There was blood, sticky red blood, plenty of blood. There was mud, sticky, life sucking, drowning mud. And there was courage, real courage, as the whistles blew and thousands upon thousands of men clambered from the relative safety of the trenches into the hell of flying bullets that was no-man’s land. The start of a hundred-day battle in July 1917 which would end with half a million Allied and German dead in Belgium. And among the fallen at Passchendaele were three men from Stithians.
First to die was Private Thomas Henry Choak of the Devonshire Regiment. Born in Stithians he was the second son of Henry and Annie Choak. He was taking part in a major divisional attack on the fourth of October when a sniper killed him.
Next was John Knuckey on the 28th of October. He was in the Australian infantry and was just 21 when he died while capturing an enemy pill box in and around Ypres. He was a farm labourer and the son of John and Elizabet Jane Knuckey of Pembroath. He was the younger brother of James who had come to Australia to visit him when they both joined up together. Sadly, James had been killed on the 3rd of May that year – imagine the grief of their parents receiving the second dreadful telegram.
Horace Garfield Hughs was living in Stithians when he enlisted into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. At six in the morning on the 6th of November he was part of an attack on Polderhoek Chateau. Bombing parties fought it out on both sides but the battalion was forced to withdraw and Horace was one of 123 soldiers and 11 men killed, wounded or missing that day from his regiment.
Pictures Courtesy Roger Nicholls
One hundred years later we can debate whether the generals were right to persist with a tactic which had failed so dismally too many time before. Days of artillery fire followed by a full - frontal attack which was no surprise to the enemy. But what we cannot debate is the bravery of the young men who died in the clinging Flanders mud or their powerful belief that their sacrifice was for their family, friends and country.
They died for us. This was remembered at a moving service in the warm sun by the Stithians war memorial on the 31st of July. The group which gathered may have been small but their emotions were strong in paying their respects to the three men from our parish, and the thousands of others, who died. They were not forgotten as the Reverend Leonard Barter lead the service attended by the Royal British Legion and others including parish councillors.
There were tears in the eyes as the Last Post sounded its bitter sweet notes and the three men from Stithians were very definitely remembered.
Words by Denis Nightingale
“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your Tomorrow, we gave our Today"
John Maxwell Edmunds 1916