06.1.2 World War II
SOMERTON WAR MEMORIALS – WORLD WAR II 

The information about each man is listed alphabetically. Where several men from one family are included, the names are grouped together to reduce repetition.

 

The information was provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Parish Registers and several lists of voters, and the Toc-H newsletters written during the Second World War by Peter Bond to keep men serving away from home in touch with their community.  I was sent many items from Regimental war diaries and histories, newspaper articles and official reports, as well as stories, letters and photographs kept by the families of those who did not come home.

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The Cox brothers are remembered not only on the memorial and in the church, but on the wall of the shop called Lancaster House at the entrance to Cox’s Yard car-park, which replaced the house they had been brought up in. The Cox family had been in West Street as wheelwrights, blacksmiths and carpenters for at least four hundred years. The plaque was put up in 1987 by Roy Jones, who also compiled a folder of information about the brothers. The memorial on Lancaster House was unveiled by John’s twin sister, Betty.

 

Sergeant Herbert Arthur Meaker Cox was Mentioned in Despatches for his part in the Augsburg Raid in which he died on 17th April 1942. He was in 97 Squadron RAF Voluntary Reserve. He is buried at Durnbach in Bavaria. He was 21. The Augsburg raid was carried out by twelve Lancaster bombers, which flew to Bavaria at very low level in daylight to destroy the M.A.N. diesel factory at Augsburg. More than half the planes were shot down, and 37 crew were killed. Only one man survived from the plane HAM Cox was in, when it was brought down shortly after carrying out its bombing mission successfully.  The story is told in ‘The Augsburg Raid’ by Sqn Ldr Jack Currie, DFC.

 

John Hugh Cox was a private in 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. He was killed in action on 16th June 1944, and is buried at Banneville la Campagne in Normandy. He was 21. The 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders had landed on the afternoon of D-day and were soon moved east of the River Orne to defend the bridgehead there. They moved south towards Troarn, and on the 16th June they were defending a road junction in woodland near Escoville, when the Germans advanced with tanks and infantry. At 8.50 a.m. there was a heavy bombardment of shells and mortars on the area occupied by 1st Gordon Highlanders. The battle lasted all day, but at last the Germans retired and the Gordon Highlanders counted their losses. John Cox was among the dead. This is the letter his officer wrote to the family:

23 June (1944):

Dear Mrs Cox,

            I am writing this letter to offer you my very sincere sympathy on the sad death of your son, John. He was killed instantly during an action in which the Battalion inflicted a considerable defeat upon the enemy.

            John had only been in my Company for a few weeks, but during that time he showed himself to be a very fine type of soldier, much admired and well liked both by his officers and fellow men, who join me in offering you their fullest sympathy.

            To the end, John proved steadfast in battle and he played his full part in a memorable action which General Montgomery mentioned as being of great importance to the final issue.

            I sincerely hope that this letter will bring you some small measure of comfort in your great sorrow.

                        Yours sincerely, Bruce D M Rae.

                                    1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders.

 

George Leonard Green was a gunner in the 3rd Maritime Regiment, Royal Artillery. He lived at the Brewery House in West Street, next door to the Cox brothers. His father worked at the Milk Factory in Etsome Terrace. He had married Miriam Grace Squires of Long Sutton and had two children before he died on 16th August 1944, aged 29. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.  George was a Gunnery Instructor in the Royal Artillery when he volunteered to become a gunner on ships carrying war materials to far-off theatres of war. In 1943 his ship was torpedoed off the coast of West Africa, and he spent several months there before being brought home. In 1944 he was on the ‘Empire Lancer’ in the Indian Ocean, when she was torpedoed by a German submarine. He was seen to get on a life-raft, but that was never found.

