Upper Tooting

Brown-Pitts

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Every once in a while our efforts to contact relatives of the Summerstown182 bear fruit in the most delightful way. A few months ago, after finding William Francis Brown on an Ancestry tree, we received a lovely email ‘Your message warmed my heart as it will be a hundred years on the 3rd May since my grandfather was killed at the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt just north of Cherisy. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial but I had no idea if he was listed on any local memorial and you have let me know that he is.’  We are very grateful to Jill Stock who has allowed us to show many of her family photographs and shared the following memories of her grandfather, William Francis Brown. We hope very soon to welcome her to Summerstown to see our memorial in St Mary’s Church. There are six Browns on there, but he is the first that we have written anything about.

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Known also as Will or Billy, William Francis Brown was born on the 21st January 1892 in Peckham. His father Frank was a gasworks inspector from Balham and married Emily Messenger at St Mary Magdalene Church, Peckham in 1891. Over the next decade three daughters were born, Lilian Helen in 1895, Violet in 1898 and Winifred Mary in 1900. By 1901 the family were in Deptford but for whatever reason they made the trip round the south circular to Wandsworth and in 1911 had alighted at 4 Chetwode Road in so-called ‘Upper Tooting’. This is a little bit out of our orbit, on the high ground, just the other side of where was once Miss Eliza Bell’s Park Hall estate. Known as ‘Lady Bountiful’ Miss Bell was an extremely wealthy Tooting benefactress who passed away in 1914. Her leafy landscaped domain, which once sandwiched the area between Springfield Hospital and Tooting High Street stretched all the way down to Summerstown in the Wandle valley where Bell’s Farm stood opposite Streatham Cemetery. There will be plenty more about her on our special ‘Women of Summerstown’ Walk on 11th March.

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Chetwode Road is a rather obscure street, tucked behind Tooting Bec tube station, off Trinity Road. It has changed considerably since the Browns were there. No4 seems to have disappeared, not just physically but also numerically. There still appears to be some of the original Victorian housing left, but these start at No15 and the rest of the road is an odd assortment of styles including one slick little modernist hipster pad that wouldn’t be out of place on Grand Designs. Assuming the white door on the corner of the Dinner Box chinese takeaway is No1 and the sixties red-brick house is No5, it might have been roughly between the silver and red car. But its possible the numbering has changed and No4 was on the other side which is now the back of a block of flats called Alfred Butt House on neighbouring Holdernesse Road. Sir Alfred Butt was the MP for Balham and Tooting between 1922 and 1936, so very likely came a-knocking on the door of 4 Chetwode Road seeking Brown votes. During the First World War he was Director of Food Rationing at the Ministry of Food but his political career ended in disgrace following a financial scandal. The three Brown girls and Mum and Dad were all still at 4 Chetwode Road in 1933, the year Frank died. Thanks to Mike Barnes for the black and white photograph of the road taken a year later. On 29th September 1940 the street was struck by a bomb which goes a long way to explaining its current unruly appearance. In his book ‘Boy in the Blitz’ Chetwode Road resident Colin Perry describes it thus ‘the road consists of very run-down houses; they are old, some thirty years at least. Its inhabitants are what I would call typical Cockney. To me it has always symbolised dull, routine Tooting, a place in which no spark of the untoward is to be found’. Close to the famous Wheatsheaf pub and some of the best Asian eateries in Britain, this end of Trinity Road appears now to be full of character with a cluster of interesting old-school shopfronts holding out against the advancing gentrification.

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Things appeared very promising for the family in 1911. They had seven rooms at 4 Chetwode Road, Frank was still working and two of his children were bringing in an income. 19 year old William was a mercantile clerk and 16 year old Lilian was employed as a domestic help. 13 year old Violet and 11 year old Winifred were still at school. William’s first job was for Joseph Travers and Sons in Cannon Street. He then worked as a clerk for Fisher, King & Co, leather and hide manufacturers based in Bermondsey.

