Platoon Sergeant

church monthly

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A number of the bound red collections of the St Mary’s parish magazine which have told us so much about the Summerstown182, have a dedication inked in fountain pen on the inside front cover. It says simply ‘Presented by Mrs Collyer, 1923. Rev W Galpin, Vicar’. Hard to know for sure, but did Mrs Collyer make some kind of offering to the church, perhaps paying towards this precious collection? It also makes me wonder if she must be the mother of the G W Collyer on the war memorial. Certainly George Collyer is a name than comes up with some frequency in the early years of the war. Very sadly the most detailed account is the one outlining his death, at a place called High Wood on 15th September 1916.

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Charlotte Weaver married Robert Alfred Collyer in Wandsworth on 14th January 1888. In the 1901 census they were living at 4 Elton’s Cottages, Garratt Green. After Robert Sadler’s running track shut up shop, one of the first things built was the More Close Bleach and Dye Works. A Captain Frederick Eden Elton had four adjoining cottages built for the workers and modestly named them after himself. He lived nearby in a large property known as ‘The Chestnuts’ which was later the home of none other than Alice Creeke who ran The Anglo American Laundry. You can see the cottages on the above map, where the Bleach Factory has been replaced by an Electrical Components Works. At 2 Elton’s Cottages lived the family of another of the Summerstown182, Henry Briggs, who also died in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland. There were five Collyer children, George born in 1893 was the older boy, his brother Laurence Alfred being six years younger. His sisters were Gertrude, Dorothy and Alice. Robert worked as a painter and glazier and with houses popping up all around him in these early years of the century, he would not have been short of work. He may even have worked on the biggest building project in the area, the construction of the new St Mary’s Church. In 1911 the family were at 41 Headworth Road, a little further up Garratt Lane and one of the ‘lost streets of Earlsfield’ that disappeared after flood damage in 1968. This incredible photo from 1924 shows these streets, packed with little terrace houses. In the foreground you might just pick out a horse and plough working a field at the end of Headworth Road. George was sixteen years old and employed as a cutter, possibly at the cardboard box factory. Gertrude was an ironer, yet another laundry job no doubt. Dorothy, also sixteen and possibly George’s twin, had one of the best Summerstown jobs we’ve seen come up so far, she was employed as a chocolate packer. Almost thirty years later at the start of the Second World War, Charlotte was still at the same address. Gertrude had married a photographer’s printer called Thomas Prior and the couple were also living at 41 Headworth Road.

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George must have been a territorial soldier before the war and served in the same 23rd Battalion, London Regiment as the three sunday school teachers, William Mace, James Crozier and Laurence Gibson. In the parish magazine of October 1914, Reverend John Robinson published for the first time his, roll of serving soldiers and sailors ‘a list of men serving their King and Country who have gone forth from this parish’. George William Collyer is one of them. Nothing more is heard of him until August 1915 when the vicar writes ‘we are glad to know that the following who have been reported wounded or sick, have recovered. Norman Lane, Lionel Catchpole, Alfred Dare, James Chenery, Bob Pinnell, George Collyer and Walter Thomas’. In October it was noted that Laurence Alfred Collyer had joined the Royal Field Artillery. At sixteen he was still three years too young for overseas service but he was far from the only ‘boy soldier’ to slip through the net. In March 1916 it would appear that notification was received of a promotion. ‘We also congratulate George Collyer of the 23rd London Regiment on receiving another stripe and now being Sergeant Collyer’.

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That summer of course saw the start of the Somme offensive and before long news of the devastating casualties found its way onto the pages of the St Mary’s parish magazine. Reverend Robinson would not have wanted to cause panic or alarm, but as the bad news came ever faster, his sense of deflation and despair is evident in the tone of his words. In November he wrote ‘The Vicar has received a letter from one of the Church workers who was in Sergeant George Collyer’s platoon, referring to his death saying, ‘He led his platoon to a dump with ammunition, bombs etc and the enemy began to shell us while so doing. The platoon was dispersed, a few being wounded; but Collyer, with remarkable coolness, rallied his men and led them back to the trench they had left. A few minutes later a shell landed killing him and two others almost immediately… He was the best platoon sergeant I have ever known, and I feel sure that all those left in his platoon will feel his loss keenly’. In the next paragraph he refers to the death of Arthur Clarke from Franche Court Road ‘in the great battle of High Wood’. Both George Collyer and Arthur Clarke died on the sane day, 15th September 1916.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We visited the London Cemetery Extension at Longueval, the final stop on our trip to the Somme in October 2014. We had just seen George Kidd in Caterpillar Valley and it was getting dark and we were a bit weary and not particularly looking forward to a lengthy search. Amazingly, both the graves of George Collyer and Arthur Clarke are very close to the entrance of the cemetery. In fact Arthur is in the front row with George in the one behind him but about five or six graves along.  It was quite a surprise to see these neighbours who lived in streets separated by Garratt Lane from each other, end up being buried so near to each other. Even more extraordinary was that both graves sprouted flowers in full bloom. Arthur, a pale yellow rose, George an unruly sprig of michaelmas daisies. It was a little explosion of colour on a drab and overcast day and no other graves had such decoration. A few months later, a group of relatives of Arthur Clarke came on a Summerstown Walk and I told this story outside his home at 45 Franche Court Road.

