Graves unearth some fascinating war tales

The headstone of Second World War soldier Frances Philip Sumner, from Chorley, was knocked over by a tree
The headstone of Second World War soldier Frances Philip Sumner, from Chorley, was knocked over by a tree

Fascinating stories of a Second World War soldier and a worker from Chorley’s Royal Ordnance Factory have been uncovered.

Historian Stuart Clewlow is studying memorials and burials in Chorley and has come across the graves of two men from the town.

“While locating the military graves, I found that one headstone had been knocked flat by the fallen limb of a tree,” he says.

“It transpired that the grave marker belonged to an official war grave and following correspondence with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the headstone has been re-erected.”

He found that Frances Philip Sumner was the son of William and Mary Sumner, and died on May 17, 1945, aged 36.

He had volunteered for the RAF in July 1940 and was posted to serve in India in February 1942.

He was admitted to Hospital at Dehra Dun in November 1943 and was reported seriously ill in February 1944.

“Francis must have been deemed so gravely ill because he was repatriated home in September 1944 and was cared for at hospital in Sheffield before being transferred to Childwall in Liverpool in January 1945 where he later died,” Mr Clewlow added.

Before the war Francis was employed by Messrs. T.H. Kevill & Co Solicitors.

He was also a member of St Mary’s RC Church and Club, Windsor Tennis Club, Chorley Rugby Club and also the social clubs of Leyland Motors.

Another interesting burial was that of Peter Devine and his story is timely as last week marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Royal Ordnance Factory in Euxton.

Mr Clewlow says: “Patrick was living in Preston and was a Ganger employed in construction at the Euxton munitions site.

“On October 13, 1938, he and a colleague were working on a night shift with the aid of two moveable arc lamps.

“For some reason, Patrick was seen grasping a section of the equipment which caused him to be electrocuted.

“An electrician working nearby ran over and by pulling the insulated area of cable, managed to tug the lamp away from him.

“Efforts were made to resuscitate him but he was taken to Chorley Hospital where he was pronounced dead at the age of 32.

“His grave marker was erected by his fellow workmen.”

Mr Clewlow started conducting some research into Chorley Cemetery and some of those who lie therein a few years ago, and in 2011 he published a directory of all the military memorials and military burials around the borough of Chorley to raise funds for the Euxton War Memorial Group.

Now, the father-of-three has turned his attentions to studying the memorials and burials within the town of Chorley itself.

He says: “While compiling the original directory, I came to realise the town would require its own specific volume.

“I was able to publish the directory for the outlying villages, but Chorley has required longer and more in-depth study.”

He added: “The research is ongoing but there has already been some interesting discoveries.”