Land of The Gods



On Saturday we came together in Tooting and Wandsworth to honour our renowned ‘Dustman VC’ Corporal Ted Foster. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his extraordinary act of bravery at the village of Villers-Plouich near Cambrai on 24th April 1917. The day began with a magnificent formal unveiling of commemorative VC stones for Ted and two others VCs, Reginald Haine and Arthur Lascelles at Wandsworth Town Hall. Participating in this was Johnson Beharry, awarded the VC for his acts of valour in Iraq in 2004. We then moved down Garratt Lane to 92 Fountain Road where Wandsworth Council have placed a green heritage plaque on Ted Foster’s old home. Following that we set off on a Guided Walk of key Foster locations. ‘Tiny Ted’s Tooting Tour’ concluded at his grave in Streatham Cemetery. On that walk I mentioned that this weekend, on the other side of the world, in a small town in the hills of northern India, local people would also be remembering a First World War VC hero from their community.

Within touching distance of the Himalayas, the state of Uttarakhand in northern India is known as the ‘Land of the Gods’. It borders Tibet and contains two of the holiest of Hindu cities, Rishikesh and Haridwar. The Beatles spent time in Rishikesh in the sixties and it is considered the yoga capital of the world. Haridwar hosts the extraordinary Kumbh Mela when up to ten million devotees descend to bathe in the Ganges. The western part of the state is home to the Garhwali people and the renowned Garhwhal Rifles. In the spring of 1915 a soldier from a small village in the moutains near Chamba died on the same day as a soldier from Summerstown.



Burmester Road is a pivotal Summerstown location for so many reasons. One of the broadest streets in the area, with The Hindu Society at one end and the Anglo American Laundry, spectacularly revealing itself around the corner at the other, it has a unique character. On top of that it would have been on the southern edge of the area leading to Robert Sadler’s Copenhagen Running Grounds. No25 is at end of the road, one of seven houses in what I call ‘Laundry No-Mans land’. The story goes that these were caught up in an expansion row between two rival laundries and if Mrs Creeke had got her hands on them they were earmarked for destruction. The rival laundry purchased these houses to prevent this and the family of Robert Stanley Belben Lake were resident there sometime between 1910 and 1914. The houses survived the Laundry War and had another close miss in June 1944 when a flying bomb landed in the laundry yard behind then killing six people. In the later First World War years the family of another Summerstown182 soldier Mark Archer lived at the address. The road was home to the Meikle brothers, Edward Benning, John Davis and Ernest Pelling. We haven’t written anything about it for a while, but this was the cat-infested street, once inhabited by magicians, footballers and ventriloquists.


The Lake family had their origins in the west country – a baker by trade, Robert’s father, Robert Belben Lake was born in 1871 in Bideford, Devon. In 1892 he married Annie Williams from Mitcheldean in Gloucestershire and the following year Robert Stanley was born, baptised at St Paul’s Church, Clapham on 24th January. They were living then at 34 Motley Street. Its tucked up against the tangle of railway tracks and sidings to the south of Queenstown Road, Battersea. There is a great post on the Rootschat website about a newspaper clipping from around 1910 which details a street fight between three women in Motley Street, one of whom was someone’s granny. One of them ‘used a cat’ to defend herself with and then proceeded to assault the others with a skipping rope.

In the 1901 census the Lakes lived at Victoria Cottages in Edmonton. At this point Robert was trying his hand as a blind maker using a material called sail cloth. Robert junior was nine and he had a brother William who was five and a sister Winifred aged three. The two youngest children were born in Mitcham. Another son Joseph aged seven was absent. They clearly couldn’t decide whether they liked north or south London because by 1904 another son Sidney was born in Merton. In 1910 they were back in Wandsworth at 25 Burmester Road, tucked in a few doors away from Mrs Creeke’s flourishing Anglo American Laundry. But so much had changed. In 1909 Robert Belben Lake had died aged 38. The 1911 census sees Annie living with a widower called Alexander George Hieron. It was a busy household, there were four Lake children including Robert, now nineteen and two Hierons. Obviously this was an arrangement that would have been frowned upon in many circles but it surely made sense for all concerned for the two families to share one roof. Certainly George and Annie appear to have stayed together for a long time. There is no indication of what job Robert Lake did but his step-father was a Dusting Foreman and quite possibly had a young Tiny Ted Foster under his wing. Tiny was still doing the bin round when Robert Lake was in uniform and about to come into the orbit of another extraordinary young soldier who would go on to hold the Victoria Cross.

