This autumn marks the seventieth anniversary of the V2 rocket attack on Hazelhurst Road which killed 34 people. What does any of that have to do with the Summerstown182? Well, when the twelve ton weapon of devastation dropped out of the sky on a Sunday morning as people were opening their curtains and thinking about breakfast, it struck a savage blow into the Summerstown182 heartland, as assuredly as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to the war memorial. Six of the fifty houses destroyed were homes in which members of the 182 lived, at least two of their relatives were among the dead. The bomb even had the effrontery to pulverize one of them’s war medals. The gaps in the above map show where those houses should have been. Thirteen of the Summerstown182 lived on Hazelhurst Road and seven came from Foss Road, where in 1918 there were 92 men serving out of 137 dwellings. Frederick Neary was one of those registered to cast his vote for the first time in December 1918. He never made it to the polling booth and was killed in action on 11th August. There were two other soldiers resident at No22, William Holloway, Frederick’s brother-in-law and Lionel Wilmott. The house was in a pivotal position at the apex of the point where Hazelhurst and Foss Roads met to form one grand avenue leading to St Mary’s Church. I would estimate that it would have been situated roughly halfway between the twin towers of Chillingford and Hayes End House. In 1944 it was home to one year old Maureen Gates who fifty years later ordered replacements for those pulverised medals which belonged to her Grandfather, William Pitts. Frederick Neary was born in Bermondsey in January 1899, the son of Richard and Lenora. His father was born in Belgaum, not far from Goa in southern India in 1863. This was a time of great upheavel in a country still under British control. Following the revolt of 1857 there were 62,000 British troops in India the year he was born and Richard was the son of a Paymaster Sergeant in the 44th Foot Regiment. In 1901 the family were in Southwark but by 1911 they had moved to 31 Hazelhurst Road. This was an odd location, tucked around the back of the east side of the street fronting the Diprose Lodge almshouses. It stood roughly on the end of the block on the right of the above photo. The 1911 census record offers a fascinating glimpse into the family. Richard worked as a furniture removal man and porter. Frederick, then twelve was the second youngest of four children with a brother and two sisters. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Wendy Taylor living in Kent. She is the granddaughter of one of those sisters, Dora. Wendy very kindly shared a wonderful photograph of her Great Uncle. A picture that has been in the family for almost 95 years, an older sister’s cherished memory of a younger brother, a handsome nineteen year old, pristine in his uniform, forever frozen in time. Back in 1911 Dora was eighteen and working as a laundry maid, in the steam section. She married William Holloway in Wandsworth in 1917, their daughter Dorothy was Wendy’s mother. Dora died in 1965. Richard, a year younger than Dora was a servant in the Royal Automobile Club. A note in the St Mary’s parish magazine in 1916 indicates that he joined the 2nd Canadian Contingent. Richard survived the war but died aged 51 in 1945. Lillie aged ten, like Frederick was still at school and passed away in 1973. There was also a lodger at No31, so seven people were living in a four-room cottage. Frederick Neary enlisted in Kingston and ended up in the 8th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 11th August 1918. His burial place at St Amand, roughly half way between Arras and Amiens suggests that he died in one of the great battles of the final advance. The battle of Amiens which began on 8th August was the opening phase of an attack which became known as the Hundred Days Offensive and ultimately lead to the end of the First World War. Allied forces advanced over seven miles on that first day, the greatest territorial gain in a single day on the western front. The German General, Erich Ludendorff described it as ‘the black day of the German Army in this war’. Its unclear when Frederick actually arrived in France but he most certainly played his part in this response to the German Spring Offensive. Wendy told me that after seeing her Great Uncle’s name on the Summerstown182 website and contacting us she spoke to her Dad. He recalled that when her Grandad, William Holloway was coming off the front line, he bumped into Frederick who was going the other way. They had a chat and he was without doubt the last person in the family to see him alive.
Many thanks to Wendy Taylor for letting us use this photograph and providing information about her family. There will be a seventieth anniversary service remembering the victims of the Hazelhurst Road bombing at St Mary’s Church on 16th November at 1030am.