EMPIRE DAY 1909
On Friday 28 May 1909, the Western Gazette wrote:
The Yeovil Churches observed Empire Day on Sunday, 23 May, with services in St John’s, Holy Trinity and St Michael and All Angels, all of which ended with the playing of the National Anthem.
Earlier in the morning, the Yeovil Company of the 5th Territorial Battalion , Somerset Light Infantry under the command of Captain Brutton, paraded in the Borough and led by the Town Band marched ‘briskly’ through High Street, Hendford and South Street to Holy Trinity Church, the church of the company’s chaplain. In Hendford, the company was joined by the Holy Trinity Church Lads’ Brigade commanded by Captain H Christian and Lieutenant C P Ewens. The Gazette noted with pride that – ‘Wearing the scarlet of their regular brethren, and being a well-set up lot, looked a credit to any Regiment, and a shining example to the large number of youths and young men who later in the morning, whilst the National Anthem was being played, looked on indifferently, cigarette in mouth and without uncovering their heads.’
Following the service, the Yeovil Territorials and the Church Lads’ marched back to the Borough, where before a large crowd, they formed up and Colonel Marsh presented medals to Sergeant T Sartin, and Privates E Gerrard and E W Lucas, for long service, and Sergeants R S Gibbs, A January and J Perkins (Langport), Corporals A Gough, F England and H Russell. Lance-Corporal H Beare, and Privates A Cook, E Curtis and E Gillard for efficiency. Colonel Marsh then gave a rousing speech, the National Anthem was played, and the ceremony brought to a close.
Monday morning, 24 May Empire Day, dawned fine and sunny, and saw the ‘town very much beflagged, the many staves bearing the National colours in one form or another, whilst several business houses displayed strings of coloured bunting’.
At Yeovil County School in Kingston, the Western Gazette reported that there was:
Meanwhile the children of Huish, South Street, Reckleford and Pen Mill Schools were being given specially prepared lessons following which they marched with flags waving to the Borough. In 1909 things were just as likely to go wrong as now, and the Gazette commented that – ‘The lack of arrangements greatly detracted from the effectiveness of the gathering, for there being no attempt to keep the Borough clear, when the children marched in and the teachers looked for the ground which they were to occupy, they found it taken up by a crowd of people out to see the show, and who meant to see it. It was rather unfortunate, for half the youngsters were cut off from their fellow scholars by the crowd and very much mixed up in it and the singing therefore lacked cohesion.’
However, once assembled, the children sang several patriotic songs, were addressed by several local dignitaries and at the conclusion, Colonel Marsh exhorted the youngsters to ‘Fit themselves to be citizens of the Empire. Everyone one of them who did their best, was a source of strength, but the loafer who did nothing, was a terrible source of danger to the Empire.’ The Union Flag was saluted, the National Anthem sung, and to much cheering, a half-holiday was announced. For Yeovil’s children it was a day to remember.
May 2018 Jack Sweet
DOWLISH WAKE – From Africa’s Sunny Clime to the Yukon’s Frozen Wastes
St. Andrew’s Church looks south across the roofs of Dowlish Wake to the tree lined ridge of Windwhistle and within its walls rests a man whose destiny lay in the heat of Africa far beyond these green hills.
For centuries the interior of Africa had been a great mystery, but by the end of the 18th century, explorers were starting to unlock its secrets. In 1770 a Scotsman, James Bruce, reached the source of the Blue Nile, but the greatest prize, that of the White Nile remained to be found somewhere in the vast unexplored continent. During the first half of the 19th century, many of the expeditions searching for the source of the Nile were beginning to open up large areas of eastern Africa, and one of the leading participants was John Hanning Speke.
Speke was born into an old Somerset family, and 1844 he joined the Bengal Infantry in India. During the ten tears he served in the sub-continent, he saw action in several campaigns, and rose to the rank of Captain. However, Speke’s ruling passion was exploration, and on leaving India in 1854 he joined an expedition into Somalia led by Lieutenant (later Sir Richard) Burton, author, explorer and translator into English of ‘The Arabian Nights.’ The expedition failed, and Speke was wounded in an attack by Somalis, barely escaping with his life. He was invalided home and on recovery, served with the Turkish Army in the Crimean War.
