The French Connection





The Bishop of Kingston came to St Mary’s Church last week and I was very pleased to take him on a short Summerstown182 Walk. We went over to the Hazelhurst estate where I showed him the green plaque and told him all about the brilliant ‘Hazelfest’ which passed off so splendidly this weekend. We then moved across Garratt Lane to the tranquility of the Huntspill Steet enclave where we stood outside the former home of one of the Sunday School Three, William Mace. The Bishop was so supportive of what we are doing in this community and our efforts to reach out to everyone, whatever their faith or lack of it. He understood the importance of ensuring that the story of those who came from faraway lands to fight alongside our Summerstown boys one hundred years ago is heard. One of those who would have ecountered Asian soldiers in the trenches of Ypres in the early months of 1915 was William Smith from Bellew Street. He was killed in the fighting at ‘Hill 60’ not far from the location where Indian soldiers first went into action on the western front in October 1914. At this site a memorial to them was unveiled in 1999. On our recent visit to the First World War battlefields we were honoured to take a floral tribute from our Tooting Sikh community which we placed at this location, on the edge of a field near the village of Hollebeke. This is also the site of where Khudadad Khan became the first Muslim recipient of a Victoria Cross.


The first foreign influence in this corner of the borough were probably the Dutch who came over to make frying pans in the 1630s – they were also involved in copper working and dying, industries that were most certainly practised on Copper Mill Lane and at the Garratt Printworks at the end of Riverside Road. Bellew Street and Franche Court Road are two streets in this area that most certainly owe their monikers to the Huguenot presence in Wandsworth from the late seventeenth century. Being artistically inclined, the French refugees would certainly have approved of the decorative floral detailing around the window fronts on the north side of Bellew Street. Not a lot of that on Franche Court Road.


Reverend William Galpin speculated in the St Mary’s parish magazine in 1929 that Bellew Street may have been named after a much earlier association. ‘Our district was part of the estate of the Prior of Merton; in their very first entry now remaining – 1150-1160 occurs: Robert, Prior and Convent of Merton granted to the Heir de Belewe, their mill at Sumerton for 24s 8d per annum’. From 1680, large numbers of Huguenots arrived as refugees in response to Louis XIV revoking the Edict of Nantes which had granted them liberty from persecution. It is believed almost half a million Huguenots fled to other Protestant countries in Europe and further afield. They are so intensely bound to the history of this borough that the ‘tear-shapes’ on the Wandsworth Borough Council crest are symbolic of their sad plight.


The Huguenots set up their own industries and established a french-speaking church. Many of them are buried in the famous Mount Nod Cemetery on East Hill. Their new skills and trades, coupled with an outstanding work ethic meant they were largely welcomed. With its free-flowing Wandle, described in 1805 as ‘the hardest worked river for its size in the world’, this area had always been a centre of textile-finishing. Scarlet dying was just one of the new techniques added by the Huguenots. It was said that the scarlet dye was much prized by the Cardinals of Rome as the colour was so fast it could be guaranteed not to run down the face in the rain. Calico printing was almost certainly introduced to Wandsworth by the Huguenots and practised in this area on the site of the Corruganza Factory which before cardboard boxes took over was the Garratt Print Works, churning out 25,000 items of cloth a year at its height in 1850 when it employed over 100 people. Robert Sadler’s father James was a silk and calico printer and Bob who was a dyer and his two brothers almost certainly worked there. Hat making, feltmaking and leather work were all trades that the Huguenots introduced to Wandsworth, playing a huge part in the development of industry in the Wandle Valley. You can hear more about that on our ‘Industry of Garratt Lane’ Guided Walk on 10th June as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival.


Lance Corporal William Smith from Bellew Street died on 15th February 1915 aged 37. This was in the same ‘Valentines Day Massacre’ that claimed the life of another Summerstown man, Charles Norris. They were both in the 2nd East Surrey Regiment and their names are carved onto the Menin Gate in Ypres. William’s father Archibald was born in Dumbartonshire, Scotland in 1842 and worked as a carpenter. In the 1881 census the Smith family were living at 14 Hindon Place, Westminster and Archie was married to Ellen and working as a joiner. There were eight children, five of whom were born in Pimlico including three year old William. Although the streets in this area are blue on the Charles Booth map, we should be relieved to see that the great man notes ‘no sign of squalour’ in relation to Hindon Place. Ten years later they were at the same address and thirteen year old William was a telegraph messenger. Archibald first appears on the electoral roll at 10 Bellew Street in 1899 and in 1901 he and Ellen are present there with one son Thomas and a grand daughter. William was 23 by then and had already seemingly upped and left the nest. By 1911 Ellen had been widowed, she was 65 and working as a maternity nurse. Her daughter Ellen, now Mrs Parmiter was also present with one of her children.


In February 1915 the 2nd East Surreys were south of Ypres and became involved in attempts to capture a much-prized German stronghold called Hill 60. This was a 150 foot high spoil heap created by earth dumped from the creation of a nearby railway cutting which provided observers with an excellent view of the Ypres area. Captured by the Germans during the First Battle of Ypres in November 1914, it was taken briefly in April, but lost again shortly afterwards. It remained in German hands until the great Battle of Messines mine assault of June 1917. On Sunday 14th February at 2pm, the 2nd East Surreys set out with the objective to capture a lost trench on the southern side of the Ypres-Combines canal. The War Diary records how the attack was over open ground and very exposed. A and C Company lost nearly all their officers. Eight rank and file were killed, 106 wounded and significantly 37 listed as missing. In total 44 men from the East Surrey Regiment lost their lives that day. The attack recommenced the following day with further disastrous results. Five killed, 37 wounded, 14 missing. Somewhere amongst these was Lance Corporal William Smith.

