Around a hundred years ago, the two houses next to St Mary’s Church on Wimbledon Road, looking across towards Hazelhurst Road, were inhabited by familes of an artistic nature. Next door at No44 were the Bucklands, whose ten children, five sons and five daughters, included the magnificently-named Frederick Sigmur Buckland of the Royal Field Artillery who was killed on the Somme. Bertie Buckland was a silversmith, or to be more precise a gold and silver embosser and modeller. Not that there was a lot of silverware around Summerstown, but a handy man to have as a neighbour if Reverend John Robinson of St Mary’s wanted anything engraved on a Communion Cup. Their neighbours at No42 were the Abrahams family. Walter Abrahams hailed from the St Luke’s parish in the Clerkenwell area and worked as a pottery-ware enameller. What a glorious vision of artisan life – Bertie working on his silverware nods over the fence to Walter who is just finishing off touching-up the glazing on some earthenware bowls. Why, they could even trundle off together down to Merton Abbey Mills market and set up a stall. Its just possible that some of the plates and bowls that Walter worked on now turn up in the famous Saturday morning Wimbledon Stadium car-boot sale.
Walter and his wife Sarah had two sons according to the 1911 census, Ernest born in Lambeth was twelve and Stanley six. The family then lived round the corner at the Garratt Lane end of Keble Street. No9 was next to the Barnes family. Its currently available to rent for a cracking £2,200 a month though sadly the estate agents couldn’t spell the name right on their website. Thomas Hicks and his brother Harold shared the house with them. Thomas was also a pottery ware enameller and most likely worked with Walter. The Abrahams family had moved to Wimbledon Road by 1918 and they were still there in 1930, though having moved a few doors down to No30.
In the company of three other members of the Summerstown182; William Pitts, Percy Randall and Alf Palmer, Ernest joined the famous East Kent Regiment known as the Buffs. He was in the 6th Service Battalion which was raised in Canterbury and went to France in June 1915. They eventually became part of the 12th Eastern Division. At the Battle of Loos, 117 officers and over 3,000 men would become casualties, one of these was Percy Randall of Carminia Road, Tooting. The following year the 6th Battalion were involved in the early fighting at the Somme and later at Pozieres. In 1917 its possible Ernest was caught up in the terrible carnage at the Third Battle of Scarpe in which William Pitts from Hazelhurst Road and 250 Buffs lost their lives in the dark of the morning of 3rd May.
In 1918 they were back on the Somme and engaged in heavy fighting as the enemy advanced over the old battlefields in their Spring Offensive. The response which was to turn the course of the war and lead to victory began that summer. On 1st July 1918, the 6th Battalion attacked the village of Bouzincourt which was still in German hands. After initial success, a counter-attack drove them back at a cost of 680 casualties. It was on this date, the second anniversary of the first day of the Somme, that twenty year old Ernest Walter Abrahams lost his life. Ernest is recorded as having died of wounds and is buried in Gezaincourt Communal Cemetery Extension near the town of Doullens. In most cases the burials here were from casualty clearing stations and particularly in the summer of 1918, from the 3rd Canadian Stationery Hospital which was where Ernest possibly succumbed to his wounds whilst being treated.
Another soldier with a Bouzincourt connection was the writer JRR Tolkien who was as a 24 year old British soldier, stationed near the village in 1916. He took part in the nearby Battle of the Somme and wrote about the area in his diaries. Its suggested Tolkien may have visited Bouzincourt’s caves, places where hundreds of soldiers took refuge before the Somme and that some of his impressions ended up in The Lord of the Rings. The names and doodlings of hundreds of soldiers are etched into the chalk as if they had been inscribed yesterday.
Its unlikely that two years later Ernest Abrahams visited those caves, but his name lives on, the first on our Summerstown182 roll of honour. Curiously, although the 182 names are largely written in alphabetical order, he is not the first name on the war memorial itself. Mark Archer, a Royal Fusilier from Burmester Road somehow slipped in front of him and takes that honour.