In 1857 at the end of hostilities, Speke joined Richard Burton once again in a new African expedition seeking to find and explore the great lake call Nyassa, which was reputed to lie somewhere in the vast interior. Some seven months later, after a journey of incredible hardship, the explorers reached the shores of the lake which we now know to be Lake Tanganyika. Both men were exhausted and ill, but during the march they had heard stories of three great inland seas to the west, and Speke believed that the most northern could be the source of the White Nile. Because Burton was too weak to continue, Speke set out northwards without his companion, and in July 1858 he arrived on the southern shore of another huge lake which he named Victoria. After taking compass bearings, he confirmed his belief that this lake was the source of the Nile. On Speke’s return, Burton disputed the claim and from that time the relationship between the two men deteriorated until their friendship was destroyed.
In 1859, Speke returned to England and wrote articles and gave lectures on the expedition, but his claim to have found the source of the Nile was challenged by Burton when he arrive back in the country claiming that the source was Lake Tanganyika. However, Speke’s claim was taken seriously and leading an expedition sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society, he set out to explore Lake Victoria and confirm beyond all doubt that it was the Nile’s source. He was accompanied by Captain James Grant, and in July 1862, having reached the lake and marched around its western shore, the party struck the Nile some way to the north.. Turning south, Speke finally came to the falls where the headwaters of the Nile pour from Lake Victoria; he had found the source of the great river.
On his return home nearly twelve months later, Speke was publicly feted and his book ‘Journal of Discovery of the Nile,’ became a best seller. However, once again the discovery was subject to the doubts of some explorers, and one of the most critical was his former friend, Richard Burton. The controversy began to generate much public interest, and a debate between Speke and Burton was arranged for the Royal Geographic Society’s Vacational Meeting at Bath on Friday 16 September 1864. During the afternoon of the day before the confrontation, John Speke went partridge shooting on his uncle’s estate at Neston Park, near Corsham in Wiltshire, but as he climbed over a stone wall his gun went off accidentally, and the discoverer of the Nile fell mortally wounded, shot through the chest. He was buried in St. Andrew’s Church on 26 September 1864, when over 2,000 people were present, including the famous Dr David Livingston and James Grant, his companion on that last great expedition to the source of the White Nile. In discovering the source of the great river, John Hanning Speke had succeeded in solving, in the words of Sir Roderick Murchison, ‘the problem of all the ages.’
Just inside the gate to the churchyard, and on the left hand side, stands a headstone which reads:
Sacred to the memory of
Pioneer of the Klondike 1898
Born in Bergen, Norway
Died at Taunton May 22nd 1934
A noble minded, courageous man
Gold was discovered in Rabbit Creek in the Yukon Territory of north west Canada in 1896, and heralded the Klondike Gold Rush, which would become one of the wildest in history. Tens of thousands of men and woman swarmed into the area by steam boats up the River Yukon, or on foot over the White Pass described as the worst ‘this side of Hell.’ In summer the Pass was raw rock, and in winter the blizzards swept down with such fury that the Cheechakos or Tenderfoots, as the gold hunters were known, could lean against the wind and not fall over as they climbed in temperatures of -50F. During the spring of 1858, many of the Tenderfoots died when an avalanche in the Pass buried them under 30 feet of snow and rock, but they still kept coming, driven by the madness of gold fever.
By 1900, however, the gold was running out, and most of the Tenderfoots had left the Yukon for strikes in Alaska; the Klondike Gold Rush was over.
One of the tens of thousands who sought their fortunes in the gold fields was a young Norwegian, Ludwig Pettersen, who struggled up the White Pass and almost died in the terrible spring avalanche of ’98. The work of digging out the dead was said to have greatly affected Ludwig, but his iron will and courage had helped him through the ordeal. Ludwig was also a friend of the author and poet, Robert Service, who wrote extensively about the gold rush, and whose poem ‘The Ballad of Dan McGrew’ (and its variants) is probably better known than his novels – ‘The Trail of ‘98’ and ‘Songs of a Sourdough’ – both of which were best sellers in the early 1900’s.
After leaving the Klondike, Ludwig Pettersen travelled to many parts of the world before finally settling down in 1921 to carry on a poultry business in Dowlish Wake, and marry local girl Kate Churchill. A local newspaper report of his funeral said that he was a man of iron will and courage, but seldom talked about his experiences.
Within the precincts of St. Andrew’s Church, lie two men of completely different backgrounds, but who by force of will, drove themselves through incredible hardships and now rest in the peace of a Somerset church.