Robert Stanley Belben Lake from Burmester Road was a Lance Corporal in the 1st/3rd London Regiment (the Royal Fusiliers). He attested at Edward Street in Hampstead and set foot in France on 6th January 1915. Known as the ‘Third Londons’ the regiment first spent a brief spell in Malta. The British Army was now ready to emerge from its winter in the trenches and was reinforced with fresh troops many of whom had come from the other side of the world. On 10th February the Third Londons joined the Garhwal Brigade in the 7th (Meerut) Division and prepared to be at the forefront of a large British offensive in the Artois region. Neuve Chapelle was a small village located roughly midway between Bethune and Lille, around 20 miles south of Ypres. It was the gateway to the strategic high ground of Aubers Ridge.

Here in the early hours of 10th March, four divisions, comprising 40,000 men, two of whom were Robert Lake from Burmester Road and Gabar Singh Negi from Manjood in Uttarakhand, gathered on a sector of the front just a few miles wide. The infantry attack began with an unprecedented thirty-five minute bombardment which apparently consumed more shells than the British Army had used in the whole of the Boer War fifteen years earlier. It was still dark when the soldiers began their advance that morning. We have no idea how Robert died that day and his body was never recovered. Many of the Third Londons were killed in the initial charges and in total 8 officers and 340 other ranks would be lost in the battle.


Just a little further down that line and also advancing that morning was a young man from the village of Manjood in the foothills of the Himalayas. The nearby town of Chamba had fallen to the British in 1845 after the Anglo-Sikh Wars. They soon realised that the local men were good fighters and in the hill station town of Landsdowne they established a base for the Garhwal Rifles Regiment. Born on 21st April 1895, Gabar Singh Negi was the youngest of three brothers. His father died of cholera in 1911 and two years later he enlisted in Landsdowne, a gruelling four day trek from his home. The 39th Garhwal Rifles sailed from Karachi on 21st September 1914 and alighted in Marseilles on 13th October. By the end of the month they were in the trenches south of Ypres. It was here at Festubert that another Garhwali, Darwan Singh Negi became the second Indian soldier after the Pathan, Khudadad Khan a month earlier, to be awarded a Victoria Cross. When presenting his medal, King George enquired if he had a personal request. Darwan Singh Negi famously asked that a school be built in his home village of Karnaprayag. It still stands today.


In her wonderful book ‘For King and Another Country’ Shrabani Basu writes an extraordinarily moving passage about the fate of Gabar Singh Negi at Neuve Chapelle and the reaction of his young wife. ‘The day would belong to Gabar Singh Negi. Bayonet in hand, his senses on high alert, he was the first to go round each traverse, facing the full onslaught of the German attack. Letting out a fierce war cry, he charged at them bayoneting and killing several Germans as he swept through the trenches. In the clash of steel and helmets and relentless fighting his officer was killed. The 22 year old Garhwali who had once tended goats on the hillside of his remote village, took command and carried on driving the Germans on despite his injuries. As the shells rained down around him, Gabar Singh fought his way through, not stopping till he had forced the Germans to surrender. He had taken the call and secured the trench, but Gabar Singh’s war was soon to be over. Fatally injured, he drew his last breath. He died in the rubble of his hard-won trench still clutching his bayonet, a soldier to the last. His body was never recovered. For his gallantry, Gabar Singh Devi was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross’.

‘Thousands of miles away in her village in the hills, Satoori Devi, barely fourteen, would be informed of her husband’s death by an officer from the headquarters at Landsdowne. Her heartbroken cries filled the silent hills. She had barely known her husband and now he was gone leaving her to face the rest of her life alone. Gabar Singh’s mother joined her daughter-in-law, wailing a Garhwali song for the dead and circling in a trance for the son she would not see again. The lamps burnt low in their Garhwal home that night. The family huddled under the blankets in the chilly March night and prayed for their loved one. Their only consolation was that he had upheld the honour of his regiment and would be awarded the Victoria Cross. Satoori Devi would never remarry. She would look after the extended family, tend the cattle and carry firewood, wearing the Victoria Cross pinned on her sari all her life. Villagers would salute her as she passed by’. The Gabar Singh Memorial in Chamba was built in 1925. Each year on 21st April, the date of his birthday, the Garhwal Regiment pay tribute to the brave warrior whose courage continues to inspire the young men and women from the hills of Uttarakhand to join the Indian Army. In Chamba, since 1971, an annual fair has been held in his honour. A procession of Manjood villagers place their floral tributes to the sound of the traditional Dhol drum. Satoori died in 1981 and would have attended, naturally wearing her husband’s VC medal.


