example of Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott, who was killed during the battle of the Somme on 14th July 1916.

Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott, Leicestershire Regiment, 1915 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott, Leicestershire Regiment, 1915 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

Unlike memorials erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the majority of memorials in UK towns and villages were erected by local communities, with the funding, construction, design and names collection overseen by a locally appointed committee.

We have found Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott commemorated on seven different memorials. These include the memorial cross on the village green in Corby Glen, Lincolnshire, which is the village in which he grew up. The Corby Glen memorial was funded by public subscription and commemorates the men of the village with the names arranged by Regiment. Lionel is listed under the Leicestershire Regiment. The cross was unveiled on 13th December 1920 by the Reverend A. Abbott, who was Lionel’s father.

Rev Abbott was vicar of the nearby St John the Evangelist Church. Inside the church can be found a memorial erected to Lionel by his parents. This takes the form of a plaque and the dedication details include Lionel’s rank, regiment, age, place and date of death. Unlike the Corby Glen village memorial, the plaque is a personal dedication to Lionel designed and funded by his family.

Lionel (second right), Exeter College rowing team, 1906 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

Lionel (second right), Exeter College rowing team, 1906 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

The plaque refers to Lionel’s education and degree at Exeter College, Oxford, which is where we find another memorial commemorating Lionel. The Exeter College memorial is to old scholars killed in the First World War and the names are arranged by the date of matriculation. Lionel is commemorated under the year 1907 along with nine other students of his year.

Lionel is also commemorated in the Leicestershire Regiment Book of Remembrance in Leicester Cathedral , the Matthew Humberston Foundation School memorial and the memorial in King’s School, Canterbury .

Each memorial remembers Lionel in a different way and for a different reason, whether as a resident of the village, a son, a scholar or as serving in a regiment. It is for this reason that the same person can be commemorated on more than one memorial, because memorials commemorate many different social groups. You will find all ranks commemorated on memorials in schools, businesses, towns and villages not only officers or the more wealthy. First World War memorials remember people in all of their variety and as such are testaments to the loss felt in many areas of social life.

By Frances Casey, Project Manager

 Among five memorial plaques to former pupils killed in the First World War in Sedbergh School Chapel, Cumbria, is one to Wilfred Spencer Ellis MC who died 26th March 1922 after a long illness resulting from the war 1914-1918, aged 34, being three times wounded whilst serving in France and Macedonia’ 

French and British wounded having their wounds dressed at No.29 Casualty Clearing Station, Gezaincourt, 27 April 1918. (IWM  © IWM (Q 8735)

French and British wounded having their wounds dressed at No.29 Casualty Clearing Station, Gezaincourt, 27 April 1918. (IWM © IWM (Q 8735)

We have found that commemorations of those who died of the effects of war after the Armistice of 1918 are not unusual, and that those who never fully recovered from their war service are frequently commemorated alongside those who died fighting during the war.

On the memorial to Belle Vue Zoological Gardens’ staff in Gorton, Manchester, the inscription distinguishes between those ‘killed in active service’ and those who ‘died from effects of war’. Six members of staff are recorded as dying as a result of the effects of their war service, including Private Bernard A Hastain of the Rifle Brigade, a scene painter of patriotic firework spectacles at Belle Vue, who died of the effects of his wounds in the 1930s.

There is no strict rule which dictates that only those who died during wartime are commemorated on war memorials and there is no cut-off date. The names on the Balmaclellan memorial in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, are listed by year of death. The last First World War name on the memorial is that of Private W. Campbell of the Cameron Highlanders, whose date of death is recorded as 27 April 1925. The names on this memorial cover a ten year period of casualties from 1915 to 1925.

