Sibford Scene Archive

Sibford Scene 190 October 1995

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Text, letter

Letter to the Editor - VJ Day

The VJ Day that never was.
From Burma to Sibford in 50 years.

There was a very nice letter from Jim Johnston in the June “Scene” about the VE Day Celebration in the Gower, but I didn’t attend this because I was under the impression that there was going to be another one for VJ Day.

Mr Johnston was in Brussels on VE Day 1945, but I was there in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force, and most of the population had fled. When there was a Gas Warning with one of the German attacks, some of the people who were left came out with towels over their noses. A woman who could speak English told me she remembered the First World War, and gave me a small crucifix which I tied to the identification disc we had to wear around our necks. She said “Keep that my boy, and you will never go wrong.” And sure enough, I came through the whole war unscathed except for terrible bouts of malaria.

Finally we were told to make for Dunkirk. As a corporal in charge of transport, I was driving a 3-ton truck with all the battalion’s rations, but soon we were stopped and told to scuttle our trucks. When they realised I had all the rations for a thousand men, they told me to keep going! Three miles out of Dunkirk I was stopped again, and ordered to ditch my truck in the canal. I had three other drivers with me, so we started walking to the beach, but it certainly wasn’t a pretty sight. There were 3 big boats anchored just out at sea.

Then out of the blue, came Jerry with his dive bombers and in only a few minutes all our ships were alight. We were told that they were sending smaller craft that could get closer to the beach, so we queued up again – but without any luck. Then we decided to make for the docks, and luckily we found an old staff car loaded with officer’s uniforms; so we changed our old wet clothes for new dry ones! We got the car started and decided that if we couldn’t get on a boat, we would head for the south of France. However we managed to get on a destroyer, and in just over an hour we were back in Dover.

Back in dear old England we felt safe…what a relief it was! Soon we were on a train, but didn’t know where we were going. I finished up at Tenby in South Wales, in a posh hotel on the sea front. I think I must have slept for two days… but that was just the start of the war. we were soon sorted out, and sent up to Huddersfield where our 2nd Division was reforming.

We were put in civvy digs, and they really made a fuss of us! Then came the crunch… We found that only about half of us who went out to France had got back; so we were reinforced and put on to Coastal Defence, but we were very poorly armed – even with some wooden guns… But they looked good!

After a while we were equipped with entirely new transport, ready to go anywhere, as we were expecting Hitler to invade at any time. Since that didn’t happen we moved down south to Winchcombe near Cheltenham, and were fitted out with tropical kit but still didn’t know where we would be going. We had to dock our vehicles at Newport, but were sent up to Liverpool to get on a troopship. Anyway, after a few scares at sea we arrived at Capetown, where we stopped for about three weeks before learning that we were due to sail to Madagascar; however we were actually sent to Bombay instead!

At Bombay in 1942, we joined up again with the 14th Army, and I served with them in India, Assam and Burma for the rest of the war. After a disastrous campaign in the Arakan we had to retreat back to Bombay. Then in 1944, we were sent to Assam with orders to halt the Japanese at all costs. So we went to Dimapur by train, taking 14 days; then on to Kohima where our 2nd Division took the bulk of the fighting. This horrific battle was so costly of lives, that local tribesmen erected a huge memorial for all those who fell in retaking the town, with the telling inscription “When you go home, tell them of us, and say ‘For your tomorrow, We gave our today.'”

Kohima was the real turning point of the war in Burma; from then on we gave the Japs the full works all the way down to Rangoon; but even after Rangoon was ours, we had to wait till November 1946 before we could set sail for Dear Old Blighty.

I joined the Army in 1932, about the same time as two other lads from Sibford. Sadly, Archie Kaye was killed at Dunkirk, and John Long passed away about two years ago. I was a staff driver with the Royal Berkshires, and served in India, Egypt, Palestine, and Cyprus before being drafted to France with the B.E.F in 1939. So I had done almost 14 years before being demobbed, and was given the grand gratuity of £80 for it!

So, after 50 years, I thought I would polish up all my medals and wear them proudly to our local VJ Day. But that was not to be; for in Sibford, Britain’s 14th Army was the “Forgotten Army” once again!

Ex-Sgt S.A. Lines; 5334432.
The Royal Berkshire Rgt. (Sid)

Historic Churches Sponsored Ride

The ninth of September dawned sunny and bright. After much planning of routes to gain the most churches and avoiding most main roads, and including quick routes home in the case of bad weather or exhaustion, we set off. A cloudless day as we sped down our first big hill and pushed up the other side. We bagged our first four churches without problems (Great Rollright had a series of photos showing works carried out with financial help from the Historic Churches Trust), but we sped straight past Over Horton chapel. We were directed back to find a little chapel with lovely flowers.

After finding the four churches in Chippy we headed for Churchill. A barbecue was in full swing at All Saints church, but we opted for a sun-warmed tomb at the much older and quieter Old Church to eat our sandwiches. After calling at Kingham we set out to discover St Peter’s at Cornwall. Leaving our bikes a quarter of a mile distant we trekked over stiles to the little church which holds fortnightly services. I can’t imagine a very large congregation unless the Lord of the Manor orders all subjects to attend.

After calling at Salford we headed cross-country up a steep bridleway towards Long Compton. If anyone would like to hear the joke about St Peter, Jesus, Joseph and Pinocchio I’m sure the gentleman at Long Compton Congregational will be happy to tell you. This building also boasted a tiered balcony ideal for bombing worshippers on the lower deck. After calling at Whichford and Sibford we ended a very enjoyable day.

