Great Wyrley’s World War One Roll of Honour: The Errors on the Gates

The Roll of Honour: Project and Historical Background
For those that follow Wyrleyblog, I hope that this is a seminal moment. I have, for over eighteen months, charted the lives, through short biographies, of the fallen village soldiers of the First World War named on the memorial garden gate plaques. I am currently writing up the last of these, William Ames, but having reached an impasse, in that I really need to visit the Royal Engineers Museum at Gillingham, I thought I would produce the Roll first and add the link to William Ames later.

The small, somewhat insulting biographies that I produced were originally intended simply to put flesh on the bones of the man in question – to show that he was not just a name on a plaque or that he was just a soldier, but that he was real and had lived, worked, loved and been loved; it was important to me to place him in the context of his time, a time where life was harder and often more fragile.

The project intended to encompass the 25 named men on the gates, it was never in my thoughts to find every man that lived, worked or took a breath in Great Wyrley. I think this would be impossible to do anyway. Saying that, it became clear to me that there was one glaring omission from the list, as the soldier in question, Harold Mitchell, while appearing on the list of survivors on the memorial gate piers, is actually buried in Great Wyrley Cemetery with a Commonwealth War Grave headstone. This wasn’t the fault of the Parish Council, as Mitchell was not granted a war grave until 1930, which was some years after the compilation of the rolls of honour and erection of the plaques. His biography is included below.

War memorials are problematic: anyone who believes they contain every name that could or should be on then will be sorely mistaken. If one reads all 26 biographies below, it becomes obvious that the men are a hotchpotch: some are born in the Wyrley area, some are not, some attest into the army while living in the Wyrley area, while some have already moved away; indeed, Thomas James was born in Brownhills and had married a Birmingham girl before going to serve, while Herbert Higgs may never have set foot in Wyrley.

What this shows is that memorials were really for the living and not the dead: some families chose not to have their loved ones on any memorial (perhaps not to be reminded of the war), while some men appeared on several, depending where wives, parents and siblings lived. William Simpson appears on the gates as his marital family was in Landywood, but Simpson is also on the Kings Bromley memorial as that is where he was raised and his mother still lived there. Thomas Jones, whose medals were sent to his widow in Great Wyrley in the 1920s, appeared on no local memorial – she moved to Wyrley from Wednesfield, but lived in New Invention when he was killed. He now appears on the New Invention memorial.

I want to follow this project up with an article on how Great Wyrley commemorated war over the years, but some basic facts seem in order at this point. The village held a service on 4 August every year – the date Britain joined the conflict – as it did in 2014 at the gates themselves. Then, in 1917, the village looked to compile a current Roll of Honour; entries, mainly on pre-printed forms, were to be submitted by 21 September 1917.

The entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour clearly made out for Harry Bullock (Staffordshire Record Office).

The entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour made out for Harry Bullock (Staffordshire Record Office).

The result was a roll that contained 195 names, which was unveiled at an open-air service on the corner of Bentons Lane on Sunday 3 February 1918 by the widows of fallen soldiers Simpson, North and Masters. The roll, the work of E Bridgman of Lichfield, was housed in what appears to be an 8′ 6″ long by 8′ wide pitch-pine framed construction. We know that flowers were placed with it – as is appears they were stolen on more than one occasion.

After the war, the Parish Council met to discuss a lasting memorial and while I believe a revamp of the Great Wyrley Institute on Norton Lane was one possibility, a memorial garden became the favourite. Colonel Harrison gifted the land and the garden was laid-out and opened on Saturday 8 April 1922.

The opening of the Gt Wyrley Memorial Garden on Saturday 8 April 1922. Note the avenue of lime trees - one for each of the 25 fallen soldiers - but also that there are NO plaques on the gates. Thanks to the GWLHS.

The opening of the Gt Wyrley Memorial Garden on Saturday 8 April 1922. Click to enlarge. Note the avenue of lime trees leading from the gate – one for each of the 25 fallen soldiers – there are plaques on the gates, they are just difficult to see. Thanks to the GWLHS.

The opening ceremony took place ‘in front of a large crowd’ that included the Parish Council, the fire brigade, guides and scouts, was presided over by Mr Henshall, the headmaster at Landywood School. The gates were dedicated by Rev Lanfer, the Vicar of St Marks’. The unlocking was performed by Mr and Mrs Forrest of Essington (Mr Forrest had been manager of the Holly Bank Colliery in Essington). The gate piers had plaques with the names of 280 men that served from the surrounding area and the gates, according to the Lichfield Mercury, had the familiar plaques with the 25 fallen men’s names – they can just be made out on the 1922 photograph above.

The Memorial Garden, today. 2015.

The Memorial Garden, today. 2015.

The layout of the garden was then, simplistic; it was not enclosed as it is today and there was no monument. The internal avenue that led from the gates was lined with 25 lime trees, one for each soldier – these can be seen on the photograph above. The avenue today is somewhat narrower and many of the trees seem to have gone, as the photos of 2015 show.

The Memorial Garden, today. 2015.

The Memorial Garden, today. 2015.