Balmaclellan war memorial with dates of death (IWM WMA 5865, ©Paul Goodwin)

Balmaclellan war memorial with dates of death (IWM WMA 5865, ©Paul Goodwin)

Memorials also show us that it was not only serious wounds that shortened the lives of the survivors of the First World War. In St Margarets, East Hertfordshire, a plaque in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorates Philip Reginald Croft who ‘died February 25th 1923 in Jamaica of heart disease contracted while serving overseas with the 4th East Anglian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, during the Great War’. Nurses too, found that their war service profoundly weakened their health. The memorial to Sister Grace Evans in Eglwys St Tysilio, Cwmtydu, Wales, records that she ‘died at Johannesburg November 16th 1930, as a result of war services in East Africa during the Great War, 1914-1918’ .

Significantly, it was often veterans of the war, many of whom had sustained grievous injuries, who were invited to unveil war memorials. In 1921 at Stalybridge in Greater Manchester, Pte Joseph Lowden, who was blinded in the war, laid the first wreath on the memorial at the unveiling ceremony. Over 40 years later in 1963, an inquest at Stalybridge was told that his death at the age of 78 was ‘partly attributed to war injuries’ as he had ‘little bits of shrapnel scattered about his lungs’, a legacy of his war service 47 years earlier (Stalybridge Reporter, 4 March 1963).


By Irene Glausiusz, Office Volunteer

What is interesting about the tiny village of Hewas Water, more of a hamlet really, positioned three miles west of St Austell in Cornwall?

Firstly, there was the Victory Hall, known locally as The Institute, built by voluntary labour in 1920 it was intended as a memorial to commemorate the end of the First World War. The land was donated by local gentry, the Johnstone Family from the Trewithen Estate at nearby Grampound. Now that we are approaching the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, it seems appropriate that the Victory Hall is not forgotten and is rightfully included in IWM’s War Memorials Archive.

Looking back, the Institute was a popular venue for darts, billiards, table tennis, and whist drives to keep people entertained. There wasn’t that much to do in Hewas Water with no pub, just one shop and a bakery for bread, saffron cake and Cornish pasties. Oh yes, the bakery had a telephone – for emergencies! Few people had a phone, so the need to make a call was hardly a priority. Even the Paramor Chapel for worship and Sunday School was a couple of miles away.

Victory Hall, Hewas Water (IWM WMA 62836 ©Derek Ryder 2013)

Victory Hall, Hewas Water (IWM WMA 62836 ©Derek Ryder 2013)

Secondly, and hence my interest in Hewas Water, my sister and I aged 9 and 3 respectively along with dozens of other kids from Hackney in east London were evacuated there in 1940 – a place of safety to escape the bombing. We knew nothing of rural life but we soon adjusted to the situation, making visits to the village pump which supplied water for drinking and cooking. What no running water? Don’t ask. 

We walked some distance every day, back and forth come rain or shine, to Lower Sticker Board School. With only three classes, children just slotted into their approximate age group. We remember being taken to the Victory Hall for special social events and concerts, where best dresses were de rigeur.

Halls or Institutes were popular as war memorials after the First World War as they offered people a place to engage and build a sense of community. To date we have recorded 692 war memorial halls or institutes. In the case of the Victory Hall, it became less frequented with the advent of television and more accessible transport during the 1960’s and subsequently it has been converted for commercial use. The school and chapel closed and are now private residences. Happily, the Johnstone’s family estate – they who donated the land for the Victory Hall – continues at Trewithen.

Due to people’s changing needs and environment, it is important for us to record memorials which are subject to change like halls or hospitals to ensure that their identity and the intention behind them is not lost to people today.

Footnote: The historical context of the Victory Hall became known to me when my daughter Josie, a New York based journalist, decided to research my early evacuation days.

by Frances Casey, Project Manager

This week, IWM’s War Memorials Archive recorded war memorial reference number 65,000, which is a seat commemorating Sergeant Nigel Coupe, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012.

We began recording UK war memorials in 1989 as the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, prompted by concern that there was no national record of UK war memorials. Initially, this was to be a three year project, and in an early ‘crowd sourcing’ exercise, volunteers filled in recording forms with the location, type, history and names on war memorials. No one imagined how popular this would be, nor how mammoth the task!

