The enclave of homely little streets between Garratt Lane and Garratt Green have an old-world charm and tranquility. Sure, like all the other roads around here these days, there’s plenty of banging, ripping-out and extending upwards, but as soon as you enter Huntspill Street you leave the crazy world of Garratt Lane behind and feel at peace. It does a sharp right and wraps itself around Bellew and Squarey Street like a protective arm, sheltering these roads from the bustling world outside. Even today with house prices out of most folk’s reach, it still appears to have a good mixture of young families and long-term residents. There may not be candles in the windows yet, but it has a special cosy character which leaves visitors and passers-by with a warm comfortable feeling. This close knit connection is summed up in the story of George Buckley and his family, a combination of census, birth, wedding, death and electoral data paints a portrait of a family with strong connections to Summerstown and St. Mary’s Church. George’s father Edwin had died by 1904 and his mother Marian passed away at the end of 1914. Yet rather than moving apart, the ties between the various siblings and in-laws show how families supported each other and remained in close proximity in a way that is much less common today. The addresses mentioned are almost just a few doors from each other and you can imagine people in and out of each others houses and inter-connected lives. Many of them remained in in the area until the end of their days, into the 1970s and beyond. This world has been so vividly brought to life through the extraordinary research skills of Chris Burge.
George Anthony Buckley served in the 12th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and was killed on 6th June 1916. He was a 21 year old storekeeper from 17 Bellew Street who had joined up in Wimbledon on 15th June 1915. From this street and neighbouring Huntspill Street, five soldiers came from one extended family; George, his two brothers and two brothers-in-law. Older brother Charles from 13 Huntspill Street joined six months later and the youngest one, Edwin, a year later, four months after George’s death. His brothers-in-law Frederick Hall and James Hurrell also served. Edwin, James Hurrell and George all gave their address as 17 Bellew Street. Quite a road, because directly opposite is No18, dubbed the ‘Unlucky House’ on our Walks. Here in successive years, three members of the Summerstown182 from different families were killed in the First World War; Henry Ollive, Ernest Haywood and Henry Geater.
Edwin Buckley, a joiner from Matlock, Derbyshire married Marian Buckley from Thame, Oxfordshire in 1885 and by 1891 they were living at 7 Franche Court Road. They shared this house with the family of Sunday School Three member, William Mace who was born there in December 1892. Fast forward ten years and the Buckleys were at 77 Summerstown with six children, three girls and three boys. George was seven with two older sisters, Elizabeth and Rose and one older brother, Charles. The two youngest were Marian and Edwin. In December 1904 Edwin Senior died aged 42 and may well have had his funeral service conducted in the new St Mary’s Church. By 1911, Elizabeth Buckley had married James Hurrell and was living with the rest of the family at 17 Bellew Street. In a perfect encapsulation of Summerstown life, two of the household worked at the laundry and one at the box factory. Rose Buckley was a laundry packer and Charles worked in the wash house. Seventeen year old George worked in a factory. Also at 17 Bellew Street were the Hurrell family, James was a laundry engineer and Elizabeth who had a small daughter was also employed there. Four laundry jobs in one household, Mrs Creeke would have liked that. They went on to have five other children, one of whom born in December 1915 was prophetically named George, six months before his uncle was killed.
George’s Medal Index Card shows that he went to France on 20th October 1915, his first taste of front line service pitting him straight into the foul mess of waterlogged trenches, rain and mud. Some of George Anthony Buckley’s service papers have survived. They are very faint and hard to read in places, but we can glean many nuggets of information from them. Its clear that both his parents had died prior to the war as he gives his brother Charles as his next-of-kin and some of the forms are in fact completed and signed by his elder married sister Elizabeth, who likely acted as a surrogate head of family around this time. It all sounds a bit like Peaky Blinders. Having said that she took one of the forms not to Reverend John Robinson at St Mary’s but to a local Police Inspector, so maybe not. George Buckley’s ‘soldiers effects’ entry confirms the names of all of his siblings.
The 12th (Service) Battalion Rifle Brigade had been formed at Winchester in September 1914. On 22 July 1915 they landed at Boulogne and whilst not involved in the main Battle of Loos itself, they were embroiled in costly subsidiary attacks from 25th September onward. One of these at a place called Moulin de Pietre resulted in 313 casualties. George would appear to have been part of a large draft of reinforcements, when on 28th October, 106 men arrived at the front, to a sector near Lille. His Battalion’s positions up to the end of the year can be traced from the relevant war diary and trench maps. His documents show that he had scabies and was out of the line for a few days in early December 1915, no doubt caused by lice and the general filth, mud and unsanitary conditions of the trenches. George injured an ankle in early February 1916 and was out of action for the best part of three months.
He returned to his battalion on 30th May 1916. They were now just to the east of Ypres in front of the small village of Potijze. Literally in a direct line east of the Menin Gate which is noted in the left hand column of the war diary by ‘E Menin gate’. George was killed just a few days later in an incident which is vividly described in the war diaries. The 12th (Service) Battalion Rifle Brigade were fighting with the 3rd Canadian Division when they came in the line of a fierce attack on 6th June. The Germans had taken a number of trenches in the previous few days and were on the offensive. On 6th there was intense shelling and a number of trench attacks were repelled. At about 315 pm one of two mines exploded under a 12th Rifle Brigade trench at Gully Farm. Lieutenant Messenger and 22 men were buried alive, 12 of these were later rescued. At the end of the day 75 casualties were accounted for including 24 dead. One of these was George Anthony Buckley. The graves of six of these Riflemen killed on 6th June are in a line at Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery in front of the Memorial Cross. The cemetery is one of four in the grounds of a Chateau which was destroyed in the fighting and never rebuilt. Potijze was within the Allied lines during practically the whole of the First Word War and although subject to incessant shell fire, Potijze Chateau contained an Advanced Dressing Station.
Elizabeth and James Hurrell continued to live at 17 Bellew Street until her death in December 1970. One family’s connection with one house for almost six decades. George’s other older sister Rose married Frederick Hall in 1913 and had two daughters. A year later Marian Buckley died. Meanwhile in 1915 Charles Buckley married Edith Luckie from Coverton Road in Tooting. Whether the former Miss Luckie knew she was moving oppposite the ‘Unlucky House’ on Bellew Street is very doubtful. Sadly Charles died in 1921 leaving her with two small daughters. George had two younger siblings, Marian and Edwin. Marian married Alfred Hawkes in 1919 and Edwin wed Rose Hillman on Christmas Day 1920. Edwin and Rose lived in Squarey Street before moving to Morden. Marian’s husband was the brother of Alfred Hawkes, another of the Summerstown182 from Maskell Road, killed on 25th April 1918. She would appear to have lived on at 20 Huntspill Street until 1972. In the parish magazine of June 1956 there is notification of the baptism of an Alan Michael Hawkes at that address. He’s hopefully still around and if so, he should be proud that he has two Great Uncles in the Summerstown182.
As with many of the Somme stories written in the past few months, they are based on a phenomenal amount of research work done by Chris Burge. Look out for his website on the Mitcham War Memorial and keep an eye out for some developments relating to this coming very soon.