One of my abiding memories of my Grandad, who passed away before my seventh birthday, was the sweet fuzzy aroma of tobacco that accompanied him. He was an habitual pipe smoker, always fiddling around with his baccy which he bought in containers which were rather like a small tin lunchbox. For years after these were bequeathed to my primary school and children kept their crayons in them. They still carried the rich mellow odours of ready-rubbed. It was a nice way to remind me of him and few of the tins are still knocking around the house to this day. Of course I never gave a thought to the fact that his injuries on one of the first days of the Somme and other First World War experiences coloured his life. Just another grumpy old man with a funny smell.
Frederick George Hayter, born in 1890 was a tobacconist and his name is on two local war memorials, St Mary’s Church in Summerstown and St Barnabas in Southfields. Here, he is accompanied by a brother, William Augustus Hayter who was killed two years before him. Fred was in the 6th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment known as ‘The Biscuit Boys’. William was in the 3rd Royal Fusiliers. They lived very much on the fringe of the Summerstown orbit, at No15, then 13a Penwith Road, the high-kerbed artery connecting Garratt Lane with Southfields. Later they moved to a five-roomed house at 111 Strathville Road, running parallel to this. Many of the houses on this road have intricately moulded arched doorways with an oakleaf motif and appear to come in a variety of pleasant pastel shades. Oddly truncated by Acuba Road, it has a calm soothing presence, always a pleasure to pass through on the way to Wandsworth via King George’s Park. It would seem from electoral rolls that the younger brothers Frank and Albert lived at No111 Strathville Road until 1959 and there was also family living at Alston Road into the seventies.
The Hayter family at No111 in 1911 consisted of George, his wife Annie and their five children, four boys and a girl. George had worked his way up from being a packer in 1891, to a tobacco trader, then a clerk in a tobacconists. The family originally lived in Maysoule Street Battersea and had they still been there sixty years later, it would have afforded them an excellent view of Sid Sporle’s tower block going up on the Winstanley estate. They weren’t so far from Benfield Street, famed for its noxious ‘stink-pipe’ sewer vents. A switch to the more genteel pastel-tinted Southfields would have been a major step forward for the family. By 1911, Fred and William were the two eldest, aged 21 and 20 respectively. Fred was also a tobacconist and William worked as a barman. The Pig and Whistle or The Sailor Prince at the ends of Penwith Road may well have been where he pulled pints. Another son Frank was a waiter and Albert was still at school as was his sister Edith. Fred’s presence on the St Mary’s memorial is undoubtedly due to his marriage there on 31st January 1915 to Ethel May Gooude. As with Eldred Henden, this may have been a union hastened by the prospect of conscription looming on the horizon. The Gooude’s were well-rooted in the area living at 41 Burmester Road and before that at 22 Maskell Road. Ethel’s father’s profession was stated as ‘Manager Manchester Warehouse’ which makes me wonder if he was connected with the nearby Anglo American Laundry.
William was in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and killed aged 24 in the Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge near Ypres, where his name is on the Menin Gate. On the 21st May 1915, they had moved to the front line at Bellewaarde near to the village of Hooge on the Menin to Ypres road. This is where just over a year later, the Battle of the Somme was launched and the spot is now famous for the huge crater created that first day. The trenches were said to be in a poor condition and filled with water. The Germans attacked the ridge at 245am on the 24th, with chlorine gas, heavy artillery and a massive infantry assault. By the 25th, the battalion was reduced to 150 men out of 880 with the rest killed, wounded or missing as a result of the two days fighting. Among those who lost their life was Private John Condon from Waterford, reputedly the youngest British soldier to die in WW1, aged 14.
Quite why Fred joined the Berkshire Regiment we can’t be sure but Hayter is a popular name in the west country and his father was born in Hampshire so perhaps that was the reasoning. Maybe his tobacco connection had given him a love of tins and fancy packaging because he joined fellow Summerstown182 soldier Sidney Cullimore and signed up with the regiment from Reading known as ‘The Biscuit Boys’ home of Huntley & Palmer. Fred would have been 27 when he was killed on 5th June 1917 in the fighting near Arras. They trained at Colchester and Salisbury Plain before going to France on 26th July 1915. In 1916 they were in action on the Somme in the Battle of Albert, Delville Wood and Ancre Heights. On a visit to Arras last year we tried to find the ten Summerstown182 names among the 35,000 inscribed on the huge war memorial. His name was very high up and quite weathered and hard to read. Our Belgian mate, Bart knew what to do and instinctively splashed a carton of water over it to darken the stone and make the name more legible. Delicate Brit sensibilities might have been a bit taken aback at this apparent desecration of a place-of-rest but he knew the score and we got a photo. No harm done and we’ll keep this handy Belgian technique up our sleeve on future occasions.
Back in London, we met up with Peter Stechman from St Barnabas Church who is doing a similar research project to ours, trying to find information on the 200 names on the First World War memorial there. The actual memorial is outside the church. It nestles beneath a huge granite cross in a corner of the church garden, behind a high hedge off busy Merton Road. Peter alerted us to the presence of two Hayters on the memorial stone. No need to throw any water over this one, the names are clear as crystal.