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As for George’s younger brother, oddly enough Laurence Alfred Collyer pops up in the absent voters list at 41 Headworth Road in 1918. Not only had the lad pulled the wool over the authorities eyes and got way with being an underage soldier, but now he was in line to have a vote in the general election two years before he was actually entitled to it. Who could begrudge him that. The St Mary’s parish magazine of October 1944 reported on Charlotte Collyer’s death. ‘She died at the home of her daughter, Mrs Prior, 41 Headworth Road  at the age of 85’. Mention was made of her life-long association with St Mary’s and her 41 year membership of the Fairlight Hall People’s Fellowship. ‘We extend our sincere sympathy to the bereaved family with a special thought and prayer for the prisoner-of-war son in Hong Kong’. Laurence would have been 45 then and its just possible that this was him. We are still working on whether he eventually made it home.

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Billy’s Boots

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William and Frank Ibbott were two sporting lads from Huntspill Street whose football and cricketing talents were documented in the pages of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine in the pre-war years. They remind me of a story in a comic when I was growing up called ‘Billy’s Boots’ about a boy who played football in the winter and cricket in the summer. Billy Dane lived with his Gran and had found an old pair of ankle boots in the loft which he discovered had once belonged to the legendary ‘Dead-Shot’ Keen. The magic boots made Billy assume Dead-Shot’s extraordinary goal-scoring prowess. By remarkable coincidence, he then pulled a pair of old gloves out of his Gran’s trunk and whenever he put those on, would you believe, he became a superstar wicket-keeping cricketer. Unfortunately I can’t tell you that Jay is carrying a pair of Frank Ibbott’s old boots in that Sainsburys bag in the above photo, but I think of the brothers often as we pass by their door on a Saturday morning heading for our own regular kickaround. It’s the tidy little white house with the scooter outside. Come 1914, William and Frank were prime soldiering stock and quick to swap the green and white of St Mary’s FC for khaki. William James Ibbott was one of 30 of the Summerstown182 who died on the Somme battlefields and whom we are specifically researching this year. He was killed at the height of the battle, on 23rd July 1916 and is one of the 75,000 names commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. Frank Ibbott joined the elite Grenadier Guards and would appear to have survived the war.

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Nestling close to the bend of this distinctive angular road, Joseph and Rosetta Ibbott lived at 28 Huntspill Steet. They were there in 1901 when William was just 8. He had an older sister, Clara who was 10 and a younger brother Frank, aged 6. Their Dad worked as a ‘Lunatic Attendant’ most certainly in Springfield Asylum where he very likely knew Edward Lewis, Sidney’s father. William and Frank were just a short distance from Garratt Green and must surely have played a lot of their early football and cricket there. The house has just been whitewashed in true Mykonos style and it looks like Foxtons or whoever will soon be putting up their signs.

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The Ibbott lads were both choirboys and sunday school regulars and I’m sure that their names would be found amongst the 600 contained in the bottle behind the St Mary’s Church foundation stone. They were Prize Winners in the ‘Boys Bible Class’ of February 1904 and were right at the forefront in the new Church on the sunny day it was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwark on 30th April that year. Their names are mentioned in the first group of choirboys who at 3pm formed a procession outside the new church. It had been eleven years since the old church was demolished. This was ‘a day looked foward to by the inhabitants of this parish for many a long year, sometimes almost with despair’. The service culminated with the baptism of the vicar’s twin sons, John Lovell and Innis Lovell Robinson. The church cost about £10,500 and in his address the Bishop not only mentioned the large donations made by the weatlthy Gassiott, Thorne and Lancaster families, but also that ‘the locality is not by any means rich, but from the small houses £400 has been collected’. They still needed more and ran out of funds when it came to build a tower.

