Gloucester Pro Patria

Updated: Feb 25

War memorials in Gloucester and some of the story behind them

It seems odd that the fallen of two 20th-century wars are commemorated on a small corner plot where Roman road and medieval lane meet in the Gloucester suburb of Hucclecote, rather than the large memorial close to the city centre.

Hucclecote war memorial

But then, of course, the city of Gloucester was still over a mile away in 1920, when the granite cross was first permanently wreathed with the names of twenty Hucclecote men (four of them Bircher) who fell in the First World War. The growing city was still some twenty years away from swamping village in suburb when seventeen more people took their places on the memorial after the Second (and among the Seven Hucclecote civilians ushered to the cross by a single bomb on Easter Sunday 1942 were three woman and two girls aged ten months and three years).


Gloucester Park

City war memorial

There are in Gloucester, among the many commemorations in church and suburb, three main memorials to the fallen of 20th-century conflicts. Two masquerade as one at the entrance to Gloucester Park, where a sphinx atop a tapering stone column stands at the focal point of a curving wall some 125 feet long.


Plaques on three sides of the column preserve the names of 1,069 men, while the mournful litany of 1,737 names engraved on weathered metal panels along the wall is interrupted only by a central gate into the park. Small pools of oxidised bronze washed from those panels by the rain line the paving below the wall, like the footprints of the fallen, and the whole has the look of a general leading a phalanx into battle.


Memorial to the fallen of the 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment

The column, unveiled in 1925, predates the wall by eight years. It commemorates the fallen of the 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. This was one of six battalions under the regiment's Colours before World War One, the second of its three Territorial Force battalions of part-time volunteers.

Pte. Frederick Neale, 1/5th, KIA Somme 16/08/1916

The Territorial Force, forerunner of the Territorial Army and more recently the Army Reserve, was established in 1908. It consolidated the country's disparate volunteer forces into a unified reserve army that mirrored the regular army's divisional organisation. The Territorial Force was the last hurrah of the Edwardian volunteer tradition in a nation that was increasingly demanding conscription.


The Territorials had signed up to defend the UK's shores and could not be compelled to serve overseas unless they volunteered to do so. Ridiculed in peacetime and last in line for equipment and facilities, they nevertheless volunteered in large numbers when the First World War erupted.


The Territorial Force filled the hole torn in the UK's armed forces when the regular army was all but decimated during the initial German offensive of 1914. They bought the nation the time it needed until Kitchener's 'I Want You' volunteers were ready to take up their places in the line.

Gloucestershire Regiment cap badge

To replace the original France-bound battalion in the home defences a duplicate, second-line Territorial battalion was raised, the two being numbered 1/5th and 2/5th. When it became clear the second line too was destined for foreign shores, a third was raised both to take its place guarding the homeland and to train new recruits for the combat battalions.


The 61st Division, to which the 2/5th belonged, was the first of the second-line divisions to see action, at the disastrous Battle of Fromelles in July 1916 (the 2/5th's regimental siblings, the 2/4th and 2/6th, were part of the initial assault and suffered grievously). The division went on to earn high praise in 1918 for its resilience in the face of the last German offensive, during which onslaught the nominally 1,000-strong 2/5th was reduced to 150 men.

Lt. F.W. Harvey, 1/5th

The 1/5th was blooded on the Somme in 1916 and subsequently fought at Passchendaele and elsewhere in France and Flanders. In 1918 the Territorial division to which it belonged, ridiculed no more, transferred to Italy, where the battalion battled both influenza and the Austro-Hungarian army, before returning to France for the final few months of the war.


The fallen of both battalions are commemorated on the column at Gloucester Park; 579 of the 1/5th, 490 of the 2/5th.


Two Gloucestershire war poets served with the 5th, the Hartpury-born F.W. Harvey in the 1/5th and his friend, the Gloucester-born Ivor Gurney in the 2/5th. The poems of both were published nationally alongside those of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke. They were also published in the Fifth Gloucester Gazette, a trench journal produced by the men of the battalion from April 1915 to January 1919. It foreshadowed the more famous Wipers Times and was hailed by The Times Literary Supplement as "the oldest and most literary of the British trench journals."


Memorial to the fallen of Gloucester

5th Bn. and city war memorials

Unlike the 5th's First World War regimental memorial, adorned with names from all over the Shire, the wall behind it commemorates the fallen of the city of Gloucester, of all services and regiments. It tells stories of loss in both world wars and after that would fill the pages of War and Peace many times over, though when it was unveiled in 1933 there was only the one war to commemorate. The culling of Gloucester's fathers, sons and brothers in that war is betrayed by the numbers: 1,254 names, from a city in which the population at the time numbered little more than 50,000 men, women and children.

A section of the city war memorial

The Second World War harvested a fresh crop of 461 names to be cast on new, mercifully shorter bronze panels below the original First World War roll call. In the new age of total war, sixteen women and a two-year-old girl are also commemorated, all but three of them losing their lives when in 1941 war descended on Gloucester from above in the air raids of 2 January and 26 March.


There is, curiously, a lone name on a plaque attached to one of the park gate pillars, while another plaque on the opposite pillar completes the dread tally with the names of four Gloucester men which cannot now be forgotten, even if the war those men fought in Korea is often referred to as the forgotten war.