Well done to Rhiannon and Kayleigh who totalled twenty-one churches. Thanks to everyone who manned the churches throughout the day. It is much nicer to see someone taking the trouble to greet you and very often offer you a range of refreshments. It is a great way to spend the day as well as finding lovely little churches, chapels and meeting houses you would never bother to seek out otherwise.


Frank Lascelles (né Stevens), 1875-1934

Pageant Master and Lord of the Manor of Sibford Gower

I am researching the life and work of Frank Lascelles who was known in his time as ‘the man who staged the empire’ because of the elaborate pageants he organised which often had an imperial theme. I would like to appeal to the residents of Sibford especially those who knew Lascelles, to share any memories or information they may have with me, or correct any of the information that follows. I am particularly keen to trace any of Lascelles’ personal papers that have survived. Robin Spicer has kindly agreed to pass any replies on to me, or I can be contacted directly though my university department.

In 1905 a new meaning was given to the word ‘pageant’ when Louis Napoleon Parker produced his elaborate outdoor civic ‘folk play‘ at Sherbourne which was quickly imitated by others. Usually a combination of dramatic sketches, dances and singing, the theme of these modem civic pageants was usually the history of the place where they were staged. Pageants were a distinctive twentieth century spectacular dramatic form of entertainment, relying on a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, of amateurs of all classes. They were said to induce local and national pride and were thought to be a good way of educating the public. They remained popular, often as a means of raising money for charity, until the second world war. Pageants were also produced in other English-speaking countries in this period, notably the United States.

Frank Lascelles was born Frank William Thomas Charles Stevens on 30 July 1875. His father was the Rev. Edward Thomas Stevens, the vicar of Sibford Gower. Lascelles attended the village school and won his way to read English Literature at Keble College, Oxford, but did not take a degree. He was a leading light of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, notably playing Romeo in 1898 when he was named an ‘Isis Idol’ in the student magazine. After Oxford, he worked as an actor in London between 1904 and 1906 and understudied Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre, appearing in several productions in his own right. It was during this time that he changed his name. It is no accident that the name ‘Lascelles’ had nobler connotations than ‘Stevens’. Frank Lascelles was, according to some, rather arrogant and distant, although others said he had a ‘magnetic personality’, and he seems to have invented a grander persona for himself that misled over his humble origins. Indeed, he held the title of Lord of the Manor of Sibford Gower (which I understand he probably acquired rather than inherited) and created a new manor house out of an old barn in the village, despite the fact that there was already a manor house standing. Lascelles was a prominent member of the local community; he was a member of the Parish Council and of the Town Estate Trustees and also helped to produce charitable plays for the village.

His first pageant was the Oxford Historical Pageant held in 1907 which was a great success, despite initial reservations by the University authorities and a student riot. The following year be organised a pageant as part of the celebrations of the Tercentenary of Canada at Quebec, in front of the King and Queen. Lascelles enlisted the services of the Iroquois Indians and was made an honorary chief under the name of Tehonikonraka, ‘the man of infinite resource’. In 1909 be organised the Bath Historical Pageant and was Master of Pageantry at the celebration of the opening of the Union Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town. He managed to persuade several indigenous peoples to participate alongside the British and Boers, despite being warned that he would never succeed, and was made a chief of the Basutos under the name of Rakalello, ‘the father of wonderful thoughts‘. The following year he organised the Pageant of London with 40 scenes performed by a cast of 15,000 volunteers from all the Boroughs of London, at the Festival of Empire and Imperial Exhibition at Crystal Palace. It was the first public event that the new King and Queen attended and they held their Coronation party there for an audience of 250,000. In 1912 Lascelles was Master of the Pageant at the Coronation Durbar at Calcutta, in which over 300,000 indigenous peoples and troops participated, and also produced Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts. In 1923 he was Master of the Harrow Pageant and, the following year, Master of the Bristol Pageant (Cradle of the Empire) and the Pageant of Empire at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley. The latter was performed by a cast of over 15,000 volunteers from London and the Dominions, as well as an assortment of exotic animals, to an audience of over 120,000. He received laurel wreaths from all the Dominions and Colonies as thanks for his work in a public ceremony at Wembley. A number of local historical pageants followed in Carlisle (1928), Stoke-on-Trent (Wedgwood Bicentenary Celebrations) (1930), Rochester (1931), Bradford (1931), Barking (1931), Leicester (1932), Essex (1932), and Kent (1932).

Lascelles also practised sculpture; among his subjects were the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Connaught, Earl Grey and the Aga Khan. He sculpted a memorial to his mother, Isabella Hannah, in the church at Sibford Gower, as well as painting a Roll of Honour. He also contributed prose and verse to periodicals. His recreations included rose-growing, as well as music and outdoor life. In 1932 Frank Lascelles: Our Modern Orpheus (edited by the Earl of Darnley) was published in his honour by Oxford University Press.

Towards the end of his life, ill health restricted Lascelles’ finances and he died in poverty on 23 May 1934 in rented rooms in Brighton. At the time of his death extensive renovations were being carried out on the Manor House and several of the obituaries suggest that these were adversely affected by his diminishing finances. His dying wish that his estate should be used by his friend Frank Brangwyn, the painter, to set up a ‘School of Nations’ where children from all over the world could study was unable to be realised as, despite a gross value of £12,899 8s. 1d., the net value of his personal estate was nil. As Lascelles never married, his main beneficiary was his gardener Ewart Bodfish, of ‘The Yews‘, Sibford Gower, and his sister-in-law Mrs Harry Stevens.

Dr. Deborah Ryan

Above, you may see one or two items of historical interest from this edition. To see the whole edition, click on the front-page image to download it as a pdf.