COMPTON PAUNCEFOOT – ST ANDREW’S
A Memorial in Glass and a Great Escape
Traffic thunders along the A303 London to Exeter road less than a mile from St Andrew’s Church, yet the small village of Compton Pauncefoot, with its backdrop of hills and woods, could be miles from the hurly burly of the 21st century. This pleasant 15th century church with its spire, rare in South Somerset, sits beside a small village green accompanied by a splendid Georgian Rectory and an 18th century Manorhouse.
Walk through the lychgate and up to the porch in which hangs a large iron lamp dedicated to the memory of Captain Frederick Gray MC, who was killed on 21 August 1915, at the head of his men in the assault on Hill 70 at Suvla in the Gallipoli Campaign.
In the north wall of the chancel there is a stained glass window in memory of the 1st Baron Blackford who died in 1947, and in the south wall, a stained glass window remembers William Murray Mason, eldest son of the 2nd Baron Blackford, who as a Flight Sergeant Pilot, was killed in action on 23 March 1942 aged 24 years, and Irene Elizabeth Ann Mason, who died on 7 November 1943, also aged 24. This window depicts William Mason in his Royal Air Force uniform.
High on the inside north wall of the tower is a memorial to Robert Hunt and other members of the Hunt family who, for two centuries from 1630, owned the Manor of Compton Pauncefoot. Robert Hunt died in February 1679, aged about 71 years, and during his long life was a lawyer, Member of Parliament for Ilchester and Sheriff of Somerset. Although he was an active supporter of King Charles I during the Great Civil War, following the defeat of the Royalist cause he reconciled himself with the Parliament and was appointed Sheriff of Somerset in 1654.
In March 1655, a minor rebellion led by a veteran Royalist, John Penruddock, against the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, broke out in Wiltshire. After occupying Salisbury, breaking open the gaol and releasing all the prisoners, the 300 rebels marched to Blandford where they proclaimed Charles II, King of England. Unfortunately for the rebels, the good folk of Dorset wanted nothing of this rebellion as the memories of the late Civil War were still fresh in their minds, and Penruddock and his little army retreated west through Yeovil and Chard, until they were routed in a bloodless skirmish at South Molton. John Penruddock was captured with some of his followers, and was executed at Exeter on 16 May 1655. Another rebel officer, Captain Thomas Hunt, was sentenced to death by beheading and transported to Ilchester Gaol where he was given into the care of the Sheriff of Somerset his namesake, but no relation, Robert Hunt.
Captain Hunt’s execution was fixed for the evening of 7 May, but the axe needed to remove his head was proving difficult to find. It had to have a blade of 11 inches to carryout the task, and implements of this size were not in plentiful supply. The problem in procuring the axe, and the time required to build the scaffold before the Shire Hall in the market place at Ilchester, had now delayed the execution until Thursday 10 May.
On the Wednesday night, the eve of the execution, Captain Hunt was allowed a last visit from his two sisters, Marjorie and Elizabeth. They arrived at the gaol at about 10 o’clock, and were shown to their brother’s cell which he shared with two other prisoners. His two companions were absent during the visit, and alone with his sisters, a daring escape was put in hand. Captain Hunt quickly changed clothes with Marjorie, and then with Elizabeth went through the gaol, passing three doorkeepers and the main gate guard, to freedom. Back in the cell, Marjorie placed her brother’s cloak and hat on a chair and got into his bed. On their return, the captain’s cellmates thought he was asleep and took to their beds.
Having parted from his sister, Captain Hunt found himself wandering alone in the vicinity of Ilchester as dawn broke but without any idea of where he was; he could also hear the great bell of the gaol begin to toll for his impending execution. Just as he began to lose hope of making an escape, the captain espied a collier coming along the road leading a packhorse loaded with coal. Still in female disguise, Captain Hunt hailed the collier and in the conversation which followed discovered his destination. Telling the collier that that he was travelling in the same direction, ‘the lady’ managed to persuade him to allow ‘her’ to ride with the coal on the horse. During the journey, the collier’s Royalist sympathies soon became apparent and the captain took a desperate chance and disclosed that he was an escaped rebel. As events proved, this chance encounter was to save Captain Hunt’s life, and in company with his new found saviour, he rode across country to the collier’s home on the edge of the lonely Somerset Levels.
