Find out more about this Royal Proclamation, read out in chapels and churches like Devoran over four Sundays in wartime throughout May 1917
Death of A Sailor who Fought on Land
James Edwin Hitchens, Able Seaman R/510, Hawke Battalion, Royal Naval Division RNVR, died during the Arras offensive in 18 April 1917 aged 28.
James Edwin Hitchens has no known grave and is remembered on Bay 1 of the Arras Memorial.
Born at Carnon Mine 20 May 1888, James Edwin Hitchens was a ‘Mining Engine Driver‘ on the 1911 census.
Son of James and Mary Hitchens, of Carclew Terrace, Devoran, Cornwall
His brother William Hitchens was a Railway Engine Stoker in 1911.
His father James Hitchens was born in Feock into a family of Shipwrights and Mariners at Trolver Croft and worked as a Mariner on a Steamship (see the entry for Steam Ship Erimus and Devoran casualty W. J. Dunstan above). http://cornishmemory.com/item/BRA_MI_044
Many of the Hitchens family (James Edwin Hitchen’s uncles and grandfathers) were mariners and shipwrights, so maybe it was not so unusual for him to join the Royal Navy?
His Able Seaman / Mariner father James Hitchens married Mary Leverton Nicholls (b. Carnon Downs) in 1890 and they had 8 surviving children including James Edwin Hitchens out of nine births. The family lived at Carclew Terrace, Devoran.
Why was a Royal Navy sailor killed fighting in the trenches?
The Royal Naval Division which Hitchens joined was composed in 1914 largely of surplus reserves of the Royal Navy who were not required at sea and some Royal Marines who fought on land as infantry troops. They fought at Gallipolli in 1915 and throughout the Western Front from 1916 onwards.
A Royal Naval Division database shows that Hitchens joined the Army Reserve on 1st March 1916, entered the Army on 1st December 1916, was drafted for the BEF on 6th March 1917 and joined the Hawke battalion on 3rd April 1917.
He is listed as an Engine Driver ; born Devoran, Cornwall 20 June 1888 ; Next-of-Kin & home address: Father, James, Carclew Terrace, Devoran, Cornwall. He was awarded the Victory and British War medals.
The Hawke Battalion War Diary for 18 April 1917 mentions his death:
“During the day a heavy bombardment took place on our Front & Support Lines. Guns of all calibres but mainly 5.9s.
Six men killed and 12 wounded. [R/511 F. Hibberd, R/510 J.E. Hitchens, R/343 D.O. Jones, KP/541 L. Radford, Wales Z/1401 S. Rogers, & Bristol Z/1395 C. White.]
A number of gas shells were sent over, catching some of our parties unawares.
Lieutenant WOLFE-BARRY & Sub Lieutenant HUGHES both got badly gassed & were evacuated.”
James Edwin Hitchens of Devoran, remembered in his village 100 years after his death at Arras on 18th April 1917.
To learn more about Hitchens and the families remembered on Devoran war memorial https://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/devoran-first-world-war-casualties-d-to-j/
Rifleman Percy Archibald Sweet, Died 9 April 1917
In 2014 Rifleman Percy Sweet’s name was included on the additional panel to the Devoran Parish War Memorial, despite not appearing on the original Roll of Honour.
Devoran resident Rifleman Percy Archibald Sweet 474189 of the 12th London Regiment (The Rangers) was killed aged 31 on 9 April 1917 during the battle (7-9 April) to take the French village of Neuville Vitasse by the 56th (London) Division.
He is buried at plot 1 A 35 with many other London Rangers in the London Cemetery, Neuville Vitasse.
The Battle of Arras is being commemorated by centenary events hosted by the Commonwealth War Graves commission. http://blog.cwgc.org/arras/
One famous casualty of the Battle of Arras, fought at Easter, was the talented Country writer and poet Edward Thomas. He was killed by shellfire at Easter during the first day of the Battle of Arras two years later.
In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)
By Edward Thomas
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
A fitting tribute to one such of the men who was a resident of Devoran and London, Percy Sweet.
Percy Sweet’s father Francis and Louisa Sweet lived at Fernmere on Market Street in Devoran. Percy is also listed on the CWGC website as a ‘native of Hammersmith’ London where Percy and his brothers and sisters were born.
His father (a shoemaker) and mother are still listed in the 1911 census working in London but by the time Rifleman Percy Sweet was killed in France in 1917, the family were living in Devoran.
His father Francis Sweet was born in Kenwyn, Truro and his mother Louisa (nee Pridham) from Southdown in Cornwall.
