Within 10km of the busy northern French town of Valenciennes are the villages of Preseaux, Maing, Querenaing, Vendiges sur Ecallon, Thiant, Bermerain, Haspres and Solesmes. Each has a small British War Cemetery containing the graves of soldiers buried by their comrades during late October and early November 1918. These cemeteries are off the beaten track and rarely visited today.
Eighty-four years ago this area was the scene of bitter fighting as infantry of the 49th West Riding Regular and 61st South Midland Divisions advanced towards Valenciennes in actions designated as the battles of the Selle and Sambre. The cemetery at Querenaing contains just 21 graves of soldiers from a number of regiments: 1st Bn Somerset Light Infantry, 1st Btn Rifle Brigade, The King's Own Royal Lancers, the Essex, Gloucester and Worcester Regiments and the Royal Field Artillery. Here, among several of his men, lies buried Captain C.C.H. Lewin M.C. The cemetery register reads as follows:
Lewin. Capt. Cecil Charles Humphreys, M.C. 4th Bn Somerset Light Inf. 2nd November 1918. Age 31 Son of Charles John and Sarah Lewin of 'Casa', Elmsleigh Road, Weston Super Mare. Born at Radstock, Somerset
This immediately captured my interest, and on visiting the Radstock War Memorial I was surprised to find, besides C.C.H. Lewin, two others: K R Lewin and R R Lewin, who proved to be his brothers. Further research was clearly necessary.
Charles John Lewin, a highly regarded Radstock Schoolmaster, and his wife Sarah bore five sons. Cecil was the eldest, born in 1887, and was educated in his father's school. He won a County Scholarship to Sexey's School. Bruton. On leaving school he became a pupil teacher in Bristol, where he sat an exam for a King's Scholarship which gained him entrance to Battersea Training College for School Masters. Once qualified, he took up an appointment in Liverpool, where he became accomplished in his profession.
When War was declared and Kitchener made his famous call to arms for the first New Army, Cecil Lewin abandoned a very promising career, attested, and was accepted into the Army. He had stated a preference for the Kings Liverpool Regiment, but was posted to the 19th Bn, 3rd City of Liverpool Regiment, one of the City's four 'Pals' Battalions, in the 89th Brigade. He joined as a private, but Cecil's qualifications soon became apparent and he was promoted to Sergeant.
Wartime shortages meant much time was to elapse before serious training got underway, but, training completed, Sgt Lewin and his 30th Division embarked for France on 15th November 1915.
The 13th Division was one of fifteen Divisions chosen to take part in the Battle of the Somme. On 1st July 1916, Company Sgt Major Lewin's Division was positioned on the extreme right flank of the Fourth Army, alongside the French. Its objective the village of Montauban. C.S.M. Lewin's 19th Bn was in reserve on the fateful day, which saw the ruins of Montauban successfully stormed.
A short distance from Montauban lie Bernafay and Trones Woods. On 2nd July Bernafay Wood was found to be unoccupied was taken the nest day. The fight for Trones Wood began on 7th July. It was in the shattered remains of the wood that the 19th Bn fought with bomb and bayonet for possession. On that day C.S.M. Lewin's Company Commander became a casualty. C.S.M. Lewin took control of the situation by encouraging the men and directing their fire. Soon he, too, was shot, first through the shoulder, and then through the arm. Bravely he continued until shot a third time, in the chest. Despite a severe wound he continued to lead his men. Eventually he collapsed and was evacuated from the scene. Two days later the battalion was relieved. For 'Conspicuous Bravery' and Devotion to Duty' C.S.M. Lewin was awarded the Military Cross.
After many months in hospital, Cecil eventually recovered. He was commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry on 26th April 1917 and was posted to the 4th Bn - a home-based reserve battalion. He was later transferred to the 1st Bn of the Regiment which had been serving on the Western Front since August 1914.
Captain Lewin saw further action and was killed on 2nd November 1918 whilst leading his Company in an attack on the village of Preseaux. The village was captured the following day, and the battalion was relieved, having fought its last action in the Great War, at a cost of five officers and 88 other ranks in casualties
To many who travel down the A26 Autoroute from Calais to destinations south, the town of Lens and its suburb Loos en Gohelle receive scant attention, though one can hardly fail to notice the huge colliery slag heaps that dominate an otherwise featureless landscape.
In 1915 this vicinity was a maze of closely packed , drab, mining villages, slag heaps, and pithead structures, through which the opposing front lines faced each other. In this are of complicated industrial activity the horrific battle of Loos was fought on 25th September- 8th October 1915, representing the British effort on the left flank of a massive French offensive north of Arras.
