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’.
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.
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.
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.