Robert Lake has his name inscribed on the Le Touret Memorial. The day we visited him in 2015, as we took photos at the entrance a beautiful butterfly flitted around and seemed to want to be in all our pictures. Gabar Singh Negi is on the Neuve Chapelle Memorial. This was where the Indian Corps fought its first major action as a single unit, forming half of the attacking force. More than 4,000 of them perished here and it is the highly symbolic location of The Indian Memorial. Robert Lake and Gabar Singh Negi died on the same day, in the same battle, they were roughly the same age and both had recently lost their fathers. There was much in common between them. We celebrate that in our community by hosting an exhibition called ‘Far from the Western Front’ in Tooting later this year. The extent of the involvement of soldiers from overseas is quite astounding. One and a half million men from ‘undivided India’ (comprising present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka) including soldiers and non-combatants, were recruited into the British Indian Army during the First World War. One in every six soldiers of the British Empire was from the Indian subcontinent. Look out for this brilliant exhibition outlining some of their stories and experiences which will be St George’s Hospital University Library, hopefully in September.


Tiny Ted’s Tooting

Ted and flags




For those of us who plonk our rubbish on the pavement early on a Thursday morning and wait for the Serco truck to magic it away, its hard to imagine what happened as recently as fifty years ago. Then a big hairy binman might turn up on your doorstep, walk through the house, pick up your bin from the back yard, throw it over his shoulder and walk back out again. Imagine if that person was the six foot two war hero Tiny Ted Foster! If ever you were holding out for a ‘First World War Hero’ Edward Foster fits the bill on every level. From his Kitchener-style tache, sergeant’s stripes and iconic dustman status, to tales of how he dealt with a German machine gun and liberated a French village. The thought that Tiny Ted might have stepped into their home to carry away the rubbish must have lit up several generations of Tooting folk. He is without doubt one of the best known Wandsworth soldiers of the First World War and will be honoured on Saturday 22nd April with a commemorative VC paving stone in the Town Hall Gardens. That afternoon the focus moves to his Tooting hometown and the house where he lived for over thirty years at 92 Fountain Road. Here the council will unveil a green heritage plaque at 2pm and after that I’ll round things off with a Guided Walk, ‘Tiny Ted’s Tooting Tour’ taking in some key Edward Foster locations.




Much has already been written about him, not least in Paul McCue’s ‘Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in The Great War’. A new headstone was placed on his grave in Streatham Cemetery in the nineties, around the same time that his medals were acquired for the Lord Ashcroft Collection at the Imperial War Museum. They are available there to view in the top floor gallery, in a wooden box with a bin lid painted on it bearing the words ‘Dustman VC’. Back in Wandsworth, a riverside path on the southern section of King George’s Park, round the back of the Henry Prince Estate was named Foster’s Way as part of the Council’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day. There have been official visits to Villers-Plouich, the tiny French village that was the scene of his heroics. His name is there also on an information board outside the Town Hall. Children at Smallwood Primary School have been learning about him as part of our Summerstown182 community history project. Several of them live on Fountain Road and are thrilled to hear about the genial giant who once resided in their street.

Booth map
The Foster family roots were in the Lambeth area. His grandfather John Foster, married to Mary, was a carman from Shoreditch. Ted’s father Charles was born in Westminster in 1849. In the 1861 census they lived at 28 Causton Street, roughly behind the Tate Britain Art Gallery. On Christmas Day 1875 Charles Foster, now 26, married Mary Ann Biggs aged 24 in St Barnabas Church, South Kennington. He was working as a brewer and lived at 2 Portland Street in the area between Wandsworth Road and South Lambeth Road. The church closed for business in 1980 but has been converted into flats and is now called Ekarro House. On 13 June 1877 Amelia Mary Foster was born, she was baptised at St Barnabas on 15 July. The Fosters now lived at 11 Hemans Street and Charles worked as a brewers servant. Their second child Charles was born in 1883. The Charles Booth notebooks describe the area as ‘mostly costers and low class labourers, poor and crowded’. In the 1930s the slums were cleared and royalty came to inspect the newly constructed Hemans Estate. Not far from Sainsburys and the New Covent Garden Market, you get a good view of it from the top deck of a 77 bus along the Wandsworth Road.


map of 1888

At some stage the Fosters took the course of that 77 bus and headed for Tooting. Edward was born on 4th February 1886 at 14 Tooting Grove Wandsworth. A map of 1888 shows that Tooting was still largely under-developed with large pockets of empty spaces, the Fairlight area, the Bell Estate and Totterdown were all either fields, farms or the private fiefdom of Lady Bountiful. This was a few years before the two fever hospitals, most of the schools or Streatham Cemetery appeared. Tooting Grove was a cluster of cottages facing the High Street. Behind it the exotic nurseries of Peter Barr’s daffodil-growing enterprise were in full swing.


