Robert Hill of Olinda Place, Rolle Quay, Barnstaple

In looking for a soldier who died one hundred years ago this month, during the long campaign now referred to as Passchendaele, I came across Private R Hill, a young Barnstaple man.

Robert Hill father notified of death NDJ 13 9 1917

Robert Hill feared missing NDJ 6 9 1917The snippet above appeared in the North Devon Journal on the 13th September 1917, the article alongside having appeared in the preceding week.

The letter quoted, sent to the family by his commanding officer, shows the formality and jingoistic attitude of the time beside the quite matter of fact but horrific detail of his probable demise.

Private Hill’s other brothers are described too. Private J Hill, having died at Ypres two years earlier, and three others still alive and serving in various places and forces.

Rice blind advert

Abbott blind advertThe article says that Private Hill had been employed by as a blind maker in the High Street. The shop fronts in Victorian and Edwardian photographs of the High Street are notable for the ubiquitous presence of blinds, which could be drawn out as a canopy to shade the windows. The blind making business of JS Rice had been taken over by SS Abbott in 1911 and by 1917 seems to have diversified into the supply of a variety of useful items – from dark blinds to screen “lights from Zepps” to “ladies’ toilet requisites” and “worm pills for dogs”.

Stengel c.1905 Bple High St postcard box
Barnstaple High Street c.1905 Stengel & Co      Local Studies collection – postcard box

The detail from the newspaper article gives us enough information to be able to find Private Hill in the 1911 Census and here he is below with the brothers as mentioned above – his own occupation as a blind maker, and Alfred’s, as a police constable confirming that this is the right family, and Private Hill’s first name as being Robert.

Robert Hill 1911 Census aged 18 son of Alfred Olinda Place

We can see by the Census form that there had been fourteen children in the family, three of whom had died. The Hills seem to have been a bit confused by the form and its requirements and have listed all of their children, including some who had possibly left home, and then crossing them out. However this is very useful from a family history point of view.

Dead Hill baby 26 11 1896 NDJ

This entry from the North Devon Journal births column of 26th November 1896 includes one of these dead children. Of the ten babies listed in that week two had “since died” and another had been stillborn – a solemn indication of the infant mortality rate at that time.

1911 Census cover Hill 9 Olinda Place

Robert’s father Alfred has described himself in the Census as a pilot – the Enumerator has added the word River to qualify this, and turning to the cover of the form we can see that the family lived at 9 Olinda Place, Rolle Quay – then in the Pilton East area for official purposes.

Olinda Place was a terrace of eleven properties at the far end of Rolle Quay nearest the confluence of the Yeo and the Taw. Demolished in the late 1950s/early 1960s as particularly prone to flooding, they were home to many who earned their living on the river. Alfred would have guided larger vessels along the estuary, avoiding sandbanks and the treacherous Bar at its entrance.

Olinda Place 0S 1 500 1889
Olinda Place, situated between Western Terrace and the railway siding which serviced the wharves and mills of Rolle Quay. The Civic Centre now stands on the site of The Lake, or Monkey Island
B144 0 19 Mill Road flooding c.1945
                  Flooding at Mill Road c.1945                        B144/0/19 North Devon Record Office

River Yeo2 1930

This photograph, from the Barnstaple Town Council collection held at North Devon Record Office, shows flooding at Western Terrace, Mill Road – the houses which backed on to Olinda Place. If you go to Rolle Quay you can still see the places in the walls where planks would be put across the gaps between the buildings to stop all but the highest tides.


Crossing the Bar has been the downfall of even the most experienced sailors, who may have traversed the world but died within sight of home, as a walk around the churchyard at Northam will testify, a sailing ship being at the mercy of the winds in the days before motive power. Joseph Besly Gribble, in his Memorials of Barnstaple published in 1830, notes “the Lady Rodney Steam Packet, the first steam vessel that ever came over the bar” on July 22nd 1827. However sailing ships continued to be a major part of Barnstaple’s river traffic up until the Second World War as this picture of Rolle Quay in the 1930s shows.

Of the eleven houses in Olinda Place in 1911 three were occupied by river pilots – as well as Alfred Hill, there being Joseph Stribling and father and son John and Claude Roulstone – and another by a sailor, the husband of young mother Winifred Shambrook, himself away from home on Census night.

I have not been able to find any further newspaper items about Robert, only a young man when he died, but have found items which appear to relate to his brothers and their life on the river.

Edward Hill barge sinks 1936

In 1936 the barge on which Edward Hill and Claude Stribling were fetching gravel sank in the estuary – an occupational hazard with the vessel lying low in the water and coming upstream on the tide. Another brother Henry, a telephone engineer, was involved in an incident with a water bailiff in 1943.

Neither have I been able to find any further war records, apart from his medal award, relating to Robert on the Ancestry website, not even an indication of a grave or memorial. However on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s own website Robert’s final resting place is recorded as being in Cement House Cemetery – which seems an unfortunate name given his commanding officer’s account of his death.

Robert Hill grave registration CWGC website

This name is explained on the website in this way – “Cement House” was the military name given to a fortified farm building on the Langemark-Boesinghe (now Boezinge) road. The original Cement House Cemetery (now Plot I, an irregular group of 231 graves) was begun here at the end of August 1917 and used by the 4th and 17th Division burial officers, by field ambulances and by units in the line until April 1918.

Perhaps Robert Hill lies literally where he fell.


Sources –

North Devon Journal – British Newspaper Archive (online – available free in the Local Studies Centre, charge for printouts)

1911 Census – Ancestry Library Edition – (free access available in the Local Studies Centre and any Devon library, subject to conditions)

Map – 1:500 scale Ordnance Survey (1889) Local Studies Library

Photograph of Rolle Quay  – Len Stevens collection, Local Studies Library

Memorials of Barnstaple John Besly Gribble – 1994 edition, reprint Lazarus Press, Bideford.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website –

Barnstaple High Street – Stengel & Co postcard – Local Studies Library collection

Mill Road photograph – North Devon Record Office – Barnstaple Town Council collection



William Darch – and his many namesakes

I thought that this month I would return to looking in depth at just one particular soldier who had lost his life one hundred years ago. I chose as my subject a young man by the name of William Darch who died in France in July 1917.

It always surprises me, when doing any World War 1 research, how many casualties shared the same name. I’m not any expert in probability but the recurrence of so many makes me aware of just how high the total death toll must have been.

I could see, when looking for articles in the British Newspaper Archive, that there were many William Darches living in North Devon at the same time. However, when using the linked records aspect of the Ancestry website, I realised that “my” William Darch had been linked to the Census details of another, both living in Pilton, a short walk from eachother. I then thought that perhaps I could use this as a cautionary exercise in taking care, wherever possible, to cross reference family history research.

This blog follows just a few of the William Darches who were living in North Devon and who also served in the First World War. I have tried to identify each man in the 1911 Census to help to clarify that these were separate individuals.

The William Darch who died in France on July 31st was the eldest son of William and Polly Darch. In 1911 the family are living at 10 Priory Gardens, a line of cottages with deep front gardens, above and to the east of the church. Both Williams, father and son, are described as glove cutters and the obituary notice confirms that the younger, and probably the elder too, worked at the glove factory on the other side of the churchyard between Ladywell and Dark Lane. William Senior had been born in Swansea, perhaps this was why his son joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

William Darch 1911 Census

The Census notes that the couple had been married for 25 years and had had seven children, four of whom had died. The younger William was then aged 22 with a ten year gap between him and the next sibling Harry. No other children appear in either the 1901 or 1891 Census records and none of the family were baptised at Pilton Church. However the burial register records four Darch children of two years or less in age between 1888 and 1908 which, as there was no cremation in those days, almost certainly includes William’s siblings.

William Darch1 obituary NDJThe North Devon Journal reports that, on the day after William’s death, his parents had received a letter from him saying that he was camping in a little wood and that there was “something on”.

William Darch’s grave lies on the other side of the French border in the New Irish Farm Cemetery, West Vlaanderen, Belgium, just to the north of Ypres. Many soldiers were re-interred here from other cemeteries and so this final resting place does not necessarily indicate where he fell.