The escape had now been discovered, Marjorie was arrested and confessed. Sister Elizabeth was also apprehended, and both ladies were lodged in Ilchester Gaol, where they remained without being brought to trial until their release two years later in 1657. On discovering Captain Hunt’s escape the hue and cry was raised, and Parliamentary troops stationed in Ilchester were soon scouring the countryside. On reaching his home, the collier barricaded the door, no lights were lit, and the two men took cover in a small upper chamber of the cottage, each with a loaded musket preparing to sell their lives dearly if discovered. Before long a sheriff’s officer with a troop of mounted men clattered into the yard and hammering on the door demanded entrance. At first the collier and his wife made no sign, but as the shouting of the troopers became more threatening, the collier put his head out of the chamber window as if disturbed from sleep, and demanded an explanation for this uproar. The sheriff’s officer bellowed that the party was in pursuit of a prisoner escaped from Ilchester Gaol disguised as a female, and as he had orders to search every house, his men would force their way in if necessary. The collier replied that he would open the door as soon as he could get a light, but pretended that he had lost the steel for the tinder box. As no one else had any means of producing light, the troopers were told that they must search the house in the dark. The sheriff’s officer by now had lost his patience with the apparent ignorance of the collier, and calling out that it was useless to waste time here because the stupid fellow did not know his right hand from his left, away galloped the party to the inexpressible relief of the fugitive and his faithful friends.
Captain Hunt remained hidden in the collier’s cottage, and when the hue and cry had calmed down, the collier helped him in his escape to France where he joined the exiled Charles II with whom he remained until returning to England at the Restoration some five years later. The name of the collier who saved the captain’s life, and whether he was rewarded for the terrible risk he took for a stranger, remains one of history’s secrets.
As for Sheriff Robert Hunt, the escape of his namesake was an obvious embarrassment, but it did not effect the career of this widely respected man. He continued in the office of Sheriff of Somerset for another year, served the County and Ilchester in the Parliaments of 1659 and 1660, and for the last two decades of his life continued to play an active role in County government as a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant. He now lies with his kin in St Andrew’s Church, in the peaceful village of Compton Pauncefoot.
A NOVEMBER WEDDING
On Thursday 21 November 1867, the Parish Church of Maperton, near Wincanton, was the scene of the society wedding of Charlotte Elizabeth Harriet, the eldest daughter of Major H T G Fitz-Gerald, of Maperton House, to Captain J T Coke. The Western Gazette, reporting on the occasion, wrote that:
‘The bridal party proceeded from the residence of Major Fitz-Gerald to the church, which is close by, on foot, the pathway having been covered with cocoa-nut matting. The approaches to the church were lined with spectators, and the building itself was crowded by persons, principally young ladies, who were anxious to witness the ceremony. The church had been decorated with flowers and evergreens, and presented a very pretty appearance. The bride was led to the altar by her father, who also gave her away, and was accompanied by six bridesmaids, viz:- Miss Geraldine Fitz-Gerald, sister of the bride, Miss Munck, Miss Louisa Munck, Miss Fanny Munck, Miss Florence Wyndham, and Miss Clare Dickenson. Their dresses were of white grenadine, with scarlet violet trimmings, scarlet jackets with white goat’s-hair fringe, and white bonnets with scarlet feathers. Each carried a splendid bouquet, composed of white and scarlet chrysanthemums bordered with scarlet, and frosted- margin maiden-hair fern. The bride worn a dress of white satin trimmed with swans down and d’Alencon lace, with pearl ornaments; lace veil, and wreath of orange blossoms, and carried a lovely bouquet, composed of white camellias and pink roses, bordered with frosted-margin maiden-hair fern. The whole of the bouquets were arranged by Mr. Wallace, gardener to Major Fitz-Gerald. The bridegroom, Capt. J.T. Coke, was accompanied by Capt. Robertson of the 17th Lancers, who acted as “best man.” He was attended by – Curtis-Hayward, Charles Fitzgerald, Heathcote Wyndham, and Reginald Butterworth, who acted as groomsmen. Amongst those who were present at the breakfast were Colonel and Mrs. Coke, Debdale hall, Nottinghamshire; Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald, Lurlough Park; Colonel Mayo; Mr. and Mrs. Bligh; – Munck, Coley Park, Berks; Mrs. Wyndham, Yarlington House; Rev and Mrs. Moore, Hordley Rectory, Shropshire; Mr. and Mrs. Bowles; Miss Peal; Mrs. Chatfield; Miss Drake; Miss Weatherton; Miss Kingswell; Capt. Robertson (17th Lancers); Capt. Curtis-Hayward (25th Regt.) Mr. Newton-Dickinson (20th Regt.) Mr. Reginald Butterworth, Mr Heathcote Wyndham, Mr. Edward Wyndham, Rev. Calcraft Wylox, Rev. G. and Mrs. Saunders, Mr. Charles Fitz-Gerald, Mr. Gerald Fitz-Gerald, &. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. G. Saunders, assisted by the Rev. S.W. Moore, uncle of the bride. The weather which has hitherto been so fine, proved unfavourable; but, although it was so gloomy, was not enough to damp the joy which was depicted on the countenance of the bridal party. As they issued from the church the bells burst forth a merry peal. The presents were very numerous, numbering over 120. The inhabitants of Maperton presented the bride with a very handsome silver cream-jug and sugar-basin, as a token of the respect which they entertain for her; and as she leaves them, she will be followed by many an earnest wish that the state of the weather may not be a criterion of what her future life will be; but that the sunshine of happiness may shine upon her throughout her married life, and that for once it may be said, “Happy indeed is the bride whom the sun did not shine upon.”’
