Stripes of Peace

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As we prepare for the second ‘Hazelfest’, a wonderful ‘mini green’ festival on the Hazelhurst estate, beneath the Summerstown Towers, we can look across Wimbledon Road to a house associated with one of our 182 names. The family who lived there one hundred years ago, were that of Albert Lucas, a young man, born at the turn of the twentieth century. He died fighting with the 54th Infantry Brigade, pushing the Germans back in the ferocious last months of the First World War. He was killed in action on 21st September 1918 and is buried in northern France in a village called Templeux-le-Guerard, not far from Cambrai. 28 Wimbledon Road is just one of the locations where we will be placing a special tribute in time for this year’s centenary Armistice Remembrance. Created by members of the local community at various events over the next months, we are calling this exciting initiative ‘Summerstown Stripes of Peace’.

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We intend to round off this final year of commemoration with the most ambitious Summerstown182 Walk ever. It will be a massive Earlsfield-Tooting ‘double circuit’ on Saturday 10th November, passing as many of the homes and locations of the Summerstown182 as possible, telling their stories. Each of these places, marked by a poppy on our map, will be indicated with a simple personalised tribute made over the months before by local people. This will be done through a series of workshops lead by artist Judith Lawton, supported by Big Up Films and the Work and Play Scrapstore. The first of these workshops will be at Hazelfest on Sunday 20th May, other venues are still to be confirmed. Decorative ‘hangings’ created from up-cycled materials made at the workshops will populate the neighbourhood, each being placed at or near the locations where the 182 individuals lived, in the week before Remembrance Sunday. ‘Summerstown Stripes of Peace’ will remind people today of the sacrifices of young men like Albert Lucas who lived here 100 years ago. The emphasis will be on celebrating the coming of peace rather than glorifying war, the colourful element expressing the diversity of people from all over the world who suffered in this conflict.

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There is no photo of Albert or very little knowledge of his family. As far as public records are concerned, Albert Lucas and family are hardly visible. We thank the brilliant local military historian Chris Burge for finding all there is to tell. What little information there is comes mostly from his military records. We can say more about the final few months of his life than all the preceding years. From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records we learn he was named after his father and the family address by the 1920s was 28 Wimbledon Road, just a few doors away from St Mary’s Church. This was given as his next-of-kin address on the documentation associated with his death. His ‘Soldiers who Died in the Great War’ entry says was born in Greenwich, and indicates he enlisted in Wandsworth. He served firstly in the London Regiment, before being transferred to the the 6th Northamptonshires, the same regiment as that of the soldier whose story started our project, William Clay. His entry in the ‘Soldiers’ Effects’ register confirms his father was his sole legatee and the £3 war gratuity equates to someone with less than twelve months service at the time of his death. This implies Albert Lucas was conscripted in the final year of the war.

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Albert’s service papers have not survived, but looking at the casualties in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment for August 1918 onwards shows a disturbing picture. Albert Lucas appears to have been among a largish group of at least 50 men all transferred from the 10th Londons, 14 of whom would be killed in August and September 1918. All were from various places within London and all were born at the end of 1899. They were all just 18 in 1918 and conscripted in the first two months of that year. Among the few surviving papers of this group are the pension documents of a Private Albert Edward Freeborn, of 82 Fircroft Rd, Upper Tooting. He was wounded on the same day that Albert Lucas was killed. Albert Freeborn had been conscripted on 2nd February, aged 18 years and 1 month. He joined the 6th Northants in the field on 2nd August 1918. The Great War Forum provides details of another 18 year old, Private Eric Richards from Hampstead.
A summary of his movements may well of be almost the same as those of Albert Lucas. ‘On 18th September during an attack against an established German position on a small hill, 27 British soldiers were ordered over the parapet bearing only rifles and facing machine guns. Only three British soldiers survived. A piece of shrapnel hit Eric in the forehead and he lay wounded all day, being carried in after dark. The shrapnel was imbedded in the bone and not removed by the army surgeons’.