William Darch1 obituary

It would seem that William was a single man and had joined up eighteen months beforehand at a time when conscription had been introduced. The local papers include many reports from the Appeal Tribunals where individuals could put forward their personal circumstances and  employers could argue the case for retaining their workers. Later that year another William Darch, a twist hand at the Derby Lace Factory had been passed for service at home, labour unit only etc and given conditional exemption. The 1911 Census, as seen below, records William Darch, lace twister, then aged 36 years with two young children, living in Princess Street.

William Darch Lace Twister 1911 Census

Halfway down Pilton Street, sandwiched between larger Georgian properties, is a small cottage, formerly the home of another William Darch and his wife Ethel. This William died in hospital in Basra suffering from malarial disease, coupled with yellow jaundice in December 1916. William and Ethel, née Gratton, had been married at Pilton Church on 30th May 1914.

William Darch2 1911 Census

Here we see him in 1911 with his parents living at the top of Pilton Street.

His obituary, in the North Devon Journal, states that he had been treated three times for the same disease and had been expected to recover from this last bout.

At home he had worked as a sawyer and liner at the Newport Cabinet Works, having been previously employed in the same trade at the Raleigh Works, later Shapland and Petter, by the Long Bridge.

William Darch2 obituary NDJ


A clever whist player, his name can often be found in the weekly scores in the local paper in the years before the War.

William Darch2 memorial notice1

Note that the headline and text of his obituary, published in the North Devon Journal and reproduced here, refer to William’s death as being in India but that he actually died in Basra, then in Mesopotamia. The 6th Devons had served in India so perhaps this led to the confusion.


William had enlisted in the early stages of the war, and so he and Ethel had had only a few months of marriage beforehand.

I have not found any evidence of her re-marriage so can only assume that she lived out her days as a widow.


Our next William Darch was the son of Mr T Darch of Lovacott. He had been sent home from the Front suffering from frostbite, returning to active service in the June of 1915. In September 1916 the Journal reports that he had died in action on August 26th.

William Darch3 frostbite 1915 NDJ                  William Darch3 NDJ official notice received

Thomas Darch Lovacott 1911 Census

This William proved more elusive to trace in the 1911 Census. I found a Thomas Darch, who I assumed to be his father, shown above as living in Horwood in 1911 but was puzzled to see he had said that he had only been married 13 years. Tracing him back, using his place of birth of Abbotsham, I found that in 1891 he had been married to Clara E. and had an infant son Alfred. At first I could not find him in 1901 but found 10 year old Alfred, together with an 8 year old William Darch and their 5 year old sister Minnie (born at Horwood), listed as “wife’s grandson/daughter” at the Royal Mail public house, Bideford, run by Albert DARK and his wife Lavinia. Marriage records show a Thomas Darch marrying a Clara Ellen Marland in 1890 and a Lavinia Marland marrying an Albert John Dark in 1881 so all that fitted.

Clara Ellen Darch death NDJ Jan 1898

I found a death notice in the Journal stating that Clara had died on January 3rd 1898 aged only 23 years, perhaps as many women did, in childbirth. There is no child mentioned as buried with her in the Bideford burial register so one would have to buy her death certificate to confirm the cause of her demise. According to the General Register Office indexes Thomas Darch had married Emily Jane Moore relatively soon afterwards, at some time during the first quarter of 1898, and I then found this new family recorded at Horwood in 1901 with young children Frank, aged 4, and Edith aged 2. Emily’s mother and a young nephew are living with them, although not, as we have seen, his children by his first marriage. Frank’s age seems to pre-date his parents’ marriage so he appears to have been born illegitimately.

Frank Darch on leave Feb 1916

Whether Frank was Thomas Darch’s natural son or not, he is described as such in the above cutting which refers to his being home on leave in February 1916. The account of William’s death refers to another son of Thomas Darch having died previously in the conflict but I have not been able to confirm whether this was Frank or Alfred.

Our last William Darch, actually William Henry Darch of Combe Martin can be found in the 1911 Census, living at home with his parents at Chapel Cottage (this detail is given on the other side of the page), Castle Street. The Census tells us that he was the only child of William and Lucy Darch and that he was then aged 23 and working as a carpenter.

William Darch 4 CM 1911 Census

William Darch 4 CM marriage NDJ 27 5 1915 8eWilliam was married in the village church on Whit Monday 1915 to Agnes Gubb, a local girl. As was usual at the time, the Journal article is very descriptive of the wedding attire – white dresses were not standard wear and so each event warranted a detailed account.

As said above, there were many people of the same name, even with the Henry added in, and I could not easily find from the newspapers whether he had served, and died or survived, or been granted exemption. As there are no Censuses available later than 1911 I thought I would check the 1939 Register to see whether he was alive at the beginning of World War Two.

I found Agnes, listed as a widow, living at The Weir, Combe Martin with her daughter Marjorie who had been born in June 1917. This register was updated until relatively recent times with the new surnames of any women who subsequently married. We can see then not only Marjorie’s married name but also that Agnes herself must have remarried after 1939.

Agnes Darch 1939 Register

Looking back through for a death notice in the local papers I found these items from 1933.

So William had served, but been injured and had afterwards lived on the other side of the country, away from his wife and young daughter.

Star and Garter Home, Folkestone

The first Star and Garter Home had been opened in 1916 in a former public house in Richmond, from which it took its name, to care for the severely disabled young men returning from the Front – the average age of the occupants being, at that time, 22. The home at Sandgate, near Folkestone, was purchased in 1919.

I then checked the “burnt” WW1 service records to see if William’s had survived the fire at the War Office during the Blitz and found that, luckily, his had done so. From this we can see that he had enlisted in November 1915, only months after his marriage. The record is not easy to read but he seems to have been discharged on 16th January 1917, only months before his daughter’s birth. A Ministry of Pensions form dated 1st Feb 1919 gives neurasthenia as the cause of his discharge and notes the assessment of his disability at 30% to be reviewed in six months time. Para 392 (xvi) KR (Kings Regulations) No longer physically for war service and the additional note Character fair.

Neurasthenia, an outdated term nowadays, was also known as shell shock and perhaps today would be classed as ME or post traumatic stress disorder. It was given as the cause of many WW1 discharges, including that of my own great grandfather who, although he returned to civilian life, seemed to have had personality issues and a disablement to overcome.

The Journal report of William’s funeral in June 1933 comments that the sympathy of parishioners was evidenced by the large number who attended, and the extensive list of floral tributes looks to have included most, if not all, of the village. The funeral was carried out with military honours and the procession was led by the town band, many bandsmen also being members of the British Legion. Almost 15 years after the end of the Great War it serves as a salutary reminder that not all of its casualties died between the years of 1914 and 1918.

As said, there were many William Darches living in North Devon at the time of the First World War, and of these there were others who also served and possibly lost their lives.

Although this month’s blog has not, after all, turned out the way I expected, I hope that it has illuminated the difficulties of confirming the identities of like-named ancestors and underlined the importance of cross-checking with as many sources as possible.

The more of these stories I research the more I come to appreciate and understand the long term effects of the First World War which, when I was growing up, had been overshadowed to an extent by those of the more recent Second.


Pilton parish registers – transcripts – Local Studies Centre, Barnstaple

North Devon Journal; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette: – British Newspaper Archive (online – available free in the Local Studies Centre, charge for printouts)

1911 Census; British Army WW1 service records: – Ancestry Library Edition – (free access available in the Local Studies Centre and any Devon library, subject to conditions)

1901 Census; 1939 Register; Bideford burial register:  – findmypast (online – available free in the Local Studies Centre, charge for printouts)

Photograph of Star and Garter Home, Folkestone –

History of the Star and Garter Homes –

June 1917

One hundred years ago, in June 1917, the Messines offensive was launched, the battle running from the 7th to the 14th of that month. Messines is a village in Flanders, Belgium and the aim was to capture a German-held ridge and thence go forward to Passchendaele and the coast.

