Meyrick (later spelling Merrick) Hugh McConnel was born on 6 November 1884 at Brynmawr, Festiniog, Merionethshire, Wales.
His parents were William Houldsworth and Florence Emma Georgina McConnel (née Banister).
He was the eldest of five children: Merrick Hugh, Muriel Gwenda, Eryl, George Malcolm and Douglas (twins).
In the 1901 Winchester (St Thomas) Census Merrick was aged 16 years and a pupil at Winchester College. In the 1911 Census for Westside Woolwich (Barracks), he was aged 26 years and a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery.
All his life Merrick was devoted to music; he was a good violinist and as a boy possessed a beautiful voice.
Merrick’s grandfather established the Aberdovy Slate Company and constructed a narrow-gauge railway to connect the quarry to Tywyn, the nearest point at which the slate could be transferred to the port of Aberdyfi (Aberdovey). In the 1891 Census Merrick’s father is recorded as ‘Slate mining manager and director and secretary of the Talyllyn Railway Company’. This railway is the basis of what is now known as the Tallylyn narrow-gauge railway, a popular tourist attraction in west Wales.
Merrick’s parents purchased Heath End House sometime after 1901. Heath End House was situated between Heath End Road and Bishopswood Lane. In 1906 the adjoining parcel of land ‘Home Close’ was also purchased. It was on this land that, in 1920, in memory of son Merrick, William set up Heath End Village Rooms Limited and the first village hall was built. William Houldsworth McConnel remained at the house until his death in 1943; his wife pre-deceased him in 1925. The house was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the Sheridan Crescent estate.
Sadly two of Merrick’s siblings also died young. Fourteen year old George was tragically killed in an accident involving an electric generator at Heath End House in 1908. Eryl died in 1913 aged 23 years. Both are buried at St Peter’s Church, Tadley. Merrick’s remaining brother, Douglas, followed him into the Royal Field Artillery in 1912 and gained a DSO in World War I.
Merrick married Mary Catherine Belfield in June 1912. To our knowledge they had no children. At the time of his death Mary was living at Holmer Green, Amersham, Buckinghamshire.
The McConnel family burial plot is in St Peter’s churchyard, Tadley.
After leaving Winchester College in 1902 he went to Woolwich Artillery Barracks, where he maintained his reputation as an athlete, and in 1904 obtained his commission in the Royal Artillery. For the next eight years he served in England and acted for some time as ADC to Major-General H E Belfield, General Officer Commanding at Woolwich, whose elder daughter he married in 1912. He was with his battery in India when war broke out. In October 1914 he was ordered to France to command an ammunition column and, except for two brief periods of ill-health, served there until his death,
Merrick was serving as a major in the B Battery, 295th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery at the time of his death. During the Third Battle of Ypres, while observing for his battery in an exposed position on Thursday 13 September 1917, he was struck by a shell and died in hospital the following day.
Merrick died on Friday 14 September 1917, aged 32.
He is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery [XIX B 3], Belgium. The inscription on his headstone reads: ‘Merrick. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest’.
He is also remembered on Tadley and Baughurst War Memorials, the War Memorial at Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire, and in Winchester College War Cloister.
Merrick was awarded the Victory medal, the British War medal and 1914 Star. These would have been sent to his wife.
He was mentioned twice in dispatches (31 December 1915 and 14 December 1917).