East Chinnock & World War 1
by Jeremy Churchill
2014 saw the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
During the meeting of the 29th March 1915, the Parish Council recorded in the Minute Book the names of all the men of East Chinnock who were then serving in the Armed Forces, whether as soldiers or as sailors. Lorna Keilor, the daughter of the then vicar, the Rev. J.D.D. Keilor, took up the idea and created the painting that some of you may have seen hanging in the church.
The resulting 1915 Roll of Honour shows the flags of all the Allies of early 1915 and first lists those 32 men of the village who were serving in 1915, with their unit, then adds lower down the names of seven more men, also with units. Across the bottom are 25 further names without units, presumably of those who served between 1916 and the end of the War.
A total of 65 names is recorded - an exceptional effort for a village of some 3-400 people (according to the 1911 Census, East Chinnock had a population of 381 - 172 men and 209 women, living in 91 households) and a much higher figure than the average for the largely agricultural South-West.
A marble memorial tablet erected in the church on the 15th October 1919 records the names of 12 of those men who died during the War; one more is buried in the churchyard.
Over the next four years, corresponding with each of the war years we will try to show how some of those 65 men played a part in the various campaigns and battles of the War. If anyone knows of a family member or former resident who served in the War (or in the Second War), we would be grateful for any information (and pictures) that would help fill in the considerable gaps in our knowledge.
Although many of the history books and TV documentaries now portray the First World War as the inevitable outcome of a long series of diplomatic crises, minor wars, colonial clashes and rising tension, it would appear that to most people of the time, whether they were in a position to have some idea of what was going on or not, a major European war appeared out of nowhere.
To most English people, the issues of the day were largely centred round industrial unrest. The working classes were effectively worse off in 1910 than they had been at the turn of the century and weren’t happy. Seamen and Dockers struck in 1910; there was also a transport strike. Riots in the Welsh coalfields were met by armed troops; the usual Government response to civil unrest. Over 10 million working days were lost to strikes in 1911, 38 million days in 1913. Trades union membership rose to almost 4 million (of a UK population of some 46 million). Even in the sleepy hollows of rural Somerset, East Chinnock had experienced industrial unrest in July 1913 as farm workers threatened strike action in search of better pay.
(see also for more information Strike at East Chinnock
Other issues occupying most Englishmen’s minds were the continuing very public struggle by the Suffragettes for Votes for Women and the question of Home Rule for Ireland. Protected from foreign threats by the most powerful navy in the world (the Royal Navy then followed the "two-power standard", by which it was to be as strong as the next two navies combined, by maintaining a number of battleships at least equal to the combined strength of the next two largest navies in the world), it is perhaps only to be expected that the average Englishman was less than concerned by foreign affairs compared with his European counterpart.
So when the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife were assassinated by terrorists in late June 1914, it seemed like just the “damned foolish thing in the Balkans” that Bismarck had spoken of and of no particular concern to the British Empire. However, no-one (apart from the few men in Austria and Germany making the decisions) knew that the Austrians wanted to punish those behind the assassinations with a war, or that the Germans were to give unqualified support for that – or that the Germans had a Plan . . .