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Another 6th Northamptonshire Regiment soldier who Albert Lucas very likely knew, possibly killed the same day, was a Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at Ronnsoy on 18th September in the same attack where Eric Richards was wounded. ‘Three days later, having seen his company through an enemy barrage, he was struck on the head by shrapnel and killed while getting his men under cover from heavy machine gun fire’. He was the only soldier born in Herefordshire to win a Victoria Cross during the First World War.

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Chris believes that Albert Lucas was born at the end of 1899. He is likely to have been conscripted in January 1918 and sent to France in July or by early August, 1918. Only 14 years old when war broke out and 16 when conscription was introduced, Albert Lucas must have thought many times, would the war be won or lost before his turn came? Even when conscripted in 1918, he cannot have expected to serve overseas until he was 19. The German Spring Offensive changed all that. In April 1918 the crisis led to the overseas service age limit being dropped to 18 years and 6 months, as long as a soldier had had six months training. Among the Summerstown182, Albert Lucas has a special place, he was among the last conscripts, maybe even the last conscript, to lose his life in the First World War.

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There is just one other small tantalising glimpse of what may be the early life of Albert Lucas. In the registers of Southfields School, Merton Road, newly opened in 1905, is the name of Albert Lucas, aged five, born 26 December 1899. He was admitted there on 10 October 1905 and its noted that his father was Albert Lucas. Southfields School opened in 1905 and was closed in 1926. The family address is given as 3 Strathville Road, just around the corner and confirmed as the living place of Albert Lucas in the 1907 Wandsworth electoral roll. 587 Garratt Lane may also have been a later childhood home. Southfields School may have been one of a number of schools on the Merton Road site of the current Southfields Academy. Its impossible to know when he came to Summerstown or whether he even lived at 28 Wimbledon Road. Albert’s father, and a Sarah Ann Lucas, possibly a sister, appear in the Wandworth Electoral Register at 28 Wimbledon Road between 1918 and 1928. The address is associated with another of the Summerstown182, Ernest Hayward whose widow Mary Ann lived here for a substantial period of time.

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Join us at Hazelfest when we launch our Summerstown182 ‘Stripes of Peace’ – look out for Judith and help make a tribute to young men like Albert Lucas. The event kicks off in front of Hayesend House at 1pm on Sunday 20th May as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe. There will be artists, performers, musicians, community groups and local residents, all coming together to celebrate artful reuse. There’s even a chance to participate in creating the first permanent street art mural on the estate with artist-in-residence Jayson Singh. In a few months time the streets around St Mary’s Church and the homes of  the Summerstown182 heroes will blaze with colour. As the sun goes down on four years of commemoration, we celebrate the dawn of peace.

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Red Rose from Pevensey Road

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In November 2014 there was a 70th anniversary service in St Mary’s Church, Summerstown, remembering the victims of one of the worst Second World War bomb incidents in Wandsworth. At 830am on Sunday 19th November, a V2 rocket smashed into neighbourng Hazelhurst Road, directly on top of the houses in front of Smallwood School. After the service we walked the short distance to the site of the bomb crater behind Sutton Courtenay House. Here the names of the 35 people who died that day were read out by relatives and petals were scattered in their memory. A guitar ensemble from Burntwood School performed an emotional rendition of Fields of Gold. It was a deeply sad but spectacularly moving occasion. We returned to the Church for tea and it was here that I first met Rose and her sister Shirley. We wanted to put together a display of local people’s memories of the incident and she was one of the first that I talked to. I couldn’t have wished for someone with more vivid memories or a sense of bringing the past to life. It would be rare for me to do one of my rambles in this area without recounting one of her anecdotes or observations.

