War Memorial Stories

From the booklet Eversholt’s First World War Dead researched and written by James Nott.

Printed copies of the booklet are available at the church and in the Green Man. A pdf of the whole booklet is available here. And the stories, by kind permission of James, are reproduced below.

 1914-1915

The 17 names on the War Memorial in St John’s churchyard and the plaque inside the church can tell us two stories. We can trace the background of the individuals named, revealing details of their own and their family’s lives in pre-war Eversholt. And, in addition, the circumstances of their deaths reveal much about the chronology of the First World War, and where the war was being fought. 

 

Let us start with the first name on the plaque in the memorial chapel, Edward Miller. He was the son of Charles and Mary Ann Miller, and until he enlisted in the Navy he had lived all his life in Eversholt. In 1911, aged 16, he was living in Higher Rads End, with his parents and his older brother, working as a farm labourer.

By 1914 he had enlisted in the Royal Navy, and on 22 September, less that 2 months after war had been declared, he was serving as a cooks mate on HMS Aboukir, a 1900 vintage cruiser, with a crew of over 850. Aboukir, and 2 other similar cruisers, were stationed in the North Sea, midway between Harwich and the Dutch coast, offering protection to the North Sea ports from attack by German surface vessels.

At that time there was very little appreciation of the potential dangers from submarines, which were considered relatively ineffective against well armoured surface vessels. The error of this misconception was about to be dramatically revealed. A German U Boat had found the cruiser squadron, and launched a torpedo, hitting Aboukir, which rapidly listed, then rolled over before sinking. Many of the crew were in the water, and the 2 remaining cruisers, thinking that she had hit a mine, went to rescue those in the sea. They were an easy target for the U boat, and 2 further torpedo attacks resulted in all 3 ships being sunk within hours.

547 of Aboukir’s crew, including Edward Miller, then aged 20, perished, with only 280 survivors. The sea war with Germany had been initiated in a painful and dramatic manner, and the Navy had learnt a salutary lesson.

 

Walter Thompson was the next Eversholtian to die. He was born in 1886, and, before enlisting before the war, he also had lived all his life in Eversholt. He was the son of John and Julia Thompson. He had 2 brothers, Arthur and John. Originally they had lived in ‘Tearls End’ (1901 census has an alternative spelling of ‘Tyrells’), but by 1911 Walter had joined the Leicester Regiment, and his parents had moved to Hills End.

11 days after the declaration of war the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), headed by General French, and consisting of 80,000 regular soldiers, embarked for France. Belgium had been invaded, and the Force first engaged with the German army near Antwerp. However, despite some initial successes, they were massively outnumbered, and they rapidly retreated to a defensive line to protect the Channel ports, and potentially Paris. Together with the French army this defensive line, which quickly became, literally, entrenched, ran from the Channel coast, at a point midway between Dunkirk and Ostend, and the Swiss border, over 400 miles away. This trench line ran through locations that would resonate repeatedly throughout the next 4 years of war: Ypres, Mons, Neuve-Chappelle, and Passchendaele. The Kaiser, king of Germany, had ordered his army to ‘walk over General French’s contemptible little army’, but this ambition had been thwarted. The survivors of the original BEF became the ‘old contemptibles’. 

Walter was not to be one of their number. By November 1914 the Leicester Regiment was occupying a section of the newly formed trench, near Mons. On 17 November Walter, aged 29, was fatally wounded. He is buried, alongside 68 other soldiers from the Leicester Regiment, in Le Touret military cemetery, near Calais.

 

The next Eversholtian to die was Arthur Lawson. He was born in 1896, the son of Hannah and Alfred Lawson, who lived in Berry End. As well as Arthur they had 6 other younger children, 4 boys and 2 girls. His father Alfred was a ‘horseman’, responsible for Berry End Farm’s ‘horsepower’, and in 1911 aged 15 Arthur was working as a farm labourer. 

Towards the end of 1914 there was a nation-wide call for army volunteers, and throughout the country new military units were being assembled. Arthur volunteered for the Bedfordshire Regiment, and joined the Fifth Territorial Battalion, stationed at Ampthill and Silsoe. The Battalion was compromised of men previously in the Territorial Army (‘Saturday afternoon soldiers’) who had volunteered for overseas duty, and newly enlisted volunteers, and had a yellow arm flashing on their uniform. After initial training the Battalion embarked from Devonport on 27 July 1915, heading ‘somewhere East’. Their destination was Gallipoli in Turkey. They arrived on 10 September, landing at Sulva Bay. The few that survived the campaign stayed there until they were evacuated on 4 December.

A few days after their arrival, on 15 August, the ‘yellow perils’, as the Battalion had become known, advanced towards Kiretch. They met fierce resistance, and on that one day the Battalion had 285 casualties. One of those killed was Arthur Lawson, then aged 19. He is buried at Embarkation Pier Cemetery, Tepe Sirt in Turkey. Arthur Lawson was one of the over 60,000 Allied troops who died during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.