We know very little else about him. Its unlikely William was married due to his ‘soldiers effects record which tell us something quite significant about his character. Most of these indicate the deceased soldier leaving whatever money was due to him to a wife or parent. William Smith carefully divided his estate between all his brothers and sisters who are listed on the form; Alexander, Archibald, John, Thomas, Sarah, Ellen and Isabella. He left behind thirteen pounds, fourteen shillings and nine pence. This was split nine ways between his widowed mother, seven siblings and sister-in-law. Surely that says something and suggests that William was part of a closeknit family and even though he wasn’t around for a couple of census records and we can’t find any traces of him, they were all still very much in touch and on good terms. Given his age and the tradition of local men joining the East Surreys, its just possible William Smith was a fully signed-up soldier for some time before the War, possibly stationed in faraway places like South Africa, maybe even India. One thing for sure, the connections run deep – look out for the Far From the Western Front exhibition coming to St George’s Hospital Tooting in September and our other initiatives to promote knowledge of the extensive involvement of Asians soldiers and non-combatants in the First World War.


Round the Bend



If there’s a shop on Garratt Lane that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to the face and a skip to the step, it’s the most splendid Lola and Sidney, named after a couple of rabbits. Phil is always ready for a chat and has been an outstanding supporter of our Summerstown182 project and historical initiatives, always ready to pop a poster in the window and drop a few Quid for Sid. When we were looking for money for the boy soldier’s plaque, he kindly donated £1 from the sale of his stock of Tooting tote bags. Many people have recollections of 812 Garratt Lane as a post office on the corner of Rostella Road, probably fifteen years ago or more now, but in a much earlier guise it was the location of ‘Jas. Hy. Bailey, billiard cue makers’. A vision of still sits rather well, the emerald baize, the hushed lighting, the sense of theatre. If Joe Davis came out of the back room in a velvetine waistcoat waving a cigar, it would not be out of place in this retro paradise. We love it and since a giant striped duck started a wave of multi-coloured polyresin critter creations imported from Belgium, we love it even more. We just wish people would show some affection in return by not leaving their rubbish on the pavement – a blight on this particular stretch of our adored Garratt Lane. We gotta look after it folks!


One lad who lived not to far away from here and orbited the world of chalk, cue and the gentle crack of bakelite was Harry Percy Keatch. He worked as a ‘billiard marker’ at a licensed victuallers and very likely dropped in to Mr Bailey’s establishment to admire the cut of his cue. Colin, a local lifelong resident, born on Rostella Road and still living nearby recalls his father telling him about the hum of the lathe turning the billiard cues. It would seem the business was around until sometime before the Second World War.



Billiards was an extremely popular game in the early part of the twentieth century. Played in dedicated halls, pubs, hotels, or club houses of other sporting organisations, it required someone to keep score of the match and ensure the drinks were flowing. It was a job for all ages but boys as young as twelve or thirteen were often employed. Not far up the road was the famous Fountain Hotel where young Harry might even have chalked the cue of Tiny Ted Foster. He may possibly have worked at the Sylvan Billiards Hall at 569 Garratt Lane next to St Andrew’s Church, now home of Earlsfield Snooker Club. Its even possible that he did a spot of marking at the renowned Tooting Conservative Club. It was here, on a magical afternoon a couple of summers ago, that Len Jewell, in his one hundredth year demonstrated his range of trick shots whilst looking for the snooker table there that he recalled sheltering under from a buzz bomb in 1944.


George Keatch was the son of a millwright born on Garratt Lane. A ‘trading engineer and fitter’,  he was living in Battersea when he married Annie Wagland in 1885. Harry was their third child, baptised at the old St Mary’s Church on 29th March 1891. This would have been around the time its foundations were starting to quake and two years later it was demolished. The family’s address at the time was Park Terrace, Summerstown – part of a stretch of houses on Garratt Lane. By 1901 they were living at 6 Franche Court Road and starting a thirty year association with this popular L-shaped street. It runs east off Garratt Lane then diverts sharply to the left before connecting with Burntwood Lane. Emily was then aged 14, Alfred was 13 and Harry was ten. Electoral rolls indicate they were at this address until 1909. When Emily married Josiah Wilson at St Mary’s Church that year they were resident at 733 Garratt Lane and soon afterwards they moved round the bend to No88. Given his job and the proximity of the developing Anglo American Laundry at this time, its inconceivable that George Keatch didn’t witness the placement of one of its boilers. Julia Creeke provided this extraordinary photograph above of the boiler being transported down one of the streets on its way to Burmester Road. By 1911, Harry was the only child at home when the census was taken. He was now aged 20 and working as a billiard marker. It appears the family moved during the war to No62, then back to No88 for a while before finally settling at No66 where they resided into the mid-thirties. It would seem then that they relocated to Worthing where George died in 1936 and Annie in 1953.



Leaving the world of laundries and billiard halls behind, aged 22, Harry went in search of a new life on the other side of the Atlantic. He is picked up on a passengers list sailing from Liverpool to Canada in 1913. He arrived in Quebec in August 1913 and indicated his profession as a waiter. Did he return to London to join the war effort or was it because of the charms of a horse bus driver’s daughter from Lewisham? One thing for sure, he was very likely in uniform when he married Ellen Agnes Bartlett there in the final quarter of 1917. At the time of the 1911 census she was 21 and working as a housemaid at The Empress Club at 35 Dover Street. One of the first of London’s ‘ladies’ clubs’, exclusively for ‘ladies of social position’ at one time The Empress had 70 bedrooms available to its 2700 members. On the night of the 1911 census the number of live-in staff had shrunk to 25 (including Ellen) and only 14 guests (all women) were registered as staying the night. Founded in 1897and named after the Queen-Empress herself, this grand venue, boasted ‘two drawing rooms offering a choice between the Louis Quinze or the Venetian style, a dining room, a lounge, a smoking gallery and a smoking room, a library, a writing room, a tape machine for news, a telephone, and a staircase decorated with stained glass windows depicting Shakespeare’s heroines.’ The building survives appropriately enough now the flagship Jimmy Choo store.


