Is the lych-gate of St Thomas, Shropshire’s least-known war memorial? Craven Arms & District History Group uncovered a love story; one which overcame family and class prejudice. The war memorial at Halford is an enduring monument not just to 18 men of the parish, 8 of them, like her husband, with railway connections, but to a generous and inspiring woman.

“To the Glory of God and in loving memory of my husband William George Biggs
Lives of the First World WarComplete the story on Lives
and of the other dear lads who together with him were members of this choir and congregation.” The reference to “in loving memory of my husband” is very personal. It is a pointer to Hilda Mary Biggs who was responsible for the memorial.

Hilda Mary Baxter, born in 1876, was the daughter of the Rev Henry Fleming Baxter and his wife Anna Maria. He was the curate [later vicar] of Halford and Sibdon Carwood. The family was wealthy and gentry.

This young woman, from the world of Jane Austen, married a railway stoker. There was talk that ‘Her family were not too keen on the match but love won the day.’ Hilda, aged 25, helped her father with his duties. The railways were the major employer in Craven Arms. A terrace – built by the railway for 28 families – was the main source of Halford parishioners. In No 21 Newington Terrace lived a guard, Richard Biggs, and his family.

So Hilda Baxter met William Biggs, who had followed his father, and was a stoker. The couple married in 1908 at All Saints, Ealing; her father having retired there. If they felt she was marrying beneath her, they were at least reconciled to the match.

With the First World War Hilda’s faith was vindicated. The army too, thought highly of William. He was made a Regimental Sergeant Major with a railway operating company of the Royal Engineers and awarded the Meritorious Service Medal [a silver medal for distinguished service or gallantry].  RSM Biggs served with 32nd railway operating company in Salonika. Their job was to serve the front line. The chief enemy in Europe’s most malarial region, however, was not the Bulgarians and Austrians, but the mosquito. In 1917 over 63,000 men were admitted to hospital.

RSM Biggs died of malaria October 31st 1918 a few days before the Armistice.
Hilda died aged 85 in 1962, leaving £1m in today’s terms.

Craven Arms and District History Group

The history group was founded to give family history advice, enable property searches, explore archaeology and other related topics. The area covered includes Craven Arms, Clungunford, Culmington, Diddlebury, Halford, Hopesay, Munslow, Onibury, Sibdon Carwood, Stokesay and Wistanstow.
A drop-in session, dispensing help and advice is held every Friday 10.00am – 1.00pm at CasCA [Community arts sports Craven Arms] Newington Way, Craven Arms, SY7 9PS