 

In January 1916 general conscription started. It applied to all men aged 18-40 unless they were widowed with children. Over the next 3 years the fighting and the losses escalated dramatically, as did the number of deaths of Eversholt residents. There were to be a further 14 deaths, many of them barely out of, their teens.

 

1916-17

 

During the first 2 years of the War 3 Eversholt residents had been killed in battle. Then the summer of 1916 brought a devastating series of further deaths to the village.

 

The first was that of Edward Oakley. He was a builders’ labourer, a married man, having married Rose (born in Steppingley) several years earlier, and living in Brooke End with his 2 young daughters. In June 1916, aged 29, he had recently enlisted, and was undergoing his basic training at the Ampthill Training Camp. This was the training facility in Ampthill Park that the Duke of Bedford had established early in the war. The camp provided training accommodation for recruits not only from the locality but also other parts of the country.

Living in close proximity together the spread of infectious disease was clearly a problem, and Edward developed diphtheria, an aggressive form of ‘tonsillitis’. He returned home to convalesce, but he continued to deteriorate and on 22 June he died at home. He was buried in Eversholt graveyard with full military honours. His grave is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWCG).  

 

Strangely, the next person who died, 10 days later, was also named Edward Oakley. This Oakley had lived in Berry End before the war with his parents, Charles and Martha, and his 6 younger siblings. The Oakleys were close neighbours in Berry End to the Lawsons, and who had lost their son Arthur at Gallipoli the previous year. Before enlisting early in the war, age 19, Edward had been a postman. He had joined the 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, a Battalion formed at the start of the war entirely compromising volunteers. On July 1 he was serving in France, in the front line trenches on the Somme.

For several weeks previously the French Army had been subjected to a major German offensive some distance to the south, at Verdun. The situation of the French was becoming increasingly desperate, and it had been agreed that the British would attempt to distract the German forces by mounting their own offensive. 

120,000 of Kitchener’s 400,000 strong volunteer army were to fight on the front line for the first time, after their 18 months of training. July 1 was the first day of this 2 week long offensive. The Bedforshire 7th Battalion were in the Allied trenches at Carnoy, in a central area of the battlefront. Although the assault that day achieved some limited territorial gains, from the perspective of casualties it was a disastrous day. Many of the advancing troops were caught in no man’s land in front of the German positions that had withstood 6 days of intensive Allied shelling. The resulting 58,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed, was the highest number of any day in the War. 2 of the casualties of the day were from Eversholt.

Edward Oakley was 21 when he died; he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, near the Somme.

 

The other casualty that day was Albert George Cooke. He too had joined the 7th Battalion early in the war. Originally from Ridgmont, before the war he had been living with his parents George and Emma in Rads End, working as a ‘shoe hand finisher’. He was 29 when he died. He also is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

 

The next death was another victim of the Somme offensive.  Alfred Joseph Price died on 27 July, from the wounds he had received earlier. Alfred had been born in Woburn, but before the war he had been living at Berry End with his parents Annie and John, a horsekeeper. Alfred had 2 brothers, one older, one younger. Alfred had worked as a farm labourer, and had joined the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment early in the War. He was 23 when he died. He is also commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

 

Alfred’s death meant that from the tiny community of 6 dwellings in Berry End 3 families had lost sons: the Lawsons, the Oakleys and the Prices.

 

The next war death from Eversholt was in 1917, on 29 April. Benjamin Coles was killed in action in Flanders, fighting with the 6th Battalion in the Cambrai Road assault, that had started 3 weeks previously. He had joined the newly formed 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment (all volunteers) when he enlisted in 1914. Born in North London, he had lived nearly all his life in Eversholt with his parents Rhoda and George. They had moved to Eversholt with their 3 children when they took over the Pheasant Inn in Tingrith Road. Before the war Benjamin had been a gardener. He was 29 when he died. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais.

 

Before the war there were 3 families of Oakleys living in Eversholt, in Berry End, Brook End and Church End. During the war all 3 families lost sons.

Herbert Arthur Oakley was the third Oakley to die from the village. Until 1910 Herbert had lived all his life in Church End, with his father Richard, a gardener at Woburn Abbey, his mother Kate, and his younger sister. In 1910, aged 20, he married Emily, from Stoke Hammond, and together they moved to live near Tring, where he worked as a horseman. However, sometime between 1910 and 1914 he had travelled to Australia, possibly with a view to emigrate. In October 1914 he was working as a hospital orderly in a Brisbane hospital. Then, in June 1915 he enlisted, as a single man (perhaps Emily had died), with the 31st Infantry Battalion. He was to become one of the 330,000 Australians who were to be deployed to fight in the European war. Of this number 60,000 died never to return to Australia, and 180,000 were wounded: a massive proportion of the country’s 5 million population.