London victims of the raid NDJ 21 6 2917 2f

At home, on the 13th of June, London suffered an air raid. After successes using Zeppelin airships to launch attacks on Great Yarmouth, Kings Lynn, and London, the Germans switched their attention to the use of Gotha aeroplanes.

Little victims of the raid NDJ 21 6 1917 2dThis next attack on the capital resulted in the deaths of 162 civilians, the highest death toll from a single air raid on Britain during WW1, and inspired the verse reproduced here in the North Devon Journal – the sentiment that bombing the innocent will not win wars resounds down the years but the lesson remains unlearned. A further attack, on 7th July, killed a further 57.

Royal name change NDJ 21 6 1917 8cMeanwhile, the Royal Family had come to the decision to adopt more British sounding surnames, and at the same time, to restrict the titles of Prince and Princess to those in direct line to the throne. Existing princes and princesses were to be ennobled and so Prince Louis of Battenberg was to become a marquis, having been forced to resign as First Sea Lord, and being the father of Louis, later Earl Mountbatten.

Back at home in North Devon the casualties from the War continued to rise, due to battle, injury or sickness, with casualties from the various fronts. The North Devon Journal of Thursday 7th June 1917 carried 26 death notices, half of which were directly related to the War.


WRF Miller obit WT 9 5 17 3bAmong the death announcements in this week were those of George Henry Tucker of Northam, in Mesopotamia, and of Lieut William Reginald Francis Miller. Lieut Miller was the only son of William Miller, then living in Exmouth, who had followed his own father William Walter Miller as a director of the Derby Lace Factory. Lieut Miller had in fact died in action on the 25th of April that year and the Western Times reported that he was “believed killed” in May, noting that many employees of the lace factory had written to the parents to express their “deep sympathy … in their anxiety“.

Goldsworthy and Millman Ilf WT 30 6 17 2eThe deaths of Stanley Millman and Linden Goldsworthy of Ilfracombe were recorded in the Western Times. Both had been killed in action in France.


John Walter Harris NDJ 28 3 17 5eThe death of John Walter Harris, who had been reported missing from the 7th of June, was not confirmed officially until the end of March 1918. What agonies his family must have gone through in the meantime can only be imagined. The memorial notice below was placed in the paper by his sisters in 1930.

John Walter Harris NDJ 29 5 1930 8e

Chas Pidgeon NDJ 12 7 17 5c

The only direct reference to a death due to the conflict at Messines comes in a report lifted from a Stroud newspaper concerning that of the son of a former Barnstaple resident, Charles Pidgeon, who had worked at Raleigh Cabinet Works (Shapland and Petter) as a French polisher, a profession into which his son had followed.

The names of Friend and Reed are still associated today with their respective villages of Shirwell and Braunton. Both families were to lose a son in the summer of 1917 and the accounts of the well attended memorial services reflect their standing in the community.

According to the 1901 Census, this particular Friend family had in fact only moved to Shirwell after the births of Thomas and Ernest, both mentioned in the article below published on Thomas’ death.

TW Friend NDJ 14 6 17 5c   TW Friend memorial service NDJ 21 6 17 5b

Thos Friend memorial notice NDJ 6 6 18 8e

John Friend tribunal NDJ 25 1 17 5e

Earlier in the year their father William had attended a tribunal to oppose the conscription of his youngest son, John Marshall, who was a horseman on the family farm. His case was upheld.

Ernest is described as wounded and missing from April 23rd. He was later “presumed dead” and the entry below shows the allowances then paid to his father.

Ernest Friend Soldiers Effects Ancestry

Ernest Reed of Braunton is shown here, in the 1922 Census, living at home in Church Street with his parents and younger sister. He was then working as a postman, as, according to his obituary notice six years later, he continued to do until enlisting two years previously.

Ernest Reed 1911 Census cropped



Later in the month the deaths of William A Jewell of Appledore and Walter Lewis of Barnstaple were confirmed, both from fever – the former in Basra from cerebro spinal fever, the latter from malarial fever in India.


Joseph Heggadon NDJ 21 6 17 2d

Sadly it was not just battle and illness which claimed the lives of the young enlisted men. This sad account describes how Joseph Heggadon of Petrockstowe drowned whilst bathing off the Isle of Wight with other members of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Perhaps he was not used to the effects of tidal currents, living further inland at some distance from the sea.


Sources –

Ancestry Library Edition – 1911 Census, UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929, Soldiers Who Died in the Great War – (free access available in the Local Studies Centre and any Devon library, subject to conditions)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal, Western Times – (online – available free in the Local Studies Centre, charge for printouts)


The Battle of Arras, April – May 1917

This month sees the centenary of the Battle of Arras which took place from the 9th of April to the 16th of May 1917. This was a major offensive involving troops from the four corners of the British Empire who attacked trenches held by the army of Imperial Germany to the east of the city of Arras, France.

It was planned in co-operation with the French and to coincide with their forthcoming offensive on the German positions topping the Chemin-des-Dames ridge, an area of high ground north west of Rheims.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website states that in 38 days of fighting around Arras, some 300,000 servicemen on both sides were wounded, missing or dead. The British Army suffered an average of 4,000 wounded and killed every day: the highest average daily casualty rate of any British offensive on the Western Front. For many, the combat they experienced at Arras would be the most brutal of the war.

Not only ground troops were involved – the CWGC website continues – in April 1917, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) fought for control of the skies above Arras. The losses they suffered were so heavy that the period became known to British aircrews as ‘Bloody April’. After the war, this location was chosen for the memorial to all those flyers of the British Empire who died on the Western Front but whose final resting place is unknown. The RFC had the vital role of scouting enemy positions, directing the fire of British artillery, and attacking enemy positions and troops. They outnumbered the Germans but their aircraft were old and almost obsolete. Using superior technology and tactics the Germans inflicted terrible losses on their RFC counterparts. Manfred Von Richthofen – better known as the ‘Red Baron’ claimed over 20 ‘kills’ during April alone.

Battle for Arras summary NDJ 17 Jan 1918The article alongside is part of a summary of the progress of the War printed in the North Devon Journal in the January of 1918. Throughout the War there appear weekly updates on the campaigns in the various theatres of war as well as news of North Devon soldiers, both on the front and at home. One such weekly update, published on Thursday 10th May and written on the Friday of the previous week, is reproduced below.

Arras NDJ 10.5 1917

One casualty of the battle, Herbert Eller, has already featured in one of our earlier blogs. The letters that he wrote to his mother from the Front, including many first hand experiences, were published in the North Devon Journal. His story is particularly poignant as he had a German father, and you can read it by clicking here Herbert Eller 1891-1917 Private 13180 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment Arras

E Bale casualty report NDJ 3.5 1917

More fortunate, and now safely returned to Blighty, was Bideford soldier Private E Bale who had been wounded at the Somme and again during the battle for Arras. As he is not mentioned on the town memorial, he appears to have survived the war.

Spencer Bassett 1

Local football fans and, in particular, supporters of Exeter City FC would have been saddened to read of the death of Spencer Bassett, a half back who had played for Arsenal.

Spencer Bassett 2






These reports appeared in the Western Times, where he was described as “a real good fellow and a right cheery pal”.


Ernest J Townsend MM award NDJ 30.8.17

In August 1917 it was announced in the North Devon Journal that young Ernest Townsend of Combe Martin had been awarded the Military Medal for his conspicuous gallantry and bravery during the battle.

Aged only 20 he had already served three years on the front line.

Again, as he does not appear on the village memorial, he appears to have survived the war.


Farley, coal business, Lynton 22.11.17This article, from November 1917, almost asks for acceptance of an “incomer” to Lynton taking over a local coal business, on the grounds that he has served his country at Arras and Popperinghe.

Gratitude of Arras Western Times 19.5.1917


The Western Times published the thanks of the people of Arras to the British Army on the 19th of May 1917. Arras is a major place of commemoration of the war and, although I have not been able to find whether the guns mentioned still exist, is where a huge memorial and cemetery designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens can be found. More about WW1 memorials in and around Arras

Download Commonwealth War Graves Commission Arras Guide

Arras Memorial CWGC

Despite the up to date reports appearing in the local press there were times where, due to the nature of the ongoing campaign, news of specific casualties was delayed substantially, which must have caused their loved ones much anxiety and distress.

