Ufford: Honouring the dead. Remembering those who survived and struggled
- Credit: Archant
Barely a family in one Suffolk village of 470 souls remained untouched. Here’s one man’s quest to make sure we know what The Great War did to their lives
Michael Davis stood in front of his great-uncle’s grave – most likely the first member of the family to have done so. It was 90 years to the day after Sergeant Felix Patrick – a Suffolk boy – met his death in France.
“It was a moment of haunting,” Michael reflected.
“I stood there as the descendant, a grandson, of Felix’s brother Charles Patrick… That day in 2007 I represented the brother that survived. What haunts me is what I call ‘the thinness of history’. My grandfather had been one of the first from Ufford to leave for the war. By some fluke he survived; by chance I am here, a century later…”
The village near Woodbridge was, like many places, affected badly by the First World War.
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The Bezant family was hit worst, if we judge by numbers. Five sons went to war, as did father Robert. Three of the lads never came back.
The Barbers lost both sons, as did the Lewises. Of the four Davis sons, one was killed, two were wounded and the other became a prisoner of war.
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In all, 17 Ufford families lost loved-ones. Andrew Pritchatt was determined to show the effect of war on the village to which he moved from Ipswich about eight years ago. His research, and subsequent book, features the names of some 124 men who served king and country.
As well as profiling the 22 who died and are honoured on the Ufford memorial, he names another 14 with local links who also failed to return. These are remembered on other memorials around the country, and in Australia and Canada.
Nor does Andrew overlook the 88 locals who put on a uniform and survived. He tells the EADT: “The men on a village war memorial are often referred to as ‘the forgotten men’, but it is those that returned who have been forgotten – it isn’t their names that are carved in stone or engraved on a brass plaque.
“It was realising this that motivated me to bring the stories of the men back into the village and the public eye, to enable them all to be remembered.”
That pleases Michael Davis. He writes in the foreword to the book: “My grandmother would talk about the ‘boys’ who came back sitting together in the village, quietly talking. They had experiences which each could understand but which they couldn’t share with their families.”
Many returned with physical and emotional scars. “There were issues with drinking to forget.
“The years between the two wars were far from glorious. In too many histories, those who returned from the First World War are the forgotten ones.”
The Ufford Monthly Magazine of September, 1914, caught the mood.
“When the Magazine for the month of August was prepared, towards the end of the month of July, we did not think for a moment of the terrible state of things which actually set in almost with the beginning of the month of August: we were looking forward to the gathering in of the corn harvest, and to the keeping of our Patronal Festival.
“But by the time the Magazine was in its readers’ hands all was changed and the one thing that people thought of was the War into which the nation found itself plunged.”
There were 15 men from Ufford already serving in the navy or army, and four more were reservists immediately called up.
“Others volunteered during the early weeks of the war and enlistment was encouraged through meetings in the towns and villages, such as one that occurred in Ufford School on the evening of the 9th September 1914,” writes Andrew.
The youngest to enlist was 15 when he signed up in the October. The oldest was 51, joining in 1916 – “they were also father and son”.
When the war ended, Ufford Monthly Magazine said the village had “Sent 80 men and boys into the ships and ranks of the King’s naval and military forces”.
n Ufford and The Great War is available from Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge, at £10, or from Andy. Email email@example.com for details. All profits go to village projects.
The Bezant boys
By 1911, George Bezant was living with his family in East Lane, Ufford, and working as a milkman in the family business. He’d have been about 20 years old then.
“George may have attended a recruitment meeting in the Ufford School House on 9th September 1914 as he joined the 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment shortly afterwards,” explains Andrew.
A year or so later the battalion was in the Ypres area of Belgium.
“They were to take part in the ‘Second Attack on Bellewaarde’, which was in support of the Battle of Loos to the south. At 4.19am on the 25th September the attack commenced, with four mines being set off underneath the German trenches. During the fighting George Bezant went missing and was later reported as having died ‘on or since 25th September 1915’.”
Younger brother Harold was also a private in (eventually) the 2nd Battalion, and worked as a milk lad in the family business.
The battalion saw heavy action in France in the final year of the war: shelled and gassed at the start of the German spring offensive in March.
At the end of the month the troops were forced to withdraw to the village of Neuville Vitasse, suffering heavy casualties – 428 of them. Harold Bezant was one of those killed.
A third Bezant son, Frederick, had joined the army by 1911 and was serving in India as a gunner with the 13th Battery Royal Field Artillery. In February, 1915, he was posted to France, and was with the 48th Battery when he came back to England on leave in the October – getting married to Mary Robinson in Yorkshire before returning to France.
In late November he fell ill and was sent to a casualty clearing station at Maubeuge. He died there on December 7 of pneumonia, at the age of 28.
Killed, two months after wedding
Rifleman Walter Larner Gibbons was an adopted son of Ufford, through marriage to local girl Eliza Jane Smith.