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William married Irene Mary Lumbers (above) on the 17th August 1913 at Holy Trinity Church, Tooting – just a short walk up the road towards Wandsworth Common. If you’ve just been watching the BBC’s brilliant ‘Further Back in Time for Dinner’ this is very much Robshaw family territory. Its not beyond the realms of possibility that the Browns might have known Mary Cawston Bousfield, the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse who is on the war memorial in Holy Trinity. Buried in Rouen, she died of illness contracted on duty in France on 24th February 1919.

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William was 21, his bride was 18 and one of the witnesses had the spectacular name of Aspasia Daisy Lumbers which sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place in Miss Bell’s exotic nursery. Irene was born in Brentford, but lived at 82 Summerstown in Lower Tooting, not necessarily the wrong side of the tracks but definitely the other side of Lady Bountiful’s estate. Her family had been at that address from at least 1901. Her Liverpool-born father Thomas worked as a packer for the Church Missionary Society and in 1911 lived there with his wife Florence and two children, 19 year old Leonard and 16 year old Irene. Its funny how this end of the much maligned street has captured so much attention recently with Summerstown182 stories eminating from numbers 92, 90, 88 and 68. Like these, No82 has disappeared without trace but would have been roughly opposite the building that is currently home to the charity Generate. How the Girl from Lower Tooting met the Boy from Upper Tooting is hard to say, but it was into 82 Summerstown that they moved as their first home. Their daughter Irene Frances, Jill’s mother, was born the following year. William’s widow, Irene died in 1981 aged 86. His daughter passed away in 2006 at the age of 92.

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Following the outbreak of the First World War, William continued to work for Fisher, King. Its possible that the company was involved in the war effort, supplying leather for clothing and boots. On the 15th November 1916, he joined the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment as a Private. In early 1917, he arrived in France and was killed in the attack at Cherisy, six miles east of Arras. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Bay 6 of the huge Arras Memorial, together with 450 of his comrades from the East Surrey Regiment.

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Before the sun had risen on the misty morning of May 3rd 1917, William Brown and the 8th East Surreys had started their assault on the German front line at the village of Cherisy. The village was captured and they reached the banks of the River Sensee. However, on either side of the village, the flanking units were not as successful and completely overun when the Germans counter-attacked. Of the 500 or so 8th East Surreys who attacked at Cherisy, 90 were killed, 175 wounded and more than 100 captured.

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Killed alongside William Brown that day was William Pitts of the 6th East Kents. He lived on Hazelhurst Road, just the other side of Blackshaw Road from 82 Summerstown. His widow Minnie was one of 35 people killed there by a V2 rocket in November 1944. The War Diary of the 8th East Surreys contains a lengthy account from commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Irwin that pulls no punches about a fiasco which resulted in almost 400 casualties. Poor communications, lack of organisation and most critically an attack launched at 345am in complete darkness contributed to the disaster. ‘It was too dark to distinguish enemy from friend. As a result of this within even a few minutes of the start all units were hopelessly intermingled and formations as such ceased to exist. There was no moon, and within a few minutes of the start there was considerable confusion’. German troops mingled with assaulting troops and enemy aeroplanes flew low, dropping lights to show the position of the attackers.

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Also lost that day, and in the same regiment as William Brown, was the man who scored the winning goal in the 1909 FA Cup Final, Manchester United and Scottish International footballer Sergeant Alexander ‘Sandy’ Turnbull. In his book ‘The 18th Division in the Great War’ Captain GHF Nicholls recalls him as ‘a good soldier, earnest, extremely wide-awake and a man of good influence’. Like William Brown and William Pitts, Sandy Turnbull is on the Arras Memorial.

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Jill has all William’s letters to her grandmother, his cap badge, medals and his death penny. The photos below and above postcard were with William in France and sent home with his effects. His widow wrote the words on the back of the card which has William’s photo on the other side. Among those letters are several between Irene and William’s employer, a Mr CW Ward. Several months passed before his death was confirmed and the family believed him missing, presumed wounded or a POW. Mr Ward elected to make enquiries and was in contact with the War Office. Of even greater torment, was reference to a letter sent to Irene by one of William’s comrades, a Private Warren. He stated that he had buried William where he fell and gave directions. Sadly this letter was not copied and sent by the employer to the War Office in a desperate attempt to locate and repatriate his body. The letter went missing.

