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Enlisting help to locate the grave of Great War soldier

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 28, 2014

  • The grave of W E Hemmings, and (Below):The military cemetery at St John's Church, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire. (Photos by Paul Workman)

  • Silent Witnesses by Chris Smith

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TO coincide with the centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War, Chris Smith, editor of the Voice Magazine and author of "Tales from a Churchyard", a series of books that were written to support the work of the St John's Church Preservation Group in Kates Hill, Dudley, has published another fascinating volume called "Silent Witnesses".

It is a tribute to the men of the Parish of St John in Kates Hill who died in the First World War, an informative read, packed with details of all those recruits from St. John's parish who died as a result of battlefield action, terrible injuries or disease. Chris tells us in the introduction: "The parish of St John, dominated as it was by the Kates Hill community, was something of an unemployment blackspot and so proved a prime recruiting ground for the forces, especially in the early days of the war. It's fascinating to discover that almost half those from the parish who were killed came from just a half dozen streets."

The horrors faced by the Kates Hill men who had worked as miners, furnacemen and general labourers before becoming soldiers, must have been unimaginable, and this theory is borne out by the tragic tale of 26 year old Edward Jones of the Machine Gun Corps who lived in Brewery Street, Kates Hill. He was granted home leave and travelled back to his family home. But when it came to returning to the Regiment, he couldn't face the thought of being sent back to France and on the day he was due to leave home (August 2, 1917) he hanged himself in his bedroom.

Chris Smith managed to trace a total of 133 soldiers and sailors from the parish of St John's, some buried in single graves in war cemeteries, others listed on war memorials, and Gunner 37261 W E Hemmings was one of the 133 who caught the eye. He was a Kates Hill man who had joined the army well before the outbreak of war and who saw plenty of action in France including the Somme. However, he is buried at St John's Church in the small village of Sutton Veny in Wiltshire, so we enlisted the help of former Black Country resident Paul Workman who lives in that neck of the woods to search for his last resting place, and the photographs he took at the churchyard are reminiscent of the hundreds of war cemeteries that can be found on mainland Europe.

According to the book William Edward Hemmings was repatriated to England sometime in the second half of 1916 and admitted to Sutton Veny military hospital where he died of cirrhosis of the liver on November 28. A total of 168 Great War burials are located at St John's of which 143 are Australian, the majority of whom died in the great flu pandemic of 1919.

For more details of Chris Smith's most recent publications including "Silent Witnesses" (£9.99) and "The Bench will Retire" (£8.99) contact 01384 866688 or 07779 160879.

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