It was not until nearly a year after the event that the death of Private Lawrence Couch of St Giles in the Wood could be confirmed to his wife and parents.

Death notification Pte Lawrence Couch NDJ 11.4.1918

Also a year later the North Devon Journal could report the award of a crucifix in memory of those of the parish who had died in the War to Horwood Church. This was made from a shell, machine gun bullets and shrapnel.

Crucifix from Arras Horwood and NT 6.6.1918

Crucifix, Horwood Church c John Riddington Young

The crucifix may still be found in the church, recorded here by John Riddington Young in his 2001 booklet St Michael’s, Horwood.


Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Click here for website

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal, Western Times (online – available free in the Local Studies Centre, charge for printouts)

St Michael’s, Horwood – John Riddington Young (2001) Reference copy available in the Local Studies Centre, Barnstaple


Saki special edition

Hector Hugh Munro by EO Hoppe (1913)


One of those killed in the Battle of the Somme was the novelist Hector Hugh Munro, who grew up in North Devon, and is more usually known by his pen name of Saki.

Saki’s history is well documented elsewhere so I will just include those aspects of his life more particular to North Devon and/or which can be evidenced using resources that we can access either online or in hard copy in our Local Studies Centre. This includes the Local Studies Library, North Devon Record Office, and North Devon Athenaeum and is open Wednesday – Friday 10am-5pm.


Hector Hugh Munro was born into a military family – his father, himself a Lieutenant, came from an army family and his mother from a naval one. The couple were married in Bengal in 1866 and their marriage was recorded in the Pall Mall Gazette as well as the local Western Times and Exeter and Plymouth Gazette.

Munro Mercer marriage Jan 1867 EPG

Charles’ father, also Charles, and his mother Lucy had both been born in Calcutta, according to the 1851 Census, which finds them in Tawton Road, Newport, Barnstaple – then in the parish of Bishops Tawton. Tawton Road would seem by its place in the census records to be what is now South Street.

Lucy & Charles Munro Tawton Rd 1851 Census

The family’s moves can be seen in the birthplaces of the six children – from Barnstaple to Bunalopole (sic), Chittagong and Chunai (sic), in the East Indies, back to Bedford, England, then to Barnstaple.  I have not found the family in the 1861 Census, just Charlotte as a visitor at a vicarage in Strenshall, North Riding , Yorkshire. Her birthplace is then more accurately recorded as Barrackpore and her Rank, Profession or Occupation as “daughter of Colnl Munro”. By 1871 Lucy has been widowed and is living further along South Street in Clarence Place with her two daughters and a servant.

Mary’s father Captain Mercer’s benevolence is recorded in the North Devon Journal as having given food and sustenance to the poor of the parish of Heanton, in which  Chiv(e)nor (their home as recorded above) lies, over Christmas and New year 1869.

Captain Mercer's benevolence NDJ 1869In May of that year he had moved and the house at Chiv(e)nor was up for rent. However by 1870 he was selling furniture from his subsequent home at King’s Close, Newport – changes of address perhaps related to his Naval service.Heanton for rent May 1869 NDJ

King's Close furniture for sale

Meanwhile Charles and Mary’s married life continued overseas. I cannot locate a birth announcement for Ethel but those of Charles, in 1869, and, in 1871, that of the future Saki, followed from British Burmah, as recorded in the North Devon Journal.

Saki birth reported in NDJ Feb 1871

Mary death report NDJ March 1872

It was thought wise that his mother should return to the safety of  England to be with the family to have her fourth baby. However, whilst walking the country lanes in early 1872, she was involved in an accident, being charged by a stray cow, both mother and unborn child dying as a result. (AJ Langguth, below)

Mary Frances Munro burial at BT 1872Mary is recorded in the Bishops Tawton burial register as having been resident at Newport Terrace, a group of Georgian houses near the bottom of Newport Road. Basil Northover, one of our local researchers, compiled a study of the residents of Newport Terrace from its being built up to the 2000s and we keep a manuscript copy in our Local Studies Centre. However this does not mention either the Munro or Mercer family in its index. It is not clear from the burial register at which number she was staying and there are some periods for which Basil Northover was unable to confirm the owner or tenant of a particular house, which may be the case here. It is possible that Lucy had moved here from her earlier address at Clarence Place.

According to Saki’s biographer AJ Langguth, the bereaved Captain Munro then took a large villa for his mother, sisters and children. Consequently the remaining children stayed with their paternal grandmother and aunts in England whilst their father returned to his Army career in Burma.

Broadgate Villa 1858 Desborough Family
Broadgate Villa in 1858

Broadgate Villa, in Pilton, was part of a small estate then owned by Colonel Hugh R Hibbert, retired, of Her Majesty’s 7th Regiment of Royal Fusiliers. His widow Sarah is named in a mortgage of 1916 for “Broadgate, Broadgate Villa, and a field called Mill Park and the river running through it” which is held by North Devon Record Office (Document reference – B464/22). The Broadgate Estate was eventually sold off in 1918 and a copy of the particulars, plans and conditions of sale are held by the North Devon Athenaeum (Document reference – B81-13).

North Devon Record Office hold a series of leases, mortgages etc relating to the various properties belonging to the estate. Broadgate Villa is nowadays divided into two houses, Fairfield and Fairmead, but the extent of its grounds can be seen in the 1:500 Ordnance Survey map of 1889.

Broadgate Villa OS 1500 1889

The 1881 Census finds the young Hector living there with his sister Ethel, elder brother Charles having been sent away to school. Charles is recorded, in the same census, as one of 42 boy boarders attending Pencarwick School, run by Charles R Carr, schoolmaster in holy orders, at 10 and 11 Louisa Terrace, Exmouth, with three assistant schoolmasters, a matron, cook, waiting maid, kitchen maid, two housemaids, and two washerwomen. Pencarwick SchoolBy 1893 Pencarwick was advertising its special class for preparation for the Royal Navy, based on “authoritative assurances that “uncrammed” boys are preferred on board the Britannia”.

hhmunro-1881-for-blog The head of the household at Broadgate Villa is Hector’s grandmother, Lucy Munro, and other occupants are a servant and the aunts, Charlotte ( known as Tom) and Augusta. These were the aunts who would find future fame, or infamy, in Saki’s short stories. Lucy died in 1882 and was also buried at Bishops Tawton, despite then living in Pilton. After this the house would be run by the aunts…

Lucy Munro burial BT 1881

The Lumber Room, one of Saki’s short stories, concerns a boy who is punished for a misdemeanour at the table by being left at home whilst the rest of the family go out for an impromptu outing to the beach, and is likely to have developed from a real incident at the house. I won’t spoil the story by saying how the authoritative aunt receives her comeuppance but let’s just say that her fate is less gruesome than the revenge exacted upon the female guardian in another short story, Sredni Vashtar. Both can be well imagined as taking place in the setting of Broadgate Villa.

Hector was to join his brother at Pencarwick School, going on to school at Bedford, and then to Burma himself, in the police, but returned to England after suffering ill health and took up a career in journalism.

AE Barnes bookseller advert 1903He then paired up with another who had grown up in Barnstaple, the caricaturist Francis Carruthers Gould, who illustrated his The Westminster Alice, a parody of political figures as characters from Lewis Carroll’s book. Gould presented a copy of their work to the North Devon Athenaeum in 1903, as reported in the North Devon Journal, and where reference is made to the pen name of Saki.

FCG donates WA to NDA 1903

Saki was in his forties at the time of the First World War and so officially too old to enlist. He refused a commission and joined as an ordinary soldier, rising to the rank of Lance Sergeant.

His army service record is luckily one of the “unburnt” survivors of the WW2 blitz and so we can glean a few pieces of personal information at this time.

Physical description for blog HHM8

This details his physical description on enlistment, together with his occupation…


HHMunro1x signature cropped for blog

…and records his signature to his attestation.

