Army Reserve Signallers from Bristol have been helping to uncover some gems of military history at the city’s historic Arnos Vale Cemetery.
Taking time out from their normal training routine, they cleared a ‘jungle’ of greenery and roots that over a number of years has hidden graves.
In three hours, reservists from two squadrons of 39 Signal Regiment at Horfield TA Centre – 57 (City & County of Bristol) Squadron and 93 (North Somerset Yeomanry) Support Squadron – opened up a large area immediately behind the large First World War Memorial.
They also tended some of the 300 or more war graves that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains at Arnos Vale.
As Major Andy Morris, Officer Commanding, 93 (North Somerset Yeomanry) Squadron, explained, the Signallers’ initiative was in part inspired by a recent visit his Reservists made to Great War battlefields in Ypres.
But the Squadron also boasts a proud link with Arnos Vale because in a quiet corner of the cemetery is the grave of Sergeant Major James Henry Kelly, a North Somerset Yeomanry veteran with a very special claim to fame.
Kelly, who died aged 55 in 1887, was one of the survivors of the 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade, the British cavalry assault in the Crimea War against Russian forces that was immortalised in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Major Morris, a former Regular Army Officer who is now managing director of a Bristol-based commercial cleaning company, said: “This was an opportunity for us to make a contribution to the community. At the same time it proved a useful exercise for us in helping to build unit cohesion and team work – and the guys really enjoyed themselves.”
Revealing some of Bristol’s history after many years also proved a fascinating experience. Among graves exposed was that of Chief Petty Officer W T J Humpage, of HMS New Zealand, who died shortly after the end of the First World War on 29 December 1918, aged 29.
It includes the inscription: “We have whacked the Huns.”
Arnos Vale Cemetery is attempting to raise £500,000 by June 2016 to benefit from pound-to-pound matching from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The Army Reserve, formerly the Territorial Army, is to receive £1.8bn investment in better training and better equipment as part of a plan to expand to 30,000 trained reservists by 2018.
Enhanced conditions for reservists include the introduction of paid annual leave and pension entitlements during training and operations, plus better access to defence health services and training. Employers will be given £500 per month per reservist when mobilised, in addition to existing help such as with the cost of advertising for replacements.
39 Signal Regiment is keen to attract new recruits. For more information call 01985 223720 or to find out about opportunities in the TA visit www.army.mod.uk/join/20237.aspx.