William Noel Hodgson MC

Memorial: Thornbury - St Mary's Church

Regiment: Devonshire Regiment

Medals: British War Medal, Military Cross, Next of Kin Memorial Plaque 1914 - 1921, Victory Medal

Rank and number: Lieutenant

Parents: The Right Rev. Bishop Henry B. Hodgson D.D. and Penelope Hodgson

Home address: The Vicarage, Thornbury, Bristol

Date of birth: 03/01/1893

Place of birth: Thornbury, Bristol

Date of death: 01/07/1916

Buried/Commemorated at: Devonshire Cemetery (Ref. A. 3.), Mametz; Berwick Parish Church; Durham School Memorial Chapel; Christ Church College, Oxford; Regimental Memorial, Exeter Cathedral; Royal Gallery, House of Lords

Age: 23

Further information:

Bronze Tablet and Wooden Memorial Board

William Noel Hodgson, known as Bill or Noel, was born in Thornbury, the youngest child of the Vicar, Henry Hodgson. The family moved to Berwick-on-Tweed when Noel was four. He won a scholarship to Durham School, and was an accomplished student and talented sportsman. In 1911 Noel earned a scholarship to read Classics at Christ Church, Oxford, where he wrote poetry extolling nature. He joined the Officers’ Training Corps. In 1913 Noel was awarded a first in Classical Moderations before going on to read Greats. His father visited Thornbury occasionally and in 1914 he became the first Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich

At the outbreak of war, Noel was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 9th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment and was soon nicknamed ‘Smiler’. Near Hulluch during the Battle of Loos in September 1915, Noel, with two or three other young officers and a hundred men, held a captured trench for 36 hours under fire without reinforcements or food. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Military Cross for gallant and distinguished service in action

Early in 1916 Noel was promoted to Lieutenant, the 9th Devons were in the front line at Fricourt in February. Noel continued to compose poems but also wrote insightful articles about life in the Army. Both were published under his pseudonym Edward Melbourne in the New Witness, the Spectator, the Yorkshire Post, and other newspapers

The Battalion moved to the Mametz sector in April. After a brief period of leave, Noel returned to his regiment, which was preparing for the Somme Offensive. Perhaps contemplating the upcoming battle, he wrote his most famous poem, ‘Before Action’. The verses read like a prayer, beseeching God to give him strength. It was published on 29th June

On July 1st at 7.27 a.m. the 9th Devons advanced towards Mansel Copse and no man’s land. They were immediately exposed to heavy machine gun fire, which increased as they came into view of the German front lines ahead.17 officers and 463 other ranks were killed, wounded or missing, mostly cut down in the first half hour

Noel was Killed in Action, hit by bullets in the leg and neck. He was buried 50 yards from where he fell, in a section of Blood Alley, a British trench at Mansel Copse, with 160 of his comrades. Now known as the Devonshire Cemetery, it contains a Memorial to the 9th Devons. A stone replacement of an earlier wooden cross reads ‘The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still’

His Commanding Officer wrote, ‘Always cheerful & full of spirits & at the same time thorough and reliable in his work. It is difficult to say who will miss him most in the Regiment, the officers or the men, he was so popular with all.’ Soon after his death, Noel’s work was published under his real name in Verse and Prose in Peace and War

By kind permission, this information is based on the following source(s):

Thornbury Roots Website. Thornbury and District Museum Research Group. Forces War Records and the CWGC