Casualty form for blog HHM7

Saki was sheltering in a shell crater near Beaumont-Hamel when he was shot by a sniper, his last words are reported variously along the lines of “Put that bloody cigarette out!”




Next of kin for blog HHM3

His army record shows that Charles and Ethel are listed as his next of kin. Their father had died in 1907 having retired to Westward Ho!

Charles has countersigned this declaration as being correct at the time of Saki’s death.

After this, his sister Ethel destroyed most of his papers but wrote her own account of their early life.

The North Devon Journal report of his death (below) refers to his career in journalism and experiences as a foreign correspondent.

Saki death report NDJ


I can find no report of any memorial service for Saki.

With no known final resting place he is one of the 72,240 soldiers who are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Theipval Memorial

Sources –

Saki : a life of Hector Hugh Munro AJ Langguth (1981) Hamish Hamilton – available in the Local Studies Centre

North Devon Record Office – Pilton Deeds – Collection B464 re Broadgate Estate

North Devon Athenaeum –  Document B 81-13 Particulars, Plans and Conditions of Sale of The Broadgate Estate, Pilton, near Barnstaple. May 1918.

1:500 Ordnance Survey (1889) Devonshire sheet XIII 2.9 – available in microfiche form in the Local Studies Centre

British Newspaper Archive – (free access available in the Local Studies Centre, subject to conditions) – North Devon Journal; Pall Mall Gazette; Western Times; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Ancestry Library Edition – (free access available in the Local Studies Centre and any Devon library, subject to conditions) – Census records; WW1 service records

findmypast – (free access available in the Local Studies Centre, subject to conditions) – Bishops Tawton burial register

Commonwealth War Grave Commission website – Thiepval Memorial image

William George Carpenter Conibear 1894-1916 and Edgar Stanley John Conibear 1896-1916

This month we look at two brothers from Ilfracombe who were both lost, one in the Somme, the other at sea, within the month of August 1916.

William George Carpenter Conibear, who served in the 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, was born in Ilfracombe in 1894.
The family is local to Ilfracombe for at least 2 generations, and have quite a
large extended family in the area.

William was the eldest son of George Edward and Marian Conibear, his mother’s
maiden name was Knight , they married in November 1893, both his parents
were born in Ilfracombe.


William has a younger sister and brother; Hilda born 1895 and Edgar born 1896.

In this announcement of Hilda’s birth the family are living at 2 Trafalgar Cottages.

A search for this address brings no results so the cottages may no longer exist.
The harbour area was extensively remodelled at one point and these cottages
might have been there.

The 1901 census, when William was 7, shows the family living in Regent Place,
Ilfracombe, George Conibear’s occupation is given as Postman.

In 1911 the family have moved to St Brannocks Road, George still working as a

1911 Census

At this date, when he is 17, William’s occupation is given as Joiner, his sister Hilda
is a Dressmaker and young Edgar, aged 14, is an Errand Boy.
The family has increased by two; Lillian, born 1903 and Horace, born 1904.
Edgar joined the Merchant Navy in 1915.


This is a report of a Post Office Dinner which William’s father George attended and
at which he sang, from the
North Devon Journal of Nov 16th 1911
Evidently Mr Conibear senior was rather given to public performance as an earlier report, from the North Devon Journal of August 15th 1901, shows.


Pic 5 Evidently Mr Conibear

This gives us a little insight into the Conibears’ family life.



Wm wounded seriously ill


William enlisted on the 29th January 1916 in the 9th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment.
He was wounded on the Somme, 6 weeks after first going out to the front, on 3rd August.

Wm progressing no amputation

At first he was reported to be progressing satisfactorily, in a hospital in France, but died of his wounds on 27th August 1916.

He was 23.

Wm death notice

Picture9 Bois de guillame

William is buried in the Bois-Guillaume Cemetery, in a north-eastern suburb of Rouen
Bois-Guillaume Cemetery. (Courtesy of

He was awarded the Victory and British medals.

There is some confusion in the newspaper reports, they give his occupation as apprenticed to Messrs Thomas and Sons, Jewellers in Ilfracombe High Street. The 1911 Census clearly shows his occupation as joiner. It’s possible he was apprenticed to Alfred James Thomas, Cabinet Maker, of Oxford Grove, Ilfracombe, perhaps the two businesses have been confused as they have the same last name. This is only a guess.


Edgar Stanley John Conibear, William’s younger brother was born in 1896.
The 1911 census shows his occupation, aged 14, as Errand Boy.
He served in the war in the Merchant Navy.

SS PersicPicture21 Persic pass list

Edgar first went to sea on a passenger ship, the Persic, as a steward, in early 1914, sailing to Sydney, Australia, arriving in May of that year.

We next hear of him as an apprentice on the Merchant Navy Ship Honiton, he was indentured at Glasgow in 1915.  The Honiton was mined 2 nautical miles East of Longsand Light Vessel and beached at Shoeburyness, on the 30th August 1915. The ship was a total loss, it was on passage from Buenos Aires for Hull with maize and linseed. The crew seem to all have been rescued safely.

Edgar Conibear Deaths at Sea findmypast


Edgar’s next ship was the Bideford from which he was reported as lost on the 1st
August 1916.

Edgar was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British Medal.



The surviving family continued to live in Ilfracombe, George and Marian were still
living at 81 St Brannocks Road in 1939 and Hilda, still single, is living with them,
George is retired from the post office.

Conibear 1939 Reg

Lillian Sandra German Conibear married William E Richards towards the end of
1930. In 1939 they were living in Slade Road, Ilfracombe. By a remarkable coincidence they were living in my house.

W Richards 1939 Reg

L Richards 1939 Reg
William is working as Head Gardener and Cow Man. It appears that they have two
children as there are two other people living at the address whose records are
closed, this indicates someone either still living or who died after 1991.

Horace married Emily Tucker at the beginning of 1929, in 1939 they were living at
Number 12 St Brannocks Road, there are also 2 closed records on their entry so
presumably these were also children. Horace was working as a Drapery & Furniture Salesman.

Picture25 Grave Ilf also George and EdgarGeorge died in 1951 and his wife Marian in 1954

Hilda died, still unmarried, in 1981, Lillian in 1968 and Horace in 1971. Fortunately
Lillian’s husband survived the Second World War, it may be, as he was working with
livestock, that he was in a reserved occupation.

The family grave commemorates both William (as George) and Edgar as well as their parents and sister.




Census records  – Ancestry Library Edition (Available to use free of charge in any Devon library, charges for printouts apply)

1939 Register – findmypast (Available to use free of charge in the Local Studies Centre, subject to demand on the day as a limited subscription, charges for printouts apply.)

Page from the crew list on the Passenger Ship Persic, Edgar underlined – Copyright

Deaths at Sea – findmypast (as above)

Conibear Family Memorial Marlborough Road Cemetery Ilfracombe –

Photographs courtesy of copyright © Paula & Dave Kennington 2006

Leonard Montague Paskey and a little more about the Paskey family

This month we look at the last of the three Paskey brothers who died as a result of their service during World War One. Leonard had been officially reported as missing at the time that his brother Reginald died in hospital.

Those who have seen Saving Private Ryan might wonder if a similar effort to that depicted in the film, or at least an excusal from service, might have been made as regards the fourth, and older, brother, Frederick. I cannot find any evidence that he served at all during WW1, perhaps he was in a restricted occupation, but I have found that by the time war had broken out he was married with a young family in Croydon.

We conclude by looking at a little more about the Paskey family and the fate of Frederick’s own son in the Second World War, which had brought the younger man back to North Devon.

royal-1st-north-devon-yeomanry-badgeLEONARD MONTAGUE PASKEY

Private 345888 16th Battalion Devonshire Regiment (Royal Devon and North Devon Yeomanry) Royal North Devon Hussars

 1894 – 2nd September 1918

Leonard Montague Paskey was born in Barnstaple and his birth was registered during the period April to June 1894, his birth was announced in the North Devon Journal dated the 8th March 1894.


On the 1911 census Leonard was apprenticed to a Draper’s and living with his parents in Summerland Street.

