Cecil John Pope

Cecil Pope was born at Highclere, Hampshire in 1887, the fourth surviving son of William and Maria.  William was Head Gardener to the Earl of Carnarvon at Highclere Castle.

The Pope family came to Welford in about 1908, when William became Head Gardener at Welford Park.  They lived at The Gardens and later also kept a smallholding in Brown’s Lane, which was used for market gardening.  Two of the Pope brothers, Charles and Frank, became members of Welford Park Cricket Club.

Interestingly, the 1911 census shows Cecil Pope far from home, working as one of the eight live-in gardeners at Windlestone Hall, County Durham; this was the home of Sir William Eden and the birthplace in 1897 of the future Prime Minister, Anthony Eden.

Cecil enlisted for service as a Private (regimental number 13743) with the 7th Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI), apparently at Wrexham, although it does appear that he was living in Newbury at this time.  His name is first listed on the Welford Parish Roll of Honour in November 1914.

Four of Cecil’s brothers also served in the war.  Frank served with the 11th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, achieving the rank of Sergeant, and was awarded the Military Medal in 1918; Charles was a Trooper with the Berkshire Yeomanry who saw active service in Egypt; William, a Staff Sergeant with the Royal Engineers; and Alfred, a Sergeant in the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.

The 7th KSLI was a Service Battalion which was formed at Shrewsbury in September 1914.  Later that month they left for training camp at Codford St Mary, to the south of Salisbury Plain, where a huge concentration of hurriedly constructed army camps was springing up.  Here they suffered not only from the usual shortages of arms, equipment and clothing which many of the New Army Units initially experienced, but also from appalling weather conditions, which even caused training to be suspended for a period, and morale was low.

Conditions improved somewhat following a move into billets at Winton, near Bournemouth at the beginning of November, where the men were involved in Brigade exercises consisting of coastal defence.

The 7th KSLI were despatched to France on 28th September 1915, as part of 8th Brigade, 3rd Division.  Cecil Pope was amongst them.  The Battalion were for some time in trenches in the Ypres area; they were involved in the actions at The Bluff on the Ypres-Comines Canal in February/March 1916, and in early April they were holding trenches in the newly gained front line at St Eloi.

In early July 1916 the Battalion was moved south to the Somme battleground, reaching Carnoy, six miles east of Albert, on the 7th.  They had been chosen to act as one of the assaulting Battalions for a forthcoming attack on the former German 2nd line running along Bazentin Ridge.  It was proposed that the men would edge forward under cover of darkness and take up position on marker traces, ready to launch a dawn attack.  Although some doubts were expressed at a senior level as to whether the troops had reached a sufficient level of training and experience to carry out a complex manoeuvre of this nature, using relatively new tactics, the attack was set for Friday 14th July.

The 7th KSLI and the other assaulting troops thus spent the night of the 13th/14th laying out in No Man’s Land, waiting for zero hour. The British bombardment opened up on the German lines at 3:20am, but many shells fell short, causing several casualties amongst the assaulting Battalions.  At 3:30am the attack commenced.  The 7th KSLI were in the first wave of the attack, on the left flank of the Brigade, facing an uphill stretch of No Man’s Land over 1,500 yards wide across which the German trenches could not be seen.  They ran into uncut wire about 600 yards from the German front line.  The Battalion records state: "Not a man of the first wave succeeded in getting through this wire, of which there were two rows, each ten to twenty yards deep. The succeeding waves of the attack closed on the first and the enemy had an easy target."

Unable to get through, the survivors fell back and took shelter in a sunken road to regroup.  The Battalions on the 7th KSLI’s flanks had meanwhile gained their objectives, and were therefore able to support the Shropshires when they made a second attempt to get into the German trenches at 11am.  This time they were more successful and the positions were taken and cleared.  Despite no less than five counter-attacks, the Battalion’s gains were held by the remaining six officers and 135 other ranks until they were finally relieved.

Achieving this objective had cost the Battalion dearly - the Regimental history records 163 men killed and 294 wounded - and regrettably the attack did not result in the hoped-for breakthrough. 

Among those who lost their lives at Bazentin Ridge on 14th July 1916 was Cecil Pope.

He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and Men of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918 and have no known grave.