The 23 names never to be forgotten
by Joyce Stevenson.
On the ll th hour of the l lth day of the ll th month in 1918, after four years of war, Armistice was declared. The troops laid down their arms – the Great War was over – peace at last.
After the war, grieving families and friends of those killed during the conflict found some comfort from a local memorial, or plaque, bearing the names of their loved ones. The memorial in their own community was a permanent reminder of the lives sacrificed for that peace. Ninety years on, what do we know of the men whose names are carved on our town and village war memorials; the men who went to war and never returned?
There are 23 names on the war memorials in Thurlby. Most of the men were young; there were brothers, cousins and friends from schooldays.
Corp Harry Briggs, 34, a native of Thurlby, was a career soldier who served with the Essex Regiment during the Boer War, in South Africa, and for eight years in India. After 11 years overseas he returned to England with the regiment. Harry transferred to the Lincolnshire Regiment and was posted, first to Gibraltar, followed by Nova Scotia and then Bermuda.
When war was declared he sailed for Europe and arrived at the battle front on November 5, 1914. Serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolns, he came through the Neuve Chappelle battle unharmed, but as killed in action in the battle-fields of Flanders in May 1915.
Fred Fairchild, 23, the youngest son of Joseph and Sarah Ann Fairchild, was well-known in the village. He attended Thurlby Board School, and was a Sunday school scholar and chorister at St Firmin’s Church. Fred became a sailor, and in 1915 he worked as a baggage steward on the P & O liner Persia. The Persia left London bound for Bombay on December 18, 1915. The ship was sailing through the Mediterranean, south of Crete on December 30, when, without warning, it was struck by a torpedo fired from a German submarine. The Persia sank within five minutes, taking two of the lifeboats with it – 334 of 501 passengers and crew, including Fred Fairchild, were drowned.
Alfred Mitchley, 22, worked for Wherry’s (Bourne) in the retail grocery department and was well-known in the Bourne area. He enlisted in the Lincolnshire Regiment shortly after the outbreak of war. In 1915 he married Lizzie Peasgood of Northorpe House, Thurlby. Corp Mitchley saw action with the 10th Btn of the Lincolns during the Battle of the Somme. The first offensive, on July 1, 1916, saw the British Army suffer its worst defeat for over a century, with massive numbers of men killed and wounded, mainly from machine gun fire. On the first anniversary of their wedding day, Lizzie Mitchley received the news that her husband, Alfred, was killed in action on July 1, 1916.
L/Corp Eric Garwood, 25, was born in Thurlby and attended the village school. His parents, William and Annie Garwood, both died shortly before the outbreak of WW1. Eric enlisted in the Lincolnshire Regiment, and while serving in Gallipoli in 1915, he contracted enteric fever (typhoid fever). He was shipped back to a military hospital in Liverpool, where he died on August 7, 1916. L/Corp Garwood was brought home for burial in St Firmin’s churchyard. His is the only Commonwealth War Grave in Thurlby.
Dr Wilfred A Sneath, 30, son of Henry and Elizabeth Sneath, and cousin of Eric Garwood, was educated at Thurlby Board School and Grantham Technical Institute. He qualified and practised as a highly gifted and successful doctor and surgeon, and was awarded several scholarships. At the outbreak of war he volunteered for service, and was given a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps. When serving with the 6th Welsh Regiment (Territorials), in France in May 1916, Capt Sneath was mentioned in Despatches. In August he was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.” He was later transferred to No 1 Field Hospital, and in June 1917 he spent home leave in Thurlby. The day following his return to duty – while on a tour of inspection with two fellow officers, Capt Sneath was wounded. On July 12 he died from his wounds.
Leonard Brutnell, the eldest son of Frederick and Mary Brutnell, worked as a labourer and horseman for his father, a builder and farmer. Leonard ploughed, sowed and harvested the fields with teams of horses, and carted building and road maintenance materials around the local area. He was a handsome young man described as “of a quiet, sensitive, amiable nature.” He had attended the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and Sunday School throughout his life. Leonard was conscripted in October 1916. Following his basic training he came home for six days leave before being sent to the front with the Yorkshire Regiment in December. January 1, 1917, marked his 19th birthday. At the end of January he was wounded by shell-fire, and died on February 7.