Between 1896 and 1911, the population of Tooting exploded, multiplying five times to 36,000 people. The Foster family were right in the middle of this surge of growth which saw Tooting transformed from a village to what it is today. Tooting Grove, itself now dissected two hospitals, The Grove on its west side, The Fountain on the east. It was here that Edith Cavell trained as a nurse for six months in 1895. In 1890 the family had moved to No15. The current St George’s Hospital complex now straddles the entire area but the line of Tooting Grove runs through it and the southern part of the street still bears the name. Some idea of the location of where Edward Foster was born can be gained from the site of ‘The Little House’ currently at No13 Tooting Grove. This was still a pub 15 years ago but was once also ‘The Queen Victoria’ and in the First World War years known as the source of a collection made every week to send copies of the ‘Tooting and Balham Gazette’ to the soldiers. Organising this was a dustman called Bill Drummond.

Tooting Grove was described by Alfred Hurley as ‘Probably the worst slum area in the Borough of Wandsworth’. ‘For many years Tooting Grove had been a source of trouble to the local authorities. It was a collection of old and dilapidated dwellings, rat ridden, with broken roofs, and the conditions under which human beings were living in overcrowded and insanitary surroundings were deplorable’ Hurley describes how unscrupulous property developers took advantage of the First World War to enforce refurbishment on the already very poor inhabitants. Henry Prince, chairman of the Housing Committee got involved and the council purchased the houses and in 1936 a new estate was completed.

In 1891 George Foster was born, he may possibly be the policeman brother who moved to Stoke who appears in a photograph with Ted, probably taken after he was discharged in 1918. In the 1891 census at 15 Tooting Grove, Charles now 43 is indicated as a general labourer and Mary was working as a laundress, the children listed are Amelia 14, Charles 7, Edward 5 and George 1 month. Ted would probably have started school around this time and it would seem that he was educated at Graveney School until 1900. The nearest school would have been just a little bit further down the High Street at what was then Tooting Corner, now Tooting Broadway. A London Board School was established here around 1870. By my reckoning this is roughly on the present day site of Sainsburys. Before this was built the site was that of an adult education college which still uses the space above the supermarket. Close by is Gilbey Road. If Ted Foster is Britain’s Bravest Binman, this might be Tooting’s Bravest Street. There are 99 doors on this road and from behind them emerged 137 serving soldiers and sailors according to the 1918 Absent Voters List.


Dust Destructor

On 3rd August 1896 Amelia Foster, aged 19, married Walter Newburgh at Christ Church, Mitcham. In 1900 Ted left Graveney School and started work at Wandsworth Council at their new ‘Dust Destructor’ rubbish incineration facility which opened for business in 1898 on an old clay quarry brickworks. It was wound down in 1930 and is now Fountain Road Recreation Grounds, though it was still used to house dustcarts and their attendant shire horses for some time. Its landmark feature, demolished in 1930 was a 153 foot chimney and curiously there is now one at the back of the hospital which can’t be much smaller. The 1901 census shows the Foster family now at 27 Tooting Grove. Mary Ann was now 49 and Charles was absent. He died in 1914 aged 65. Ted’s older brother Charles was 18 and working as a carman, Edward was 15 but there is no indication on the census of his new job. There were some colourful occupations in the street, an italian ice cream vendor was living next door, there was a street musician, several organ grinders, a dealer in lumber and a paper hanger.

On 24 May 1903 Charles Foster aged 20 married Florence Amy Butterworth at Christ Church, Mitcham. Ted was 17 when his brother married and probably already shaping up to be a big lad. The Dust Destructor site at Alston Road was just a short walk along the Grove. After re-organisation sometime around 1909, it appears he was transfered to dusting section (refuse collection) contracted to a company called F W Surridge who were based on what is now the site of Tooting Leisure Centre at Greaves Place. Either way it was still an easy commute.


