The Green Plaque Connection


Among the nine green heritage plaques that Wandsworth Borough Council have awarded since the scheme started in 2008, until the recent acknowledgment of the V2 bomb incident at Hazelhurst Road, there has been only one that is ‘war-related’. That is the one put up in memory of Reginald Twyford at his birthplace in Roehampton High Street. Reggie was 14 when he joined the East Surreys and just a year older when he was killed on 8th August 1916. Well, now he is being joined in the green plaque roll-of-honour by Hazelhurst Road. Quite a coincidence then to find that one of the twelve Summerstown182 soldiers who lived on that road is buried in the same cemetery as Reggie, a place called Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe, in the shadow of the huge spoil heaps ouside Lens known as ‘Pits 11 and 19’. MazingarbeReggie plaque

Alfred Edward Palmer from No6 Hazelhurst Road died about six months after Reg but they share their final resting place in the dramatc shadow of these coal hills in northern France. Alfred was a late-starter to the soldiering business, he was 39 when he joined up, a father of five who would almost certainly have been conscripted. His father Emmanuel, married to Sarah, was a brewer’s drayman from Norfolk and may possibly have had business with The Fountain public house when the family were living at 11 Fountain Road in 1881 and Alfred was five. By 1891 they had crossed Garratt Lane and were on Selkirk Road, though the Pie and Mash shop would still have been just a twinkle in Mr Harrington’s eye. Alfred was the eldest of eight children and working as a milk carrier. By 1911, Emmanuel and Sarah had recrossed the Lane and were in Gilbey Road. In 35 years of marriage they produced twelve children but had already outlived three girls and two boys. Both lived on into their eighties and died within a few months of each other in 1932. Meanwhile Alfred married Kate Keech in 1899 and was now a carpenter. In 1901 they lived in Graveney Road and ten years later, Fortescue Road in Merton. They had five children; Florence, Alfred, Sidney, Ethel and Frederick. Sometime after that they must have moved to No6 Hazelhurst Road, close to the point where Hazelhurst and Foss Road met and placing them just a couple of doors away from the Daniells and the Jewells. If you tried to pinpoint it today, the house would have been roughly in the shadow of the southerly tower block, Hayesend House, not too far in fact from where the ‘Work and Play’ Scrap Store have established their enterprising recycling initiative. location of No6

Alfred had joined the 8th Battalion of The East Kent Regiment, The Buffs. Raised in Canterbury in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Third New Army, they suffered heavy losses at Loos and Delville Wood. Early 1917 saw them preparing for the assault on Vimy Ridge that Spring. The Buffs War Diary states that on the afternoon of 3rd February 1917, three men were killed in the communication trench by German heavy mortars. One of them was Alfred Palmer. The other two men who died that day were William Read from Edmonton and Ernest Beaney from Strood in Kent. The three graves are next to each other. Just over a month after Alfred’s death, his brother Lance Corporal Leonard Palmer of the Yorkshire Regiment, who lived in Sheffield, was killed serving in India. His name is on the Kirkee 1914-1918 Memorial near Poona and on his headstone it states that he ‘Died on board a ship’.

On March 18th 1919, Kate wrote from 6 Hazelhurst Road in response to receiving her husband’s death scroll. Her letter described it as ‘Something for my dear children to remember in later years of what their poor father done and how he was honoured’. A year later she wrote again questioning the whereabouts of the death plaque and her late husband’s medals ‘An early reply will much oblige, hoping there is no offence’. Another poignant letter from her enquires about what sounds like some kind of widow’s gratuity which she refers to as ‘Black Money’ ‘I would be glad of it as I had no insurance. I do not wish to be over-reaching but right is right the world over. Hoping I am not nagging you over this money.’ Left with five growing children aged between sixteen and nine to bring up on her own, Kate’s anxiety is understandable and the financial strain on her must have been intolerable. However, salvation was thankfully only a few doors away down Hazelhurst Road and six months later in September 1920, Kate married a man called William Colwell. electoral roll

William was one of three brothers and a sister living at 38 Hazelhurst Road with his widowed father Henry. All three boys worked as iron enamellers and the eldest, George Francis Henry Colwell of the Royal Sussex Regiment fought at Cambrai and died of his wounds in November 1917. He is buried in Bear Road Cemetery overlooking Brighton. William had served in a regiment called the 21st Lancers. The grieving duo formed a partnership which endured at No6 Hazelhurst Road until 1946. Kate died in 1952 aged 73. Last year I spoke to an Evelyn Gifford whose son had heard about the seventieth anniversary of the Hazelhurst Road V2 bomb on Radio Jackie. She had lived at No8 and referred to an Uncle Bill at No6  ‘Opening the blind and seeing a huge bomb going past the window’. Uncle Bill must have been William Colwell and Evelyn would have been a daughter of Alfred Palmer’s eldest child Florence, who married Alan Abbott. The recollection of a supersonic rocket bomb travelling at twice the speed of sound passing the window may be apocryphal, but once again, the Summerstown182 and the V2 bomb incident are shown to be indelibly connected. Thankfully William and Kate, the couple who had already suffered so much a generation earlier, were spared further grief on this occasion. It was fortunate though that they had settled at No6 because the former Colwell house at No38 was destroyed by the rocket and four people living there were killed that day.



