Family connections to World War One remembered at Exeter Cathedral

Residents in Devon who have family links to World War One are being invited to share the stories, memories and artefacts that link their family to the war.  It’s part of a special anniversary being held to commemorate the beginning of World War 1.Exeter Cathedral

A special service to mark this occasion will be held at Exeter Cathedral on Sunday 3 August.  The service is open to everyone, but particularly welcome are Devon families with family links to the First World War.  The service will begin at 4pm.

Those with links to the First World War wishing to reserve seats can email with their stories.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Devon said “The First World War had a profound impact on the people of Devon and of the Nation.  It is very important that we remember the enormous sacrifice made by so many from this county.”

Devon County Council has teamed up with a range of partner organisations, including the Royal British Legion, Exeter City Council, Torbay Council, 43 Wessex Brigade, University of Exeter, Devon Museums Group, Devon Arts in Schools Initiative, Trade Union groups and local history societies, to instigate, support and co-ordinate community projects across Devon commemorating the centenary of the First World War.

The aim of the Devon Remembers project is to recognise and pay tribute to the sacrifice and contribution that the people of Devon made during and after the First World War.

It also aims to bring communities together to discover stories about their past and forge new relationships for the future.  As part of this, the Council is keen to capture stories, memories, photographs, research and events data on this website.


Sian Hester – Devon Newscentre – Devon County Council

The Long Goodbye – invitation to contribute to commemorative art installation

An invitation to take part in an art installation remembering WW1:This Summer, you are invited to participate in The Long Goodbye, a project being organised by the eXegesis Poetry Collective at the University commemorating the First World War.The project will culminate with a major art installation in Exeter this August, made from letters and postcards written by people of today to people taking part in the war effort in 1914.

If you would like to write a postcard or letter to be included in this installation, or if you belong to a group who would like someone from the University to come and lead a workshop of card and letter-writing, you can find out who to contact by visiting our Long Goodbye Web Page.

Landkey Primary School Poppy Tribute

Pupils and staff from Landkey Primary School have joined forces with members of Saint Paul’s Church, Landkey, to plant poppy seeds in memory of soldiers who lost their lives in World War 1.

The pupils scattered the seeds in a cross-shaped flower bed in the garden below the church and it is hoped that they will come into flower in time for the centenary, in August of this year, of the outbreak of that conflict.

The poppy seeds are called Northlew in recognition of the west Devon village which lost 24 of its men from a population of just 100, the greatest proportional loss from any community in the UK.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture shows 8 pupils accompanied by their headteacher, Kate Fairbrother (second from right) and their teacher, Zoe Gabriel, next to Revd Shaun O’Rourke.

The Devonshire Trench

“What about that machine gun, the one at the shrine?”

This was what Captain Duncan Martin asked the General Staff.

The time was June 1916 and the shrine was at the corner of the churchyard of Mametz, a village held by the Germans on the Somme front. Captain Martin’s orders were to lead the spearhead of the assault on Mametz on 1 July.

14167532016_899bbedfe9_oCaptain Martin commanded no.1 Company of the 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. They were all volunteers, men who flocked to join up in 1914. Most of them came from the Exeter area. One of them, 18-year-old John Milford, came from Clapham in the parish of Kenn.


The plan of the General Staff was that at Zero hour, no.1 Company would go over the top of their trench, on the edge of Mansel Copse, go down a slight hill, over No-Man’s land, up the hill and storm the German trenches.

There was only one snag, that machine gun at the shrine. It would put down deadly crossfire right across the 9th Devons’ line of advance.

“So what about the machine gun at the shrine?”

Captain Martin even made a plasticine mock-up of the ground to make his point.

The answer from the Staff was clear, “Don’t worry. The machine gun, the shrine, the whole lot will be blasted by the artillery barrage.”

Zero Hour. Dawn on 1 July, the Big Push, the opening of the four month Battle of the Somme. The big guns fell silent, the whistles blew, Number 1 company stood up and started to advance, straight into the fire of that machine gun.

Only half a dozen men made it to the German trench. No.2 and 3 Companies did not fare much better. Eventually, Lieutenant Saville led no.4 Company along a fold of ground sheltered from the machine gun fire.

Survivors rallied, they got into the German trench, the French heavy guns gave brilliant support, the 8th Devons came charging in behind and Mametz was captured.

At the end of the day, the 9th Devons collected up their dead comrades and buried them in the trench from which they had started only that morning. There were 160 of them. Usually, there were twice as many wounded as killed, so there were about 480 casualties among the 9th Devons, six out every ten men.