On 8th May 1910, at Christ Church, Mitcham, Edward Foster, aged 24 married Alice Jane Donovan, aged 26. According to the certificate Ted now lived at 92 Boundary Road, Colliers Wood and Alice just a few streets away at 44 Byegrove Road. She was the daughter of a labourer called John Donovan and was born in Berkshire. The following year Ted and Alice were living at 48 Fountain Road. He gave his profession as a dustman (contractors) and she would later work in a laundry. The census indicates that his brother Charles was next door at No46 with his wife Florence, working as a carman for the council. The Fosters grip on Fountain Road had well and truly been established.


Ted and Alice lived here for a couple of years before moving down towards the Lambeth Cemetery end of the street to 141 Fountain Road in 1914, even closer to the Dust Destructor site. They would have been at this address when war broke out. This was next door to a house lived in just a few years previously by the Marshall family and one of the ‘Lost Women of British Jazz’ Sadie Crawford. It would seem that in 1915 the Fosters moved for the last time, to 92 Fountain Road. With them now was a young niece Alice Kemp who later married and lived next door at No94. Alice Foster was still there when she died in 1972.


Ted joined the army in the sumer of 1915, part of the 13th Wandsworth (Service) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, whose numbers were recruited thanks to the efforts of Mayor Archibald Dawnay and the Tooting undertaker William Mellhuish. The Battle of Arras had started on 9th April 1917 and the small village of Villers-Plouich was occupied by the Germans and blocked the advance on the Hindenberg Line. The accounts of what Corporal Foster did that morning are almost beyond belief. He and a Lance-Corporal Reed, each armed with a Lewis gun and some bombs furiously attacked a German trench at a place just outside the village called Fifteen Ravine. Here two machine guns had been causing havoc and threatened to halt the attack. Under a storm of rifle and machine-gun fire, the duo forced their way through the wire and jumped into the trench. In a fearsome fight, one gun was lost which Tiny Ted swiftly reclaimed. He followed this up by getting both Lewis guns in action, obliterating both machine gun crews and capturing the trench. The action was recorded in a detailed account written by James Price Lloyd of Military Intelligence which after many years of being classified is now available to read.



The liberation of Villers-Plouich followed, but at a heavy price for the Wandsworth Battalion, 39 officers and men were killed taking the village, 160 wounded. They lost about a third of their fighting strength. One of these, buried in Fifteen Ravine Cemetery was 17 year old Alfred Quenzer, the son of a German butcher who lived just around the corner from Ted Foster on Bertal Road. After his exploits at Villers-Plouich Edward Foster spent several months being feted locally. News of his VC was announced in the London Gazette on 27th June and he was also awarded the Medaille Militaire. On 17th July after more than a year at the front he returned to Fountain Road. Flags and bunting were draped across the street and a huge crowd gathered outside his house to give him a rousing reception. A few weeks later at Buckingham Palace, King George V pinned the Victora Cross onto his tunic. Ted declined the offer of a desk job to return to front line duty and was wounded at Cambrai in November when a bullet went through his wrist. The injury caused him to be discharged from the army the following year.



After the war the Council honoured Ted Foster with the title of Chief Dusting Inspector and he carried on working until his death on 22nd January 1946 aged 59. John Brown recently located this extraordinary article in the Streatham News of 24th June 1927. It shows a collapsed wall at the Dust Destructor entrance on Pevensey Road. A young boy called Leonard Chamberlain was very tragically flattened in the incident when a dustcart struck the wall causing it to fall on him. It must have been a tramautic time for local people, but standing there by the gate, un-named in the photo but clearly recognisable, is the calming, reassuring presence of the hero of Villers-Plouich.


Many thanks to Ted Foster’s grandson Dennis for sharing some of the family’s photographs. Also to Jean and Rose, born and raised in the Fairlight area, Fountain Road and Pevensey Road. Their memories of the locality and its people are very vivid and Jean’s father and grandfather both worked ‘on the dust. It was a hard life, the smell, the horses, the constant washing of bodies and clothes. But there seemed to be a real sense of camaraderie and of working together for the good of the community. Rose showed me this lovely photo of the ‘Tooting Dustmen’s Day Out’ trip to Southend. The togetherness is very apparent and you can practically hear those accordians and taste the Mackesons. It was probably taken not too long after Tiny Ted Foster passed away and its certain that most of the people in the picture would have known him.