HMS Strongbow



GM852(1)arthur preston

With all the excitement over the Green Plaque at Hazelhurst Road, the Summerstown182 have taken a little bit of a backseat in the last few weeks. Yet we are now entering a period of time one hundred years ago, when the effects of the War would really start hitting home. The sinking of The Lusitania precipitated a wave of anti-German sentiment and the first attack on Peter Jung’s bakery at Tooting Broadway. Recruitment on the streets of Summerstown went into overdrive, with Mr and Mrs Mellhuish and Mayor Archibald Dawnay piling on the pressure to anyone not in uniform. The grim reality of war was also starting to dawn with horrific tales of gas attacks at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April. The last week of May saw terrible local losses at the Battle of Festubert. Here the Sunday School Three and the 23rd London Regiment from Clapham Junction went into action and one of them, William Mace from Huntspill Street lost his life. The following month the ‘Fallen of the 23rd’ filled the columns of the South Western Star newspaper. We were lucky to be given a photo of Wiliam Mace which always gets an airing outside his house on our walks. Photos of the Summerstown182 are still hard to come by. Eighteen months into this four year project, we only have pictures of 22 of them. How bizarre then to recently come across photos of one individual provided by two different sources who possibly were unaware of each other’s existence. Thanks to Mike and Iain we now have a very clear impression of ‘Acting Leading Stoker’Arthur Frederick Preston, yet another inhabitant of Hazelhurst Road. His house at No5 could hardly be nearer St Mary’s Church, just a quick hop across Wimbledon Road. Its long-gone of course and in its place, Newbridge Court dates from the sixties.


Arthur’s final resting place is a long way from home, in a northerly outpost, New Lerwick Cemetery on the Shetland Islands. Lerwick’s old cemetery, set into the cliffs with stunning views across the Bressay Sound, must be one of the most scenic resting places of any of the Summerstown182. And he has no need to feel lonely, for just a little bit further south, the name of Henry Briggs from Garratt Green, the sick-berth attendant who lost his life on HMS Barham in the Battle of Jutland is on a memorial on the Island of Hoy in the Orkneys.


Arthur was born on 10th November 1894 in Balham, the son of William Henry Preston a builder’s labourer and his wife Emma. They were both from Devon, but by 1901 the family were living at 18 Rookstone Road, in the heart of Tooting. He was the youngest of five with three sisters; Beatrice, Emily and Ada and one brother William. By 1911 they had shifted up Garratt Lane to Hazelhurst Road and Arthur was working as a Pawnbroker’s Assistant, a vocation that was credited with giving our other William Mace his TB. Emily and Ada both worked as ironers in one of the area’s many laundries. Emily Jane Preston married a soldier called James William Bryan in 1913. He was killed in Belgium on 4th October, just 13 days later Arthur, aged 24 was drowned on HMS Strongbow. She married again, to Thomas South Benjamin in 1920 and lived at 86 Acre Road, Colliers Wood. A husband and a brother lost in less than a fortnight, Emily was yet another woman left to carry the scars of the First World War for the rest of her life. Mike Bakker who provided one of the photos of Arthur is her grandson.

Arthur F Preston Emma Preston both sides

In 1911 Arthur joined the Navy, knocking two years off his age in the process. He served on The Hawke, The Pegasus, The St George and The Wallington before joining the newly-launched HMS Strongbow in November 1916. Whilst on The Pegasus he must have received a postcard from his Mother with her photo on it. On the back is written ‘Received from Mother the 14th of May 1912 whilst on commission in the Pegasus stationed at China’. He was just seventeen at the time and seeing places a long way from Garratt Lane. The photograph was taken by an M.Bown in Earlsfield. HMS Strongbow was one of eight destroyers detached to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, whose job was to escort the convoys from Scandanavia to Britain. On the 16th October 1917, along with The Mary Rose and two naval trawlers she joined a westbound contingent of twelve merchant ships carrying coal from Norway, Denmark and Sweden. At about 6am the following morning, seventy miles east of Lerwick they were engaged by two German light cruisers. At first they mistook these for British vessels, which the German boats had deliberately been rigged up to resemble. By the time they realised they were in the presence of the enemy it was too late. Strongbow was quickly immobilised and the surviving crew were ordered to abandon ship. The Mary Rose and nine of the merchant ships were sunk. HMS Strongbow went down at 930am and forty six of her crew were killed in the attack including Acting Leading Stoker Arthur Preston. Reports suggest that many of the hands below were scalded to death in the initial bombardment, when a shell burst in the main engine room. Though badly injured by a shell, Captain Edward Brooke ensured that any confidential paperwork was destroyed before the ship passed into enemy hands. Altogether about 250 lives were lost in the attack, many of the survivors making it to the Norwegian coast near Bergen. Lt Commander Brooke died of pneumonia a year later. The sinking of nine neutral Scandanavian vessels and allegations that fire was opened on Strongbow’s surviviors caused outrage.

The Last Flight of HMS Strongbow was painted by Montague Dawson and depicts the action in which Arthur Preston from Hazelhurst Road was killed. We are very grateful to Mike Bakker and Iain Storey for sharing information about him and providing the photographs. The dedicated website below provides details of HMS Strongbow and the circumstances surrounding the events of 17th October 1917.

Postscript, March 2018: Last year, On the centenary of his death, another relative, Richard Benjamin visited Arthur’s grave in New Lerwick Cemetery. Possibly the first member of the family to do so. He very kindly got in touch and provided the two photographs which appear at the top of this page.