Yesterday was Rememberance Sunday. I was asked to recount the story of one of the four WW1 dead from our tiny village. The service was held in the parish Church in the neighbouring village of Sandon. As I walked up in front of a packed congregation to speak I suddenly realised how important my job was. It was my task to tell the story of villager Maurice Barnes so others could remember him. He wasn’t famous, just a simple farm-worker and ordinary soldier, who died in France in 1917. I post my tribute, not to gain praise, but in the simple wish to tell you his story so that you may remember him too…
Maurice Barnes was the only son of Arthur and Eliza Barnes. Arthur (his father) and George Turner (his grandfather) both worked on my grandfather’s farm.
Maurice was born in 1883 and grew up in a cottage on Hickmans Hill, Clothall. The cottage looked towards Windmill Hill, the last hill before Baldock. This was next to a farm track that is now the A507 road.
When Maurice was seven his mother died, on the 23rd of April, St Georges Day. She is buried in the churchyard in Sandon (where the service took place).
Maurice joined his father and grandfather on the farm in 1897 aged fourteen. He volunteered for the army in September 1914, within a month of the outbreak of war. My grandfather’s wages book records his last working week as the 29th August 1914 when he earned 16 shillings, cutting late barley on Windmill Hill.
Maurice served with D Company the 4th Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment stationed at Bedford before the company moved to Felixstowe to provide home defence in the Harwich area. After the disaster on the Somme in July 1916, the battalion was sent to the Western Front, landing in France on the 25th July 1916 and eventually on to Arras.
At the start of the Arras offensive, Gavrelle was a fortified village in the third line of the forward German defences of the Hindenburg line. If Gavrelle and the high ground, with it’s shattered windmill to the North of the village could be taken, the British Army would be able to observe the German positions on the Douai plain beyond.
It is truly poignant that a son of Clothall, born and raised within sight of Windmill Hill, who spent his last working days on Windmill Hill, should go on to lose his life in an action where the ultimate aim was to wrest control of La Colline du Moulin a Vent – Windmill Hill.
He died, aged 34, on 23rd April 1917, St Georges Day, on the same day his mother had died when he was seven years old.
Maurice Barnes is one of 35,928 names of the missing that are remembered with honour on the Arras Memorial Pas de Calais.
To this day his remains lay somewhere on that Windmill Hill,
Far from Clothall…
Far from Home.
He is remembered.
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