Frederick Paskey 1911 Census at Summerland St

The 16th (Royal 1st Devon & Royal North Devon Yeomanry) Battalion was formed at Moascar in Egypt in 1917 from two dismounted Yeomanry units.  In late 1917 they took part in the capture and defence of Jerusalem and in March 1918 they were in the Battle of Tell’ Asur. On the 1st May 1918 they embarked at Alexandria for Marseilles where they landed on the 7th May.  They served in France and Flanders with the 74th (Yeomanry) division for the rest of the war where they engaged in various battles of the Western Front including the Second battles of the Somme. The Second Battles of the Somme in 1918 were fought in the summer of that year, following the German spring offensive of Operation Michael.


An article in the North Devon Journal on the 31st October 1918 reads as follows:(Note- this edition is missing from the British Newspaper Archive online)

ndj-12-10-1911-4e-shellard-advert‘Mr. and Mrs. F Paskey, of Summerland Street, Barnstaple, were on Friday officially notified that their son Pte. Leonard Paskey (Devons) previously reported missing, was killed in action or died of wounds in France about September 2nd.  The deceased who was 24 years of age, served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Shellard and Co., of High Street Barnstaple.  Joining the Royal North Devon Hussars, he saw service first in Egypt and Palestine, and latterly in France, where he had been since May last.  He was a young man of noble and kindly attributes, being beloved by all who knew him.  This is the third soldier Mr. Paskey (formerly for many years an esteemed overseer at Barnstaple Post Office) has lost in the Great War, and to him and his family in their latest sorrow the sympathy of the residents of a wide district will be extended in the fullest measure.’

Leonard Paskey is buried in the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension, in the Somme region of France. The cemetery extension was begun by the 48th(South Midland) Division in March 1917, used by the Germans in 1918, and resumed by Australian units in September 1918. At the Armistice it contained 177 graves, now in Plots I and II. It was then enlarged when graves were brought in from the battlefields north and east of Peronne and from the other small cemeteries in the area.  There are now 1,579 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the extension. 220 of the burials are unidentified.



The father of Reginald, Francis and Leonard was Frederick Paskey who was born in Merthyr Tydfill in Wales; he was the son of a Frederick Paskey a shoemaker who originally came from Barnstaple; Frederick Paskey senior had returned to the area with his family (including Frederick) and by the time the 1871 census was taken they were living in Bishops Tawton.Paskey family 1871 Census at BT

Frederick Paskey married Emma Summerhays in 1880 in Barnstaple; Emma was the daughter of George and Mary Summerhays of Barnstaple. The 1871 census shows that Emma is living in Bishops Tawton where she was working as a domestic servant.

Frederick and Emma had five children these were Frederick G., Reginald, Francis, Leonard and Dorothy who were all born in the Barnstaple area.

The 1881 census shows Frederick employed as a Postal Clerk and he and Emma were then living at Clarence Cottage in Bishops Tawton; Frederick continued his employment with the Post office throughout his working life and the 1911 census shows him employed as a Postal Overseer. Reginald, Francis and Leonard’s older brother Frederick G Paskey also worked for the Post Office in this area for a period of time.

Dorothy, aged 1, appears on the next page of this 1901 Census entry


By the time of the 1891 census the family had moved to Salem Street in Barnstaple and by the 1901 census they were living in Summerland Street in Barnstaple and were still there in 1911.




The funeral service for Frederick Paskey was held in 1931 at the Grosvenor Street Meeting House; this was a place of worship for the Brethren. According to Kelly’s Directory the meeting house was built in 1840 and at that time could hold up to 400 people. The family were living at Nethercleave, Umberleigh at the time of his death.

Emma Paskey died in 1938, she had been living at Taw View Terrace in Bishops Tawton at the time; she was buried in Barnstaple Cemetery.

Frederick George Paskey first worked for the Post Office; he married in 1907 in the Barnstaple area. At the time of his death in 1947 he was living in the Croydon area in Surrey.

Dorothy Paskey was born at the turn of the 20th century in Barnstaple; she had visited her brother Reginald at Reading Hospital in 1918 and was with him at the time of his death. She was living in the Barnstaple area when she died in 1990.


paskey-cup-ndj-3-10-1946As a postscript, Frederick Paskey’s own son Horace attended Archbishop Whitgift’s School in Croydon and whilst there developed a love of rugby. He then went on to become a journalist, specialising in reporting on that sport, for the Croydon Times prior to joining the RAF to serve in World War Two. Horace was stationed at Chivenor and lost his life in a training sortie in 1943 when his Wellington failed to return from a flight over the Atlantic. The North Devon Journal reports that in 1946 his parents gave a silver trophy in his name to be awarded each year to”the best and most sportmanlike rugby team in the Croydon area” who would receive a replica to keep. The following year the death of Frederick Paskey is recorded in the March quarter of 1947 in the Croydon area. The 1939 Register records him as having been a “telegraphist – news”, whilst his daughter Doris is recorded as a “Sub Post Office clerk-in-charge”. It would seem that family connections had some influence in their occupations across the generations.



Ancestry – 1871 Census, 1881 Census, 1891 Census, 1901 Census, 1911 Census; birth, marriage, death records (available free online in any Devon Library)

findmypast – 1939 Register (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal; Western Times; Surrey Mirror (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Peronne Cemetery photograph – – Image of Grosvenor Street Chapel

Reginald James PASKEY

This month we return to the Paskey family of Summerland Street, Barnstaple and look at the second of three brothers to die while serving in the First World War.


Gunner 106798 Royal Garrison Artillery

1886 – 5th October 1918

Reginald James Paskey was born in Barnstaple and his birth was registered during the period July to September 1886, according to his Service record he was 29 years and 8 months old on the 17th July 1916.


Prior to his enlistment he had been working as a jeweller’s assistant to a Mr. Turner in Ilfracombe, his service record gives his address as 3 Montpelier Terrace, Ilfracombe.





The first news of Reginald is in an article in the North Devon Journal on the 15th November 1917 that reads as follows:

‘Gunner Reginald Paskey, R.G.A., son of Mr F Paskey of Barnstaple, is in hospital in Mesopotamia suffering from sand-fly fever. He is progressing favourably.’


Mesopotamia at the time of the First World War is what is known today as Iraq.

The British Campaign in Mesopotamia (an online source) describes the conditions in Mesopotamia as follows:

‘Conditions in Mesopotamia were appalling for soldiers who served there; extremes of temperature up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit were common.  Arid desert, flooding, mosquitoes, flies and other vermin led to high levels of sickness and death through various diseases.  Under these conditions units fell short of men and many of the reinforcements were half-trained and ill-equipped.  Medical arrangements were shocking with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching a hospital. ‘

A year later Reginald is reported as having been posted to Bombay, again being taken ill there.r-paskey-ndj-11-7-18-3f


r-paskey-western-times-9-10-18-3bThe next news on Reginald is then an article in Western Times reporting his death, dated the 9th October 1918 which reads: ’….Gunner Paskey joined the Army early in 1917 and a little later went to Mesopotamia. Unfortunately however he had been ill practically ever since, and brought to England recently, he passed away in Reading Hospital on Saturday.


r-paskey-ndj-10-10-18-5fA further article in the North Devon Journal dated the 10th October 1918 reads as follows:


‘Mr. and Mrs. F Paskey of Summerland Street, Barnstaple, are mourning the loss of their second son Gunner Reginald James Paskey, R.G.A.   The deceased aged 32 served his apprenticeship as a watchmaker and jeweller with Mr. A E Dart of Barnstaple, and he was an assistant to Mr. Turner of Ilfracombe when about a year and a half since, he joined the Army.  He arrived back in England about a fortnight ago, the mother and sister (Miss Paskey) being with him when he passed away in Reading Hospital on Saturday morning.  The third son Pte. Bertie Paskey (Royal Fusiliers) was killed in action on August 6th 1916, and the bereaved parents are undergoing additional anxiety in regard to their fourth son Pte. Leonard Paskey (Devons), who on Saturday was officially, reported missing as from September 2nd.  Pte. Leonard Paskey had seen two years service in Egypt and Palestine, and had been in France for some months.  The fullest measure of public sympathy will be extended to Mr. Paskey (who for many years was an experienced overseer at Barnstaple Post Office) and Mrs. Paskey and family in their great sorrow, and a large circle of friends will join in their earnest hope that they will soon receive re-assuring news with regard to their son Leonard.

r-paskey-findagrave-imageThe mortal remains of Gunner Reginald Paskey were brought to Barnstaple, the interment being made in the cemetery yesterday (Wednesday)). Mr. E Pearse conducted the impressive service, the first part of which was held in the Grosvenor Street Meeting House.  The mourners were Mr. F Paskey (father), Miss Paskey (sister), Mrs. Irwin, Mrs. Jordan and Mr. and Mrs. F Richards (cousins).  The bearers were Messrs. A. Frayne, Turner (2), Philips, H Jones and Dodd, and the numerous friends present evidenced the high esteem entertained, and sympathy felt for the bereaved family.  Beautiful floral tributes were laid on the grave.’


