The lions of Lelant

©Maxwell Adams 2003-2023
Copyright information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is reproduced with permission
Copyright information from Soldiers died in the Great War is reproduced with permission
Copyright information about William Thomas Martin from the Library and Archives Canada is reproduced with permission

Lelant in these records may refer to the old civil parish of Lelant which included surrounding countryside and Carbis Bay.

Lions led by donkeys: a comment on the British soldiers of the First World War and their leaders

I became interested in World War I because two of my grand-uncles, brothers of my maternal grandmother, were killed in it. Their remains being unfound or unidentified and there being no graves for them, they are commemorated only on the vast memorials to the vast dead of that war and in two photographs and an army cap badge. It was hard years later, when people who knew them were also dead, to establish the details of their short lives.

Memorials listing the dead were built in most villages and towns in Britain after World War I. The Lelant war memorial opposite the Badger has eight names of dead soldiers and a seaman and I have been trying to put together whatever bare details can now be had about them. Their names are: Ernest A FIRSTBROOK, William S GILBART, W Thomas MARTIN, Andreas NEILSEN, James E PHILLIPS, Albert H SEMMENS, Charles G STEER, and James M TREWHELLA. If anyone knows more about them, perhaps they would share that with us so that these men do not deteriorate into simply names. They should be known and remembered. Alas, the details of some of these eight beyond their names are scanty. Most of the information about military rank, service, and graves or commemoration, and about family and addresses comes from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and Soldiers died in the Great War.

This is what I have learned about them so far.

Ernest Albert FIRSTBROOK. He was born in 1886 at Lelant, the son of John and Elizabeth Firstbrook; John was a labourer and they lived in Station Hill, at that time called Quay Lane. Firstbrook was at West Cornwall Golf Club, Lelant, first as a caddy and later as the professional (West Cornwall Golf Club).

His war service began when he enlisted at Hayle as a private in January 1915. This was during a recruitment tour in the area by Sergeant JN Millett of Venayr, Lelant. Firstbrook joined, with ten others, the Sportsman's Battalion (St Ives Weekly Summary 21 September 1916). He was a bandsman and a stretcher bearer in the Royal Fusiliers Regiment (City of London), 24th Battalion (2nd Sportsman's), service number Corporal SPTS/2941 (CWGC).

Major General WG Walker wrote to him after he distinguished himself at Delville Wood: "Your commanding officer and brigade commander have informed me that you distinguished yourself by conspicuous bravery in the field on 29-30 July 1916. I have read their report, and although promotion and decorations cannot be given in every case, I should like you to know that your gallant action is recognised and how greatly it is appreciated" (St Ives Weekly Summary 21 September 1916). In fact, Firstbrook was awarded the Military Medal.

Military awards generally reflect not only the courage but the rank of the soldier and that in turn in 1914-1918 largely reflected their social class.

Firstbrook was killed in action on 13 November 1916, aged thirty, shot in the head while carrying a stretcher in the trenches. He left a widow and two children.

He is buried at Redan Ridge Cemetery No 1, Beaumont Hamel, France. Grave A12. His death was reported in the Cornishman 30 November 1916 and the St Ives Weekly Summary 30 November 1916.

William Stuart GILBART was born in 1894, the oldest son of Emily and William Bigglestone Gilbart. His father was a Lelant coal merchant. At the time of his death his parents lived in Church Road.

Gilbart was a second lieutenant in the 9th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. He died of wounds on 26 September 1916, aged twenty two in the Somme (CWGC, officers section of Soldiers died in the Great War).

He is buried in Heilly Station Cemetery, Somme, grave IV.G.32 (CWGC).

The St Ives Weekly Summary 6 January 1916 reported that he had become a second lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Regiment therefore, if that is so, presumably, like others, he changed regiments.

William Thomas MARTIN was born in 1889 in London. He was Private 645520 in 7th (1st BC) Battalion, Canadian Infantry (British Columbia Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force. He died of wounds on 27 April 1917 at the Number 1 Canadian Casualty Centre, probably having been injured during the battle of Vimy Ridge or the preparatory phase of the Battle of Arleaux (email from the archivist, Archives, British Columbia Regiment). He was aged twenty eight, and was buried in Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension, 11.J.32. He is commemorated on the grave of his wife, Annie, in the western cemetery at Lelant. The inscription reads: "killed in France on active service 1917."

He was the son of James and Mary Jane Martin of Lelant, husband of Annie MARTIN.

He had enlisted in the 158th Battalion of the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own), Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, in Vancouver on 19 April 1916, having already served in the DCOR active militia for eighteen months. He lived at the time of enlistment at 1331 Hornley Street, Vancouver,Canada; he was a teamster, and his father lived at 10 L(evin)gton Road, Teignmouth, Devon, England.