Memorial to the fallen of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars

Royal Gloucestershire Hussars war memorial

Like the column to the 5th, the third main memorial in Gloucester is a regimental commemoration. The cross, larger and set in more tranquil grounds than the Hucclecote memorial, honours the fallen of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, a regiment of volunteer yeomanry cavalry. It stands at Gloucester Cathedral on a tree-lined lawn the men it commemorates could only dream of when they were called upon to give their last full measure of devotion.


Although the regiment had origins in the Corps of Gentlemen and Yeomanry, raised at the end of the 18th century to help counter the threat of invasion from revolutionary France, the Gloucestershire Yeomanry Cavalry dated its formation to the homegrown civil unrest of the 1830s.

The yeomanry was recruited largely from landowners and farmers and led by nobility and gentry. It was a politically reliable force that could be depended upon to support the authorities as they struggled with sometimes violent agitation for political reform in the first half of the 19th century. Troops of Gloucestershire Yeomanry, which would acquire the name Royal Gloucestershire Hussars in 1847, were deployed to Bristol to police the riot of 1831 and a Chartist rally in 1838.


The yeomanry became militarily relevant during the Second Boer War, when 125 hussars endowed the regiment with the first of its many battle honours by their service with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa 1900–1901.

Royal Gloucestershire Hussars war memorial

The conservative yeomanry was dragged reluctantly into the 20th century. Its role was changed from cavalry to mounted infantry, the replacement of sword by bayonet not without protest. The yeomanry was, as one yeoman put it, "slumped in with the volunteers" when it became part of the Territorial Force in 1908.


The memorial to the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars was unveiled in 1922. Bronze plaques on the chamfered corners of the plinth perpetuate the names of 225 men. It's not too difficult to imagine their ghosts lounging on grass that never grew in the deserts where they fell, admiring the magnificent cathedral before them.


On each of the four sides of the plinth are bronze bas-relief panels depicting scenes of the regiment's service during the First World War at Gallipoli and in the Sinai, Palestine and Syria; a pictorial narrative of the British Empire's march from defeat to victory against the Ottoman Empire. Below the panel representing the end of the regiment's First World War travails in Syria is a fifth, added a generation later to represent the regiment's trauma in the North African desert during the Second World War.

Panels depicting the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars at Gallipoli 1915, Sinai 1916, Palestine 1917 and Syria 1918

The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars fought in the First World War as infantry at Gallipoli and both mounted and dismounted in the Sinai, Palestine and Syria. The regiment's biggest loss came 23 April 1916 at Qatia in the Sinai, when one of its three squadrons was lost in its entirety. The sword of squadron commander Captain Lloyd-Baker, one of the names now cast into history on the memorial, was reclaimed over two years later as the Hussars marched on Damascus in Syria.

Royal Gloucestershire Hussars in North Africa, 1941

Between the wars the Hussars traded horses for tanks. In 1941, with the regiment split into three separate units, the 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars deployed to Egypt as part of 22nd Armoured Brigade, attached to the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats).


The regiment battled an Axis foe whilst hobbled by a British military system that had not yet learned how to design tanks equal to the demands of modern warfare or deploy them effectively. It suffered heavy losses at Bir el Gubi and Sidi Rezegh, and was twice taken out of the line to refit. In 1942, after being mauled again at Gazala, the regiment's three squadrons were dispersed to other units, and the 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars was disbanded in January 1943.


Seventy-two men lost their lives in the wartime regiment's brief history. As if to emphasise the gulf between the ages of horse and armour, their names are commemorated not with their First World War brethren on the cross on College Green, but inside the cathedral.


Epilogue

City and 5th Battalion war memorials

Reorganisation of the Territorial Army in the late 1960s and early 1970s brought 5th Battalion and Royal Gloucestershire Hussars together into a squadron of infantry in the Wessex Yeomanry. Subsequent reorganisation transformed that regiment into an armoured reserve unit, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, in which the Hussars lineage is currently maintained by C (Royal Gloucestershire Hussars) Squadron.


Having fielded sixteen battalions in the First World War and four in the Second, the Gloucestershire Regiment was reduced to a single battalion with the departure of the 5th. In echoes of the Battle of Alexandria in 1801 – in which one of the regiment's predecessors, the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot, fought back to back and earned for the regiment the unique distinction of wearing a badge on the back of its headdress – the Glosters famously fought on whilst surrounded in the Battle of the Imjin River in Korea in 1951. The back-badge tradition was maintained by the regiment's successor, the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment after amalgamation in 1994, and is still maintained today in the ceremonial dress of that regiment's successor, The Rifles.


The same year the 5th Battalion's near hundred-year affiliation with the county regiment came to an end, the city laid claim to more of the county around it. The boundary extension of 1967 transformed Hucclecote into suburb, making city dwellers of the villagers who will forever congregate at that small roadside cross.


Sources


Image credits

All images copyright @EyesShadowed, except:

  • Frederick Neale: IWM Collections from London/Duxford/Manchester, United Kingdom, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  • F.W. Harvey: Photographer unknown. Image provided by the F. W. Harvey Estate, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Gloucester Regiment cap badge: M. J. Davey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Royal Gloucestershire Hussars panels: Photo: Factotem. Object: Adrian Jones, MVO (1845–1938), via Wikimedia Commons

  • Royal Gloucestershire Hussars cap badge: Factotem, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Royal Gloucestershire Hussars tank in North Africa: Lt. L. B. Davies – No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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