The North Devon Journal of 11th November 1920 records the unveiling and dedication of the new war memorial tablet in the Parish Church at Ilfracombe. The name of Reginald J Paskey is included in the list of names inscribed upon it.

Many WW1 service records were destroyed during a bombing raid in WW2 but those for Reginald Paskey have survived and, as he spent time in various countries and hospitals, contain a variety of different types, giving much detail of his time in the army. These are available on the Ancestry family history website.




The records also include this postcard from his mother requesting the release of his personal effects and, below, the accompanying documentation for their return.

How upsetting it must have been for his mother to write and ask for, and have to sign for her son’s belongings –


– and to finish the story, the receipt, again signed by his mother, for his war medals.



Ilfracombe view – Local Studies Library postcard collection

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal, Western Times (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Ancestry Library Edition – British Army WW1 Service Records (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library) – image of gravestone

Christmas and New Year 1916/17


This month we take a look at a selection of the stories and adverts that appeared in the local newspapers over Christmas and New Year 1916/17.


William Dart of the Devon Seed Stores, 73 High Street, was advocating the use of his “Eggmore laying meal” to encourage hens to lay during the cold damp months of winter when eggs were scarce.

chas-lockYour Christmas fare could be obtained at a number of local businesses. Plum puddings and mincemeat, a large assortment of chocolates and crystallized fruit, prize cheddars, stiltons and swiss gruyere, ox tongues in tins and glass, could all be found at Chas Lock of 28 Boutport Street. “Home-made sausages, brawn and lard of the highest quality” could be found at A Frayne and Son, 34 Bear Street, pork purveyors, ham and bacon curers.

dornatsCC Dornat, North Devon Mineral Works, Tuly Street, Barnstaple offered “non-alcoholic high class cordials… a delicious substitute for ordinary intoxicating wines &c… possessing warming and invigorating qualities”. However, if you had “that creepy chilly feeling” or were feeling “stuffy in the head” you could obtain the Barum Cure from Frank Dyson, chemist of 26 Joy Street, Barnstaple.



Dunn’s Stores, at 22 and 23 High Street, offered “a huge stock of Xmas cheer”- the supply of Valencia and Jamaica oranges, Egyptian dates and Californian plums seemingly unaffected by the continuing hostilities although it was said that “owing to the War, Turkey figs (were) unprocurable”.

Difficulties of supply were also mentioned by W Dalling, tobacconist, of 11 High Street, who acknowledged that “in spite of present difficulties and shortage of supplies” that he could offer a selection PRACTICALLY EQUAL to his pre-war standard” of “the most acceptable and useful Xmas presents”.

W Manaton of Braunton also sought to reassure customers that he could “still supply pre-war indigo suitings” which when “made up with linings of a quality not now obtainable, enable us to keep up our old quality”.


Frank Rowe of Barnstaple and Braunton announced that “Father Christmas has arrived” with sacks and sacks of dolls and toys” on offer. Hellier’s Novelty Stores of 88 High Street suggested that we “throw off dull care and let us have a pleasant Xmas with our little ones” – by way of a trip to see all the “pretty and interesting things”at their shop. In the small ads Hellier’s also advised that you “always take an electric pocket lamp with you these dark nights- to be had… all prices” at their stores, of course.

samuel-dawSamuel Daw of 12 and 13 High Street suggested a Khaki Xmas, and the purchase of “military woollen half hose” or “warm pants or vests” among the ideas for “the man in khaki”. Walter J Thomas of 48 Boutport Street commended “something useful in these times”for men in the Services and a similar choice, including “sleeping helmets, mufflers, (and) spencers”, and sustenance in the form of Genoa Cake from Barnstaple Bakeries was mooted as”an ideal present for our boys at the Front”

The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway announced a change in its timetable to accommodate the Christmas Market being held on the Thursday 21st December rather than the usual Friday, and a Sunday service for Christmas Day itself.


cinema-advertEntertainment on offer at the Theatre Royal consisted of the “special War Office picture – The King visits his armies in the Great Advance” four showings on Boxing Day and Wednesday.

Those injured in the War were not forgotten, as a collection on behalf of Barnstaple War Supply Depot was to be made on Christmas Market Thursday, the depot having “established a fine record in making requisites for the wounded in the hospitals and in other directions”.

war-supply-depotThe daily cost of the War was now a staggering “£ 5,710,000 including £400,000 daily in advances to Allies”. The total expenditure of the War for the year was said to have been £1,950,000,000, £350,000,000 more than had been the Budget estimate. Mr Bonar Law pointed out that the armies could not be kept at their present strength indefinitely and that all that could be hoped for was that they would be “kept on a strong figure long enough to beat our enemies” – an estimated figure of an extra 1,000,000 men for 1916/17 bringing the total to 5,000,000 is quoted.

filleigh-soldierThe effects of this mass mobilisation on families are illustrated by two brief articles. One records the death of 19 year old John Yeo, of Raleigh Park, at Aldershot, so probably in the Army, the fifth son of a family who had four sons in the Services. The other, a poignant note of sincere thanks by the three sons of the recently deceased FJ Tancock, neither of whom could attend their father’s funeral due to being on active service abroad.

The sad news reached Filleigh of the death of Private Arthur Pugsley who had been hit by a piece of shell and died on the way to the dressing station. The platoon commander, writing to his widow, also enclosed a letter written to her on the day of his death.

woolaway-deathAnother sad loss, to Chittlehampton, was of Harold Woolaway of Coombe farm, who had been home in uniform only a fortnight previously but contracted measles and died in the Naval Hospital at Plymouth.



Mr and Mrs Charles Dennis of Bedford Street, who had heard nothing for over a year of their two sons, who had survived the siege of Kut and since been prisoners of war in Turkey, had heard in the last weeks that both had died from dysentery or sickness. They had two other sons in the Army, one of those in Mesopotamia.

Mr and Mrs E Berry of Carrington Terrace, already looking after their three grandchildren after their daughter’s death. had heard that their son-in-law was now suffering from malaria and heart disease in Alexandria. They too had three sons of their own in the Army.

The suicide of Mabel Vavasour Peek, 32 year old companion help from Ilfracombe, was put down to her “temporary insanity” having asphyxiated herself in the gas oven, her employer having found her lying on the scullery floor one morning after her breakfast in bed had not arrived, nor had any answer to her summoning bell. Miss Peek’s brother had just gone to the Front and she was said to have been worried that he would never come back.

darch-deathMrs Darch of Pilton Street, heard of the death of her husband William from malarial disease and yellow jaundice in Basra. He had had the disease three times already and she had also received on the same morning, a letter from him saying that he was improving and to be transferred to a convalescent home. Aged 29 he had been married a few years but no children are mentioned. He did, however, have four other brothers serving.




Deaths from dysentery at Alexandria and Basra were also recorded in the North Devon War Items column of the newspaper as well as other soldiers being home on sick or Christmas leave. The receipt of woollen goods from two women, and also eleven shirts and thirteen pairs of socks made by a Swymbridge (sic) working party, by the aforementioned Barnstaple War Supply Depot are also noted.



