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Individual stories

Throughout the War, the Rector Sydney Boyd was in close contact with members of the Abbey community who were serving overseas, and the newsletters of the period contain many references to their activities and, sadly, often their deaths. The young men he writes about were all members of the congregation, the Choir, the Church Lads’ Brigade, the Young Mens’ Bible Class, the Abbey Football team, and Weymouth House School. The Abbey congregation supported them by sending food parcels and warm clothing to men in active service and those who became prisoners of war. In January 1917 the Rector recorded that Christmas gifts had been sent to 58 of the Abbey’s old footballers and Church Lads Brigaders. The congregation also supported the wider war effort though their ‘All Day War Working Parties’ which made clothing for the troops; and by collecting food and donations for the newly established Bath War Hospital at Combe Park.

Each year between 1915 and 1918, the Rector published Rolls of Honour in the Abbey Yearbooks, recording the names of everyone who had enlisted or was on active service during the year. At this time the Abbey worked closely with St James Church (later destroyed by bombing in 1942; and so the Rolls of Honour include members of St James’ congregation as well as old boys from Weymouth House School.

You can download PDFs of the Rolls of Honour by clicking on the year: 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918

We would like to see if we can find any members of the family of Prebendary Sydney Adolphus Boyd, who was Rector of the Abbey from 1902-1938. It would be great if we could find any descendents who might have access to more information about this period of the Abbey’s history from family letters or papers. 

 

Here are some individual stories from the Abbey community during the war:

 
     Bath in Time - Bath Central Library

Sergeant Charlie Evans

In July 1915 the Rector Sydney Boyd reported the deaths of two old boys from Weymouth House School. Sergeant Charlie Evans (North Somerset Imperial Yeomanry), mentioned in despatches for conspicuous gallantry but killed a few weeks late in heavy fighting near Ypres, which saw the NS Imperial Yeomanry loose nearly all its officers and half its men. Trooper Frank Hayes described Evans’ last moments in a letter which was published in the Bath Chronicle:

‘The Huns commenced a terrific bombardment of our little line of trenches… It was just Hell, but we just had to stick to it.  Sergt. Evans (Charlie) was next to me and we were crouching under cover, just popping up occasionally to look out, when he said ‘Say, Frank, what if old Syd could see us no,’ and presently ‘Good Heavens! This is hot isn’t it. Never mind, old boy, if we’ve got to die we’ll go like men.’ I and Corporal Pidsley, who was with us, warned him a couple of times not to expose himself unnecessarily, and a few minutes later he was peeping over the trench when he shouted ‘Look out boys,’ and span round and fell into my arms, shot clean through the head, killed outright. We just murmured ‘Poor old Charlie’, and covered him with my waterproof’. The only consolation is that he died instantly and without pain and suffering. Just tell his relatives and friends he died like a Briton’ [Bath Chronicle 22 Apr 1915]


   Bath in Time - Bath Central Library   

Revd Werner Rudolph Flex

When war broke out in 1914, the senior curate on the staff of the Abbey was the Reverend W. R. Flex. Werner Rudolph Flex had been born in India in 1876, the son of a missionary who later held posts as Anglican Chaplain in Caen and Karlsruhe. Werner was educated both in France and in Germany before being ordained in England, where he worked as a priest and a teacher until he was appointed to Bath Abbey in April 1909. As well as carrying out day to day duties of taking services, he was very active in the Abbey’s youth ministry. He led the Abbey’s contingent of the Church Lads Brigade (and organised its Football Club), the Incorporated Church Scouts, a Lads’ Bible Class, and found time not only to train the Abbey girls for the Sunday School Choirs Competition (they won!) but also to compete himself in the Mid-Somerset Musical Competition – and win the class!

