Stories behind the names


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.

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.

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 

By office volunteer, Annette Gaykema.

Another remote memorial is that of the Elliot brothers, William and Alistair, which is located by the shores of Loch Glencoul in Sutherland, Northern Scotland. Since the nearest public road is approximately 8 miles away, this memorial is only accessible by foot or by boat.

Photo courtesy of Mick Garratt

The Elliot brothers memorial

The story behind it is an interesting one. The memorial itself is on a hill overlooking an isolated house. This two-storey stone house was built around 1880, by the Duke of Westminster for his estate keepers. The Elliot family were working on the estate and living at Glencoul House when the brothers enlisted for the First World War.

Photo courtesy of the Elliot family

Glencoul House with the cross just visible on the hill to the left

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By office volunteer, Annette Gaykema.

Further to Frances Casey’s blog post of July 2009, records held at the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia can shed further light on Sidney Frank William Harold Green.

Like all First World War Australian service records, his file has been digitised by the National Archives. In this file there is no notification of a promotion to the rank of Sergeant, so it appears that his last rank was Corporal, as is consistent with information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This differs to the rank he is given in the Peterborough Book of Remembrance, and it suggests that an error may have been made when the Book was compiled. 

Front page of Cpl. Green's service record

Front page of Cpl. Green's service record

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article by UKNIWM Project Officer, Frances Casey

The anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July has made me think recently of that equally disastrous attack, intended as a diversion and strategic support to the main Somme offensive, which took place at Fromelles on 19th July 1916. In the news, following the discovery of a burial pit containing the bodies of approximately 400 Australian and British soldiers in 2006, the Attack at Fromelles was the first engagement on the western front for the newly arrived Australian Imperial Force, and for many it was also to be their last. The attack is characterised by a catalogue of errors and poor judgement, for the plan of attack assumed that an assault in force in broad daylight would take the enemy by surprise, without allowing for the possibility of the advance being held up. In the event, the Australian 8th and 14th Brigades were caught above ground as, horrifyingly, they encountered trenches flooded with rainwater on their advance. They were trapped, unable to retreat or to move in either direction due to quick encirclement by German machine gun posts. Elsewhere, poor communication caused a futile and doomed one-pronged advance by the Australian 58th Battalion who were unaware that the British had cancelled their side of the assault.

The nature of the attack, which completely failed in its objective to divert the Germans from the Somme front and capture the German-held salient at Fromelles, explains the gravity of the Australian losses at over 5,000 men. These losses, made over just one day and night, led to the establishment of the only cemetery in France dedicated solely to Australian soldiers of the First World War.

V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles

V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles

Unlike the usual format of Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries, the V.C Corner Australian Cemetery near Fromelles does not have headstones. In the battlefield searches carried out by the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in the 1920s, over 400 bodies were found at Fromelles, but none could be identified and as a result, they lie buried in unmarked plots.  Each man killed in the attack at Fromelles is instead commemorated on an imposing memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, in the V.C Corner Australian Cemetery.  

According to the charter of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, every individual casualty is entitled to be commemorated by name, either on a headstone or, if their body was not found or identified, on a memorial to the missing/ unidentified. The CWGC does not commemorate individuals in more than one place. So, it does seem likely that, with the planned identification of individuals from the Fromelles mass grave using DNA, the names will slowly be removed from the Memorial and transferred to headstones in the new cemetery, planned outside the town of Fromelles for 2010. Certainly, a precedent for this exists with the Menin Gate.  What will be interesting to see, is whether the wish to identify individuals in the newly discovered mass grave will inevitably lead to a desire to identify the nameless interments in the V.C Corner Australian Cemetery.

