Regiment: 1st Battalion, The South Wales Borderers
Service No: 8111
Date & place of birth: 2nd qtr. 1886 in Bepton, Sussex
Date & place of death: 26 September 1914 (aged 28) at Vendresse-Beaulne, France
James Aylwin was one two brothers killed during the war – in all, there are three pairs of brothers on the Bepton War Memorial. James was killed in the later stages of a battle which had claimed the lives of two men from West Lavington less than two weeks earlier.
Frederick James Aylwin (known to his family as James), was the middle son of Albert Aylwin (1847–1902) and his wife Mary Grace née Chitty (1854–1944). Albert had been born at Didling and married Mary in Bepton church in 1876. The couple had five children, with James being the middle child. The family lived at Bepton Common, where Albert was a labourer on the local farms.
By 1901, James had moved out of the family home and was living at Easebourne, where he was employed by William Page as an assistant in the village shop. The following year, James’s father died and was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard at Bepton.
James later moved to Ewhurst, about 25 miles north-east of Bepton, just across the county border in Surrey where he worked as a barman in the Bulls Head pub, run by Eliza Mannell.
While living at Ewhurst, James was a reserve soldier with the 1st Battalion South Wales Borderers, based at Bordon, near Aldershot.
Following the declaration of war in early August 1914, James re-joined his regiment and on 13 August the battalion landed at Le Havre in northern France as part of Third Brigade of the 1st Division of the British Expeditionary Force.
The B.E.F. were initially deployed to meet the German advance at Mons in Belgium before being pushed back to the River Marne, east of Paris. In mid-September, the British and French counter-attacked in an attempt to take the high ground to the north of the River Aisne between Reims and Laon. (On 14 September, George Sageman and Henry Tree from West Lavington, who were serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment, were killed in the battle near Vendresse-Beaulne.)
On 16 September, the South Wales Borderers attacked the enemy on the Chemin des Dames which ran along the ridge. During this attack the battalion lost 150 men, but the attack enabled the British troops to secure the bridge over the river.
Death & commemoration
After ten days in the trenches, on 26 September the battalion came under fire on the Mont Faucon spur, above Vendresse-Beaulne, from a far larger German force. A diary kept by one of the officers from the battalion described this as “The most ghastly day of my life and yet one of the proudest because my Regiment did its job and held on against heavy odds.” The enemy broke through the British lines with hand to hand fighting in the quarries on the hill, but the battalion held their lines. The diary records that 4 officers and 86 men were killed, including James Aylwin.
James’s body was never recovered and he is one of 3,700 men commemorated on the memorial at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, including 122 South Wales Borderers. He is also commemorated on the war memorial at Ewhurst, although his name is incorrectly recorded as Alwyn.
Subsequent family history and other family members
James’s younger brother, Lawrence, served with the Royal Artillery and died in Salonika, on 14 November 1918.
Mary, James and Lawrence’s mother, died on 5 March 1944 and is buried alongside her husband in Bepton churchyard.