Gloucestershire Heritage Hub

Family History

Remembering some of Gloucestershire’s heroes

Many of our visitors in the Family History Centre are keen to find out more about people who were caught up in wars of the early 20th century.  Sometimes they’re looking for family members, often prompted by the discovery of a faded photo, postcards, a half-remembered story or some military souvenirs.  However sometimes their eye is caught just by a name on a war memorial so they start to investigate an intriguing individual or a whole community’s response to the war.

Over the years a lot of work has been done on Gloucestershire’s war memorials so here in the Family History Centre we have a large collection of transcripts compiled by our volunteers.  These have been supplemented by the series of books produced by individual local history societies and other groups which generally provide short biographies of the individual people.  Covering parishes from Abenhall to Yorkley this collection provides the perfect starting point, or inspiration, for research and should help you untangle the complexities of other records available on line.  Some really amazing and totally unexpected stories can be revealed - this is one of delights of investigating both people and places and encourages you when your research hits a brick wall. 

One example we’ve found recently was inspired by entries on the war memorial in Coates parish church commemorating two brothers: Lt Col Bernard Vann and Pte Harrison Vann.  Since Vann isn’t a common Gloucestershire surname we were encouraged to go a bit deeper down this particular rabbit hole in the hope of discovering more about their lives and how they were connected to this small Cotswold village.

What an astonishing story we found!  Bernard and Harrison Vann were the nephews of Rev Edward Simpson, the rector of Coates, and together with three other brothers had moved to the rectory after the death of their own father in 1906. 

Then the story becomes even more interesting.  Bernard Vann was the only Church of England priest to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions as a combatant - the story is that he was too impatient to wait to join the Chaplaincy Service in 1914 but enlisted as a private soldier then worked his way up through the ranks.  When he was killed in October 1918 his widow and posthumous baby son lived in Coates rectory.  Born in 1887, Bernard taught at Wellingborough School, and was also a professional footballer, playing for both Derby County and Northampton Town, as well as a keen hockey player.

Harrison (Harry) Vann was born in 1884 and might have been a professional soldier for a few years before he followed his younger brother Bernard to Jesus College ,Cambridge in 1909.  He too was a talented sportsman.  He joined up in 1914 and died during the battle of Loos in 1915.

The three other Vann brothers led exciting lives involving pre-revolutionary Russia, India and Canada.  Bernard’s own son served in the Navy during World War 2, eventually retiring to Kemble.  These are all other stories waiting to be uncovered!

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