tiny on bike


Little India



Whether he had an entry into France as dramatic as Private Ryan’s, in the early summer of 1944, 26 year old Ted Pavitt from Sutton, of the 2nd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment was bound for the Normandy beaches. He was part of the allied invasion known as D-Day which would turn the course of the Second World War. As he came across the channel that day, did he give a thought I wonder to two uncles he had never met. They were both killed in the First World War, 27 years before. One of them, William Pavitt perished in the sea close to Le Havre, not far from where Ted probably landed. Another, George Nation was killed in fighting near Ypres in the build up to the Battle of Messines. Very sadly, just a few months after D-Day, as the allies pushed towards the Seine, Ted would become a third member of the Pavitt family to lose their life in war. He was killed on 15th August 1944 in the fierce fighting near Bayeux. This was the first French town of importance to be liberated and Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth cemetery of the Second World War in France. Ted is one of 4,144 Commonwealth burials there.


Teddy’s grandfather, George Pavitt was born in Battersea in 1857, son of Henry who worked as a Thames lighterman. On 5th April 1885 he married Marian Smith at St Peter’s Church, Battersea and they lived in Grant Road, just to the north of Clapham Junction. Its still there today bordering the Winstanley estate. Just a few years later they appear to have moved into a nearby nest of streets tucked in between Falcon Road and Battersea Park Road. Curiously the names of these roads all have Afghan associations, no doubt as a result of the Second Afghan War, 1878-1880. This has always been of interest to me as a Great Great Uncle Samuel died in Kandahar in 1879. There is a plaque commemorating him in the church in Ballinamallard, County Fermanagh.

Samuel Lendrum

Known bizarrely as ‘Little India’ the streets in this corner of Battersea were designed by Alfred Heaver who has his own estate named after him in Balham. Incredibly these roads have survived immense changes literally on all sides and two of the Pavitt homes look like they are still in their original form. In 1891 they were living at 29 Patience Road  with three children. George, now aged 34 was a coal merchant and the family consisted of Emily 4, George 2 and William six months. He had been born on 20th September 1890 and baptised at Christ Church, Battersea on 8th October. A rocket bomb on 21st November 1944 destroyed both the church and the vicarage, though a new current one was built in the fifties. In the adjoining Christchurch Gardens in Cabul Road is the ‘Citizens of Battersea War Memorial’, unveiled in 1952 and recently awarded Grade II listed status by English Heritage.



George and Marian had another child, Violet, born in 1894. The family then lived at 33 Candahar Road. This house also still exists, though rather precariously on a corner where a lot of hard hats and hi-viz jackets are currently in evidence. Rather defiantly it has its own Banksy style mural on the wall facing the developers, which looks a bit like a bird holding up its wing in a dismissive ‘STOP right there’ gesture. The Pavitts would also appear to have lived for a time in nearby Mantua Road before crossing the tracks in to Wandsworth and heading for Lydden Grove, Earlsfield where Albert may have been born in 1900.


George Pavitt senior  must have died some time before 1908 as by the time of the 1911 census, Marian was listed as being widowed. She was living then at 21 Kingston Road, Wimbledon with four of the children. George now 22 was working as a photographer and Emily 26 was an ironer in a laundry. Albert was now 11 and the youngest Harry was 3. George Pavitt junior married Violet three years later and they had three children, one of whom was Teddy, killed in Normandy in 1944. The house near South Wimbledon tube station has now joined forces with No23 to form the Spiceway supermarket. Tragedy would also strike another Pavitt sibling, Emily. She had married a George Nation in St Andrew’s Church, Earlsfield in 1911. He was killed in France on 28 February 1917. What a bad year for her, a husband and then a brother lost in the space of three months. She lived at 12 Steerforth Street with her three children for a long time. Its about half way down the road, not far from the doctor’s surgery. Emily died aged 61 in 1947.

Only 21 year old William was missing from the household in Kingston Road. According to the 1911 census records he was on board a ship called HMS Triumph. He had joined the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday in 1908 for 12 years, perhaps around the same time that his father died. It states on his records that he had a tattoo of a man on his right forearm, a snake on his left. On 2nd April 1911 he was in the Mediterranean on HMS Triumph. Among the ships he sailed in were HMS Ganges, HMS Impregnable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Undaunted and HMS Eclipse. There was a good deal of shore-based activity when he was progressing his career as a signalman and he doesn’t appear to have participated in the Battle of Jutland. He attained the rank of Leading Signaller in 1913. Throughout his career his conduct is indicated largely as ‘very good’ though in October 1915 it would seem that whilst on HMS Undaunted there was a hiccup. He received 42 days imprisonment for ‘deserting watch’ and returned to the rank of Signaller. In April 1915 HMS Undaunted was damaged in a collision with the British destroyer HMS Landrail. Perhaps this precipitated his move to HMS Derwent from 24th November 1915. In any case, on 1st April 1917 his rank was restored.