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Rose Mangan was born the fifth of seven children at 26a Pevensey Road, the ‘rough end’ as she liked to call it, though apparently not as rough as Hazelhurst and Foss Road which were considered ‘out of bounds’. Her father George worked for a while as the gate-keeper at Streatham Cemetery and the dust yard in Alston Road. Her mother Alice lost her first husband in the war. Rose came into the world on 19th May 1928. Life was harsh in the Fairlight area just a few years on from the General Strike. In the years before the establishment of the NHS, whole families with grown up children inhabited single rooms. Houses were damp, cold and rat-infested. Infant mortality was rife. Local newspaper reports show how tough it was in the ‘Tooting Slums’. ‘Vermin, bugs, rats mice and fleas’ screamed the headlines. ‘In four rooms in Foss Road lived seventeen people. In the front room of a Hazelhurst Road dwelling, sleep a husband and wife together with a son aged 23 and a daughter of 20. In a back bedroom live a married daughter her husband and four children’. There were reports of an undertaker entering a premises with a coffin for a dead child and having to fight off a rat attempting to get at the body. ‘Children are being raised in circumstances which may easily lead to impaired vitality, poor physique, tainted morals and a low conception of what should be life’s fine adventure’. These conditions would shape Rose and her politics, giving her a lifelong concern for the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, in particular their housing needs.

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This was the year that all women over the age of 21 got the vote and were now on the same terms as men. The first talking picture appeared in London and Tooting was awash with seven cinemas. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in Steamboat Willie. Amazingly Rose was born on precisely the same day that Hollywood starlet, Tallulah Bankhead ‘wet the rabbit’ with a bottle of champagne and in frnt of 22,000 people, officially opened the new Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium. That seems so prophetic given that this week they’ve finally started knocking it down. Rose didn’t go to school much and the ‘School Board Man’ was a regular visitor at No26a. Fortunately here was a passage-way at the back of the house connecting it with Khartoum Road, providing a good escape route from him. Rose started work aged 14 at the Shirley Box Factory in Merton. The evening before Sunday 19th November 1944 she went out dancing above the Co-op store on Tooting High Street, what we refer to as the ‘RACS building’. She was with her regular tango partner Ronnie Fletcher, a promising boxer from a large family in Khartoum Road.

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At breakfast time the next morning, the Nazi rocket ripped Hazelhurst and Foss Road apart, killing 35 people, injuring over 100 and destroying 50 homes. The threat of bombs didn’t worry Rose too much, she was a carefree young girl and had already witnessed quite a few incidents. She was a typical teenager, enjoying life and feeling indestructible. Fourteen children died that day, many of them her classmates from Smallwood Road School or people she would have known. Three of them were from the Hinson family. Joan Hinson who also worked in the box factory was a great family friend. The photo below shows them all on a works outing to Hastings in 1944. The bomb killed her mother Winifred and two brothers, Raymond and Robert. Joan herself was pulled out of the rubble. It was a most wonderful thing that through the commemoration the families got back in touch and Rose was able to give the Hinsons a funeral card which she had held onto for over seventy years.

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Rose’s recollections of this neighbourhood were so clear – she remembers the area being very poor, but lively and populated by colourful characters like Cocker Woodley and Mrs Hammond selling second-hand clothes from barrows on the street. Her sister-in-law Doris worked at the Laundry and Rose showed me a few pieces of fancy linen which had fallen off the back of the Anglo American wagon. There were shops on every corner, most notably ‘George’s’ at the junction of Pevensey and Rostella Road. He sold everything. Rose often got sent out for a ha’porth of jam which she brought back in a saucer. You could buy rhubarb and watercress which was grown locally on the allotments behind the cemetery. Rose was considered a ‘weakling’ so was encouraged to eat plenty of iron-rich watercress. I asked her once what she ate it with and she looked at me like I was mad – ‘We ate it on its own because we couldn’t afford anything else’. They also couldn’t afford fresh milk, so always bought the condensed version out of tins.