The 160 dead men were laid to rest and the trench was filled in. One of the burial party made a rough wooden cross and scratched an inscription on it.

After the war, the War Graves Commission tidied up the cemetery, planting trees and making it a place of beauty and peace. The 160 still sleep there, among them John Milford from Kenn and Captain Duncan Martin.

A new cross was put up, with the original inscription, there for all time;

               The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.


All these facts come from the history and War Diaries of the Devonshire Regiment. They are collected in the book, “West Country Regiments on the Somme”, a work as thorough and learned as it is moving. It is written by Tim Saunders and published by Pen and Sword. It is to Tim Saunders that all the credit for the telling of this story is due.

Thanks to Mark Bate for this contribution.  Click on these links for further information about the Devonshire Trench and the Devonshire Cemetery.

Jo Clarke, Publications Officer at Devon County Council, recently visited the Devonshire Cemetery in France, and was moved by what she saw and her experience.  Here are some of the images her husband Steve took of the cemetery, and the memorials to those 160 Devon men who were laid to rest there. 

Ermington War Memorial restored

Ermington Parish Council has recently announced the completion of restoration works to the village War Memorial, in advance of commemorations of the centenary of the Great War. The memorial has now been restored to its former glory and will continue to provide a fitting tribute to the local men who gave their lives during the First World War.

The stone memorial, which is located within a Remembrance Garden in the centre of the village has been thoroughly cleaned and repointed, and the previously worn, gold engraved lettering has been repainted ensuring the names are once again clear and legible.

 A rededication ceremony is planned for early August.SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

The project was organised by Parish Councillor Grant Elliot, and the work undertaken by Westcountry Stonemasons.  The project was funded through the Devon Remembers War Memorials Restoration Grant, with additional money provided by the village fund.

Communities wishing to apply for funding to restore their local war memorial can find more information on the Community Council of Devon website.


‘Longest Poppy Avenue’ tribute in Northlew

During the First World War, the village of Northlew had the sad distinction of losing a greater percentage of young men from those enlisted than any other town or community in the UK.  The community now is ensuring that those brave men are remembered, not only during the centenary period, but for years to come.

With support from Suttons Seeds, over 20 miles of verges have been planted with over 300 million Flanders Poppy seeds either side of the route to Okehampton (which is on a direct line to Flanders) and along the lane to the local railway station (which is the route the men would have taken on their way to war).  This Poppy Avenue is expected to be in flower between June and August, providing a fitting tribute to those lost during the war, for all to see as they travel through Devon.  It is expected to be the largest poppy avenue in the world, and effectively the largest war memorial in the northern hemisphere.

Suttons Seeds are also helping to ensure that poppies are ‘planted’ in the woodland areas where it is too shady for the poppies to grow.  The ‘Little Green Sprouts’ fundraising scheme encourages children and schools to download a poppy template to colour in and post to Suttons who will ensure they join the Avenue.  The template can be accessed at

Other acts of commemoration in Northlew include laying a brass plaque in the village square, engraved with the poem ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, surrounded by flanders grass and poppies, and the planting of a Canadian Oak (donated by Suttons Seeds) which turns red around Armistice Day, and will grow to be the tallest tree in the village; a fitting reminder for generations to come.

On 28th June the village will host a commemorative event including a 3D projected display onto the old buildings of the square showing old newsreel reports, images and sounds of the war, and poems and letters written by soldiers to their families back home.  A collection of First World War bi-planes will be opening this event with a flyover.

Over 3 weekends from 21st June to 6th July, the village will host a small interactive exhibition showing memorabilia from local people and a special mannequin that comes to life to tell the story of a day in the life of a First World War soldier.

See how other communities are commemorating the centenary hereIf your village, town or group is planning an event or a commemoration tribute that you would like to share with others, please send details to

Devon Libraries compiles First World War reading list for young and old

Devon Libraries have compiled a comprehensive reading list of books with a First World War theme.  This list has been recently updated to include new titles that were published during the first year of commemorations in 2014.

The list includes fiction and non-fiction titles suitable for both adults and children to learn more about the history of the War, through stories and information resources outlining the experiences of those involved in the conflict, both at home and abroad.

Stories such as Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, and Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong feature alongside non-fiction titles like the childrens’ Horrible Histories – Terrible Trenches or Harry Patch’s Last Fighting Tommy.