We record memorials to all wars, and to date we have 97 wars represented. Currently, of the 65,000 memorials that we have recorded, 42,684 commemorate the First World War. 23,591 are to the Second World War, with an additional 883 to Second World War civilians. The reason the figures given for these wars amount to more than 65,000 is because war memorials often record more than one war.

Memorial seat to Sgt Nigel Coupe (IWM WMA 65000, ©Mike Coyle, 2013)

Memorial seat to Sgt Nigel Coupe (IWM WMA 65000, ©Mike Coyle, 2013)

Our records show the variety of memorials and the different ways people remember war and loss. Types range from monumental figures, crosses, obelisks and plaques to hospital wings, a bed of 10,000 daffodils, a stuffed dog , a chess set and quite a number of hearing aid loops.

Stories are very often sad with some First World War families losing all their sons, but some memorials tell of daring deeds and VCs won. One very British memorial proudly remembers the supply of cups of tea to 134,864 servicemen at Dingwall railway station between 1915 and 1919.

The names of First and Second World War casualties are still added to memorials as omissions are found. There are retrospective memorials to events rediscovered by research, such as to remote air crashes of the Second World War. More recent memorials to Iraq and Afghanistan are also recorded, as with that of Sergeant Coupe which is a personal commemoration from his family.

At first, it was estimated that there were around 25,000 UK war memorials. 24 years later we have reached 65,000, with an estimated total of 100,000. Contributions of research have been received from across the UK from volunteers, the public and other institutions and many anoraks have been worn out over the years in pursuit of information for the archive.

In contributing to our records, people have ensured that war memorials and those they commemorate are not forgotten. You can search our records online.

By Frances Casey, Project Manager

Last Saturday, the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show came to an end. It was a week during which exhibitors celebrated the centenary of the event, which was first held at the Royal Hospital grounds in Ranelagh Gardens in 1913. The 2013 show was in fact the 92nd Chelsea Flower Show, rather than the 100th, as the event was cancelled during the First World War in 1917 and 1918, and also for the duration of the Second World War.

Poster for the RHS War Relief Fund, 1916 (©IWM ART PST 10965)

Poster for the RHS War Relief Fund, 1916 (©IWM ART PST 10965)

In RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration, the illustrated book published to commemorate the history of the show, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) historian Brent Elliott lists some of the names of the horticultural firms that exhibited in the first show of 1913. These include Notcutt Nursery, founded in 1897 in Suffolk, and particularly famed for its trees and shrubs.

The 1914 Chelsea Flower Show was held three months before the outbreak of the First World War. Notcutt Nursery was busy that year, and in April had exhibited at the RHS fortnightly meeting in Westminster, at which ‘a much admired shrubby plant certificated was Mr Notcutt’s Prunus Blirisana (The Times, 8th April 1914, pg 11).

 In 1915 however, the presence of the war was felt at Chelsea, and the Royal Horticultural Society used the show to seek funds for the newly founded RHS War Relief Fund. This fund had the specific purpose of raising money to buy seeds, plants, trees and equipment to replant the already devastated gardens and countryside of France, Belgium, Romania and Serbia. Funds and supplies were to be distributed as and when the war ended.

In 1916, at the last Chelsea Flower Show to be held during the war, changes to Show included the absence of the great tent, ‘for the reason that the active young men who erected it and climbed the big poles are now in the Navy’ (The Times, 23rd May 1916, pg 11). The loss of men from the estate gardens and nurseries to war service contributed to the cancellation of the Show in 1917 and then again in 1918.

It is possible that some of the gardeners, growers and staff of Notcutt Nursery who attended the first Chelsea Flower Shows in 1913 and 1914 and the RHS show at Westminster in the Spring of 1914 are among those commemorated by the Notcutt Nursery war memorial, which is a sundial in a garden of remembrance at the present day nursery. This memorial records the loss of six members of staff during the First World War and two during the Second World War.