The advent of war between England and Germany must have been difficult for Flex, as his change of name to Walter Richard Flex suggests. In the summer of 1914 his father was living in retirement in Görlitz in Germany, one sister was married to a German, and another was a nurse in Cologne. Nevertheless, Flex volunteered at once to serve as an Army Chaplain; he was interviewed on 27 November 1914 by the Chaplain-General to the Forces and accepted for service despite the fact that, as the notes of that interview reveal, he was “said to have expressed sympathy with Germany when war broke out”. He was called up in January 1915 and was sent to Egypt. There is a suggestion that he may have served in Gallipoli and on the island of Lemnos, but it is more certain that he was made Chaplain to the Suez Canal Defences, with his headquarters at Ismailia. A contemporary report records that “he has a stretch of a hundred miles of the Canal to visit, comprising stations and hospitals, and he makes his journeys by train, steam-launch, or horse or camel-back”.

He returned to Bath and resumed his duties at Bath Abbey in January 1916 (allowing the Abbey’s other curate, W. S. Coad to become an army chaplain). A little over a year later, however, he accepted a post as an Assistant Master at Harrow School and left Bath. After a career in teaching and ordained ministry he died in December 1960 at the age of 84.

 

Private Stanley V Wooten (5th Dorsets)

Private Wooten went to the Bath Forum School and worked in the drawing room at Stothert & Pitts before he enlisted in the Dorset Regiment. He was the grandson of a former caretaker of Abbey Church House and a member of the Abbey choir from the age of 8 to 14. He was taken prisoner in January 1917, and in June was recovering from wounds in a hospital in Pomerania, Along with fellow Abbey choir member Reggie Fellows (North Somerset Imperial Yeomanry) Stanley spent the rest of the war working on a farm in Posnan in Poland. The Abbey congregations sent food parcels to both men throughout the rest of the war and gave money to support their families. In 1918 the Rector received letters from them, telling that they were POWs and in good health. However when Stanley was repatriated in 1919 the Bath Chronicle reported that he was so emaciated that his own mother did not recognise him.

Sydney Victor Lane

Sydney was a local boy who lived at 25 St. James Parade in Bath. Before 1913 he worked as a labourer at the Gas Works; and was a member of Revd Flex’s Young Mens’ Bible Class and the Church Lads’ Brigade. He joined the Navy in 1913 as a stoker on HMS Centurion; and saw action on various vessels including HMS Dolphin throughout the war before being discharged in 1922. In the Abbey archives we have the New Testament that he was given by the Young Men’s Bible Class when he enlisted, as well as various letters and testimonials from Revd Flex. Sydney was a keen fitness enthusiast - a letter from his uncle (also in the Navy) recommends Navy life as being ‘better than a lubberer old chap, beef up your boxing and gymnastics if you can’. Sydney clearly took this advice to heart, as we also have his pencilled list of exercises recommended for life on board ship.  

Frederick Scovell

Frederick was born in Bath, had lived in Kingsmead Terrace all his life and before the war worked as an indoor porter. Like Sydney Lane he was a member of the Abbey’s Church Lads’ Brigade, and was really still only really a boy when he joined the Navy as a stoker on HMS Panther. His photograph in the Bath Chronicle of January 9th 1915 depicts him fresh faced and innocent, but does not show any of the numerous tattoos which his service records describe!

Private Alfonso W Thackway (Royal Army Medical Corps)
Private Thackway lived at Stretton House on South Parade. He attended Bath City Secondary School, and was a member of the Abbey Football Club. He joined up with the Wessex Field Ambulance and later transferred to the RAMC. He served in France from March 1915 until his discharge in May 1919 and was described by his military chaplain as ‘an extraordinarily fine type of boy, absolutely manly and brave’. In June 1918 The Rector reported that Alfonso had received the Military Medal for gallant conduct, saying: ‘He was a member of the Abbey Football Club from 1911-1913, and was a splendid player. We feel sure that he has the congratulations not only of those whom he has played for, but of those whom he has played against’. In June 1918 he was reported as missing, presumed taken prisoner, after an attack on his trench. He survived the war, however, and returned to Bath.

Corporal Tom King (North Somerset Imperial Yeomanry) who was killed in June 1915 whilst digging out Sergeant Pemberton who had been buried as a result of a shell explosion. Both were old boys from Weymouth House School. The Rector wrote that ‘Pemberton in a grateful letter to King’s mother says “he gave his life to save mine”; and incidents like these ‘reflect imperishable glory on the school and repay a thousand fold the efforts and labours expended on it’.