A CRUEL MURDER AT WEMOUTH
A memorial stone in St Mary’s Church, Weymouth reads:
‘This stone was erected in remembrance of the cruel murder committed on the body of Ffloyd Morgan (who lies here) on the 27th April 1792 aged 22.
Here mingling with my fellow clay,
I wait the awful judgement day:
And there my murderers shall appear
Although escaped from justice here’
And this is the story. Early in the morning of Friday 27 April 1792, the body of a young man was discovered on the drawbridge at Weymouth. He had been brutally murdered and was soon identified as Thomas Floyd Morgan, a 22 years-old engraver from Herefordshire. The coroner’s jury was summoned immediately and heard that the deceased had spent the night at a house of ‘ill fame’, and had there met his end; the jury reached a verdict of ‘Wilful murder by some person or persons unknown.’ The following day William Hardy, William Theddon, Sarah White and Priscilla Ryall, were arrested and committed to Dorchester gaol, on suspicion of murdering Ffloyd Morgan, and there they languished until the Dorset Summer Assizes in July.
Hardy, Theddon and Sarah White were brought before the court charged with the murder of Ffloyd Morgan, but were acquitted despite Priscilla Ryall turning King’s Evidence against the trio. It was reported that nothing material could be found to prove their guilt.
Many local people were furious at the verdict and erected the memorial stone paid for by a public subscription. Originally the memorial had been in the old St Mary’s Church which was demolished and present church was built between 1815 and 1817.
DANGEROUS ENGINES OF DESTRUCTION
The Golden Jubilee of King George III would be celebrated with a bang by the local Volunteers at Galhampton, near Castle Cary, on 25 October 1809. The Volunteers commanded by Colonel Woodforde, had placed a battery of cannon near Galhampton House in order to fire salutes to the monarch on entering the fiftieth year of his reign. The Volunteers were not to be denied the Jubilee rejoicings, and were attending a public dinner in Castle Cary, together with the other festivities in the town. Captain John Burge had been given responsibility for the care of the battery, and had left Thomas Millard, a member of his Company, together with another Volunteer, in charge of the guns.
No officer or NCO was left to supervise the two Volunteers, and it would seem that they became bored and idle fingers can make mischief. Thomas Millard decided to light the touch-hole of one of the cannon as a jolly jape. However, the gun did not fire, and so Millard took a ram rod and standing in front of the muzzle, thrust it down the barrel whilst the touch-hole was still smouldering. The result was a foregone conclusion because the cannon immediately discharged and the unfortunate but foolish Thomas Millard, busily pushing the ram rod down the barrel’ was blown to pieces. The remains of poor Volunteer Millard, some of which had been propelled for some distance, were collected up, and what was left of the twenty four years old deceased were buried in the Parish Churchyard on 29 October 1809
‘Never, never, let your gun pointed be at anyone’ begins the exhortation drummed into the heads of generations of recruits to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces by gunnery instructors when firearms are first handed out and they are taught how to use them. As exhortations go this was, and continues to be, an extremely sensible one and perhaps if it had been given to some young boys nearly two hundred years ago, an awful tragedy could have been avoided.
