06.1.1b World War I P-W

The Pinney family have been in Somerton since about 1800. The family came from Bristol and lived at Somerton Erleigh (now called Somerton Randal).  They have been great benefactors to the town, as the builders of the Parish Rooms in the Square, and of Monteclefe School, which was originally for girls only. They lost one man in each war.


Lt-Col Charles Frederick Pretor-Pinney, DSO, was Commanding Officer of the 13th Battalion Rifle Brigade.  He was a professional soldier before the outbreak of war in 1914.

In July 1916, the new 13th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade were ready for their first action. They were to help in the taking of Contalmaison, on the Western Front in north-west France.  It was a bright summer day and other battalions fought well all day and captured part of the village.  At 8.0 p.m., Lt-Col Pretor-Pinney had orders to go ‘over the top’ at 8.45, with supporting units on each side and following, and an artillery barrage. So they did. They had to cross an open area before reaching the German trenches, and the enemy’s machine-guns knocked out many men in the first advance. There was no artillery support to keep the Germans busy.  The Battalion fought on and eventually reached their objective, a chalk quarry which the Germans had fortified.  The casualties were very heavy. 

As Lt-Col Pretor-Pinney crouched in a shell-hole wondering what had happened to all the support he had been expecting, a message reached him to say the whole attack had been cancelled. The message had reached all the other units before 8.0 p.m., so there had been no support for the 13th Rifles, and Brigade HQ did not know that they had attacked.  It was impossible to signal - no radios then - or to send a runner, because of the deadly machine-gun fire, so the leading platoons of the battalion fought on into the night.

Eventually the order to withdraw reached them.  As they began to creep back to the British lines, the Artillery, who had no idea that there were any British troops in the German trenches, opened up a heavy barrage which killed or wounded even more men than the Germans had injured earlier.  The fighting continued fiercely for days afterwards, so some of the wounded lay out in shell-holes for as long as a week.  Nearly all the officers were killed or wounded.  Over three hundred men were killed, wounded or missing, at least half the battalion.  Their Medical Officer had been killed, and the Medical Orderlies did their best in a small dressing station which was still under machine-gun fire. Gradually the wounded were taken back down the line, Lt-Col Pretor-Pinney being the last to leave. Weeks later a friend visited him in hospital and found him in tears over the destruction of his Battalion.  Ten men were awarded the Military Medal for their part in this action, and I think Lt-Col Pretor-Pinney’s DSO must have been for his leadership of the men.

Lt-Col Pretor-Pinney died of his wounds nine months later, aged 52, on 28th April 1917, and he is buried at Aubigny in France.  He had been too ill to be sent home to England.  There is a memorial panel to him in the east window of Somerton church, and his name leads the list on the War Memorial.  His main home had been at Saxmundham in Suffolk, and the family also had a house in Chelsea.  His brother, Robert Wake Pretor-Pinney, lived at Somerton Erleigh and was the local Justice of the Peace.

Other members of the family on the memorials are Giles Robert Pretor-Pinney (WW2) and Richard Henry Elwes (WW1).


William Ransome was part of a draft to join the 7th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry on 30th Sept 1917. He served with D Company.  He was killed in action on 24th November 1917, and he is remembered on the Cambrai memorial. The Battle of Cambrai had started on 20 November, when the 7th Battalion were with the F Battalion Tanks at Masnieres. Many tanks were used over hard unshelled ground and made a good advance into the Hindenburg defences, before the German counter-attack proved that the British did not have sufficient reserves to hold the areas they had captured.

On 24th November, the 7th Battalion was in support of 87 Brigade in the Mesnieres area, supplying large working parties to work in the Brigade’s trenches. There is no mention in the War Diary of casualties on this date, but the Regimental History records three deaths on 23rd November at 1900 hrs when the enemy put down a very heavy bombardment on Mesnieres and the line of the canal. Interestingly, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists only one Somerset Light Infantry death on 23rd (Lye), but three on 24th (Ransome, Robinson and Snell) so it is likely that these three men were the soldiers killed by the heavy bombardment, their deaths being reported on the following morning.

The War Graves Commission does not know William Ransome’s age or next of kin, only that he was born in Somerton and was living there when he enlisted in Taunton. There are no Ransomes listed in the usual records, so I have been unable to explain his mention here. His name is out of alphabetical order, and this suggests it was submitted late to the maker of the memorial.