Letters to his widow from the War Office tell the story, the early ones being non-committal on what might have happened. Then on 13th December 1944: “I am directed to inform you that a report has now been received from the only survivor of the gun crew.  It appears that at the time of the attack on the vessel which was torpedoed, Gunner Green and other members of the crew were sleeping in their bunks. When the explosion occurred they all rushed on deck to their gun positions, and shortly afterwards an order was given to abandon ship.  Your husband, together with other comrades were last seen getting on to a raft, and nothing has been heard of them since.  It is regretted, therefore, that there is little hope of Gunner Green's survival, but a further lapse of time must be allowed before all hope is abandoned.”

So Miriam waited, living much of the time with her parents in Long Sutton. She waited for two years.

On 5th November 1946 this letter came from the War Office:   “I am directed to state that the steamship ‘Empire Lancer’ in which your husband,  No. 1707780 Gunner G. L. Green, Royal Artillery, was last serving, sailed from Durban for Madagascar on 11th August 1944, and sank within eight minutes of being torpedoed in the Mozambique Channel on 16th August, 1944.  Thirty seven survivors from this vessel landed from one lifeboat at Lumbo, Portuguese East Africa on 26th August, 1944.  Your husband, who was not included among the survivors, was, according to one report of the Senior Maritime Royal Artillery survivor, last seen boarding a raft with two D.E.M.S. Naval Ratings.  The area was searched at daybreak on 17th August, 1944, but neither the raft nor its occupants were found.

“In the absence of any further information regarding him, the death of your husband is officially presumed as occurring on 16th August, 1944, and in the circumstances it is feared that there can be no hope of his survival.  I am to convey to you an expression of the sincere sympathy of the Department in the great loss which you have sustained.”

Miriam lived in Somerton until about 1995, when she moved to be near her daughters in West Somerset; she died in January 2002.

 

James Green is not mentioned on the memorial but his name is on the brass plate in the church for WW2.  He was a Sapper with 81 Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers, and died on 1st October 1944, aged 24. He was killed when he was serving with the Canadian Army who had been besieging Calais, which surrendered on 30th September 1944. His tank was helping to clear a mine-field on the outskirts of the town when it ran over a mine and ‘brewed up’ - exploded and burst into flames.  The Assault Squadrons used special engineering tanks for mine-clearing, bridge-building, road-making and other work in the front line, to make it possible for the attacking gun tanks and the infantry to get ahead.  James Green is buried in a Canadian war cemetery at Calais.

His parents lived at North Petherton at the time of his death, but he was born in a cottage at the top of Gashouse Hill (or Horsemill Lane), now known as 3 Belle Vue. His father worked at the Radio Station. The family moved to North Petherton in 1935, and James was an apprentice builder with a firm in Bridgwater before he was called up. His sister, Marie, later came back to Somerton and was living in Kirkham Street at the time of her marriage in 1951 to a Mendip farmer. The family did not know about the Somerton memorial inscriptions in time to add James’s name to them, but he was included on the brass plate in church.

 

Eric Frank Ireland was a stoker in the Royal Navy, on HMS Boadicea, and he was 19 when he died on 13th June 1944. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial. His parents were in Somerton then, but Eric had been born in South Petherton where his father was a carter;  he was christened in Somerton church, so his mother was probably a Somerton girl.

HMS Boadicea was built by Hawthorn Leslie between July 1929 and April 1931.  On 6th June 1944 she took part in the D-Day operations, the invasion of Normandy.  On 13th June she was sunk 12 miles south-west of Portland Bill, Dorset, by two torpedoes launched from an enemy aircraft. The captain, Lt-Cdr F W Hawkins, and 8 other officers were killed, and 161 ratings.  Only 12 men survived.

 

Victor Henry Lambert was in the Royal Army Service Corps and died on 26th February 1942, when the Japanese took Singapore. He is remembered on the Singapore Memorial. His connection with Somerton is not yet understood, but two baptisms of Lambert babies in the parish church in 1938 and 1939 show that there were two families of that name in Somerton just before the Second World War. One father was a ‘manager’, and the other a baker, who named his baby Victor, perhaps after his brother?

 

William Edward Land died in the Arnhem operation, ‘Market Garden’, on 4th October 1944.  He was in the 4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry and he is buried at Arnhem Oosterbreek in the Netherlands. His father was William Land, a carter in Somerton.