That year had started very positively for William. On 2nd February 1917 he married Louisa Elizabeth Collis at St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. They lived at 41 Burtop Road and her parents William and Louisa were in the neighbouring street at 32 Headworth Road. Hopefully he was able to enjoy a brief period of leave with his new wife, though their happiness must have been overshadowed by the sad news at the end of the month that his brother-in-law George Nation had been killed. He was in the 20th London Regiment and is buried at Chester Farm Cemetery just south of Ypres.

Sadly, a little over a month after he had been reinstated as a Leading Signaller, on 2nd May 1917, William Pavitt lost his life when HMS Derwent struck a mine off Le Havre. She was a 550 ton destroyer with a complement of 70 officers and men, 58 of whom were lost that day. As the country started to experience acute food shortages as a result of the submarine menace, her job that spring was to escort merchant ships across the English Channel and defend the Dover Barrage. HMS Derwent hit a contact mine laid by German submarine UC-26. In nine patrols UC-26 was credited with sinking 39 ships, either by torpedo or by mines she had laid. UC-26 was rammed and sunk by HMS Milne off Calais six days after the sinking of HMS Derwent, on 8 May 1917.


Quoting a relative, who was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, a member of the Great War Forum posted quite a graphic account of the incident in 2006 ‘It was during this, my re-qualifying, that I was lent the Derwent, one of the same class as the Swale, that we were blown up in Havre Roads and only myself and four ERAs (Engine Room Artificers) were saved. I had only just seen the transports safely in through the Boom Defence at Havre, and turned around to return to base, when the fore part of the destroyer was blown clean off. All the crew live in the fore part of a destroyer and there was not one man saved. The Gunner, who had relieved me a few minutes before, and the CO, who were both on the bridge, were both killed and some 80 of the crew. We had struck a mine. The rest of us, five in all, put the boat out and were picked up by another of our destroyers, the Exe of the same class’.


Louisa Pavitt, widowed after less than three months, married again in 1921, to Victor Samuel Barnes, a boot repairer. They had two children, Edwin and Mabel and lived in Sutton. The son of a bookbinder and also a previous resident of Burtop Road, Victor was was the brother of Fred Barnes from Keble Street, a member of the Summerstown182, killed in the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, buried in Poperinghe. Alongside his brothers Albert and William, Victor serving with the Queens’ Royal West Surreys was one of three Barnes brothers listed in the 1918 Keble Street absent voters list. Louisa passed away in 1969 aged 87. William’s body was not recovered for burial and he is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial, high on a hill overlooking the Medway, on which are inscribed the names of over 18,000 seamen killed in both wars. We visited a few years ago and found his name amongst the Signallers who had lost their lives in 1917. His death was not posted in the St Mary’s parish magazine until October when notification of it was in the same passage as that of another seaman, Charles Blight, the wireless operator from Franche Court Road.

Remembering William Mace





On the most dazzling of Spring days, Streatham Cemetery was at its loveliest, awash with blue skies, blossom and birdsong. In one tranquil corner, a collection of beautiful decorated daffodils crafted out of plastic bottles, felt and bright yellow paper danced in the breeze to the gentle strains of Adam Hill’s mellow guitar. The onlookers quietly contemplated the words of Pevensey Road poet John Byrne, ‘The Glorious Dead and the Great Un-sung’. This was the centenary of a young First World War soldier’s death, and a gathering of young and old had come to the unmarked grave of William Mace from Thurso Street. He joined the South Wales Borderers at the age of sixteen but died of TB in a local hospice after being discharged, his eighteen months of First World War service seemingly unacknowledged. Well, on 13th March he was remembered, with the help of two schools, local charities and community groups, quite splendidly.

