Downes, Villiers Chernocke

Second son of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Villiers Somerville Downs, J.P and Catherine Downes of Aspley House, Aspley Guise, Bedfordshire, and one of three Wykehamist brothers, another of whom, Lieutenant Archer Chernocke Downes (A, 1906-1911), Cheshire Regiment, died of wounds on November 20th 1914 (see individual entry). Another brother, Edward Chernocke Downes (A 1900-1902) died in the College Sanatorium and is commemorated by a plaque in Cloisters. Villiers Downes came to Winchester from the Reverend E.F. Miller’s preparatory school at Woburn Sands, and in 1909 went to Trinity College, Oxford; he studied later at the Agricultural College, Cirencester.

When war broke out he held a commission in the Special Reserve and was ordered to France with the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment.  On one occasion he was taken prisoner but managed to escape. During his time in France he was instrumental in saving at least two, and possibly three, Maxim guns. On 12th October 1914 the Battalion was ordered to occupy Givenchy-les-la-Bassee, which they achieved without much trouble, but were subjected to a heavy bombardment the following day. The war diary says “Practically every house damaged and neighbourhood of church continually shelled.” Eventually they retired about 300 yards with the loss of 7 officers and 140 other ranks. It is probable that Downes was injured in the day’s fighting and fell into enemy hands since wounded officers and men were recovered when Givenchy was re-captured on 16th. The War Diary of the 1st Bedfordshires of 16th October records that apart from a couple of snipers, the enemy had evacuated Givenchy and the town retaken by the Bedfordshires who recovered a number of wounded officers and men, most of whom had been given rough first aid by the enemy.  Downes, it must be assumed, was one of these officers.   He was sent to No 1 Clearing Hospital at St Omer. On 17th October his mother received a telegram informing her that he had been wounded, to which she replied asking for details, although the War Office had no further particulars. Downes died of his injuries on 18th October 1914 and his mother informed the following day. On 15th December the War Office returned his personal effects comprising: One tin hat box; One leather suitcase; One long canvas bag containing sword scabbard, with a note saying that “It is regretted that the sword cannot be traced”. It is likely that this sword, which had belonged to his father, was taken by the enemy at the time he was wounded.

A month later his mother was informed of the death in action of her youngest son, Archer Chernocke, at Neuve Eglise, near Bailleul.

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Downes
  • Forenames or initials: Villiers Chernocke
  • House: A
  • Years in School: 1905-1909
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Bedfordshire Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 5th March 1891
  • Date of Death: 18th October 1914
  • How Died: Died of wounds
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer D2
  • Decoration: NA