Great War took away their father

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A little boy and his sister placed a beautiful wreath over a war memorial tablet at Wappenbury parish church in memory of their father who was killed on the Somme in 1918.

The Wappenbury ceremony took place just after the First World War during the unveiling of memorial tablet in the church.

The boy and girl were Richard and Violet, the children of Private Alexander Billington, who had been a groom at Wappenbury Hall before the war.

Richard’s daughter, Jill Wheeler of Eathorpe, has now researched her grandfather Alexander’s First World War story.

Alexander George Billington was born in Milverton in 1883. He married Lillie Wilson in 1909 and they had three children, Violet, Richard and Victor. They later moved to Wappenbury, where Alexander got a job as a groom at the hall.

When the war came he enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps and fought across the former Somme battlefields. He was killed there in March 1918, aged 36.

He has no known grave but is commemorated in the Pozieres British Cemetery in France, erected by the Imperial War Graves Commission to record the names of the fallen whose graves are not known.

Mrs Wheeler and her husband John visited the Pozieres Cemetery several years ago to see her grandfather’s name recorded.

The memorial there refers to the period of crisis in March and April 1918, when the Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields. Then in the succeeding period of four months an army was built up behind the new front which in August began the Advance to Victory.

Mrs Wheeler has a cutting from the Leamington Courier after the war which refers to the memorial in St John’s church Wappenbury. It reads: “A tablet erected in the parish church to the memory of local men who fell in the Great War was unveiled at a special service last Sunday.

“The Rev Collins (vicar)officiated and the church was filled to overflowing. Amongst the congregation were the relatives of the fallen and a strong contingent of ex-servicemen. The unveiling ceremony was performed by the Earl of Clonmell who, in a few well chosen remarks, paid a warm tribute to the services the fallen men had rendered their country. The Weston Training School band attended and led the service.

“After the Benediction had been pronounced the little son and daughter of Pt Billington placed a beautiful wreath over the tablet, and two boys from the training school sounded the Last Post.”

After the war the Billington family stayed on at Wappenbury and Lillie worked at the hall. Richard became a farmer and later owned the Woodhouse Hotel at Princethorpe.

Alexander Billington’s name is also recorded on the war memorial in Euston Place, Leamington.