yeovil at War

Francis Willoughby Loxton

Killed by an artillery shell near Ypres

 

Francis Willoughby Loxton was born in Lymington, Hampshire in 1883, the son of timber merchant Edgar Blake Loxton (1834-1920), originally from Andover, Hampshire, and Fanny Rebecca née Browne (1841-1895), originally from Ryde, Isle of Wight. In the 1891 Census Edgar and Fanny were living in Lymington with their children; Charles William (b 1873), Edgar (b 1874), Evelyn (b 1880) and Frankie, together with two servants.

By the time of the 1901 census 18-year-old Francis was a boarder living in Hornsey, Middlesex and working as an auctioneer's clerk. By 1911 Francis had moved to Yeovil and was a boarder at Hendford House (today's Manor Hotel) which, at this time, was a boarding house run by Edwin Brewser and his wife Marion. 28-year-old Francis listed his occupation as 'Estate Agent & Surveyor'. He was the manager of the Yeovil branch of Wilson & Gray, Auctioneers & Valuers, of 20 Princes Street.

On 19 August 1911, at the age of 28, Frances married Edith Stanhope Rowell (1883-1969), originally from Islington, London, at Haringey, Middlesex. They were to have one son, John Willoughby (1913-2004) and they lived at Morley House, West Hendford. As a sidenote, Edith later became a permanent resident of Tel Aviv, Israel, and later spent several years in Winnipeg, Canada, with her brother Reginald.

According to the Western Gazette's report of Francis's death, he was a member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve which implies he already had military experience prior to the start of the First World War although I could find no detail of this. The fact that he very soon achieved the rank of Corporal is a further indication of previous military service. Nevertheless Francis enlisted at Yeovil (albeit giving his address as Haringay) on the outbreak of war, joining the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (Service No 3/7437). In fact he may, indeed, be one of the men in the first photograph below of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve in the Borough, taken the day war was declared.

The 6th Battalion had been formed at Taunton in August 1914, becoming part of the 43rd Brigade, 14th Division at Aldershot later that year. On 21 May 1915 the 6th Battalion landed at Boulogne, France.

The Battalion spent the first week or so marching across France towards Belgium where they spent about a week supplying working parties for the digging of trenches for a secondary positions southwest of Ypres. By Sunday 13 June the Battalion settled down to trench life and the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry recalled for that day "The trench life was very quiet. A little shelling early in the morning and desultory rifle fire during the day.... The trenches taken over were situated in a dangerous position. They had been captured from the enemy only a few days previously I had occupied the most easterly point of the British position in Belgium, in front of Hooge. The line generally was in a very bad state and under incessant shellfire from the North, East and South. From 30 June to 18 July the 6th Somersets remained in billets, supplying large working parties day and night."

On 26 July 1915, while at Hooge, the Battalion was subjected to a new weapon of war - the flamethrower. This event is described in the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry "Very early in the morning the front-line trenches of the Brigade were suddenly flooded by liquid fire, which belched from jets in the German lines opposite. This new device momentarily caused surprise and confusion, and the victims of this dastardly attack fell back from the front-line trenches which were then occupied by the enemy."

The rest of July and August passed in day-to-day trench warfare with, as the Regimental History points out "Two days in and two days out of the front line was the rule at this period, but between the miserable conditions of the billets and the filthy state of the trenches there was little choice." Sadly, while sleeping in his trench dug-out, Francis was killed by an artillery shell on 11 August 1915. He was aged 32. 

On 20 August 1915, the Western Gazette reported "News has been received of the death of Corporal Loxton, who is the first member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve who is at present known to have lost his life on active service. Deceased was the manager of the Yeovil branch of Messrs. Wilson and Gray (Auctioneers, Valuers etc 20 Princes Street) and threw up his post when the call came. He was well known and popular amongst a large circle of friends, and the greatest sympathy is expressed with his widow (who is left with an infant son) and his father (Mr Edgar Loxton, of Trafalgar House, South Street, Lymington.) and other members of the family. In a letter received from a comrade it is stated that Corporal Loxton was asleep in a dug-out when a shell pitched near and exploded causing his death. An older brother of the deceased is serving in India with the Hampshire Territorials."

Francis Loxton was interred in Bedford House Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, (Grave No.2 II.A.18), and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

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On Bank Holiday Monday, 4 August 1914, Yeovil men of the National Reservists line up in the Borough before marching to the Town Railway Station and travelling to Taunton. War was declared at midnight. As a member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve, Francis is almost certainly in this photograph.

 

German flamethrower, first used against the 6th Somersets at Hooge on 26 July 1915.

 

The remains of the village of Hooge - totally destroyed. Photographed in 1919.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Francis Loxton.

 

Francis Loxton's headstone.

 

Bedford House Cemetery, Leper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

Zillebeke village and most of the commune were in the hands of Commonwealth forces for the greater part of the First World War, but the number of cemeteries in the neighbourhood bears witness to the fierce fighting in the vicinity from 1914 to 1918. Bedford House, sometimes known as Woodcote House, were the names given by the Army to the Chateau Rosendal, a country house in a small wooded park with moats. Although it never fell into German hands, the house and the trees were gradually destroyed by shell fire. It was used by field ambulances and as the headquarters of brigades and other fighting units, and charcoal pits were dug there from October 1917. In time, the property became largely covered by small cemeteries; five enclosures existed at the date of the Armistice. In all, 5,139 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated in the enclosures of Bedford House Cemetery. 3,011 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate a number of casualties known or believed to be buried among them. The cemetery was designed by WC Von Berg.