Tyne Cot

Wimbledon RoadTyne CotEldredlandIts the largest war cemetery in the world, named after a Geordie soldier’s observation that the German pill-boxes which once stood there looked like a typical Tyneside working man’s cottage. I went to Tyne Cot in 2010 with my Belgian pals, Bart and Sabien. It had been a glorious day in the Flanders fields, the sun was setting and we had a date with a soldier from Camberwell called Percy Thompson, the great uncle of a work colleague. This was three years before the dawning of the Summerstown182 and if only we’d known, we could have looked out for three others; Eldred Henden, Albert Dell and Joseph Lucas. I might even have thought that those two tall poplar trees reminded me of the twin tower blocks on the Hazelhurst estate. Amongst all the Williams, Georges and Arthurs in the Summerstown182, Eldred’s almost medieval-sounding name is unique. He lived at 27 Wimbledon Road and unlike the great majority of Summerstown182 homes, this address no longer exists. Its a patch of grass on the edge of the estate, opposite the spot where we meet to start our guided walks. A few months ago Janet from Andover, whose Mum lived in the area came to the V2 remembrance and gave us some photos of a stretch of houses which stood here, among them No27. These were bombed in 1940 and demolished in 1969 as part of the redevelopment in the area which saw the tower blocks go up. This little strip curled into Blackshaw Road and contained a fondly remembered fish shop, bakery, off-licence and greengrocers, which have all disappeared forever. The houses a little further down Wimbledon Road opposite the church were replaced by a block of maisonettes which is now home to a laundrette, a charity shop, two convenience stores and Tasty Chicken AKA ‘Carrigans’.

demolition

JLovellEldred’s father Henry was from Merton and worked as a labourer in a bone factory. From 1891 he and his wife Alice lived at 17 Wimbledon Road. This address is now a charity shop called African Child. It later became the home of the family of another of the 182, Charles Richmond. Eldred, christened Edward was born in 1896, the youngest of four children. Francis was the oldest and there were two sisters, Florence and Mabel. By 1911 they had moved five doors along to No27. Henry had progressed to be a general shopkeeper of provisions. He probably would have felt quite at home behind the counter of one of the Sri Lankan stores currently next door. Eldred was fifteen and working as a silk printer’s assistant. Textile printing and dyeing, based around the mighty Wandle had been a significant local industry for centuries. Its just possible young Eldred was apprenticed at Liberty’s or the William Morris works at nearby Merton Abbey. He might even have crossed paths with an elderly anarchist called Francis Kitz. Certainly he would probably have known some of his ten children, growing up just round the corner in Hazelhurst Road.

silkprintEldred had an eventful year in 1916. On 8th October he married Grace Ellen Lowe from Smallwood Road in St Mary’s church. Just a few weeks later on 30th October he joined the Labour Corps in Kingston. His profession was listed as a machinist/cleaner. Conscription had finally been enforced earlier in the year and knowing this was on the cards may have hastened the young couple down the aisle. He was aged 20 years and ten months. We don’t know when Eldred joined the 12th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment but assuming he was with them in 1917, he may well have been involved in the fighting at Passchendaele in the second half of that year. It was in this part of Belgium, known as the Ypres Salient that he would be killed in the first month of 1918.

West Sussex Council have digitised the local regimental war diaries and a few clicks reveal that the 12th Battalion were at a place called Westroosebeke, about eight miles north-east of Ypres on 21st January 1918. It was a period of relative calm between Passchendaele and the Spring Offensive and the battalion were in reserve trenches. There were church parades and musketry training, but a grim reality take was a mention that two privates were to be tried for desertion. On the 18th they moved into frontline trenches at Westroosebeke. Over these first weeks of the year there was regular mention of a soldier occasionally being wounded and the odd death. The 21st January was their worst day. The typewriter script coldly states ‘6 O.R.s killed , 2 O.R.s wounded’. No names, no reason, no detail. The next line indicates that the battalion marched on that evening, making their way to Poperinghe. This was 1918 and soldiers were hardened and immune to war. Nonetheless this matter-of-fact mention of the ending of six lives is deeply shocking. Eldred John Henden aged 22 was almost certainly one of them. The following month the battalion were disbanded. There probably weren’t many of them left.

