Many people in Whaley Bridge will be unaware that there are war graves at St James’s, Taxal , all recorded by the War Graves Commission. Most of them are of the standard Portland stone, as used by the million in the massive military cemeteries of northern Europe. This is a corner of a nearby churchyard, where, on a grey, wet autumn day, the war graves stand like little beacons among the darker – and usually much bigger – gravestones of generations of Taxal parishioners.
There are 14 military gravestones in the lower slopes at Taxal graveyard. They are well scattered. Some contain the remains of servicemen who died of their wounds after World War I, and who, like all the other war dead are ‘remembered with honour’ in the citations of the War Graves Commission.
Carved into the familiar Portland headstones is a litany of local names, many still familiar today: Pearson, Jackson, Bradbury, Hill, Thomasson, Fox.
One grave, different from the rest, is very near the noticeboard alongside the entrance to St James’. A grey granite cross, Celtic style, marks the resting place of Hugh McGuffie, a pilot in 49 Squadron, RAF Volunteer Reserve, who died on 23 March 1942, aged 23. He was married to Joan, and was the son of John and Evelyn, from Whaley Bridge. It is believed that his mother held a pilot’s licence before World War II.
For the last 20 years, Julian Thompson, owner of Adeva hairdressers in Whaley and New Mills, has been researching the local stories of those who fell in the two world wars, including his great uncle. He has the brief details of the 14 who lie at St James’, and is constantly seeking more information.
Along with verger Jane Heginbotham, the parish has produced a booklet, available in St James’ for visitors to refer to. Even the brief details are moving:
Wilfred Bradbury, 22, a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps, born in Gorton, enlisted Derby, resident of Whaley Bridge. Died in a Glasgow hospital in July 1918, in the last four months of the war.
H Fox, George Pearson, T E Price and A E Rooke, who all died (from war wounds?) in 1920 or 1921. The latter two are the only ones with ages recorded (58 and 42) both members of the Royal Defence Corps.
WORLD WAR II
Hugh Anderson, from the 3rd Derbyshire Bn, Home Guard (Dad’s Army). Died aged 39 on New Year’s Eve, 1944. Son of Hugh and Margaret Anderson, husband of Elizabeth. His grave contains the remains of other members of the family, including a young man who died aged 22 in 1983.
Frederick Rowland Bowden, a sapper. Died June 1942, aged 21, in a river crossing. Son of Fred and Edith Bowden of Furness Vale.
Bombardier Bernard Evans, from 79 (The Scottish Horse) Medium Regt, Royal Artillery, died aged 26 in a military hospital in Northumberland, on 21 March 1944 (first day of spring.)
Stanley Hill, sergeant, RAF Volunteer Reserve, died aged 26 in September 1940.
Ernest Thomasson and John Tomkinson, both sergeants (Ernest in the Black Watch, John in the RAF Volunteer Reserve) each died aged 28.
Four photographs of the war dead are reproduced by permission of Julian Thompson. If you have extra information about any of the names mentioned, contact Julian on jacks4jules@6+internet.com