Thinking about the unidentified and missing men of the attack, I wondered whether there might be memorials in the UK or Australia commemorating individuals killed at Fromelles in 1916. A search of the UKNIWM Channel4 names database brought up seven memorials which referred specifically to Fromelles. Six of these were to the battle of the same name, which had taken place just over a year previously on 9th May 1915. One memorial, a Roll of Honour in Peterborough District Hospital, commemorates Sgt Sidney Green, of the 59th Bn Australian Imperial Force, ‘Reported Killed in Action 19th July 1916 at Fromelles’.  Sidney Green was 26 when he died, and in the 1920s the IWGC received a returned casualty form from his family. This told them that he was the son of Patience and the late James Green and the husband of Irene Elizabeth. Described as ‘Native of Staines, Middlesex’ he was recorded as living at 7 Manningham Street, West Parkville, Victoria, Australia. Peterborough is not mentioned, although the Roll of Honour also has an address for him at Fletton Avenue, Peterborough.

Sgt Sidney Frank William Harold Green, from The Bond of Sacrifice

Sgt Sidney Frank William Harold Green, from The Bond of Sacrifice

I did not find Sidney Green named on Staines War Memorial, and it may be that when this memorial was erected, there was no longer anyone living in the town who knew him. What was more surprising was that he is not on the Parkville War Memorial on Royal Parade in Melbourne. This memorial, a statue of an Australian First World War soldier, has 30 names on it and stands just across the park from where Sidney Green lived. There are numerous potential explanations for why his name is missing: by the time the Parkville memorial was commissioned and then unveiled in 1929, Irene Green may have moved away, or since her husband was technically missing she may not have wished to submit his name; there may have been some accidental, social or personal motivation. That he is on the Peterborough memorial shows that his life was not a straightforward case of born and died and represented in these areas: that his life touched that of others in the different places that he lived and was known.  An unexpected discovery was a photograph of Sgt Sidney Frank William Harold Green, 59th Bn, Australian Imperial Force in the First World War Bond of Sacrifice, a published photographic biographical roll of honour. This photo and entry would have been another means of commemorating the life of Sidney Green.  

In looking into the memorials to one individual lost in the horror of Fromelles in 1916, I realised that although these men have been missing for over 90 years, there are traces of their complex life paths in the memorials, traces that have been made manifest by those who knew them. I was also left with the question of whether, when a name is missing from a memorial, is this not just as vocal an indication of the movements, hopes or errors of those they left behind?

article by UKNIWM office volunteer Gabrielle Orton

Last weekend, I visited Ypres in Flanders, to see various museums, cemeteries, battlefields and memorials.  One of the most striking features was the Menin Gate, at the Eastern exit of the town, built on the road along which hundreds of thousands of troops passed on their way to the front during 1914-1918.  The triumphal arch designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and opened on 24 July 1927, is one of five memorials to the missing soldiers who died in WWI and whose bodies were never recovered.  There are 54,896 names incised in the memorial’s ‘Hall of Memory’, including British, Canadian, Australian, Indian and South African troops who died before 16 August 1917.  A further 34,984 missing servicemen killed after that date are recorded on the Tyne Cot memorial.

I wanted to make my visit to the Menin Gate and my remembrance of the missing WWI casualties more personal.  So from the vast list of names, I chose to look for information on one soldier, Captain Frank Charlton Jonas of the 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment.  For this I used the CWGC website, UKNIWM search and the Channel 4 website’s name search.

The Menin Gate

Captain F C Jonas is commemorated twice in Duxford, the village where he lived with his wife in the old rectory and where his parents, George and Jane Jonas, owned a farm.  The Duxford village memorial celtic cross was unveiled in 1920 (before the Menin Gate was completed), and can be found on the village green.  The names on this memorial are ordered by rank and as Captain Jonas was the highest ranking casualty from the village, he is listed at the top.  There is also a plaque within Duxford Church, dedicated solely to Captain Jonas, which informs us that he was killed aged 36, on 31st July 1917, near St Julien.  St Julien, just North East of Ypres, was recaptured on 31st July 1917, by the 13th Royal Sussex Regiment, during the third battle of Ypres as part of the Flanders offensive.  During the offensive, heavy rains and shelling destroyed the drainage system in the Ypres Salient, creating a swamp-like terrain.  This meant that over 125,000 casualties, including Captain Jonas, were never found.

