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Paul Roberts

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How five Devon brothers lost their lives between 1916 and 1919

The Great War took a terrible toll on William Weekes and his family.

William, of Sherford, near Kingsbridge, Devon lost five sons in 2½ years between 1916 and 1919.

Only four of those who died are remembered on the War Memorial in Sherford – and on a grave in the village churchyard.

Missing from the memorial and grave is William’s eldest son, William Henry.

He was killed in action in France in 1916.

His story is told here for the first time.

The devastating losses suffered by the Weekes family would never have been revealed – but for Devon Family History Society and research carried out by Audrey and Dick Lloyd on the men named on Sherford War Memorial.

A picture of the grave commemorating brothers John, James, Charles and George Weekes was published by Devon Family History Society in 2019.

Audrey and Dick Lloyd discovered that William Henry served in the Royal Engineers and was killed at Givenchy. He left a widow and child, but nothing more was known about him.

William Weekes and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Maddick) – who died a year before the outbreak of the Great War – had 13 children.

The first of their sons to die in the war 25-year-old John Robert Weekes (regimental number 10622), who was killed in action in the Battle of Loos on September 25, 1915. A private in the 8th Devons, he is remembered on the Loos Memorial in France. Born in East Pool, near Sherford in 1890, he worked as a farm labourer at Bowden Cottage, near Kingsbridge before enlisting in the Army.

James Thomas Weekes was 33 when he was killed in action in Salonika on April 25, 1917. A private in the 10th Devons (regimental number 15230), he is remembered on the Doiran Memorial in the north of Greece. Born in Churchstow in 1884, he enlisted in the Army in Kingsbridge. In 1911, aged 26, he worked as a horseman, living with his family at Bowden Cottage.

Charles Weekes, a sergeant in the Machine Gun Corps, died of wounds and pneumonia in Nottingham Military Hospital on October 23, 1918. He was just 22. Audrey and Dick Lloyd discovered that he had fought on the front line for more than three years and had several narrow escapes from death. Charles (regimental number 18282) previously served in the Devonshire Regiment (regimental number 10688). Born in South Pool in 1895, he worked as a farm labourer before enlisting in the Army in Exeter. He is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Sherford.

George Edwin Weekes was a leading seaman in the Royal Navy (service number 231215) before the war began. He served in HMS Thunderer in the Battle of Jutland – the largest naval confrontation of the Great War – and died at home from Spanish flu on April 7, 1919, aged 30. He was born in Churchstow on October 20, 1888. His brother Alfred, who also served in the Royal Navy in the Great War, was the only one of the six brothers to survive.

William Henry Weekes was killed in action on November 17, 1916 while serving as a pioneer in the 1st Labour Battalion Royal Engineers. He was believed to be 42 when he died. He enlisted in London on August 14, 1917 (regimental number 110225). At the time he was living at Glendower, Sea View Terrace, Newlyn in Cornwall. His war records show that he went to France on August 21, 1915 with the British Expeditionary Force. He was invalided home on April 17, 1916 and received treatment at a hospital in Newcastle. He returned to France on July 13 that year, just four months before he lost his life.

William Henry married Ethel Morrison Nicholls on October 4, 1904 in Penzance. In 1911, aged 36, he was working as a mason’s labourer and living with Ethel at St Peter’s Hill, Newlyn. They had a daughter, also called Ethel Morrison, in 1911. Before enlisting, William Henry worked for a Justice of the Peace in Mousehole. After his death, his personal belongings – a damaged silver watch, chain, medallion, a photo and letters – were returned to his widow. He was buried at Guards’ Cemetery in Lesboeufs, on the Somme. His widow, born on April 24, 1885, died at 2, Sea View Terrace, Newlyn on August 15, 1945, aged 60. William Henry and Ethel’s daughter was born on May 12, 1911. She married John Harry in Penzance in 1928. He died the following year, aged 23. Ethel Jnr died in 1976, aged 65.

The picture – showing the grave remembering four of brothers – is from Devon Family History Society.

weekes family losses great war.jpg



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