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The next few years of peaceful Edwardian life must have been a glorious time to grow up in Summerstown. A new active church, houses being built, a thriving friendly mutually-supportive community, truly rose-tinted  days of outings, lemonade and watercress sandwiches. Typical was 27th June 1907 and the sunday school excursion to Bookham. 460 children and 96 adults assembled at the Garratt Lane schoolroom and marched two abreast to Haydon’s Road station, proceeded by the school banner. Mention is made of a white kitten boarding at the station and travelling all the way under the guard’s van. After a day in the grounds of the Merrylands Hotel where amusement rides were available, there was a tea of bread, jam and cake. Each child was then given a banana and sympathy was expressed for the caterers having to clear up 460 skins. They got back at 9pm and ‘Plough Lane seemed to be full of Summerstown people, tired but happy, most bringing back spoils from the country in the shape of flowers’. The Band of Hope was thriving, crashing their cymbals regularly on the streets of Summerstown and in May they enjoyed their annual excursion to Court Farm, Warlingham. They trooped up Burntwood Lane and got a train from Wandsworth Common. The day was idyllic, ‘Everything looked fresh, new paint, whitewash, and best of all, grass that had not been trodden bare by thousands of little feet. The fields were one mass of buttercups and the hedges covered with white may’.

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Reverend John Robinson was a keen cricketer and a St Mary’s team in which he often participated, had been established for a number of years. In 1909 they decided to start a Junior Cricket Club and secured a pitch ‘through the kindness of Mr Stevenson in a meadow down Riverside Road’. Not too many meadows to be seen down there right now. It was around this time that the owner of the box factory was being decidedly unkind to 44 young women workers who had the temerity to go on strike. Perhaps his act of goodwill on the cricketing front was a PR gesture to improve his image which had definitely taken a knock. There is a battered old framed photo of a cricket team on top of a cupboard in St Mary’s Church. No names, no year, but it just might include the Ibbott brothers.

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By 1911, the three Ibbott children were all grown but still at home. William was an apprentice compositor and Frank was a lift attendant, working for the Remington company. Clara worked as a vellum binder. One child was noted in the census as having died. In the September edition of the parish magazine, Frank is mentioned as a regular top-scoring batsman in the reports of Junior Cricket matches against such teams as Emmanuel, Sutton Pioneers and Stockwell United. That Autumn, James Jenner Crozier formed a St Mary’s Football Club playing at Magdalen Road. This may well have been on a ground which was later home to Summerstown FC, on the left in the above photo. It is situated where Earlsfield Library currently stands. At a meeting in the schoolrooms on 11th September, funds were raised through a concert which included ‘humorous songs’ and two clarinet solos. Frank was elected captain and it was decided that the team would play in green and white.

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The following year the boys, unlike fellow member of the Summerstown182, Victor Wayre, were no longer in the choir. Frank 16 was now a leading goal-getter for St Mary’s Summerstown FC. In their matches that winter he notched on six occasions, including a brace against Longhedge United. He also scored in a 3-3 draw with Fairlight. By the end of the season they had played 23 matches, won 9 and drawn 3. Honorary Secretary, James Crozier wrote ‘The success of the club is mainly due to its captain, Mr F. Ibbott, in the way he has captained the club’. In spite of this glowing reference, in September 1912, the captain elected for the new season was Mr W. Ibbott, also captain of the cricket team. The brothers had the second and third highest batting average in the 1st IX, only William Mace, their Huntspilll neighbour bettered them. Frank had twice the average of his brother and the second highest bowling average. He was also amongst the goals again that year including two in a 4-2 win over St Anne’s. The following season there were no football reports but William was re-elected cricket captain and Frank was still clocking up good averages. The Football and Cricket Clubs were now combined under one ‘Athletic Club’ umbrella and its was proposed to start a cycling section. At this time ‘teams and particulars of matches’ were displayed in Mrs Aslett’s shop window at the bottom of Bellew Street. Try that one today in Foxtons or Jacksons. It was around this time that a club called Wimbledon Borough FC moved to a ground just half a mile or so down the road, on the corner of Plough Lane and Haydon’s Road. They became Wimbledon FC, FA Cup winners in 1988 and founder members of the Premier League. Its very likely that in 1912 their scouts were casting an eye over young Frank Ibbott.

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One year later, as the world turned upside down, William and Frank were perfect soldiering age. William joined the 8th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Frank is listed in the parish magazine as being in the elite Grenadier Guards as early as October 1914. He was nineteen and in the prime of his life. In the July 1916 issue of the St Mary’s magazine, in the paragraph after the one where the deaths at Jutland are noted, Reverend Robinson recounts news of his star sportsman. ‘We are glad to know that Frank Ibbott of the Grenadier Guards, has so far recovered from his serious operation and that he is shortly leaving the hospital at Brighton for convalescent treatment’. Around this time, just as Frank was getting better, his older brother William would have gone missing on the Somme battlefield.

