Swavesey and the Great War

A Tale of Two Brothers


Canada poster

At the turn of the century posters such as the one illustrated above were a powerful persuader when it came to encouraging enterprising individuals to leave the UK and travel to New World destinations such as Canada in order to start a new life. Shortly after the turn of the century four young men from Swavesey had succumbed to this utopian message and in 1907 Lawson Hepher, Henry Beaumont, Fred Day and Harry Wells all emigrated. Having spent a summer working on a fruit farm in Ontario, Beaumont and Hepher, armed with masses of material about growing fruit in the Kootenay District, went west to Nelson, British Columbia.

Front seated - Harry Wells, Frank Day, Henry Beaumont and Lawson Hepher. Taken in Swavesey shortly before they emigrated to Canada. Four to Canada

When war broke out a good number of British expatriates were amongst the very first to enlist. My story entitled "The Beaumont Brothers" tells the story of how the four boys mentioned above attempted to enlist en masse and how Henry Beaumont died at 2nd ypres. A further Swavesey man, Martin Caine also enlisted in Canada and his attestation papers can be viewed on-line at The Canadian National Archive.

Lawson Hepher survived the war but his unfortunate elder brother,Wilfred, did not. A further brother, Albert, also served. Wilfred was killed on the 15th September 1916 whilst serving as a Sergeant with the 74th Field Company, Royal Engineers.

Wilfred Hepher DCM

Wilfred was the 2nd youngest son of Jesse and Harriett Hepher. Jesse had been the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Swavesey and in addition to Lawson, Wilfred had four brothers (one of whom died at the age of four) as well as one sister, Annie.

The day of Wilfred's death was a noteworthy point from a military historian's point of view since it was the first day of the Battle of Flers during which tanks were used for the first time. At the time of his death Wilfred's Company had moved forward to the village of Martinpuich following a successful attack by the 6th Camerons (45 Brigade) shortly before 3pm.

In the front of the family bible (which had been given to his mother as a "reward" for good attendance at Sunday School) Wilfred's name is appended with the words "Killed In Action in France Sept 15th 1916.Buried at Martinpuich". The grave must have been lost however,during subsequent fighting and Wilfred now has no known resting place. His name is included on Lutyen's magnificent Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval on the Somme.

Prior to his death Wilfred had been awarded a (Distinguished Conduct Medal) DCM. The citation which was originally published in the London Gazette dated 21st June 1916 was as follows :-

"For consistent good work. He has frequently commanded his section and carried out his duties with skill and determination".

Wilfred's brother was also a very determined individual. Having failed his medical examination back in Canada, Lawson travelled to the UK at his own expense and was successfully recruited into the Canadian Expeditionary Force in February 1915. The Liddle Archive at the University of Leeds has a letter from Lawson to his friend Arthur Beaumont  in which Lawson declares triumphantly :-

"I was sworn in yesterday !".

Two months after signing up, lawson was posted to France and was immediately transferred to the Engineers with whom he saw considerable service. Lawson's Enlistment papers gave his pre war trade as "builder".

In august 1917 Lawson returned to England and joined an Officer's Cadet Battalion in order to train for a commission. Promotion to 2nd Lt came on 31st January 1918 when Lawson was posted to the Royal Field Artillery. He returned to France on 20th March 1918 and was awarded the Military Cross MC on 1st November. The citation reads as follows :-

"For services rendered during the great advance. During one period his battery was in action for 14 days".

Luger pistol & stock retrieved by Lawson.

Lawson's MC

Prior to his formal discharge from the army Lawson returned to Boswell in Canada having married his wife, Kathleen in the Church of St Mary le Strand, London on June 12th 1919. Lawson resumed his new life as a fruit farmer and subsequently worked as a foreman in highway construction. He was a skilled carpenter and his Grandson, Ian (whom I am proud to know and who has contributed most of the material in this article) lives with his family in Lethbridge not far from the spot at the Field of Honour where Lawson was buried in 1957.

A log cabin built by Lawson in 1928. It is situated at

Gray Creek - about 18km from Boswell.

In many ways Boswell retains a little part of Swavesey. There is a Beaumont Creek and a Hepher Road which leads to the Hepher Ranch. Harry Beaumont has the distinction of appearing on the Boswell War Memorial as well as the Memorial in Swavesey churchyard.

A fitting end to this story is to quote Lawson's words from the speech he made at the unveiling of the Boswell Memorial on Empire Day, May 30th 1928 :-

"I know of no higher tribute one could pay them, and none they would more readily have, than to say they were typical of the hundreds of thousands of men who during the eventful years between 1914 and 1918 went from the four corners of the earth in answer to the call of our motherland".

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