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Village History

More than a random name

Posted on February 01 2015 at 1:52:24 0 comments

Alan at the memorial

A Village reader’s trip to the Somme battle sites revealed a very local link to the tragedy.

A name chosen at random from a village war memorial (right) helped an Aston Fields resident uncover one of the many tragic stories from the First World War.

Alan Taylor was planning a trip to the Somme battle sites last summer, but didn’t have a family connection to that part of the conflict.

“I was walking the dog one evening and when I passed the war memorial in Aston Fields, I decided to pick a name and take it with me as a local link,” says Alan, who made the journey to France by motorcycle along with his son and three friends.

The name he chose was George Stevens, and Alan then undertook some research to find out more about him.

Using the Worcestershire Regiment website, he discovered that Private George Thomas Stevens (12897) was a Finstall man who served with the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment and was killed in action at Longueval at the age of 22.

Other online records such as the Births, Deaths and Marriages Index and the 1911 Census offered further insight into George’s background.

He was born in 1894 at Upton Warren near Bromsgrove, one of 12 children of Joseph and Mary Ann Stevens (née Hipkiss). His father was a farm worker and the family later moved to Stone House Farm, Finstall.

George (pictured below left) enlisted at Worcester and went to France on August 12, 1914 with the 2nd Battalion.

He made a home visit in 1915 to marry his sweetheart Alice Banner in Bromsgrove, and Alice would later give birth to their only child, Kathleen M Stevens.

On July 15, 1916, George’s regiment was involved in the battle for High Wood, Longueval. Acting as a runner for his officer, he was sent to carry a message to the front line – and never returned.

“There were so many unexploded shells in High Wood that it was too dangerous to recover bodies after battle,” says Alan.

“There are estimated to be about 8,000 soldiers’ remains left there.”

An article in The Bromsgrove Droitwich and Redditch Messenger on 23rd September 1916 under the headline “Feared Death of Missing Finstall Man” contained a copy of a letter from company officer Captain C Pigg for ‘C’ Company of the Worcestershires. He wrote:

“Private Stevens acted as my runner during the action on July 15th. He was sent out in front with a message and did not return. I am afraid he was undoubtedly killed, as we searched afterwards for wounded, but could not find him.

“I should be very obliged if you would convey to the parents of Private Stevens my deep regret at his loss. He was in every way a most excellent soldier, and always did his duty well.

Previous to July 15th, he acted as servant to one of my officers, who also asks me to express his sorrow at his loss. Had Private Stevens lived, he would have been recommended for the Military Medal.”

Alan’s group visited the battle site and many cemeteries in the area, as well as the huge Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, on which George’s name appears along with more than 72,000 missing soldiers.

George

“My son is almost 22, the same age as George was when he died, and that affected us very deeply,” says Alan.

Alan had also noted that the name above George’s on the Aston Fields memorial is Daniel Stevens. Further research reveals him to be a brother, who served with the Army Service Corps Transport Division and ended up in Salonika, Greece.

He died of malaria/pneumonia on November 14, 1918 – just three days after the war ended.

It seems that at least one other brother died as a result of war. John Stevens had served as a driver with the East Lancashire Regiment and died in1920 of complications following an ear infection, which led to mastoiditis, meningitis, and facial paralysis (described as a war-related illness).

“What happened to the rest of his family, we may never know – but to me, George Thomas Stevens is more than just one random name.”

Alan is a regular customer at Banner Foods, the long-established family business in Aston Fields, and Chris Banner was so interested in George’s story that he has put a display of Alan’s photos and information in the entrance to the new Banners Café, next door to the shop.

However, he says that there is no evidence that Alice Banner – George’s wife – was a relation.


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