The War Supply Depot at Lynton and Lynmouth had contributed 294 pairs of crutches – made. varnished, and padded locally – and 3,740 bandages and swabs. The Lynton Patriotic Working Society and the Lynmouth Working Party were also making items to be sent overseas.




buckleyWJ Buckley, serving with the Australian contingent, had just spent ten days leave from the French front with an uncle in Braunton. Only 19 years of age, he stood at 6ft 8 in and was also “splendidly developed”, his “extreme height attracting general attention” when he had been in Barnstaple on the Friday.


near-shave-at-smAt home, a veteran of the Dardanelles,  James Nunn of South Molton, who had been invalided out of service, had a narrow escape from drowning when he fell through the ice on a flooded lime pit at South Aller Farm after missing his footing while laying rabbit traps. “Suffering with cold and shock, he reached home in an exhausted condition, and has since been confined to his room”.





In contrast to the enticing Christmas food stuffs on offer, debate in the local press concerned the need for more potatoes to be grown with the suggestion that 50 acres of Codden Hill should be ploughed for this purpose. The Sports Ground and Pilton Park were also considered as locations by Barnstaple Town Council as well as the gardens of Ashleigh Road School. The suggestion of the Sports Ground was apparently “subject to a good deal of ridicule in the Market on Friday among farmers acquainted with the locality” with one expert saying that to break up the grassland was a waste of time and money and better suited to hay or grazing.  The Council also suggested asking the Taw and Torridge Conservators to relax the restrictions on catching coarse fish in the river.

The employment of German prisoners was discussed at a meeting of the Barnstaple War Agricultural Committee and there were suggestions, by Barnstaple Farmers Union and Barnstaple Rural District Council respectively, that German prisoners of war be employed in planting the potatoes and also in quarrying.

Barnstaple Education Committee voted to pay bonuses to teachers for the duration of the War, the amount varying according to their present salary, marital status and number of children. These were to remain in place “for the duration of the War and for six months afterwards” but the article does not make clear the reasoning for this seemingly generous provision.

The tenants of properties in Corser Street, Barnstaple, formerly known as Boden’s Row, were to benefit from an improvement scheme by their new landlord, William Hutchings, whereupon the forty cottages were to be “converted into model dwellings. As the result a very striking and welcome transformation is being effected; and the enterprise of the public-spirited owner is eliciting general commendation.”

letter-re-bakers-wagesThe Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers, Confectioners and Allied Workers had written to the Mayor to offer their “very sincere thanks” for his efforts “to avert a strike in the Baking Trade of Barnstaple”. These had been successful and it was hoped that any “outstanding points of difference may be settled in an amicable way.” This pre-General Strike nod to deference and paternalism can also be seen in Earl Fortescue’s speech to the South Molton branch of the Devon Farmers Union, that they had not asked him there to sing Christmas carols, “rather that he should give them such counsel as he could as to the way to which they could best play their part in these anxious days.”



HH Taplin of Woody Bay wrote to the Journal concerned about “the unspeakable influence… that the traffic of alcohol has upon every sphere of our lives.” Arguing for the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic drinks, he continues -“the dread of the slavery to alcohol is even stronger that the German peril” and finishes – “let the New Year bring with it the death of the two greatest curses on earth – the Huns and Alcohol.”


He would have been pleased to read that, as from January 8th, all the licensed premises in Barnstaple were to close one hour earlier, at 10pm rather than 11pm, to bring them into line with other premises which had had to adopt earlier closing times due to restricted lighting. This, presumably, was the cause of the “dark nights” mentioned in Hellier’s advertisement earlier.

The recently built Barnstaple Grammar School advertised a rather surprising curriculum for boys in that it included a shorthand class besides “classical and modern education, manual instruction” for boys. For younger readers, shorthand is a way of taking notes quickly in a form of hieroglyph, a dying art these days, but one which young women of the post ww2 decades were taught, alongside typing, as a popular career option. But perhaps office work was not seen as appropriate for girls in these earlier times, who were offered their own “specially suited for girls”curriculum of languages, literature, mathematics, botany, cookery and needlework.

bracher-weddingTo finish on a celebratory note, Boxing Day weddings were not uncommon, even up until the 1950s, and in 1916 Walter Bracher and Lily Trollope had been married at Holy Trinity Church, Barnstaple. The bride “neatly attired in a tailor made blue costume with a pale blue hat to match” received a set of fox furs from the groom, to whom she gave, in return, a gold signet ring. The Journal comments that “the happy couple were the recipients of numerous and costly presents” – coming from Belle Meadow and Diamond Street respectively, not wealthy areas of the town, perhaps this was seen to be worthy of note.

We hope that you have enjoyed this look at the past and that, despite imminent staffing changes, we will be able to continue our monthly blog postings throughout the next years to reflect the progress of the Great War.

At this time of year, of “peace and goodwill to all men”, it is particularly poignant to remember that this was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” – can we not learn the lessons from the past and stop repeating the same mistakes?


Sources –

North Devon Journal – 20th December 1916 and 4th January 1917 – available to view in our Local Studies Centre at Barnstaple either on microfilm or via the British Newspaper Archive online which is free to use and download, (access may be unavailable at times due to subscription restrictions), your only cost being to pay for printouts.

1916 postcard image –


Captain Geoffrey Philip Tregelles

It is now the time of the centenary of the end of the Battle of the Somme. It seems a long time since we published our first blogpost on this subject in July so can only begin to imagine how long those months felt to those in the field of war.

Now, in Armistice Week, we publish the last of our featured Somme casualities, who actually died on the first day of the battle. Next month we will look at news in North Devon around Christmas and New Year one hundred years ago.

treglelles-photo-findagraveCaptain Geoffrey Philip Tregelles

“A” Company, 8th Devonshire Regiment

On Saturday 1st July 1916 Acting Captain Tregelles was killed in action at Mansell Copse due south of Mametz village on the Somme.

The action took place on the first day of the battle of the Somme with the Eighth Battalion Devonshire Regiment fighting as a part of the 7th Division.

Captain Tregelles was 24 years old.


Prior to this battle, an intense week long artillery bombardment of the German positions took place.

Many of the British shells fired during this bombardment turned out to be “duds” and it is thought that the German army were well informed about British tactics. The German trenches were extremely well constructed and many soldiers simply moved behind their trenches until the bombardment had ended.

The British were ordered to walk steadily towards the German lines and not to run, it seems that even under heavy machine gun fire they obeyed orders.

Many of the German officers in the trenches believed that had the British soldiers charged at a run then they would have overrun the German trenches with far fewer British losses.


Captain Geoffrey Tregelles was the only son of Mr George Tregelles and Mrs Marion Tregelles of Clarence Place, Barnstaple, Devon.

The deceased officer had attended Cambridge University and was reading for Holy Orders. He was a member of the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps and so when war broke out he joined up, in company with most university students.

Captain Tregelles was granted a commission on 26th August 1914 and joined his battalion in October 1915.

Within a year he was dead.


On the 1st August 1916 George Tregelles wrote a letter to the librarian of the Shakespeare Memorial Library stating that Geoffrey had studied at Cambridge and  “was enthusiastic for Shakespearian study “having been shown some of the library’s treasures by the librarian a few years previously. He had been so impressed that he wished for his copy of the book “In praise of Shakespeare”, to be sent to the Library.



George Tregelles wrote in this letter “My boy had an active original mind and took a keen interest in literature among other things. Had he lived he might have done some good work in that line.”

It is particularly poignant to read this in the 400th anniversary year of William Shakespeare’s death.



altar-frontalCaptain Tregelles was also commemorated in his local church at Newport where his parents commissioned an altar frontal and a super frontal in his memory. At the dedication ceremony in January 1917 it was said that he had been preparing to become a priest…when the war broke out and he volunteered for service… His chief concern was to do his duty well, even at the supreme cost of self-sacrifice. He was “faithful unto death”.

Sources – photographs of gravestones and memorials

Ancestry Library Edition – BritishArmy WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920 (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal; Western Times (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)