(Enlistment and personal details from his copyright Attestation Paper and reproduced with permission from the Library and Archives Canada, RG150, accession 1992-93/166, box 6001-39, "Martin, William Thomas, Regimental number 645520". Chris Uphill gave me some of the details of him and his family.

Andreas Henry NEILSON was born in 1884 at Lelant, the son of Mary Ann and Charles Hugh Neilson of Station Hill, then called Quay Lane, Lelant. His father was the ferryman at Lelant after 1880 and came from Norway. The surname is variously spelled in the records.

Neilson was Private M2/102949 in the Army Service Corps. He died on 9 October 1918 aged thirty four. His wife was Emily Neilson of 20 Newton Gardens, Ripon, Yorkshire (CWGC).

Neilson was the only one of the village war dead to be buried at Lelant. His distinctive war grave can be seen today in the northwest corner of the western cemetery.

As a youth Neilson became a fitter in a foundry, probably at Hayle.The Admissions register of Lelant National School in Church Road says that the address of Andreas Neilson, a parent, was Station Hill in March 1917 (CRO). It suggests he was previously at Cleckheaton, Yorkshire and says his daughters Isobel and Annie returned to Yorkshire. Subsequently the Neilsons lived in Church Road, Lelant.

The surname is found in various spellings in the records.

James Ellery PHILLIPS was Gunner 321649 in the 93rd Siege Battery, Cornwall Royal Garrison Artillery, and was killed in action on 1 June 1917 aged twenty. He went to France with his brother Dick in May 1916, having enlisted at St Ives. He was killed by a piece of shrapnel in his left breast. He is buried in Grave VII.D.21 at Vlamertinge Military Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium (CWGC).

His parents, James H and Mary Phillips, lived at in Carbis Bay, then part of Lelant parish. Phillips is commemorated on the grave of his parents in Lelant cemetery, and on the war memorials at Lelant and St Ives.

A letter from his brother Dick to their parents after Ellery's death was published in the St Ives Weekly Summary of 14 June 1917:

"For my sake, don't worry too much. They have taken us back from the line so we are quite all right for some time. I didn't get hurt in the least. Dear mother and father, whatever you do, do help me by not worrying too much, as I shall always be thinking about you."

And the letter from Eric Ruffell, Ellery's commanding officer, wrote to his parents was also published:

"He was a jolly, cheerful, and willing worker, a great favourite with us all, men and officers alike. We were heavily shelled that day and he was struck in the chest and killed outright, he suffered no pain at all. This I know as I myself picked him up a few seconds after...His brother is safe and well and has visited the grave."

Albert Henry SEMMENS was born 1892 in Gulval. In the 1901 census (National Archives) he is living in Ludgvan parish. At his death his wife Lottie Semmens in Barry. His parents were William Henry and Jane Semmens, then at Worvas Downs, Lelant (CWGC).

Semmens was Private 202175 in 1st/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment. He died on 24 October 1918 in Zinjan Hospital, Mesopotamia, aged twenty five years and eleven months (memorial notice in the Western Echo of St Ives, 23 October 1920). He was buried in Tehran War Cemetery, grave IV.A.13 (CWGC). He was formerly Private 60003 in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (Soldiers died in the Great War).

Charles Gordon STEER is the youngest of Lelant's war dead. He was born in 1899. He was the son of Charles Gordon and Ethel Kingwell Steer who lived in Lelant (CWGC). At the time of his death, his father was already dead.

He was killed around 24 March 1916 aged sixteen. He was an apprentice in SS Trewyn, a merchant navy ship. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Tower Hill Memorial, London (CWGC).

Steer had joined SS Trewyn on the 26 May 1915, aged fifteen and a half (Apprentice ledger of the Hain Steamship Company). The Trewyn was chartered to William H Muller and Company for a voyage from Algiers to Middlesbrough with iron ore (Charterage ledger of the Hain Steamship Company). It passed Gibraltar on 25 March 1916 and subsequently disappeared. A lifebuoy and other wreckage, but no survivors, were found on 1 April 1916.

James Matthew TREWHELLA was born 1893 or 1894 at Lelant.

He was Rifleman 1921 in 1st/8th Battalion, London Regiment (London and Irish Rifles) and was killed in action on 25 September 1915 aged twenty one. He has no known grave, which means that his remains were never found or never identified, and is commemorated on Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, panel 133 (CWGC). His death was noted in the St Ives Weekly Summary 6 January 1916.

He was the son of Matthew and Jane Trewhella of Trink Farm, in the old Lelant parish. Trewhella is also commemorated on the grave of his brother John and on another family grave in Lelant western cemetery.

There are six other soldiers who died in the war and who had links with Lelant but are not named on the village memorial. Some people were born and lived in different places and on which war memorial a man was commemorated seems to have been a family decision, a sense of where he belonged. Before 1934 Lelant parish included a large rural area much of which is now included in Ludgvan.

