We re­mem­ber the role played by the peo­ple of the Cotswolds in WW1

One hun­dred years ago this month the guns fell silent, mark­ing the end of what was to be­come known as The Great War. Stephen Roberts re­mem­bers the im­pact the war had on Cotswold lives from 1914-1918

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE -

Af­ter more than four years of war, the guns fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was Novem­ber 11, 1918 – 100 years ago – and the First World War was fi­nally over af­ter more than 1,500 days of at­tri­tion. What did the war’s pros­e­cu­tion and its end mean, how­ever, to the peo­ple of the Cotswolds?

You be­gin to com­pre­hend the car­nage of WW1 when you learn how few Thank­ful Vil­lages there are in this beau­ti­ful part of the world. These were the for­tu­nate com­mu­ni­ties that lost no servicemen in the war, when all around them did.

There are three such vil­lages in Glouces­ter­shire (Cotswold Life, Au­gust 2014): Coln Rogers, Lit­tle Sod­bury and Up­per Slaugh­ter, which has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing ‘dou­bly thank­ful’, that is, a com­mu­nity that re­peated its act of es­capol­ogy in WW2. There’s not a sin­gle Thank­ful Vil­lage in Ox­ford­shire: ev­ery sin­gle place took a hit. In­side the porch of St An­drew’s, Coln Rogers is a tablet list­ing the names of 25 men and one woman, nurse Doris Bar­ton, of the V.A.D. (Vol­un­tary Aid De­tach­ment), who all re­turned safely. St Ade­line’s, Lit­tle Sod­bury, has a roll of hon­our for the six men who served in WW1. Up­per Slaugh­ter’s vil­lage hall has its rolls of hon­our, for 25 men who marched away to fight in WW1 and a fur­ther 36 who fol­lowed their fore­bears come WW2. Amaz­ingly, they all re­turned home.

Those 25 in­cluded six sur­named ‘Witts’, five of them ei­ther a Ma­jor or Cap­tain.

The Glouces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment raised a to­tal of 25 bat­tal­ions dur­ing WW1 and was awarded 72 bat­tle hon­ours. Four mem­bers of the reg­i­ment were awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross, but the cost of glory came high with no fewer than 8,100 men lost dur­ing the con­flict. The 1st Bat­tal­ion was in ac­tion al­most from the start, see­ing ac­tion in the 1914 bat­tles of Mons, the Marne, the Aisne and First Ypres. It was also in­volved in the ma­jor Bri­tish of­fen­sive of 1915, the Bat­tle of Loos. Come 1916, the bat­tal­ion would par­tic­i­pate in all phases of the Bat­tle of the Somme. The fol­low­ing year saw the bat­tal­ion in­volved in an­other in­fa­mous Bri­tish of­fen­sive of the war, Third Ypres, or Pass­chen­daele. The First Bat­tal­ion was in­volved in the Great War pretty much from be­gin­ning to end with lit­tle let up. Other bat­tal­ions joined the 1st at the Somme, in­clud­ing sev­eral made up of Ter­ri­to­ri­als, plus Ser­vice bat­tal­ions, some of which would also join the 1st at Loos and Pass­chen­daele.

The 2nd Bat­tal­ion’s ex­pe­ri­ence il­lus­trated that the war was not all about the Western Front slog against Ger­many. The bat­tal­ion had been sta­tioned far away in China when war broke out, so didn’t ar­rive on the Western Front un­til al­most the end of 1914. In 1915 it fought at Sec­ond Ypres. To­wards the end of that year the 2nd trans­ferred to Greece, where it took up arms against one of Ger­many’s al­lies, Bul­garia, a fate that also awaited the 9th (Ser­vice) Bat­tal­ion.

The 7th (Ser­vice) Bat­tal­ion saw ac­tion in an­other theatre of the war when it landed at Gal­lipoli in July 1915 and was en­gaged in var­i­ous ac­tions against an­other of Ger­many’s al­lies, Turkey. In Fe­bru­ary 1916 the bat­tal­ion would trans­fer to Me­sopotamia, where it was also en­gaged against the Turks.

The Ox­ford­shire and Buck­ing­hamshire Light In­fantry raised 18 bat­tal­ions, was awarded 59 bat­tle hon­ours and gained two Vic­to­ria Crosses, los­ing a to­tal of 5,880 men in the process. The 1st Bat­tal­ion went to Me­sopotamia to fight the Turks, whilst the 2nd Bat­tal­ion faced all those fa­mous 1914 bat­tles on the Western Front, fol­lowed by Loos (1915) and the Somme (1916). They were also at the Bat­tle of Cam­brai (1917) when Bri­tish tanks were used in large num­bers for the first time. Mir­ror­ing the Glouces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment, the Ox­ford & Bucks also sent Ter­ri­to­ri­als to the Somme. The 5th (Ser­vice) Bat­tal­ion was also on the Western Front, in­clud­ing at Hooge in 1915, where the Ger­mans used flamethrow­ers for the first time, then at the Somme and Pass­chen­daele. The 6th (Ser­vice) was also at the Somme, then Cam­brai. The 7th and 8th (Ser­vice) ex­pe­ri­enced a dif­fer­ent theatre, as they headed for Greece and took on the Bul­gar­i­ans.

There was also a Home Front, as WW1 was ar­guably the first ‘to­tal war’ in which the whole na­tion had to be mo­bilised in one form or an­other. The Cotswolds was, how­ever, spared the hor­ror of bomb­ing dur­ing WW1. Al­though Ger­man Zep­pelins raided Lon­don and the East Coast and later in the war Gotha bombers struck the cap­i­tal and the south-east, the Cotswolds was out of range. Its good for­tune would not be re­peated a gen­er­a­tion later. There were other ways in which this pre­dom­i­nantly agri­cul­tural and ru­ral idyll would be af­fected though.

