Dear Jim

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Marion Kidd came down from Luton during our first season of Summerstown182 Walks – it was one of the wettest days of the summer and if we hadn’t had such a special guest, we probably would have called it off. But we managed to walk the southern Tooting circuit, dodging between trees and concrete hideaways on the Hazelhurst estate and avoided getting too soaked. The main interest that day was George William Kidd, one of six of her father’s cousins who were killed in the First World War. James John Kidd, George’s half-brother is also on the memorial, but its taken us two years to get to him. I write this almost on the centenary of his death, on 19th July 1916. Marion knows very little about him, but a rather poignant connection to him comes via Joan, a granddaughter of his sister Millicent. She once spoke to Joan of her sadness at the loss of her dear brother ‘Jim’ in the war. John was in fact one of Millicent’s eight older brothers and Chris Burge has done another outstanding job in shining some light on them.

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George John Kidd was an eastender from Stratford who came to Wandsworth with his widowed mother Mary around 1871. His first wife Alice died shortly after their only child, George William was born in 1885. He remarried another Alice on 30 September 1888 at Holy Trinity Church, Upper Tooting, Alice Mary Bark. A year earlier, George William was baptised in St Mary’s Summerstown. It would appear that he was raised by his Grandmother, also remarried and now Mary Meads. They lived at various addresses including 20 Bellew Street and Copplestone Place, which must surely have a Bob Sadler connection. By 1891, the Kidd family were living in Langroyd Road, Upper Tooting next door to Alice’s parents, with their first two children, Charles and Percy. By 1901 they were at 6 Salvadore Place, right in the heart of Tooting, in the shadow of what is now the Granada Bingo Hall – soon to show a film for the first time in 40 years. There were now five boys and a girl and James was eight, four years older than youngest child Millicent.

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This was once the site of an estate built in 1744 by Joseph Salavador, a wealthy tradesman of Portuguese descent. Apparently the family played a leading role in the estab­lishment of the first Jewish settlement in America. In 1776 Francis Salvador was the first Jew killed in the American War of Independence, fighting with the militia on the South Carolina frontier against Loyalists and their Cherokee allies. However by the time the Kidds arrived there the Salvadors had long gone and things were on the slide. The estate had become an enclave of cottages, pubs and poorly constructed overcrowded housing, encroached on by the rapid expansion of modern day Tooting. The slums were cleared around 1930 and the Granada went up. The name Salvador lives on through an iron sign across an alleyway leading to the Sainsbury’s car-park between Macdonalds and The Graveney and Meadow pub. It is said to possibly be the entrance to the estate. Certainly some of the old brick walls around that area could tell a story or two.

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By 1911, the family had grown still further with the addition of three more boys and there were now nine siblings. They were living in a house on the newly built Totterdown Estate at 32 Letchworth Street. Surely a huge step up from the madness of Salvador. In that census the two older boys are listed as being in the army, Charles had joined the East Surreys aged 18 in 1907 and Percy was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. They were both in India for some time, stationed at Lucknow amongst other places. Trams had come to Tooting, a new King was on the throne and the area was expanding at a frightening rate. Between 1896 and 1911 the population of Tooting increased five times to over 36,000. Charles and Percy were going the other way and probably saw Army life as an escape from the chaos of burgeoning urbanisation.

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Electoral data shows that the Kidds soon moved again, to 18 Fairlight Road. They were here from 1914 onwards and would maintain a connection with the address for a considerable period after the war. This was ‘Parrafin Park’ an area not without great social problems, described so vividly by Alfred Hurley in ‘Days that are Gone’. Charles served throughout the War, in various East Surrey Regiments, though his papers have unfortunately not survived. Percy John Kidd had joined the Royal Field Artillery on 29th April 1907. He went to war on 14th August 1914 and was taken prisoner just two weeks later on 28th August. Remarkably, he was a POW for 4 years and 241 days, arriving back in Hull on 19th December 1918, just in time for Christmas. This was an extraordinary length of time and must have taken its toll, as when he was discharged the following year, the reason was that he was suffering from ‘neurosis and anxiety’. Another brother, William George Kidd, listed in the 1911 census as a ‘traction engineman’ volunteered early in the war on 10th October 1914, also for the Royal Field Artillery.  He suffered shell and shrapnel wounds in April 1918 during the German Spring Offensive which ended his active service. His papers have survived and include extensive notes regarding his injuries. His profession is described as ‘road repairer’ which was also something his father did. Certainly his disability would not have helped his chances of employment after the war. A report in 1919 describes rather optimistically that he ‘can walk fairly well but tends to use the front part of his foot rather than the heel.’ William’s name was indicated on the 1918 Absent Voters List at 18 Fairlight Road as a Bombadier, though he was very likely in hospital at the time and a long way from being able to fire any sort of gun.