William Ewart Gladstone Shore, whose father must surely have supported the Liberal Party, was in the Gloucester Regiment in France, when he was wounded on 18th October 1915. When he recovered from that, he was posted to 7th Battalion in Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq.  He died on 12th February 1917 in Iraq, and is buried at Amara cemetery.  The War Diary of his Battalion shows that A Company was in action near Amara on 10th February 1917. The action took place in a heavy dust storm against a very heavily defended position, so casualties among the British troops were high.  70 men being wounded, and they were forced to withdraw. It must be assumed that William Shore was one of the wounded and that he died two days later from his wounds.

His name does not appear on any of the usual lists for Somerton, but a marriage is recorded in 1916 between Edwin Gaylard, son of a publican in Somerton (probably at the Unicorn), and Ellen Jane Shore, daughter of a postman in Milton Clevedon, a village between Shepton Mallet and Bruton. After the war, in 1922, a Violet Shore, apparently unmarried – perhaps widowed, brought two little boys for baptism at Somerton church; Stanley and Leonard.  I believe the family lived on the Triangle for some years between the wars.  Perhaps W E G Shore was the brother of Ellen Jane and Violet?


Herbert Francis Surmon, of the 12th (West Somerset Yeomanry) Somerset Light Infantry, died on 28th December 1917 in Palestine, and is buried at Ramleh. He was 19 and was working as a stretcher bearer.  The War Diaries of the 12th Battalion record that they attacked Bertania on 17th December 1917. 13 soldiers were killed; two officers and 79 other ranks were wounded.  Herbert Francis was killed while bringing in the wounded either after the battle on 17th December; or after another attack on Zeiton Ridge on 27th December.  The family still has a letter about his death from his Platoon Sergeant:

In the Field. 12.1.18.

Dear Sir,

            I hope you will accept my letter of deepest regret and sympathy on behalf of the death of your son, in action. I know you have lost a good son as you can always tell what a man is in the Army and I as his Platoon Sergeant have always found him to be one of the best.

            He always went about his work cheerfully and always made light of the sometimes rough times that we have to contend with, never hesitating to do his utmost and best in the way of duty. Since we have been fighting on this front he has done his work well as a Stretcher Bearer and was always up with the boys bandaging up the wounded and doing his utmost to help his pals.

            I did not see him fall but what I can gather from his pal he did not suffer much pain as he did not last long after he was hit. We had a tough time of work that day, we had to attack a very high position and all the boys done their best and finally routed the Turks from their stronghold and drove them back. I feel quite sure that you will miss him very much as I shall myself and it’s good to have men in one’s Platoon that come from near your own home. I came from Puriton near Bridgwater and I sincerely trust and hope that our miss will be your son’s gain as he will be out of the miseries of this life. I feel quite sure he will enjoy peace in the other world.  I think I must close now, hoping this will find you quite well, so please accept my deepest sympathy to you all, while I remain, yours truly,

                        E W Young, Sgt, 15 Platoon, D Company, 12th WSY Bn, SLI.

Herbert Francis Surmon was a son of Thomas James and Kate Surmon, who had a bakery in New Street, a house now called The Sycamores, from shortly before the Great War until about 1938.  His brother, was killed in WW2.


The Sweet brothers lived at the Globe, only a few yards from the war memorial, although in 1914 their father was landlord of the White Hart next door. Although several Sweet families are listed in the Census in 1891 and 1901, neither Wilfred nor Frederick are mentioned, so their father may have come from some other village, possibly Charlton Adam. The boys’ mother, Catherine, died during the war.


Wilfred Sweet was in 12th Battalion (West Somerset Yeomanry) Somerset Light Infantry, and was 26 when he died in Palestine of 6th November 1917. The Battalion’s War Diary records that the Somersets attacked with a battalion of the Fife & Forfar Yeomanry at 7 minutes past 7 a.m. from the north-west of Beersheeba. There was heavy fighting with many casualties, but the objective was taken, and by 4.30 p.m. the railway station at Sheria was captured as well. Two officers were killed and 41 soldiers; four officers were wounded and 193 other ranks, a very large proportion - about a third - of the unit.  Wilfred Sweet probably died in the action and he is buried at Beersheba.



Frederick Sweet was in the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, and died on 28th September 1915, aged 25. He is remembered on the Loos memorial in France.


Three of the Taswell family were killed in the Great War. The family is not listed in the 1901 Census so may have come into the town later. Two of the brothers are listed as the sons of Frederick James and Ellen Taswell, and these may be the ‘Tazwells’ who had several children when living at Highbrooks farm on the road from Catsgore to Long Sutton. The parish boundary runs through Highbrooks farmyard, so they may have been living in a cottage that was in the adjoining parish. William George Tazwell was one of those children, but apparently did not give details of his family to the military authorities. The War Graves Commission places the other two in the Langport Road, and I have been told that at one time they lived in the house opposite the Royal Oak. The family was still in Somerton in 1924, when one of the sisters of these three brothers was married.


