Tag Archives: war

100 War Grave Stories

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One hundred tales of the fallen of World War One.

One hundred tales of pandemics, battlefield wounds, accidental shootings, car crashes, drownings, suicides, tram accidents and plane crashes.

One hundred tales of soldiers, sailors, airmen and nursing staff, from the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and the West Indies.

One hundred stories behind the names on the gravestones.

Let their stories not be forgotten.

Learn more at the CKPonderingsCWG blog.


A-Z of Somerset: Rodney Stoke

R is for Rodney Stoke

At the foothills of the Mendips, on the main road between Wells and Weston-super-Mare, lies the quiet, unassuming village of Rodney Stoke. Owned by a number of families over the years, Stoches (old English for ‘settlement’) has been known as Stoke Whiting, Stoke Giffard and Stoke Rodney over the years, before the name settled on Rodney Stoke.

With a population of close to 1,500 people, you would expect the village to be a bustling affair, but settled as it is – along three lanes leading downhill from the A371 – it has an altogether quieter feel about it.


The lanes are lined with cottages built for former farm workers. Some former outbuildings have been converted into newer residences while other parts of the village are much newer properties, albeit still in keeping with the history of the village.

At the bottom of Stoke Street lies a farm, while the former manor house stands proud above the surrounding fields.


The parish church – St Leonard’s – is, unsurprisingly, place next to the manor house and, while hidden from most of the village, it can be clearly seen on the skyline from the south, standing tall and proud against the dramatic escarpment of the Mendips.

Normally, when I visit the local villages, I spent time in the churchyard looking for Commonwealth War Graves. However, Rodney Stoke stands out as one of the county’s Thankful Villages.

Fifty-three parishes in England and Wales are commemorated as having sent servicemen to war between 1914 and 1918, all of whom returned at the end of the conflict. These Thankful Villages stand out, particularly given that there are tens of thousands of towns and villages across the country.

Somerset has the highest number of Thankful Villages by county, with Rodney Stoke counting as one of nine. This is celebrated by a window in the church, giving thanks that “All glory be to God, whom in his tender mercy has brought again to their homes, the men and women of Rodney Stoke who took part in the Great War 1914-1919”.

(As an aside, Rodney Stoke sadly doesn’t fit into the category of being Doubly Thankful, having seen all of their service men and women return from both world wars. Four local residents – David Cooper, John Glover-Price, Denis Thayer and James Williams – perished in the 1939-1945 conflict.)


A second memorial to Rodney Stoke being thankful is situated in the Village Pound.

Since Norman times, strict controls were in place about where and when animals could graze on common land. The Pound – a walled area on the main road – was a place for straying animals to be kept until their owners paid the due fine.


As with other villages I have visited for this alphabetical journey, Rodney Stoke is definitely worth stopping by for. To the north of the village lie the Stoke and Stoke Woods Nature Reserves , and the village pub – the Rodney Stoke Inn – must also be worth a visit!


CWG: Guardsman William Crossan

Guardsman William Crossan

William Crossan was born in 1892 in Ballinamore, Ireland. He was the fourth of five children to Patrick and Catherine Crossan.

William disappears from the 1911 Census or Ireland, but has joined the Irish Guards by the time war broke out.

Guardsman Crossan’s battalion was involved in the Battle of Mons, but it was during the fighting at Ypres that he was injured.

Shipped back to the UK for treatment, William passed away on 2nd November 1914. I am assuming that this was at one of the Red Cross Hospitals in the Sherborne area, as this is where he was buried.

Guardsman William Crossan lies at rest in Sherborne Cemetery.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Private Edward Lewsley

Private Edward Lewsley

Edward (Teddy) Lewsley was born in 1894, the ninth of twelve children to James and Charlotte Lewsley from London.

James had worked with horses, and become a cab driver at the turn of the century; Edward started as a general labourer on finishing school.

Edward’s military history is a little vague. From his gravestone, we know that he joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was in the 1st Battalion. The battalion fought at the Battles of Mons, Marne and Messines.

In the spring of 1915, Edward’s battalion fought in the Second Battle of Ypres and, given the timing, it seems likely that he was involved.

Whether he was on the Western Front or stationed in the UK, Private Lewsley was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital in Sherborne, where he passed away on 30th May 1915.


One of Edward’s brothers also enlisted in the Light Infantry.

Daniel Lewsley first joined the East Surrey Regiment in 1909 and continued through to 1928. This included a stint as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Second Lieutenant Sidney Pragnell

Second Lieutenant Sidney Pragnell

Sidney Ralph Pragnell was the eldest of two children of Edward and Ellen Pragnell. Edward grew up in Sherborne, before moving to London to work as a chef; he found employment as a cook in an officer’s mess, which took him and his wife first to Ireland – where Sidney was born – and then to the barracks at Aldershot.

By the time of the 1911 census, Edward had brought his family back to Dorset, and was running the Half Moon Hotel, opposite the Abbey in Sherborne. Sidney, aged 12, was still at school.

When war broke out, Sidney was eager to play his part, even though he was underage. An article in the local newspaper highlights his keenness and how he progressed.