Back in Summerstown, Eldred’s wife Grace was a widow at the age of 22. She married again in March 1919, just over a year after his death, to a William Membry. Mabel Henden was three years older than her brother Eldred and married George Sandys in June 1915. Their second son, Henry, joined the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the Second World War and was killed on 20th January 1944, aged 24. This was just a day before the anniversary of his Uncle Eldred’s death. The coincidence would not have been lost on Grace, who very sadly died herself the following September at the age of 47. Another sister, Florence had a son called Albert Eldred born in 1909. Eldred would have briefly known his young nephew who lived on until 1999, almost carrying the name Eldred into the twenty-first century.

The research work on Eldred’s family was done by Christine Marden  If any of his relatives are able to contact us, it would be lovely to know more about him. We would welcome them to come on a Summerstown182 walk and see his name on the St Mary’s Church war memorial.

https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/learning/learning_resources/great_war_west_sussex_1914-18/the_royal_sussex_regiment/battalion_war_diaries.aspx

Estate Green fence

44 Hazelhurst Road

Georgeceremony1The seventieth anniversary of a largely-forgotten V2 bomb incident which killed 34 people on Hazelhurst Road was marked in November with a beautiful and poignant service in a packed St Mary’s Church. After the service the congregation walked a short distance to the site where the bomb landed, a car-park behind one of the blocks on the estate. Here we gathered as family members read the victim’s names and scattered petals in their memory. Sadiq Khan MP read the official ‘incident report’ and a guitar ensemble from Burntwood School performed an extraordinarily moving version of ‘Fields of Gold’. It is something that anyone who was there will never forget. john&arthur Two brothers came that day but we didn’t manage to speak to them. Fortunately Sheila had seen them around and sure enough, after Christmas she bumped into one of them in Sainsbury’s in Tooting. Not long after we were sitting in their home nearby hearing an incredible story. They have lived in this house for seventy years since the V2 pulverised the family home at 44 Hazelhurst Road, directly opposite the ‘boys’entrance to Smallwood School (to the right of the group in the below photo). They came to the service in St Mary’s that day to honour their grandmother Jane Elizabeth Wilson who died in the bombing. She was actually living in one of the houses opposite and was the only person killed on that side of the road. Incredibly the boys and the rest of the family escaped unhurt. Arthur remembers waking up that morning and gazing at the sky. The roof had been blown off. They went downstairs very carefully as they thought the walls might cave in. There they saw their father George, terribly injured and holding his face. He was taken away to St James Hospital in Balham on a truck. He’d been looking out of the front window facing the school when the bomb came down and was permanently blinded. Arthur and John’s memory of the event is very clear. Arthur was 15 at the time, the same age as three of the victims. There is a record in the parish magazine of him being baptised with one of them, Josephine Woodley in December 1930. John was nine and some of those killed were in his class at school. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Keeley family had lived at 63 Hazelhurst since 1925. There were eight of them in the upstairs flat and Granny Wilson was living in the one below them. For a while they relocated to nearby Khama Road but then moved back to 44 Hazelhurst some time around 1938. Arthur remembers the 1940 bombs on Wimbledon Road and Garratt Lane very clearly. For a while the boys and their brother William were evacuated to Wales. Their Mum went with them to make sure they were kept together but none of them liked the situation so they all came back to Summerstown. BatterseaWhat happened that day wasn’t George Robert Keeley’s first experience of war. He was born in Battersea on 30th April 1894, the son of George and Ada. For a while the family moved to the Wandsworth area and in 1901 were living in Wardley Street with George senior working as a coalman. By 1911 they had crossed Garratt Lane to 8 Aslett Street and 17 year old George was working as a street trader. The family were living in three rooms and George and Ada had eleven children, three of whom had died. Around this time George moved back to Battersea to 38 Benfield Street, roughly opposite Prices Candle Factory. The street is now submerged beneath the massive Winstanley Estate, an immense sprawl of tower blocks and concrete between York Road and Clapham Junction. The rest of the family were now at nearby Lothair Street. Four months past his twentieth birthday, George joined the 23rd London Regiment on 8th August 1914, just four days after the outbreak of war. The depot where he would have signed up at 27 St John’s Hill is still the HQ of the London Regiment today, next door to Clapham Grand and just a short walk from where he was living. He was now working as a labourer for a gaslight and coke company in Fulham. The boys knew only a little about his First World War experience, apart from the fact that he had suffered a head wound and fought at the Somme and Ypres. Arthur also recalled that he had lost a toe and suffered a serious ankle injury. They thought he might have been in the London Regiment. We got working and a few days later Lynda Biggs, whose family at No36 were among the casualties in the V2 attack, pulled up a forty three page service record.SSCopenhagenLondonRegt up the junctionLike many of these documents they tell only half the story, dealing mostly in matters of administration, finance and discipline. There is little detail about where George fought. A lot of it is unreadable but we should be thankful that it survived at all because two thirds of these records were destroyed in the Blitz. They make very interesting reading, because although George served as a soldier for the entire length of the war, he was prone to going missing and was probably fortunate not to receive more serious punishment. The records also indicate that he suffered shrapnel wounds to his face and gun-shot wounds to his head and ankle. John and Arthur remembered something about their father being hit in the back of the head whilst he was in a trench and also recalled an eye injury. His demobilisation date in itself is of note, 19th November 1918. Exactly 26 years to the day later, the V2 struck his home. George went walkabout for the first time prior to going overseas. He was absent from 4th to 9th January 1915 inclusive, for which he forfeited five days pay. The 23rd London Regiment went to France on 14th March on The Copenhagen. George very possibly bumped into fellow recruits from Summerstown, William Mace and James Crozier, two of the Sunday School Three. He went into the trenches on 11th April and received his ankle injury on 20th of that month. John remembers his Dad telling him that this occurred while he was having a discussion with an officer about the best way to heat up a tin of Maconochie’s stew. As they discussed