It was all very well send­ing an army away to fight, but it had to be sup­plied and fed. Whilst the more in­dus­tri­alised parts of Bri­tain switched from peace­time man­u­fac­tur­ing to mu­ni­tions, the Cotswolds was in the front line as far as feed­ing its grow­ing army and those at home was con­cerned, es­pe­cially in the face of the Ger­mans’ use of un­re­stricted sub­ma­rine war­fare, which sent many a Bri­tish mer­chant ship to the bot­tom of the sea. This was po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic for the na­tion’s war aims when you con­sider that 70% of Bri­tain’s food was im­ported. We were a long way from be­ing self-suf­fi­cient and from 1916 food short­ages be­came no­tice­able, with ra­tioning fi­nally in­tro­duced in Jan­uary 1918.

A lot of the men who would nor­mally have worked the fields were away fight­ing, of course, as many had vol­un­teered in that ini­tial rush of en­thu­si­asm for a right­ful (and hope­fully brief) war, be­fore con­scrip­tion had to be in­tro­duced in Jan­uary 1916. The farms of the Cotswolds had to rely on mi­grant labour, in­clud­ing Bel­gian refugees (it had been Ger­man’s at­tack on Bel­gium in Au­gust 1914 that had os­ten­si­bly brought Bri­tain into the war), Irish trav­ellers, Ger­man POWS and chil­dren as young as ten years of age. In 1917, dur­ing the lat­ter stages of the war, 50 Ger­man POWS ar­rived in Eve­sham on a spe­cial train from Dorch­ester, the county town of Dorset. They’d been brought in to pro­vide ex­tra man­power to plant spuds. If you had lived in the Cotswolds area at this time you could not have failed to no­tice that there was a war on.

The Cotswolds and its en­vi­rons, with its fer­tile soil and market gar­den­ing, was key to Bri­tain be­ing able to pros­e­cute a suc­cess­ful war, that, in the end, would last for over four years. One of the lo­cal sta­ples was the plum, grown in vast quan­ti­ties in the Vale of Eve­sham, and used to make plum jam, which went off to the Western Front to pro­vide sus­te­nance to the men in trenches. A sol­dier needed at least 3,000 calo­ries each day to keep per­form­ing: it was the duty of the Cotswolds (and other agri­cul­tural ar­eas) to pro­vide those calo­ries.

As­ton­ish­ingly, a sol­dier on the Western Front was given spe­cial leave to re­turn home and help bring in the fruit har­vest in the Vale (veg, and fruit, but es­pe­cially plums). It seems al­most in­con­ceiv­able, but Wil­liam Ge­orge Haynes was given leave from the Somme in Au­gust 1916, dur­ing that in­fa­mous bat­tle’s sec­ond month. That re­ally does drum home just how vi­tal it was to get the har­vest in dur­ing wartime.

An­nie and Wil­liam Souls of Great Riss­ing­ton had six sons, five of whom were old enough for mil­i­tary ser­vice. All five gave up their farm jobs to fight in the war: all five would per­ish. Fred­er­ick, Al­fred, Arthur, Wal­ter and Al­bert were all aged be­tween 20 and 30 when they died. Two of them were pri­vates in the Worces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment. All would die on the Western Front. As if the fam­ily had not suf­fered enough, the sixth son would then die of menin­gi­tis. It’s just one story of thou­sands of lo­cal sto­ries, but it brings home the hu­man cost of war and the cruel im­pact on our area, when brave young lads swapped pitchforks for ri­fles and bay­o­nets.

There was a mood af­ter the war, of course, to hon­our the fallen and sup­port the sur­vivors. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery one of the Cotswolds’ myr­iad of parishes has a me­mo­rial, ded­i­cated orig­i­nally to the dead of WW1 (but sadly with other names added sub­se­quently).

This Novem­ber the Cotswolds’ war memo­ri­als will once again be the fo­cus for Remembrance, with added poignancy as we re­call the end of a shat­ter­ing con­flict that fi­nally ground to a halt 100 years ago af­ter lev­els of death and de­struc­tion that would in­habit peo­ple’s worst night­mares for years to come. Some peo­ple may still ven­ture to pon­der why we bother re­mem­ber­ing a war from so long ago; if you could count the 1914-1918 names on all the war memo­ri­als in the Cotswolds you’d have many thou­sands of very good rea­sons.


Hell­fire Cor­ner (www.hell­firecorner.co.uk) – for Thank­ful Vil­lage sto­ries.

Forces War Records (www.forces-war­records.co.uk) – for Glouces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment and Ox­ford­shire & Buck­ing­hamshire Light In­fantry.

BBC (www.bbc.co.uk) – for Gotha bomb­ing raids and the story of the Souls broth­ers. The Hoot, courtesy of Clut­ton Cox (www. clut­ton­cox.co.uk) – for Agri­cul­ture sto­ries. How the Per­shore Plum Won the Great War (M An­drews & J Waugh, 2016) Eve­sham’s Rail­ways – ar­ti­cle pub­lished in Steam Days (Steve Roberts, 2017)

‘You be­gin to com­pre­hend the car­nage of WW1 when you learn how few Thank­ful Vil­lages there are in this beau­ti­ful part of the world’

Photo: Saf­fron Blaze

St Barn­abas Church, Snow­shill and war me­mo­rial cross

Photo: Stephen Roberts

BE­LOW: The war me­mo­rial in Eve­sham’s Abbey Gar­dens

Photo: Nil­fan­ion

Gloucester Reg­i­ment colours in Gloucester Cathe­dral

Photo: Stephen Roberts

Up­per Slaugh­ter, a thank­ful vil­lage

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