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Jill intends to visit Arras on the anniversary of her grandfather’s death in a few months time. We hope that she may also be able to place something provided by Maureen Giles in memory of her grandfather, William Pitts. Whether the two men knew each other is hard to say. William Pitts was ten years older than William Brown and both only came into the orbit of St Mary’s Church shortly before war broke out. There is something very poignant, after one hundred years have elapsed, that there should be a small kindness between two families who don’t know each other but have something in common. William’s only child, Irene Frances had three children, one of whom was Jill Frances, named after her grandfather. There are now eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren; as Jill’s Mum would apparently say, ‘Everything that ever was, is still here in some form or another.’

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UPDATE: 9th May 2017 We are indebted to Jill Stock for sharing her family history with us. She visited the Arras battlefields and on the centenary of the deaths of William Brown and William Pitts, she placed a tribute at the Arras Memorial, not just from her own family, but also one on behalf of Maureen. The two women whose grandfathers were killed on the same day, met for the first time just a few weeks earlier at St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. A few days later we also visited the Arras Memorial and placed a wreath from the church in memory of fifteen of the Summerstown182 who were killed in the battle, over six bloody weeks in spring, one hundred years ago.

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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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The pretty little church on the river has popped up in several 182 stories and is always worth a visit. Surrounded by luxurious tower blocks and gated estates, it was once dwarfed by flour mills, chemical works and one of Battersea’s most famous factories, the Morgan Crucible. One of the thousands who worked there was Stanley James Hawkins from Huntspill Street. He perished 100 years ago this summer in the horrific Flanders mud bath with the beautiful name of Passchendaele.

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St Mary’s Church, Battersea has a long history. There’s been a place of worship here since 800 AD and the current church dates from 1777. William Blake was married there and Turner painted riverside scenes from a vestry window. It’s genteel appearance belies the fact it has witnessed such upheaval and change. Battersea seems to have had more than its share and it’s no different today with the Power Station and Nine Elms developments once more transforming the waterfront a little further up the river. It was in this church on 21st May 1885 that a 21 year old carpenter and builder called James Joseph Hawkins married a 20 year old milliner with the most magnificent name of Letty Wellbeloved. James’ father was of ‘no known occupation’, which doesn’t sound promising. By contrast, Letty’s parents Thomas and Harriet ran The Rising Sun pub on Surrey Lane, close to Battersea Park. Surely a few glasses were raised in there that night to salute the young newly-weds.

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Their first child Ethel was born the following year and on 20th July 1887, Stanley James arrived. He was baptised at St Mary’s, Battersea on 18th September when they were living at 7 Rosenau Road where he was probably born. A quick google tells me this house was on the market a few years ago for £1.75 million. In 1901 they were still in Battersea at 94 Surrey Lane, very handy for a few jars in The Rising Sun. James was clearly on his way up and was now a builder’s foreman. A third child Mary soon followed and in 1904 Letty completed the family. On the day of the census, two of James’ sisters are accounted for, both employed at a laundry, possibly the massive Imperial Laundry on Battersea Park Road. Stanley was thirteen and a job at the booming Crucible Works would definitely have been on any sensible school career advisor’s agenda at the time.They had even started making carbon brushes and opened up a factory in Russia.

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The Patent Plumbago Crucible Company was established by the six Morgan brothers in 1856 after being inspired by something they saw at The Great Exhibition. By the early years of the twentieth century and now the Morgan Crucible Company, it was the largest manufacturer of crucibles in the world and starting to spread its tentacles overseas. In 1976 it finally shut up shop in Battersea with the loss of 300 local jobs. Local artist Brian Barnes MBE mourned its passing and that of working class life in Battersea with a striking 300 feet long mural on the side of the vacated buliding. Sixty local people were involved in the production of ‘The Battersea Mural: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ over two years. It depicted a giant brush sweeping away the old tower blocks and polluting factories, replacing them with a rainbow dreamland vision of prosperity for ordinary people. Dream on. The building was demolished two years later and with it went Brian’s artwork. The name of the company lives on in the riverside development, Morgan’s Walk.