culinary matters, a bullet ricocheted into George’s ankle. He was subsequently sent home to recover on 24th April and was fortunate to avoid the battles that year at Festubert and Loos when the Sunday School teachers were killed. Five hundred local men from the Battersea area were casualties at Festubert at the end of May – this was the last time long lists of names appeared in the South Western Star newspaper. The records don’t say how serious the injury was, but in October George was still in England at Tadworth Camp at Epsom Downs racecourse. Here they tell us that he went absent again from 31st October to 21st February 1916. Army Form B115, a record of a Court of Inquiry in Croydon, dated 25th November 1915 declares that ‘Private Keeley illegally absented himself without leave and is still deficient of the following articles’. It goes on to list an inventory of all the kit which went missing with him, everything from his hairbrush and braces to two pairs of ‘drawers’. Almost four months later George reappeared to face the music. It did seem he might be in very hot water. At his court martial on 4th March 1916 he was sentenced to ‘nine months detention and forfeits all service prior to trial’. He was also ordered to pay four pounds, two shillings and eight pence towards the cost of his ‘lost equipment’. With a desperate need for manpower at this time, it would appear that his punishment was only partly implemented because on 22nd June 1916 he was on his way back to France having been transfered to the 1/13th battalion of the London Regiment. Had his disappearing act been on active service it might have been a very different story and he would very possibly have faced a firing squad. As it was he was back on the battlefield in France getting set for service on the Somme. Just ten days later he would participate in one of the most infamous days of the First World War, the massive ill-fated advance on the first day of July. letterThe 13th London Regiment fought in the attack at Gommecourt that day when it is estimated that 5,000 men in the London battalions were killed, missing or wounded. George was fortunate and there are no records of him being injured that summer. An officer in 1/13th Battalion was Major Cedric Dickens, grandson of Charles, killed on 9th September. Sometime around this date, for an unspecified reason, George was awarded 25 days ‘Field Punishment No1’. This humiliating and public ordeal resulted in the unfortunate victim being tethered to a fence post or the wheel of a gun, the same fate as his Maskell Road neighbour ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ Alfred Chipperfield. At the height of the battle of Ginchy its hard to see how this could have been carried through. The1/13th were fully involved on the Somme for the rest of the year, moving up to Arras in the spring. The following April it seems George was in yet more bother when a rifle he was cleaning went off and he shot himself in the foot. This self-inflicted wound could have been seen as a way of getting himself out of front-line duty and shipped back to a cushy hospital in Blighty. An investigation followed and half a dozen witness statements regarding the incident are amongst his records. George himself stated ‘While cleaning my rifle this morning I pressed the trigger after oiling the bolt. On return from a working party at 2am I unloaded my rifle. On two occasions I had taken my rifle to the armourer’s shop on account of the magazine not working properly’. George might not have been too hot on rifle maintenance but he had beautiful handwriting. Whatever happened because of this is unclear but George probably missed the battle of Arras as a result. He may also have lost a toe. He was though back in action in time for the mud of Passchendaele. George and Arthur recall him fighting ‘at Ypres’ and this would be the moment. On 17th August 1917 he suffered a ‘gunshot wound to the head’ almost certainly in the Battle of Langemarck. On 27th November he had a shrapnel wound to his face, this date suggests the Battle of Cambrai in which the third Sunday School teacher Albert Gibson was killed. Arthur recalls that he was awarded a silver war badge as a result of a serious head injury and it was surely one of these occasions which merited that. It would appear that in the last stages of the war his wounds kept him from frontline duty. It seems incredible that having survived the bullets and the bureaucrats in equal measure, George was still on his feet and a soldier until the end of the war. Another note in his record shows that George was in further trouble for ‘absenting himself from canteen fatigue without permission’. Maybe he didn’t want to help with the washing up. He had a little bit of an issue over time-off again in October 1918 when he was apprehended by a military policeman in Sandwich for overstaying his leave. Who could blame George for his wandering tendencies but he was very lucky – to ensure discipline, many soldiers would be severely punished for this and much lesser offences. 306 soldiers in the British Army were famously ‘Shot-at-Dawn’. None of his problems prevented him from being described as ‘of good character’ the following month on his discharge paperwork. The form did though note that he was now a chronic rheumatic. NOV44craterGeorge returned to civilian life, battered and bruised but not beaten. In 1919 he married May Forster and their first son George Henry was born in 1921. Arthur and John still live in Moffat Road. Another son William died in 1985. There were three daughters, Violet, May and Ivy. It is quite astonishing to think he went on to raise a family of seven children, to make a living and survive an appalling injury in the 1944 bomb. He worked after the first war at a Dutch-owned margarine factory in Mitcham called Benninga’s. In the Second World War he was a fire watcher. To their immense credit, after he was blinded, the company found work for him. The brothers remember that a gentleman called Mr Shaw was instrumental in this and organized the building of a special kiosk in the works where George could sell cigarettes. He had a pair of special dark glasses made to cover his eyes. He died aged 70 in 1964. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeorge is not one of the Summerstown182 but he came very close. His story is worthy of being recorded in their number. He stood side by side with the Sunday School Three and dodged both German bullets and the disciplinarians who might in other circumstances have had him face a firing squad. It is tragic that he came through all that to be so horribly injured in the Second World War, a generation later. We salute him and are grateful to Arthur and Johnny for reviving his memory and letting us have this photograph of him. 19th November 1944 was an incident which had a huge effect on this area but has been largely overlooked , perhaps almost forgotten. It was good to remember the seventieth anniversary in such a dignified and community-spirited way. We now hope to investigate whether some kind of plaque or permanent memorial could be placed near where this happened. George was just one of over one hundred people who were injured that day, after all they went through, its the very least we can do. https://summerstown182.wordpress.com/november-19th-1944/

