Remembrance Weekend

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NOV11

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a spectacular week of Summerstown182 activity. Saturday’s Remembrance Walk was attended by six members of the family of Albert and William Dell and relatives of William Mace, Thomas Milton and William Clay. With the light fading, and in our haste to get to the Dell homestead, we left poor Iris behind in the Corner Pin toilet. Thankfully Christine had her wits about her and performed a heroic rescue mission. As we gathered outside the Dell home at 35 Pevensey Road, the front gate suddenly opened of its own accord. Admittedly there followed a fearsome rainstorm and we found shelter under Hayesend House and thought of George Nathaniel Daniel and Horatio Nelson Smith. The following day saw an extraordinary Remembrance Sunday service. The superbly-drilled Tooting Sea Scouts set the tone. The restored Sunday School Three tablet dazzled in the Autumn sunshine. Iris Clay stepped forward to place a wreath in memory of her grandfather William and at last, the framed family tribute which she left here some fifteen years ago. Born at 138 Smallwood Road, she was back in her Summerstown homeland with about 15 members of her family. What an occasion. The service climaxed with Reverend Roger Ryan and myself reading out the full 182 names to a packed church. What a privilege! It took us about eight minutes to get through them all and I tried hard to savour every spine-tingling moment as the names of these local men rang around the church for possibly the first time in over ninety years. Then on Tuesday night we were invited to give a talk by the Tooting History Group. It was a wonderful opportunity to spread the word to an enthusiastic audience but also a chance to have a look at 23 Rookstone Road. This was one of the abodes of David Baldwin, who along with seven other members of the Summerstown182 was a soldier in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. It is a relatively new house and I suspect the address may well have had a visit from the Luftwaffe. David was killed on 9th April 1916 and is buried in the intruigingly named Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery in Souchez, south of Bethune. The cemetery was named after a red brick cafe which stood on the Arras-Bethune road and gave its name to this much fought-over section. A year after David’s death the Canadians captured nearby Vimy Ridge. Many Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in the heroic struggle to take that piece of strategic high ground, now the site of the Canadian National War Memorial, are buried in Cabaret-Rouge. We visited the stunning memorial which stands on the ridge looking down the hill. It was an overcast and atmospheric morning with the Canadian flag at half-mast as a tribute to the guardsman killed in the attack on the Canadian Parliament a few days before. Looking down across the plain, its easy to imagine a great advance of Canadian infantry moving towards the German line. But it was an advance which in three days would account for 10,000 casualties. David’s death is noted in the parish magazine ‘We regret to hear that David Baldwin, King’s Royal Rifles was killed on April 9th. He leaves a widow and four little children’.  David Baldwin was born in Tooting in 1887. In the 1901 census his family were living in Cavendish Road, Balham. David was the oldest of five children and although just 14, was already working as a labourer. By 1911 he was married and living with his wife Lilian at 41 Trinity Road. His profession was now a milk carrier. An army record of 1915 sees him at 23 Rookstone Road and lists the names of the four little children; David, Florence, Lilian and Margaret. Two very interesting documents have been found relating to David Baldwin. A note from his wife dated April 17th seeking official confirmation of his death. ‘Having received the news of my husband’s death on April 8th 9th from his chum and also from his Company Sergeant Stanford and Pioneer Sergeant Presslie I am now writing to you to ask if you could give me any information’. She was writing from 15 Smallwood Road and would have to wait another nine years to hear anything else. Another document, a communication from the War Office, written to a Mrs L A Hoone in Loughborough dated April 1925, reveals that David Baldwin’s body was exhumed and an identity tag found. In the years after the war many other smaller cemeteries were relocated to Cabaret-Rouge and for much longer it remained an ‘open cemetery’ where the remains of fallen servicemen whose bodies were newly discovered in the area were received. It is very likely that David Baldwin was such a case. Lilian had remarried to Percy Draper Hoone in Wandsworth in 1918 and they lived at 52 Smallwood Road, before moving to Derbyshire in 1923. The letter goes on to say ‘I am instructed to ask you if you wish the disc to be fowarded on to you or shall it be destroyed. A stamped addressed envelope is enclosed for your reply’. The reply dated May 9th 1925 is very moving ‘Dear Sir, I shall be grateful if you will forward the disc of my late husband to me as I  have never received any of his belongings, also could you tell me if I can obtain a photo of the new grave. I remain yours truly, L A Hoone’. Lilian died in Loughborough in 1950 and who can say if she ever received a photo of David’s grave. On the recent trip to France we passed close to Souchez on our way back from Arras to Calais. We missed the chance on that occasion to get Lilian a photo but we’ll be back to Cabaret-Rouge to sort her out before long. That’s a promise.

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