Absent Voters

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I had never heard of an absent voters list until Marion produced one for Keble Street. Initiated because of the 1918 UK general election, it provides the name and address of all serving soldiers at that time, their service number, rank and regiment. The information was provided by next-of-kin. This was the first UK general election in which nearly all men aged 21 and women aged 30 and over could vote. Polling was held on 14 December 1918. There were 40 dwellings on Keble Street from which came 26 serving soldiers and sailors. The list told me that Fred Barnes at No7 had three brothers who were seemingly still standing. It also told me that it must have been produced from information gathered before October because Harold Glassett at No29 was still alive and hadn’t yet been crewed on the fateful G7 submarine. Lists from all the other streets in this area have allowed me to work out an estimate as to how many service personnel from around here participated in the war. Taking into account the area between Earlsfield Station and Tooting Broadway, I added them all up and it came to a staggering total of 3,175. Obviously the lists only contain the names of those eligible to vote, so a vast number of soldiers and sailors under the age of 21 are excluded. It also excludes those already dead and the sick and the wounded who might have been invalided home. Also missing would be a good few who simply slipped under the radar. My assumption, all things considered is that the headcount for each street could be increased by a third to give a truer reflection of the total figure. On that basis, my conclusion is that some 5,000 servicemen came from the streets within roughly three quarters of a mile radius of St Mary’s Church. The longest road in the area being studied is Garratt Lane, the total number of names for the stretch between  Nos 384 and 843  is 191. Tranmere Road is a bit out of the St Mary’s parish reach, but out of 170 houses, there were 132 soldiers and sailors listed. However the street that really blows the mind is Gilbey Road, near Tooting Broadway. Its got 99 doors and from behind those stepped 137 serving soldiers, sailors and airmen in 1918. That’s a proportionally far higher headcount than any other road in the area.


The key streets in the immediate Summerstown locality are Foss Road, from which 92 men served, Smallwood Road has 81, Summerstown has 55, Franche Court Road 43, Maskell Road 36. Burmester Road had five brothers on the absent voters list living at No47, the Kinghams; Frank, Percy, Frederick, Douglas and Gordon. Two in the army, two in the navy and one in the RAF. When I went round to take a photo there was a curious little arrangement of six carefully placed stones on top of a piece of cardboard in the front pathway. Was someone trying to tell me there were really six brothers? At 62 Waldron Road there were four Crooks; Thomas, Charles, George and Albert, also a Henry Crook at 62a. All were in the army. Being on the list was no guarantee of survival, apart from Harold Glassett, there are eleven other members of the Summerstown182 on the list, all of whom perished in the last six months of the war. There is a theory that distressed relatives, refusing to believe their family member might be dead, put their names on the list. Thus Willie Christopher Smith of 8 Wimbledon Road is registered to vote at an election in December 1918 when in fact he died on 31st July 1917. The generally accepted statistic is that if you served in the First World War, you had a ten percent chance of being killed. That means that in all likelihood, 500 of those 5,000 men never came home. We are getting to know a little about 182 of them.

Many thanks to Marion Gower for sourcing the absent voters lists for the streets of Summerstown, Earlsfield and the northern part of Tooting.


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