Captain Jonas has also been commemorated on several memorials in Ely Cathedral, including on one of the 16 beautifully painted oak panels in the Chapel of St George.  Here his name can be found under his home village.  Within the chapel is a window dedicated to all ranks of the Cambridgeshire Regiment.  The corresponding roll of honour, placed on a bracket just inside the chapel, contains 864 names, one of which should be Captain Jonas.

It was interesting to discover so much detailed information about Captain Jonas from the selection of war memorials commemorating him here in the UK.  Perhaps it is underestimated how much war memorials contribute to keeping memories of the casualties of war alive.

In this Olympic year I have been asked if there are war memorials to Olympic performers. This is rather difficult to answer as their careers at the top level, Sir Steve Redgrave apart, tend to be quite short by comparison say with cricketers, and they disappear from the layman’s consciousness. We do know that many sportsmen of all levels of ability were recruited into the British forces in the First World War, one notable one being Siegfried Sassoon. We have many records of memorials in golf and other sports clubs, while among the individual memorials are two in Northampton, to the black footballer Walter Tull  and to Edgar Mobbs the rugby international.

I have been able to identify some British Olympians who fell in the First World War:

•2nd Lt G.R.L. ‘Twiggy’ Anderson, The Cheshire Regt, died 9 Nov.1914 aged 25. He was a hurdles finalist at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.
Captain H.S.O. Ashington, East Yorkshire Regt, died 31 Jan.1917 also aged 25. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, and was in the English team at Stockholm.(See 11163)
•2nd Lt A.E. Flaxman, South Staffordshire Regt, died aged 36 on the first day of the Somme.
Captain Wyndham Halswell, (25256)  Highland Light Infantry, died 31 March 1915. A professional soldier who had served in the Boer War, he won a gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics in controversial circumstances. In the final of the 400 metres he was blocked by one, or two, American opponents and the race declared void. The Americans refused to take part in the re-run and Halswell won by a walkover.
•Serjeant G.W. Hutson, Royal Sussex Regt, died aged 25 on 14 Sep. 1914. A regular soldier, he came 3rd in the 5000 metres at Stockholm.
•Private Kenneth Powell, Honourable Artillery Company, died 18 Feb. 1915, aged 29. A celebrated hurdler, he was an unplaced finalist at Stockholm and represented Cambridge both at hurdles and lawn tennis.
•I have also found a reference to another hurdler called Cubitt, but have not yet identified him among the 36 of that name on the CWGC Debt of Honour Register.

Research is continuing into other Olympic casualties for the First World War and later conflicts, so if you know anything, please let us know.

Barbara McDermott, one of the two remaining survivors of the RMS Lusitania, died on 12 April.

A poster featuring Justice, personified by a full-length figure of a woman wearing robes and a cloak, holding a sword, in its scabbard, in her extended right hand. She stands above the sea in which drowning figures are visible. In the background right, the four funneled ocean liner, RMS Lusitania, sinks.The British ocean liner, Lusitania, was sailing to London from New York when she was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May 1915.  Over half of the nearly 2,000 passengers on board were killed.  The sinking was condemned in Britain and America and considered significant in the later decision of the US to declare war on Germany.

This poster, showing the figure of Justice offering a sword and the stricken Lusitania in the background, is one of many that used the outrage at the sinking to encourage people to join up and fight.

Barbara, who was nearly 3 years old, and her mother, were travelling to visit relatives in England.  Both survived the loss of the Lusitania and spent the rest of the war living in England, although Barbara’s mother sadly died in 1917.  Barbara eventually returned to her father in America after the war.

We’ve recorded a number of memorials commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania, mostly to individuals who lost their lives, such as Annie and Dorothy Lancaster (commemorated by a plaque in St Bartholomews Church, Keelby, Lincolnshire) and 22 year old Tertius Selwyn Warner, son of Thomas and Agnes, whose name was added to their gravestone in Whetstone, Leicestershire.