Harry was aged 27 when he died on 9th April the following year so he and Ellen had very little time together as man and wife. His grave registration document on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website indicates that he died of pneumonia rather than being killed in battle. His military record indicates that he was living in Catford and had enlisted in Fulham. His next-of-kin was his wife Ellen Agnes Keatch of 75 Sangley Road, Catford. This was her parents address.


In the spring of 1918 the German Supreme Command committed itself to a series of large-scale surprise offensives against the Allied lines, an attempt to break the deadlock on the Western Front before the US Army arrived. After initial successes and some significant ground gained, the German ‘Spring Offensive’ ran out of steam, mainly due to an inability to resupply frontline troops with sufficient food, equipment and reinforcements. Considering where Harry Keatch is buried its likely he avoided the first phase of this onslaught. The attack in the Aisne area came the following month and took the Germans to within 80 miles of Paris. This was also when the Americans joined the fray and the tide soon turned.

At the time of his death Harry was serving with the 517th Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He had a number of different army service numbers and one was the Army Cyclist Corps – something in common then with Arthur Clarke who lived just round the corner at No45 Franche Court Road. All these houses are on my regular bike route to work and I can’t help thinking about that when I whizz past (at less than 20mph of course). Harry is buried in the same small isolated Premont British Cemetery as another of the Summerstown182, William Bonken. A few years younger than Harry, they may never have met. William died the same year it was in a battle some months later. It was close to this cemetery that we found our famous ‘war horse’ shoe which has done the rounds of local schools this year as part of our Lottery Funded project.

Harry’s widow Ellen was left in Catford. Sangley Road is just round the corner from the giant Catford Centre moggie on the South Circular. She was still living at the address with her brother George until the mid-1930s. Ellen never remarried and died in Braintree Essex in 1972 aged 82. We always look out for the big cat on our trips to Dover and it puts any of Lola & Sidney’s polyresin animals in perspective. It now has a new meaning and we’ll salute it next time and think of the young billiard marker from Garratt Lane and the housemaid from The Empress Club.

Catford Centre, Catford, London 14/6/2013


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.



The Auld Triangle


There have been many wonderful Summerstown182 moments but 25th March 2015 was hard to beat. That was when we welcomed Len Jewell to St Mary’s Church, just a few days short of his 100th birthday. He reckoned that it was his first visit since being dipped in the font in 1915. Dave Mauger from Tooting PRSS and Rud from Wandsworth Radio were there to meet him, also Maureen Pitts the only current parishioner with a relative on the First World War memorial – it was a very special occasion. As if that wasn’t enough, we had a surprise visit from a woman called Doreen, all the way from Dartford in Kent. Her Grandfather, Francis Raymond is on the memorial and she showed us her mother’s birth certificate and some lovely photos of her own wedding to Brian at St Mary’s in 1965. We sent her over to Franche Court Road where she had a cuppa with her old mate Alan Gardner.

Francis himself was also hitched in St Mary’s. He was 26 when he stepped down the aisle with Emma Elizabeth Wickens from Foss Road on 25th April 1915. That was the day of the Gallipoli landings and also a period in the wake of the sinking of The Lusitania when Peter Jung’s bakery at Tooting Broadway was coming under attack. Lets hope he hadn’t been tasked with the catering.  Emma was the eldest girl in a large family at 92 Foss Road. Twelve children are noted on the 1911 census but four had died. They lived in just three rooms. Frank gave his profession as a newsagent. Above then in the St Mary’s marriage register were a couple who had tied the knot just a week earlier; Hilda Mullinger Mace and the jockey, Dick Durham. Hilda was a sister of the Mace brothers and her two children Ivor and Joan attended our Remembrance in Streatham Cemetery a few weeks ago.  Almost a year to the day later, a daughter Mary Ann was born. In 1937 she married Doreen’s Dad and the rest is history.



Francis’ father was a John Robert Raymond, born in 1860 and whose roots lay in the Mile End and Stepney part of east London. The family relocated to south London and were in Penge by the time of the 1871 census. On the 14th May 1882, at the age of 22 and working as a blacksmith, John married Mary Ann Sophia Willis at All Saints Church in Upper Norwood. In 1891 they were living with three children at 11 Triangle Place, Clapham. Francis, three months old, only just makes it onto the census. Robert Thomas was eight and Lily was two. They were still there in 1901 and John had now become a tram driver, very timely with trams about to come all the way out to Tooting. Frank also now had a younger brother called Alfred. Very sadly John Raymond became sick with consumption and died in a Fulham hospital in 1903 aged just 43. He is buried in Norwood Cemetery.  Frank appears as a visitor in the 1911 census, at the home of his brother Robert at Carfax Square, Clapham. Now aged 20, the census tells us he was a newspaper cyclist. Robert had followed his father’s calling and was an LCC ‘electric tram driver.’ Carfax Place is just the other side of the main road so they were literally next door and Frank was probably still living in this area. Booth visited in 1899 and described it as ‘rather poor and dirty’.