His parents came from Pimlico. Walter worked for the Post Office as a telegram boy and then a postman, before volunteering and joining the 8th City of London Battalion (Post Office Rifles). The men saw action in France in the early summer of 1915. Walter returned to England the following spring to marry Eliza – of The Avenue in Ufford – at St Mary’s Church on Lady Day 1916 (March 25).
“Walter was soon back in the trenches in the Lens area near Arras, where on 21st May 1916 he was killed in action,” writes Andrew.
George: The first to fall
George Brooks was born in Charsfield in 1894, but his family lived for some years in East Lane, Ufford. At the start of the war he was a farm labourer in neighbouring Bromeswell and then joined the East Yorkshire Regiment.
“On 26th February 1915, George went to the front line for the first and only time when his unit left for the trenches near Zillabeke,” writes Andrew.
Much of February 27 was pretty quiet until 3.40pm, when a mortar blew away the parapet of a trench, killing six men and wounding 13 more.
“George Sidney Brooks, age 20, was one of those killed only nine days after having set foot in Belgium. George was the first man from Ufford named on the memorial to be killed in the war.”
The Barber boys
William and Alphonso Barber were born in Barsham, near Beccles, in the 1890s. The family moved to Ufford later that decade.
Alphonso joined the Royal Marines Artillery as a private in 1912, just after his 17th birthday. Just before Christmas, 1913, having been promoted to gunner, he joined the crew of battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary.
“The Queen Mary was in action very soon after war was declared and on 28th August 1914 was involved in the first naval battle of the war – the Battle of Heligoland Bight,” writes Andrew. It was a British victory.
On the last day of May, 1916, the Queen Mary put to sea with the other ships of the grand fleet to intercept German vessels.
“The Grand Fleet came into contact with the Germans long before they expected to and the Battle of Jutland commenced.” By 4.25pm the Queen Mary had been hit several times by German battleships. “One of the shells from the Derflinger then hit a gun turret, causing the forward and aft magazines to explode, sinking the Queen Mary in less than 90 seconds.
“Alphonso was one of the 1,259 crew members that were killed – there were only eight survivors.”
William, meanwhile, was only 18 when he signed up in Woodbridge about three weeks before Christmas, 1907, as a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery.
William was sent to France in the early days of the war – at the end of September, 1914. He was promoted to sergeant a year later, and was killed in action at the end of October, 1915.
In a letter to William’s mother, 2nd Lieutenant Archie Graham said: “We feel his loss very much indeed, as he was a most indefatigable worker, and whatever duty was entrusted to him it was always carried out with the utmost expediency and goodwill.”
William was one of four men from the 6th Siege Battery killed that day by enemy shell fire.
I hope I’ve done them proud
Andrew Pritchatt has long been interested in local history, and had been working on a family tree. Then he heard about a project called Shotley’s Forgotten Men, by history students at University Campus Suffolk.
Food for thought.
“I had recently hit a brick wall with the family tree and wanted something else to do for a break from it and to come back fresh, so researching the men on the memorial seemed like a good idea,” says the IT support manager for BT.
He intended only to research the men on the memorial and produce a folder to go into St Mary’s Church for villagers and visitors to look at. But copies of Ufford Monthly Magazine “also chronicled many of the issues and events that happened in the village during the war years, and from that a picture of village life could be drawn.
“With the number of names and the information available so rich, I just decided the folder wasn’t going to be enough; and it wasn’t just the men that went to war that were affected but their families, friends, neighbours and the village itself.
“From that point I decided to try and publish the story.”
I’ve heard Andy’s described it as a 16-month obsession. True?
“Only in that, as my wife will tell you, I worked on researching the men virtually every moment that I wasn’t at work or visiting friends and family etc – even if it was only 10 minutes here or there while waiting for the kids to get ready before going out somewhere.”
He hopes he’s produced something “worthy of the villagers from almost 100 years ago”.
Honoured ‘in the quietest of ways’
The men who did not return from The Great War are remembered in St Leonard’s Chapel, the war memorial in the Church of St Mary of the Assumption in Ufford.
It was commissioned in 1919 by Edward Brooke, squire of the village, and designed by his friend Sir John Ninian Comper.
The chapel was remodelled to become the memorial by installing a new stained glass window, altar, reredos (panels either side of the altar, showing the names of the dead) and parclose screen (which separates the chapel from the rest of the church).
Andrew Pritchatt points out there’d been no public fanfare. An article in the East Anglian Daily Times in 1920 said: “A chance visit to Ufford Church one day last week revealed the fact that, in the quietest of ways, without announcement of any kind, the people of Ufford had carried through their War Memorial Scheme and had enriched their noble Church by making and dedicating a chapel in memory of… brave Ufford men who had given their lives in the cause of Freedom.”