Returning to the project, as I investigated the names on the gate plaques it became evident that many were erroneous in one way or another: the usual memorial curse of mis-spellings here being compounded by extra initials and first or surnames that were completely wrong. Indeed, out of 25 names, my investigations revealed that 11 contained some kind of error. With this discovery, the purpose of the blog biographies began to change: as well as tell a story they would also act as the proof needed to formally identify the soldier so that I could go to the Great Wyrley Parish Council – who were very keen for me to do so – with a full list of the changes needed. The Council would then debate and settle on some kind of solution regarding alteration. This blog post is that proof and will be presented to the Council in February 2016.

One question that is obvious is just why there are so many errors on these plaques? Well, currently I can only surmise that when the gates were taken down in the 1987 in order for the supporting brick piers to be rebuilt, and were stolen, the original plaques were still attached to them. In his article in the Great Wyrley Millennium Book, Peter Lewis states that ‘there were no drawings of the original gates, but the Parish Council were able to provide photographs. The photographs however gave difficulty in establishing the names on the plaques that were on the original gates’. It seems that the errors occurred because nobody knew how to check the names on the gates and the replacements were simply best guesses from blurry photographs.

So, why should anyone accept my word over these errors? Well, all the biographies I produce draw from the original sources (often reproduced) to tell the story of the man’s life from birth to death. In short, I can only submit the story along with the proof and let the reader judge.

The Roll:
What follows from here is a list of the names as they appear on the two gates plaques. Next to the name as listed is a note on whether the name is correct, and if not what changes need to be made. Finally, there is then a page link to click on, which will take the reader to the biography page of the appropriate soldier.

The first plaque on the Wyrley Gates, containing 12 names. 2014

The first plaque on the Wyrley Gates, containing 12 names. 2014

Ames. W.H.
William Henry Ames: this name is completely correct.

Benton. E.D.A.
Edward Aulder Benton: This is the first of a series of errors where a middle initial has been created from what should a second, descriptive letter for the first name. As such, the entry should be either Benton. E.A or Benton. Ed.A.

Bullock. Harry.
Henry Bullock: Henry signs his own letters to his family as Harry, therefore this entry is in ‘familiar’ style and is correct.

Bason. T.C.
Theodore Crescens Bason: this name is completely correct

Collins. Walter
Walter Collins: this name is completely correct

Downing. Pat.
Patrick Downey: This entry is incorrect, Patrick Downey is correctly named on the Harrison’s memorial and was awarded the Military Medal. Harrison’s have added this to their memorial.

Dutton. Jos.
Joseph Dutton: this name is completely correct.

Gossage. J.
John Gossage, also known as Jack: this name is completely correct.

Gretton. W.M.H
William Henry Gretton: this entry is another that has turned a descriptive second letter for the Christian name into an initial, as such it should read Gretton. Wm.H. or Gretton. W.H.

Griffiths. H.Y
Henry Griffiths: Henry was also known in familiar terms as Harry – however, the entry is incorrect as the ‘Y’ appears as an initial when it should he a descriptive letter for the Christian name. As such the entry should be Griffiths. H. or Griffiths. Hy.

Higgs. Herbert. T
Herbert Higgs: this entry is completely correct.

Jones. Harry.
Hezekiah Henry Jones: Hezekiah was clearly also known by his middle name, Henry – and likely Harry – making this name correct in the familiar.

The second gate plaque on the Wyrley Gates, containing 13 names. 2014.

The second gate plaque on the Wyrley Gates, containing 13 names. 2014.

James. Thomas.
Thomas James: this name is completely correct.

Masters. Jos.
Joseph Masters: this entry is completely correct.

Mears. Percy.
Frederick Percy Mears: Known by his middle name, so Percy is correct.

North. Wilfred.
Wilfred North: this name is completely correct.

Robinson. C.
Ernest Robinson: this entry is incorrect, the E for Ernest having been mis-read as a ‘C’ – the entry should be Robinson. E.

Sambrooke. W.T.
William Thomas Deakin Sambrook: the surname is incorrectly spelt, the entry should be Sambrook. W.T.

Simpson. W.M.H.
William Henry Simpson: this entry had also taken a descriptive letter for the Christian name as an initial, as such the entry should be Simpson. Wm.H. or Simpson. W.H.

Smith. Thomas.
Benjamin Smith: The Christian name is erroneous, the entry was in fact for George Henry Smith’s brother – the next entry. As such, the entry should be along the lines of Smith. Ben.

Smith. Geo. H.
George Henry Smith: this entry is completely correct.

Thomas. Ernest
Ernest Thomas: this name is completely correct.

Whitehouse. E.A
Alfred Whitehouse: the first initial is completely erroneous, the entry should be Whitehouse. Alfred or Whitehouse. A.

Whithnell. H.
Charles Henry Withnall: Charles was known by his middle name and Harry as a familiar version of that, so the H initial is acceptable as the familiar; the surname, however, is incorrectly spelt. The entry should be Withnall. H.

Woodhouse. W.M.C
Reginald Coley Woodhouse: the Christian name is incorrect, the entry should be Woodhouse. R.C.

For Inclusion:

Mitchell. Harold

With thanks to:
The Staffordshire Record Office
Great Wyrley Local History Society
Great Wyrley Parish Council