The Isle of Wedmore in Somerset suffered 60 fatalities out of an estimated 600 men who volunteered for or were conscripted into the armed services between 1914-18, with the largest number of war dead coming from the village of Wedmore and the neighbouring hamlets of Heath House, Sand, Staughton, Crickham and Clewer. The 32 men whose names are recordedon the war memorial outside St Mary's Church and listed inside – ranging in rank from Captain to Private and from 16 to 49 in age – were killed in action, succumbed to wounds, died of disease or paid the ultimate price in accidents while on active service. They served in a wide range of regiments and corps of the British Army, with three being part-time soldiers in the Wedmore Troop of the Army Service Corps (part of the Territorial Force).Others served in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Indian Army, the CanadianOverseas Expeditionary Force, the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
The bodies of most of these men now lie in Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemeteries in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Greece, Turkey and India. Two have no known grave andare remembered respectively on the Menin Gate at Ypres and the Australian Villers-Bretonneaux Memorial on the Somme. Four soldiers of the Great War lie closer to their homes and are buried in St Mary's Churchyard, having died officially'at home' in the United Kingdom from disease, wounds suffered while on active service and accidents during the course of training, where with one exception their families opted to commemorate their lives with private memorials insteadof having standard CWGC markers on their graves. While the headstone belonging to Lance Corporal William Collard, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), isperiodically cleaned and maintained by workmen from the commission, the care ofthe three others from the outset was the sole responsibility of each family. Twoof these war graves have now fallen into a serious state of disrepair, however,since the families concerned have either died out or have moved away from thearea.
The grave in St Mary's Churchyard in most urgent need of renovation belongs to a young subaltern who served in the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps- 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant Victor Charles Edelston Bracey – who was born on 20th October 1897 at Billinge, near Wigan, the only son of Dr William Edelsten Bracey MRCS (1873-1952) and his wife Florence Marion (nee Goold) (1872-1953). The family lived at 'The Uplands',Grants Lane in Wedmore where from 1898 his father worked in general practice. During the early years of the Great War Dr Bracey served at Suvla Bay at Gallipoli during the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign as an officer in the RAMC until wounded. Ill-health or wounds eventually forced him to resign his commission in December 1916 with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant.
Victor was educated at St Peter's School,Weston-super-Mare and at Blundell's School at Tiverton between 1911-15, where he was a boarder and an enthusiastic member of the Officers Training Corps. A keen sportsman and athlete throughout his short life, Bracey played cricket,football and hockey in inter-house competitions and for the school and later while undergoing training for the army. In February 1915 he passed the Army Entrance Examination and a month later Bracey joined the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. From 16th December 1916 he continued his military instruction as a Private in No. 6 Company of the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps at Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, before completing his training at No. 1Officer Cadet Battalion at Newton Ferrers in Devon. On 5th August 1916 Bracey successfully applied for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps.
Victor Bracey was gazetted a 2nd Lieutenant on probation on the General List (for RFC) in April 1917 and obtained his wings three months later. On 27th July 1917 he was confirmed in rank as a Flying Officer. He joined the newly-formed No. 79 Squadron RFC, undergoing training before departing to France, where he completed 85 solo flights and given his evident skill as a pilot was appointed as a flying instructor. On Sunday 23rd September 1917 Bracey was killed while testing a new French-built Spad VII fighter, fitted with a 150 Horse Power engine, at Beaulieu Aerodrome in Hampshire. While flying a circuitof the airfield Bracey turned downwind, but since his engine lacked sufficient power the biplane stalled (a particular vice of the Spad VII) and went into afatal spin. Since he was flying at only 200 feet Bracey did not have time to recover. The stricken biplane plunged downwards into the ground and Bracey was mortally injured when was thrown forwards against the gun mounting. Although still breathing when he was recovered from the wreckage, Victor died without recovering consciousness half an hour later. In a letter to his parents afellow officer wrote:
I think you might like to hear how very much your son was liked, and how much we all feel his loss. He was a universal favourite, always so cheerful and utterly fearless. His death was due purely to misadventure, which even the most skilful pilot could not have prevented.
The body of the young pilot was quickly returned to his grieving family in Wedmore for burial. On Wednesday 26th September 1917 an elaborate funeral service was held at St Mary's conducted by the Reverend G. Norris in a church packed with local villagers eager to pay their respects to the Bracey family. For many whose own sons, brothers or husbands would not return from the war, it was no doubt a poignant opportunity to remember their own loss. As an eyewitness who watched the funeral procession recorded:
The Union Flag floated athalf-mast from the Church tower, and in every portion of the parish was evidence of mourning. The plain unpolished oak coffin, covered with the Union Flag, was conveyed on a gun carriage with two horses, and was escorted by three officers and nine men, by bearers from 79th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, one NCO, one driver RFA, and two NCOs from the Cheddar Company of the Somerset Volunteer Regiment.
Victor's final resting place in the north-western corner St Mary's Churchyard was marked with a large marble private memorial, elaborately carved with the cap badge of the Royal Flying Corps at its base and on thecross itself a Sopwith biplane. In addition to the war memorial and the tablet inside St Mary's, Bracey's name was later also commemorated on the Blundell's School War Memorial at Tiverton, Devon. Dr and Mrs Bracey also commissioned a highly decorative large commemorative wooden font cover for St Mary's as a further war memorial, with the motto of the RFC – 'Per Ardua ad Astra' – carvedinto the wood. A fund for the relief of the poor and sick in the Parish wasalso set up in his name by his parents. Unfortunately his grieving mother never recovered from Victor's death and spent much of her time staring from her drawing room window, in the family home on the hillside above Grants Lane, across Wedmore at his grave just visible in the distance in St Mary's Churchyard. Both parents were finally laid to rest in the same grave as their beloved son in the early 1950s.
The elaborate marble private memorial in St Mary' Churchyard commemorating the short life of Lt Victor Bracey has steadily deteriorated following the death of his parents (Victor was an only child) and will soon belost if urgent remedial action is not taken. The cover stone over the grave nowlies broken, the marble kerbs are coming apart and the elaborate memorial cross itself is loose and in imminent danger of toppling forward into the grave. Regrettably no official sources of funding to restore the grave can be found after an exhaustive search primarily because it is a private memorial, with the CWGC only having responsibility for ensuring the naming remains legible. As a work of art in it right, an officially recognised war grave and a piece of local history its loss would be a tragedy and a local appeal is in progress to carry out a full renovation of the grave. While some support has already been forthcoming from local charitable organisations and various private individuals who recognise the memorial's importance, more money is urgently needed to ensure the long-term survival ofthis historic war grave.
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