I am sat writing this blog on the morning of 11 November, Armistice Day, watching the clock count down to 11am, the moment on this day in 1918 when the guns fell silent after more than four years of war. The Great War (WWI), the war they thought would end all wars. On this day I always reflect on my grandparents’ generation and how the war impacted on them.
The first person to be killed from Tewkesbury, the nearest town to the village I grew up in, was William Halling, he was my grandfather’s first cousin. He was killed 1 November 1914, along with all men on board HMS Monmouth and HMS Hope when they were sunk off the coast of Chile in the Battle of Coronel. Yes, this really was a World War! My grandfather, Arthur was a farmer and in a reserved occupation, however, he was one of six brothers and at least four, Tom, John, Fred, and Bill enlisted and fought (I haven’t been able to find any record of Bert, the other brother during WWI). Fortunately, they all survived and returned home. Sadly, this was not the case for many
More than a century on, this war and the high price paid is still very evident. Almost every town or village will have a war memorial with the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I can’t walk past a war memorial without casting my eye over the list of names. Entering the church of Great Rissington on the Cotswolds I looked at the names on the war memorial and noticed the family name of Souls appearing more than once. Listed there are Albert Souls, Alfred Souls, Arthur Souls, Frederick Souls and Walter Souls.
Albert, was the youngest, and along with Walter, the first to enlist, and was the first to be killed. Alfred and Arthur were identical twins who died five just days apart. Walter wrote a postcard home from his hospital bed, but died from a blood clot before it was delivered. Fred’s body was never found and his mother Annie always kept a candle burning in the window hoping one day he’d return.
After the war Annie Souls would never stand for the national Anthem, God Save the King. Eventually she left the village to avoid the heartless gossip about how well off she must be receiving the pensions (one shilling a week) from each of her five dead sons.
For Annie Soul tragedy didn’t end with the war, a sixth son, a younger brother named Percy, who was too young to serve, sadly died from meningitis.
The Imperial War Museum and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission know of no greater sacrifice by a British family.
In total contrast, nearby is the village of Upper Slaughter, a double “Thankful Village”, a village which lost no one in either WWI or WWII!
By Phil Halling MITG
Cotswold and Gloucestershire Blue Badge Tour Guide