Happy Valley

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADelville_Wood_Battle_July_1916Airfix commandosIts exactly one year since the story about the tribute to William Clay appeared in the Wandsworth Guardian and triggered the momentum which kick-started this project. The research began with the three Sunday School teachers whose names are on the main memorial but also commemorated separately on a white marble and alabaster tablet. Reverend Roger Ryan famously retrieved this from a heap of compost in the vicarage garden shortly after taking charge of the parish. It is now in the process of being cleaned up and restored. How extraordinary and perfectly apt that this week we should make contact with Alison Milton, related to not just one of the Sunday School Three, William Mace, but two other members of the Summerstown182. It has been a momentous few days and we now have photographs of William Mace and Thomas Milton, the RAF mechanic whom we have cheekily christened ‘The Balloon Man’. To know a little bit about these men, to have written something about them and now suddenly learn a great deal more and see what they look like, is a chastening experience. All of us involved in the project feel particularly blessed this week. A little bit of very precious treasure has been unearthed. It all started when Christine and Marion got to work on a soldier called James Chenery whose Commonwealth War Graves Commission record connects him to 34 Bendon Valley. This is on the north side of Summerstown, where Garratt Lane passes Earlsfield Station and twists past the massive Henry Prince Estate on its way towards Wandsworth. Adjoining this are three roads leading down to the River Wandle which were once all lined with terraced houses; Bendon Valley, Lydden Road and Wardley Street. With a strong romany presence, it was a tough neighbourhood with a reputation for lawlessness. Today, only a few houses survive and the area is a mess of light industrial units and small factory spaces. No34 is probably under the immense box-like Mecca Bingo Hall which sprung up a few years ago. There is also a used tyre yard which looks like it would have been a very good location for a punch-up in The Sweeney. To cap it all, at the end of the road is the site of the original Airfix factory. James might have been born too early to see any little plastic soldiers or aeroplanes being made, but he would surely have seen the steady stream of worn-out nags heading for the Harrison Barber knacker’s yard. The biggest one in London, 26,000 horses a year were turned into cat-meat at this location. James was born, the fifth of nine children at 16 Lydden Road on 10th October 1891. Amazingly I’m writing this on his birthday. His father was a carman who died in 1909. Perhaps as a result of that James went into the army, because the 1911 census shows that he was a Rifleman in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, stationed in Gosport, Hampshire. Meanwhile the family moved around, relocating to Fulham for a while before settling at 58 Wimbledon Road, then Huntspill Street and finally Bendon Valley. James entered France in December 1914 with the 7th Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and was promoted to Lance Corporal. In July 1915 they fought at Hooge Crater, being the first division to be attacked with flamethrowers. By 1916 he was a Sergeant and the date of his death, 25th August 1916, indicates that he died in the defence of a place called Delville Wood on the Somme. Between 17th and 26th his battalion fought the Germans at Orchard and Brewery trenches, sustaining 99 fatalities. One of the most horrific battles of the First World War, characterised by ferocious hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets, ‘Devil’s Wood’ is the South African equivalent of Gallipoli and the location of their national war memorial. Along with eleven other members of the Summerstown182, James is one of 75,000 names on the Thiepval Memorial. Visible from many miles away, it bestrides the gentle pastoral landscape on the Somme, and is possibly the grandest war memorial ever built. James’ mother was a Mary Ann Milton and her nephew Frederick Forrester Milton, although not one of the Summerstown182, plays a key role in their story. Also in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, the Churchman’s Battalion, he was seriously wounded in 1916. The following year, after six months recuperation he married Kate Victoria Mace at St Mary’s Church on 7th July 1917. She was the sister of Sunday School teacher, William and the couple lived at his old home at 39 Huntspill Street. Until they left the parish in 1930, the Miltons, both Sunday School teachers themselves, played a prominent role in parish life at the church. Frederick was heavily involved in raising money for the war memorial, and after it was built, a special role for them was ensuring a regular supply of fresh flowers for it. On it were the names of his brother Thomas Milton and brother-in-law William Mace, not to mention so many others he would have known. Christine got in touch with Alison through a genealogy website. She has told us that the daughter of her Uncle Fred and Aunt Vic (pictured below), a lady called Dora, aged 93, is alive and resident in Worthing. The niece of William Alexander Mace! How fine it would be to make a trip there and show her the restored memorial tablet which bears her Uncle’s name.

http://www.clcgb.org.uk/documents/historical-group/194-brigade-factsheet-13-the-16th-battalion-krrc/file

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/somme/memorial-delville-wood.htm

Vic and Fred

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