Ordinary Seaman Frederick Albert Taswell, RN, was lost when the armed boarding steamer, HMS Louvain, was sunk in the Mediterranean on 20th January 1918. He was 23, and he is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.


William George Taswell, a gunner in “C” Battery, 189 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, was killed on 17th June 1917. He is remembered on the Menin Gate at Ypres. He was born in Castle Cary, and baptised at Somerton on 14th March 1897. Perhaps his mother went back home for the birth. His age must have been approximately 20.


John Richard Taswell was in 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment, and was only 19 when he died on 24th April 1918. At that time the 2nd Battalion were in trenches south-west of Villers-Bretonneux. At 4.0 a.m. on 24th April the area was subjected to a heavy bombardment of gas shells, followed by high explosive and shrapnel shells. The Germans then shelled Villers-Bretonneux and attacked with tanks.  The British Tank Corps History records that the enemy attacked from Villers-Bretonneux to Bois Hangard. At 8.30 a.m. three heavy tanks of 1st Battalion Tank Corps engaged four enemy tanks and put one out of action. The other German tanks retired.  This was the first tank-against-tank engagement of the war. Enemy posts were very hard to locate in the village, as machine guns were placed in the houses, but the tanks had a very successful engagement and dispersed two Battalions of the enemy who were massing for the attack.  However, John Richard Taswell had died in the earlier shelling.  His body was not found and he is commemorated on the Pozieres memorial in France.


Henry Arthur Tatchell was 25 when he died on 8th August 1918. He is remembered on the Loos memorial. He served in the 12th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, and their War Diary records that on 8th August 1918, they advanced from Amusoires to Courant de Turbeaute.  Eight soldiers were killed in the advance, 2 officers and 24 other ranks were wounded. This was the opening day of the Battle of Amiens, the final offensive of the Great War, the Last Hundred Days.

His parents, Tom and Matilda Tatchell, lived in Station Road (probably Bartlets Row) at the time, but in 1901 they had been living in the group of cottages known as Hill Head, at the east end of New Street. There were five children in 1901. Their father was a general labourer, and his mother worked at the box factory in West Street, Somerton. Their grandparents lived next door.


Tom Tatchell was Henry Arthur’s brother.  He enlisted at Bridgend as Number 16012 in the Somerset Light Infantry on 10th May 1915.  He was probably in the 8th Battalion at this time, which took part in the Battle of Loos, 25-26th September 1915.  In mid-1916 Tom Tatchell was transferred (willingly or otherwise) to the Machine Gun Corps and was re-numbered 25541. He is known to have served in 63rd Brigade Machine Gun Company, which was formed and trained at Grantham. It disembarked at Le Havre on 2nd March 1916 and joined the 63rd Infantry Brigade, 21st Division, two days later at Armentieres. The 21st Division took part in many battles during 1916, and were engaged in the Battle of Arras in the Spring of 1917, when Tom Tatchell was reported as killed in action on 23rd April 1917.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

Tom Tatchell was born in about 1891 in Somerton, the second son of Thomas Edward and Florence Mabel Tatchell. He apparently migrated to South Wales and became a collier and married another Florence Mabel in Ogmore Vale.  His son, Thomas Edward, was born in May 1914, and was baptised in Somerton church, where Tom is noted in the Register as “Collier on active service”, although war was not declared until August.  His widow re-married, and became Mrs Stott of Ogmore Vale, Glamorgan.  Other members of the Tatchell family born in South Wales were baptised in Somerton during the 1920s, and a Clive David George Tachell from Ogmore Vale, baptised in Somerton in 1945, may have been Tom’s grandson. So the family clearly felt a strong attachment to Somerton.


Three of the sons of James and Susan Townsend served in the Great War. Two were killed, and the third, Tom, has a very unusual story. The family lived in the Langport Road, nearly opposite the shop by Pound Pool. The two older brothers were already married and had children.  James and Susan were enthusiastic members of the Congregational church in West Street.


Frederick Townsend was married to Sarah Matilda, and they lived in Water Lane with their three small children, George, Iris and Cyril.  Before he joined up, Fred was a postman; he was a volunteer in the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. He was wounded in late 1917, and on 4th December 1917, he died of internal bleeding from a wound in his shoulder.  He is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery, Ypres. He was 29. His family lived in the same house in Water Lane until George moved to the Hext Almshouses in about 2007.