On 23rd September, 4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry crossed the bridge at Nijmegen towards Arnhem. They reached the village of Elst a day or two later and were to hold this while other units tried to rescue the airborne troops from the Arnhem disaster. They became isolated from the brigade behind them and ran short of food and ammunition. To start with there were only minor clashes with the Germans, who counter-attacked in strength on 1st October. For the following five days the battalion stayed in position, taking heavy bombardments and sniping and with heavy losses, but preventing the Germans from continuing their advance to Nijmegen. Many of the officers became casualties and 150 other ranks. William Land was killed on the day before the unit was relieved.

 

Charles Albert Livett was a Leading Aircraftsman in 993 Balloon Squadron RAF Voluntary Reserve. He lived in Kirkham Street with his wife, Gladys (née Horsey) and their baby daughter. His father was a railway policeman from Norfolk, and before Charlie joined up he was a type-setter, almost certainly at The Printery in New Street.

He wrote this letter to his baby daughter after Christmas 1939, when he had evidently received gloves in his Christmas parcel. At that time his wife and baby were staying in Watford:

Sweet smiling Dawn

I received this morn

With great surprise and pleasure,

The pretty glove

Sent with your love -

You are a darling Treasure.

Give my love to Mummy and ask her if she doesn't think this is clever.

D S G.

He died of meningitis on 24th September 1943, and is buried at Writtle Road cemetery at Chelmsford in Essex, where he was helping to deter German bombing of South East England. He was 33. The ‘baby’ now lives in Street.

 

Leslie Gordon Payne was serving in India as a gunner in 491 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery.  His father worked on the railway, and Leslie Gordon had been a quarryman before he joined up.  He was married and had two daughters, and the family lived in the Langport Road in the house next to the Spar shop.  While his Battery was in India training to fight the Japanese in Burma, he caught tuberculosis and was in hospital in Poonah.  He had been told that he would be sent home to England, and was being transferred to another hospital or perhaps to a ship in Bombay, when the train in which he was travelling was bombed.  Leslie Gordon was injured in the bombing, and that led to peritonitis and he died on 1st February 1944; he is buried at Kirkee War Cemetery in India.

 

Ernest Wallace Pittard was the son of Katherine Pittard, and he was christened at Somerton church in 1924. The War Graves Commission record a Wallace Ernest Pittard of the 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment, who died at the age of 19, on 18th April 1944 in the Burmese campaign. He is buried at Imphal in India. He was known as ‘Wallace’, which explains why his records have his Christian names in the wrong order.

The 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment moved from the Arakan to Imphal in late March 1944. Three Japanese divisions were moving west from the Chindwin river, and were threatening Imphal and Kohima and the road into India. The 2nd Suffolks were one of the regiments posted to the east of Imphal to try to prevent the Japanese from crossing the important road north to Kohima. They fortified isolated hill-tops with barbed wire and trenches, and sent out detachments to dislodge Japanese units from other strong points. The fighting was fierce and at one time the 2nd Suffolks were cut off from Imphal. However, the Japanese were eventually defeated at Numshigum and withdrew from this area and Imphal was saved. At the end of April the Battalion moved north to the defence of Kohima. The Regimental history does not mention casualties, except Japanese ones, but E W Pittard died during this period, probably during one of the frequent night attacks on the hill-top defences.

 

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.

 

Lieutenant Commander Giles Robert Pretor-Pinney lived at Somerton Erleigh and he died on 2nd March 1942; he is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. He was the son of Robert Wake Pretor-Pinney and nephew of Lt-Col Pretor-Pinney, commemorated on the south face of the memorial. He is called ‘J’ Pretor-Pinney on the brass plate in the church because he was ‘Jim’ to his family. There is also a marble plaque commemorating him in the north aisle of the church. His son still lives in Somerton, in the ‘new’ Erleigh.

