06.1 War Memorials

 

INTRODUCTION to SOMERTON WAR MEMORIALS In October 1918 a Committee called “Somerton Comrades of the Great War” was formed under the chairmanship of Harold Hall-Stephenson, who lived at Somerton Court.  Later, it was chaired by Captain Phipps-Hornby, when he returned from service with the 9th Lancers, and the Treasurer was the miller, F G Harding, whose son, Norman, had been killed on the Western Front.  The purpose of the Committee was to raise money to erect a suitable memorial to the sixty or so men who had died while serving their country in the Great War. The contributions came in and the town was able to commission G Cox & Son, Monumental Sculptors, of Keinton Mandeville, to make a Portland stone monument of a soldier standing on a large square pillar, on which the names were inscribed.  Portland stone was chosen because it was likely to last longer than the local stones, Ham or Keinton, which had been used for other memorials and were already deteriorating.  The design was one of several issued by the War Office for use by communities wishing to make suitable and accurate memorials to their dead. The soldier is a Royal Artillery man standing in the reversed arms position; he has long service and good conduct stripes.  The cost was £208 and 2 shillings, the remaining £8 of the fund being used for publicity leaflets, service sheets for the ceremony, a photographer, and £1 to the Red Lion Hotel for overnight accommodation for two buglers sent from the Somerset Light Infantry in Taunton for the unveiling.  The memorial was dedicated on 21st May 1921, and given into the care of the parish council in perpetuity. In 1930, the Somerton branch of the Royal British Legion added railings round the memorial, to protect it from improper uses, but the upkeep of the railings became a problem and in 1948 they were removed, and sold to Metford Adams who used them as garden rails at his home at Etsome Farm.  When the Market Place was improved in the 1990s, the monument was moved a few yards from its original position outside the churchyard gates, to allow easier access to the church for weddings and funerals. The names of those who died in the Great War, 1914 – 1918, are inscribed on three faces of the monument’s pillar. Officers and NCOs are on the south face, ordinary soldiers and sailors in alphabetical order on the east and west faces.  After the Second World War, the Royal British Legion collected the names of those who had died in that conflict, including those killed by the Milk Factory bomb in September 1942, and those names were added to the north face in 1948. There are several monuments inside the parish church of St Michael and All Angels.  Just inside the south door, to the right beyond the font, there is a brass plate on the wall with a list of names, very like the one on the memorial in the Square, although there are variations in spellings.  The WW2 men have Christian names instead of initials, and were added on a separate plate. Below it is a hand-written list of all the men of Somerton who served in the Great War, the names of those who died being marked by a cross.  Again, this information is slightly different from either the brass plate or the memorial, but it is interesting to see nearly three hundred names there, when the adult population of Somerton was about 1500. A similar list for World War II was added in 2006. There are panels in the east window for several of the officers, all of them related to the Phipps-Hornby family or to the Pretor-Pinneys, as well as a window in the North aisle in thanksgiving for Captain Phipps-Hornby’s safe return from the War, and a memorial plaque to Lt Cdr Pretor-Pinney, also in the north aisle. The Methodist church in West Street has a large memorial to R J Case, whose aunts were enthusiastic members of that congregation. There are no memorials in the other churches in the parish, some of which did not exist at the time of the Great War. In Etsome Terrace, on the site of the Milk Factory, which is now occupied by the Fire Station, the children’s play area and the infants school, there was a memorial plaque in a stone plinth to the memory of the nine people killed by the bomb which fell there on 29th September 1942, destroying the factory and damaging all the houses round about.  The new stone with a larger inscription is in the entrance area of the children’s play ground, facing into Etsome Terrace. It was dedicated in 2006 when the Memorial Garden was enlarged and improved. There are four Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones in the town cemetery in Behind Berry. The three for the Great War are near the front, just beyond the Garden of Rest, to the left of the main drive.  Two are of standard War Graves design, but the one for G W Burroughs is a cross, now fallen, with an inscription by the family. The fourth headstone is for K Wride, and is beside the cross-path at the far end of the main drive beside his family’s graves. In 1987, when Cox’s Yard and the Brewery site were being developed to make the shopping precinct, Roy Jones learned that the Cox brothers had lived in the house at the entrance to the Yard. Roy had been in a bomber squadron himself, like H A M Cox, and found out all he could about H A M Cox and his brother John who were killed in WW2. He named the new building ‘Lancaster House’, after the Lancaster bomber in which H A M Cox was killed, and put up a plaque on the back wall of the new building in memory of the brothers. It was unveiled by Betty, the twin sister of John Cox in 1987.