The old houses are long gone but Triangle Place still exists, off Clapham Park Road, just behind the big Sainsburys store near Clapham Common tube station. Its part of a large 1930’s development called the William Bonney Estate. He wasn’t Billy the Kid or even a pirate, but the Mayor of Wandsworth from 1938-1944. I have recollections from about twenty years ago of the pub at the end of the road being called The Auld Triangle. Then for a long time it was a nightclub called The White House. Its now a French restaurant, Le Petite Bretagne, rather appropriate given whats happened this week.


Francis enlisted in the army in Tooting on 10th December 1915 joining a training battalion, the 27th Middlesex. He was posted to France with the 16th battalion sometime in 1916. His daughter Mary Alice Louisa was born on the 15th April 1916 and the certificate indicates he was a private in the Middlesex Regiment, so his promotion to Corporal must have come some time after then. He gave his profession as a ‘carman, selling mineral waters’, a good step up in a few years from delivering papers on his bike. Frank and Emma gave their address as 21 Foss Road. His regiment was rather grandly known as 16th (Public Schools) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own). It was raised in London on the 1st September 1914 and trained initially at Kempton Park racecourse. In July 1916 they went into action on the Somme and the following year were extensively involved in the The First, Second and Third Battles of the Scarpe during the Arras Offensive. It was here that Francis Henry Raymond was killed on the last day of May 1917 near Monchy-le-Preux.


The 16th Middlesex war diary at this time is very matter-of-fact but gives a few pointers as to what happened in those last months. In April 1917 the battalion moved from the Somme to Arras and from 15th-18th were ‘engaged in making new defences at Monchy’. This was clearly dangerous territory and in the process of this they suffered 72 casualties. At Arras on 22nd, one of their Lewis guns brought down an aeroplane. Between 24th and 25th they endured another 104 casualties in the assault on Monchy. After a few days recovery at Souastre they were back near Monchy digging strong points on 10th April. By the 20th they were in the front line trenches and up to their neck in defending the village. On 30th, ‘under intense artillery barrage’ a contingent of 11 officers and 230 men joined the Lancashire Fusiliers in an attack on Hook Trench. ‘All were driven back by counter-attacks, with the exception, as far as can be ascertained of two officers and some 30 to 40 men’. Whether Frank made it through in these few days the battalion sustained almost 250 casulaties with 32 killed. The following day they were relieved and moved back to Arras, on that day Frank Raymond must have succumbed to his wounds. His name is inscribed on Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial.

Back in south London Emma was left with a child just over a year old. There was no mention of Frank Raymond in the parish magazines over the war years and his name never appeared in the roll of honour, nor was his death announced. Emma may have had to wait some time before hearing the bad news. She remained in Foss Road and in September 1919 in Croydon she married John Raymond Wyeth from Colliers Wood. From at least 1924 the couple lived in Foss Road at No39, her parents just up the road, still at No92. She would have been there when the V2 rocket landed on the next street in November 1944. A number of homes would have been badly damaged by the blast but No39 was at the southern end of Foss Road, not too far from the back of the Keeleys at No44 Hazelhurst Road. She was there until her death aged 67 in 1959. So many familiar names surrounded her; the Hammonds, the Warmans, the Byatts, the Duttons, the Steers, the Sandys, the parents of Maureen Pitts who were at No22. Next door at No41 were the Paskells and it was Brian Paskell who stepped down the aisle with Frank Raymond’s grandaughter Doreen in 1965.

Mother’s Day





Another of the fifteen Summerstown182 soldiers killed in the Battle of Arras was twenty year old Henry Edward Wilton of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. He died in the ferocious fighting at the village of Arleux on 28th April 1917.  The son of a farm labourer from Sussex, the roots of his family lie tucked into the gentle folds of the South Downs in the tiny village of West Dean. His father Henry was born in 1871, the son of Samuel, an agricultural labourer and Eliza Wilton from Woolbeding who worked as a washerwoman. Henry was doing the same line of work in 1891 when the family lived at Cottage No93, West Dean in 1891. West Dean is a historic estate recorded in the Domesday Book, nestling in the valley of the Lavant, north of Chichester. 1891 was a big year for the village as the hugely wealthy William James took over the estate, and set out on a great plan to embellish the house and gardens. Also that year, according to a brass plaque in the church, his brother Frank was killed by an elephant on the west coast of Africa. The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII was apparently a regular visitor to his lavish house parties. Who would believe that he would one day follow the Wiltons to Tooting.



How this new dawn for West Dean affected the farm workers on the estate is hard to say, but Henry’s thoughts were on other matters. He had met Chelsea girl, Ellen Wilkins and their first child Arthur Felix was born in 1893. Elizabeth was born in 1894 and Henry Edward on 11th January 1897. All three births are registered in Brighton. Its unclear if the family moved there from West Dean or this was simply where the paperwork was housed. In any case at some stage around the turn of the century, they must have decided to try their luck in the big city, because in 1901 they  was at 31 Haydons Road, South Wimbledon and Henry was working as a plasterer. With houses now popping up all over this corner of Wandsworth his new skills would have been in demand. He and Ellen were there with three children, Arthur, Elizabeth and Henry aged four. His mother-in-law Elizabeth was also present that day.

Haydons Road, which follows the course of the Wandle, connects Merton High Street to the Plough Lane junction. It passes many roads with Nelson or Battle of Trafalgar references and has had a turbulent history itself. An odd assortment of rather tired shops and cafes, recently closed pubs, houses old and new and a train station that it is very easy to forget about. It has a scruffy reputation and feels somehow that it could be something so much better than it actually is. The Wilton home at Number 31 still stands, the final southern stretch approaching the High Street is populated by Victorian terraces, flush with the street on the west side, a tiny garden fronting those on the east.