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By 1911 Stanley had left home, now  51 Parma Crescent, but not the crucible factory where he worked as a labourer. He was now firmly anchored a few miles away in Summerstown, where on Christmas Eve 1910 he married Emma Smith in another St Mary’s Church. Also Battersea born, she was the daughter of a bootmaker from 35 Huntspill Street. They moved into No50, just opposite the Mace family. Almost a year later, a son Albert was born on 28 December 1911. Around 1914 it would seem they moved to 26 Tranmere Road in Earlsfield. This is the first time that this long road connecting Burntwood and Earlsfield School has had a Summerstown182 connection, though it has always been more in the orbit of the much closer St Andrew’s Church.

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Stanley’s war service would appear to have involved three different regiments. It seems he first joined the East Surreys in Kingston, then the Northamptonshire Regiment. It was whilst he was with the 7th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment that he was killed in action on 10th August 1917. This was in the attack on the German high ground position at Westhoek Ridge, one of the major assaults of the Battle of Passchendaele. Notorious for its mud, lack of progress and costing half a million lives, this was General Haig’s bold attempt to break through Flanders with the aim of destroying the German submarine menace operating from the Belgian coast.

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In his time with the 7th Bedfordshires, Stan may well have come under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Percival, infamous for his later exploits in Cork and Singapore. He may well also have known a baker from Fulham called William Clay. If their paths didn’t cross at St Mary’s Church or on Garratt Lane, they may well have rubbed shoulders when they were both with the Northamptonshires. There’s a bus stop opposite William Clay’s house and if the 44 bus to Battersea was running in 1911, Stanley Hawkins would probably have caught it all the way to the Crucible Works. One thing is for sure, in the summer of 1917 they were both in Flanders preparing to attack Westhoek Ridge. Both would be killed there in the space of a couple of days. This was the spot, a few miles east of Ypres, that we visited last summer with William’s Granddaughter, Iris.

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In one of the most humbling, spine-tingling moments of our entire Summerstown182 experience, battlefield historian Bart Seynaeve used maps and the war diary to show her where her Grandfather had fallen 99 years before, near the cemetery at Sanctuary Wood. Later that evening she laid a wreath in his memory at the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony. Stanley Hawkins’ name is also on this memorial and Sheila placed another wreath in memory of him and the nine other members of the Summerstown182 who have no known graves and whose names are on this memorial.

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Back in 1917 it was the wettest summer in Flanders for a generation and rain delayed the attack. Stanley spent his last week digging in, familiarising himself with the terrain, nervously waiting for the order. He may even have heard that his mate William Clay had been struck by a shell whilst sheltering in a dug-out. On 7th August the Diary records ‘The night was fairly active, A and D companies encountered considerable hostile shell fire in moving up through Sanctuary Wood’. On 8th ‘About 7pm a heavy storm blew up and intense rain fell, the ground became exceedingly heavy and very muddy. The attack arranged for the 9th was postponed 24 hours’. It finally came on the 10th August and at 435am the Bedfordshires advanced on Westhoek Ridge. ‘The battalion famous for its fighting spirit in the past eclipsed all former deeds of gallantry, when heavy wire held up the foremost men, those behind stood on lumps of earth and rubbish and fired over the heads of those cutting the wire, seldom have any troops shown such brilliant dash and utter contempt for the Bosch’. There were still over 250 casualties.

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Compared to many other soldiers, news of Stanley’s death was swiftly relayed home. The St Mary’s parish magazine of October 1917 announced ‘Stanley James Hawkins of the Bedfordshire Regiment, was killed in action on August 10th. His Captain writes – He was a good soldier and will be missed by his officers and comrades’. Painful though it was for Emma and six year old Albert, they could at least get on with life and not have the torture of waiting for news. Emma married George Eley in 1922 and for a while they lived at 31 Deal Road in Tooting. That’s the next-of-kin address on Stanley’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission record. They had two more sons and in 1939 were living at 27 Graham Avenue in Mitcham. Albert was still at home and working as a greengrocer’s assistant. James Hawkins passed away in 1921 aged 57 but Letty lived on until she was 81 and died in 1947. Albert Hawkins died in Sutton in 1980. The Rising Sun became the Prince of Wales but closed in 2014. It still commands attention on the corner of Surrey Lane and Battersea Bridge Road, semi-scaffolded and prepared for the next chapter, whatever that may be. Gazing through the rusted wrought ironwork, its hard not too imagine the spirit of Letty Wellbeloved still lighting up the saloon bar on a Saturday night.

