Last week I spent some time visiting the town of Enniskillen where I once went to school. Thirty years ago, on my way home to the bus station, I would have passed an area which had recently been developed and was now home to a fancy new library and some government offices. It had not long before been a clutter of small terraced houses, workshops and grocery stores, known to older people as ‘The Dardanelles’. The name meant nothing to me then but knowing what I know now, it had a special meaning as I stood in the car-park that now dominates the area and tried to imagine what it must have been like one hundred years ago. Five streets, now submerged by concrete and tarmac had sent hundreds of local men to Gallipoli and at least 45 of them from this small area never returned. The effect on a tiny close-knit community must have been catastrophic. There are 581 names on the Fermanagh War Memorial in Enniskillen and 55 of them died in the fighting at Gallipoli. Most of them perished a century ago this month on 21st August 1915, one disastrous day at a place called Scimitar Hill. It was here that the 1st Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers went into battle with 777 officers and men and by the end of the day only 234 of them were still standing.
In Summerstown there is a similar story, a small enclave of streets beneath the Burtop Road estate that have now disapppeared off the map. From these small terraced houses, 26 of the Summerstown182 are accounted for. The crucial difference from Enniskillen is that they were not all fighting in the same regiment and being killed in the same battle. Nonetheless the consequences would have been just as shattering. Headworth Road, Burtop Road and Turtle Road have indeed all gone but one of the roads is still there, though bearing no resemblance to how it looked in 1914, or indeed 1968. Bordered on one side by the back of an electrical showroom and some industrial units, the other by the estate, Maskell Road was once home to ten of the Summerstown182 and quite a number of other families passed through it. Standing outside an actual house where one of the Summerstown182 once lived, its easy to imagine them looking out of the window or stepping out of the front door. Its more difficult when the house has gone and you are forced to contemplate the back wall of a tile manufacturer’s warehouse. One woman with family connections on Maskell Road searched for a particular drain cover which marked the position of where her Mother’s home once stood. The house at No48 is long gone and here once lived the family of Leonard William Phipps. Over half a century later the electoral roll indicated that his younger brother Albert was still there at the same address.
The redevelopment of this area preceeded Ennisklillen by about five years and was forced on the council by disastrous flooding in 1968. At the heart of the Wandle flood plain, it was always in the front line if the river couldn’t handle heavy rainfall. Now the Burtop Road Estate spans the area rather majestically with an exotic raised concrete stilt build, just in case the high waters should ever return. The palms in the inner courtyard add to the eastern flavour, close your eyes and with a bit of imagination you could be in Bali or Phuket.
But back in 1911 Maskell Road was a normal terraced street and the only sniff of the far east was when someone like Alf Chipperfield at No2 emigrated and his ship to Australia might have called in at Singapore or Malaya. This western end of the road butted up to the massive Hugh Stevenson cardboard box factory and you can catch glimpses of it in the Pathe footage of the works taken in 1937. The Phipps family would have had great views of its distinctive tall chimney and water tower. At the other end was Ron Jackson’s garage and motorworks.
You might have expected one of the Phipps to have worked at the box factory and they very likely did at some stage, but in 1911, that other great Summerstown employer, the laundry seemed to hold sway at No28. Leonard William Phipps senior, originally from Teddington, had married Sophie Peacock in St Anne’s Church, Wandsworth in 1897. It appears that they had five children of whom Leonard, born the following year was the second oldest. In the 1911 census he was 12 and younger brothers, Albert was 5 and George 3. Leonard senior was a building labourer and Sophie worked in the laundry. When he joined the army five years later Leonard worked for one too.
His service record doesn’t tell us very much. Leonard joined the 10th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment at Kingston on 13th May 1916, just after his eighteenth birthday. He was taller than average at just over five foot nine and he had a tattoo on his left forearm. Leonard’s nephew John who lives in Littlehampton found a great photograph of him doing what would appear to be some kind of military training. The boys are definitely warming up for front line action and those sandbags look like they are ready for a bit of bayonet practice. It could even be the notorious ‘Bull Ring’ at Etaples as was famously depicted in ‘The Monocled Mutineer.’ We can only hope that this training occupied Leonard long enough to avoid him being plunged immediately into the fighting on the Somme that summer. He is in the third row from the left, third from the front. It was great to welcome John Phipps and his wife on a Summerstown182 Walk this summer and he bears more than a passing resemblance to his Uncle.
The 10th East Surrey were raised in Dover in October 1914. Shortly after Leonard joined they became known as the 30th Training Reserve Battalion. On 1st February 1917 he was promoted to Lance Corporal and in December of that year transferred to the 5th Middlesex Regiment at Gillingham and went to France in January 1918. On 12th February he was posted to the 21st Middlesex Regiment now part of the 119th Brigade. His timing was bad as the following month the regiment caught up in the huge German ‘Spring Offensive’advance at St Quentin. The date of Leonard’s death on 23rd March is similar to so many of the Summerstown182 who died in a ferocious onslaught which saw the German army advance 40 miles.
The attack was launched on 21st March and total casualties were enormous, more than on the first day of the Somme. On that day, British and Commonwealth forces lost some 38,000 men of whom 20,000 were made prisoner. An usually high proportion of those who died have no known grave and are remembered on the Arras and Pozieres Memorials. Ten of the Summerstown182 are commemorated on the Arras Memorial and when we visited there in October, we found and photographed L W Phipps’ name. John has also been here. His death is also noted in the St Mary’s parish magazine in June. ‘We regret that William Leonard Phipps, 21st Middlesex Regiment was killed in action on March 23rd’. In the same paragraph, the loss of George Colwell, Henry Moss, Horace Woodley, George Cooper, Frank Churcher Brown and Albert Hawkes is also noted. The last two were also residents of Maskell Road at Numbers 11 and 28 respectively.