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James John Kidd joined the East Surrey Special Reserve in late 1913, around the same time that his brother Charles was in India with the East Surreys. For whatever reason, when it came to joining the regular army, he signed up for the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB). The Surrey Recruitment Registers show that only ten Surrey men joined the KOSB, and just three of those had previously been in the East Surrey Special Reserve. One of those other two was a lad called Arthur Francis Malyon, a plumbers mate, with family in Khartoum Road, Tooting – the next street to where James Kidd was living. The two were very likely friends who stuck together at first. Arthur Maylon was posted to the 2nd KOSB and went to France on 20th July 1915, and was later killed in action on 15th May 1917. James Kidd was in the 1st and 6th KOSB. His MIC and medal roll indicate that he did not go to war until 3rd July 1915, when sent to Gallipoli to join the 1st Battalion KOSB. After being evacuated from Gallipoli in January 2016, the 1st KOSB moved to Alexandria in Egypt and then landed at Marseilles in March 2016 for service on the Western Front.

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James John Kidd is listed as having died on 19th July 1916, most likely as a result of an attack which commenced on the 14th, known as the Battle of Bazentin Ridge. From Captain Stair Gillon ‘The KOSB in the Great War’‘14th July 1916, 6th KOSB acted as carriers of water, bombs, SAA and RE stores under heavy fire as the attack went on W of Bernafay Wood and Caterpillar Valley, Objectives three quarters to a mile off up hill, were to be taken the most important Longueval. The first trenches were still 300 to 500 yards off, after a credible night advance of more than 1,000 yards. When day light came they had proved their discipline and made fighters of them, for by 8am they had won half the village and by 4pm the whole of it. The Battle of Bazentin was a great day for the British Army’. More than 9,000 men were killed, wounded or captured in taking Bazentin Ridge.

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The 15th and 16th July 1916 were spent in the same way as the 14th, carrying water and bombs. While fighting raged round the orchards of Longueval and at Delville Wood, involving the likes of Sidney Lewis and the South African Infantry, the Borderers attacked some houses in the woods. There were still some enemy strongpoints, machine gun posts left at Longueval on the 14th were holding out and needed to be put out of action. At 2am on 17th July 1916, after an bombardment of an hour and a half, the KOSB advanced in the dark, but were soon cut to pieces. On the 18th and 19th July 1916, 6th KOSB were ordered back into the firing line at Clarges Street and Pall Mall and to close support in Sloane St, all of them alleys or roads in Longueval. No sooner had they got there than a heavy bombardment began, and by the time they were relieved on the night 19/20th they had suffered further losses of 6 officers and 120 men killed and wounded, leaving only 100 men and 3 officers.

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James Kidd is the only KOSB man buried at La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, where the 21st and 5th Casualty Clearing Stations were set up. The town was some distance behind the front line and a major medical centre. Situated between the River Somme and its tributary the River Ancre, so many wounded and maimed men would have come here either by rail or the hospital barges which discharged here or went on to Amiens. The bulk of the 6th KOSB casualties on the 19th July 1916 have no known grave and are named on the Thiepval Memorial. It is more than likely that James John Kidd was injured at Longueval and died later of his wounds. Somehow he was taken back from Longueval to his nearest aid point and then possibly on via light railway from the 27th and 28th Field Ambulance positions to Corbie. The first is a distance of roughly two and half miles, the second a distance of approximately twelve miles. James John Kidd quite possibly expired en route or at Corbie where he was buried. Its hard to believe a dead man, in the heat of battle would be transported fourteen miles or more, all the way from Longueval to Corbie.

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In any case, James John Kidd would have been there at Longueval sometime between 14th – 19th July 1916. So when Marion Kidd goes there in a few weeks time with her grandsons to visit Caterpillar Valley, where George William Kidd is buried, she should know that she is on very special ground with connections to both these half-brothers. I hope they try to make the fourteen mile journey to Corbie, very close to the Somme river itself and have more success in finding James’ grave than we did. On our way back from the Somme Commemoration Ceremony and rather frazzled and tired after a very long day, we couldn’t locate it. We found another one of the Summerstown182, William McMullan from Keble Street in Corbie Communal Ceremony Extension, but unable to find a sign and with the batteries on our devices all failing as fast as our levels of perseverance, I’m sorry to say we turned around and headed for Calais. If its any help, it is apparently west of the village on the south side of the road from La Neuville to Daours.

