A SPECIAL service took place on December 1 in the crypt of Hereford Cathedral to honour the life of Second Lieutenant Basil Webb (1898-1917), a Welsh Guard, killed in action on December 1, 1917 at the age of 19, during the battle of Cambrai.

In the action 57 men, including all but one of the officers were killed by machine gun barrage as they crested a ridge, moving towards Gonnelieu. Basil Webb was buried in Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery.

The Cathedral Crypt was chosen for the centenary commemoration because the altar at the east end, with its reredos, was installed in 1924 as a memorial to Second Lieutenant Webb, commissioned by his father Sir Henry Webb, 1st baronet, a liberal MP who during the First World War raised and commanded the 13th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and the 14th Battalion Worcestershire regiment. Basil was his only son.

Sir Henry engaged the architectural firm of Caroe and the famous Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John RA to design and make the memorial. The reredos is in the form of a triptych with two plain arcades and a central panel lettered underneath 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo et in Terra Pax – Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace'. The central panel contains three figures – a Roman soldier on the left (a portrait of Basil Webb himself) with St Michael in the centre, and St Ethelbert on the right (holding a model of Hereford Cathedral).

The sculptor was known to the family, as Basil Webb had been the model when Goscombe John produced the bronze sculpture 'The Boy Scout' in 1910.

At the age of 12, Basil Webb composed the Refectory Prayer for Chester Cathedral, which remains in use today.

The service was preceded by a talk about Basil Webb and the commemorative sculpture by the Dean of Hereford, the Very Reverend Michael Tavinor. The Eucharist was celebrated on the altar itself as an act of remembrance for this young life, cut short by war.

Commenting on the significance of the event, Dean Tavinor said: 'Many of our churches have stories like this – when we think of the First World War, we think of those huge cemeteries with their lines of identical graves – but each gravestone has a poignant story and our cathedral remembrance reminds us that behind each story is a message of sacrifice – and a message to make us work the more earnestly for peace and justice in our world today.'

The crypt with its altar and memorial reredos can be viewed during normal cathedral opening hours, Monday – Saturday from around 9.15am until after Evensong at around 6pm, and for a more limited period on Sundays. Entrance is free and all are welcome.