Anyone researching a soldier called Arthur James Mullinger Mace and coming across his record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database would see an intruiging message written along the bottom, beneath his biographical details. ‘Arrangements are being made to add this gentleman’s name on the Screen Wall in this cemetery’. The CWGC have told me that it might still be a year before this happens, but how wonderful that it is, and what an occasion it will be for 90 year old Joan and 87 year old Ivor to see their Uncle’s name carved in the soft white stone. Ninety nine years after he served his country in the First World War, recognition at last for Trooper Arthur Mace from Thurso Street.
The names of Arthur and William Mace are on the St Mary’s Church war memorial in Summerstown, but to our great surprise there was no trace of them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, the definitive record of servicemen killed in the First World War. Both had been discharged from the army as a result of their tuberculosis and they died shortly afterwards. The Mace brothers are both buried in unmarked graves in Streatham Cemetery, about ten minutes walk from the church. Before we knew that, one bleak day, myself Sheila and Reverend Roger Ryan searched for signs of his grave in Block E, grave 807. There was no trace of it and the burial register in Lambeth Cemetery confirmed that he was in a public grave with twelve other people. The gravedigger kindly marked out the precise location with a wooden peg. William is buried a few minutes walk away, with ten other people in Block D, Grave 420. He’s not far from a holly bush in a raised grassy area which probably contains the remains of hundreds of people. Both are tranquil parts of this cemetery and I’ve closed my eyes several times and tried to imagine the scene of their burial. Were there any family there that day? Perhaps their mother, a brother or a sister?
The news about Arthur being accepted for CWGC recognition broke last December, six months after we passed on his death certificate and other relevant details to Terry Denham at an organisation called ‘In From the Cold’. It was very exciting but the mood was tempered by the fact that William had been rejected. We were desperate to share the news with Arthur’s family. Finding them wasn’t going to be easy. In the 1911 census the Maces were living at No2 Thurso Street. The details presented a startling chaotic picture of thirteen people rammed into the bottom half of a typical Tooting two up, two down. The boys mother Clara had remarried, to a man called Harry Smith in 1906. They now had three small children of their own as well as two girls from Harry’s previous marriage. Besides the three Mace children, there were three boarders in the house including two soldier brothers from Brixton. Arthur and William’s sister Kathleen was around but a younger brother Frank had died as an infant and it seemed there was no male line. There was no sign of another sister called Hilda who had been present in the 1901 census. Further research showed that Hida had married a gentleman called Dick Durham at St Mary’s Church in 1915 and that there were children. This was now the best chance of finding a relative of the Mace brothers.
Dick was a jockey and it appeared that the family had settled in the Epsom area. Sheila found an address for an Ivor Durham who was most likely Dick’s son. Not long afterwards we got a phone call from Anne Wood, Ivor’s daughter. It has taken a while to sort out and been probably quite hard for the family to comprehend how a bunch of strangers in south London know so much or care about their family. Ivor and Joan never knew that these brothers of their mother ever existed. For some reason Hilda never mentioned them. They were respectively nine and six years younger than her but no one knew about them until a family member did some research a few years ago. Until they heard from Sheila they certainly didn’t know they were on a war memorial in Summerstown or that a bunch of pupils at Ernest Bevin College in Tooting are planning a campaign to get William officially recognised.
We finally met them last Friday; Ivor and his children Anne and David and his sister Joan. We showed them the war memorial in St Mary’s Church then walked via Thurso Street to Streatham Cemetery. Its unlikely we’ll come across a photo of Arthur or William or find out very much more about them. We are all agreed, this is as close as it gets. Clara was known to Ivor and Joan as ‘Granny Smith’ and her second husband curiously had the moniker ‘Skipper of Merton’. They remember visiting Thurso Street and recall that the family lived downstairs. Their mother Hilda, then aged 21 had gone to work as a nurse at the Manor Asylum Hospital in Epsom which was how she met Dick Durham. The Maces came from Rochester and while there is no photo of Arthur and William, there is one of their home in Rochester, a pub called The Spread Eagle in Union Street. Here in 1901 their father Harry is listed as a printer and ‘beer housekeeper’. There were five children. Harry died in 1904 at which point the family probably moved to London. We were also kindly shown a photo of Harry Smith and Clara probably taken in the thirties at Thurso Street.