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The factories and the pubs may have gone, but St Mary’s Church, down by the river in Battersea is still thriving. I popped in on the off-chance that I might be able to locate the war memorial there to Morgan Crucible employees. It contains forty names, one of whom is ‘S J Hawkins’. Whenever I visit, it seems to be open and there is something interesting going on. This time it was a most enchanting flute and piano recital by Jonna Jarvitalo and Ana Manastireanu. I was welcomed warmly with tea and useful information. With the last of the winter afternoon light streaming through the Turner window, it was hard not to believe that the duo’s performance was personally for Stanley Hawkins. His family should be proud to know that his memory is preserved in some very special places.

http://www.stmarysbattersea.org.uk/

http://www.1000londoners.com/londoners/brian-barnes/

With Love to All

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On my many strolls down Blackshaw Road over the last twenty years, the postbox near the Wimbledon Road roundabout, opposite the Summerstown Mission has been a constant landmark. It now has new and very special meaning. Just a short walk further on down, heading towards St George’s would have been the site of No51, home of Frederick James Parker. A pleasant location, facing Lambeth Cemetery, but since 1953, supplanted by Alfred Hurley House which is visible in the top photo. The Post Office was the biggest single employer in the Britain of 1914 and actively encouraged their staff to join the war effort. Over 75,000 workers left their jobs to fight and 8,500 were killed. Of these 12,000 joined the Post Office’s own battalion, the 8th Battalion City of London Regiment known as the Post Office Rifles. During the course of the war about 1,800 of its soldiers were killed and 4,500 injured. It contribution to the war effort was immense, maintaining the postal service at home and providing an essential means of communication between the fighting lines and those back home.

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We only picked up on Frederick Parker quite recently due to his being listed as ‘EJ Parker’ on the St Mary’s Church war memorial and ‘Edward James Parker’ in the vicar’s report of his death in the parish magazine. At the height of the conflict its easy to see how this came to happen and Fred became confused with his father and brother who both had the name Edward James Parker. Its most certainly not the only mistake on the war memorial but can’t have been much fun for the two Edwards who were most definitely still wandering the streets of Summerstown for at least the next ten years. In the parish magazine in November 1917 Reverend Robinson announced that ‘Edward James Parker of the City of London, Post Office Rifles, who was reported missing on 7th October 1916, is now assumed to be dead’. It took over a year to come to that conclusion. In the next paragraph its reported that Archibald Dutton is also assumed to have been killed. He too is buried in Warlencourt. There can be no doubt that the ‘E J Parker’ in St Mary’s Church is Frederick James Parker from Blackshaw Road, one of the 94 men from the Post Office Rifles who died on 7th October 1916 and are buried at Warlencourt.

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To coincide with this realisation, Marion came across a small treasure trove of photos and personal records relating to Fred Parker in the Imperial War Museum collection, shedding a little light on his family. Among them, letters to his sister Elsie, a photograph of her, a school report, four embroidered postcards he had sent home from France and perhaps most moving of all, a photograph of his parents visiting his grave at Warlencourt Cemetery in the heart of the Somme. Also in the collection is a picture of Fred himself, in uniform, with a mate, clearly taken in France and very likely something he sent home to Blackshaw Road. He’s the one on the left.

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We visited Warlencourt  Cemetery last summer when we called in to see Archibald Dutton from Hazelhurst Road. Pictured above is Sheila Hill who placed a photo on Archie’s grave that was given to us by his family. The Parkers came from a line of butchers and Edward James Parker was born in 1868 in Wattisfield, Suffolk. Frederick’s mother was a Lucy Ann Argent, born in Isleworth, Middlesex in 1862. Curiously in 1881 she also worked for a while in a butcher’s shop, one belonging to Harry Oliver Mason of Mitcham Road. It’s possible that was where she met her future husband. Edward Parker however appeared to alternate his line of work and in 1891 he and his brother Arthur were working as assistants at a pottery in South Street, Clapham. In any case, the pair got together and Edward and Lucy’s oldest child Edward was born in 1893. Cecilia followed two years later and Frederick was born in the September quarter of 1896 in Wandsworth.

