Frank Champion, of last week’s story, worked for Thomas Hector, basket maker of Willow House, East Lyng. In May 1896, he married the boss’s daughter, 19 year old Beatrice Anne. By 1901 he was already an employer in the wicker chair business and the couple had two children, Albert, age 2, and Elsie, 1. In about 1906 they moved back to the river bank in Stanmoor to the building known then (as now), as Stanmoor Cottage. By 1911, Albert had another sister, Margery, age 4. This is Albert as a youngster.
And then the war came. We don’t know when he joined up, but Private Albert J Champion, 7th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was killed in action on 6th August 1917, leaving one more Stoke family to grieve for a life cut short so early.
Two years before, another Stoke family had suffered a double loss. Not only did Joseph and Mary Miller lose their son Herbert, who died of wounds on active service in France. They were still grieving for their daughter Annie, who had died in February, aged 12.
And, in July 1916, it was reported in the Taunton Courier, that Howard Champion of the 7th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, had been killed by a shell at Ypres on 9th June. Born in Stoke, he was the youngest son of Henry and Margaret Champion.
In the village itself, apart from the occasional devastating news, life continued more or less as normal, but the sidings that had been used for wicker furniture were now filled with wagons waiting to take willow to the cities. Baskets were supplied to the Pigeon Flying Service and chairs for the Office of Works, but even more important was the supply of willow to the large city basketmakers, producing a whole range of goods, from shell cases to medical hampers. This load, from Garland's yard, is on its way to Athelney Station.
Following the Military Service Act of 1916, which brought in conscription, much time was spent convincing the local tribunal that certain individuals were vital to local industry and the war effort. A George Pocock was granted exemption on the grounds that he was the only competent boatman employed by the Drainage Board in an area covering 30,000 acres. Exemption was also granted to Herbert Hembrow who looked after Edmund Boobyer’s withy boiler. It was argued that 22 women employees were dependent on his work and they were involved in supplying government orders. This was backed up by letters from the Office of Works.