A few weeks ago, the ever-vigilant Chris Burge alerted me to a post on the Mitcham History Notes website. It had been written by Peter Hannah whose Aunt Annie married Ernest, the younger brother of George Richard Batson of the 7th Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment and one of the Summerstown182. George died in hospital in Southampton on 5th September 1918 and is buried in Wandsworth Cemetery. Ernest’s son Ronald who passed away last year had inherited his Uncle’s medals from his father. After Ronald died, Peter was asked to look into the details of George’s service and is trying to find a living relative of the Batson family to pass the medals onto.
George Richard Batson was born in 1899, one of the nine children of Henry and Flora. They were married in Chelsea in 1890 and in 1901 were living at 62 Lots Road in the Sands End area. Just round the corner in Uverdale Road were the Clay family, with young William working at that time as an errand boy. Turn another corner and one more of the Summerstown182, Dorset stonemason John Lander was lodging in Burnaby Street. This fascinating waterfront area was to be turned upside down in front of their eyes a few years later. Henry worked as a ‘coal carman’ and the construction of the Lots Road Power Station there in 1905, practically opposite their home would have probably given him some work. It burned 700 tons of coal a day, powering the burgeoning Underground railway and tram system. The station, always in the shadow of its two bigger and better-known younger siblings, Battersea and Bankside, actually outlived both of them and only closed in 2001. Its development plans had been until very recently put on hold. But by 2018 it will have been transformed by superstar architect, Sir Terry Farrell into the usual clutch of exclusive luxury apartments which a coalman can only dream about. The original house at No62 is still there, recently valued at £2million. The Edward VII postbox probably arrived on the scene around the same time. Also that year, just the other side of the Kings Road, a football club were formed in the locality – though no one is quite sure what happened to them. When he wasn’t feeding coal to the Chelsea Monster perhaps Henry may have queued up at Stamford Bridge for his place in The Shed.
The Batson family were still in Sands End when four year old Arthur died in June 1905 but by 1911 they had crossed the river and were at 76 Foss Road, Summerstown. Henry and Flora had now been married 20 years and six of their nine children were still alive. George, now aged 11 had three older sisters. Lilian and Florence, the two eldest worked in the cardboard box factory. Its just possible that they may well have been at the Corruganza Works three years previously and played a part in the famous box-makers strike. Nellie was a servant looking after a retired banker in Balham. The other children were Ernest aged six and Ivy who was two.
By the time the First World War began, they had moved the short distance to 23 Blackshaw Road, not far from Summerstown Mission and facing the open ground of Lambeth Cemetery. This may have been less dramatic but would have been quieter and more pleasant to look at than the Chelsea Monster. The homes here were demolished in the sixties and would have been roughly at the foot of Hayesend House, one of the two fourteen storey towers which dominate the Summerstown skyline. George had just passed his 18th birthday when he signed up for the 29th Training Reserve Battalion in Wandsworth on 27th February 1917. His attestation form lists his profession as ‘attendant’. By the time he wrote his will, leaving everything to this father, on 10th April 1918 he was in the 7th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment.
George found himself in France in the summer of 1918 as the allies pushed the Germans back across the Somme battlefields in the Battle of Amiens. Major General C.R. Simpson’s ‘History of the Lincolnshire Regiment 1914-1918’ compiled from ‘War Diaries, Despatches, Officers’ Notes and Other Sources’ bullishly records ‘The Battle of Amiens was the prelude to three months of brilliant fighting, first in entrenched positions and then in open warfare, the British Armies, with their Allies, advancing without a check from one victory to another’. A significant advance began on the morning of the 24th of August with the enemy driven back to the Hindenburg Line. George’s 7th Lincolnshires crossed the Ancre and attacked at Courcelette. Here they were held up by machine-gun fire and took position north-west of Martinpuich, at 5am on the 25th. Between 21st and 28th the regiment lost eight officers and 203 other ranks. Somewhere around here, in the vicinity of Martinpuich, in a position south of Eaucourt L’Abbaye, George was very badly wounded. It was roughly the same area where fellow Summerstown182, Edward Lorenzi lost his life in the mud just over two years previously.
George’s death certificate (see below link) indicates that he was hospitalised in France for eight days before being repatriated to Southampton. Here at the University War Hospital, he died of his wounds on 5th September 1918, aged 19. What a battle he must have put up to preserve his life. The typewritten certificate makes difficult reading. He had suffered multiple gunshot wounds necessitating the amputation of his left leg. Gangrene had set in and on top of that he was suffering the effects of gas. A Corporal J Slade was present at his death. George Batson is one of nine of the Summerstown 12 who are buried in Wandsworth Cemetery on Magdelene Road, where his name is on the First World War screen. Two conifers stand directly in front of this evoking the two surviving chimneys of the Chelsea Monster.
Peter has sent me photos of George’s medals and the original documentation and package that was sent to Henry Batson containing the British War and Victory medals awarded to his son. Henry and Flora both died in December 1938. Ronald Batson was aged five at the time and he had to wait until 1974 when Ernest died and the medals passed to him. St Mary’s Church is only a few minutes walk from the location of 23 Blackshaw Road, not much past the post box if Reverend Roger Ryan was popping out to post a letter. ‘G R Batson’ is in a prominent position, third from the right on the top line of names, directly beneath the word GREAT of ‘The Great War’. We look forward to welcoming Peter Hannah to the church very soon to see it.