Friday, 23 January 2015

3 Battlefield Crosses

Anyone who has travelled to the Great War battlefields will be used to the sight of immaculate CWGC graveyards with their rows of uniform headstones, everyone accorded the same level on dignity in death, regardless of military rank of social status before or during the war. The story behind the CWGC is well told in this article

During the conflict battlefield crosses had to suffice - made of whatever materials were to hand and often by the men who had lived and fought with the man to be buried. They can be seen in illustrations from the war and postcards created in the years immediately after the end of the conflict. As the CWGC began it's work they were gradually removed and many were obtained by the families of the deceased. I have recently visited three in Somerset, I find them fascinating, often showing marks of weathering, woodworm or battle damage, if you cannot visit the Western Front then they bring a little piece of it to you.

The first two are both housed in the small Somerset village of Mells, more on the village can be found in the post - Mells, Lutyens and Sassoon - it is placed in the back of the plinth of the Horner Memorial, created in memory of Edward Horner. Originally in the North Somerset Yeomanry, he was transferred to the 18th Hussars and was killed in 1917 aged 28. Son of Sir John Horner, his sister had married Raymond Asquith, son of the Prime Minister. H.H. Asquith.

Battlefield Cross - Horner Memorial

The cross is mounted in the back of the plinth, designed by Lutyens

In the same church, high on a wall in the Horner chapel is the battlefield cross for Raymond Asquith, son of the Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith. It forms part of, but is separate from the other part of the memorial in the church. He was 37 and serving with the Grenadier Guards when he was killed in 1916
Battlefield cross - Raymond Asquith
Asquith Memorial - again by Lutyens
Shortly before Christmas I visited St Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton. Soldiers' Corner, dedicated to the Somerset Light Infantry is always worth a visit and I wanted to check up on something I had seen on the memorial to CB Prowse. It states that the battlefield cross was placed in the south porch of the church, but I had never seen a photo and was curious to see if it was still there

It was not, I assumed it had been moved for safe-keeping so contacted the church to see if they knew where it was - the reply was not what I expected, the cross was still in the church but not in it's original form: it has been integrated into a table dedicated to Brig Gen Prowse:

Table dedicated to Brig Gen CB Prowse - Taunton

Close up of the inscription

The underside is the only indication of the age of the wood used


  1. I was very interested to read about the fate of Brigadier-General Prowse's battlefield cross, as I couldn't find my way into the south porch when I visited. You may be interested to know that the memorial was briefly described in the Western Morning News of 22 May 1922, in an account of the dedication of the tablets to Maj-Gen Lloyd-Payne and Col Walsh (the dedication of Brig-Gen Prowse's memorial had been delayed because relatives could not be there): "Preb. Corfield [chaplain to the depot] referred to the fact that the memorial erected to Gen. Prowse consisted of a tablet in the soldiers' aisle, and a mural cross in the south porch, the cross being that originally placed over the late officer's grave by his comrades at Vauchelles, France, and mounted on a tablet of wood from H.M.S. Impregnable, in which his son served." I'm left wondering whether (at least) some of the wood in the table may have come from the mounting rather than the cross itself?

  2. I've also found an account of the dedication of the Prowse memorial published in the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser of 31 May 1922. This includes a description of both memorial and cross: "The cross which is erected in the porch is on a piece of wood which bears the inscription:-- "The original cross erected by his comrades at Vanchelles [sic], Somme." "The wood from which this tablet is made was taken from H.M.S. Impregnable." The cross bears the following inscription:-- "I.H.S. Brigadier-General C. B. Prowse, D.S.O., Somerset Light Infantry, killed in action 1st July, 1916, whilst commanding 11th Infantry Brigade."

  3. Thanks for taking the time to read & post A comment, sorry it has taken so long to reply. When I visited I got into the south porch & there is nothing there. I emailed the church to ask where it was on the advice of the guide & they passed my email onto the Somerset archives who were very confident that the table incorporated the cross. It struck me as a very odd thing to do & I have never heard of this happening to another cross, the Returned project shows how many were preserved & how well they are looked after, I'm inclined to agree with your theory, possibly because It means we may yet track down the cross...