The Champs-Elysées

blackcatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Burmester Road’ trips off the tongue rather nicely, its distinctive grandiose moniker, like a town out of a Victorian novel. It is a place apart and its own very special world. And as if to reflect its distinctive L-shape, which suddenly reveals the splendour of the magnificent Anglo-American Laundry, in a nod to the magicians and showmen who have lived on it, every so often it whips off its black cape to reveal another secret or startling fact. It even had a disappearing house, No75, though that was down to the Luftwaffe rather than any conjuring trick performed by Harry Leat who lived at No26. There are many cats and they always seem to give me a knowing look. Approached via a belisha-beacon festooned zebra-crossing, its southern entrance has Burmester House on one side, Kwik-Fit on the other. The former was once the site of the elusive Althorp Lodge, the headquarters of pedestrian impressario, Bob Sadler. The gateway to the glories of Garratt Green, Burmester Road is the Summerstown Champs-Elysées and most appropriately it was very likely named after an ancient empire-bestriding general. My money is on Captain Henry Garden Burmester ‘killed by mutineers’ at Lucknow in 1857. Then again, the National Portrait Gallery has a striking painting of the dashing Lieutenant-Colonel Arnold Edward Burmester of the 59th Foot. Either way, this road has a presence and many stories which still haven’t been told. About half-way up on the right hand side coming from Garratt Lane is a unique stretch of houses that suffered great sadness in the First World War. The Meikle brothers were at No59 and next door was John Davis at No61. Their front doors stand side-by-side and its easy to see how these lads would have been in and out of each others houses when they were growing up. One of five children, John was the son of a Royal Marine pensioner working as a door porter. There were three younger Meikle brothers; Albert John and Edwin and a sister called Ethel. Thomas Meikle Senior was a brass moulder, a profession that he followed his Scottish father into. By 1911 Thomas Junior, aged 17 was an apprentice in the same trade. 15 year old Andrew was working as an errand boy at a motorworks. Next door, John Frederick Davis aged 13 was still at school. Twenty years after the war, Edwin still lived at the address with his mother Elizabeth and the Davis family were still next door. Albert Meikle seemingly lived in the area until the late sixties at 3a Franche Court Road and I’m told another family member Alan may still be in the locality. The Meikle boys joined up together at Wandsworth and have consecutive service numbers, 13887 (Andrew) and 13888 (Thomas). They must have literally approached the recruiting sergeant one after the other. They went to France on 15th July 1915 and probably there transferred to the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. Their first action was at Pietre, a diversionary action supporting the Battle of Loos. In 1916 they fought at the Somme, capturing La Boisselle and being involved in the attacks on High Wood and Pozieres Ridge. Andrew was killed on 5th March 1916 and just four months later his brother Thomas perished on the Somme. He is one of the 72,195 names on the massive Thiepval Memorial. The Gloucesters War Diary indicates that in early March they were billeted in Riez-Bailleul and Andrew may have succumbed to earlier wounds or been killed by a shell or a sniper. On 30th July they were involved in an attack at Bazentin-le-petit, near High Wood. Eight officers and 160 men were killed in this action and Thomas Meikle was one of them. Undeterred by what had happened to his pals-next-door, John Davis joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1917. The absent voters list of 1918 shows that John Senior had also rejoined his old regiment as a Colour Sergeant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry at Portsmouth. In the first weeks of the war he was part of the landing at Ostend to help defend Antwerp. One can only imagine how this heroic event would have impressed the teenage boys back home, bristling to get into a uniform. His son is also on the list, but sadly he never got to cast his vote. John Davis was serving with the Welsh Fusiliers when he was killed on 11th September 1918 aged 21. He is buried at Sailly-Labourse, a village near Bethune. One door further down at No63 was the son of a ventriloquist, Francis Henry Ireson-Woods who was in the Middlesex Regiment. A later resident of this house died in Kenya at the hands of the Mau Mau. There were 41 servicemen from Burmester Road on the 1918 list including the five members of the Kingham family at No47. To complete the picture and possibly a clue to the overwhelming feline presence on this street, at No20 was Mrs Roberts, the cat lady. She boarded cats and had cages all over the house including the bedroom and the garden. I’m very grateful to Ted Lay, resident of this road for forty years for providing so much of the information here. Incredibly it is thirty years since he lived there and for his extraordinary powers of memory, I nominate him Emperor of Burmester and look forward to guiding him down it on one of our forthcoming walks.

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