Arthur went to Diss in Norfolk on 7th March 1915 to join the Welsh Horse Yeomanry. He was just short of 20 years old and gave his occupation as a cinema operator. They were part of the East Coast Defence Force, invasion threats were taken seriously and in the spring of 1915 several towns in East Anglia were bombed by Zeppelins. In September they found that they were posted to Gallipoli. They sailed from Liverpool on board SS Olympic on 23th September 1915, arriving at Mudros port on the Greek island of Lemnos on 8th October. Insult was added to injury when the men of the Welsh Horse discovered they had effectively swapped horses for shovels. They were given the task of digging trenches, saps, and mines under the Turkish positions – dangerous and strenuous work. Although there were to be no major attacks at this time, the Welsh Horse lost men who were either killed or wounded in the daily attrition of trench warfare, picked off by the Turks. But in the awful conditions in Gallipoli sickness was rife, especially dysentery, and this accounted for many more. Less than two weeks after arriving at Gallipoli, Arthur Mace became so ill that he had to be evacuated on 19th October 1915 via Mudros to Malta, and finally to England by 19th November 1915.
Arthur Mace was posted to the third line reserve of the Welsh Horse and remained in the UK. But it become clear that Arthur was not regaining full fitness and by July 1916 he had a serious health problem. Arthur appeared before a medical board on 11th September 1916 where he was diagnosed with TB of the lung, ‘aggravated by exposure and hardship on active service’. Arthur was discharged with a pension that was to be reviewed after one year. Arthur’s case and pension award were reviewed in both March and August of 1917, by which time he was in the ‘Downs Sanatorium’, Sutton. The final review took place in early May 1918. Arthur never recovered from TB, and passed away on the 1st October 1918, almost exactly three years after he had landed at Gallipoli. His death was registered in Greenwich and on 7th October 1918 he was buried in Streatham Cemetery, just a short walk from the family home on Thurso Street.
William had gone off in the other direction, the previous year. He went to Brecon in Wales, home of the SAS, and on 14th November 1914 had joined the Brecknock Reserve Battalion of the South Wales Borderers. He was born on 2nd April 1898, so in his sixteenth year, but gave his age as 18 years and 8 months. On 12th May 1916 he was discharged from the Army as ‘no longer fit for war service’ with TB and spent his last days in the Hostel of God on Clapham Common where he died on 13th March 1917. His service records state that he had contracted pulmanory phistisis which had originated four years previously as a result of working as a pawnbrokers assistant. Due to ‘exposure to chills and unhealthy life in pawnbrokers’. He would not be eligible for a pension. He gave 18 months of his young life to the service of the British Army but they were careful on his discharge notes to state that his condition was ‘not result of or aggravated by service’. In 2014 those words were used by the War Graves Adjudicator at the National Army Museum to decline our petition for William Mace’s official Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemoration. Is it that important? Well, there exists no public record of this young man’s sacrifice. Future generations will not be able to search a database and find his details. He may never have served overseas, dug a trench or advanced on the enemy but he gave a year and a half of his life to the service of this country in its darkest hour. That must count for something. It is just fortunate that his name was placed by Reverend John Robinson on our St Mary’s memorial so we know about him. One hundred years ago he was prepared to fight for us and now we will fight for him.
Many thanks to Chris Burge for helping put together this post. Sheila Hill and Dorothy Williams for their research work and Anne Wood and the Mace family for sharing their memories and photographs. A very special thank you is also due to Terry Denham and ‘In from the Cold’, Arthur Mace being just one of many servicemen and women whose memory is now preserved due to their efforts. Streatham Cemetery on Garratt Lane is a delightful place to visit and great work is being done there by The Friends of Streatham Cemetery who host regular open days, walks and events.