Here stands No31, a short walk from the Nelson Arms and just a bit further along Merton High Street, possibly the greatest bicycle repair shop in south London, the legendary AW Cycles. This probably didn’t start trading long after the Wiltons were living around here. Up at its northern end, AFC Wimbledon will be very soon relocating to their spiritual home. In 1901 they were still called Old Centrals and had moved from Clapham Common to a new ground at Worple Road West. They were on their Plough Lane site at the junction of Haydons Road by 1912 and thats where they remained until 1991. Their mascot is of course the legendary Haydon the Womble. Thanks for your ‘Quid for Sid’ endorsement last year, mate.


The Wiltons took the big plunge from Merton to Wandsworth some time around 1906 as their fifth child Dorothy was born in Tooting, possibly at 115 Smallwood Road. This house also still stands in all its original glory. It would have shuddered and shook as the V2 rocket landed just a stone’s throw away in 1944. It now looks out on the foreshortened Foss Road and the Twin Towers of the Hazelhurst estate. Look out for our historic guided walks there, just one of many attractions which will be part of the Wandsworth Fringe ‘Hazelfest’ on Saturday 20th May organised by the brilliant ‘Scrapstore’.


By 1911 they were at 42 Blackshaw Road. Arthur was a typewriter mechanic, Elizabeth was in service and Henry worked as a warehouse boy. The census indicates that Henry and Ellen had seven children in total, three of whom had died. This extraordinary road which separates the Fairlight streets from Lambeth Cemetery has seen a lot of changes. On one side very little has moved since the cemetery opened for business in 1854. Though having said that, many original Victorian monuments were lost in a ‘lawn conversion’ carried out between 1969 and 1991. The other side has gone from Bells Farm and its exotic nurseries to an extensive house building programme and the massive St George’s Hospital complex.

No42 is at the top end of Blackshaw Road, directly opposite the entrance to St George’s with a very handy 493 bus stop just outside the front door. In fact its actually Clare House that’s across the road, the original nurses home and one of the oldest parts of the hospital. The Wiltons would have been present to see the Grove Fever Hospital become the Grove Military Hospital and the site of so many wounded servicemen coming and going would have been a constant reminder of the peril their son was in. 15,000 officers and men were treated here between November 1916 and September 1919. Now its still a frantic location with ambulances flying into A&E twenty four hours a day. I had heard a rumour that Clare House was earmarked for demolition but all seemed intact when I inspected it a few days ago.



Henry enlisted on 9th October 1914. He was seventeen and gave his occupation as a painter. His underage status must have soon come to light as the records state that he forfeited 94 days service. He was in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, alongside Ernest Pelling from Burmester Road, another of the Summerstown182 to have served in this prestigious regiment. Unfortunately Henry was with them on what was to become their darkest day, the 28th April 1917, the Battle of Arleux. A town now best known for its smoked garlic and its annual festival in September.

Royal Marine deployment to Gallipoli started in February 1915. Records indicate that Henry got there in August but soon became sick with dysentry and was invalided back home on 26th August. One of their number was Rupert Brooke who died on a hospital ship two days before the invasion. The following year the Royal Naval Division was sent to France and fought at the Somme. In November 1916 the 1st Royal Marine Light Infantry took part in the Battle of Ancre, the last large British attack of the Battle of the Somme. They incurred over 50% casualties and after being withdrawn from the line, had to be completely rebuilt with new recruits. One of those killed on the Ancre was Ernest Pelling. Having come through that, the spring of 1917 saw them in the front row for the Battle of Arras. On 23rd April they were in action at the Second Battle of the Scarpe and amidst the sleet and the snow captured the village of Gavrelle. This strategically important site would not be given up easily and immediately came under intense artillery bombardment. On 28th an attack to the north was launched in support of the Canadians. Henry and the 1st Royal Marine Light infantry began their assault at 425am only to find the wire uncut. There was no option but to seek cover in shell holes where they were cut to pieces. A few got through the wire but the battalion was virtually wiped out. The cost to the Royal Marines that day was appalling and remains the largest casualty list for one single day’s fighting in their history. Out of nearly two thousand officers and men of the two battalions who attacked that morning, over a thousand had become casualties. The Second Battalion had incurred six hundred all ranks killed, wounded and missing, whilst the First Battalion had lost over five hundred officers and men killed, wounded and missing.


Henry’s name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial, its on a section where unfortunately age has taken its toll and the names are starting to fade and it was difficult to read. A monument to the Royal Naval Division at Gavrelle stands on a busy road outside the village. The memorial was inaugurated in 1991, and consists of an anchor, weighing three tons, the emblem of the division, surrounded by a broken wall of red bricks which symbolises the ruins of the village of Gavrelle which was mainly built out of red bricks at that time. In March 1918, at a trench, not yet cleared, a soldier from the British 56th Division reported: ‘That was a terrible part of the line, in front of Oppy Wood and Gavrelle. The Royal Naval Division had attacked there the year before, and their bodies were still hanging on the wire where they’d been caught up’.

Back in Tooting, it was some time before official news of Henry’.s death could be verified. The parish magazine of January 1919 finally reported ‘We have heard with great regret that Henry Wilton, Royal Marines, was killed in action in May 1917’.  This was a year and eight months after the event. It would appear that his family were on the move again shortly afterwards, to 162 Markerfield Road Tottenham. Perhaps the pain was too much to bear and they needed to forget. We went to West Dean Gardens last weekend on a most glorious spring afternoon. It was Mother’s Day and the gardens were ablaze with daffodils, primroses and assorted blossoms. The greenhouses hummed with the expectation of seedlings jostling furiously in the race to sprout. It is truly the best time of year to be alive and our thoughts went out to Ellen Wilton who had to wait so long for news of her son, lost that spring, one hundred years ago in the garlic fields of France.


