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13 November 2014

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You are in: Gloucestershire > History > Remembrance > Tragic WWI brothers remembered

Walter Souls

Walter Souls, one of the five brothers

Tragic WWI brothers remembered

On Remembrance Sunday parishioners at a Cotswold church pay tribute to five tragic brothers who lost their lives in the First World War. Michael Walsh, who uncovered the story of the Lost Souls went back to Great Rissington to find out more.

For more than 80 years the Souls brothers were just five names on a war memorial in a Gloucestershire village church. Five forgotten heroes.

Today St John the Baptist in Great Rissington sees a steady stream of visitors, touched by the story of one family's remarkable sacrifice.

Annie and William Souls had six fine sons. The five who were old enough gave up their farm jobs to fight for king and country in the First World War.

"Come to remember the five Souls brothers - a perfect place to pause and reflect on them and their generation"

One of the tributes in the visitors' book at Great Rissington church

None of them came back.

Annie Souls would never stand for God Save the King after that and her grand-daughter, Katherine Hall, recalled how Mrs Souls overheard cruel gossip about how well off she must be with the pensions from five dead sons.

She left the village soon after the end of the war to live the rest of her life at nearby Great Barrington.

There, she suffered further tragedy when her surviving youngest boy died from meningitis.

Pay their respects

Hanging beneath the tablet of remembrance in Great Rissington church are pictures of the Souls and seven other young men from the pretty Cotswold village who gave their lives in 1914-18.

War memorial

The war memorial in Great Rissington church

Since a series of articles on the Souls boys and a feature on Midlands Today's Inside Out people have travelled from all over the country to see the old photos of them, proud and scrubbed in their uniforms, and to pay their respects.

Not quite Saving Private Ryan, or The Fighting Sullivans, but Albert, Fred, Walter, Alfred and Arthur Souls are finally receiving some belated recognition.

Almost 90 years on, the comments in the visitors' book at St John the Baptist show how much complete strangers have been moved by the lost Souls . . .

"Come to remember the five Souls brothers - a perfect place to pause and reflect on them and their generation ..."

En route from France where we visited two of the Souls boys' graves..."

"Deeply affected by the Souls family sacrifice..."

"Albert served with my grandmother's cousin - also killed."

Village church

Village church

The former rector, the Rev Sue Moth, is gratified that so many people stop by to remember the brothers - the stories of their courage are now on display in the church.

"Very little was known about them until last year, but now we have visitors coming from far and wide," she says.

I don't think our memorial with the photographs is unique but visitors find it very poignant.

"They also discover we have a lovely church and I like to think they remember the other boys from the village when they stand and look at those faces.

"Losing five sons is terrible, but a mother who lost her only son must have felt just as stricken."

Courage

One woman from Leeds was so angry at the lack of any official recognition for the Souls that she wrote to Cotswolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown demanding a monument.

The boys' nephew, Victor Walkley, 79, of Holmfirth in Yorkshire, is still campaigning for their sacrifice to be marked in some way, but his appeals to the Queen and successive Prime Ministers have failed to move the authorities.

He says: "I think this is a tremendous example of courage."

Born five years after the last of his uncles died, he still has all their war medals.

"I have told my son to hand them over to the Cheshire Regiment Museum in Chester when I am gone," he adds.

"In the absence of any official recognition, at least they will remind people how much one family suffered."

The full roll of honour of honour reads:

  • Albert Souls, aged 20, killed in action, France, 1916
  • Frederick Souls, aged 30, missing in action, France, 1916
  • Walter Souls, aged 24, died of wounds, France, 1916
  • Alfred Souls, aged 30, killed in action, Flanders, 1918
  • Arthur Souls, aged 30, killed in action, France 1918

Michael Walsh is the author of Brothers In War (Ebury Press, £16.99) , the story of five other brothers from Lincolnshire who died in the First World War.

last updated: 05/11/2008 at 16:33
created: 10/11/2006

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