Percy Sweet was born in Hammersmith, 1887 and was listed in the 1911 census as a Cordwainer (a leather worker / shoemaker) in London. This explains why he enlisted in a London regiment.
Percy Sweet’s Service Records survive and give a few personal details of his enlistment (attestation) including being issued with spectacles whilst out in France on army service.
His family chose the suitable Easter resurrection wording for the personal inscription on his headstone “He Is Not Here, He Is Risen”
The London Cemetery, Neuville Vitasse Cemetery CWGC
Neuville-Vitasse was attacked by the 56th (London) Division on 7 April 1917 and captured by the same Division on 9 April. The village was almost entirely lost at the end of March 1918 but regained at the end of the following August. It was later “adopted” by the Metropolitan Borough of Paddington.
The London Cemetery was made by the 56th London Division in April 1917 and greatly extended after the Armistice when graves were brought in from other burial grounds and from the battlefields between Arras, Vis-en-Artois and Croisilles.
Neuville-Vitasse is a village in the department of the Pas-de-Calais, 5 kilometres south-east of Arras on the D5. London Cemetery stands on the west side of the road to Arras in a shallow valley.
London Cemetery contains 747 burials and commemorations of the First World War, amongst them Rifleman Percy Sweet, one time resident of Devoran. 318 of the burials are unidentified. The cemetery was designed by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Remembering Percy Sweet of Devoran and London, his Comrades of the London Regiment and all those of all nations who fell at the Battle of Arras 1917, remembered in Devoran, 100 years later.
Remembering J.P. Paynter of Devoran and Tywardreath who died WW1 in Salonika, Greece on 30 March 2017.
His name features on the Devoran Parish War Memorial and on the village hall Roll of Honour.
James Pearce Paynter, Private 34289, 11th Battalion, Worcester Regiment, died on 30th March 1917.
He is buried at plot F1286, Karasouli Military Cemetrey, Greece. This cemetery was linked to Casualty Clearing stations on the Doiran Front in Greece and Serbia
Although born and brought up in nearby Tywardreath where he us also remembered on their village war memorial, James Pearce Paynter is listed on UK Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919 as a resident of Devoran. He enlisted in Truro.
In 1911 though, James was still working as a Market Gardener like his brothers and like his father before him at The Gardens, Little Par, Tywardreath.
Despite the sadness of his death, there was some happiness for the Paynter family in October 1918 when his sister Millie married a serviceman in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
The wartime history of the 11th Worcestershire Regiment and its role in Salonika is set out here: http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/bat_11
and for March, fighting the Bulgarians on the Doiran front in Macedonia http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/h_macedonia_1917 , the entry for March 30th period 1917 notes light casualties.
In March 1917 the weather improved and the Allied forces prepared for active operations. Some readjustment of the front took place. The 26th and 22nd Divisions exchanged positions, and on the 24th March, after ten days of training in reserve, the 78th Brigade shifted its front to the east. The 11th Worcestershire took over trenches half-a-mile to the east of those previously held, facing down into the Jumeaux Ravine.
That Ravine is a steep cleft in the hills. Its precipitous slopes are covered with rough scrub. The hill tops are bare and rocky. The northern side of the Ravine, held by the Bulgarians was steeper and also slightly higher than the southern side. The Bulgarian line included a distinctive summit known as the Petit Couronn which was strongly entrenched and formed an important tactical point in the enemy’s main line of defence along the further side of the Ravine.
The left flank of the Battalion rested on a little gully known as the Senelle Ravine. The companies in their new position received a certain amount of attention from the enemy’s artillery, but the trenches were well sited and casualties were not very heavy (24th to 3lst March. Casualties, 3 killed, 5 wounded). On the evening of March 31st the 11th Worcestershire were relieved by the 9th Gloucestershire and moved back into reserve at Pearse Hill. (WorcestershireRegiment.Com Macedonia 1917 website excerpt)
James Pearce Paynter, buried in Greece but remembered in his home villages in Cornwall, 100 years on.
“Until the Day Breaks and the Shadows flee away”
Blog entry posted by Mark Norris, Devoran War Memorial project, March 30th
Remembering Chief Stoker William Alfred Head D/K52949 Royal Navy and the crew of HMS Matabele, lost on Arctic Convoy PQ-8 when HMS Matabele was sunk by U Boat U454, 17 January 1942.
Remembered 75 years on.
One of Devoran’s many naval casualties in two world wars.
Remembered on the Devoran Village war memorial and also the Plymouth Naval War Memorial to those lost at sea.
