First World War howitzer at Sterte

In a previous blog on Poole First World War trophies there was mention of a howitzer which reputedly had links to Dorset men and for a time was in Sterte near Holes Bay. A chance conversation with another researcher has led to more information coming to light and a Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project outlines the howitzer’s remarkable history and its links to Poole and Dorset.

The Mayor of Poole, Sir G.A. Dolby, announced in September 1919 that a British 12in howitzer heavy gun which had been used by Dorset men had arrived in Poole ‘at no cost to the Council’. A decision now had to be made over where to put it with £100 having been donated to help with its transfer.

It was decided to locate the howitzer in Sterte by the side of Holes Bay – probably because it could only be moved on rails and the site was close to the railway sidings. Local residents and the newspaper expressed dismay that it was still in a railway siding in April 1920 even though the concrete base had been finished three months earlier. Finally, it was announced in June that a team from the Royal Garrison Artillery, Weymouth would transfer the gun to the concrete base next to van Raalte Lodge, Sterte. The newspaper article hoped there would be a service of dedication as ‘it is Poole’s solitary war memorial’. A week later it was in place. By October there were calls for railings to be put round it because children were playing on the howitzer as it ‘provided unusual scope for fun’.

 It was not uncommon after the end of the war for ‘war trophies’ to be given to towns and cities, however, they were not always welcomed. Dorchester residents forced the council to remove theirs from the street and put it in a yard. Residents in Lynton went further – they threw theirs down a cliff. Some people wanted to forget the war and a ‘trophy’ was a continuing reminder while, in contrast, others wanted one as a reminder of what had happened. Early in 1921 there were still mixed feelings over the Poole gun even though it was British. Some wanted to throw it into Holes Bay while one councillor suggested it should be blown up. Others felt that with a few improvements and a suitable plaque it would be a fitting memorial to the Poole men who had served in the war.

The gun was a British 12in BL Siege Howitzer and had links not only to Poole but to Upton House. And, remarkably, in the Poole Museum store is the nameplate for the gun which was also known as ‘Alpha’. The gun was:

  1. The first 12in howitzer made in Great Britain. A 12in howitzer was a huge gun which ran on railway lines that were curved so that the gun could point in different directions as it had no ability to traverse.
  2. Taken to France by the 52nd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery which was the first battery in the First World War to be formed from the Dorset Royal Garrison Artillery for service overseas.
  3. Fired more rounds than any other British 12in howitzer. It fired its first round on the 13th January 1916 at Beuvry.
  4. Commanded by Captain [later Major] J.J. Llewellin of Upton House from August 16th 1915 to August 1st

Captain John Jestyn (Jay) Llewellin was William Llewellin’s son from his first marriage. Jay Llewellin was at Upton House when war was declared. He kept a diary of his experiences which ranged from having their horse inspected at St Peter’s Finger and then being purchased by the Government (August 6th 1914) to, after joining the Dorset Royal Garrison Artillery at Nothe Fort, physical training at 6.45 am followed by parade, marching and rifle exercises (October 12th 1914). Llewellin went to France with the 52nd Siege Battery in December 1915. There were two howitzers, ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’, in the Siege Battery and Llewellin was in charge of the former. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 and promoted to Major at the relatively young age of 24. He returned with the battery to England in July 1919.

William Llewellin thought that having the howitzer in Poole would be a good memorial to those who had served and while the War Office was agreeable they expected him to pay for it which he was not too keen on. Eventually, the War Office agreed to donate it and the howitzer was placed in Sterte until it was scrapped during the Second World War. Both of William’s sons survived the First World War and he had a set of gates erected at the Upton House walled garden on which there is a plaque ‘in thankfulness to God for safe return’.

Upton House Gates (Poole History Centre)

Upton House Gates (Poole History Centre)

Llewellin Plaque on Gates (Poole History Centre)

Llewellin Plaque on Gates (Poole History Centre)

Local men who served in the 52nd Siege Battery included Gunner Samuel E. Bodger of Bournemouth Road (18/08/15 to 05/05/19), Gunner James W. Brown of Old Wareham Road (16/08/15 to 16/06/19) and Wheeler/Gunner Frank Yeatman of Darby’s Corner (16/08/15 to 25/02/19).

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