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The date of his death and where his battalion fought, would suggest that William Ibbott died on the first day of the Battle of Pozières, when the village was initially captured. This bloody encounter resulted in 23,000 casualties in six weeks. Pozières is notorious for the extent of the Australian losses and their official historian Charles Bean noted that the Pozières ridge ‘is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth’. In recognition of this, The Australian War Memorial owns a little piece of France, the Windmill site at Pozières. It was from here that French soil was dug up to scatter on the coffin of Australia’s Unknown Soldier when he was laid to rest at the Canberra Memorial on 11 November 1993.

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The first and only mention of William comes in the August 1917 issue when Reverend Robinson wrote ‘The War Office has now assumed that William James Ibbott  of the Royal Fusiliers and Archibald Dutton of the East Surrey Regiment, who were reported as missing some months ago, are dead. Our sympathy goes out to their relatives’. This was a year after what is officially recorded as his date of death. In the years after the war there is little mention in the parish magazine of football or cricket as the community struggled to get back on its feet. In 1921 it was noted that St Mary’s FC were in Division 4 of the Wimbledon District league and playing at Stamford Farm, Greyhound Lane in Streatham. Results are listed but there is no mention of Frank or indeed any other players. Whatever happened to him, he is not listed in the CWGC War Dead. We can only hope that he recovered from his wounds, survived the War and went on to lead a happy and fulfilled life. It would be good to know that his serious operation didn’t stop him from playing sport again.

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Lower Smallwood

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A photograph of a V.J. Day street party in 1945 has gripped the attention of all who have seen it. So many of the faces now have a name or have been recognised when its been shown on one of the Summerstown182 walks. Its taken from the other side of the street and looks over at a stretch of houses from No132 to No142, Smallwood Road. They were all demolished in the sixties and the site is an odd arrangement of flats backing off what is left of Foss Road. Iris Clay’s maternal grandparents, William and Alice Richardson moved into 142 Smallwood Road in 1916 after William had been badly wounded at Ypres, and was training at Epsom Camp for a new, sustainable post-war occupation. Alice, who is the silver-haired lady in the middle of the front row in the party photo is pictured below thirty years earlier wearing the uniform of a munitions worker. William and Alice had five children, the eldest of whom, Billy, died in 1935. One of them, Ellen Richardson is also pictured below. By the outbreak of WW2 the others had moved on and married but were living in adjacent houses with children of their own. The little terrace of six properties was occupied by ten to eight families. By the end of the Second World War when the photo was taken, there were at least seven or eight children living at No138. Iris’ mother and father, Tom and Lilian had four children and the Welch family also lived there. At the height of the bombing raids the whole extended family would huddle together in the ground floor of No142. Things were quite basic, there were very primitive outside toilets and the back staircase was extremely steep and narrow with no light to guide the way. ‘However there seemed to be something of a village lifestyle there at that time, especially at the lower end of Smallwood Road, with so many families living in such close proximity’.

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Iris and her family would probably not have known it, but a generation earlier their little terraced house was home to the Hatchers. Frank Hatcher was an undertaker and some-time plumber from Wandsworth who married an Alice Mary Taylor on 16th February 1890. His father John had also been an undertaker. Their first home would appear to have been Gladstone Road in Wimbledon. Harold Victor Hatcher was born on 28th April 1893 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church, South Wimbledon. In 1901 they were living at 69 Defoe Road, half a dozen doors away from Sidney Lewis who was born two years later when the trams arrived. If you look at the above photo Sidney’s house is roughly where the second estate agent’s board is. No920 used to be No69 Defoe Road and that’s where the Hatchers lived. Eight year old Harold was the oldest of three children with a brother Wilfred and baby sister Edith. Further moves over the next decade took them to Mandrake Road and 26 St Cyprian’s Street in Tooting. Another brother Leslie was born in 1903.

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The house there was right on the corner of Totterdown Street and undertaker Frank may very well have done business with William Mellhuish, whose funeral business headquarters and family home on the corner of Totterdown Street  and Tooting High Street, were just round the corner. In fact you can see both No26 and the funeral parlour in the photograph below. Mr Mellhuish and his wife were leading lights of the local recruitment drive of 1915. With his long black hair, extravagant moustache and sombrero, ‘Billy’ Mellhuish was quite a Tooting personality. As an independent councillor, his remonstrations over the placing of the Edward VII statue earned him the moniker of the ‘Tooting Troublemaker’. His firm stand secured the placement of the statue in Tooting rather than in Wandsworth. The site of his office is now one of the best loved eateries in Tooting, the renowned Lahore Karahi.

