One of Devon’s smallest parishes, Combpyne and Rousdon near Lyme Regis, is preparing to remember in a big way the sacrifices and hardships of its men, women and children during the First World War. Thirteen men who worked on the Rousdon Estate, and lived in the village or neighbouring Axmouth, were killed in that ‘war to end all wars’; for its population more men than the national average. Nearly every family suffered, from the humble farm labourer to the blacksmith, not forgetting Sir Wilfrid Peek’s family who owned the estate.
Men from the village served in every quarter of the globe. Many of the ‘fallen’ were killed near Ypres and others on the Somme, but some fell in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Gallipoli and on the Bulgarian front. Sir Wilfrid Peek’s brother Grenville was badly wounded in a cavalry charge the first day British forces saw action. He spent most of the war as a prisoner of the Kaiser. Nor was life easy for those that remained at home. The pages of the parish magazine tell of hard times and difficulties: families torn apart by bereavement, and the need for blackout in the church. The story of Combpyne and Rousdon at war is a representation of Britain at war.
The photograph, courtesy of Roy Jones, shows Sir Wilfrid and Lady Peek at their Rousdon mansion, surrounded by a group of men who were convalescing there. circa 1915.
These times will be remembered by the village in a special event on Monday 4th August, exactly 100 years after the start of the war. Laurie Hitchcock, member of the organising committee, said ‘It was a bloody and awful conflict and probably should never have happened. But it did, and we want to remember, understand and say thank you to our ancestors for their courage and fortitude’. The commemoration will start around the small village green with a rededication service at the war memorial, unique in that it is also a milepost. Relatives of seven of the ‘fallen’ will attend to pay their respects. British Legion standard bearers will attend and buglers from the Army Air Corps will sound the Last Post. The Axe Valley Community Choir, led by musical director Edward Jacobs, will lead the singing.
The service will be followed by the opening of an exhibition at Peek Hall, which will include extracts from the stories of the ‘fallen’ from local historian Roy Jones’s forthcoming book. The exhibition will show life at home and at the front during the war. A short talk will be given by Rousdon resident, TV historian and author, Taylor Downing. The afternoon will end with a ‘poppy’ cream tea during which the Axe Valley Choir will lead everyone in singing songs from the trenches. All proceeds will go to the Royal British Legion.
‘We are planning a memorable occasion’, said Laurie, ‘not in any sense of celebration but to mark what was a pivotal changing point in the history of our country. Nothing was the same again after 1918 and we owe it to that generation to remember and learn’.
Any questions or requests for further information should be directed to Mr. Roy Jones on 01297 443737 or 0777 174 2333