Cut and Blow

mentonMaskell Road 5
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There would appear these days to be an inexhaustible supply of hairdressing salons on the main Earlsfield drag of Garratt Lane. So, it seems appropriate that one of the Summerstown182 should have a tonsorial connection. The soldier in question is Edward Anthony Lorenzi from 4 Maskell Road, the son of a French hairdresser from Menton, a lovely town on the Meditteranean coast not far from the Italian border and where my Mum worked as a Cook’s Tour Guide in the fifties. As with all the Maskell Road homes, the house has now gone, but positioned at the Garratt Lane end, the occupants would have been well placed a hundred years later to step out and explore their options for a quick cut and blow. Several of the census records incorrectly transcribe Michel Lorenzi’s  birthplace as ‘Merton’ and although our illustrious neighbouring borough is very pretty, the west bank of the Wandle is hardly the Cote d’Azur. We may well find that out when we walk it on Saturday.

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Many years later, in swinging sixties London, Vidal Sasson would have been snipping Mary Quant’s bob in the same road, but back in 1881, Michel Lorenzi was living and possibly plying his trade in Carnaby Street. He was 28 and married to Sarah Forsyth with a three year old daughter called Theresa. It would appear that two other children died in infancy; Edward in 1882 and Blanche in 1884. Edward Anthony, born in 1886 must have been a very special blessing. By 1901 the family were in Maskell Road and there were now two other sons. Theresa had followed her Dad into the hairdressing business and Edward, now 15 was a shipping clerk. In 1911 all four children were still at home. Theresa had laid down her scissors and was now working, rather grandly as a ‘Shop Assistant Costumier’. Edward was an insurance clerk and Louis and Francis were both engineers in a metal works. Michel and Sarah both lived to a ripe old age. Michel passed away in 1934 aged 80 and Sarah was 87 when she died seven years later. Sadly both Francis and Theresa also passed away that year, but Francis lived on locally until his death in 1978.

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Edward Lorenzi served in the 1st/20th battalion of the London Regiment. This regiment had its base in Blackheath and was a unit of the Territorial Army with its HQ at Holly Hedge House, Blackheath. This was bombed in WW2 and most of the regiment’s records were destroyed in the subsequent fire. It went to France in March 1915 and fought at Festubert, Loos and the following year at Vimy Ridge and High Wood on the Somme.

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From his medal roll, we can tell Edward entered France on 16th June 1916. Most likely as a conscript and now about to face one of the bloodiest battles ever fought. The front in northern France stretched for about twelve miles in a vertical line that ran to the north and south of the River Somme. In the next months he would have seen tanks in action at Flers and taken part in the capture of High Wood. A number of his Summerstown182 contemporaries including George Kidd, Arthur Clarke and George Collyer lost their lives in these ferocious battles.

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Edward Lorenzi had been in France a little over three months when he was killed in the land of his father’s birth. It was 1st October at what became known as the Battle of Le Transloy Ridge. This was one of the last offensives of the Somme, fought on already devastated terrain in persistent rain, mist and fog. His regiment were attacking near Flers on the day and the plan was to seize the stronghold of Eaucourt L’Abbaye. The attack began after a seven-hour bombardment, at 3.15pm on 1st October. It was met with fierce German resistance and it was not until the afternoon of 4th October that the objectives were secured. The 141st Infantry Brigade War Diary written up on the 4th bluntly states the casualties from noon on 30th September, to noon on 5th October as a total of 1,082. This included 134 killed and 293 missing. Edward Anthony Lorenzi would have been one of the missing, lost in the mud so evocatively described by John Masefield who had visited the Somme during the month and subsequently recorded his impressions; ‘I never saw such mud, or such a sight in all my days. Other places are bad and full of death, but this was deep in mud as well, a kind of chaos of deep running holes & broken ground & filthy chasms, and pools & stands & marshes of iron coloured water, & yellow snow & bedevilment. Old rags of wet uniforms were everywhere, & bones & legs & feet & heads were sticking out of the ground’.  

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Consequently Private Edward Lorenzi’s name would be inscribed on the great memorial at Thiepval. A few weeks ago we saw it – on a beautiful warm afternoon in late Autumn, we travelled from Fred Buckland’s cemetery at Mametz, through Bazentin-le-Petit and Albert, places where Edward would have trained or been in trenches. We passed the Tank Memorial and the Ulster Tower at Beaumont Hamel and observed the great Edward Luytens monument at Thiepval rising slowly on the horizon from behind the trees. Among the 75,000 names are thirteen of the Summerstown182 including Edward Lorenzi. The others are; George Benfell, James Chenery, Henry Foley, Robert Govan, Harold Hatcher, Ernest Haywood, George Hope, William Ibbott, Thomas Meikle, Ernest Pelling, Reginald Thomas and William Wood. The memorial is currently swathed in scaffolding, awaiting the great centenary year when one hundred years will have passed since the dark days when all of the names upon it were lost.

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