Read more about William Head, his wife WI stalwart Marion Head (later Rowe) and family at: https://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/devoran-second-world-war-casualties-a-to-r/
Only 2 of 238 of HMS Matabele’s crew survived the freezing waters. Often convoy ships and their escorts were unable to return and search for the missing.
In January 1942 she formed the screen, with Somali, for the cruiser Trinidad on Convoy PQ-8 from Iceland to Murmansk. The convoy departed on 11 January, and came under torpedo attack on 16 January.
On 17 January Matabele was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-454 and sank almost immediately. Only two out her complement of 238 survived. Many who were able to leave the stricken ship succumbed in the ice-cold water before rescue was possible. The two survivors were picked up by the minesweeper Harrier. (Wikipedia entry HMS Matabele).
William Head’s name features amongst the crew and casualty list for HMS Matabele on uboat.net (based on The Times Casualty List, 9 March 1942.)
http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/person/15190.html based on his CWGC entry.
Read their names so that they are not forgotten.
Arctic Convoy PQ8 and HMS Matabele
For more about the otherwise successful Convoy PQ8 (1 merchant ship SS Harmatris damaged, 1 escort HMS Matabele lost), read Arctic Convoy PQ8: The Story of Capt Robert Brundle and the SS Harmatris by Michael Wadsworth (Pen and Sword, 2009).
At 22.21 hours on 17 January 1942 HMS Matabele (G 26) (Cdr A.C. Stanford, DSC, RN), escorting convoy PQ-8, was hit by one torpedo from U-454 in the stern, which caused her magazines to blow up and the ship sank within two minutes off Kola Inlet. The survivors were unable to release the Carley floats because they were frozen in their lashings and had to jump overboard. Some of them were killed when the depth charges of the sinking destroyer detonated, but the most died of hypothermia in the icy water before they could be rescued.
Only two of the four men picked up by HMS Harrier (J 71) survived.
The U-boat had reported an earlier hit on a destroyer at 18.54 hours and a previous shot that missed. All attacks were probably against the same destroyer. (Source Uboat.net entry, HMS Matabele).
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/88/a2737488.shtml is a personal testimonial from a crew of one of the fellow Convoy PQ8 ships.
http://www.halcyon-class.co.uk/harrier/harrier_1942.htm has accounts from sailors who picked up the two survivors Bill Burras and Ernie Higgins. One source quoted suggests that about 60 crew made it off the HMS Matabele alive, despite the explosions and ship sinking in a couple of minutes but died in the freezing sea.
Remembering the crew and families of HMS Matabele and the men of the Russian / Arctic Convoys, 75 years on from 17 January 1942.
Several more of the crew casualties were from Plymouth and Devon, Devonport being the ship’s manning port, and some from Cornwall such as Albert Victor Brown of Mullion, Edward Lyndon Curnow of Goldsithney, William Doidge of Trerulefoot, Leading Stoker Leslie Oliver of Polperro, Leading Telegraphist Douglas Roscorla of Newlyn, Delmore Truran of Porthleve and Albert Wade of Lerryn. All West Country men whom Chief Stoker William Head might have known well.
Remembering also the supportive wartime villagers of Devoran who looked after the grieving families of Devoran’s wartime casulaties.
Blogposted by Mark Norris on behalf of Devoran War Memorial project, 17 January 2017.
Able Seaman Joseph William Toms, D/SSX17063 Royal Navy, died onboard HMS Galatea on 15 December 1941, aged 23. He is commemorated at panel 48, column 3 Plymouth Naval Memorial. He has no known grave.
He was the son of Harry and Mary Toms; husband of Ruby Louvain Toms (nee Peachey), of Truro, Cornwall.
HMS Galatea website
Jean Strange and family have compiled this extensive website about the crew (including one of her relatives).
More can be found on this Wikipedia site:
The crew, survivors and their families of HMS Galatea, 14 / 15 December 1941, remembered 75 years later, .
The crew of the German U boat U557 which sank HMS Galatea were lost two days later on 16 December 1941.
Posted by Mark Norris, Devoran War Memorial project, Cornwall.
We are familiar with wartime blackout in World War 2.
However here is an interesting snippet in the West Briton on 21st September 1916 …
Zeppelins – The Lighting Order Prosecutions at Falmouth
Several persons were summoned at Falmouth on Thursday for failing to screen lights …
Exemption has been granted to Falmouth Gas Works , Cox’s works on the Docks and Messrs. Visick’s of Devoran …
Military Authorities had exempted the Castle, The Hornwork and Trevethan Camp. Steps were being taken to screen lights at the naval and military hospitals.
By late 1916, Zeppelins were being replaced by long distance German Gotha bombers.
Posted by Mark Norris, Devoran War Memorial Project