Captain 1/5th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry
Arthur Oswald Major was born in Bridgwater in April 1875. His parents were Henry James Major, a brick and tile manufacturer employing 120 men and 100 boys and Julia Mary Holmes. In 1881 they lived a little way down from and across the road from the Horse and Jockey Inn on the edge of St Matthew's Field. Arthur had two brothers, one older and one younger and an older sister. The family employed a nurse, a housemaid, a cook and a gardener. In 1891 the family lived in 9 Northfields and Arthur, aged 15, now had two more younger brothers. By 1901 Arthur had joined his father's company as a clerk and still lived at home. By 1911 he had worked his way up to cashier.
The Battle of El-Gib recorded on his memorial is now known as simply part of General Allenby's wider Battle for Jerusalem in November 1917. On 21st November, Allenby's 75th Division had been held up by hostile artillery fire. Orders were given for the Wiltshire Regiment and the Somerset Light Infantry to attack and capture the fortified villages of El Jib and Bir Nebala. On 22nd November, they moved forward with a squadron of cavalry, the Somersets at the front of the attack under the command of Captain Major. A mistake on the first day held up the attack and the men had to endure a cold night camping in their warm-weather tropical kit. The following morning they attacked El Jib, and immediately came under severe shrapnel and high explosive fire, without the benefit of their own counter-artillery. The Somersets nevertheless moved forward under intense machine gun fire. Captain Oswald Major, who went forward with his company, was first wounded and then killed outright by shellfire. Small groups of his men reached the village, but all perished. His battalion lost 69 killed and over 400 wounded in the unsuccessful attack. Henry George Redding, also of Bridgwater, was also killed in the attack.
Arthur was 42 when he died and there is no record of him having married. He was laid to rest on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem, and this memorial records how for him to have been buried in such a holy place was a consolation for the family.
On 5 December 1917 the Bridgwater Mercury reported 'Bridgwater Officer killed in Palestine: Captain Arthur Oswald Major of the Somerset Light Infantry was killed in action on November 23rd. Profound sympathy is felt for his father Mr Henry Major J.P. Captain Major was 42 years of age and was a most efficient officer. He joined the forces as a private and steadily worked his way through the ranks. He served for three years before being transferred to Egypt. He attended Dr Morgan's School and he was very proficient at sport, playing hockey for the county. He had many skills and was a sidesman at St. Mary's Church, also taking bible classes. Many tributes have been paid to him.
Two years later his name was added to the new memorial erected to his father, Wembdon Road Cemetery number 204. The inscription reads: In Loving Memory of Henry James Major who died December 7th 1919 aged 91 years. Also Julia Mary Major wife of the above who passed peacefully to her rest Dec 24th 1934 aged 88 years. My peace I give unto you. Also Winifred Major 14th October 1963 aged 91 years. Capt. A. Oswald Major 1/5th P.A. Somerset Inf. the beloved son of Henry J & Julia M. Major who died in action in the Battle of El-Gib Nov. 23rd Palestine 1917 aged 42 years, laid to rest on Mount of Olives.
Bridgwater Mercury 5 December 1917
BRIDGWATER OFFICER KILLED IN PALESTINE
Keen regret prevailed in Bridgwater on Wednesday when it became know that Mr Henry Major, J.P., of Northfields, had received a telegram late the previous night from the Record Office, Exeter, conveying the painful intelligence that his son, Captain Arthur Oswald Major, of the Somerset Light Infantry was killed in action in Palestine on November 23rd.
Captain Major was so well known in Bridgwater, where before going on active service at the outbreak of war he was very prominent in many useful spheres of activity in the town, that the news that he had made the great sacrifice in his country's cause created a feeling of profound sympathy, and deep sorrow is expressed on all sides with Mr and Mrs Major and other members of the family in their great bereavement.
The late Captain Major who was 42 years of age and a nephew of Mr Charles Major, J.P. of Wembdon, had long been connected with matters of a military character, and the years of training he had received had qualified him to become a most efficient officer. For many years he was associated with the Volunteer movement in Bridgwater, following the example of his father, who was an old volunteer, and one who was actively connected with the introduction of the movement in Bridgwater. The deceased joined the volunteers as a private, and by devotion of duty won his way through all grades until he rose to the rank of captain.
When the Territorial Force came into existence he retained the same rank. He always took the keenest interest in the force, and was highly popular with the men of his company, a great many of whom were serving under him when he fell in the severe fighting in which the Somerset's recently took part.
The deceased officer quickly volunteered for service abroad when the war broke out, and in the Autumn of that eventful year he went to India with the local Territorials. It may be added that the obligation was conferred upon him of raising a company for India, and he was very successful in securing the full number of men from Bridgwater, Burnham, Highbridge and Langport.