The Western Flying Post reported on the 25 August 1817, that an inquest had been held at Sutton Montis into the death of 9 years old Eliza Grove who on the 16 of that month had been killed by her 11 years old uncle. The Flying Post reported that it appeared the boy had been keeping birds off the corn and had been entrusted with a gun but without flint or powder. After leaving the field, between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, he had met another boy, who also had a gun, and the two guns were placed side by side whilst the boys were learning to read. On parting in the dusk, the boy picked up his friend’s gun by mistake and not knowing it was loaded with lead shot. The newspaper went on to record that the boy ‘ On entering the house where he and the deceased lived, he levelled gun at the girl saying “ Eliza, I’ll shoot thee,” and immediately the contents were lodged in the neck of the unfortunate girl. Verdict: Chance medley of circumstances.’ The Western Flying Post commented ‘We cannot refrain from adding, that it is much to be lamented that such engines of destruction should be put into the hands of such boys.’
Even in the hands of experienced people, guns can be extremely dangerous to the handler as happened in Chard just before Christmas in 1887 when 41 years old William Churchill accidentally shot himself.
The inquest into William Churchill’s death was held in the Ship Inn when Ann his wife recalled that he had got up at about 5.20 on the morning of Wednesday 21 December and had gone down stairs carrying his gun. A few minutes later there was the sound of a shot followed by a cry from William ‘The gun has gone off and knocked me! Oh Nance I think its a bad job!’ Rushing down stairs Ann Churchill saw to her horror William lying on the floor with blood pumping from a gaping wound in his thigh. As she tried to comfort her stricken husband, he moaned ‘I’m dead,’ and at this, the terrified woman ran to summon her next door neighbour, Charles Cornelius. Although they tried their best, there was nothing Ann or Charles Cornelius could do to stem the flow of blood from William’s main artery and he died before medical assistance could be brought. No one could establish how William Churchill came to shoot himself but it was accepted as being accidental, and the inquest jury returned a verdict to this effect.
It goes without saying guns are very dangerous ‘engines of destruction.’
VILLAINS AND HEROES
On a Saturday night in April 1790 fire broke out at the Greyhound Inn on South Street destroying the cellar and several outhouses. A couple of days later, a second fire was discovered in some outbuildings but it was extinguished before it could spread to the Inn. When a third fire broke in the next door smithy, arson was suspected and 19 years-old Alexander Pearce, a servant at the Greyhound was arrested. He was put on trial at the Somerset Assizes, found guilty and hanged at Ilchester Gaol.
On the night of 16 November 1876, the East Coker policeman, Nathaniel Cox, was killed and his colleague Constable Henry Stacey, severely beaten in a fight with four poachers. Charles Baker of West Coker was arrested, but the other three from Hardington Mandeville, George Hutchings and his sons, Giles and Peter, went into hiding and were not arrested until January 1877. The following March they appeared at the Somerset Assizes charged with murder, but because it was impossible to establish who struck the fatal blow, the prisoners were sentenced to 24 years penal servitude for manslaughter. However, it was later testified that George Hutchings had not been involved and he was given a free pardon but died before he could be released. This is not the end of the story because twelve months later Giles Hutchings , who was reported as being a troublesome prisoner, escaped from a working party and stayed on the run for some three years. He was recaptured on the Isle of Wight where he had been living as a labourer and on one occasion had worked on building the new police station at Newport!
Now, for a couple of heroes. George Strong was an Odcombe man, the son of a Ham Hill stone mason, and was serving with the Coldstream Guards at the siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War in September 1855. Under a heavy Russian bombardment, a live shell with its burning fuse hissing, crashed into the trench he was manning with several comrades but before it could explode, George picked up the hot live missile and threw it over the parapet where it burst harmlessly. For this act of selfless bravery which saved the lives of his comrades, George Strong was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Yeovil born Corporal James Knight, was serving with The Kings (Liverpool) Regiment on operations near Pretoria on 21 August 1900 during the South African Boer War, and was covering the rear of a small detachment which was in danger of being surrounded. Corporal Knight with four men fought off continuous Boer attacks for nearly an hour and when forced to give ground he withdrew carrying one of his wounded comrades for nearly two miles under heavy rifle fire. For this act of gallantry, Corporal Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross.
LOVELY WOMEN, FAIR BUT FALSE
George Brooke, described by the Western Flying Post as ‘A bill sticker, an old man well known in the town’, appeared before the Yeovil Town Magistrates on Friday 14 September 1866, charged with stealing the sum of six shillings and three pence (6s 3d) from Jane Kean.
