Sweet Sixteen

Ollivegrave

smallwood-road-football-1911-12

Bellew Street 1912

The youngest boy soldier around here in the First World War, indeed in the whole of Great Britain, was the famous Sidney Lewis from 53 Defoe Road. He was only twelve when he joined the East Surrey regiment in the summer of 1915 and a year later he fought for six weeks on the Somme before his Mum hauled him back to Tooting. On 9th September 1914, about a month after the start of the war, an eager young lad called Henry Clarence (Harry) Ollive from 18 Bellew Street joined the 2nd East Surreys in Kingston. He gave his date of birth as 18th January 1896 but he had in fact only just turned fifteen. It is estimated that over the course of the war 250,000 of these boy soldiers served in the British army. Harry died the following year, wounded in Belgium, he survived as far as St Bartholemew’s Military Hospital in Rochester. At 940pm on 1st May he succumbed to the shrapnel wounds to his right side and is buried in Fort Pitt Military Cemetery in the same town. Henry lived all his life at Bellew Street, he may even be one of the children in the above photograph taken at the end of the road, licking a lollipop from Aslett’s sweet shop, he would have been about eleven then. Sidney would have been eight, so maybe he’s one of the little ones with his hand in a bag of mintballs.

1920px-Sargent,_John_Singer_(RA)_-_Gassed_-_Google_Art_ProjectOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe youngest boy soldier around here in the First World War, indeed in the whole of Great Britain, was the famous Sidney Lewis from 53 Defoe Road. He was only twelve when he joined the East Surrey regiment in the summer of 1915 and a year later he fought for six weeks on the Somme before his Mum hauled him back to Tooting. On 9th September 1914, about a month after the start of the war, an eager young lad called Henry Clarence (Harry) Ollive from 18 Bellew Street joined the 2nd East Surreys in Kingston. He gave his date of birth as 18th January 1896 but he had in fact only just turned fifteen. It is estimated that over the course of the war 250,000 of these boy soldiers served in the British army. Harry died the following year, wounded in Belgium, he survived as far as St Bartholemew’s Military Hospital in Rochester. At 940pm on 1st May he succumbed to the shrapnel wounds to his right side and is buried in Fort Pitt Military Cemetery in the same town. Henry lived all his life at Bellew Street, he may even be one of the children in this photograph taken at the end of the road, licking a lollipop from Aslett’s sweet shop, he would have been about eleven then. Sidney would have been eight, so maybe he’s one of the little ones with his hand in a bag of mintballs. Harry’s parents Henry and Edith were married at Holy Trinity Church but had moved to Bellew Street by the time he was born in 1899. They had six children who survived, two died as infants. His father had progressed from a labourer to a scaffolder. Henry was posted to Flanders on 24th March 1915 joining the regiment at Dickebusch, south of Ypres. Just a month before this, Henry Senior also joined up with the Royal Engineers. Curiously he listed all his other children but didn’t mention Henry, perhaps to preserve the fact that he was under-age. The 2nd East Surreys became embroiled in what was known as the Second Battle of Ypres, essentially a struggle to get control of the strategic Flemish town. Photos of its shattered skeletal ruins are symbolic of the destruction and annihilation of the First World War. At its centre now stands the enormous Menin Gate memorial on which are written the 54,000 names of those with no known grave. A lad from Burmester Road, not much younger than Sid or Henry is off to Ypres on a school trip at the end of the month and has been tasked with getting photos of the twelve Summerstown182 names on the Menin Gate. The dreadful fighting in which Harry was involved saw the Germans use poison gas on the western front for the first time. It drifted towards the trenches in a yellowish-green cloud and smelt of pineapple and pepper. To repell the gas, cotton pads soaked in urine held over the face apparently worked a treat. When the Imperial War Museum re-opens, go into the gallery and gaze, preferably alone, at the immense painting by John Singer Sargent called ‘Gassed’. Just try to imagine. The 2nd Battalion East Surrey War Diary records from near Zonnebeke, that on 25th April ‘at 5am enemy opened fire with shrapnel which continued until 9am when trenches were heavily bombarded. The fumes from the shells again affected men and in some cases rendered them unconscious. Casualties to noon, four dead and eighteen wounded.’ Later that day the Germans attacked and over the next two days there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting as the two sides battled to take control of the trenches. In those two days, there were over three hundred casualties and of the 1,000 men of 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment who went up the line in 1915, only 200 survived in just five days of action. Somewhere in the midst of this madness was the teenager from Bellew Street. His sixteenth birthday was on April 17th and a few weeks later he was dead. Harry’s loss was reported quite promptly in the parish magazine though Reverend Robinson uncharacteristically mispelt his name ‘With deep regret we have to announce that Harry Oliver of the East Surrey Regiment has died from wounds received in the battle of Hill 60, in the hospital at Chatham’. I suspect also that he has also confused Hill 60, this was the scene of some heroic fighting by the 1st East Surreys around the same time. In any case, one hundred summers on from the start of the First World War, we are proud to remember the three youngest members of the Summerstown182, all just sweet sixteen; Henry Ollive, Percy Newman and Horatio Nelson Smith.

smallwood-road-football-season-1911-12-results

UPDATE (June 2016) Local sporting historian Kevin Kelly who has been such a great help to this project has a vast collection of programmes and material relating to school events in the borough of Wandsworth. Amongst these he  found a pamphlet containing a report on the Smallwood Road School football team of 1911-12 who were local ‘Junior Champions’. They are described as ‘perhaps the best team we have ever had – it was well-balanced and clever. Every boy knew the work he had to do and did it to the best of his ability.’ In the team photograph, back row, third from right is an ‘H Ollive’ picked out for a special mention as being one of three of the team chosen to represent the borough. Henry’s name is listed in the Smallwood Road School ‘Roll of Honour’ booklet produced in 1916. He is in the company of five other Summerstown182 including the schoolkeeper, Francis Halliday. The headmaster noted is Mr W. S. Tope who appears alongside Henry in the football team photo from just four years earlier.

old-smalls

The photograph of Henry Ollive’s grave was kindly taken by Simon Dornan.

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