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At the other end of St Cyprian’s Street on the corner with Kellino Street is the charming St Swithun Mission. In 1914 two houses were bought here and a small wooden church was dedicated in 1916 as an adjunct to nearby All Saints in Brudenell Road. Over time, it attracted a sizeable Sunday School but only ever a small congregation. In the early 1930’s a local ‘buy a brick’ campaign resulted in a more permanent structure and the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Kingston on 18th June 1932. Not long after the war it was sold to the Association of Boys’ Clubs and became Tooting Boys Club. If Morrissey and The Smiths had hailed from these parts this would have been where they shot the album cover. Later it was a Hindu temple and a martial arts centre but has probably been empty now for about ten years. Whatever next?

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By 1911 the Hatchers were a mile or so down the A24 at 66 High Street Colliers Wood with another three children. Harold was 18 and working as a glazier and printer, doubling up on his trades, a bit like his old man. The address is now the home of Colliers Wood Community Centre. I called in to see what they knew about their location and was warmly received by a lady who spent a considerable amount of time looking for an old photo of the cottages which had been there before. These were demolished to make way for the Centre in 1966 and they have just celebrated their fiftieth birthday.

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Frank and Alice had been married 21 years and had nine children in total, three of whom had died. Alice herself passed away aged 53 in 1918 and the CWGC next-of-kin details describe Harold as the ‘son of the late Mr and Mrs Hatcher’ so possibly Frank had also died at this point. Some of the children however carried on living at Smallwood Road till at least 1921 when Leslie Hatcher wrote it on his attestation form. Curiously there is no mention of 138 Smallwood Road on the absent voters list, Wilfred and Leslie would still have been too young to vote.

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Alfred Kirby next door is on this list. His grandson Neil heard about our project on Radio Jackie and has since joined us on a number of walks. Charles Alfred Kirby, who was born in Groton Road Earlsfield, lived at 136 Smallwood Road at the time he volunteered. He went to France in 1915, and survived without a scratch, though he was gassed on several occasions. He is in the back row, second from the left in the above photograph. Neil sent us these other beautiful photos which he believes were taken at 136 Smallwood Road. They include his Grandmother, Betsy with her daughter Florence, (known as Flossie) and the Johnsons from No140. George is holding the dog and Henry Johnson is pictured in Aldren Road doing his rounds as a costermonger. Extraordinary to think these people would all have been so familiar to the Hatchers but sadly, so far we have no pictures of them.

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Wilfred joined the East Surreys in Wandsworth in May 1915, he was underage but only just. He survived the war and in 1923 he married a Mabel Lingham from Tranmere Road. Twelve years later his younger sister Doris married Mabel’s brother Percy. Lesley Hatcher joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1921. Leslie died in Hammersmith aged 64 in 1967. Wilfred died the same year in Carshalton aged 71, Mabel passed away three years earlier.

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Harold enlisted with the 12th Battalion of the famous King’s Royal Rifle Corps in Rotherhithe. Raised in 1756 to defend the colonies against the French and native Americans, early recruits were colonists and ex-regulars. They adopted an ‘Indian system’ of forest warfare with lighter equipment, moving in more mobile and open formations. The 12th (Service) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps proceeded to France on the 22nd of July 1915, landing at Boulogne. Harold’s medal card indicates that he may have been with them. In 1916 they were in action at the The Battle of Mount Sorrel and The Battle of Delville Wood. Harold’s date of death is given as 19th September 1916 and something happened around this time in the Ginchy area as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 31 casualties of the 12th King’s Royal Rifle Corps between 18th and 21st September. The majority are on the Thiepval Memorial. This may have been at what was known as the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. Here tanks made their tentative battlefield debut and the son of one Prime Minister, Raymond Asquith was killed while another future Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan was seriously injured.

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Back at 138 Smallwood Road, Thomas Clay, Iris’ father was the youngest child of Private William Clay. Tom never saw his father, who was killed at a place called Westhoek Ridge on 8th August 1917. This summer it will be the greatest pleasure to take Iris to the Flanders battlefields and attend the ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, upon which her Grandfather’s name is inscribed. The following day we will travel an hour or so to the south and the main Somme Commemoration at Thiepval Memorial on which the name of Harold Victor Hatcher is written. Sidney Lewis made it home and his name wasn’t written up anywhere – until now. In September a plaque raised by the people of Tooting will be placed on the house where he once lived in Garratt Lane.

Thank you to Neil Kirby for allowing us to use his family’s photographs and to Chris, Iris and Sheila who have contributed so much to this story.