The name Stapleton is a familiar one in Devon and of course includes a large number of families. The family tree of the Winkleigh Stapletons is attached to this page. Three brothers, Alfred born in 1890, Albert 1892 and Charles 1897 all served in the war: they were the sons of Alfred Stapleton, an agricultural labourer born in Winkleigh in 1866, and his second wife, Elizabeth Alford. Their uncle Richard Stapleton also served. His military documents have survived and the story of his war is recorded on the Roll of Honour here. Documents also exist for Charles’ brother Albert: sadly he died in Winkleigh within a few weeks of joining the 6th Devons, and this account is documented on our Memorial Roll. Soon after his brother’s death Charles volunteered for the Army Service Corps, probably because of his experience with horses. Like Albert, Alfred served with the 6th Devons, the Territorial regiment which many of the young men of Winkleigh had joined before the war or as soon as war broke out. No documents have survived for Charles but his medal card gives us several clues of his service. 24 years old in 1914 he was a volunteer in Kitchener’s New Army, in fact following the appeal for the second five-hundred thousand to come forward. Charles’ army number is prefixed by ‘T.2’ which indicates a horse transport driver, Kitchener 2. The story of the New Army is added to this page.
Men serving in the Royal Army Service Corps (‘Royal’ was only added in 1918) are among the most difficult to research, so vast was the numbers of camps and depots in which they served in the Lines of Communication, the supply lines from port to front line, and the camps, stores, dumps, and workshops of the rear areas. At peak, the ASC numbered an incredible 10,547 officers and 315,334 men. In addition were tens of thousands of Indian, Egyptian, Chinese and other native labourers, carriers and stores men, under orders of the ASC. The ASC was organised into Companies, each fulfilling a specific role. Some were under orders of or attached to the Divisions of the army; the rest were under direct orders of the higher formations of Corps, Army or the GHQ of the army in each theatre of war. These comprised the Base Depots on the coast, the Horse Transport Companies, Mechanical Transport Companies (including Companies in Divisional Supply Columns, Ammunition Parks and Companies attached to the heavy artillery, Omnibus Companies, Motor Ambulance Convoys, Bridging and Pontoon units and Workshops), and finally the Army Remounts Service and the ASC Labour Companies.
Charles’ medal card records his arrival in France on 24th July 1915, which clearly establishes that he was part of the 19th (Western) Division. This Division was established by the Western Command in September 1914, as part of the Army Orders authorising Kitchener's Second New Army, K2. Early days were somewhat chaotic, the new volunteers having very few trained officers and NCOs to command them, no organised billets or equipment. The units of the Division initially concentrated in the Bulford area with the infantry being at Tidworth, Ludgershall and Grately. The battalions moved into billets for the winter, in Andover, Whitchurch, Basingstoke and Weston-super-Mare. In March 1915 all units concentrated near Tidworth, and here the Division was inspected by King George V on 23rd June 1915. Advanced parties left for France on 11th July and the main body crossed the English Channel 16th-21st July. Units initially moved to the point of assembly near St Omer. The ASC Companies of the ‘Divisional Train’ comprised the 154th, 155th, 156th, and 157th Companies of the Army Service Corps.
The Division served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, taking part in many of the significant actions: Charles would have seen the July 4th opening day of the Somme, and the subsequent battles of 1916, the capture of La Boiselle, High Wood, Pozieres Ridge, the Ancre Heights and the Ancre. In 1917 he would have witnessed the battle of the Messines Ridge and the horrors of Passchendaele. 1918 brought the retaking of the Somme, the battles of the Lys and the final advance into Picardy.
The Division was in Corps Reserve in billets near Bavay when the Armistice came into effect at 11am on 11th November 1918. By 26 November they had moved west to Naours. Demobilisation began in December 1918 and by 18th/19th March 1919 the Division had ceased to exist and Charles was back in Winkleigh. He was awarded the Star medal for his 1915 service in France, as well as the Victory and British medals. Very soon after his return, in the third quarter of 1919, Charles married Mary Berry, the daughter of Ben Berry the Hollacombe thatcher. For reasons we do not know, they were married in Devonport: Mary’s brother, Ben had served in the Royal Navy (see the Roll of Honour) and there might have been a connection here. The Berry family had suffered their own tragedy. Mary’s elder brother William who had originally enlisted at the start of the war into the Royal Military Mounted Police, died of wounds on 4th October 1918 after posting into the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers towards the end of the war. His story is recorded with his name on the Memorial Cross.
No families gave more to their country than the Stapletons and the Berrys of Winkleigh. Winkleigh was proud of them, and is proud of them still.