East Brent War Memorial

Driving into Weston-Super-Mare a few weeks ago, we came across a remarkable war memorial beside the road. In the small village of East Brent, Somerset is a very striking memorial. Although it was only initially dedicated to the memory of 17 men, it takes the impressive form of an obelisk surrounded on four sides by carvings of servicemen from the four different services.

The life-size figures represent with impressive detail a soldier, airman, sailor and merchant seaman, reflecting the wartime occupations of the village's men. The memorial must have been expensive and for such a small village, it seems likely that the funding would have been come from a local private source. Other villages of comparative size could not have come up with something so expensive from public subscription.

The memorial's stonemason was A Ruscombe Emery of nearby Burnham-on-Sea. Looking online, the only other war memorial associated to the company was that of Broadway in Worcestershire, but this is nowhere near as elaborate, taking the form of a simple cross-topped obelisk.

The figures of soldiers on memorials are not uncommon in Britain. Cambridge has a notable example of a jubilant soldier 'coming home', while Louth in Lincolnshire and Kelty near Fife have examples of more solemn soldiers. However, all of these are solitary figures standing over the plinth's memorial plaques. East Brent is the only one I have seen to include multiple statues, almost as if they're standing guard around the memorial's obelisk.

There is a remarkable level of detail in the figures, especially in the intricacies of each of their uniforms. It is believed by the local history group that an American sculptor was employed for this work, although no name appears to have been associated with any of the records. Interestingly, the local press records that a man recently travelled from New Zealand to visit the memorial, believing that his father had been the model for the airman, and his uncle the soldier.

Located below the statues are the typical memorial plaques, offering an epitaph to the memory of the men. The phrase chosen was taken from John Maxwell Edmonds' book of 'Twelve War Epitaphs', written specifically for this purpose. The phrase connects the loss of the soldiers with the sleepy village of East Brent, stating 'Ye that live on mid English pastures green, remember us and think what might have been'. It is a striking phrase in that it is addressed directly towards the viewer of the memorial from the perspective of the dead serviceman, asking them for remembrance.

In terms of the men remembered on the memorial, it initially recorded the names of seventeen villagers, with one additional man being added after the Second World War and a further one from Korea. Interestingly, last year six further names were added to the First World War list after research by East Brent Parish History Group uncovered the omissions. In the local press coverage of the additions no reason for the oversight was given, but it could have been that these men had connections to the village, but did not have families resident there at the end of the war.

One of those not originally commemorated was Pte William Edward Babb who fought in the Machine Gun Corps and was killed on 2nd September 1918 . As of the 1911 census his family had already moved down the road to Weston-Super-Mare and by the Imperial War Graves Commission's data at the end of the war, his parents address is given as Cyril Street, Taunton, so it is somewhat likely that he was not remembered in his birth village because the family had left the area. Babb was only 19 at his death and is also remembered on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial in Northern France.

Crowds gather at the East Brent War Memorial c.1921
East Brent war memorial unveiling (source)
The East Brent memorial was dedicated on 27th May 1921 and photos from the day show that large crowds were present, probably constituting a large proportion of the village. People can be seen to have stopped by on their bikes, as well as those, including the soldiers' families, who were gathered around the monument.

One of the families present may have been the Pophams who lost cousins Frederick and Ralph in the war. According to local research, three other family members also fought in the war but fortunately returned.

Frederick Popham served in 7th battalion of the local Somerset Light Infantry, having enlisted after the outbreak of war. The son of Frank and Ellen, he joined up around the same time as his elder brother Henry although he went on to serve with the Royal Irish. Frederick was killed during the Battle of the Somme on 1st October 1916 and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.

His cousin Ralph, the son of Thomas and Eliza, joined up a year later in the Autumn of 1915 and served as a gunner with the Royal Field Artillery. His brothers Roland and Ernest also fought, with Roland also in the artillery. After they initially both served in the Royal Horse Artillery, Ralph was later transferred to the RFA and at the end of 1917 was serving on the Somme. He was killed on 4th January 1918 and is buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road cemetery in Manancourt, south-east of Bapaume. This cemetery was used by the Casualty Clearing Stations in the area, so it was likely that Ralph died of wounds.

Capt John L. Derrick (source)
Another soldier who enlisted at the outbreak of the war was John Leslie Derrick. Born and raised in Cheltenham, his connection to East Brent was through his father, the Rev. John George Derrick's, second home in the village. After school, he was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he read Modern History. Two years later, at the outbreak of war, he enlisted in one of the Public Schools and University battalions of the Royal Fusiliers. In December 1914 he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant and transferred to the East Yorkshire Regiment with whom he then saw service in Gallipoli and Egypt. In the summer of 1916 he came to the Western Front and transferred to the regiment's 6th battalion with whom he was promoted to Captain in July 1917, following their engagement in the Battle of Messines.

The battalion was next involved in the Battle of Langemarck, a phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, during August. It was during an assault on the German's 'White House' position at Langemarck on 27th August that Derrick was killed, one of many losses sustained that day. His Commanding Officer recorded that 'in action he was exceptionally cool', 'he would go and be followed anywhere by his men, who had implicit confidence in him'. His body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

One 'Old Contemptible' soldier remembered on the memorial is Pte Leonard Arthur ("Harry") Dinwiddy, a Regular soldier with the Coldstream Guards. He went to France in December 1914 and in April 1915 was based in Givenchy, in advance of the Second Battle of Artois. Mining operations were in full force at the time, with both sides disrupting each others' efforts. These explosions caused dangerous levels of gas to be present in the saps and on 25th April the alarm was raised by one of the Royal Engineers that their men were being gassed. Dinwiddy and a friend he referred to as 'Fairy' were nearby and straightaway went to their aid, entering the mine to rescue the gas victims, thereby putting themselves in danger.

Dinwiddy wrote a letter about the incident that was published in The Western Times, and more recently included by Phil Thomaselli in his book on Givenchy in the war. He recalled how they went back and forth to rescue the men, finally dragging out an officer who had been killed. In this final rescue Dinwiddy was overcome by the gas and fainted, himself having to be pulled out. He was hospitalised, but returned to the battalion a few days later, none the worse. For his effort he was awarded the DCM, the citation for which read 'the courage and devotion to duty displayed were very pronounced, the risk of death through asphyxiation being very pronounced'.

He remained in northern France for the next few months, ultimately fighting at the Battle of Loos in from 26th September. Dinwiddy was killed on the last day of the battle, 8th October. This day saw a German counter-attack between the Chalk Pit, where Dinwiddy was with the Guards, and the Double Crassier. British machine gunners were able to repel the attack, but not without suffering heavy losses from the German artillery. Dinwiddy was just one of these, and is remembered on the Loos memorial.



Givenchy in the Great War: A Village on the Front Line 1914 - 1918, By Phil Tomaselli


  1. Builth Wells in Mid Wales has the same memorial although the shape of the cross at the top and the plaque are different.

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