Something I had known, but am not sure how I knew, was that the two of the sons from Hardicott, the farm that surrounds us here, had been killed in the First World War.
I have often wandered the fields nursing a bit of a tragi-romantic notion of young lives cut short, wondering how many times perhaps they too had walked those paths and looked out over those views. Maybe even this picture in their mind's eye as they sat in the trenches, and then just imagine the grief of their parents...
Think on it though, they must have seen this view daily, the corner of the field forever England in which we sit was once part of their farm; our house two farm worker's cottages knocked into one, so they would have known it well. We discover from the 1911 census returns that the horse men lived here, the carters and the ploughers.
In one cottage, perhaps the one that is now Tinker's Cott, lived George and Selina Peck and their four children, Alice, Frederick, George and Alfred, in the other James and Eliza Holman. As when Mo and Arthur stopped by this summer, I love the fact that I now know more names. Maybe George and James even kept their horses in the field behind the house and from which this picture was taken.
The soldier sons of the farm were Eri and Thomas Wonnacott, confirmed on the war memorial in the village.
Eri an unusual name, not Eric with the 'c' missed off by mistake, but Biblical and meaning 'watchful' and also unusual enough to be traceable with some certainty. A bit of work exploring the census and Parish records as well as some information online ( the family is vast and has its own website) and I discovered that Family Wonnacott of Hardicott Farm was quite a tribe.
The 1881 census reveals that Eri Senior was born in 1851 and is now 29.
He farms 190 acres at Hardicott. He has a housekeeper and two servants. Eri's first wife Selina Palmer dies in 1880 at the age of 24 (I wonder whether in childbirth) and is buried within sight of this memorial. Eri then marries Elizabeth Palmer aged 22 (Selina's sister?) in 1882.
The 1891 census reveals a rapid succession of children for the couple, two (not twins) in one year even ...
Frank (1883) Harold (1883) John (1885) Ethel (1886) James (1887) Mary (1889) and Annie (1890) all born before Elizabeth is thirty, seven babies in as many years. Much of the criticism levelled at the BBC TV series The Village was that it was relentlessly dismal, but somehow, apart from the odd glimmer, I can't imagine that raising so many children here and running a farm can have been easy. We are miles from anywhere even now and with a car, and the farm itself is still isolated and a fair old trek from the village. It is cold and damp and exposed to the extremes of the weather, heaven knows how Elizabeth got the nappies and the clothes washed and dry with no mains water or electricity.
Moving onto the 1901 census and I discover that father Eri has died (1899) at the age of forty-eight but not before some more begetting, Ira (1894) and finally our two boys, Eri (1896) and Thomas (1897)
So in 1899 Elizabeth is left with ten children, the oldest just seventeen and a big farm to run, and in very a unofficial-history-like way that would doubtless make academics and proper historians shudder, I start to think of all the perhaps and the possiblys and the maybes in my imagination.
I felt sure Eri Senior's death at forty-eight would have been unusual and unexpected. My money was on a farm accident perhaps, so it was back to the library and the microfiche of the local newspaper. What I discovered came as quite a surprise, but that's another story.
In March 1912 Eri Wonnacott's second son Harold, now a grocer's apprentice, and his wife Annie, and their daughter Mary aged three, along with Harold's younger sister, also Mary, travel from Liverpool to New York on board the Lusitania, thus missing the Titanic disaster by weeks. They pass through Ellis Island before finally settling in Edmonton, Alberta where I discover, not surprisingly that more Wonnacotts still live. I doubt there can be many places in the world where the sun doesn't rise and set on a Wonnacott family.
And the two youngest sons, Eri and Thomas will go off to war.
Eri, a Lance Corporal in the Gloucestershire Regiment dies in June 1918 at the age of 22 of wounds received. Some weeks earlier his battalion, the twelfth has been involved in the Battle of Hazebrouck and I wonder whether this might be where those wounds were sustained. Eri is buried in the Tannay British Cemetery at Thiennes in northern France, just seven miles from Hazebrouck where the casualty clearing stations were located, so it seems likely.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission makes searching for this information very easy.
Thomas, a Second Lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment has been killed in action in May 1917 at the age of twenty and his name is recorded on the memorial at Arras.
Given that the dates of the Arras offensive are April to May 1917, it seemed likely that Thomas was killed during that, and with no known grave. A microfiche search of the local paper eventually yielded an announcement in the weekly War Notes column on May 25th 1917...
'Mrs Wonnacott, Hardicott, Tavistock has received information that her youngest son, Second Lieutenant T.H. Wonnacott, Devon Regt, was, on May 9th reported wounded and missing. He was in command of a company and was seen some time after he was wounded. Stretcher bearers were fetched but before they could arrive the Germans were in possession of the ground.'
On today of all days, November 11th, it seems right to remember Eri and Thomas Wonnacott and I wonder if you too have people you are remembering today??
Studying the family tree, I discover that a great-nephew of Eri and Thomas, son of a son of their brother James, is Tim Wonnacott of TV's Bargain Hunt fame, small world indeed.