Guns of Brixton




Smallwood Road is one of the main arteries of the Fairlight area, traversing east to west, it joins up Streatham and Lambeth cemeteries, but has none of the congestion of Wimbledon Road or the transience of Fountain Road. Its still pretty busy, but the presence of the school knits it together and stabilises things, giving it more of a community feel. It is though an odd mix of old and new. There is one ‘shop’ with an unknowingly retro sign that was picked up recently by the BBC in its ‘Further back in Time for Dinner’ series. It hasn’t done any business for about ten years. The original houses on the northern side, in which many of the Summerstown once lived are all gone. Francis Halliday’s Schoolkeeper’s Cottage being the exception. Many of the older houses on the southern side still stand. The sixties saw quite a bit of redevelopment, and more if Sid Sporle had had his way. The western end seems to be the one we know most about thanks to Iris and Neil and their photos of street parties, the Higgs and Johnson families. This section connecting to Foss and Hazelhurst Roads was definitely a hub of many of the families connected to St Mary’s Church. The other end facing Streatham Cemetery is more elusive. On the southern side the original houses disappear between numbers 27 and 65 and the street dips into a close of new build. Opposite this stretch lived a number of 182 families and at No56 were the Woods. Two brothers, part of a family of nine have their names on our memorial. At this time we remember Robert, of the 7th Northamptonshire Regiment who died almost one hundred years ago on the 28th March 1917 in the buld up to the great Battle of Arras.



Along the same stretch were Francis Baker at No66 and Henry Brigden at No98 next to the school. Across the road were Sunday School Three member, James Jenner Crozier at No37, Frank Townsend at No65 and Arthur Hutton at No85, opposite the Schoolkeeper’s Cottage. Quite a gathering really. Frederick William Wood, a labourer and his wife Mary Ann had their roots in the Lambeth area, most specifically Kennington and Brixton. They had nine children, five boys and four girls. Frederick their eldest was born in 1881 and John two years later. Three of their boys were definitely in uniform and its very likely that all five were. Their third child, Elizabeth Jane was born in August 1884 when the family lived at 9 Clark’s Row, north Brixton, part of a small enclave of streets off the Brixton Road near St Michael’s Church. They were still there when William was born in May 1886. Their fifth child, Phoebe Martha was born on 1st November 1891 when they lived at 43 Halstead Street, just two roads along. In 1944 a V1 destroyed a number of houses on the corner of Stockwell Park Road and Lorn Road, killing 11 people. Clark’s Row and Halstead Street were demolished in the fifties and are now submerged beneath the Slade Gardens Adventure Playground.


This area does have some ‘purple’ on the Charles Booth map. He visited in 1899 and described this location as ‘very poor and rough; children dirty’. In 1893 when Fanny was born they were at 44 Halstead Street. Robert is noted as having been born in Kennington in 1897 so they were probably still in this area. He was the second youngest child. The 1901 census indicates they had moved a little bit further north and were at 70 Smith Street, off Camberwell Road, not too far from the Oval Cricket Ground. This venue had been hosting the FA Cup Final until just a few years before. The 1892 final saw West Bromwich Albion beat Aston Villa 3-1 in front of 33,000 people. Close to Kennington Park this was a crowded area but probably a bit more pleasant, Booth noted nearby Kennington Terrace as being ‘very respectable, all with servants’.



Child mortality was of course rife at this time but all nine Wood children appear to have survived. Only the four youngest were still at home in 1911 when the family pitched up in Summerstown, at 56 Smallwood Road. Fred and Mary had now been married for 32 years. Phoebe and Frances, aged 21 and 19 were working as domestic servants, 15 year old Robert was an errand boy for a chemist and the youngest George was 12 and still at school. William Wood was the fourth oldest child born in 1886. It would seem that he was also killed in the First World War and is on the St Mary’s memorial. A note in the parish magazine from August 1917 states ‘We have heard this month that Robert Wood of the Northamptonshire Regiment and his brother William Wood of the Royal Fusiliers have been killed in action’. With no date to go on, identifying William was not easy but we are almost certain that he was killed on 7th November 1915 and is buried at Fricourt, near Albert. Indications are that he lived in Brixton and there is a William Wood on the lost St Michael’s Church ‘War Shrine’ in Stockwell Park Road. We’ll come back to him later.

Robert was first with the Suffolk Regiment before joining the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshires. They were based in the Souchez sector near Vimy Ridge and Arras in late March 1917 and Robert was killed in preliminary skirmishes before the main battle. One of the most famous landmarks in this area and after which the cemetery is named, was a popular cafe called Cabaret Rouge. It was destroyed by shellfire about two years before Robert Wood got here. Another of the 182, David Baldwin, who was killed in April 1916 is buried in the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery which we visited the day before the Somme Commemoration last year. It was a beautiful golden evening. Robert is buried in the nearby Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, close to Lens. We’ll be over to visit him sometime this year.