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Despite that, pubs were affordable to most people and The Fountain Hotel was the centre of the community where everyone met for a drink and a sing-song and very often a punch-up. There were regular Saturday night brawls in Khartoum Road, Rose would watch them from her bedroom window at the back of Pevensey Road. Men and women of all ages, always starting after the pubs shut, and usually over money. People lent each other money for the rent and there were nearly always disagreements over payment. Memories were short and next day they’d all have a cup of tea together and be the best of pals. One of the favourite photos Rose shared with me was of her father-in-law Frank, walking out of The Fountain proudly clutching a live chicken he’d just won in the raffle. Other characters were a street entertainer who went by the name of Jelly-on-a-plate, an Italian ice cream maker called Jumbo who sold bright yellow ice cream and was interned, a one-armed dustman called Dumper Sergeant and an ARP Warden called Streaky Bacon. Whenever there was something to celebrate, the residents lit fires in the middle of the road which often damaged the tarmac. On VE Day there was a huge bonfire at the junction of Pevensey and Rostella Road. It got a bit out of control and lemonade bottles in the shop on the corner started to pop their corks. As she told me, Rose leaned back and smiled ‘What a fascinating era!’

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There was a main bomb shelter in what was known as ‘The Old Park’, the small recreation ground just off Cranmer Terrace. There were other shelters in Pevensey Road but they were very flimsy and no one felt safe. The preferred gathering point for people when there was an air-raid was in the passageway of the house. Rose just liked to take her chances and didn’t generally bother taking precautions. The sound of the ‘ack-ack’ anti-aircraft guns were a familiar soundtrack from this time. Fairlight Hall played a big part in everyone’s lives. Rose and her sisters Shirley and Jessie were members of the Girls Brigade and did a lot of marching around the area. Rose’s future husband Frank Cook who lived just a few doors away at No12a Pevensey Road got presented with an enormous certificate for his contribution. There were ‘magic lantern’ shows and a lot of activities for children and young people.

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Rose remembers Leonard Shepherd, the man who who come to the area as a teenage missionary and had stones thrown at him. He persuaded Sir John Kirk to set up a ragged school and Fairlight Hall opened in 1905. After the V2 incident she recalled crowds of people covered in dust streaming towards Fairlight Hall where they received medical treatment. Rose Mangan and Frank Cook got married on 12th September 1953 at Wandsworth Town Hall and left their respective homes on Pevensey Road to live briefly in Clapham. They missed Tooting too much and were soon back. David was born in 1955, Julie nine years later. Rose was a popular dinner lady at Ensham School and the College at Tooting Broadway.

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On one of my visits Rose produced a plastic bag full of yellowing newspaper cuttings from the late sixties. They contained some lurid headlines ‘Battle of Tooting Broadway’, ‘Residents on War Footing to take on Council’. ‘Every Street will Fight’. This was the age when concrete towers were all the rage and the Council in their wisdom wanted to compulsory purchase the Fairlight houses and put residents into grey blocks. People who had lived all their lives in this area, some through two world wars, were terrified of being moved out of their homes. ‘Anti-Development’ Groups were organised and Rose played her part in seeing off the property developers. Those little houses they wanted to knock down are still going strong, now over one hundred years old, exchanging hands for ridiculous sums of money.

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Rose was a very special person whose love of life, twinkle and inner light shone through so brightly in older age. It was a real privilege to have known her briefly and I will always treasure those little chats we had. Her memories and stories will live on. Thank you Rose, for shedding a light on the history of this area, for being so generous with your knowledge and passing it on in such a lovely warm friendly way. She typifies the Tooting character that I love so much, a little bit cheeky with a heart of gold, resilient in tough times but able to laugh about it. She was just the kind of person there is not enough of in the world, someone who doesn’t take things too seriously, can see the funny side of adversity and has a healthy disrespect for so-called authority. Rose lived life to the full through times of extraordinary turmoil and change. Another of the great war-time generation whose like we shall perhaps never see again is gone, but the memories live on forever. Walk past the RACS building and imagine Rose and Ronnie dancing the night away, stroll past George’s and hear the lemonade bottles popping, look at a bunch of watercress and imagine her tucking in – and when we get a new Stadium in Plough Lane, think of Rose and the almost nine decades of history that came before and toast her with a mug of condensed milk. One of the great Women of Summerstown, Red Rose from Pevensey Road – we salute you.