When war broke out, he was keen to serve his country and joined every local organisation his age would allow him to. He was an early member of the Sherborne VTC and Red Cross Detachment, and was actually the youngest member of the Volunteers to wear the uniform. Whilst still under age, he enlisted in the Royal Naval Division at the Crystal Palace and after a period of training was drafted as a qualified naval gunner to a merchant steamer carrying His Majesty’s mails and in this capacity went practically round the world. In February [1919] he joined the RNAS and after some air training in England went to France to an air station, where he passed all the tests with honours and gained the ‘wings’ of the qualified pilot. Lieutenant Pragnell then decided to go in for scouting and came back to England for advanced training in the special flying necessary for this qualification and it was whilst engaged in this that he met with the accident which resulted in his death.

Western Chronicle: Friday 16th August 1918.

The esteem in which Second Lieutenant Pragnell was held continues in the article, which quotes the condolence letter sent to his parents by his commander, Major Kelly.

It is with deep regret that I have to write you of the death of your son, Second-Lieutenant SR Pragnell. Your boy was one of the keenest young officers I have ever had under my command and was extremely popular with us all and his place will be extremely hard to fill.

The service can ill afford to lose officers of the type of which Lieutenant Pragnell was an excellent example and it seems such a pity this promising career was cut short when he had practically finished his training. May I convey the heartfelt sympathy of all officers and men in my command to you in this your hour of sorrow.

Western Chronical: Friday 16th August 1918.

What I find most interesting about this article is that the letter from Major Kelly detail how Edward and Ellen’s son died, and this this too is quoted by the newspaper.

Your son had been sent up to practice formation flying and was flying around the aerodrome at about 500 feet with his engine throttled down waiting for his instruction to ‘take off’. Whiles waiting your boy tried to turn when his machine had little forward speed. This caused him to ‘stall’ and spin and from this low altitude he had no chance to recover control and his machine fell to earth just on the edge of the aerodrome and was completely wrecked. A doctor was there within a minute, but your boy had been killed instantaneously.

Western Chronicle: Friday 16th August 1918.

Further research shows that the aerodrome Second Lieutenant Pragnell was training at was RAF Freiston in Lincolnshire, which had been designated Number 4 Fighting School with the specific task of training pilots for fighting scout squadrons. He had been flying a Sopwith Camel when he died.

Second Lieutenant Sidney Ralph Pragnell lies at rest in the cemetery of his Dorset home, Sherborne.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Boy 2nd Class Sidney Stagg

Boy 2nd Class Sidney Stagg

Sidney Herbert Stagg was born in 1901. The eldest child of bootmaker Sidney Stagg and his wife Frances, Sidney Jr was too young to fight in the when war broke out.

He enlisted in the Royal Navy at the beginning of 1919, and was assigned to HMS Powerful, a training vessel based in Plymouth.

Boy Petty Officer Stagg’s time in the navy was heartbreakingly short. Within a few weeks he had contracted pneumonia and succumbed to the disease on 27th February 1919. He was just 17 years old, and had been in service for 36 days.

The Western Gazette reported on his funeral:

[He] left Sherborne just over a month ago to join the Royal Navy, a career for which he had expressed a great liking, and was attached to HMS Powerful, being made Boy PO within a fortnight of his joining that ship. A short time afterwards he contracted influenza, and pneumonia supervening, he died on Thursday at the Royal Naval Hospital, at Plymouth.

A service was held in the Congregational Church, and sontinued at the graveside, where three volleys were fired by a firing party of the Volunteers [the Sherborne Detachment 1st Volunteer Battalion, Dorset Regiment], and buglers sounded the last post. The Rev. W Melville Harris (uncle of the deceased) officiated, and the principal mourners were Mr Stagg (father), Miss Joyce Stagg (sister), Mr H Hounsell (uncle), and members of the business establishment.

Western Gazette: Friday 7th March 1919.

Sidney Herbert Stagg lies at peace in the cemetery in his home town of Sherborne.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Private Thomas Daines

Private Thomas Daines

Born in 1871, Thomas Daines was one of fourteen children. His parents, Charles and Sarah, worked on a farm a few miles from Halstead in Essex.

After leaving school, Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and, by the time of the 1891 census was also listed as an agricultural labourer. He married Kate Rawlinson in the spring of 1893, and they had two children – Matilda and Lewis – before relocating to South East London in around 1898.

The reason for the move was, more than like, job opportunities, and Thomas was soon working at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

Settling into their new city life, Thomas and Kate had five further children: Annie, Thomas, Alfred, Charles and Beatrice. Thomas continued as a labourer, before enlisting in the army within three months of war being declared in October 1914.

Sadly, Private Daines’ service was not be be a long one. Having suffered a bout of influenza, Thomas was admitted to a Red Cross Hospital in Sherborne, Dorset. He died of pneumonia on 22nd February 2015.

Private Thomas Daines lies at peace in the Sherborne Cemetery.