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Edward and Lucy tied the knot in Kingston in 1898. By 1901 he was back in the meat business and had his own butcher’s shop at 151 Hartfield Road, South Wimbledon. There were four children; Edward, Cecilia, Frederick and Elsie. By 1911, they were in the Summerstown orbit at 51 Blackshaw Road, just two doors along from Percy the Painter. Edward and Lucy are listed as having being married twelve years with six children, one of whom had died, the other we cannot account for. Edward was now a drainpipe fitter for a pottery. Fourteen year old Fred was an office boy at the Army and Navy Stores. He had attended Aristotle Road School in Clapham the previous year and his school report indicates he was not destined to follow in the family trade, either of them. He appears to have been educated to work in an office, French unusually being one of his subjects. He excelled at art and algebra, but his arithmetic was weak and this was rather sternly noted.

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The wonderfully named Elsie Pretoria Parker was born 7th April 1900. This is the sister whose photo is in the Imperial War Museum collection along with the letters Fred sent to her. She married a Vincent Joseph Medynski in 1927. They lived for some time in Rostella Road. Vincent passed away in 1955 and Elsie died in 1987. That may possibly be when the photos were donated to the Museum. Edward and Lucy Parker died in the 1920s and some of the family continued to live at 51 Blackshaw Road until at least 1939.

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Frederick James Parker enlisted in the 8th Battalion Post Office Rifles, and died aged twenty on 7th October 1916. He is buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery. 193 men from the Post Office Rifles died this day and 94 of these were buried at Warlencourt. 7th October was a dark day in their story. ‘History of the Post Office Rifles’ (1919) spells it all out in no uncertain terms. ‘After being reinforced and reorganised, the Battalion moved up via Eaucourt l’Abbe (on 6.10.16) and on the following day made a somewhat disastrous attack on the famous Butte de Warlencourt, a mound that bristled with unsuspected machine guns. Two companies were completely wiped out, only 7 men returning. The casualties in this attack were 3 officers killed (Lieut. Snowden and 2-Lt Sterling and Jenkins) and seven wounded ( 2-Lt Kirby, Smith,Starling, Watson, Macbeth and Everson and Captain Thomas. 2-Lt Leon was missing. Casualties to Other Ranks numbered 400. On 9th October the remnants of the Battalion were moved to Albert and entrained on the 13th for the Ypres Salient.’

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Looking at photos of what appears a rather insignifcant overgrown mound, today its hard to appreciate how highly-prized this was in 1916. Its views over the Somme battlefield made it a vital strategic position. On 7th October 1916 the Post Office Rifles were among the first troops to attempt to force the Germans off the Butte, alongside two other London Regiment battalions.The 47th (London) Division history tells us that they encountered ‘The full force of the enemy artillery and machine gun fire, cleverly sited in depth, so as to bring a withering cross fire to bear along the western slopes leading up to the Butte and the high ground to the south of it. From across the valley the enemy had magnificent observation of the ground leading to our objective and made full use of it…not a man turned back, and some got right up under the Butte, but they were not seen again.’ On 22nd October 1916, the German defenders at the Butte complained: ‘The masses of British dead in front of our position were giving forth such a stench of corruption that our brave defenders could not touch their food. The weather was wet, and our rifles and machine guns were rusting and covered with mud.’ For a very good account of what to find at this feature today, its worth having a look at this link.
http://thebignote.com/2016/01/02/travels-on-the-somme-the-butte-de-warlencourt/

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Fred was lost in this attempt to capture the Butte and though clearly missing for a long time, his remains were eventually buried at the nearby Warlencourt Cemetery.  It was a spot which the faded brown envelopes in the Imperial War Museum collection revealed had been visited many years earlier by Edward and Lucy Parker. The letters to Elsie, fifteen years old going-on-sixteen are typically straightforward and upbeat. The last was written just a week before his death on 30th September. Fred talks about recovering from his vaccination which might suggest he hadn’t been in France too long. He is concerned that Elsie doesn’t waste money sending papers he might not receive and thanks her for the poetry she sent. He enquires about her work at ‘the stores’ and is keen to make sure she knows that ‘fags can be sent cheap from any tobacco shop’. The brave face tells her about the good weather, concerts every night and the Canadians ‘jolly fine string band’. More ominously he comments that things are getting lively with the noise of the shells.