William HODGE was born in 1891 or 1892. At one time he lived in Lelant (Soldiers died in the Great War). The 1901 census (National Archives) records a William Hodge, aged nine, born at St Germans, the son of police constable William Hodge, the family living at Talland. The 1911 census records a William HODGE aged eighteen, a carpenter, born at Camborne living at Lelant with his police constable father and family. The police constable was at Lelant from 1907 to 1913.

He is named on the roll of honour of former pupils of Lelant National School (St Ives Weekly Summary 8 July 1915) but is not on the roll in St Uny's church.

I think he might be, but I am far from sure, the W Hodge who died in India on 24 November 1914 aged twenty two, Private 1023 (service number) in the 4th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. He was buried in Bareilly Cemetery (Plot M, grave 15) and is commemorated on face 16 of the Madras 1914-1918 war memorial (CWGC). W Hodge is commemorated on the war memorial outside Treslothan parish church.

Walter KESSELL was born in Lelant around 1894 (Soldiers died in the Great War), probably in Rose an Grouse, then part of Lelant parish. Later he lived in Ludgvan; and at the time of his death he is said to live in Lelant (Soldiers died in the Great War). His parents were Robert James and Annie Maria Kessell; his father worked on the railways.

He was Private 201623 in the 2nd/4th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. He died in India on 30 October 1918 and was buried in Delhi war cemetery, Grave 9.4.5 (CWGC).

Kessel is commemorated on the war memorial at Ludgvan.

Robert MANN was born around 1898 at Lelant (Soldiers died in the Great War). He later lived at Ludgvan. At the time of his death his residence was Penzance (Soldiers died in the Great War). His parents were William and Annie Mann of Cucurrian.

He was Private 28477 in 7th (Service) Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and died of wounds on 21 August 1917 aged twenty. He was buried in Canada Farm cemetery, Ieper, Belgium grave II.C.19 (CWGC).

He is commemorated on the war memorial at Ludgvan.

Richard Henry OSBORNE was born in 1885 and Soldiers died in the Great War gives his residence at death as Lelant. His parents were Richard Henry Osborne (a coast watcher) and Catherine Osborne of Kerrow, Zennor.

Osborne was Private 4535 of the 1st Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was a tin dresser, enlisted 3 March 1916, and served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders. He was killed in action on 15 August 1916 aged thirty one on the Somme while bomb-throwing. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thieval Memorial, Somme, pier and face 10A and 10D (CWGC, De Ruvigny's Roll of honour ).

Osborne is commemorated on the Zennor war memorial and on the grave of his father in Lelant western cemetery.

Samuel John Norman REED was born around 1891. He was Private 266897 in the 1st/1st Bucks Battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and died on 29 March 1917, aged twenty six. His grave is VI.D.26 at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt L'Abbe, France (CWGC). He is commemorated on the grave of his parents in the western cemetery at Lelant, on the war memorial in Hayle, and at St Elwyn's church in Hayle and the church's Sunday school.

Frederick William ROWE was born in Lelant parish and resident at Ludgvan (Soldiers died in the Great War). He was born in 1894. His parents were John and Louisa Rowe

He was Sapper 150705 of the Inland Water Transport, Royal Engineers who died on 11 July 1917 in Mesopotamia and was buried Basra war cemetery, Iraq, grave IV.J.15 (CWGC).

He is commemorated on the war memorial at Ludgvan.

There are other soldiers of interest.

John Polmeor TREVORROW is commemorated on his mother's grave in the southern burial ground at St Uny's, Lelant. He was private 54496 of the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and died aged nineteen on 21 March 1918 in France where he is commemorated on panels 64-67 of the Pozieres Memorial, Somme. He was born in St Ives.

Wilton Norman CONNELLAN, a native of Sydney, Australia, is commemorated on the grave of his grandparents, William and Eleanor MORLEY, in Lelant western cemetery.He was Private 7462, a signaller in the 9th Battalion, Australian Infantry, AIF, and died in France on 11 August 1918 aged twenty two. His parents were John Durt Connellan and Susan Connellan of Brisbane (CWGC, Lelant cemetery gravestone).

Kenneth Leslie HALLWARD is commemorated on his parents' grave in the eastern cemetery, Lelant. He was a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment and was killed in France on 28 May 1916. At that time his parents, lived at "Holly Mount", in Knotty Green, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. He is buried in grave II. E. 12 in Ecoivres military cemetery, Mont St Eloi, France. His parents were Arthur Wellesley and Caroline Sarah HALLWARD (CWGC). The gravestone gives his date of birth as 7 June 1890 and the date of his death as 26 May 1916.

Coulson Tregarthen COULSON born 1887; his parents, William and Susan CRAZE, lived at Lelant at his death on 8 September 1918. He was in the Royal Garrison Artillery, 546th Battery. His grave is viii A 17 at Arneke British Cemetery, France. He was awarded the Military Cross. Died of his wounds: in memoriam notice in Cornishman 9 September 1925.