As a sad aside to Thomas and Kate’s story, their eldest son, Lewis, enlisted in the 16th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He fought on the Western Front, and was killed in action in Pozières on 26th March 1918.

The Great War had claimed father and son.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Corporal Sidney Hornby

This blog has focused a lot on the Commonwealth War Graves I have found on my travels around (initially Somerset) churchyards.

One of my other hobbies is family history, and I have uncovered a number of my ancestors who fell in the Great War. None that have researched so far did so on home soil, however, and so they are not buried in the UK.

It is only fitting, though, that I commemorate their loss here too.

The first of these is Corporal Hornby.


Sidney Horace Hornby was born to John and Emily in March 1880. John was a tailor’s assistant from Paddington, and the family – Sidney was the eldest of six siblings – initially lived in the Greenwich.

Sidney enlisted in the army in 1898. He joined the East Kent Regiment for a short service of seven years and was sent to South Africa. In March 1900 he was wounded at the Battle of Driefontein. His service, though, saw him promoted through the ranks from Private to Sergeant.

Something must have happened during his enlistment, however, as on 2nd September 1901 Sergeant Hornby’s military record marks him as having deserted.

Sidney’s records pick him up again on 24th April 1908, when he is put on court martial. Found guilty of desertion, he is reduced to the ranks and and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude (later reduced to two years’ hard labour).

His attitude seems to continue, however, as within a matter of months he was discharged due to misconduct and denied any pension for his previous service.

Sidney’s family had moved from Greenwich to Kent at some point before the 1901 census, and his father died three years later. By the 1911 census, he had moved back in with his mother, and worked as a labourer to help look after them.

The Great War called, however, and it seems that Sidney’s previous misdemeanours did not excluding him from fighting again. He joined the Royal West Kent Regiment although his full service for the 1914-18 campaign are not accessible. Again, his service seems to have been good, as he was elevated to the rank of Sergeant for a second time.

Hints of Sergeant Hornby’s rebellious nature remain, however, as he was court marshalled again in February 1916. He was convicted of drunkenness, and reduced to the rank of Corporal.

That was the summer of the Battle of the Somme, and by the autumn Corporal Hornby was one of the many who fell during that time. He died on 4th October 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.


Sidney Horace Hornby was my 1st cousin, four times removed.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Private Frank Woods

This blog has focused a lot on the Commonwealth War Graves I have found on my travels around (initially Somerset) churchyards.

One of my other hobbies is family history, and I have uncovered a number of my ancestors who fell in the Great War. None that have researched so far did so on home soil, however, and so they are not buried in the UK.

It is only fitting, though, that I commemorate their loss here too.


Frank Ernest Woods was born in 1885, one of seven children to Thomas and Alice. Thomas was a labourer and the family lived in Worcestershire.

Frank left home early – by the time of the 1901 census, he was living as a gardener for the Cornforth family, who were grain merchants in South Claines, near Worcester.

Frank’s work with the family continued; the 1911 census show that they had relocated to Kensington. The Cornforth family were now running the Eaton Court Hotel, a boarding house with nineteen rooms; the 25-year-old Frank had been elevated to the role of waiter.

Another of the Cornforths’ staff was a housemaid, 20-year-old Ethel Elizabeth James; within a matter of years, the couple were courting, and Frank and Ethel married in November 1915.

The Great War was already being waged across the Channel, and Frank enlisted, joining the Rifle Brigade in June 1916. Within three months, he was fighting on the Western Front.

Private Frank Woods was killed in action in Belgium on 1th January 1918. He was 33 years old. He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Zonnebeke.




Frank Ernest Woods was the first husband of my Great Great Great Aunt, Ethel Elizabeth James.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Rifleman Harold Shelbrooke

This blog has focused a lot on the Commonwealth War Graves I have found on my travels around (initially Somerset) churchyards.

One of my other hobbies is family history, and I have uncovered a number of my ancestors who fell in the Great War. None that have researched so far did so on home soil, however, and so they are not buried in the UK.

It is only fitting, though, that I commemorate their loss here too.



Harold Edward Shelbrooke was born in Poplar, East London, the eldest son of Edward and Jane. One of seven children, Harold lost his father – a labourer in the local gasworks – when he was only eight.

To support his mother – most of his sisters having moved on – he soon found employment as an umbrella maker, and by the 1911 census he had worked his way up to the position of warehouseman.

In July 1915, he married Alice Pulley; six months later their son, George was born. The young family had moved south of the Thames by now, and were living in Greenwich.

Private Shelbrooke’s military records are pretty sparse; he enlisted after marrying Alice – their Banns show him as an umbrella maker – and served in the King’s Royal Rifles.

He saw battle on the Western Front and was involved in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge at Ypres. Harold’s military documents record him as wounded and missing on the day of that battle – 20th September 1917 – and he was officially declared dead on 9th November that year. He was 33-years-old.

Private Shelbrooke has lost his father at the age of eight; his son, George, was not even two years old.

Private Harold Shelbrooke is commemorated at the Tyne Cot memorial in Zonnebeke, Belgium.

Harold Edward Shelbrooke was my first cousin, three times removed.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.