Jane Kean told the Bench that on Wednesday 12 September, in company with George Brooke, she had gone into the Half Moon Public House in Silver Street, and called for two half quarterns of gin. She had taken a golden sovereign (£1) from her purse to pay for the drink which came to six pence, and the defendant had received the change of 19 shillings and 6 pence which he had put in the purse and given it back. Jane Kean stated that she had then gone into the parlour and sat down with the old bill sticker. Later, when she had looked into her purse, she found that 6s 3d was missing but had to admit that she was very tipsy at the time. In reply to George Brooke’s solicitor, Mr S Watts, Jane Kean also admitted that she could not remember whether or not she had invited the defendant to accompany her into the Half Moon, but she was certain that she had not given him her purse – he had taken it and put it in his pocket.
The next witness was the barmaid of the Half Moon, a Miss Cross, who stated that George Brooke and Jane Kean had come in together, and the woman had called for gin for which she had paid six pence. The couple had then gone into the parlour and shortly after Jane Kean called for two more half quarterns of gin for which she emptied her purse containing one sovereign onto the table. Miss Cross took the coin and returned with the gin and 19s 6d change in silver coins. She saw George Brooke put the coins into the purse and hand it to his lady companion. Later however, Miss Cross, who could see into the parlour from the bar, observed the bill sticker take the purse and put it into his pocket. He had then shaken the pocket, pulled out the purse and hand it back to Jane Kean. The barmaid told the Bench that she had become suspicious that something was not quite right, and when George Brooke made to leave she had told him to sit down, and she sent for the police. Miss Cross went on to say that Jane Kean had been drinking and did not seem to know what was going on.
Police Constable Everley told the Bench that he had been called to the Half Moon, and found the defendant and Jane Kean, who was drunk, sitting in the parlour. George Brooke was sober and when questioned denied having any change belonging to the woman. Despite this denial, the constable searched the defendant and found 6s 3d in silver coins in his pocket.
Mr Watts then addressed the magistrates on the defendant’s behalf. He admitted that his client had the woman’s money, but he had been holding it at her request. He could only account for the change being found in his pocket was because the purse had no fastening and some of the coins had fallen out by accident. Mr Watts stated that his client had a good character for honesty, and if the charge was proved against him he would lose his club benefit.
The Mayor, who was Chairman of the Town Magistrates, asked the defendant if he had been in Sherborne on the day in question and how much he had drunk?. In reply, George Brooke confirmed that he had, and stated that he had drunk two half pints of ‘half and half’. When he had arrived back in Yeovil he had seen Jane Kean who had called out to him ‘Come here my dear, and show me the way to the Half Moon.’ George Brooke told how he had taken the woman to the public house and had accepted her invitation to have some gin ‘provided she paid’. They had both gone in and Jane Kean, who was very tipsy had sat on his lap and twice fallen off. The defendant explained that when he handed back the purse after paying for the gin she had said – ‘Thee shall have it and I too.’ Every time he tried to leave Jane Kean had pulled him back and would not let him go.
After a short consultation with his fellow magistrates, the Mayor addressed George Brooke saying that this was one of those drunken cases which perplexed the Bench as to how they should deal with it. With the exception of being too fond of drink, the defendant had a good character, and it was because of this the Bench was inclined to be lenient. Believing that the money might have been accidentally emptied into his pocket, and what he had done was through drink and not with any felonious intention, the case was dismissed but at the same time George Brooke was cautioned to keep out of bad company, to give up drinking, and avoid ‘lovely women, fair but false’.
POACHERS AND POLICE
In the summer of 1893 gangs of poachers were at work in the Sherborne and Yeovil areas and the local police were on alert. One suspected poacher, Frederick Moors of South Barrow had been seen in Sherborne on Friday evening 14 July, and his horse trap was parked in the yard of James Lyne’s house in Bristol Road. Lyne was a convicted poacher and the local constabulary suspected that something was in the air.
At about 5 o’clock the next morning, Sherborne constable, PC Payne, was patrolling the Bristol Road when in the early dawn light he saw a trap coming towards him at a fast pace. As it drew nearer the constable recognised Frederick Moors as the driver and James Lyne in the passenger seat but as he shouted ‘Halt’, Moors whipped the horse into a gallop and disappeared down the Bristol Road. However as the trap passed, PC Payne glimpsed a large sack bag in the back of the vehicle.
Five miles away at Yeovil Bridge, four police officers were also on poacher alert; PC Meech of Yetminster and PC Miller from Nether Compton were concealed behind hedges at the bottom of Babylon Hill and PC’s Marsh and Wise from Yeovil were on the Somerset side of the bridge.