During the three years the regiment remained in India the deceased saw a good deal of active service on the frontier. The regiment was transferred to Egypt some months ago, during part of which period the deceased held the position of acting-major. That the deceased was a popular and highly capable officer there cannot be the least doubt, and we may assume with every confidence that his death is deplored by his brother officers and the men under him, and by none more so than by those men from Bridgwater and District who had known him for many years and served with him in peace and in war.
The late Capt. Major, after receiving private tuition, completed his education at Dr Morgan's School, and in after years he renewed connection with the School by being an active member of the association of Old Morganians. He entered upon a commercial career at the age of 16 years, when he became connected with the firm of Messrs. H. J. and C. Major Ltd. Before the outbreak of war, he was cashier of the firm and assisted his father in the general superintendence of the works. With the employees of the firm he was always very popular, and they were looking forward to the time when he would return to be again with them with that genial and courteous manner which he possessed.
For years before proceeding on active service the deceased had lead a very useful life in many directions. A fine athlete, he was a keen exponent of many forms of sport as a cricketer he regularly rendered very useful service to the Bridgwater Club, but he was more in his element when participating in the more strenuous game of Association Football. He was an exceedingly fine player, and appeared in the Somerset County team and on many occasions, being a clever goalkeeper.
Hockey also claimed his attention and in this game also he was a player of much ability. He was one of the county hockey team and twice played in international trial matches.
In addition to sport, the deceased had a taste for other things. With him carving was a hobby, and as a student at the Art & Technical schools he had won prizes for his skill as a carver. Archaeology had also an interest for him, and it may be recalled that he, in conjunction with the Rev. W.M.K. Warren, a former curate of St Mary's, unearthed the remains of the ancient Horsey chapel.
In politics he supported the Conservative cause, and the Primrose League was an association in which he took an active interest.
The deceased was a devoted Churchman, and was a zealous worker in many ways in connection with St Mary's church, of which he was a sidesman, whilst in connection with the Sunday school he accomplished work of much usefulness. The ringers of St Mary's have lost in Captain Major a valuable colleague. He was their leader, and to honour his memory they rang a muffled peal on Wednesday evening. His activities in parochial matters also led him, with the help of the Rev. W. M. K. Warren, to establish the St Mary's Boys' Club and he showed great interest in training the lads in gymnastics.
These are some of the main incidents of an exceedingly useful career that has now unhappily, been ended on the field of battle. The death of Capt. Major will be mourned by many for a long while.
He has left behind him a noble example of useful work and uprightness of character; Oswald Major was indeed a good English gentleman.
The vicar of St Mary's (the Rev. J. J. Langham) made feeling reference to the death of Captain Major in the course of his sermon on Sunday morning's service. He said: By the fall of Oswald Major, fighting for his King and country, our church and congregation have lost a splendid example of Christian manhood. Of simple faith and unpretentious life, he feared not to give expression to the beliefs that he had, while his love of many sports, in which he ever 'played the game' like an Englishman, gave him an influence over young men which he always exercised to lead the in the right direction. In whatever he did, whether taking a bible-class, of ringing one of our church bells, or as a sidesman of the church, his simple Christian faith was apparent. It was less what he said that spoke to those who were associated with him than what he was.
They were influenced by his character. It was so at home before the war began, and it was so, I am assured, with those who went out with him and followed him beyond the seas. For ourselves we had looked forward with great hope to his return, conscious what a pillar of strength he would have proved to the church in this place in the days to come.
But God has willed it otherwise, calling him to the higher service beyond. And we today, while grieving for our own loss, which is heavy indeed, have no grief for him, we can only thank God for the life and example and splendid death of Oswald Major.
At Monday's sitting of the borough magistrates, the Mayor (Mr F. G. Haggett) said he was sure everyone would desire him to express the great sympathy they had with one of their colleagues - Mr Henry Major - in the great loss he had sustained by the death of his son in fighting in defence of his King and country in Palestine. He was sure that at the time of life of Mr Major the loss he had sustained by this death in the family of a son who was respected and honoured would be felt by him vey keenly indeed.
The bench would be glad if the clerk would convey to Mr Major and family their sincere sympathy and condolence with them in the great loss they had sustained at this particular period - the Magistrates clerk (Mr C. E. Hagon) said he would write a letter as suggested, and he would like to express his personal regret at the loss which the country had sustained, as well as Mr Major in the death of Oswald Major. He was well known in the town and highly respected, and his loss was a very serious one. Personally he (Mr Hagon) regretted it very much.