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War Memorials



In Memory of
WILLIAM STEVENS
Corporal 5835

1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
Who died on Tuesday, 8th September 1914
No Known Grave - Special Memorial 3
Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery, Aisne, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
&
Remembered with Honour
Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery

Memorials in Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery, Aisne, France1

Of the seven men from Beeston killed during the first year of the War, only two were killed on the Western Front. The first man reported killed in 1914 from Beeston, however, was a soldier, Corporal William Stevens of the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, who was killed in action during the battle of Marne on the 8th September, 1914.

Although we know little about his origins, it is known that William Stevens was born in Old Basford, Nottingham and was a married man at the time of his death2. It is, however, recorded that he was living in Beeston at the time of his call-up3 and that, after the war, his wife was living at 7 Mitre Terrace, Spring Close, Lenton, Notts4.

Being on the Army Reserve, he was called up immediately after war was declared, rejoining his old regiment at Portsmouth. The 1st Lincolnshire Regiment was part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division. The Division left by sea on the SS Norman, for France, part of the original British Expeditionary Force which landed at Havre on 14th August 1914. They then marched to Mons where they fought their first action on the 23rd but had to break off their engagement on the 24th and join what was a general retreat. On 24 August in Frameries they acted as a rearguard for the withdrawal of 9th Brigade.

Between 24 August 1914 and 5 September, the British troops had made the famous Retreat from Mons into France and took part in the Battle of the Marne between 5th and 12th September. In this period, the Lincolnshire Regiment fought in Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien's5 delaying action at Le Cateau and then joined the rest of the British Army as they fell back to the Marne Valley. On the night of the 7th of September 1914 the men of the 1st Lincolnshire were in billets at the village of La Bretonniere which they left at 6am the following morning. At around 10.30am they had stopped to rest in a field near Bezu when their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Smith, received a message from Brigade informing him that "a German battery was doing serious damage by shelling our column approaching the Marne." Captain Drake, along with C and D Companies, worked their way through the woods to the west of Bezu and crept to within 150 yards of the guns before rushing forward and shooting down the German gunners and their escort almost to a man. When they dashed out of the thicket to secure the guns they were spotted by the 65th (Howitzer) Battery Royal Artillery who mistook them for Germans and opened fire on them. They were forced to seek cover and this burst of "friendly fire" cost the Lincolns casualties of one officer killed with three wounded and some thirty other ranks killed or wounded. Robert Drake was one of the officers wounded but he died later the same day6. It seems likely that Corporal Stevens was one of these casualties.

Corporal Stevens had no known grave, but is one of the ten British soldiers commemorated on a Memorial in the Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery.

Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery : Bezu-le-Guery is 16 kilometres west of Chateau Thierry. The cemetery is on the right hand side of the D84 on entering the village off the N3. The cemetery contains 13 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, seven of which are unidentified7.

The six identified soldiers were all from the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and were all recorded as killed on the same day, 8th September 1914. They included Captain Robert Edward Drake, the Battalion Adjutant from Melford in Sussex, Private John Alfred Bradley from Battersea, Private Tom Swain from Grantham, Private John Cook from Hove, Sussex and Private Edward Eagling from Beathorpe, Norfolk.

Research by the descendants of Private John Alfred Bradley8, who is commemorated on one of these memorials, suggests strongly that this group of solders had taken part in the Battle of Mons in August 1914 with the 9th Infantry Brigade, of which 1st Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment was part. On 24 August 1914, the Brigade had fallen back on Frameries, a village in Belgium, located south-west of Mons. The local cemetery contains military burials from this time, many of which are unidentified.

Some of these descendants visited Frameries in the 1980s and were able to discuss these events with a local historian and others who were able to point out places where the soldiers who the local people had identified at the time, were killed and initially buried. From there, they were later exhumed and reburied in what seems to be the shared grave in the cemetery at Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery, west of Chateau Thierry, in the Aisne district of Northern France.

Despite Private Bradleys official date of death - 8 September 1914, the date on his memorial at Bezu-Le-Guery - the Frameries locals were sure, as had been a survivor who had spoken to Private Bradley's widow close to the time, that he was killed along with other soldiers in action in Frameries. A friend of Private Bradley remembered that “local peasants” buried him, along with other soldiers who were killed on 24 August 1914, in a garden in Frameries. The local people remembered that too and were even able to show a map indicating the place where Private Bradley and his colleagues were killed. The town also provided a letter as a tribute to some of the men. These firm local memories appear to cast some doubt on the officially recorded date for some of the deaths - but not, as we have seen, that of Captain Drake. While there is no direct evidence that the recorded facts relating to William Steven's death are definitely incorrect, the confusion surrounding the date of Private Bradley's date of death, recorded on the same date, does raise some questions. However, any such confusion perhaps reflects the fast pace of these terrible events.

Some of the documentation gathered by Private Bradley's descendants, including the map and letter of tribute, may be seen here.


Footnotes
1The photograph in Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery was from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org) but has now been removed, the gravesite having been renovated. More recent images and details of the inscriptions may be seen here.
2Further research shows that he was probably Thomas William Stevens (or sometimes Stephens) who was born in 1883, the eldest son of Thomas and Julia (née Slater). In the 1891 census, he was living with his parents and three younger siblings (as 'Stephens'), at Hackney Yard, Spring Close, Lenton, Notts (Piece 2681 Folio 46). All four of the children (including 'William Stevens', born 21 August 1883) were baptised together at Lenton Parish Church on 2 November 1892. As 'William Stevens' he married Emma Lockton in Grantham Registration District in Q3/1910 (Vol 7a Page 1069). In the 1911 Census, he was living with his wife and a step-daughter at 3 Ebury Yard, Commercial Street, Lenton, Notts (Piece 20491 SD1 ED2 Schedule 334). He was then recorded as 'Thomas William Stevens' and was working as a skinyard labourer.
3"Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919" records his birthplace as Old Basford, Nottingham and his residence as Beeston, Notts
4His post-war entry in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his wife as Mrs E Stevens at this Lenton address.
5General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien's memoirs of this period can be seen here. Sir Horace was appointed to command II Corps (of which 1st Lincolnshire was then part) on 18 August 1914, succeeding Lieutenant-General Sir James Moncrieff Frierson who had died, of am aneurism of the heart, the day before.
6This account of the Lincolnshire Regiment action and the losses incurred is from Captain Drake's memorial page on the Lancing College War Memorial site. He is also remembered on the memorial at Long Melford, Suffolk.
7This description of Bezu-Le-Guery Communal Cemetery is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
8I am indebted to Lindsey Ambrose, a great-granddaughter of Private John Alfred Bradley, who has kindly provided her research and that of her late mother, gathered during their visit to Frameries in the 1980s.

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