Rochford Nurseries (IWM WMA 63530 ©Liam Gillespie, 2012)

Rochford Nurseries (IWM WMA 63530 ©Liam Gillespie, 2012)

The memorial to the Hertfordshire floral nursery of Thomas Rochford in Turnford lists the names of thirty members of the Turnford Institute and Rochford Nurseries staff who were ‘killed or died of wounds or sickness’ during the war. The nursery had competed in the Roses category at the Chelsea Flower Show of 1916. Goldsworth Nursery, founded in 1790 in Woking, exhibited regularly at the Rhododendron Association shows at RHS Westminster. The nursery lost eighteen men.

Country estates also suffered from the loss of their garden staff. The memorial at Backwell Hill House, near Bristol, commemorates three casualties. Christopher George Ball, ‘second gardener on this place’ and William Henry Lock, ‘garden boy on this place’ are named alongside William Patrick Garnett, the son of the owner of Backwell Hill House.

The Thunderbox, Heligan Gardens (IWM WMA 63622 ©Heligan Gardens Ltd)

The Thunderbox, Heligan Gardens (IWM WMA 63622 ©Heligan Gardens Ltd)

In Cornwall, the gardens of Heligan House are maintained today as a memorial to the gardeners of the estate who went to war. Visitors to the garden can still come across The Thunderbox, the garden toilet and store, which bears the signatures of garden staff under the portentous date of ‘August 1914’.

The memorials of the RHS School at Wisley in Surrey and the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh and Kew show the loss of a generation of horticultural talent to the First World War. Edinburgh lost twenty men, whilst at Kew, thirty seven members of staff are listed as killed above the Kew Guild motto ’Floreat Kew’ (Flourish Kew).

At ZSL London Zoo, two staff members, Albert Staniford and Robert Jones, are commemorated with the profession ‘gardener’. Professional gardeners are also named on community memorials, such as that in Elie, Fife, where two casualties hold the profession of ‘gardener’. At The Kings School in Canterbury the word ’Hortulani’, Latin for gardener, is next to the name of Harry Rogers.

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (IWM WMA 12518 ©IWM 2013)

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (IWM WMA 12518 ©IWM 2013)

Although the First World War led to the loss of many RHS student gardeners and nursery and estate staff gardeners, the RHS vision of rejuvenation by horticulture greatly assisted the replanting of the countryside and provided food supplies in France and Belgium after the war. The RHS War Relief Fund distributed seeds, saplings and grown trees which were transported by the British Red Cross from 1919 onwards, and many of the trees planted at this time are still growing today.

Notcutt Nursery also returned to exhibit at the 1921 RHS Show of British-grown fruit in Westminster. Despite the nursery’s staff losses during the war, continuity was shown as the nursery was awarded the trade group Silver medal for fruit, where ‘the chief strength lay in the pears, which were exhibited in great variety.’ (The Times, 5 Oct, 1921, pg 8).

Capt A Ridgway portrait window (IWM 42896, 2000)by Ashley Garber, Project Assistant

By Ashley Garber, Project Assistant.

We recently received an inquiry asking us how rare it is for the portrait of an individual casualty to be memorialised in a stained glass window. Whilst the names of the fallen usually serve as the focus for commemoration on memorials, some memorials do include a portrait of the dead, and stained glass windows are particularly expressive examples of this.

Portrait windows would have been very expensive, and only a few families would have been able to afford the cost of such a memorial. Even so, we have recorded 11 definite examples.

These include a window in St Peters Church, Oughtrington, Cheshire, which depicts Captain Althorp Ridgway, who died 12th May 1915. Ridgway is dressed in the armour of a medieval knight and his portrait actually appears twice in the window: as the face of the more prominent standing knight, and also in profile as the kneeling knight below. Local lore claims that the artist, Archibald K Nicholson, not having met Ridgway, relied on a photograph of him in order to complete these portraits.

Wilson brothers window (©IWM)

The Wilson brothers memorial window in St Andrews Church, Chippenham, Wiltshire is a poignant family portrait.

