Thursday, January 16, 2014

Adopt a Tommy

Ironically the dedication on the official Swindon Roll of Honour reads 'Their Glory Shall Not Be Blotted Out, Their Name Liveth For Evermore.' Whilst it might not be exactly blotted out, the magnificent memorial lies hidden behind curtains in the dance studio at Swindon's Town Hall and today is seldom seen.

The memorial was erected by public subscription and in the same spirit the Swindon in the Great War committee launched its own fund raising memorial project 'Adopt a Tommy.'

You are invited to adopt one of the servicemen whose name appears on the memorial. For £10 you will receive a certificate based on the one the returning soldiers, sailors and airmen received and details of that man's service.

I've 'adopted' Edward William Reginald Bevan. Why? He is no relation, but I share his surname and because he served at sea. My husband comes from Milford Haven, a small former fishing town on the Pembrokeshire coast. Generations of his family depended upon the sea for their livelihood. Uncles and cousins worked as trawlermen, aunties and sisters worked in the fishmarket or making fishing nets or in the ship's stores. My father in law William Edward Lewis Bevan served in the navy during WWII and following the war worked as a shipwright on the docks. 

It seemed fitting that I should adopt Engine Room Artificer E W R Bevan. This is the wartime story of Edward and his wife Mabel.

Beatrice Street lake, an old clay pit at the back of the Princess Hotel, was the scene of a near tragedy when a young naval widow, overwhelmed by grief, poverty and worry, tried to end her life.

Mabel Hurst was born in 1890 and grew up in Wellington Street, Swindon, the daughter of Francis Hurst, a fitter in the Works, and his wife Elizabeth Ann.

In 1912 she married submariner Edward Bevan and the couple made their home in Plymouth.  An Engine Room Artificer on HMS 'E 16' Edward was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in January 1916 but just seven months later he was lost at sea when the E16 was sunk by a mine in Heligoland Bight on August 22, 1916.  There were no survivors.

Mabel returned home to Swindon with her two children.  She took in a lodger to try to help make ends meet, but he attacked her and beat her up.

Eventually Mabel felt she could no longer carry on and jumped in the stretch of water behind Beatrice Street. She was rescued by a passing policeman who marched her home, dripping wet.  With little compassion, he pointed at her children and told her to look after them, a scene that lived long in the memory of her daughter.

For details on how to Adopt a Tommy see below.

Mabel and her baby son John

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