The 7th Northamptonshire’s war diary seems unusally keen on its weather reports. The 20th March finds them at Sains-en-Gohelle, a cold day with snow showers. There is though a concert in the canteen and ‘bathing in the brewery’ which hopefully raised spirits. On the 22nd they relieved the 2nd Leinster Regiment in the trenches and mention is made of Robert’s ‘A Company’ being in the front line. Over the next few days there was sporadic shelling and the rain and snow continued to fall. On 27th the diary reports showers and hail and that the enemy shelled ‘Headquarters Trench’ at intervals during the day but did no damage. This was where ‘A Company’ were. On 28th it states ‘Bright at first, changing to dull and rain later. About 530 pm a heavy bombardment on our lines and on Vimy Ridge opened and our Artillery retaliated. This lasted about an hour. The enemy opened again about 915pm but all went quiet again by 10pm. 2nd Lieutenant G P Rathbone was wounded. Casualties, O.R. killed 3, wounded 13 (including 2 slightly, still at duty)’. One of these was 21 year old Robert Wood. The following day the diary reported that ‘a whizz bang knocked out seven men at Souchez Post, 2 being killed’. It was very wet.

The youngest of the Woods, George Charles Wood, a Lance Corporal in the Hertfordshire Regiment is on the absent voters list at 56 Smallwood Road in 1918. He would appear to have joined the Bedfordshire Regiment in September 1916 when he was working as a carman. It seems like he survived the war unlike his two brothers. The last trace of the Woods appears to have been sister Phoebe who was living at 58 Smallwood Road in 1946.

Many thanks to Friends of Slade Gardens many of whose photos are used in this story

Cousin Herbert




There are three Tibbenhams on the First World War memorial in St Mary’s Church. Identifying the ‘H Tibbenham’ has caused us more than a few headaches. Surely it had to be a brother of Spencer and Eric from Thurso Street. The finger initially pointed at Horace. We then made contact with family in Australia who confirmed it most certainly wasn’t Horace who passed away in 1958. Not long after that we found out about a cousin Herbert, killed at Arras, whose connections were very much based in the Tibbenham family Suffolk homelands. A quick google shows there are still plenty of them in this area so hopefully one of them will read this. All three Tibbenhams died in 1917 in different battles; Spencer at Messines, Herbert at Arras, Eric at Cambrai. The Bignell family in Melbourne descended from Ethel (Annie) Tibbenham very kindly supplied us with photos of Spencer and Eric and now its time to have a closer look at their cousin. His name is on the Arras Memorial, St Peter and St Paul Church in Hoxne in Suffolk and St Mary’s Church in Summerstown.


Herbert’s father, Pleys Robert Tibbenham seems to have spent all his life in East Anglia. A farmer, born in Weybread in Suffolk in 1862, he died in the same county, in Hartismere in 1948. William Tibbenham and his wife Maryann had ten children and Pleys was the second oldest of eight brothers. The connection with Summerstown in south London appears to be the eldest, William who worked as a draper, a trade  his son Spencer followed him into. He went to London in the 1870s and eventually settled at 12 Thurso Street, Tooting. He died there in 1936.

Back in Suffolk, Pleys married Rosa Alice Buckingham in Depwade, Norfolk in 1895. He was 33 so he’d left it quite late by the standards of the day. The following year their first child, Mary Doris was born. She died in 1988 at the age of 92. Herbert was born on 2nd September 1897 in the village of Brockdish in Norfolk. Right on the Suffolk border on the River Waveney and apparently a great spot for a wild swim. There were two more girls, Ruth was born in 1899 and Kathleen in 1907. Both also lived to a ripe old age, Ruth died in Chichester in 1996 aged 97 and Kathleen passed away in Norwich in 1993 at the age of 86.

In 1901 the family lived at New Farm, Sotterley Road, Ellough in Suffolk. Used to looking at old maps of Earlsfield and Summerstown, when they were mostly fields and farmland and contrasting to today, by comparison, very little seems to have changed in Ellough. They seemed to move address quite frequently, perhaps depending on what work Pleys could find and were subsequently in Dickleburgh and Syleham, dipping in and out of the neighbouring counties. By the 1911 census they were back in Suffolk, at Hoxne. Herbert was fourteen, Ruth aged twelve and Kathleen three. Mary was elsewhere that day, she later moved to London and was married in Wandsworth in 1930. Pleys was now according to the records a farm manager working for his brother. Brockdish, Syleham, Weybread and Hoxne are all still tiny settlements just a few miles to the east of Diss in the River Waveney valley. It all sounds very lovely and I can feel this surely calls for a ‘Tibbenham Suffolk Sunset’ Guided Walk.

What Herbert was up to in the pre-war years is a mystery. Did he move to London? Perhaps he stayed with his uncle in Tooting. His cousin Spencer emigrated to Gloucester, New South Wales, Australia in 1912 so there would have been a spare bed at Thurso Street. Though given the size of the Tibbenham family it was more likely to be part of one. All we know for sure is that he joined the army in 1915. Herbert’s service records have survived to give a few clues about the course of his war. It appears that he had a medical at Holborn on 20th November 1915 . He was not long past his eighteenth birthday but he declared he was nineteen and working as a warehouseman. At five foot eight and a quarter inches he was taller than average, though still a good few inches smaller than his cousin Spencer. On another section he gives a very comprehensive list of dependents. His parents are listed and his three sisters. The family all appear to be living in Syleham, but Doris is now in Stockwell, just a few stops up the Northern Line from Tooting. Also listed are eight uncles including William in Thurso Street. Its odd given his large extended family that Herbert’s name ended up on the St Mary’s Church memorial. Its just possible that as well as his uncle’s family his sister Doris had some sway.