All three brothers – Herbert Raymond, Evelyn Seppings, and Geoffrey Mervyn Underhill – were killed in the First World War. They appear in uniform in the window, yet they do not constitute the focus, which is dominated by Archangels and scenes of war, regimental devices and references to Flanders.

Instead, the portraits appear in the background in the far left light, behind the figure of a grieving woman, which may be their mother.

The medium of portrait windows allows an opportunity to define relationships visually in a way that other memorial types cannot.

East window, Church Norton, Chichester (©The Friends of St Wilfrids Church Norton, 2006)

An example of this is the East window in St Wilfrids Chapel in Church Norton, Chichester. This window was commissioned by Captain Maurice Wingfield, owner of the nearby Norton Priory, and commemorates, in portraiture, his wife Stephanie Agnes, who died in 1918; his brother Captain John Wingfield, who died of wounds 29th April 1915; and his close friend, Captain the Honourable Thomas Agar-Roberts MP, who died on 30th September 1915, also of wounds.

Both men appear dressed in armour in the window and Stephanie Agnes is depicted as the Agnes Dei.

This is an article by Derbyshire Fieldworker Roy Branson

Mention Derbyshire stately homes and most people will instantly think of Chatsworth, but there are many other historic buildings in the county.  One such is Kedleston Hall just outside Derby, home of the Curzon family and now in the care of the National Trust.  When the current house was built Lord Curzon did as many other landowners of the time – he removed the rest of the village to cottages out of his sight.  But one building that he did not move was the parish church which still stands next to the grand house.  Although the church was used by the Curzons, almost as a private family chapel, the church at the adjacent village of Mugginton became the venue for the rest of the village.  Today there is no longer a viable congregation at Kedleston and the church, All Saints’, is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.  

Tablet to Capt the Hon William Curzon (©Roy Branson)

My principal voluntary work for UKNIWM is the survey of war memorials throughout Derbyshire and I recently visited Kedleston Hall and All Saints’ Church with Frances Casey, UKNIWM Project Manager, where we recorded several memorials new to the Inventory.  One of the memorials in the church is to 23 year old William Curzon who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  It comprises a white marble tablet with a black border painted onto the surrounding wall and an incised inscription which the guidebook describes as a ‘touching epitaph’.  Here, the inscription is reproduced verbatim: 

Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM CURZON,

4th. Son of Lord Scarsdale, late Capt. in the 69th. Ft. & D.A.A.G.

A Youth of fairest promise!

Whose professional merit, amiable qualities, & private worth,

Had distinguish’d Him as a Soldier, endear’d Him to his Family, Friends, & Comrades.

He enter’d the Army at the age of 16,

Appointed to an Ensigney in the 9th. from the R. M. College,

And having honorably served throughout the War in the Peninsular,

And already bled in the cause of Nations,

Fell alas! fighting with devoted gallantry,

On that day of triumph & tears, which seal’d their Deliverance;

Being slain in the Battle of Waterloo June 18th. 1815, in his 24th. year.

His Country will record His Name in the list of the Brave.

To preserve It on the Spot where its Remembrance will be most precious,

This tablet is raised by his affectionate Parents,

Who deploring His loss, with their surviving Children,

Bow to the Divine Will & repose in the blessed belief,

That He has exchang’d His Laurels, for a Crown of Glory,

The Meed of His Virtues.

The seventh line from the bottom is of particular interest: “His Country will record His Name in the list of the Brave”. By recording his memorial in the Inventory I think I have fulfilled his parents’ wishes after 196 years. This is why I record war memorials.

Blog by volunteer fieldworker Gordon Amand

memorial from the Great War has been found while clearing out a cellar in Ross-on Wye. It commemorates the life of Wilfrid John Massey Lynch, Lieutenant in the 3rd Dragoon Guards who was killed in action on 4th April 1918 at the battle of the Avre, the Somme, France. He was 25 years old.