It was fairly early on in our Summerstown182 history project when we worked out there was something not quite right about the Mace brothers. Arthur and William were on the First World War memorial in St Mary’s Church but they had no Commonwealth War Graves Commission recognition. Both had been discharged from the army and subsequently died of TB, but it was as if their military service had never happened. They are both buried in Streatham Cemetery in unmarked graves. With the help of an organisation called ‘In From the Cold’ we petitioned the authorities and Gallipoli veteran Arthur Mace will now have his name inscribed on the memorial in Streatham Cemetery. He now has a page on the CWGC website rather charmingly footnoted ‘Arrangements are being made to add this gentleman’s name on the Screen Wall in this Cemetery’. Sadly his younger brother William was rejected. The difference was that the paperwork from 100 years ago indicated that Arthur’s condition was worsened by his military service. William’s apparently was not.

Rules are rules and many other similar cases occured, but it all seemed rather unfair. We had to do something for William. It was the reaction of some young people from Ernest Bevin College who jolted us into action. We had told the story to the boys in the course of a BBC School Report collaboration in 2015. Their obvious disquiet at the perceived injustice made us realise that this was something we needed to follow up. For a while we considered a campaign, some kind of social media storm to take on the military bureaucrats. We would probably need to raise money to get some legal assistance. It was then that we traced the family and they came to meet us. They didn’t really want any of that. To add to an already very sad story, it seemed that they had only recently found out about the brothers’ existence. They really had been completely written out of the picture.


William Mace programme
It seemed like a gentler path should now be pursued, so we settled on what we called a ‘Remembrance’. This was based on something I participated in a few years ago in a cemetery in Belgium. It was organised by Friends of Flanders Field Museum (VIFF) – a simple combination of readings, music and placing of flowers at a soldier’s grave. The key factor was that it was always someone whose story has been ‘forgotten’. In that particular case, Robert Hope, a soldier from Sunderland who had been shot at dawn. My great uncle was courtmartialed for refusing to organise his execution. William Mace became Tooting’s ‘Forgotten Soldier’ and on 13th March 2017, in Streatham Cemetery, on the centenary of his death, his community came together to remember him.

We were determined to create a very special occasion, something that everyone who was there would never forget. Short, simple but perfectly executed. Streatham Cemetery were great and Lambeth Council who look after it couldn’t have been more  helpful. We wanted to be sure that some ‘permanent’ acknowledgment of William’s military service could be made and it was agreed to add his name to the Streatham Cemetery Book of Remembrance. On a wet and blowy day a week before, Sam the Cemetery Manager hammered a stake into the ground at the spot where William is buried, Block D, a great grassy mound under which are buried probably thousands of bodies. Close by is a holly tree. It was around here that we gathered.


We have been working with Smallwood Primary School as part of our Summerstown182 Heritage Lottery Funded First World War community history project. They had been told William’s story and grasped the idea of a ‘Forgotten Soldier’. We wanted to involve them in the ceremony and they made the most beautiful daffodils which on cue were hung from the branches of the holly bush. They all had tags attached bearing a personal message which the children had written. Six of them read these out. A daffodil was chosen for a number of reasons; William’s association with a Welsh regiment, a symbol of health care, a nod to the area’s history as a place where these flowers were widely cultivated and simply the fact that it was springtime and daffs were bursting out all over. John Byrne had written verse for the occasion and Kath Church from The Friends of Streatham Cemetery also added words from Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Reverend Roger Ryan of St Mary’s Church closed proceedings and provided a fitting commendation to see us on our way.

Working hard

making daffodils

It was also proper given their school’s initial input, that Naqibullah from Ernest Bevin College was there with four of his History Club schoolmates, all only a few years younger than William. He joined me in reading an introductory text outlining the story of William Mace. There were some difficult passages about disease and military protocol but the younger children’s attention never wavered. All this happened at 2pm on a Monday afternoon so we only expected a handful of people to show up. Those who were able to do so made the effort. Ralph Norbury, a 98 year old veteran of D-Day and Arnhem was present, also in attendance, military historian Paul McCue and John and Arthur Keeley, the V2 survivors from Hazelhurst Road. William had passed away in the care of a place on Clapham Common called ‘The Hostel of God’. Its still in the same location but now called Royal Trinity Hospice. It was very fitting that their CEO, Dallas Pounds took the trouble to attend.


To our great delight, the nephew and niece of William Mace were able to come along to the ceremony. Ivor 88 and Joan 93 were brought by Ivor’s children, Anne and David. They had only found out about their mother’s brothers existence a few years previously, when a relative did some family history research. When a letter from Sheila Hill dropped through their door telling them of the interest in Summerstown, they must have wondered what was going on. Hopefully they will be back in Streatham Cemetery soon to see Arthur’s name carved on the memorial wall.