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There is no indication of when Fred’s parents visited Warlencourt, though it must have been in the twenties. Its curious that his headstone looks quite well-worn. Intruigingly, also among the small collection of items preserved in the ‘Private Papers of F J Parker’, at the Imperial War Museum, there is a photo of a German cemetery. On the back is scribbled ‘View of German Cemetery near Arras’. It surely peaks volumes that in the midst of their grief the Parker family had the presence to record this and that it has remained part of this intimate collection.

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Thanks to Marion Gower of The Streatham Society who researched this story and found Frederick Parker’s papers in The Imperial War Museum.
http://www.iwm.org.uk_www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030000401

George’s Door

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Having noted that he was a bottlewasher in the 1911 census, I’ve always felt a bit of an affinity with George Boast. The London Census 1891 Transcription Blog of Victorian occupations defines a bottlewasher as ‘someone who washed used bottles for re-use’. In the days before organised recycling, I recall a period growing up when we collected bottles from the rubbish tip and returned them to the shop for five or ten pence each. We usually had to give them a bit of a clean up or scrape off the labels, but it was quite a nice little earner that must seem as remote to the young people of today as the world of George Boast does to me. Then there’s the Boast abode, at No30 Aboyne Road, tucked onto the corner facing the Aboyne estate and Glentanner Way. The house surely has one of the most splendid and distinctive olde worlde front doors in Summerstown. Its narrowness compensated at the top by a rather oversize arched window. Its definitely one of my favourites.

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There are a few other doors along here in the same style, but they are all recessed, this one is flush with the wall, perhaps because of its position on the bend. The house is currently cloaked in scaffolding so I do hope nothing will be done to change it. Aboyne Road wraps itself comfortingly around Garratt Green. Following the path of the legendary G1 bus, it starts on Burntwood Lane and passing alongside the school, it follows a fairly rustic path to Huntspill Street where it picks up a stretch of terraced houses on one side. It then bends past George’s home and passes Reginald Knight’s Squarey Street and a couple of hairdresser’s before emerging on Garratt Lane. A truly historic route that would have once lead up to Springfield Farm, its tree-lined nature giving it more of a countrified flavour than most of the roads in this area. It is though at certain periods choked with traffic. The old photograph above was taken in 1908 on its northern stretch, Burntwood School would now be on the left hand side and on the right, the trees have thinned out a bit, but wonderful Garratt Green remains unchanged. George Boast would have been eleven and its just possible that he may be in the picture.

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The road has nothing of the tightknittedness of Huntspill Street and although George always gets a mention when I tell the story of William Mace of the Sunday School Three, he always feels rather in his shadow. They died the same day, 26th May 1915 at the Battle of Festubert, their names, along with Cecil Passingham who was killed at Neuve Chapelle are on the Le Touret Memorial near Bethune. Its close to the Indian Memorial and we visited both on a glorious autumn day a few years ago. Its interesting to read the name ‘Blackadder’ carved into the stone, just two above George’s name. He’s also there alongside him in the list of the 23rd London Regiment casualties printed in the South Western Star on 18th June.

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The Boasts were very much of Lambeth stock and trod the well-worn route to Summerstown in the first decade of the twentieth century. Certainly they would have been quite at home on James Hickey’s Waterloo Sunset Walk in a few weeks time. Robert Lewis Boast was an electrician and in 1901 lived with his wife Ellen and six children, all under the age of ten, at 8 Mart Street in Kennington. They were later resident at 9 Bertal Road and 104 Fountain Road in Tooting. Here young George would most certainly have been familiar with a character a few doors along at No92. Edward ‘Tiny Ted’ Foster worked at the nearby Dust Destructor yard and was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917. By 1911 there were two more children and the family were at 30 Aboyne Road. Money was certainly coming into the house, for as well as fourteen year old George washing his bottles, his two older brothers, Robert and Richard were laithe hands and nineteen year old Ellen Boast was an envelope folder. That also sounds like a job I must have once done. She eventually married a William Dale and lived for a while at 17 Defoe Road, an address once associated with the Tooting Communist Party and next door to where George Cole was born. The Boasts were connected with 30 Aboyne Road for at least another six decades. George’s mother Ellen lived on there until her death in January 1947. Belts were being tightened at the time and St Mary’s produced a very homespun ‘Emergency Magazine’ that month which mentioned her passing away at the age of 81. She is buried in Lambeth Cemetery. The youngest of the 1911 Boast family, Henry (Harry) would seem to have lived at the address with his wife Edith until as recently as 1970.

