Swavesey and the Great War

The Trundley Puzzle

St Andrew's Church,Swavesey

Behind every name on Swavesey War Memorial lies a story - sometimes that story is easy to relate - on other occasions one has to dig deep to uncover information over and above the basic facts. Within the confines of Swavesey churchyard there are two Commonwealth war graves.

The story of Alfred Large has been told in a previous edition of “The Meridian” and that of William Harden will be covered in a future issue. In addition to these two graves there is also a headstone commemorating the death of Watson Trundley who was killed in action during the Great War but whose body was never recovered.

Trundley had spent his childhood years at the family home in Askew Road,Swavesey. His father George Trundley had been a military man and it was natural therefore that Watson should join the army and follow in the family tradition. His chosen regiment was the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers and Watson subsequently served in South Africa in the aftermath of the Boer war. He stayed on in Natal finding employment as a railway worker and in the summer of 1914 had married a South African girl.

When war broke out Watson was a reservist and he was therefore called to the colours at the outset. Leaving his young bride behind he reported to the depot of his regiment in Ayr,Scotland. By the end of 1914 this 28 year old veteran was serving in Flanders and suffering the horrors of trench warfare.

Unlike many of his comrades Watson Trundley survived that first year of war and in June 1915 made what later proved to be his final visit to Swavesey. It had been nine years since he had last visited his home village and he was described thus in a contemporary newspaper report :-

“His face burned deep brown by sun and weather,his clothes stained and well nigh thread bare,told their tale,but the gallant corporal was in the best of health and spirits. Of his own experiences he spoke little. Pressed,he admitted that his lot had been in the thick of it,and that his Battalion’s loss in officers had been heavy - there were not many left he said. ”

From Swavesey Watson travelled to London and saw his brother and sister for the lasttime. His sister wrote to Mrs Trundley in Swavesey describing the final parting during the first week of July 1915 :-

“I went with him to Victoria. . . . there were three trainloads of them going back. Watson introduced me to one or two of his chums. They all had ginger beer,but they treated me to a ginger beer and port. I could not help smiling for they asked Watson if I might have it! One chap pointed to Watson and said ‘this is the boy who does the deeds’. I heard them sat that Watson’s regiment had taken some trenches three times and that Watson is one of the few left who have been through the war without a scratch. At last the train started,hankerchiefs were waved,heavy hearts were left behind. The worst of all were the poor mothers. ”

A short two weeks later,on the 25th September 1915 the Battle of Loos opened. A set piece attack which achieved little and resulted in British losses totalling 60,000 men many of whom were “New Army men” recruited by Kitchener and undergoing there first baptism of fire.

As a diversion two brigades launched an attack in the Ypres salient at Hooge. Two brigades were committed and the 1st Royal Scots fought alongside 8th brigade (part of 3rd Division under Haldare). An advance across the the old bloody ground of Bellewaarde was signalled by the explosion of a vast mine under the German trenches just south of the Menin road. The 8th brigade succeeded in capturing some 200 prisoners along with a modest stretch of German front line trench. It was in this action on the 25th September 1915 that Watson Trundley was killed and his name along with many,many others is inscribed for posterity on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

The news was reported in the local Cambridge newspaper on 22nd October 1915 and that date is included on the Swavesey Roll of Honour which now hangs in the Memorial Hall.

The puzzle ? George Trundley and his wife Sarah both lie in Swavesey churchyard having died 30th November 1930 and 4th October 1930 respectively. Their headstone includes a few words in commemoration of their son Watson but his date of death is erroneously stated as being 10th September 1916.

N. B. "The Meridian" is our bimonthly parish magazine

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