Percival T MOYSE is described in Soldiers died in the Great War as born in Lelant. In fact he was born in Lezant and enlisted in Liskeard.

Edwin Charles MATTHEWS, born in Lelant about 1879. Died 9 May 1915 aged thirty six, Sapper 1938 with Royal Engineers, 17th Field Company. Son of late George and Mary MATTHEWS. CWGC says served in South African Campaign. Commemorated on Addenda Panel 57, Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. He may be Charles Matthews aged one in 1881 Lelant village census (National Archives).


Admission register of Lelant National School (SRA/LEL/2/1, Cornwall Record Office, Truro)

Apprentice ledger of the Hain Steamship Company (at St Ives Museum)

Archives of the British Columbia Regiment

Baptism register of St Uny's Church, Lelant (P 120/1, Cornwall Record Office, Truro)

Censuses: National Archives

Charterage ledger of the Hain Steamship Company (at St Ives Museum)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission ( uk)

Cornishman, Penzance

Gravestones in Lelant Cemetery

Library and Archives Canada (

O'Donoghue KJ and Appleyard HS (1986) Hain of St Ives World Ship Society

St Ives Weekly Summary

Soldiers died in the Great War, from the searchable CD Rom published by Naval and Military Press, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 5QE. Also published in eighty one volumes in 1921

West Cornwall Golf Club (information about Ernest Firstbrook used with the Club's permission)

Some of the information on Firstbrook was kindly given to me by Mr GW Whiteway of Carbis Bay


Letter from me published in St Ives Times and Echo 21 March 2003:

"I'd like warmly to thank those who, giving broadly the same information, have responded privately and publicly so helpfully to my request for information about Charles Gordon Steer and the Trewyn in my Times and Echo article on The lions of Lelant . Thank you (alphabetically) Mike Fowle, Jo Jefford whose father worked with the Hain/P&O company, Michael Kaufman, Ted Lever, and Brian Stevens. It is cheering and encouraging when people respond so generously.

Mike Fowle has also drawn my attention to an interesting discrepancy. No one knows what happened to the merchant ship Trewyn; it disappeared with no survivors and the presumption is that it sank, or was sunk, as wreckage was seen on 1 April 1916. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission puts Steer's death on 24 March 1916 but the O'Donoghue and Appleyard book says the Trewyn was seen passing Gibraltar on 25 March.

Mr Lever has additionally told me that Ellery Phillips, commemorated on the Lelant war memorial, is commemorated on the St Ives one too. He also gave me some very useful information about the disposition of some of the DCLI soldiers in World War I.

Mr Kaufman took the trouble to write from Kent and also sent two splendid 'photographs' which will go to the public Cornwall Centre (what we used to call the Cornish Studies Library).

Arising out of the article, Ruth Gregory has given some interesting information about the family of Andreas Neilson and for that too I am thankful.

I shall add all the pieces of information to my article, duly acknowledged.

Perhaps I can take this chance to say that my common experience in local history has been that many people are keen freely to share their knowledge of the past of Lelant and I owe a vast debt to them and, more importantly, so do future generations who will be able read their reminiscences and accredited knowledge.

In a letter published in St Ives Times and Echo 14 March 2003, following publication of the original article, Brian Stevens gave this information:

* Charles G Steer. Aged 15, joined SS Trewyn on the 26 May 1915 (Apprentice ledger)

* SS Trewyn, 10 March 1916. Chartered to Wm H Muller and Co. Voyage, Algiers to Middlesbrough, England with iron ore (Charterage ledger).

In private correspondence with me, Ted Lever (Sycamore Cottage, Carbis Bay) said:

* Of the disappearance of the Trewyn: "Since German U boats were active in the Atlantic at that period of the war, it is most probable that she was torpedoed, sinking rapidly before boats could be lowered."

* The correct name for the place in Firstbrook's war is Delville Wood not Derville Wood.

* "A lot of 2/DCLI men were transferred into the Hampshires when they were serving in India. They then went on to the disastrous campaign in Mesopotamia. Hodge may have been one who stayed on in India, some of whom died of disease, malaria probably."

* James Ellery Phillips is also commemorated on the St Ives war memorial.

In private correspondence Jo Jefford, Mike Fowle, and Michael Kaufman pointed out the details on SS Trewyn in Hain of St Ives by KJ O'Donoghue and HS Appleyard, published by World Ship Society 1986, also mentioned in Brian Stevens's letter and now incorporated into The lions of Lelant.

The photographs sent by Michael Kaufman were of SS Trewyn and of a ceremony at Lelant war memorial, possibly the first ceremony there.

Men of Lelant parish who served in World War I and survived

Lelanters who died in World War II

Lelant war memorial