It must have been one of the most exciting things to have happened in Tooting Broadway. Its the 4th of November 1911 and thousands of people have gathered to witness Archibald Davis Dawnay, the Mayor of Wandsworth, resplendent in his long black cape and chains of office, theatrically whip off a sheet to unveil a statue of King Edward VII. Paid for by public donations of ‘one shilling and upwards’, the Mayor’s fundraising campaign sounds like an earlier incarnation of ‘A Quid for Sid’. What a moment. The first major commission of sculptor Louis Roselieb, it is a magnificent 18 foot tall bronze figure of the King in the uniform of Commander-in-Chief. On either side of the pedestal are two bronze panels representing peace and charity. From his bakery on the corner of Defoe Road and Tooting High Street, Peter Jung must have glanced nervously across and wondered what might lie ahead. In the middle of the heaving throng, a young couple from Foss Road, Summerstown squeezed hands and nibbled blissfully on one of his Chelsea buns.
Not long after the Summerstown182 project got underway, Sheila and I went to Olympia for the BBC ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ Genealogy Roadshow. The highlight was definitely when we chatted up the good people from Forces War Records. They liked the look of our poppy map and before we knew it, we found ourselves in a TV advertisement for them. It was during this that one of their staff pointed out that one of the soldiers on our list who we didn’t know very much about, a Henry Edward Foley, had been awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry. We had seen his CWGC details but it was easy to overlook the discreet ‘MM’ notation. Two small letters on a piece of paper, indicative of very great bravery. At the time it was hard to find much more on him, and its only now, approaching the hundredth anniversary of his death that his story is told. Equivalent to the Military Cross (MC), the Military Medal, awarded to non-commissioned members of the Army, was instituted on 25th March 1916. It was an award for gallantry and devotion to duty when under fire in battle on land and on the reverse of the medal is inscribed ‘For Bravery in the Field’. Recipients of the medal are entitled to use the letters M.M. after their name. Over 117,000 awards were made for actions during the First World War and Henry Edward Foley we are proud to say was one of them. A page in the London Gazette dated 6th January 1917 shows the award of a Military Medal to G/5983 Cpl H.E. Foley, Royal Fusiliers. These lists often appeared several months after the event, so it seems likely to have been awarded for some sadly unknown action that took place while his unit was on the Somme from July onwards. Unfortunately by the time it was published Henry Edward Foley was dead.
The Foley family roots were in Lambeth and Albert Foley and his wife Florence were living in Camberwell when Henry Edward’s birth is registered at the end of 1893. Although officially Henry Edward, he consistently appears as ‘Edward’ on the census records which suggests that was the name he was known by. His father Albert was a jack-of-all-trades, his professions including barman, carman, painter and potman. In 1901 the Foleys were at 27 Fairlight Road and Albert was working as a potman at The Castle pub in Tooting, still going strong 115 years later. In his book ‘Days that are Gone’ Alfred Hurley, local councillor and founder of the Tooting and Balham Gazette recalls living in Fairlight Road in the early years of the century and how difficult life was for people in what he referred to as ‘Parrafin Park’. He doesn’t specify the number, just that it was roughly opposite Fairlight Hall. The house is marked with an arrow in the below photograph. Oddly enough it looks very similar to No27. There were five Foley children and over the next decade they moved frequently, living at Hazelhurst Terrace and at 19 and 41 Foss Road. By 1911 they had settled at No9. Albert was now working as a house painter and there were seven children, five boys and two girls.
Edward, now seventeen was the second oldest and working as a greengrocer’s assistant. Another family moving around this Foss-Hazelhurst triangle were the Mabeys, who would have come to Summerstown from Brixton around the same time as the Foleys. Charles Mabey was a bricklayer’s labourer and there were ten children, six girls and four boys, ranging in age from 26 to 3. Lizzie, the eldest and working as a cardboard box maker in an earlier census, appeared to have moved on. In 1911 they were at 54 Foss Road, an address already familiar to us as the home of the family of Alfred Byatt in the later war-time years. Eighteen year old Dorothy was the third oldest and along with four of her siblings, had been born in Brixton. Like her mother Mary and two of her sisters, she worked in the laundry. How Mary fitted in her childcare arrangements is nobody’s business. Heading off to her early morning shift at the laundry, young Dorothy may well have frequented the greengrocers on Wimbledon Road, perhaps stocking up on some watercress or an apple for her lunch. Edward VII’s statue went up in Tooting that autumn and in the Spring, the Titanic went down. Oblivious to it all no doubt, romance blossomed between the laundrygirl and the greengrocer’s assistant in the over-populated streets of the Hazelhurst triangle.