Herbert’s battalion embarked for Egypt in November 1915, where the battalion joined forces with other units from elsewhere in Australia to form the 8th Brigade. By May the Brigade was sailing towards northern France, and the Armentieres sector of the front line.

On 13 July, within a week or so of the Brigade arriving at the front line, it was thrust into a disastrous offensive against the German positions at Fromelles. The attack cost 5,500 Australian casualties, and no territorial ground was taken. The shattered Brigade was withdrawn from the line, and it was only from October that limited fighting deployment was resumed.

Either during the battle at Fromelles, or in one of the subsequent engagements, Herbert, working as a stretcher bearer and first aider, was seriously injured. He returned to convalesce in England, and subsequently was discharged to the care of his parents in Eversholt. However, his condition continued to deteriorate and he died, aged 27 on November 4 1917. He is buried in the graveyard, his grave listed by the CWGC.

 

The other death in 1917 was that of Frederick Brazier, who was killed in action on 13 July, at the start of the major Allied offensive against the heavily defended German positions to the East of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele. Born in Eversholt, before the War he was living in Rads End with his wife Annie and his 2 young daughters Florence and Gladys. He had worked as a general labourer. In 1914, aged 35, he joined the Northamptonshire Regiment, and was subsequently transferred to the 12 Battalion Royal Fusiliers. He is commemorated, along with 55,000 others who died in the Ypres area who don’t have a known burial location, on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

 

The middle two years of the war had brought tragedy to many of Eversholt’s families. But as the war reached its climax worse was yet to come.



1918



By 1918 the War on the Western front had already cost over 1 million casualties, and the military manpower, material and economic resources of both the Allied and German powers were becoming increasingly depleted. However, in April 1917 USA had declared war on Germany, after the German U Boat fleet had tried to ‘starve Britain into submission’ by sinking American merchant ships. Although America’s army wasn’t going to play a major role in the conflict, its economic and industrial support for the Allies proved crucial. Despite the increasing significance of tanks in the conflict, of which the Allies had a significant superiority, the fighting remained dominated by artillery exchanges (responsible for 70% of all battlefield deaths) and close quarter trench warfare.  

The War was reaching its climactic conclusion, but before peace was established Eversholt had a further 7 fatalities. All of these deaths resulted from the fighting in the Flanders and Somme area of the Western Front. 

 

The first of these was John Thompson. Born in 1881 the son of Sarah and Richard Thompson, he was brought up living in Berry End. However, age 20 he was living in lodgings in Luton, working as a labourer. And by 1911 he was living in Tebworth, having married Bertha, whose own family also lived in Tebworth. They had 4 young children, the oldest aged 6. In 1914, aged 34, he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. He had severed throughout the whole war, but on 22 March 1918, age 38, he was fatally injured. He is commemorated at the Ham British Cemetery at Muille-Villette. 



During the war two Eversholt families lost 2 of their sons, first the Burges brothers and later the Harris brothers. The next two deaths from the village were Samuel and Frederick Burges. The Burges family were not typical village residents; in that they didn’t have long established ties to Eversholt. The father, also Samuel, was a career soldier, and had been a Sergeant Major in the 21st Hussars until he retired from the army in 1894. Following his retirement his family lived in Canterbury for several years, where both of his sons were born. By 1901 Samuel had been appointed as stud superintendent at Woburn Abbey, and the family had moved to Froxfield. As well as the two brothers there were two sisters, an older sister Agnes, and a younger sister Winifred.

Like their father, both Samuel and Frederick were career soldiers. At the start of the War Samuel, then age 31, was in the Lancaster Fusiliers; he had married in 1913, and he and his wife had a home in North London, close to his wife’s family. Frederick, 8 years his brother’s junior, was a Sergeant in the Yorkshire Light Infantry.

 

By the beginning of 1918 the pressures on Germany were growing substantially. The naval blockade of their North Sea ports was becoming increasingly debilitating. There were food shortages with starvation, civil unrest with rioting and looting in both Germany and Austria. Following the Russian revolution in late 1917 troops had been transferred from the Eastern front to the Western front, but despite this benefit the overall military manpower available to Germany had been massively depleted by the war; and there were no further reserves to draw upon. This contrasted with the Allied position, whose military capability had been strengthened by forces from the Commonwealth, particularly from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. And America had joined the Allies, and further forces from America were anticipated (American troops first engaged in fighting in September 1918).

