A few weeks ago we spent three golden days visiting the graves and memorials of the Summerstown182 in northern France and Belgium. Some of the smaller cemeteries are very hard to find and on the trail of Frederick Sizmur Buckland we made a bad start, circulating the wrong Mametz before being advised that the one we were looking for was 25 miles away on the Somme. Then we spent about an hour entangled in the endless ring-roads around the town of Bethune, searching for Sandpits Cemetery at a place called Fouquereuil. Its very close to the cemetery where Henry Geater is buried at Fouquieres, which we kept passing. All very confusing. Anyway, back on track we headed up a dirt road beneath the A26 motorway and alongside a ploughed field to the edge of a wood. This was Sandpits Cemetery tucked into a leafy tranquil corner of a busy heavily-populated industrialised sprawl. As we followed the path on the edge of the wood, acorns popped out of the surrounding oaks and crackled underfoot. The trees were a mid-Autumn blaze of red, green and gold. This was a special place and the man we had come to see was Arthur Crosskey from 22 Maskell Road. In fact we weren’t the only visitors to the graveyard, there was also an energetic little black ladybird with red spots purposefully circumnavigating his headstone.
Arthur served with 4th Royal Fusiliers and died in the Battle of Lys on 27th April 1918, the final sting-in-the-tail of the great German Spring Offensive lead by General Erich Ludendorff. It was also known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres – there are five of them in total would you believe. This one, which ran from 9th-28th April resulted in the Germans outflanking the British and a great many soldiers were blinded by tear gas. Early that month German forces captured Messines and Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force issued his famous order ‘There must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one must fight on to the end’. The last shell fell on Ypres on the 14th of October 1918. In the area around it, with names such as Hill 60, Passchendaele, Lys, Sanctuary Wood…over 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded as well as an uncounted number of civilians.
Arthur was aged 22 and his mother Susan and his home at 22 Maskell Road is mentioned in his cemetery registration details. Susan who was originally from Ipswich married Henry Crosskey in 1886. By 1901 they had six children and were living at Boyce’s Cottage, Garratt Lane, roughly where Earlsfield police station now stands. There is a great photograph of these simple wooden workers cottages in the London Metropolitan Archives. Henry was a general labourer and eldest son Frederick worked in a bone factory. Ten years later the family were at 22 Maskell Road and sixteen year old Arthur was employed as a draper’s porter. There was now a youngest sibling called Alfred. Brian, born in 1942 was Alfred’s son and lived in the street until the late sixties. It would appear that there are quite a few Crosskey family members still around; in Bristol, Morden and Wallington. Two of them, read a short article about Summerstown182 in the Diocese of Southwark newsletter ‘The Bridge’ and came to St Mary’s Church and met Reverend Roger Ryan. Unfortunately they didn’t leave contact details. We would dearly love to speak to them and see if they know any more about Arthur or would like to join us on one of our Summerstown182 Walks.
Sadly, unlike many of the houses of the Summerstown182, there is not much to see of No22, which would have been about half way down on the left in the picture above. On that side now there is a huge brick wall part of Louis Danzanvilliers’ lighting emporium. The massive London Big Bus tour company depot and a couple of print companies on St Martin’s Way back onto what would have been Arthur’s garden.The view below looks back up towards Garratt Lane.
Over fifty years later, Arthur’s nephew Brian was still living at the same address. Another of the Summerstown182, Albert Hawkes had been resident just three doors away at No28. In the 1969 electoral roll his brother William was there with his wife Dulcie. Albert was in the Devonshire Regiment and extraordinarily died just two days before Arthur Crosskey, on 25th April 1918. What a very sad time for this street but how extraordinary that there were this little pocket of families resident in the same houses over such a long period. These are the lost houses on one of the lost streets, now largely covered by the Burtop estate. Indeed but for the floods, the Crosskeys and Hawkes might still be there today.