FRAGMENTS of a priest’s robe found in the ruins of a French cathedral during the First World War will feature in a special service on North Wiltshire to mark the start of the conflict that cost the lives of a million British Empire servicemen.

Parts of the robe were stitched into a banner that has hung in St Leonard’s Church at Minety for decades above memorials to villagers who died in both world wars.

The robe- a chasuble worn by priests to celebrate Holy Communion – was discovered in a German dugout at Cambrai by a man from Minety. It was thought to come from the cathedral.

Prompted by a memory from his home village he picked it up and later brought it back. It was incorporated into the banner which will play a central role in a joint commemoration including the villages of Ashley, Charlton, Crudwell, Hankerton and Oaksey.

"We hope a young person from Minety can be found to carry the banner,” said Rev Richard Maslen, who will take the service on August 10 at Oaksey.

"It will be a poignant reminder of the Great War, and the involvement of people from our own villages, not just in the forces, but in every home and family. We hope many will come to mark the anniversary of an event which touched the lives of everyone."

The fragment of cloth shows embroidered chains which are traditionally associated with St Leonard, a mediaeval French abbot who is Patron Saint of prisoners. He is pictured, with his chains in one of the Minety church stained glass windows.

Ninety one men from the parish served in World War, including Great Western Railway worker Tom Canter who served in the 8th Royal Berkshires and died in 1915, a casualty of the Battle of Loos. He was one of almost 60,000 – 20,000 of whom have no known grave.

The service is at 10am in Oaksey church where there will be an exhibition of memorabilia from the home front as well as the war itself. Anyone with mementoes they can lend is asked to call Col Nick Mangnall on 01666 577982 or email or Rev Maslen on 01666 840387.