Rediscovered Plaque to Wilfrid Massey Lynch (©Gordon Amand)

The existence of this memorial has been known for many years, as it was originally in an old church in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire and probably erected there in the 1920s. It disappeared sometime after the new church of St. Frances of Rome was built in 1931.

There are several other memorials to Wilfrid. One is coupled with his brother-in-law, Lieutenant F. T. Harris in All Saints Church in the Trees at Bishopswood, which is a few miles from Ross-on-Wye. Another exists in St Joseph’s Church, Blundellsands, Liverpool. He is also remembered on the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France. The recently discovered memorial is a brass plaque measuring 24 inches x 12 inches (610 x 305 mm) and has been recorded by UKNIWM. I hope to get the plaque refurbished and installed in St Frances of Rome Church, and also have it rededicated and blessed at a ceremony this year.  

Wilfrid was born on 28 September 1893 in Seaforth, Liverpool. He went to Stonyhurst School near Clitheroe in Lancashire. His father expected him to work in banking which he did for two years with the Bank of Liverpool. Commercial life however did not suit him, and he decided to move south and took up a job as a trainee farmer at Great Howle, near Ross-on-Wye where he met the farmer’s daughter Gwendoline Harris. They got married in July 1914, and soon after they sailed for south east Australia where Wilfrid set up a fruit farm. Their only child, Lisle was born here. In 1916 he decided to return to Liverpool and enlisted in the army. He got a commission with the 3rd Dragoon Guards, as a Lieutenant to serve King and Country.  He was wounded with shell shock in 10th January 1918, and later rejoined his regiment on the 29th January 1918. He was killed on 4th April 1918. 

I knew his daughter Lisle, and her two cousins, who gave me a lot of information about Wilfrid.  Other information has been obtained from The Stonyhurst Association and the National Archives. Lisle never married and her two married cousins did not have any male children, so the family name of Massey-Lynch will be lost after this generation.

This is a blog by Project Officer Frances Casey

The Mitford name is most famously associated with the six extraordinary daughters of David Freeman Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale (1878-1958). They were Nancy, the author of witty tales of family life; Pamela, whose love of farm life led John Betjeman to refer to her as the ‘Rural Mitford’; Diana the beauty and wife of the heir to the Guinness family, whom she later divorced in favour of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists; Unity whose torn love between Hitler and her country led her to shoot herself at the outbreak of the Second World War; Decca the communist, who tried to donate her share of the family’s remote Scottish island, Inch Kenneth, to the Communist Party; and Deborah (Debo), the only surviving child and current Duchess of Devonshire. It would be understandable to assume that the stories of the male members of the family could not compare, but the family’s war memorials tell us an equally interesting story of the Mitford men.

Pew to Maj C Freeman Mitford (ukniwm 31692) and tablet to Major T Mitford (ukniwm 31693), ©ukniwm

In St Marys Church in the Oxfordshire village of Swinbrook, memorials to the Mitford family are mounted on the walls and, on closer inspection, the family pews can be found.

One of the pews was donated by David Freeman Mitford from his winnings on the Grand National in 1918 and was used by the family during services. The other is an ornately carved oak pew, dedicated to David’s elder brother Major Clement Freeman Mitford, who died in Flanders, aged 38, on 13th May 1915. This pew also remembers David and Clement’s father, Lord Redesdale (1837-1916), whose last year was overshadowed by the loss of his eldest son.

David’s daughter, Pamela, remembers her father crying openly when he heard of the death of his brother (The Mitford Girls, Mary S Lovell, 2001, pg35). As well as dedicating the pew, David organised an expedition to retrieve Clement’s battlefield cross from Belgium, now mounted in St Mary’s Church, Batsford, the family estate in the Cotswolds. On behalf of his father, David also erected commemorative wrought iron gates at the entrance to Vlamertinghe, the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where Clement is buried. Clement’s death was to dramatically change the course of family history. He died before the birth of his only child, Clementine, in October 1915. As a girl, Clementine could not inherit the male Redesdale title. This was to pass to David, whose daughters would then become the titled ‘hons and debs’ of literary fame.