The Corner Pin

CornerPinGroupThePincardboardThe value of finding a relative of one of the Summerstown182, who can shed some light on the life of one of our number has never been more perfectly illustrated than by Lesley Martin’s poignant and very moving story about her great uncle, Albert Charles Clarke. In fact she possibly owes her existence to the fact that he didn’t come home from the war but her grandfather, his brother David did. The story centres around The Corner Pin pub, a hostelry which has stood at the north end of Summerstown since at least the 1830s. It has had several reincarnations in that time, the current model dating from 1924. Bob Sadler, born in the cottage next door was the guvnor in 1869. A forebear of Lesley’s called Henry Washington ran the pub for at least thirty years from about 1882 and in 1914 his granddaughter, Daisy Drew worked behind the bar. Somewhere along the line she caught the eye of a lad from 30 Bellew Street called Albert Clarke. Along with his father and brother, he worked at the nearby cardboard box factory and they might have all wandered past or stopped on their way home for a drink. One of four pubs in very close proximity, The Corner Pin’s position would have made it a popular and pivotal location. As it does today, it sits on the edge of an industrial enclave which sprouted up alongside the River Wandle. In 1914-1918 it was surrounded by the homes of the Summerstown182; Henry Wright next door, John Barbary across the road, George Hope and Cecil Passingham just a little further down, the homes of the Bakers, Miltons and Carrigans not much further along. The evocative photograph shown above was taken around 1916 shows a mixed group of soldiers and civilians, some larking about, some very serious. A woman wears a soldier’s cap. One group of men have their faces turned away from the camera. The young man on the right is Albert Clarke. Some things never change, there’s even a puddle full of water in the foreground.