If we look at the map above you can see that No54, Dorothy’s home and Edward’s home where Nos 9 and 11 should have been, were practically opposite each other. No54 survived the V2 rocket of 1944 but the houses across the road were destroyed. On 8th December 1912, Henry Edward Foley and Dorothy Olive Mabey were married by Reverend John Robinson in St Mary’s Church. Both gave their ages as 19 and both were apparently resident at 54 Foss Road. Edward seemed to have moved on from fruit and veg and defined himself as a labourer, Dorothy perhaps preparing for a life of domestic bliss, had left the laundry behind and simply referred to herself as a spinster. The electoral roll shows that both fathers were registered to vote at this address in 1915, so very possibly the 11 Mabeys and 9 Foleys were now in the same house, though how the newly-weds fitted in with that is anyone’s guess. One of Edward’s army documents indicates that he was resident in Paddington. Its almost certain that Edward and Dorothy set up home elsewhere, especially given what happened a few months later. Edward’s ‘Soldiers’ Effects Register’ indicates that he and Dorothy had children, Mary in 1913 and Timothy the following year. His service papers have not survived but his Medal Index Card shows that Edward first went to France on 30th July 1915. Chris Burge who has done much of the research on this story managed to locate two examples of service papers of other soldiers in the 13th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers with army numbers close to Edward Foley’s. Examination of these suggests that despite being a married man with children, he volunteered sometime in September 1914, around the time of the birth of his son.
Edward Foley was killed in action on 15th November 1916 in the Battle of the Ancre, the last British attack in the Battle of the Somme. The general assault was launched amidst a tremendous artillery bombardment in darkness and thick fog at 5.45am on Monday 13th November. The objective was Beaucourt Trench near the village of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre. The above photo was taken near there that September. The attackers had to contend with deep mud, heavy enemy fire and poor visibility. The 13th Battalion Royal Fusiliers war diary states that they moved off too quickly and some of the advance were caught up in the fire of their own creeping barrage and that they were ‘considerably harrassed by machine gun fire from Beaucourt village’. ‘The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War’ by H.C. O’Neill published in 1922, states rather coldly ‘The casualties of the 13th were 8 officers and 130 other ranks. But the victory was complete. It was a great blow to German prestige and it made an important improvement in the British positions’. The attack ended amidst sleet and snow on 18th November, two villages were captured but the German line remained untouched. Somewhere in the middle of this Edward Foley was lost and his body never recovered. His name is inscribed on the Memorial at Thiepval, just a few miles south of where he very likely died. The Thiepval Memorial is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world and bears the names of more than 72,000 men who died on the Somme and have no known grave.
Dorothy remarried in 1917 and her wedding was conducted again by Reverend Robinson at St. Mary’s Summerstown on Christmas Day. Her second husband Albert Edward Bull from Maskell Road gave his profession as a ‘motor driver’. Why he had not been conscripted at the age of 27 is puzzling. Perhaps he was serving in Army motor transport of some description at the time or might he have been previously discharged. Perhaps his driving job was so significant that he was exempt. He is not on the 1918 Absent Voters List for Maskell Road which suggests discharge as the likely answer. Dorothy, now Mrs Bull and her new hubby stayed in Wandsworth after their marriage. They appear on the Electoral Roll at 29 Maskell Road between 1924 and 1926. The recently released Register of Identity Cards for 1939 shows Dorothy and Albert living in Hornchurch in Essex. With them was Timothy, the son from her first marriage, aged 25 and working as a butcher’s assistant. Dorothy died aged 80 in Barking in 1972 and Albert a year later. Charles Edward Mabey and Mary Jane Mabey, lived at 54 Foss Road until at least 1939.
The eldest Foley sibling was Thomas Albert Foley who was three years older than Edward. He joined the army in 1913 and had the distinction of serving in the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment throughout the entire war. He later lived at 56 Fountain Road before moving to Carshalton. Thomas Foley died in 1954. Another brother Percy was living at 11 Pevensey Road until the mid-1960s. On the way home last night I bumped into the Keeley brothers in Smallwood Road, just around the corner from where they grew up on Hazelhurst Road. They always like to hear what we are working on and Arthur’s eyes sparkled as he recalled Frankie Mabey, a childhood pal from Foss Road who later worked at the Astoria in Upper Tooting Road and emigrated to Rhodesia. He was very likely Dorothy’s nephew and once again we felt within touching distance of the war-time generation.
Thanks are due to Chris Burge who has done much of the research on this story and many of the other Summerstown182 soldiers who were killed on the Somme, one hundred years ago.
There will be a feature about Summerstown182 in the next issue of Forces War Records monthly magazine. https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/magazine/issues/2016/04/