Westminster Rifles

Orchard Mews EndPickworth1The Garratt Lane end of Franche Court Road appears sometimes to be thick with Summerstown182 stories. Occasionally on our walks we have stood on the pavement for what seems like hours, criss-crossing the low numbers to hear the stories of the likes of Samuel Tickner, Thomas Kirkland, Phillip Chapman and Samuel McMullan – we haven’t even got to Frank Tutty yet. Sincere apologies to any residents who don’t yet know what’s going on. The Anglo American Laundry end of the road remained largely unexplored territory until the legendary February walk this year when we paused outside No45 and the family of Arthur Clarke paid homage. I felt a little bit guilty that day because next door, No43, was the home of Arthur William Pickworth who didn’t get a mention. Now is his moment.

Arthur Pickworth is an outstanding member of the Summerstown182 for the reason that he is the only commissioned officer among them. He was killed in the fighting at Messines on 28th September 1918, just six weeks before the Armistice, as the allies drove the Germans back through Belgium. He was the eldest son of Alfred and Adah Pickworth and much of the information about him comes through his education and records that have been preserved by his school, Christ’s Hospital in Horsham in Sussex. Pickworth3Arthur was baptised at St Mary’s in April 1899, the year that Reverend John Robinson arrived and five years before the current church was built. His father was a schoolmaster and he had a brother Edward and two sisters Catherine and Mary. Catherine was very friendly with Arthur Clarke’s sister Hilda and it is through Hilda’s daughter Helene that we have been able to tell this story. Arthur made the move from Summerstown to West Sussex and went to Christ’s Hospital in 1910. This extraordinary establishment was a boarding school founded in the City of London in 1552 by Edward VI as a place to provide shelter and education to ‘children from the streets of London’. Connections were made with livery companies which still provide funding today and its very special remit is still applied with up to 88% of pupils receiving bursaries. The school moved from its original home to a thousand acre site at Horsham in 1902 and it is the only school in the country to have its own railway station.

Arthur spent six years at the school which still wears its original Tudor uniform, a long blue coat with a brown leather belt, grey breeches and long yelllow socks. He was a very learned pupil, an acclaimed greek scholar and monitor. Upon leaving he started work for a firm of timber brokers, Price and Pierce. In March 1917 he joined the 2/16th Battalion of The London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles) as a rifleman and was soon after offered a commission. His records describe him as ‘Unimpressive at first but a very sound and very intelligent man. He possesses very much more vigour than appears at first sight, is an athlete’. This description would seem to fit rather well with his photograph which presents him as a studious, bespectacled individual, perhaps ill-suited for the rough-and-tumble of army life. But this gentle intelligent man ended up serving in some notorious and far-flung hotspots.

A year earlier his battalion had been packed off to Ireland to help quell the Easter Rising. In the spring of 1917 they were sent to Salonika, engaging the Bulgarians at Lake Doiran before moving eastwards to the conflicts in Palestine. The Third Battle of Gaza, the capture and defence of Jerusalem and the battle of Tel Asur. These were all places where members of the Summerstown182 perished; Ernest Matcham at Doiran, James Tugwell at Gaza, Horace Woodley and Walter Tappin at Tel Asur. The following year the Westminsters returned to France and it was in the advance in Flanders not far from the rench border that Arthur was himself killed. Messines_mapThe Great War Forum provides an insight into what happened on 28th September 1918, a mile or so east of Messines as the Queen’s Westminsters attacked that day at 3pm. Small consolation to the family of Arthur Pickworth, but it was a successful attack on the German line. They achieved and held their four objectives and a trench map indicates the locality, offering up such intruiging names as Gooseberry Farm and Stinking Farm. Arthur was nineteen and as a young officer, expected to put his head over the parapet first and consequently more likely to die than most. He is buried at the lavishly named Wulverghem-Lindhoek Road Military Cemetery which was once a field dressing station. In October we visited and found Arthur’s grave. Emblazoned proudly with the familiar Westminster portcullis badge, it was crystal clear, unravaged by the years, as if it had only been cut yesterday. Not too far up the road on the higher ground of the Messines Ridge itself is the grave of George Nathaniel Daniel who fell there just over a year earlier. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArthur’s family may have moved to Cranleigh in Surrey after the war as his Commonwealth War Graves Commission record shows his parents residence as Park House Farm. 382 ‘Old Blues’ past- pupils of Christ’s Hospital were killed in the First World War, among them Edgar Cox the youngest Brigadier General in the British Army. The school journal ‘The Blue’ gives Arthur a good mention in its June 1919 edition. ‘He was a worker with the CH Mission and Mr Newman says of him ‘Personally I feel that I have lost a dear lad, who has given me so much help’. The Rev HG Peile, Senior Chaplain writes ‘I am certain no one ever made the Great Sacrifice more thoughtfully and gladly’. Dr Upcott in a letter to his parents which they much appreciate, says: ‘May God comfort you in the thought of his blameless, beautiful character’. A fellow lieutenant writes ‘I’ve only known young ‘Picky’ for a short time, but I’ve learned to like and admire him immensely. It does one good to meet with such a fine high-minded boy.’ And his platoon sergeant, who had been a fellow NCO with him at Richmond Park writes ‘It was indeed an honour to be led by such a splendid Christian soldier in the true sense of the word, and the whole platoon was proud to be under his command’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are very grateful to Helene Steggals, the niece of Arthur George Clarke of the Summerstown182 who has provided much of the material for this story and sought permission from Christ’s Hospital School to use the photographs.

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