At about 5.30 the officers saw a trap being driven quickly down Babylon Hill and as it approached the bridge, the driver and his passenger were recognised as Moors and the convicted poacher Lyne; a large bag could also be seen in the back of the trap. PC Miller ran out into the road with raised hands shouting for the driver to stop but Moors swerved the trap around him and urged the horse into a gallop. At this moment PC Meech rushed from his hiding place tried to seize the reins from the driver but missed and fell under the trap. The constable was knocked unconscious, dragged for several yards but as his body was freed from the trap, one of the wheels of the speeding vehicle ran over him.
The trap raced over Yeovil Bridge and PC’s Marsh and Wise were forced to jump for their lives as it drove furiously towards them and disappeared up the Sherborne Road to Yeovil. Despite their narrow escape, the two constables had time to glimpse a large bag in the back of the trap.
All this was witnessed by Thomas Score, the dairyman at Yeovil Bridge Farm, who was standing on the bridge at the time, and who would later corroborate in Court the statements of the policemen; he would also confirm that there was a large bag in the back of the trap.
PC Meech recovered consciousness but was badly hurt and bleeding heavily from a head wound. He was taken to Dr. Williams in Sherborne, and after treatment for severe lacerations to his back where the wheel had gone over him, a deep scalp wound and heavy bruising, the constable was taken home.
Later that Saturday, Frederick Moors and James Lyne were arrested and taken into custody. On 20 July the two men were brought before the Sherborne Magistrates charged with causing grievous bodily harm to PC Meech and assaulting the officer in the execution of his duty. The events of the Saturday morning were recalled by the prosecution who stated that the police officers had tried to arrest the prisoners on suspicion poaching. The four constables described their actions and those of the prisoners and Thomas Score recounted what he had witnessed as he stood on Yeovil Bridge. Yeovil solicitor, Mr. W. Marsh, defending, stated that before the police had the right to stop his clients, they must have good cause to suspect that they had come from land where they had been in search of game. The fact that James Lyne had once been convicted of poaching did not justify the attempts to stop his clients without proper authority and the police must take the consequences of their actions. His clients had been lawfully driving to Yeovil, the constables had suddenly jumped into the road, frightened the horse which broke its rein and ran away out of control accidentally knocking down PC Meech. Mr. Marsh therefore sought the dismissal of the charges. However the Magistrates committed the prisoners for trial but allowed bail at £25 each with two sureties of £25.
Frederick Moors and James Lyne appeared at the Dorset October Quarter Sessions but despite further pleas that there was no proof that they had been on a poaching expedition, the sack contained mushrooms, and the because the police had no authority to seek to arrest the two men, the injuries to PC Meech had been the result of an unlawful act on his part and therefore accidental, they were found guilty and sentenced to nine months hard labour.
PC Meech made a full recovery from his injuries.
‘A MOCK H BOMB ATTACK’
For those of us who grew up and lived through the Cold War Years, when the threat of nuclear holocaust was only too real, there could always be a fear working away in the far recesses of the mind that one day, one day ‘the balloon might go up.’
In September 1958, 150 Civil Defence Controllers, Heads of Sections and Volunteers from Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster, Langport, Wincanton and Yeovil met in the Territorial Army Drill Hall in Southville to study the problems which a nuclear attack could cause.
‘Operation Sextus’ envisaged the explosion of an H-Bomb over a large city and the radio active fallout had severely contaminated the Yeovil area. The exercise divided into six syndicates and showed that although a great deal could be done to lessen the loss of life following a nuclear attack, the need for more volunteers to join the Civil Defence Corps was as great in peace as in war.
Many former National Servicemen will remember going on a couple of weeks’ civil defence course at Chorley in Lancashire just before they were demobbed; for some reason this did not apply to the Regulars.
When I was working in the Town Clerk’s Department of the old Yeovil Borough Council, I was standing in for a colleague who was clerk of the Council’s Civil Defence Committee, and went to Crewkerne with several Town Councillors for a private showing of The War Game . This was a documentary-style film depicting the effects of a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom and which for many years was not released for public showing as it was considered too graphic and not good for public morale. I must admit that it was pretty scary and a nightmare scenario because it could have been all too real if war had broken out. However, the film was finally released and broadcast on BBC 2 in July 1985.
Exercises such as ‘Sextus’ were regularly held in the following thirty or so years of the Cold War, but now the nation’s civil defence services as they were then organised have all but disappeared, and the local command bunker under the Ambulance Station on Reckleford was closed down over 20 years ago.