yeovil at War
lionel richard ewens
Sergeant of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps
Lionel Richard Ewens was the sixth of the seven children, and the youngest of the four sons, of Yeovil glove manufacturer Edward Samuel Ewens (1854-1944) and his wife Sarah Annie née Hull (1852-1932). Lionel was born in Yeovil in 1892 and in the 1901 census he was listed with his parents and five siblings at Summerlands as a nine-year old.
Many thanks to Ted Ewens for sending me the following item from the Western Gazette of 6 May 1910 "Off to Canada - Previous to his leaving Yeovil to take up a farming occupation in Canada, Mr L Ewens, who has been a Staff-Sergeant in the Holy Trinity Company of the Church Lad's Brigade, was presented by the officers, non-commissioned officers and lads of the Holy Trinity Company with a handsome knife, fitted with different instruments, and a Church Lads' Brigade Bible and Hymn-book. The presentation took place in the Princes Street Assembly Rooms on Tuesday evening, when there was a large muster of lads present. Mr Ewens was also made the recipient of a beautifully fitted dressing-case by Mr Charles Dodge, by whom he had been employed. Captain, the Rev HF Christian made the presentation and spoke in eulogistic terms of the services rendered by Mr Ewens, and expressed the best wishes for a successful career. Mr Ewens, who was entirely taken by surprise, suitably responded. Mr Ewens left for Canada on Wednesday evening."
At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Canadian Army (Service No 446437) and rose to the rank of Sergeant in the 9th Company, Canadian Machine Gun Corps. He was certainly back in England in December 1915 (see first photograph below) and was sent to France with his unit in April 1916.
The Canadian Machine Gun Corps was a corps created during the First World War in response to the necessity for greater control over machine guns although, surprisingly, most were independent units raised privately. The formation of Brigade Machine Gun Companies was authorized on 29 Oct 1915. Nevertheless, when these independent MG units arrived in the UK, resistance by the British Army led to their delay in sailing for France.
The 1st and 2nd Division Brigade companies began forming in Dec 1915, with MG sections from infantry battalions forming the nucleus for the new Companies, which had a strength of 10 officers and 161 other ranks. The infantry battalion MG detachments were increased to 14 Lewis guns and 2 Colt machine guns, while the brigade machine gun companies were to be armed with 16 Vickers Guns.
On 1 January 1916, the Brigade MG Companies were finally mobilized; the 1st Brigade Company near Mont des Cats; the 2nd near Ploegsteert and the 3rd near Meteren, Netherlands (though it had no guns for several months). Six more companies were activated in the line with the 2nd and 3rd Divisions; The 3rd Division companies were organized in Mar and Apr 1916. Lionel Ewens, being in the 9th Canadian Machine Gun Company, was in the 3rd Division.
The 9th Canadian Machine Gun Company was attached to the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. It was organised, in the line, in March and April, 1916 and was formed from the MG Sections of the Infantry Battalions of the Brigade.
The Battle of Passchendaele (or Third Battle of Ypres) was a campaign of the First World War, fought by the Allies against the German Empire. It comprised a whole series of battles that took place on the Western Front, between July and November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders. Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, five miles from a railway junction at Roeselare, which was a vital part of the supply system of the German Fourth Army.
Lionel Richard Ewens was reported severely wounded and missing at Passchendaele. He died on 26 October 1917, aged 26.
On 16 November 1917, the Western Gazette reported "Mr and Mrs ES Ewens of Kingston, have received information that their third son, Sergt. LR Ewens, of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, is reported severely wounded and missing. Sergt. Ewens, who is 26 years of age, left England about seven years ago for Canada. At the outbreak of War he left his homestead and joined the Canadian Forces. He went to France in April 1916, and was home on leave as recently as six weeks ago. Much sympathy is expressed with Mr and Mrs Ewens in their anxiety, as all their four sons have been in the Army almost since the outbreak of war."
Lionel Ewens is interred in Passchendaele New British Cemetery (Grave VIII.C.13), and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough and a memorial cross in Yeovil Cemetery (see below).
Many thanks to Ted Ewens for allowing me to reproduce the following correspondence concerning Lionel Ewens, Ted's great uncle. The letters were addressed to Lionel's sister Marjorie who is in the photograph below together with Lionel and their parents.
Courtesy of Ted Ewens
Wedding photograph at The Mermaid Hotel on 27 December 1915. The bride is Edith Mary née Pitcher, the groom is Percival Charles Ewens, Sergeant 5th Somerset Light Infantry. Standing behind the groom is his brother Lionel Richard Ewens in the uniform of the 9th Canadian Machine Gun Company.
A Canadian Machine Gun Corps crew testing a Vickers machine gun in 1916.
Canadian Pioneers laying 'trench mats' over mud to ease movement at Passchendaele, 1917.
A Canadian Machine Gun Company (this is actually the 16th, who fought alongside Lionel's 9th Company) holding defensive positions at Passchendaele in 1917.
Two pages of the War Diary of the 9th Canadian Machine Gun Company for 25 October 1917, the day before Lionel Ewens was killed at Passchendaele (there was no entry for the 26th).
The ruins of Passchendaele village. The church stood on the mound in the background.
The memorial stone in remembrance of Lionel in Yeovil Cemetery. Photographed in 2014. For his actual headstone see below.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Lionel Ewens.
Lionel Ewens' headstone.
The Passchendaele New British Cemetery.
The village of Passchendaele (now Passendale) and surrounding area were associated with every phase of the First World War. In the middle of October 1914, Passchendaele was briefly under Allied occupation but by 20 October it was in German hands, where it remained for the next three years. On 6 November 1917, after the severest fighting in most unfavourable weather, the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade took, and passed, the village; this fight was part of the Second Battle of Passchendaele, the last of the Battles of Ypres, 1917. In the middle of April 1918, in the Battles of the Lys, the Allied line was withdrawn far back on the road to Ypres, but on 29 September, in the course of the Allied offensive in Flanders, Belgian forces recaptured the village.
The New British Cemetery was made after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck. Almost all of the burials are from the autumn of 1917. The cemetery now contains 2,101 burials and commemorations of the First World War. 1,600 of the graves are unidentified. The cemetery was designed by Charles Holden.