Umbrella Hill

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UmbrellaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGaza mapAllenby

It took some time to connect James Luke Tugwell to Summerstown. The eldest son of bricklayer William Tugwell and his wife Rachel, he was born on 14th June 1886 in Kingswood, near Tadworth, tucked between the Surrey Hills, just inside the M25 orbital, south of London. In 1911 the family were living in Fern Cottages, Ferndale Road, Banstead. Five of the eight children in the household were adults and still living at home, so it must have been quite a squeeze. At twenty four, James was the eldest and working as a labourer. He had four brothers and three sisters, two of these Ellen and Caroline were domestic servants. James’ service record notes that he lived in Sutton and certainly leaving the nest and moving there would have brought him closer to Summerstown and a meeting with Lilian Hake. Along with five other happy couples, James and Lilian were married on 4th April 1915 at St Mary’s Church. She was the eldest of six children of the evocatively-named Abraham Hake of 21 Headworth Road who was a house painter. In 1911 Lily was working as an ironer in one of the local laundries. James is listed on his marriage certificate as a gas worker. Whether he enlisted voluntarily or was conscripted, he joined the army at Kingston and ended up serving with the 7th Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). The absent voters list of 1918 shows that there were 46 serving soldiers from Headworth Road and that Abraham was a Corporal in the Army Sevice Corps and his older son William were serving with the East Surreys. James’ service would take him to the Middle East and the fight against the forces of the Turkish Empire. Just eighteen months after walking down the aisle in St Mary’s, James Luke Tugwell, the man with the biblical name was killed in action in the Holy Land and is buried in Gaza. Of all the quiet peaceful places that some of these soldiers and sailors lie at rest, Gaza War Cemetery stands out as a place still fraught with danger to this very day. Whilst all is quiet on the western front and the fields of Flanders, the bombs still occasionally rain down on Gaza. James Tugwell’s date of death on 2nd November 1917 marks him down as a casualty of the Third Battle of Gaza. The key western point of the Turkish defensive line, two previous assaults on Gaza City earlier that year had ended in failure. Crucially this time ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and Field Marshal Edmund Allenby were on board. Allenby attacked Beersheba on 31st October with a force of 40,000 men and the next day turned his attention onto Gaza. By 6th the Turks were in retreat. The seizure of Gaza and Beersheba opened the way for Allenby to give British Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George his ‘Christmas present’ of Jerusalem. Mindful of the sensitivities involved, on 11th December Allenby entered the city through the Jaffa Gate, very respectfully on foot rather than horseback. Just a few months later as the Turks fought to get it back, two other Summerstown lads, Horace Woodley and Walter Tappin would also lose their lives. Three of the Summerstown182, one in an english regiment, one in a scottish one and one in a welsh regiment, lie far from home in middle east graves. They were fighting to protect British interests being threatened by the Turkish Empire; the Suez Canal, the Persian oilfields and the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. Trying to find a little more about what the Cameronians were doing in Gaza, the date of 2nd November 1917 seemed to point towards an action at a spot on the high ground just south of the city named Umbrella Hill. A newspaper cutting preserved in the archive of the South Lanarkshire Museum confirms this. The language is feisty stuff. Headlined ‘The storming of Umbrella Hill: Irresistable dash of the Cameronians’ it outlines a heroic night attack in which the hill was taken in half an hour ‘with many of the Turks accounted for with bomb and bayonet’. Typically the bad news is buried in the last sentence ‘Although it had suffered little in the first advance, the 7th battalion reported a total loss of seven officers and more than one hundred others’. One of those others was more than likely James Luke Tugwell. Quite by chance I was cycling back from Hyde Park in the summer and glanced up at a blue plaque in Wetherby Gardens, South Kensington. It was the grand home where Edmund Allenby spent the last ten years of his life. There’s no hope of one of those at 21 Headworth Road. After the floods in May 1968 the residents had to vacate and it disappeared under the Burtop Road Estate in 1970.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/18/war-graves-gaza-city

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AG (Headworth1968-2)GSMany thanks to Alan Gardner for this photograph.

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