Lt-Commander Pretor-Pinney was commander of the ship, HMS Stronghold H50, a mine-layer with two 4-inch guns, when it was sunk. He had joined the ship in 1941. The ship was built in Greenock in 1919, and in 1939 she was on her way to China when she became part of the Hong Kong and Singapore Defence Force. She assisted in the evacuation of Singapore in February 1942, and was on her way to Australia when she was sunk by the Japanese cruiser Maia and two other ships off the coast of Java on 2nd March 1942. Nine Officers, including Lt.Cdr. Pretor-Pinney, and 66 Ratings were lost. The survivors were picked up by the Japanese the following day and spent the rest of the war as prisoners of war.

 

William Henry Spencer was a Lance-Sergeant in 6th Battalion Grenadier Guards, and he died in Italy on 9th November 1943. he is buried at Cassino, but as the battle for Cassino did not take place until 1944, he must have been one of the soldiers whose remains were brought to the large cemetery there after the Germans had retreated from the area. He was 25 years old and was married to Gwendoline Spencer of Somerton. His parents were James and Rose Hannah Spencer, and it is probable that his grandfather was a draper, Ernest Albert Spencer, who had a shop on the Triangle in 1914 and after WW1.

 

S V Stevens may be Stanley Victor Stevens, the only man of this name known to the War Graves Commission. If so, he was a Stoker on HMS Victory III, in the Royal Navy, and died on 3rd October 1943, aged 23. He is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. There were Stevens in Somerton from about 1890, but none with these initials has been found so far. However, in 1943, a baby was christened at Somerton church, the son of a Philip Alex Stevens, a bank clerk who lived in Crewkerne - perhaps this was a brother of S V Stevens?

 

George David Webb lived in Somerton with his wife Edith Ellen.  He was the Chief Stoker on HMS Afrikander, Royal Navy, a shore establishment at Simonstown in South Africa.  He was 40 when he died on 20th July 1942.  He is buried at Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. When Frank Pattemore was on his way to fight in Burma he had shore leave at Durban and visited George Webb’s grave. He learned that his friend had been killed when his frigate was torpedoed off the South African coast near Durban.  The Webbs had farmed at Park, on the lane to Steart and Pitney, since about 1890.  His widow, Mrs Webb, lived at Beacon House in Behind Berry after the War and became a leading figure in the Somerton branch of the Royal British Legion.

 

Matron Cicely Lucy May West was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal and was Mentioned in Despatches for her work in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She died on 14th February 1942, aged 51, and she is remembered on the Singapore memorial. She was the sister of Mrs Bond, whose husband had the feedmills on the Sutton Road, and whose son had the chemist shop in Somerton. The Bond family lived at Hopefield in Cow Square, and Cicely was a much-loved aunt of the little Bonds.  Cicely did not marry but trained as a nurse at Taunton Hospital and then joined QAMNS.  In 1937 she was posted to Shanghai and, when the Japanese invaded China and the British retreated towards Indonesia, she went with them, setting up medical facilities at every opportunity. She was killed following the fall of Singapore when the ship on which she was escorting sick and wounded was torpedoed. Her story was included in a book ‘Scarlet and Grey’ about the QAMNS.

 

Sergeant Frank Wickenden was killed in a flying accident when two planes collided in mid-air when he was in training with the RAF at Usworth, County Durham.  All four of the crew were killed. He died on 19th February 1943, aged 27, and he is buried at Hylton, County Durham. His name is included on the brass plate in the church.

He lived at 15 Acre Lane with his wife, Laura Rose, whom he had met at the Radio Station when they both worked there in about 1936.  Laura’s family, the Matthews, lived at The Sycamores in New Street, but she stayed on at 15 Acre Lane with her mother-in-law and her baby, and eventually moved to Minehead. However, she is buried in Somerton cemetery, in the Matthews family grave.

 

Kenneth Wride was a member of the crew of HM Machine-Gun Boat 329, Royal Navy, and he survived the fighting in WW2. However, when he was home on leave in November 1945, he was killed in a motor-cycle accident in Glastonbury. He is buried in Somerton cemetery, but his name is not on any of the memorials.  Several members of his family still live in the town.