Brislington and the Great War
At the outbreak of the First World War Brislington was still largely a rural, agricultural North Somerset village. The feeling was it would all be over by Christmas, but instead it was to drag on for four terrible years leaving 18 million dead, 120 of which were men who left the village for the Front, never to return.
In 1915 a large recruiting meeting was held in Hollywood Road School, chaired by local landowner and J.P, Joseph Cooke – Hurle of Brislington Hill House, who himself served as a Captain in the Somerset Light Infantry and West Somerset Yeomanry. He hoped ‘the young men of Somerset would not be backward in the time of England’s danger. ‘.
By the end of the year 245 local men had answered the call, including Harry Stowell of Oakenhill Cottages who joined the Gloucestershire Royal Field Artillery, aged only 15. After serving in France for over a year and developing pneumonia he went sent back to England where his father had produced his birth certificate. After this he was posted to Ireland where British troops were dealing with the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising.
On the home front in Brislington well to do ladies grew vegetables on an allotment in Hampstead Road for soldiers in Bristol hospitals, knitted socks and balaclavas for ‘our boys at the Front”, and arranged concerts and tea parties for wounded soldiers at The Grove Hall, then the church hall for Brislington Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church). In 1917 Mrs Bonville Fox of Brislington House Asylum established a training centre for the Women’s Land Army, which was rated the best in the West Country.
Brislington also welcomed Belgian refugees. In October 1914 one hundred ‘Belgian peasants’, as ‘The Bristol Observer’ referred to them, arrived and were billeted in the old Imperial Athletic Ground Pavillion in West Town Lane. The refugees were housed in 2 Kensington Place ( site of former John Peer building on Bath Road), and houses on Kensington Hill and Hampstead Road. Over two years fifty Belgians were to stay in Brislington and a large garden party was held in their honour at Brislington Hall, home of the Squire of Brislington, Alfred Clayfield -Ireland. 580 Bath Road was occupied by a doctor’s family from Antwerp, so as the ‘Bristol Observer’ commented. ‘All classes are being cared for’.
Brislington industry also did it’s bit for the war effort with aeroplanes being made at the Motor Constructional Works (later Bristol Commercial Vehicles) on Kensington Hill and the Tramways Depot at Arno’s Vale. From 1915 -18 the Tramways Company had a contract with Bristol Aeroplane Company an built over 200 planes such as Bristol Box Kites. Many local girls were employed who were advised to drink a pint of milk day to counteract the effects of the paint fumes used on the aeroplanes.
Revd Ignatius Jones, Brislington Congregational Church minister, 1902 -18 spent four months in 1916 at a Y.M.C.A convalescent camp in France working as a chaplain. He wrote regular letters home which were published in the church magazine. In July he wrote ‘ I am at last in blood stained France, and on calm evenings we can hear the distant rumbling of the guns where so many of our brave boys are receiving their baptism of fire’ and the following month, ‘The King came within a hundred yards of our hut last week, and yesterday a German airship flew over us at a great height but did no damage’.
Captain Donald Landsdown Gough of Hick’s Gate House, Bath Road served with the Somerset Light Infantry in France and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in 1918.He was gassed, blinded for a time, wounded and sent back to France. His letters home survive, including this extract from one dated 19th October 1917, ‘ In all my time here I really have never seen such a terrible battlefield as Ypres. After this last rain all the low lying ground is dank and deadly swamp, filled with the overpowering reek of the dead, powder and gas shells.’
Peace finally came in November 1918, and in July 1919 Brislington celebrated Peace Day with an open air service in Sandy Park Road attended by 3,000 people, and a tea party and sports day in the grounds of Brislington Hall.
In 1920 Mr and Mrs Cooke – Hurle gave Victory Park to the people of Brisington as a thanksgiving for peace. Mr Cooke – Hurle had wanted it to called ‘Peace Park’, but this was rejected by Brislington Parish Council. The following year St Luke’s War Memorial was dedicated. It’s 108 names included Mr Cooke – Hurles’s brother, Captain William Armitage, who died from war exposure after serving on HMS Vulcan in the Royal Navy. Among the other names are Harry Stowell’s brother, Frank, a sergeant with the London Regiment of Post Office Rifles, who died of tuberculosis and starvation as a prisoner of war in July 1918. He was 25 and had been married a year. Ernest Eddolls of Sandy Park Road was also a P.O.W after serving as a motorcycle messenger, and also died of starvation aged 19 on the day before the Armistice was signed, November 10th 1918.
Charles Petty of Grove Park Road served with the Gloucester Regiment and after being badly wounded at Delville Wood in France in July 1916 , had his leg amputated on his 19th birthday, but died a few days later. His chaplain wrote to his mother telling he he had been buried at Etaples Military Cemetery,‘ Where he lies near the sea, looking towards England’.
On Armistice Day, 1922 Brislington War Memorial on Kensington Hill was unveiled by Mrs Bonville Fox. The service was led by the Dean of Bristol who said, ‘There is only one true memorial that we can offer to the memory of the men who gave their lives, and that is a better world. A world without war, without injustice, without impurity, without meanness, and without the worship of money’.