KRRC Rayleigh
He officially joined 19th Battalion of Kings Royal Rifle Corps on 27th November 1915. On 23rd August 1916 Herbert embarked for France at Southampton and landed at Le Havre. Now with 16th KRRC on 7th September he was in the field and the field in question was the Somme. On 10th September he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. 16th (Church Lads Brigade) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps was raised at Denham, Buckinghamshire in September 1914 by Field-Marshal Lord Grenfell. Losses were extensive at the Somme in the fighting at High Wood and Herbert’s transfer was perhaps simply because they required additional manpower rather than his being a good christian soldier.

Herbert was killed in what became known as the Second Battle of the Scarpe in the spring of 1917. The focus was on Arras and attacking the German’s Hindenburg Line, a heavily-fortified line of defence on the Western Front which they had built up over the winter months. The 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps battalion war diary indicates the build-up to this as they moved north in the preceeding month. On 1st April they were at Corbie on the Somme and on 3rd April they marched ten miles to Beauval. On the following day they went on another ten miles to Barly and onn 5th they covered a further 12 miles to Mondicourt. After a day of rest they moved on to Souastre and were billeted in huts. Here they were given iron rations and extra ammunition and were warned that only six hours notice would be given about the next move. On 11th there was a heavy fall of snow. On 13th they move to Mercatel and then to Moyenville, north of Croisilles where they made themselves as comfortable as possible in the ruined villlage. Many of the men worked with the Royal Engineers on ‘road fatigue’ duty which on occasion had to be cancelled because of the bad weather.

On 21st April the diary gives its first clue as to what is going on ‘a general attack on HINDENBURG LINE’. On the evening of 22nd they moved into position at Croisilles. The following morning, St George’s Day at 445am the attack began, with the 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps playing a leading role in the 98th Brigade assault. In this action, Herbert Pleys Tibbenham would lose his life. It appeared that the first line of defence that morning was taken fairly easily and 300 prisoners were taken. But German defences were much sterner than anticipated and there was a shortage of bombs and ammunition to breech them. C E Crutchley in his book ‘Machine Gunner 1914-1918’ recalled the scene in the Sensée River valley that day ‘The 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps who were in support, with great gallantry and despite heavy losses repeatedly made their way up and down the valley carrying bombs and ammunition to the Queens’. At 1pm the diary noted ‘retirement took place owing to lack of bombs and failure of tanks to get up’. At 9pm it was ascertained that 1 officer was killed, 9 officers were wounded and missing and there were 260 casualties among the ranks. On the following day the 16th recuperated at St Leger and the Divisional Commander thanked the battalion for their ‘splendid work during the attack’. This events of the day are featured in an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ The Grandfather of actor Hugh Dennis was involved, by coincidence serving with the Suffolk Regiment.



Irish Brigade
At this point in the Hindenburg Line, the main defensive advantage the Germans had was their highly fortified Tunnel Trench. An impressive piece of engineering, the tunnel was 30 or 40 feet below ground along its whole length, with staircase access from the upper level every 25 yards. The entire tunnel had electric lighting, and side chambers provided storage space for bunks, food, and ammunition. It was in a major assualt on this, on 20th November that our Great Uncle, Captain Alan Lendrum, then with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was awarded the Military Cross. We visited the area a few years ago and found the fields near Fontaine-les-Croisillies still littered with shells. Some of which might have been directed one hundred years earlier at Alan and Herbert Pleys Tibbenham. Much of the tunnel is still there, apparently intact and out of sight but every so often it caves in to reveal itself.


Back in Tooting, William Tibbenham and his wife Louise had eleven children, a nice split of six boys and five girls. Ethel Annie Tibbenham married a postman from Battersea called Frederick Alfred Arnold in 1910. He was killed in action in 1915. She married again on 26th July 1919 in Wandsworth to Alfred Charles Bignell. Born in Ballarat, Victoria and a resident of Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. He was a farmer who had joined the Australian Infantry in 1914 and served at Gallipoli, Egypt and in France. His address was 171 Tooting High Street on the corner of Sellincourt Road. That’s directly opposite The Trafalgar where the lively Alf would undoubtedly have enjoyed a jar or two.

Mention is made on the certificate that William, Annie’s father was a clerk in the Royal Army Clothing Department. It seems like Annie and Alf headed to Australia soon after and settled in Surrey Hills, Victoria. In May the following year a son William was born. Alf died in 1965 and two years later, Annie then aged 77 wrote to the authorities enquiring about Alf and her brother Spencer’s medals. This letter was preserved in Spencer’s service records, easily accessible online and the address lead me to the Lone Pine Dairy, Balwyn Historical Society and contact with the Bignell family. Curiously, just the day before Annie married her Aussie, sister Ena also tied the knot with an Aussie soldier in Lewes. He was John Paton, a butcher from Allansford, not too far up the road from Apollo Bay. Whether Alf and John knew each other, this happy couple also headed for Melbourne just six days later. Ena lived to be 90 and Annie was 84 when she passed away. Quite why the two sisters didn’t organise joint nuptuals and save on the catering is interesting. Connecting with Balwyn set this project alight a few years ago and we are so pleased to be able to have the photos of Spencer and Eric. Be lovely if we could get one of Herbert as well.

In the meantime, its great to be in contact with Graham of Hoxne Heritage Group and we’ll be sharing our findings on Herbert. A plaque there, inside the St Peter and St Paul Church, commemorates the names of nineteen people from the parish who were killed or missing in the First World War and seven from the Second. We do hope to visit. Meanwhile, back in New South Wales, my cousin and her husband are going to take a trip to Gloucester some time to see if they can find any trace of Spencer. Not too far away from there John will be playing the Bugle at the ANZAC Day service at a place called Krambach on the 25th April. Two days after the centenary of Herbert Pleys Tibbenham’s death.