Remembering James Edwin Hitchens of Devoran died Arras WW1 18 April 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.

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Land bound sailor J.E.Hitchens was killed at the Battle of Arras and has no known grave, remembered on the Arras Memorial (Image: website),%20JAMES%20EDWIN


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CWGC Register for Arras Memorial (to the Missing who have no known graves).


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).

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







Remembering Percy Sweet killed Battle Of Arras 9 April 1917 WW1

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.


The new panel on the Devoran War Memorial, listing two new WW1 Devoran casualty names P.A. Sweet and W.J. Hoyle, thanks to work / research by Bob Richards and the Feock Parish Council.

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.,%20P%20A

The Battle of Arras is being commemorated by centenary events hosted by the Commonwealth War Graves commission.

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 headstone, London Cemetery (Image copyright TWGPP/CWGC, The War Graves Photographic Project)

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



Rifleman’s headstones at the London Cemetery, Neuville Vitasse, Arras, France. (Image source CWGC)

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 James Pearce Paynter died WW1 30 March 1917

Remembering J.P. Paynter of Devoran and Tywardreath who died WW1 in Salonika, Greece on 30 March 2017.


J P Paynter’s headstone, Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece (Image copyright: TWGPP/CWGC, The War Graves Photographic Project)

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:

and for March, fighting the Bulgarians on the Doiran front  in Macedonia ,  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 Devoran’s William Head HMS Matabele sunk 17 January 1942

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.


World War 2 section, Devoran War Memorial Photo: Mark Norris

Remembered on the Devoran Village war memorial and also the Plymouth Naval War Memorial to those lost at sea.

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Chief Stoker W.A. Head’s name on the Plymouth War Memorial. (Image: Mark Norris, 2013)

Read more about William Head, his wife WI stalwart Marion Head (later Rowe) and family at:

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).


HMS Matabele F26/G26 (Wikipedia / Royal Navy image source public domain) Some of the Carley float life rafts  that were frozen fast can be seen midships.

William Head’s name features amongst the crew and casualty list for HMS Matabele on  (based on The Times Casualty List,  9 March 1942.) 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 entry, HMS Matabele). is a personal testimonial from a crew of one of the fellow Convoy PQ8 ships. 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.





Remembering Joseph William Toms and HMS Galatea 14 December 1941

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J.W. Toms’ name listed on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. Image, Mark Norris, 2013

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.


World War 2 section, Devoran War Memorial Photo: Mark Norris

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, .


HMS Galatea (Wikipedia source)


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.

Zeppelins, air raids and 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


Devoran men and Conscription tribunals

Here are a few Devoran related tribunal mentions in local newspapers of 1916 regarding conscription. Conscription came into force during 1916, first for single men, then shortly after for married men.

After all the attempts at recruiting or attesting volunteers throughout 1914 and 1915, the shortage of men in uniform forced the UK government to intervene in the working lives of many men and their families in a way not seen since the infamous pressgangs and Militia Acts  Napoloeonic Wars. 

In March 1916 the Military Service Act was passed. This imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, but exempted the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker. A second Act passed in May 1916 extended conscription to married men. Conscientious objectors – men who objected to fighting on moral grounds– were also exempted, and were in most cases given civilian jobs or non-fighting roles at the front.

Cornish Tribunals

Miners Claims at Truro.

West Briton, March 11th 1916

Is a sexton of national importance?

Truro Rural Tribunal met on Saturday, Mr T. Trudgian presiding.  (West Briton, March 11 1916)

According to the Kelly’s Directory for Cornwall 1910, George Dungey was sexton in 1910, parish clerk and sexton and part of the family firm of carriers. Who I wonder was sexton in 1916?

A builder, single, Devoran, aged 36 years, applied for exemption, and stated that worked on jobbing and contract. There was no one with him in business. He had reared the family for 16 years. His duties included those of sexton.

The Chairman: Is there anyone who could take your place?

Applicant: There is no one.

Mr. I. Roskelley (military representative): What is his objection?

It was stated that applicant set as his objection that he felt he could not take part in military service. It was never right for one man to kill another. He did not feel he could take up arms against his brother man.

Further it would entail hardship on his mother and two sisters, who were dependent on him. He considered his work as a sexton of national importance. (Laughter) He also considered his business of national importance.

The Chairman: He is a National man. (Laughter)

Exempted until April 14th 2016 and then the case will be reconsidered.

The Chairman: (to applicant) We hope by that time your conscience will be a little more straight.

Applicant: My conscience is straight enough.

The Chairman: When you come up again you will be able to tell us whether your brothers have joined up or not.

In the leader column by Argus on the same page, Argus notes of Conscientious Objectors that “a few members of tribunals have gone so far as to ridicule conscientious objectors” West Briton Monday March 13, 1916, page 2.

Who was this 36 year old Builder / Sexton? Who were his brothers, were they siblings or fellow men of conscience? Was this Sexton  a Dungey?  It appears that already by 1916 both an A.E. or E  Dungey (Private 10 DCLI) and a C. Dungey (Private, Australian Expeditionary Force) are already listed in the 1915 lists on the Roll of Honour as recruits.

The Case of Alfred Scott Mansell

Mr. A. J. Mansell, baker, applied for exemption of his son Alfred Scott Mansell, 26, of Carclew View, Devoran, who was engaged in  the bakery business. Mr. Mansell said his son was the only practical help he had and [if?] he could not retain him he should have to give up part of the work.

