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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Parish Records




War Memorials



War Memorials can record stories of great sacrifice, selflessness and heroism - and occasionally, the unexpected. 


The entries on this memorial are grouped so that the dead of the Senior Service - the Royal Navy - appear at the beginning. Of these, the first name is that of WILLIAM JOHN HEWITT.  His name is remembered here, apart from the others,  because Naval Service Records are now freely available for all to read. This is his story:


William John Hewitt was born in Morthoe, North Devon, 6 October 1867. In the January of 1883, he joined the Royal Navy and, as his record shows, worked his way up through the Navy's ranking system from Boy 2nd Class to Acting Chief Petty Officer. In 1905, his 22-year contract with the Royal Navy came to an end. He was paid off at Devonport, awarded a Naval pension. He immediately joined the Royal Naval Reserve, probably thinking, like most who volunteered, that his services would never be required.


With a Good Conduct medal to show, William Hewitt would not have found it difficult to get work and he came to Newton St. Cyres with his wife and family as the village postmaster. As the years went by, he became a central figure in village life and as events will show, the village took him into their hearts.


William had a son - William John Robert Hewitt - born 19 December 1896. On 28 April 1913, the young William enlisted in the Navy, having previously been working as a farm labourer. As 2956 Boy 2nd Class, he was sent to HMS Impregnable, the Royal Navy Training establishment at Plymouth at the start of a 12-year contract.  Seven weeks later, on 16 June 1913, his record records that his father paid £10 to buy him out of this contract with immediately effect and take him back home to Newton St. Cyres. No reference is made on the document of the reason why this occurred; the lad took no part as a soldier or a sailor in the Great War when it came.


At the outbreak of War in August 1914, William John Hewitt (the father) contacted the Authorities at Devonport, asking that he should return to the active roll.  He was sent to HMS Vivid, a ship on which he had served previously. But things had changed for William. He was now aged 47 and carried with him the long term results of contacting a deadly disease which was the scourge of the Royal Navy at this time and which, in its final stages, reaches the brain. He clearly tried to do  his level best - his final report describes his conduct as "Very Good" - but after a medical examination on 20 September 1915, William (senior) was immediately invalided out of the Navy and his previous status as a pensioner restored with effect from that date. 


He came home to Newton St. Cyres where, in the Spring of 1917, he died aged 50. 


Did the village believe that he died of wounds or what was then commonly called "shell shock"? Or did they show great compassion when they included him on their memorial, thinking of him as a man who, in spite of everything, had done his best to serve his country not only in its hour of need but for the greater part of his life? 


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