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Rose died on Mothers Day, 11th March 2018. It was one of my greatest honours to be asked by Julie and David, to read the above account at her funeral service.

Time of Cholera

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Albert Edward Hawkes of the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment is buried in the French town of Le Treport. In the mad dash to catch the ferry, the sign always looms large on the motorway, halfway between Dieppe and Abbeville. I feel quite guilty that we still haven’t got round to visiting him. To hammer home the point, there is a Treport Street in Wandsworth, off Garratt Lane, a familiar passage which almost certainly evokes the Huguenot presence. A few days ago as part of our new Planet Tooting initiative, a trip to the wonderful Migration Museum in Vauxhall was organised. The Huguenot plight is one of their ‘Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain’ exhibition. As we wandered around the fascinating area close to the Museum, surrounded by the remains of the Royal Doulton Pottery works, the imposing London Fire Brigade HQ, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and the once over-populated wharfside area that was ravaged with cholera in the mid-nineteenth century, we got a sense of the world into which Albert Hawkes was born.

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Albert was born in 1897 and was twenty years old when he died of his wounds in a hospital in France on 25th April 1918. After spending his childhood in Kennington and Battersea, passing through Southfields and Garratt Lane, the Hawkes family alighted at Maskell Road in Summerstown in 1918. There was a connection with this address until the flooding of September 1968 when a William Amos Hawkes, born in 1907 and his wife Dulcie were still living there. I suspect William may have been Albert’s brother. On the Museum trip, one of our group recalled how her father, living on Burntwood Lane got out his boat that weekend and paddled across Garratt Lane to help rescue people and possessions from the stricken houses. At the same time as the Lambeth cholera outbreak, the main incident in this area was the appalling case of Mr Drouet’s ‘Pauper Asylum’ at Tooting Broadway where 118 children died of the disease.

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Albert’s father was Henry James Hawkes, a post office sorter, known as Harry. He was born in Southwark in 1870 and baptised at St Saviour’s Church. On 23rd February 1890 and living in Sutton Street, he married Elizabeth Maria Lambell, at St John the Evangelist, Waterloo, the beautiful church where we start our ‘Waterloo Sunset’ Walks. They had at least five children, the eldest Harry James Hawkes died as an infant. Their next child Ernest was born in January 1895. At this stage they were living at 146 Vauxhall Street. On 15th September 1897, another son, Albert Edward Hawkes was baptised at St Peter’s Church. This was an extremely impoverished area, surrounded by the gasworks, Lambeth Workhouse and the notorious cholera-infested wharves. Almost 2,000 of the waterfront population died of the disease in 1848-49. There are large swathes of blue on the Charles Booth map which was produced at the time the Hawkes family lived there. Vauxhall Street still exists, arrowing its way towards the Oval and even today it bears echoes of the gasworks and the iron foundry near to where the Hawkes homestead would have been. Just round the corner on Black Prince Street was a philanthropic educational establishment called the Beaufoy Institute which opened in 1907. Its now a Buddhist Centre. A decorative tablet on the front of the building bears a most beautiful sentiment ‘Those that do teach young babes Do it with gentle means and easy tasks’ .

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The 1901 census indicates that the family had moved a few miles west into Battersea and were living at 22 Wickersley Road. There is no sign of their house any more which looks like it might now be beneath the John Burns Primary School. Harry was still working as a post office sorter. Ernest was six, Albert three, Elizabeth an infant. This would have been a much more salubrious location, on the Lavendar Hill side of Battersea and coloured a more delicate shade of pink by Mr Booth.