Swinbrook Cross, ©ukniwm 31691

On the wall above the pew dedicated to Clement hangs an oval tablet in memory of ‘a very perfect son and brother’, Major Thomas David Freeman Mitford, who died aged 36. Tom Mitford was David’s only son. According to Mary S Lovell, he was adored and teased in equal measure by his sisters, who would delight in making him ‘blither’ (giggle) during sermons in Swinbrook Church (Lovell, 2001, pg50).

The tablet records how Tom ‘died in Burma on Good Friday 30th March 1945 of wounds received in action on the previous Saturday’.  Devastated by the death of their son, David and his wife Sydney placed another tablet to Tom in Holy Trinity Church, Horsley, their estate in Northumberland. The tablets to Tom and the pew to Clement bear the Mitford motto ‘God Careth for Us’.

As well as the family memorials, David ensured that both Mitford men were remembered for their community role and had their names included on the Roll of Honour inside Swinbrook church and on the cross in the churchyard. Sydney, Nancy, Unity and Diana are all buried in Swinbrook churchyard.

By Project Assistant, Annette Gaykema

Updating one particular memorial recently sparked my interest in the individual commemorated: Lieutenant-Colonel Reverend Bernard William Vann VC MC.  A remarkable and inspiring person, he was the first priest to win the VC as the commanding officer of an infantry battalion.

Lt. Col. Vann. (Photo courtesy of Project Gutenberg archives).

 Further research showed that Lt. Col. Vann is commemorated in three separate churches: St Matthew’s Church in Coates, Gloucestershire, St Mary Magdalene Church in Newark and St Barnabas Church, Leicester. The latter was where he was appointed Assistant Junior Curate in 1910. He also appears on the memorial to “the masters and boys” in Wellingborough School Chapel.

The memorial at St Matthew’s Church gives a detailed biography of Lt. Col. Vann and explains why he is commemorated there:


Bernard Vann, whose death in the first World War is commemorated on the Roll of Honour in this church, spent much of his childhood in the Coates rectory, where his mother was housekeeper to the Rec. T. C. Simpson, his uncle.

On the outbreak of war as chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough School he volunteered as Army chaplain but, frustrated by difficulties and delays, joined the Sherwood Foresters instead. He served with them continously on the Western Front for four years, where he was wounded 13 times, awarded two Military Crosses, the Croix de Guerre, and promoted Lieutenant – Colonel.

On 29th September, 1918, his “conspicuous bravery”, leading his Battalion during the attack at Bellenglise and Lehaucourt led to the award of the Victoria Cross. He was killed four days later, within a few weeks of the end of the war, leaving a widow who gave birth to his son in June, the following year.

Whilst the memorial records that Vann was wounded 13 times his obituary in The Times (19 Dec, 1918. pg. 12) reports that he was wounded “seven or eight times”.  Another article states that “no less than 11 times was he returned a casualty” (The Times 20 Dec, 1918. pg. 6). In one instance, he was buried and badly bruised by the effects of a trench-mortar in May, 1915. He managed to dig himself out and set to work organising a defence whilst helping to dig out others. In another instance he was severely wounded but carried on firing incessantly at the enemy for several hours before being ordered to come away by the Brigadier.

In September 1916, Vann was suffering from continuous agony as a result of neuritis (inflammation of the nerves) but still insisted on leading his company on a raid. He was in so much pain that he had to be taken away the next day and was transported back to England to recover. He remained there for several months.

Lt. Col. Vann’s wife, who is mentioned on the St Matthew’s Church memorial, was Doris Victoria Beck. She was a Canadian nursing aide whom Bernard met when she was studying in Paris. They were married in St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. At the end of August 1918, Bernard and Doris enjoyed ten days of leave in Paris. It was possibly the last time that they met as Bernard was killed on 3rd October, 1918 by a sniper. As mentioned in the memorial, his son was born the following year.

Online references:

Rushden Research
Bygone Derbyshire