ID: PBH_CTH_028 / Eric Hall

TitleVillage People in World War I - Birch Centenary Chronicles 28
AbstractVillage People in World War I

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 28.

Published in Parish News - November 2002

Appropriately in this month of Remembrance the War Memorial on Church Green, Birch, has been refurbished and replaces the one erected in 1917 as described last November.

In addition to the fallen, whose names are recorded on the Memorial, there were many others who served their country in the two World Wars and other conflicts. They survived and we must never forget the sacrifices they made and the effect that their service had upon them for the rest of their lives. Although the vast majority were men there were also at least three women who served as nurses. The Parish Magazine, January 1919, lists the honours they were awarded. Miss Mary Bishop and Miss Kathleen Smith received the Royal Red Cross 1st Class while Miss K E Luard received the same award and also a Bar to it. All the awards were made by King George V at investitures at Buckingham Palace.

Miss Kate Evelyn Luard

Miss Luard returned home having served longer in France than anyone else from Birch apart from Arthur Taylor it was thought. She recorded her experiences in two books which ought to be compulsory reading for those who believe that literature glorifies war. In the foreword to one of the books Field Marshal Lord Allenby wrote of Miss Luard "In all the misery of her surroundings a golden vein of humour sustains her; an appreciation of what is good in life though standing under the Shadow of Death".

Such nurses frequently worked close to the front line ready to receive casualties straight from the battlefield in order to assess the seriousness of their condition and assist in early diagnosis of wounds and the likelihood of recovery or surgery required. They were subject to air attack and the need to pack and move at very short notice when attacks were imminent. She recorded not only the workings of the Casualty Clearing Stations but also noted how some of the wounds were sustained. She also made a point in many cases of relating the progress, or lack of it. There were no luxuries of the kind she was probably used to at home and she noted "We had butter for tea today". Often she would write home at the request of a casualty and one reply she received sums up the position in so many homes at that time. A mother wrote thanking her for writing about her son but added that it would relieve the news somewhat if she knew which son it was, as she had three sons in France. Such was the enormity of the war and the effect that the number of casualties had not only on the front line but also in the homes from which they came.

As had been said frequently before it is very difficult to trace the details of what happened to all the casualties named on a memorial. The chances are higher if the person concerned was an officer or had been decorated. Taking one name from the Birch and Layer Breton Memorial, Arthur Thomas Goody, as an example it is possible to trace from the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that he died on Friday 10th August 1917. He was a private in the 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and was aged 27. His next of kin was given as a brother living at Stratford, London. One of so many with no known grave his name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres. This is one War Memorial where memories never dim. Each evening the Last Post is played by men of the Ypres Fire Brigade as they have since just after the end of the First War, interrupted only by the occupation of Belgium during the Second War. Arthur was born in 1891, in Brook Cottage, Layer Breton, demolished when the reservoir was built. He was the third son of Elijah and Emma Goody and, no doubt, typical of the men who joined up. He was with the 11th Royal Fusiliers enlisting in Colchester and at that time possibly living in Kelvedon.

My own grandfather was killed on the same day as Arthur, also in Inverness Copse, and research has shown that the attack which was being mounted was expected by the Germans who, in atrocious weather, were able to wipe out the attackers as they advanced. The subsequent Army enquiry provides an outline of what took place but, of course, records only the views of the survivors. The carnage was so great that the units had to be withdrawn from the front to reform. My grandfather's body was only positively identified in 1924 when that letter of notification, to my grandmother, had a devastating effect on her and the family to the extent that my father was able to remember the date that letter was received for the rest of his life.

Another of the names on the Memorial on Church Green, Charles Higginbotham, records a tragedy of a slightly different nature. Charles, a Major in the 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, married Lucy Frances Round, daughter of James and Sibylla Round in 1909, when his regiment was based in Colchester. He was a regular soldier stationed in Egypt when war was declared but within three months they arrived in France and went almost straight away into battle.

The Essex County Standard on 13 March 1915 recorded that Lucy had died at Birch Hall on 5th March after being taken ill 14 days earlier. Her husband was at the front and unable to attend the burial. On the 27th March the same paper reported that Major Higginbotham was missing and in the next issue it was confirmed that he had been killed. This seems stark enough but the official records show that the Major was actually killed on 11th March just six days after his wife died. Was he aware of what had happened? It seems likely, but did the news have any effect on his actions on the day he met his death?

There must be similar stories behind every name on every Memorial throughout the country and, in most cases, the terrible news from the front must have changed the lives of so many and left so many of those who returned scarred for life.

Eric Hall


Editor's note:
People tell me that there used to be a postbox set in the wall by Gatehouse Farm, just going south up the hill from the War Memorial, on the same side of the road as the School. Next to that was a 'Roll of Honour', on which were the names of all the people who had served in the 1914-18 War; not just those who died or were decorated, but everyone. So it sounds a very interesting piece of history. This wooden board disappeared at some stage, possibly during World War 2 when many signposts and other sources of information were taken down in case the Germans invaded. Do you remember that, and do you know where it went to, or where it is now? Perhaps you have an old photograph which includes it. Geoff Russell Grant

Feb 2022:
The letterbox in the wall at Gate House Farm was removed and a new one attached to a telegraph pole across the road in the late 1950s. I see it has been replaced yet again by one at the entrance to the Memorial Hall.
Going to school in the 1950s, I would wait by the letter box every morning for Osborne's bus into Colchester. There was no sign of the Roll of Honour. Tony Millatt.

AuthorEric Hall
PublishedNovember 2002
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath
Related Images:
 Miss Kate Evelyn Luard  PBH_005
ImageID:   PBH_005
Title: Miss Kate Evelyn Luard
Source:Mersea Museum / Breton Heath