A few of Thurlby’s war dead are commemorated on family gravestones in the churchyard. Henry Sneath gave a funeral bier to the parish in memory of his son Wilfred; but only his nephew Eric is buried at St Firmin’s. All the other casualties of war lie in a foreign field, or have no known grave. It is fitting that the lives of all these young men – friends from childhood are remembered in the village churches. It is particularly appropriate that Leonard Brutnell’s name is inscribed on the memorial in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, as his father was one of it’s builders.
Memorials to the boys who went to war.
By Joyce Stevenson
Published in the Stamford Mercury 6th November 2009
THE war memorials in our own communities remain as a permanent reminder of lives sacrificed during two world wars.
Following the awarding of Victory Medals, inscribed The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919, in the 1920s, a new generation of children were attending Thurlby Board School. Their mischievous faces, captured on the school photographs, thankfully show nothing of what lay ahead for some of them.
During the Second World War, a few of those young boys were to be involved in the hostilities. Four of them would never come home again.
Edwin Sleight, son of Herman and Winifred, was one of those boys. At the age of 21, he had become a merchant seaman, serving as an assistant steward on the SS Saganaga. The ship was anchored off Belle Island, Newfoundland, on September 5, 1942, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. There were 13 survivors, but Edwin died with 28 of his shipmates. Edwin Sleight’s name appears on the Tower Hill Memorial, which commemorates 24,000 of those in the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during the Second World War and, like Edwin, have no grave but the sea.
Two months after the sinking of the Saganaga, during the invasion of North Africa, the SS Viceroy of India sank after being torpedoed by an enemy submarine on November 11. Among the survivors was ships steward Ernest Sandall, a native of Thurlby. He was later to survive the sinking of the Hospital Ship Newfoundland. After the war, he continued his service with the P&O shipping line – eventually becoming a chief steward.
Edgar Stevenson and Arthur Curtis had been classmates at Thurlby school, and during the Second World War they both joined the 6th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment. It must have been difficult for parents Charles and Katherine to see Edgar go off to war; but it would have been heartrending for Arthur’s parents, Ethel and Victor – Ethel’s brother, Arthur Cousins, died from battle wounds just 15 days before the First World War armistice. With the 6th Lincolns, Edgar and Arthur sailed for North Africa on board the MV Sobieski. The ship docked in Algiers on January 17, 1943. The battalion made its way by rail, road convoy and on the march over mountains, valleys, and through forests to the Medjez-el-Bab sector of the battle zone. It was here that Arthur Curtis, 23, died on February 10, 1943. He is buried at Medjez-el-Bab war cemetery, Tunisia. The 6th Lincolns moved on to the northern sector, where they took part in the first battle of Sedjenane between March 2 and 4. Private Edgar Stevenson, 23, was listed among the casualties on March 4 and is buried at Tabarka Ras Rajel war cemetery, Tunisia.
Peter Ward was another classmate of Edgar and Arthur. The son of Harold and Edith Ward, he lived with his brothers and sister at Thurlby Manor.By the age of 25 he had married, and was a lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment. The Nigerian Regiment RWAFF, was his secondary Regiment and he was attached to the 5th Battalion. Between 1943 and 1945, the Lincolns served in the jungles of Burma (Myanmar), and it was here, on February 27 1945, that Lt Peter Ward died. He is buried at Taukkyan war cemetery, north of Rangoon (Yangon).
As boys, these four young men were in class photos at Thurlby school during the late 1920s. Through the village war memorials they are reunited and remembered. Edgar, Arthur and Edwin were baptised at Thurlby Parish Church, and Peter was baptised at St John’s Church, Baston.
It is fitting that, as a lasting memorial, the font cover in St Firmin’s Church bears the names of these casualties of the Second World War.