28 July 2017
From the good red earth of Herefordshire to the mud and blood of Passchendaele and the third (yes Third) Battle of Ypres. It was in that dreadful place, a hundred years ago in 1917, that Reuben Powell was gravely wounded in action, and died two days later on July 31. He was 23 years old.
Reuben was an unmarried labourer working on a farm set between the Golden Valley and the Black Mountains of Herefordshire. The names alone tell you it’s special. Hereford, Abergavenny and Hay are all just 13 miles distant. Reuben and his brother Arthur joined a Welsh regiment at Brecon. Arthur survived the Great War and came home. His descendants continue to farm in the same glorious border country.
It is difficult to put individual faces to these brave young men. They seem to have been swallowed up in the great maw that was World War I. To their loved ones at home, of course, they were sons, brothers, husbands, lovers. They were far from faceless, these precious individuals who sacrificed everything, in Reuben’s case his life, to defeat the enemy and to defend the country.
The three names of Passchendaele, Ypres and the Somme symbolise for most of us the horror of WWI.There were 310,000 British casualties at the third battle of Ypres and Passchendaele; the name of the name of the small village and surrounding ridge five miles north east. Reuben Powell was just one of the fallen. The Germans lost some 266,000, making this one of the costliest and most controversial battles of the war.
One of thousands, but not forgotten. A hundred years after his death there will be a Vigil Service to honour Reuben and his comrades. The service will be held in surroundings familiar to him – in countryside that he knew intimately.
There is a plaque (at right) for him in St Margaret’s Church, Newton, where it was moved in 2010 from its original home in the Methodist Old Chapel. This was closed, and sold as a private dwelling, and the family decided to relocate the plaque to the church where it can be seen by parishioners and visitors alike.
No doubt many of these will gather next Monday evening, on the exact anniversary of Reuben’s death to remember him and the other brave young men who never came home.
Requiescat in pace.