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James’ mother Alice died in 1930 but his siblings lived on in the Fairlight area for a long time. Charles resided with his wife Annie in Pevensey Road and passed away in 1963, aged 74. Percy the POW married in 1919 and lived at No2 Fairlight Road. He died aged 57 in 1947, his four and a half years in German prison camps surely a contributory factor. Traction engineman William married in 1921 and lived at 59 Pevensey Road. He died in 1963 aged 71. Thomas Kidd lived in various addresses in Fairlight Road and also at 18 Defoe Road. He passed away in 1971 at the age of 75. As for the only girl, Millicent married a Sidney G Cock and had three children. She died in 1952. Two of the younger Kidd brothers, Alfred and Ernest remained in the area  and also lived into their seventies.

Many thanks to Chris Burge for his research work on this story. Chris is a contributor to the recently launched ‘Carved in Stone’ initiative in Merton.

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Somme Commemoration

We attended the Battle of the Somme Centenary event at Thiepval in France on 1st July. Reverend Roger Ryan asked me to tell the congregation of St Mary’s Church in Summerstown something about it on Sunday 10th July.

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Over the last two and a half years, we have immersed ourselves in stories of the young men whose names have been in the back of the church for nearly 100 years. Three of them were sixteen years old when they died. The oldest we believe was 54 year old George Nathaniel Daniel from Hazelhurst Road. We have identified where they lived, told stories on the streets outside their homes, in some cases visited their graves. We have researched their family background and military service and in many cases been able to contact their families and descendants. We have in a sense brought them to life.

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But they are only some of millions and the enormity of this was brought home to us the day we went to the Somme Commemoration. It wasn’t the red uniforms, the military grandeur or the presence of royalty or political elite  – it was the simple stories of everyday lives, tainted forever, that had the tears rolling down our cheeks. Stories told in a beautiful setting, the green rolling French countryside, with birds singing and poppies blowing in the wind. The soldiers who fought at the Somme were largely the volunteers from everyday life who joined the previous year, Kitchener’s Army, the pals battalions from northern towns or groups who worked in the same trade or profession. Painters, labourers, shop assistants, stockbrokers, clerks, railwaymen, footballers, cardboard box factory workers. Ordinary people, from ordinary backgrounds, thrown into an extraordinary situation.

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Among them, too young to yet have a trade or profession was Sidney Lewis a 13 year old machine gunner who went into a place called Delville Wood in the middle of July alongside 3,153 South Africans – at the end of six days fighting, only 755 of them were still standing. The dead outnumbered the wounded by four to one. ‘Delville Wood had disintegrated into a shattered wasteland of shattered trees, charred and burning stumps, craters thick with mud and blood, and corpses, corpses everywhere. In places they were piled four deep.’ It became known as ‘The Devil’s Wood’ and is the site of the South African National War Memorial.

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19 year old Sidney Seager from Thurso Street lost three brothers, they are on our war memorial – Albert, Edward and Ernest. His leg dangling by a thread, Sidney was carried out of a shell hole and back to his trench by a young Lieutenant from Newport Pagnell called Francis Taylor. As he was about to set Sidney down, he was shot in the stomach and killed. Sidney spent almost a year in hospital, survived the war, married and raised a family and lived to the age of 75. His widowed mother Winifred was spared another funeral.

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In that same battle of Pozieres, 23,000 Australians became casualties over a six week period. In the words of Australian official historian Charles Bean, the Pozières ridge ‘Is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.’ Dying with them was the captain of the St Mary’s Cricket team, 23 year old William Ibbott from Huntspill Street. His brother Frank, whose goal-scoring exploits for the football team pepper the pages of the pre-war parish magazine, was horribly injured but survived the war. Horatio Nelson Smith was sixteen years old and lived at 53 Hazelhurst Road. He died in the terrible fighting at the village of Guillemont alongside Protestant and Catholic Irish soldiers on 9th September. Overlooking the section of the cemetery where he is buried are two tall poplar trees, which seem to echo the two tower blocks which now stand on the site of his home, now the site of the Hazelhurst Estate.

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A week later Arthur Clarke from Franche Court Road and George Collier from Headworth Street, now submerged by the Burtop Estate, were killed the day that the stronghold of High Wood was finally taken from the Germans. In the four days that it took the 47th Division to capture High Wood, they suffered 4,500 casualties. Their Commander was dismissed for wastage of men. He was later knighted. A conservative estimate suggests that High Wood holds the remains of some 8,000 German and British soldiers who were killed in action there. Even today there are parts of the wood which contain live ammunition and signs give dire warning of the consequences of entering.