Jack Townsend died on 23rd August 1918. He is buried at Douchy-les-Ayette in the Pas de Calais, France. He was 31, and had been serving with the 1st Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. He left his young widow, May, with two small children, living in a cottage in North Street which has now been incorporated into a larger dwelling.


When the news of Jack’s death reached the War Office, by some very unusual route, possibly from Jack’s Commanding Officer, maybe from Mrs Townsend herself, a letter was sent to France, where the third brother, Tom Townsend, was serving with a Guards Machine-Gun Company:

                                                            War Office, London. SW

114/M.G.C./418  (A.G.9)

5 November 1918


            With reference to your telegram A.V 898 of 29th October 1918, I am directed to request you to despatch No 2584 Private T. TOWNSEND, 4th Battalion Guards Machine Gun Regiment, to England at an early date for transfer to the Home Establishment on compassionate grounds, owing to this man being the sole surviving son of three sons, two others having been killed in the war.

            I am, sir, your obedient servant,

                        Sd: J H J PHILLIPS, Lt Col, A.A.G.

                                                For Director of Organization

The Deputy Adjutant General,

General Headquarters, 3rd Echelon, France.

So Tom Townsend came home and re-joined the base troops of the Coldstream Guards at Windsor Castle. Somehow he kept the letter which led to his release from the front line. He later became a policeman and lived at Clutton in North Somerset.


Herbert Trott was born in 1894. In 1901 he and two other children was living with their grandparents in Sutton Road. His grandfather was a shepherd. The War Graves Commission states that he was born in Ilminster and enlisted in Axminster, when he joined the 9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment.  He died on 31st March 1915, aged 21, and is buried at Aldershot. At the time, the 9th Battalion were in training for trench warfare, they did not go to France until July 1915, so it is not possible to say how he died.


Ernest Charles Walker is not recorded on any of the memorials, nor have I found a Walker family in any of the usual sources.  He is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but without any reference to Somerton. However, his name appears, as coming from Somerton, in a list of Somerset men, apparently taken from “Soldier Died in the Great War” which can be found on the Internet.  The details agree with those in CWGC.  It is believed that he was born in Lydford, Somerset, and he is remembered by relations still living in Somerton. He was a Lance-Corporal in the 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, and he died at Brandhoek, a field ambulance station near Ypres, on 2nd April 1916;  he is buried in the military cemetery there.  His number, 7873, suggests that he had been serving in the Army before the outbreak of war in 1914. 


Ernest Brocklesby Wesche is commemorated on the brass cross on the altar in Somerton church. He was a Captain, who had joined the South Lancashire Regiment in 1882, but had been serving with the Nigeria Regiment of the West African Frontier Force since 1891. He died on 19th October 1914, and is buried at Ibadan, one of 360 soldiers killed in that area in the Great War.

Captain Wesche was killed during the operations to take the Cameroons in West Africa from the Germans in October to November 1914. He was leading a detachment from ‘F’ Coy, 2nd Nigeria Regiment when they were ambushed near Kake.  After the surrender of Duala and Bonaberi in the estuary of Cameroons river on 30th September 1914, the Germans had withdrawn inland, into mountainous country with very few roads through dense jungle. The Germans had snipers in the trees who concentrated on killing officers.  On 14th October a British force took two 6-inch guns up the river Wuri and advanced towards Jabassi, which was occupied after a sharp engagement. A few days later they dispersed a German force at Susa, and then the British force continued to advance north along the railway to its terminus at Nkongsamba. 

It is not known why Captain Wesche is remembered in Somerton.


Corporal William Whittle was the 19-year old son of George and Sarah Jane Whittle who lived in Behind Berry.  He was their only son, and he worked at Coomer’s grocery shop in West Street; he was remembered as being impatient to be old enough to join up..  He joined 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.  He died on 7th June 1917, and is remembered on the Menin Gate at Ypres.  The night before the Battle of Messines, the 11th Battalion were sent to the front under cover of darkness and began their advance at 3.50 a.m.  They captured their objective, Hill 60, fairly quickly and with few casualties, but once they had occupied the hill, they were sniped and shelled and many more were lost.  Over three days seven officers were killed or wounded, 41 soldiers were killed, 169 wounded and about 35 missing.  It was a very violent battle and many men, like William Whittle, were never found.

In 1901 the family lived at St Cleers, and later moved to Behind Berry.  William’s father was a quarryman, probably in the quarry in the Badgers Cross Lane, and his mother worked at the Collar Factory in Broad Street. They were enthusiastic members of the Salvation Army.