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Electoral rolls indicate the family were in Wickersley Road until 1906 before moving the short distance to 48 Grayshott Road, within shouting distance of the Town Hall, now Battersea Arts Centre and right at the heart of the fabulous Shaftesbury Park Estate. What a place this was for young Albert to grow up in. Shaftesbury Park was the most renowned housing experiment of its day. Dedicated to providing decent accommodation for the working classes at a time when overcrowding and squalid living conditions were rife amongst the less well-off. Built between 1872 and 1877, it was the first major development of a housing co-operative. Promoted as a ‘Workmen’s City’ it offered its inhabitants not only a healthy home environment but the benefits of community living, underpinned by co-operation and self-help. Backing the scheme was the philanthropic social reformer and peer, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, the man behind the establishment in 1844 of the Ragged School system providing free education. On 3rd August 1872  Shaftesbury laid the foundation-stone of buildings on the estate which would take his name. It’s actually just across the road from No48. Comprising about 1,200 two-storey houses with gardens laid out in wide tree-lined streets, the estate houses were of four basic types or classes distinguished by the number of rooms (only the highest class originally had bathrooms). One facility not provided on the estate was a public house, undoubtedly an attempt by the reformers behind the scheme to avoid the social problems of cheap alcohol.

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It would have been a pleasant place for Albert to spend some of his childhood years, but maybe the lack of a decent boozer prompted a move to the Earlsfield area in 1911. With its ornate doorways and pastel colours, Strathville Road is one of of the loveliest streets around here. No124 would have been a nice spot and handy for The Sailor Prince or The Pig and Whistle. They would surely have known the Hayters at No 111. By 1913 the Hawkes family had crept even closer to Summerstown and until 1915 were at 723 Garratt Lane, presently the premises of Spotless Dry Cleaners, close to the junction with Franche Court Road.

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Directly opposite this is Maskell Road and its here that we pick them up again in 1918, on the other side of Garratt Lane at No28. This last address in particular would have been a bit of a come-down from some of their earlier residences. One of the poorer streets in the area, Maskell Road was low-lying and prone to flooding. What precipitated this down-scale is hard to know, but they must have been happy at this address as there would be a family connection here for the next half century.

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Albert’s surviving military records give few insights into when he joined the army or where he may have served. All we know is that he was with the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment when he died of his wounds in No.2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport. He left what little money he had to his mother. Le Treport was an important hospital centre with nearly 10,000 beds. As the original military cemetery at Le Treport filled, it became necessary to use the new site at Mont Huon and Albert is one of 2,128 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. The Canadian Archives contain a remarkable photo album and diary, available to view online. They belonged to a nurse called Alice Issacson, originally from Ireland who served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She was working at No.2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport at the time of Albert’s death.

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The Devonshire Regiment are best known for their huge sacrifice on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. They suffered so many casualties that a cemetery was named after them, famously bearing the legend ‘The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still’. These words were originally on a wooden cross which disappeared and replaced in the eighties with a stone memorial which now stands at the entrance to the cemetery. Two years later, the German Spring Offensive of 21st March 1918 found the 2nd Devonshires in reserve. Their War Diary records how they moved into the front line at Villers Bretonneux on 20th April. On 24th April four German Divisions made a massive tank attack on the British lines. After heavy fighting Villers Bretonneux was lost. At 10pm that night troops of the 18th Division alongside two Australian divisions organised a rapid counterattack and by daybreak they had surrounded the village. During the morning of the 25th, the Devonshires fought through it, street by street, taking full possession by the afternoon. The front line was secured once again but very likely in this attack, twenty year old Albert Hawkes was wounded and subsequently lost his life. Haig commented in his despatches on the youth of the recent intake who had behaved with distinguished gallantry in this intense action.

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Villers Bretonneux was cleared of enemy troops on 25 April 1918, the third anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli. This action marked the effective end of the German offensive that had begun so successfully more than a month earlier. The site has such meaning for the Australian nation that it was adopted as the site of The Australian National Memorial, the main memorial to Australian military personnel killed on the Western Front during the First World War. On 27th May at Bois de Buttes, to buy time for the rest of the Corps, the 2nd Devonshires stood and fought when their Brigade was overwhelmed by another huge German attack. In recognition of their outstanding courage the French awarded the Regiment the Croix de Guerre, whose ribbon all Devons wore on their sleeve.