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George had a brief and tragic experience of war. He joined the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment at St John’s Hill, Clapham Junction and like William Mace and George Keeley went to France on 14th March 1915. He was killed just over ten weeks later on 25th May 1915 in what became known as the Battle of Festubert, described in both the parish magazine and the local newspaper as ‘a gallant charge’. The 23rd Battalion War Diary in the National Archives gives us an impression of George’s movements. They left St Albans on 14th March and the next day sailed from Southampton on SS Copenhagen. From Le Havre they spent the first few weeks settling in, building up their fitness with marches which moved them towards the front. It is noted in the diary that ‘Divine Service’ was observed on Sundays. Days were spent marching, training and digging trenches. The weather must have been pleasant around Easter as there was bathing in one of the mine craters. On 11th April they entered the trenches. Over the next few days there were a small number of casualties and these were unusually mentioned by name in the diary. An officer killed would always have his name noted but ordinary ranking privates were just numbers. Everything was soon to change. In mid-May they moved from Le Touret to Givenchy. On 25th it is recorded ‘Orders given to attack German trench. Casualties 499, including 3 officers killed and ten wounded’. This attack occured at 630pm and the fighting lasted all night as the Germans fought fiercely to recapture the lost trench. Particular mention is made of ‘the stretcher bearers who all through the night worked, often under heavy fire to evacuate the wounded’. On the 26th May the Battalion were relieved from the captured trench and on 27th it is noted that ‘names of 123 men received from Division as being buried’. George Boast was very likely among them.

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The Le Touret Memorial on which George Boast’s name is inscribed, commemorates over 13,400 British soldiers who were killed in this sector of the Western Front from the beginning of October 1914 to the eve of the Battle of Loos in late September 1915 and who have no known grave. The fighting on 25th-26th May in which he died was the British Army’s contribution to a major French offensive at Vimy Ridge. The Battle of Festubert lasted 12 days and cost 16,000 British casualties for no real gain. In addition to the deaths caused by shelling and machine-gun fire, many soldiers died in hand-to-hand fighting or were drowned in the flooded trenches and ditches criss-crossing the battlefield. Such was the confusion that many soldiers were killed by artillery fire from their own side.

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colours

In the local South Western Star newspaper of 18th June 1915, there is a full list of 178 names of men from the 23rd London Regiment killed in the fighting of 25th-26th May. Among them is ‘Private G F Boast No 2601’. The names fill a whole column and reading them must have been a great jolt to local people. Standing on one of the river’s earliest known consecrated sites and hugging a bend of the Thames at the very heart of Battersea is the beautiful St Mary’s Parish Church. It displays a number of memorials, tablets and honours associated with 23rd London Regiment including its ‘colours’. At a subsequent memorial service there in June 1915, the vicar compared the effect of the loss of the men and officers of the 23rd Regiment to that of the sinking of The Titanic a few years before. ‘Seldom has the old church been so crowded. People stood in the doorways and thronged the gallery stairs. The service had a solemnity most impressive. The vicar preached with dramatic eloquence and while he spoke, men, as well as women were moved to tears. The pageantry of sound was not wanting. The National Anthem was sung by tremulous voices. The battalion band thrilled the congregation and the great assemblage outside with the solemn tones of the Dead March. Then after a few moments of the deepest silence, the battalion bugles rang out. They sounded the Last Post which sounded like the despairing call of those who are hoping against hope that some might hear and return. But there was no response, except the slapping of the fast ebbing tide against the barge under the churchyard wall’.

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