Two Tribes

Lyme RegisPilot BoatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe magnificent Dorset coastline stretching from Lyme Regis to Swanage has two Summerstown182 senitels. To the east is the Isle of Purbeck and the Jurrasic homeland of John Lander, the stonemason from Langton Matravers. Killed in the German Spring Offensive of 1918, Rifleman Lander lived for a while at the top end of Hazelhurst Road, just a stone’s throw from the church. Adjoining it was Foss Road, at that time a vital and populous artery connecting the church to the Fairlight. Vying for attention with its neighbour, it is now cruelly truncated by the Twin Towers and early seventies developments. Brian Willett grew up on Hazelhurst Road after the war and vividly remembers playing daily on the V2 bomb-site and fighting pitched battles with the ‘enemy’ from Foss Road. Ferocious territorial disputes which often required visits to Dr Rose to get stitches. Funnily enough Brian now lives in Dorset. Foss Road was once home to a seaman called Alfred Byatt who perished in the icy waters of Lyme Bay at the other end of that glorious strip of coast, the stamping-ground of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. A few weeks ago in Chatham on a dazzling late summer’s afternoon we went up to the lighthouse-like naval memorial overlooking the town. We didn’t need the albino squirrel to help us find the names this time. They are organised chronologically and the shipmates are listed by rank. A G Byatt is one of six Summerstown182 names on the memorial and he was there in the list of First Class Stokers. Its hard to imagine what conditions he worked in. A temperature of 150 degrees, choking on coal dust, drenched in sweat and coated in grime, feeding the furnaces to keep these great battleships on the move. Also knowing they were beneath the water-line and likely to be wiped out at any moment by a torpedo. It was New Years Day 1915 when HMS Formidable went down with the loss of almost 600 men. Alfred Byatt was the son of Joseph and Louisa of 54 Foss Road. The house was about half way down the west side of the road with a birds-eye view of the V2 rocket attack of 1944 which destroyed most of the homes opposite. He was born in Earlsfield on 4th September 1894. In the 1911 census the family were living at No92 nearer the Smallwood Road end of the street and Joseph worked as a file hardener for a tool company. Seventeen year old Alf was employed in a fish shop, possibly the one at the bottom of Aldren Road run by the Tickners. He was the second oldest of seven children, four boys and three girls, squeezed into a three room flat. A fourth girl Dorothy who is not on the census was born that summer. She married an Ernest Gardner and was living at 32 Hazelhurst Road when the V2 rocket fell. They were two of at least 35 victims. A few doors further along, Arthur Hinson who lost a wife and two children that day was Alf Byatt’s cousin. Alf joined the Navy in September 1913 and in January 1914 secured a position on a ship called HMS Formidable. His record indicates that he was just over five foot tall, had a cross tattooed on his left forearm and was blessed of a ‘very good character’. HMS Formidable was a 15,000 ton battleship  and was part of the 5th Battle Squadron and on manoevres in Lyme Bay when it was tailed by a submarine in the early hours of 1st January. It took less than two hours for the ship to go down. 581 out of a crew of 780 were lost, more than 130 of them were Londoners. The 199 survivors had a perilous time in freezing waters. Some were picked up by fishermen from Lyme Regis where a number were washed up on the beach. One of these, John Cowan was presumed dead and taken to a local pub, The Pilot Boat. The landlord’s dog, ‘Lassie’ repeatedly licked his face and miraculously revived him. A postcard was produced and the canine resuscitator became something of a celebrity. Before long the story was picked up by Hollywood and the rest is history. A local tale has it that after the dog died, ghostly barking was heard until a replacement arrived. It wasn’t heard again until that one also died – the inference clearly being that the pub should always have a dog in case it was required to save a sailor again. Meanwhile back in Summerstown by 1918 the Byatts were living at a third different address on Foss Road, No5. Alfred’s older brother Joseph appears on the absent voters list as a Private in the East Surrey Regiment. In the Smallwood Road School Roll of Honour booklet, Alfred is third on the list of ‘Old Smalls who have died for their Country’ and Joseph is also mentioned. We’ve been told there are still some Byatt descendants living locally and it would be great to see if they know anything more about Alfred.


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