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Frederick Sizmur Buckland was one of ten children who lived in the house next door to Roger’s vicarage at 44 Wimbledon Road. The son of Bertie, a gold and silver embosser who played an active role in the life of this church for over ten years. Frederick manned one of the 18 pounder guns that was supposed to blast the German trenches and make things easy for the advancing infantry in the week leading up to the attack of 1st July. He was killed in September at Bazentin Ridge. When we visited the cemetery at Mametz where he is buried last year, we found some shells in the field next to it. Perhaps even one that he may have fired.

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Archie Dutton lived on Hazelhurst Road. His Dad was a bricklayer who probably helped build this church. He joined up on 7th July 1916 and also fought at High Wood. He was killed on 8th October at Warlencourt and last week we visited his grave and placed a photograph given to us by his niece Sheila from Orpington. She has told us about a young lad, just five years old, who is named after him. His Great Great Great nephew.

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Between 1st July 1916 and 18th November there were almost one million casualties on the Somme battlefields. 26 of the names on our war memorial died over his period, from almost every street in the area. Two of them, Ernest Pelling from Burmester Road and Henry Foley from Foss Road, in the very last days of the fighting. Another person whose life was affected by the Somme was a German-born baker called Peter Jung whose shop at the bottom of Garratt Lane was regularly ransacked by mobs. Its still there today, the Carphone Warehouse premises opposite Tooting Broadway. Why were his premises attacked? Just because he came from a different country and he had a funny name? Hatred and mistrust, whipped up by hysterical media, preying on fear and uncertainty.

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A common theme here is the youth of the soldiers. Apart from the reading of the individual soldier stories at the Thiepval event, it was the final act of the commemoration that moved us most – the placing of wreaths on hundreds of graves by children from schools from around the UK and Ireland. When we try and explain our history – that’s who we need to talk to. We need to tell them of the horrors of war. When we put up a Plaque to tell people about a twelve year old who went to war, its not to glorify him or the barbarity of senseless slaughter – its a warning. A reminder of the terrible horror that can be unleashed when people who face each other across different frontiers, of different colours and creeds, can’t resolve their differences. We can learn so much through history. Why should we be so shocked that a 13 year old was fighting in a terrible war 100 years ago when in Africa today, much younger children are fighting in conflicts in Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Uganda. Let Sidney’s Plaque be a reminder of that.

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We met so many people on our trip, from all over Europe and further afield and we told them about Summerstown and St Mary’s and what we are doing. One of the most memorable was a group of young students from Dusseldorf in Germany who were making a film about the commemoration. They interviewed us and we showed them Sidney’s Plaque and have invited them to attend the unveiling and launch event. In the spirit of reconciliation we extend the hand of friendship.

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As some of you may know, we have been fortunate recently to have been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to advance our project. Its not an easy thing to achieve and we should all take great pride in it. Our task now is to reach out to younger people through involvement in local schools, to begin with, Smallwood Primary and Burntwood. The setting up of a ‘Friends of Summerstown182’ History Group, a Military History Roadshow to be hosted at local libraries and walks, talks, visits to museums. We will listen to older people, hear their stories and record them. We will reach out to the very young.

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We want to involve all the community and help people understand a little better the place where they have chosen to make their home. We will continue to focus on the 182 but we will explore the involvement of Indian soldiers, those who came from the Caribbean and other parts of the British Commonwealth. Yesterday in Tooting Market, an elderly Jamaican gentleman told us of his memories of old soldiers from the island, and how they told him their stories of life in the trenches in Europe.

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One of our proudest moments so far in doing this project, was when students from Ernest Bevin College told us how engaged they were with the history of this community. We worked with them in the making a film for the BBC School Report programme which featured Summerstown182 soldiers. Some of their parents weren’t born in this country and they don’t have a Grandfather’s medals to show, but they felt a connection with the ‘boys’ who once lived in their streets. They felt a pride and a realisation that something which happened here 100 years ago was relevant to them and the telling of which they could be a part of.

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I want to take the opportunity to thank you all for the very many kindnesses and support you have shown myself and Sheila and this Project. From making tea, coming on the Guided Walks, sharing mementoes and old photographs or just a kind word of encouragement. One of you has told me on several occasions how she took great pride to learn the she lived in a house which 100 years ago had been home to a hero. William Warman DCM was a young stretcher bearer from Alston Road who saved many lives. We have just over two years to complete this project and I hope our work continues to flourish and the Church and our wider community benefit from the little bit of attention which has been gained from this project. On Saturday 24th September at 2pm, we will unveil a plaque on the house where Sidney Lewis lived in Garratt Lane. Afterwards we will launch our new Heritage Lottery Funded status in St Mary’s Church. I hope as many of you as possible can join us on that day.

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