Take a look through the Devon-Remembers-booklist 2015 and you’re sure to find a book, (all of which are available through Devon Libraries, some in alternative formats) which you will find fascinating and educational.Devon Remembers is really keen to hear from any Book Clubs who are currently reading and discussing a book featured on the list, who would like to share their reviews, thoughts and reflections.  If you would like to share a book review, send the details to

First grants awarded from War Memorials Restoration Fund

The Devon Remembers WW1 memorial grant panel met on 25th February, and were very pleased to see 14 very interesting applications for help towards restoration projects.

One thing that stood out from the applications was that the memorials are a valued part of the community, and will form the focus of commemoration events taking place over the next four years. The PCC at Upton Pyne wanted their memorial to look its best when they will host the embroidered banner visits the village on its tour of Devon, where there will be ceremony attended by the Bishop of Exeter. The memorial at Bradninch will also form the focus of a community exhibition. This memorial commemorates the fallen from both the army and the navy and there was clearly some very interesting research being undertaken into the stories that lie behind the names.

It was excellent to see such a variety of memorials being restored – from stone crosses and obelisks, to a stone seat or church clock. The nature of the projects was also varied – from minor works such as replacing worn lettering to more major work such replacement of railings or adding steps to aid safe access to the memorial. All these works, minor or major, will keep memorials in good order well into the future and the Panel was pleased to support the whole range of projects.

The Panel look forward to seeing the next set of applications following the deadline for the second round of grants, which is on 31st May. They are also pleased to be able to accept smaller applications for this round, so communities are welcome to apply for amounts less than the previous minimum of £750. Applicants still need to find 25% of the cost of their projects. All forms and information can be found on the Community Council of Devon and Devon Association of Local Councils websites, and any queries on completing the forms can be emailed to Lesley Smith

DAISI – Young People’s Arts workshops explore the First World War

DAISI, Devon and Torbay’s arts in education organisation, has been offering a selection of First World War-themed arts workshops to young people across Devon in order to ascertain where their interests lie and how they would like to further their exploration into this important period in our history.

The Heritage Lottery Fund, YOUNG ROOTS exists to:

  • Provide new opportunities for young people between the ages of 11 to 25 from a range of backgrounds to help shape and deliver enjoyable and engaging heritage activities as part of a project;
  • Develop partnerships between youth and heritage organisations to bring together knowledge and expertise; and
  • Create opportunities to celebrate young people’s achievements in the project and share their learning with the wider communitySouthmead Primary WW1 DAISI project1

Daisi has been running consultative workshops in advance of submitting their Young Roots bid. Activities in each workshop have been developed in discussion with Daisi’s Rae Hoole, individual workshop leaders/artists and setting staff to illicit where the participants’ existing knowledge in WW1 lies, what interests them, what they would like to explore in more detail, the people, stories which are resonant for them and the media through which they would want to express their findings and experiences.

The consultative workshops have taken place in four different settings: South Molton – (Barnstaple Home Educated Young People), Silverton – (Scouts), Braunton – (Southmead Primary School) and Dawlish – (Dawlish Community College)

This Facebook page has  a number of interesting photographs from the consultation workshops.

Barnstaple Home Educated Young People- ‘Home grown kids’ (11-16 yr olds)   Wed 11th December – led by artist Jo Bushell (Visual arts and performance)

Jo had altered the familiar room at South Molton Youth and Community Hall. It was dimly lit with spotlights attached to each table. The session started with a short presentation – broad in its subject matter; introducing facts about how the war started, statistics relating to numbers of men lost and injured, recruitment posters, Heath Robinson drawings, Chanel fashion icons and women exploring  new working prospects.  Also, examples of common usage slang which derived from the First World War ie. mufti, bumf, chin-strapped, cushy and ‘on the wire’.  Curiosity was stimulated and questions followed.  This subject has a definite resonance with young people. They connected easily with issues around life at home and communication with loved ones.

The practical aspect of the workshop involved designing and creating a postcard. Jo invited all young people to design a postcard describing the aspects of WW1 that had become of interest to pursue further and also to express the art forms which the group would like to use in their exploration.

The postcards were created at A4 on ‘shrinkle paper’ then shrunk in the oven to become much smaller.   This transformative process was also engaging and produced some interesting art works which were hung from wire to display.