The Advisory Comittee recommended that the claim is not allowed and that the man join up on May 15th [1916].

Mr Roskelley: We saw a demonstration of ploughing yesterday by women and I think it would be better to place some of them in bake houses where they might do something useful.

The Mayor: if they didn’t bake bread better than some of them ploughed well.

Mr Goodfellow remarked that bread baking was a certified occupation and it was a question of whether a man could be relieved of civil employment.

Mr Mansell said a man he employed was called up at the beginning of the war, and for the past eight or ten months his wife had been in the bake house every day ; she was there when he left that evening.

Three of his five daughters were helping in the bake house. Temporary exemption until July 1st [1916] was granted, when another claim might be made.

Reported in the 10 April 1916 edition, West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser – Truro, Cornwall, England

Editor’s note: Alfred Mansell’s name does not appear on the Devoran Roll of Honour, suggesting that he was granted continued exemption or that his service is recorded elsewhere.

In a Follow up report, the mockery by Mr Roskelley about women ploughing at Chyvelah and women and men baking appears to have been challenged at the TRURO RURAL TRIBUNAL,  RECENT AGRICULTURAL DEMONSTRATION. Truro Rural Tribunal met on Saturday, Mr. Coulter Hancock presiding. There were also present: Messrs. H. H. Williams and Mr Roskelley (military representative). W. E. Graves. W. Hearle … reported on the 27 April 1916 in the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser – Truro, Cornwall, England

The Case of Edward Pope,38

Again in June 1916 in front of the military representative (Mr. Roskelley), the agricultural representative (Mr. T. M. Michell), and the clerk (Mr. J. Bray) …

June 8 1916 – Edward Pope (38) married, traction engine driver who was appealed for by his employers messrs W.F. Simmons Hodge and Co, Devoran  was exempted for two months and then to be  reconsidered.

July 31 1916 – West Briton – Mr W.F. Simmons Hodge, Devoran appealed for Edward Pope, 38, Perran Downs, Perranwell station,  engine driver at the brickworks and handy man. Three single men had to come up for reexamination. [Exemption until ] September 30th 1916 and then to be reconsidered.

Edward Pope’s name does not appear on the Devoran Roll of Honour. He may be recorded elsewhere if he was finally conscripted.

The case of James Henry Williams, 32, Perranwell

Messrs. W. Visick and Sons, Devoran, wrote stating that they regretted the decision of the local tribunal to order James Williams, of Perranwell, to join up on August 1st [1916]. He was their painter of bombs and he cold not possibly be spared, as there was no else to put in his place. He painted sixty bombs per week. The Tribunal decided not to reconsider the case.

12 June 1916 – West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser – Truro, Cornwall, England

Mr James Henry Williams, married, 32, builder contractor and wheelwright, Perranwell Station appealed against the decision of the Truro Rural Tribunal. Appellant stated that for the past six weeks he had been engaged in munition work and working in the national interests.

He was employed two full days a week by Messrs W. Visick’s and Sons, Devoran in painting, lettering and putting distinguishing marks on bombs. He considered the ruling of the local tribunal very unfair seeing that he had given three days a week for the national interest. He had completed work on 600 bombs up to the present and had taken a contract for painting etc 60 bombs a week.

Messrs Visick’s wrote regretting the decision of the local tribunal and stating that he could not possibly spare the appellant there being no one else to take his place.

Appellant, in reply to a question said he commenced the bomb painting work at Easter and also had farmers’ building contracts in hand. The tribunal upheld the decision of the local tribunal.

J.H. Williams’ name does not appear to be on the Devoran Roll of Honour; it may be recorded elsewhere.

This bomb painting work according to photographs in Cornish archives appears later in the war to have been undertaken by women at engineering works like Visick’s.

The Case of William Retallack, 31

Mr William Retallack, 31, married, of Tolverne Farm, Carnon, Perranwell , farmer, appealed and said he farmed 16 acres and milked five or six cows. He took over the farm 15 months ago. Exemption to the middle of September 1916 and then join up.  West Briton June 29 1916.

Retallack’s name does not appear on the Devoran Roll of Honour; it may appear in the records of surrounding villages.

The Case of William John Stephens

See also West Briton for July 24th 1916   Devoran man, widower with frail child,  shop assistant William John Stephens of Point,  Devoran – applied for exemption, ordered to join up. His name is listed on the Devoran  Roll of Honour and he thankfully survived the war.

I will tell more of Stephens’ story, Truro shop assistant,  in another blogpost. His name appears on the Devoran Roll of Honour.

The Case of Norman John Dunstan

July 31 1916, West Briton – Norman John Dunstan, farmer, Carnon Downs, who was previously ordered to join up on September 29 [1916] that it was decided to recommend to the County Tribunal who referred the case back, that in view of the doctor’s certificate  regarding the father’s health, the case should be postponed for three months and reconsidered for exemption.

The name of N.J. Dunstan does appear  in late 1916 (as private in the Royal Engineers) amongst those who served on the Roll of Honour, suggesting he changed his mind and was conscripted or was no longer exempted.

We will add more information and names as we come across them in local paper reports of tribunals and exemptions.

Posted by Mark Norris, Devoran War Memorial Project, November 2016.