On April 7 the German forces started a major offensive campaign in a final attempt to defeat the Allies. For 3 weeks there was intense fighting over a 25 mile front, centred around Ypres in western Belgium. Despite some initial success by the Germans their advance was finally halted by the end of April

 

Both Burges brothers were killed in action at this time, in the Ypres area, within 2 weeks of each other. Samuel, age 35, was killed on 11 April, and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial; Frederick, age 27, was killed on 22 April, and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

After the War Samuel’s wife continued to live in North London; she never remarried.

The brothers’ parents continued to live in Eversholt, and are buried in the churchyard. Their gravestone commemorates their two sons who died in the first World War; and also their two grandsons who died in the second World War. Tragically the sons of both of their daughters Agnes and Winifred were also to be killed.  One grandson serviced in the RAF, the other in the Army.

 

Before the war James Gazeley was living Rads End with his father William, his grandmother Eliza (both had been born in Eversholt) and his 2 brothers. He worked as a farm labourer. In November 1914, age 23, he enlisted in the Bedfordshire Regiment; his enlistment papers demonstrated his immaculate ‘copper plate’ handwriting. In November 1916 he married Lillian, and for a period they lived together in Kempston. He had transferred to the Sherwood Foresters, and had returned to the front. On 21 April, age 27, he was killed in action. He is buried in the Aveluy Wood Cemetery, Mesnil-Martinart. His wife Lilian continued to live in Kempston with their son.

 

Following shortly after the deaths of the 2 Burges brothers and James Gazeley, Harry (aka Henry) Miller was killed in action on 8 May, also in the Ypres area. Before the war he had lived with his parents Mary and Charles, and his younger brother Edward, at Higher Rads End. He had been a farm labourer. At the start of the war aged 23 he had joined the Bedfordshire Regiment. He was 27 when he died. He too is commemorated at Tyne Cot.

 

Frederick (aka Cyril) Snoxall lived with his father George, a gardener, and his mother Margaret in Lower Rads End before the War. He worked as a farm labourer. He was 18 when the War started, and he enlisted in the Guards Brigade, Machine Gun Regiment. He was killed aged 22 on 10 September. He is buried at Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais.

 

Arthur Shearwood was the son of Josiah, a labourer, and Alma, and lived at 40 Water End before the War. He was the youngest of 4 children. In 1914, aged 17, he enlisted into the Bedfordshire Regiment, and subsequently transferred to the Norfolk Regiment. He was killed just 4 weeks before the Armistice, on 9 October, and is buried at the Mount Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport.

 

By the end of September 1918 the German high command had recognised that their military situation was untenable, and defeat was inevitable. Service morale had collapsed, with significant levels of desertions, and there had been a rebellion in the Navy. However, the terms of the German surrender proved difficult to agree upon, firstly because of disagreements between the European Allies and the Americans, and then because of the harsh terms that the Allies had proposed. But on 11 November Germany finally agreed to the onerous terms proposed, and the Armistice was signed. 

 

The war was over, but the war related deaths of Eversholt residents continued, as in 1920 there were two further deaths. These were of two brothers, Alfred and George Harris, who died within 2 months of each other. Both are buried in Eversholt Churchyard, and, although the circumstances of their deaths are different, both are listed as War Graves by the CWGC.

Before the war Alfred and George were living in the Causeway Witts End with their parents Arthur (a carpenter and builder, originally from Cardington) and Mary (born in Berry End). George was an undertaker, Alfred the clerk to his father’s business. They had 3 other brothers, and 2 younger sisters.

 

Alfred enlisted in the Welsh Regiment in 1914, when he was aged 20. He must have been engaged in front line fighting throughout the war. On 29 November 1918 (3 weeks after the Armistice) he may have sustained some major injuries, or perhaps developed some serious ill-health. The circumstances aren’t documented, but one can speculate that munitions, or transportation, may have been involved. He was transferred to the Regimental base in Shrewsbury, and discharged ‘unfit for service’ on 27 March 1919. He returned to live with his parents in Eversholt, but his condition continued to deteriorate and he died from his injuries on 1 May 1920, aged 25.

 

George enlisted in July 1916. Originally working as ground crew in the Royal Flying Corp (which had been a part of the Army), by 1918 he was a Corporal in the newly formed RAF. He was discharged after the war, but evidently he was not in good health, and he returned to Eversholt. His health continued to deteriorate, and on 2 July 1920 (2 months after his brother Alfred had died) he died. His death certificate confirms that he died of TB meningitis, aged 30. 

The CWGC had the policy of attributing the deaths of all servicemen who died before 1922 as ‘war deaths’, hence his inclusion on the CWGC register.

 

Together with the 2 deaths that followed after the War and the 17 that occurred during the conflict, Eversholt had lost 19 of its residents to the War. A total of 50-60 men from Eversholt would have enlisted, so over a third of those who enlisted were killed.

 

 The War had brought about many individual tragedies, and devastation and irreparable change to communities throughout the land.

Researched by James Nott

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