Silverton Scouts (10 – 14 yr olds)  –  William Kermode’s lino cuts  – Mon 13th Jan & Mon 20th Jan  –  led by ArtTree – Jon Lincoln Gordon and Trish Mohan

When the Scouts arrived the room had been set up with two large tables, one strewn with images –  British and German propaganda posters, a 4-page resume of the main events of each year of the war and Henry Williamson’s The Patriots Progress illustrated with powerful lino cuts  by William Kermode.Silverton Scouts WW1 DAISI project4

After introducing themselves, Jon and Trish introduced the theme – The First World War- it’s vastness, it’s brutality and the great losses suffered.  TheSscouts had heard of WW1 but as we expected, most knew little detail. One was studying it as a topic. Jon and Trish played a few minutes from the ‘The GREAT WAR’ DVD to provide a background. They then spoke a little of life at home as well as stories of soldiers and battle.  Perhaps most arresting were their personal anecdotes of memories of grandparents and uncles who had served; Trish sitting on her uncle’s knee and the trick he played with his false wooden leg, Jon of a grandfather who never mentioned how or why he was awarded his medals of bravery.  The Scouts listened carefully. Silverton Scouts WW1 DAISI project2

We were going to make out own images to print onto individual pennants and these in turn would be attached to one another to make bunting.  This week we would work on paper, next week on cotton.

Silverton Scouts WW1 DAISI project3

The collection of 2D stimulus along with a next of kin memorial plaque and a set of three medals belonging to Jon’s grandfather provided wonderful inspiration for the art work the Scouts would produce.


Southmead Primary School, Braunton  –  Monday 3rd Feb – led by visual artist Jane Churchill.  Moths decorated by year 5 pupils in honour of the men whose names are on the Braunton War memorial

Southmead Primary WW1 DAISI projectJane acquired the roll of honour from the local war memorial and after a stimulating introduction where Jane showed her own WW1 inspired art work, each child took a name and decorated a moth in honour.  They also wrote letters to loved ones, imagined and written on the back of their moths.






Dawlish Community College  (11-16 yr olds)  –  Tony Liddington lead artist

Tony worked over a period of weeks with students from Dawlish Community College, with Drama initially and then began to explore the theme of WW1. Young people brought in their own memorabilia from WW1 and began to plan for a larger project where they would explore Dawlish and the people of Dawlish in the First World War, through theatre, photography, creative writing and artefacts found and imagined.




Exeter War Hospitals Project


The full story of the Exeter War Hospitals has yet to be told.  Between 1914 and 1919 more than 35,000 wounded troops were treated and cared for in a group of temporary hospitals in Exeter. Unlike other Red Cross hospitals around the county these were not just for men convalescing, but provided surgery, active treatment and rehabilitation.  The patients stayed on average for 25 days, and the hospitals discharged or transferred about 100 men a week to make room for more arriving by train, usually from Southampton. The hospitals started as a Devon Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment initiative, but were taken over by the War Office in 1916 and run as military hospitals on a par with those in Plymouth until the last patients left well after Armistice Day.

An astonishing array of Exeter buildings were used as hospitals, stores and staff quarters, most of which still remain, although ‘recycled’ for modern purposes. Temporary Hospital no 1 was the Eye Infirmary, now the Magdalen Chapter Hotel;  no 2 was the Episcopal Modern School, now a set of student flats;  no 3 was in the Workhouse’s Children’s Home, now the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (Heavitree) Occupational Health Department;  no 4 was at Topsham Barracks and no 5 at Bradninch Hall.

Exonians supported the five (ultimately seven) war hospitals in many ways.  Some came to work as hospital staff.  Others grew and supplied fruit and vegetables, baked cakes, bought cigarettes to hand to the soldiers, lent their cars to pull trucks loaded with wounded soldiers from the railway stations, raised funds for comforts, made and mended extra clothing, prepared dressing packs for front-line staff, offered hospitality to relatives, kept the soldiers and sailors cheerful by entertaining them with concert parties or seaside trips and, if a patient died, laid them to rest in a dedicated portion of the Higher Cemetery where now a war memorial stands.

The War Hospitals project aims to produce information about the seven hospitals, their specialisms and their staff, and to show the way in which this magnificent Red Cross effort was supported by the whole community of Exeter and the villages around it.

For further information about the project, please contact Dr Julia Neville via email:

Photograph, undated, circa 1916.   Probably taken at the temporary V.A. hospital no. 5, located at the College Hostel, Bradninch House,  Exeter.   Shows a verandah style hospital ward open to the air on one side, and decorated with streamers and lanterns, with convalescent soldiers and nursing staff.

Photograph, undated, circa 1916. Probably taken at the temporary V.A. hospital no. 5, located at the College Hostel, Bradninch House, Exeter. Shows a verandah style hospital ward open to the air on one side, and decorated with streamers and lanterns, with convalescent soldiers and nursing staff.