Biographies of the men named on the WW1 War Memorials of Church Stretton, Little Stretton and All Stretton
In 2018, the centenary year of the signing of the WW1 Armistice, the Local History Groups undertook to research the background and lives of those soldiers whose names appear on the local war memorials and/or rolls of honour.
Often soldiers are remembered on the memorials in more than one parish, as their connections were not confined to one locality. For the Strettons, all 21 names on the All Stretton memorial also appear on the Church Stretton one. In Little Stretton (which included Minton), there are two names from the 11 listed there who do not appear on the Church Stretton memorial. In total there are 53 names and the following pages give a brief biography of each one of them. Sadly, there is often very little information available for those soldiers from less affluent families, perhaps themselves illiterate, whose lives were not documented at the time other than in official records such as birth – and death – registrations and every ten years at census time. We have tried to find out as much as possible about their lives, which were often too short for them to have left descendants who could have inherited and possibly preserved what little documentation there would have been.
Most of the men were single, with just nine known to have been married.
As expected, most (36) of the men were in their 20s, although there were also seven teenagers.
The youngest, Jesse Haynes, enlisted while underage and died shortly after he turned 17. The official age for enlistment was 18 and soldiers were not supposed to have been sent overseas until they were 19. It is true that recruitment officers were paid per man recruited but also the widely held view seemed to be that if they were fit enough and wanted to fight, then no one should try to stop them.
The oldest, Thomas Charles Whiting, was 40, married, with no children.
Six of the men were already servicemen before war broke out. Of the rest, most volunteered in 1914, with a further six signing up in 1915. Conscription was introduced in early 1916 because the number of volunteers had drastically reduced as the realities of war became known and the idea of a great adventure for a few months became untenable. Just another nine of the men who died joined from 1916 onwards. The chances of dying were, of course, greatly increased, the earlier they joined up.
The first recorded death was on 26th October, 1914 and the last on 14th May, 1920.
We don’t know the cause of death of one of the soldiers (for clarification: he was not shot at dawn). Of the rest, 30 were killed in action, nine died of disease, nine died of their wounds and two were lost at sea. It is worth recording that two of the men died while prisoners of war, one of whom died of “concussion following a brain injury”. The Red Cross records state that he was unwounded when captured.
There were 33 privates (incl. gunner or driver), six lance corporals, four second lieutenants, three captains, two lieutenants (incl. asst paymaster), two corporals, two sergeants and one lieutenant commander.
One soldier was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, two were awarded the Military Cross and one the Military Medal.
Three of the men – all from the 7th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry - died on the same day, in the same battle. The 7th suffered more casualties than any other KSLI battalion and on the day in question – 14th July, 1916 – they were engaged in the Battle of Bazentin Ridge on the Somme. Two of the men – both from the 11th Btn, South Wales Borderers – died on 3rd July 1917 at Passchendaele. A further two, one of whom we have already mentioned as he was the youngest of the Stretton soldiers on the memorials, also died on the same day, although they were from different regiments. They died at Passchendaele, this time on 16th August, 1917, during the Langemarck Battle.
Over three-quarters of our men were killed on the Western Front, including 14 at Ypres/Passchendaele and 13 on the Somme. Two died at Gallipoli, two in Greece and two were lost at sea. However, most would have seen action in more than one theatre of war during their service.
The men’s occupations disprove any idea we may have had that most of the men would have been farm workers of one kind or another at that time. We must remember that not all of those listed would have been working in the Strettons at the outbreak of war: their names are placed on the memorials by those who were here but, just like today, the young men may well have been working elsewhere. Here is a list of those occupations we know about:
Assistant in a dairy Assistant Schoolmaster Baker’s Assistant
Bank Clerk (three) Billiard Marker Bricklayer
Butcher’s Assistant Carter (two) Certified Teacher
Coal Porter Cowman (two) Doctor
Draper’s Assistant Farm Labourer Gardener (three)
Grocer’s Apprentice Groom Labourer
Motor Mechanic Miner Motor Mechanic Asst
Naval Officer (two) Quarryman Railway Clerk
Servant (two) Stationery Shop Asst Soldier (three)
Laundry Engineer Veterinary Student
The number of regiments in which the men served is surprising: 60 in total. A lot of men would serve in more than one Regiment, as battalions were all but wiped out and had to be reinforced from elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, the regiment most associated with the men was the Shropshire King’s Light Infantry (KSLI), in which 21 served at some time.
The statistics show that Stretton was already well on its way to becoming a resort before the Great War. One of the effects of this was a population in Church Stretton and All Stretton (though not in Little Stretton) skewed towards females. In 1911, there were 18% more females than males in All Stretton and 31% more in Church Stretton. Little Stretton showed no such difference: the sexes being roughly equal. By the following census these figures had increased across all three: 26% more females than males in both Little Stretton and All Stretton and 38% more in Church Stretton. Clearly the war didn’t account for all of this but life had changed irrevocably and it was a very different Stretton when those men who did return, came back.
300 local men had served during the war, 53 of whom had died. In the face of the loss (sometimes multiple losses) suffered by the individuals who remained, numbers are largely redundant. For a community as a whole, however, the tragedy of so many young lives lost must have been truly shocking and must have lasted for a very long time. There was a public meeting held soon after peace was declared, to discuss the erection of a permanent war memorial to honour those who had "made the ultimate sacrifice", to quote the words of the pamphlet seeking subscriptions to the cost of the proposed memorial [a copy of the pamphlet is held in the Shropshire Archives]. It was hoped that it would be completed in time to unveil it on June 28th 1920, on the first Anniversary of the Declaration of Peace. Upon request by the Committee appointed at the public meeting, the Town Council had identified and made available a site for the memorial, which everyone agreed to be most suitable. It was decided to adopt the Celtic form of the Cross "because of the many early British traditions which cluster round the neighbourhood." It went on to say that "the estimated cost of the Memorial in durable Portland Stone is £550, and the Committee appeal confidently for this sum".
Most present day residents still appreciate both the choice of location and the design of the memorial and the fact that it continues to be well maintained.
View the document that ended the First World War
Visit the Church Stretton Area Local History Group website