Among the research for a history book I am currently writing, I happened upon an online news article from November 2011, which outlined a campaign to raise funds to restore the neglected last resting place of a Great War pilot, and Military Cross and Légion d’Honneur recipient from Wrexham.
‘EX-POLICEMAN Wayne Cronin-Woyday is man on a mission. [sic].
He wants to secure the funds to restore the gravestone of a Wrexham war hero, a pioneer fighter pilot killed in the first world war in a tragic accident. Captain Arthur Henry Leslie Soames, 27, who won the Military Cross and the French Légion d’Honneur, died in 1915.
He was carrying out a ground test experiment at the Central Flying School and although behind a tree 90 yards away, a bomb he was working with exploded and he was hit by debris.
He was among the first pilots in raids on the Western Front in 1914 and it was stated that the impact of his death was such that the King wrote to his commanding officer asking about the circumstances of the incident.
Capt Soames’ gravestone is in the graveyard at All Saints’ Church, Gresford but the 93-year-old stone is laying down and is almost covered with grass.
“It is a pity really. he was a very brave man and being local his grave should, if possible, be restored, ” said Mr Cronin-Woydat.
“I’m not blaming anyone for the condition of the grave. Councils do get a small amount of money for the upkeep of official war graves, but Capt Soames was buried in a private family grave which does not qualify.
“Like so many families of that time, members have passed away and there is no one to see to them so I am looking for help in raising the money needed for the restoration.”
Capt Soames served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and then the 3rd Kings Own Hussars before being transferred to 4 Squadron Royal Flying Corp which was posted to France before being posted to the Central Flying School.
The Soames family lived at Bryn Estyn Hall in Rhosnesni and Capt Soames’ father, Frederic, ran the Brewery in Wrexham, which eventually became Border Breweries, which was later taken over by Marstons,
The Soames family has links to lord Baden Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, and distant links to Winston Churchill.
The links to the Baden Powell family led to it paying for the original Scout hut in Rhosnesni.
Mr Cronin-Woydat lives with his wife, Joannah, in Gresford.
His grandparents were from Poland and Ukraine and both were taken by the Nazis during the Second World War and ended up in Italy. Due to Stalin’s purges, it was unsafe to return to their homelands so they came to this country.
Mr Cronin-Woydat joined North Wales Police in 1994, and before his retirement, served in Wrexham, Gresford and Gwersyllt.’
This article was of interest to me for two reasons; the first being that the Great War pilot was Captain Arthur Henry Leslie Soames, the eldest son of Frederic W. Soames, the Wrexham Brewer and businessman, and the man who built Bryn Estyn Hall in 1904, and secondly, the restored grave may have been able to offer additional information for the book.
A few days ago, I went to Gresford to view the grave, and as the following photographs show, the restoration appeal had either not been a great success, or Mr Cronin-Woyday, had lost interest, or was in some way, unable to undertake the task.
The grave itself was fairly easy to locate, but was badly neglected, the whole area was choked with ivy, weeds, grass and layers of accumulated dirt and rubbish, which quite obviously had not had any attention for what appeared to be decades.
As I was there anyway, I found the head groundsman, who was working on the other side of the churchyard, and sought permission to tidy it up a bit, as it was a shame to see the last resting place of not only a highly decorated war hero, but also a pioneer airman, who was one of the very first pilots to fly over occupied France at the start of the Great War, in such a state of neglect.
Something of a local historian himself, the groundsman was aware of the significance of the Soames name in Wrexham, but knew little about the grave other than it hadn’t, like so many others in the churchyard, been tended for many years, and nobody to his knowledge had shown any interest in it’s upkeep.
As it was a nice day, blazingly hot in fact, I spent the next few hours removing as much of the overgrowth as possible, with the intention of returning the next day with some tools, to clear away everything on and around the grave, and reveal the final resting place of Captain Arthur H.L. Soames MC, in it’s entirety.
After only a few minutes work, it soon became obvious, as I began to reveal more and more of the plot, that Captain Arthur H.L. Soames, had been buried alongside his Grandparents, Arthur and Anna Amelia Soames [Nee; Gilstrap].
After almost an hours work, and bearing in mind that I was only using my hands the clear the plot, from beneath a particularly dense accumulation of well established ivy and grass, another marble slab began to appear, this time on the left hand side of the main grave, which was in a far better state of preservation, due to it being completely buried under about four inches of earth and plant debris.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
FREDERICK WILLIAM SOAMES
OF BRYN ESTYN, WREXHAM
BORN JUNE 2nd 1857
DIED MARCH 8th 1926
JULIA MARY, HIS WIFE
BORN APRIL 13th 1858
DIED MARCH 24th 1940
ALSO THEIR BELOVED
Capt R.W.F. T.D.
So what had first appeared to be, and was reported in the Wrexham Leader as being the grave of Captain Arthur Soames, following only a couple of hours work on my part, turned out to be not only the family burial plot of one of the most influential (and wealthy) industrialists in Wrexham’s history, but had been hidden from public view for the last 36 years!
I returned the next day as planned, and despite it pouring with rain most of the afternoon, managed to clear the remainder of the plot, revealing every aspect and detail, and to estimate what would be required to complete the restoration.
Rather surprisingly, despite the grave now being 126 years old, and being badly neglected for over three decades – very little work is now required to restore it to it’s former condition.
Which I hope to complete over the next few days.
One side of the decorative edging needs realigning and resetting on a new brick foundation, a weed discouraging membrane will be laid under a layer of ornamental stone chips, a small amount of tidying up to finish, and it should hopefully, with regular maintenance, assume its rightful status as a site of historical interest and remembrance for the town and people of Wrexham.
*All Images © 2018 www.outlawjimmy.com*