Today three large British War Cemeteries and a Memorial to the Missing are a sombre reminder. Dud Corner Cemetery records 1,772 British and 28 Canadian burials. The memorial to the Missing forms largely encloses the cemetery and commemorates 20,693 missing of the Battle of Loos, and the 1918 battles of Lys, Estaires and Bethune. On panel 69-73 can be found R.R. Lewin, Capt. Royal Sussex Regiment.
Captain Rex Richard Lewin was just 21 when he was killed in action on 25th September 1915. He was the youngest of Mr C. J. Lewin's four serving sons, and the first one to die. Initially reported wounded in action, then wounded and missing, his parents were finally informed that his body had been recovered from the battlefield by men of the 2nd Coldstream Guards.
Unfortunately the locations of scattered battlefield burial sites were often lost, obliterated by heavy shelling in subsequent operations. Captain R.R. Lewin therefore has no known grave, and became one of the 800 officers and 15,000 NCO's and men who vanished without trace during the nine-day battle.
The 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment was part of the 1st (Regular Army) Division, one of the eight regular Army Divisions of the original BEF. He had only recently been promoted Captain and had been made Bombing Officer. His swift promotion from 2nd Lieutenant to Captain within a Battalion of the Regular Army was surprising, and can only reflect his outstanding qualities. Rex Lewin, after a brilliant educational career culminating in a B.Sc. in Agriculture from London University, did not hesitate to volunteer his services when his country needed him.
Lieutenant Kenneth R. Lewin served in the 7th Bn of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. The following extract is from The Guardian dated 17th March 1916.
On Monday 13th March Mr C J Lewin received a telegram from the War Office informing him that his second son, Lt. KR. Lewin had been killed in action on March 9th 1916. The deceased Officer had a distinguished career, and his future was full of high promise.
He was born at Radstock on September 16th 1889. From his father's school he gained a Junior County Scholarship and proceeded to Sexey's (Bruton). Here he won an Intermediate, and afterward a senior County Scholarship. Thus with an Open Science Exhibition he gained entrance to Trinity College Cambridge. In 1908 he obtained a First Class in the Natural Sciences Tripos Part One and the following year he divided the Coutte-Trotter Scholarship with the last of the Senior Wranglers. With the aid of a grant from the Balfour Fund he worked on INFUSORIA (microbiological Research) in Munich under Professor Hertwig. In 1911 he occupied a table at the Naples Biological Station. Several brilliant pieces of biological research were carried out by him, and he published some papers which were read before the Royal Society. After working as assistant to the Quick Professor of Biology at Cambridge, he was appointed Project Professor at Rothampstead, which appointment he held until the outbreak of the Great War. He joined the Colours at the first call and was Commissioned into the DCLI as a 2nd Lieutenant, being later promoted to Lieutenant.
Kenneth R Lewin served in the Regiment's 7th (Service) Battalion, 61st Brigade, 220th Light Division. The Brigade in which Lieut. Lewin was serving at the time of his death was in the Ypres Salient. Aged 26 when he died, he is buried in Bard Cottage Military Cemetery at Boezinghe, a village about 2km north of the town of Ypres. Two of Mr & Mrs Lewin's five sons survived the Great War. 2nd Lieutenant Claude J Lewin M.C. served with the 7th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, in the 20th Light Division. The Divisional History records the following:
A very successful raid was carried out on the night of 12-13th June 1917 by a platoon of the 7th Somerset Light Infantry under the command of 2nd Lieut. C.J. Lewin. The barrage of the enemy's trench was so good that the raiding party was able to advance close up to it; as soon as it lifted the Somerset's attacked, fought their way through the wire, and charged with bayonet. The enemy bolted. Nine men were seen to fall, nine others were left dead in the trench, and the rest ran into the barrage, leaving in our hands a prisoner belonging to a unit which had not been identified before on the Divisional front. Our casualties were three men slightly wounded. 2nd Lieutenant Lewin was awarded the Military Cross.
2nd Lieutenant C.J. Lewin was reported to have been seriously wounded later, but survived the War. Another younger brother served as a Flying Cadet in the Royal Air Force in 1918, but no other information about him is presently to hand.
Like so many families, the Radstock Schoolmaster, Charles John Lewin and his wife Sarah waited at home, anxious for news and fearing the delivery of a telegram which might announce the loss of a loved one. Their situation was worse than for many families. The telegram boy called three times. Sarah Lewin died in 1917.