30BellewSt

Stevenson 1

Albert was born on 25th July 1897 in the Holborn district. By 1901 the Clarke family had joined the city centre exodus to southwest London and lived at 12 Sirdar Terrace, 46 Foss Road, an address they shared with his grandparents, the Olivers. Albert’s mother Maud was born in Clonmel in Tipperary and must have been amused at the plaque bearing the name of her home town adorning a house in nearby Franche Court Road. She had eight children, David born in 1895 was the eldest. Her husband also David worked as a box cutter. His oldest son had the same job and they worked at Hugh Stevenson’s cardboard box factory on Riverside Road. Hugh’s son Robert went on to become a Hollywood director and amongst many other films made Mary Poppins and The Love Bug. By 1911 the family were at 30 Bellew Street on the other side of Garratt Lane. Like a lot of houses round here at the moment,  it is currently swathed in scaffolding and appears to have a helicopter landing-pad on the roof. Having worked as a machinist and a packer, Albert had joined the East Surreys as a reservist aged 17 in July 1913. David joined the 8th East Kents – The Buffs in September 1914 and was swiftly promoted to the rank of sergeant. A third brother Henry was fortunately young enough to miss the war but still managed to enlist in the tank corps aged sixteen in 1919. His records indicate that Albert had a chequered start to military life. In September 1914 he fell asleep on sentry duty and received 28 days detention and there were a couple of other minor misconduct offences. Maybe as the reality of war kicked in, he was regretting his early enthusiasm and pining for a stroll along the Wandle with Daisy. Some time around April 1916, David arranged for Albert to get a transfer to The Buffs so he could keep an eye on him. The paperwork for this survives and Albert’s transfer from 1st East Surreys to 8th Buffs contains the information that he was a first-class shot. There is also a scrawled note from the 8th Buffs Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Lucas, stating that ‘Sergeant Clarke is desirous of claiming his younger brother to serve with him’. It is quite touching  that at the height of battle, normally rigid army procedures had permitted this act of fraternal solidarity.

But David wasn’t able to look after his younger brother because he had been sent home wounded before Albert got started with The Buffs. By June 1916 he was back in England and a patient at Eden Hall Hospital in Edenbridge, Kent. It is noted in his papers that he had scars to his thigh and knee cap and a photograph shows him using a stick. He was finally honourably discharged in January 1917 as being ‘no longer physically fit to serve’. Very sadly, after a summer of intense warfare on the Somme, in which he very likely took part in the horrific fighting at Delville Wood and Guillemont, Albert was killed on 21st October 1916. Unusually, mention of this is made in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. One of his officers wrote to Albert’s mother ‘expressing the sympathy of all the officers, NCOs and men, not only of his platoon but of the whole company. We miss him very much, for always cheery and ready to do his duty he was a great favourite. If ever a British soldier died at his post your son did’. Ironically, the first-class shot had been killed by a sniper.

David Henry Clarke

Back in Summerstown, the injured David, walking with difficulty, had the painful task of going to The Corner Pin to tell Daisy that her sweetheart had been killed. Its impossible to imagine how terrible he must have felt, that his attempt to protect his younger brother had inadvertently lead to his early death. Henry Washington died in December and Daisy’s father needed help, so work was found for David at the pub. Whatever happened over the following months, somehow amidst the bottles of beer and the barrels, the limping guilt-ridden soldier and broken-hearted barmaid found consolation in each other. On 8th November 1917 in St Mary’s Church, David Henry Clarke and Daisy Harriet Drew were married, just over a year after Albert’s death. His final discharge papers indicate that his home was now 10 Summerstown, The Corner Pin. Their first child Joan was born in 1919. He was able to return to light duties at the cardboard box factory which was now working at full tilt to support the war effort including Prisoner-of-War supplies.

Maud A Oliver in Arras

Meanwhile Maud Clarke made a trip from Bellew Street to Albert’s grave near Arras shortly after the war. It is close to the huge Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge and he shares his resting place with many from that country who died six months later in taking the ridge. An extraordinary photo of Maud holding a wreath with her son’s name on it survives in Lesley’s collection. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website documentation indicates that Maud chose the inscription for the headstone at Villers Station Cemetery, Villers-au-Bois, ‘Not lost but gone before’.

Four generations on from Henry Washington, we are indebted to Lesley Martin, the granddaughter of David Clarke, for sharing her family’s history and allowing us to publish these wonderful photographs. Also Marion Gower for locating her and sourcing the Clarke brothers service records. If anyone recognises any of the 182 names on the St Mary’s Church war memorial as a relative and has any information about them, or perhaps even a photograph, we would love to hear from them.

https://summerstown182.wordpress.com/gallery-2/