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Albert’s death was mentioned in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine of July 1918. His bereaved family were in good company on Maskell Road; the Phipps, Stewart, Chipperfield, Crosskey, Lorenzi, Brown, Warman and Littlefield families would all share the same tragic consequences of war. Many would remain in the area for decades. Albert’s father Harry Hawkes lived on at 28 Maskell Road until his death in 1952.

Garratt Lane flood photos courtesy of Alan Gardener

Summit of the Gods

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Francis Edward Baker is one of twelve Bakers, who died in the First World War and are buried in Mikra British Cemetery at Kalamaria, on the edge of the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Named after the half-sister of Alexander the Great, the ancient capital of Macedonia, hub of the Byzantine Empire, but as ‘Salonika’, synonymous with ‘mountains, mules and malaria’ – not a good place to be posted in 1918. Francis Baker shares his final resting place on Greek soil with two other Summerstown boys. Percy Littlefield from Maskell Road is buried in the neighbouring Lembet Road Cemetery. Some fifty miles north of there, the grave of Ernest Matcham from Worslade Road can be found in the town of Karasouli. Francis Baker died of pneumonia on 1st November 1918, tragically one day before the end of hostilities in the Balkans. Along with Frederick and William, he is the third Baker on the war memorial in St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. None are related and they all perished in the last year of the war. I did once pass through Thessaloniki on a holiday idyll many years ago and would later find out that it holds a strong personal family connection, forged in another war, twenty five years later. When I visit it again one day, I will be sure to pay my respects to Francis Edward Baker from Smallwood Road.

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Francis was one of six children born to William and Emma Baker. William was born in 1847 in Ham, Surrey and worked as a cowman and dairyhand. He married a girl from Woking and their first child Henry George was born in 1869. In the 1871 census the family lived at Church Crescent near the Oval. A second child Emily Caroline was born in 1872. Agricultural pursuits and Vauxhall may not be as incongruous as it sounds, as there is in fact a City Farm adjoining the Pleasure Gardens. One of many community and youth projects which sprung up on unused land during a period of furious redevelopment around Vauxhall in the early seventies, Jubilee City Farm was set up by a group of young architects who worked with local residents growing vegetables and caring for livestock.

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Two more Baker children were born in this area, Mary Jane in 1874 and Thomas in 1876. With Cup Finals at the Oval and the first test match on these shores  between England and Australia in 1880, it was an exciting time to be living in Vauxhall, but with sweeping industrialisation, perhaps not the best place to pursue a pastoral profession. Consequently, by 1881 the Bakers had switched back along the south circular to the other side of south London and were at 29 Garden Road off the Upper Richmond Road in Mortlake. With them on the census at that stage were four children; Henry George aged 12, Emily 10, Mary Jane 8 and Thomas 5. This address is quite significant as it is the one stated as that of his parents on Francis Baker’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission documentation. Garden Road, Mortlake is also possibly where he was born in 1886. His existence is first noted in the 1891 census. Emily Caroline got married that year and Henry would appear to have left the nest. 18 year old Mary Jane worked as a laundress and 15 year old Thomas was a labourer. A new addition was eight year old Emilia. They were now resident at 46 Crescent Road, on the Norbiton side of Kingston, near the entrance to Richmond Park. William’s profession is indicated here as a general labourer and he may have had work for one of the big houses dotted in and around the park.

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Francis was 15 by the time of the 1901 census and that found him in Wandsworth. It appears that he and his older brother, Thomas were boarding with Emily and her young family at 62 Tonsley Hill. Sandwiched between East Hill and Old York Road and a stone’s throw from The Town Hall, this was once home to blacksmiths, factory workers, Thames lightermen and candlemakers. ‘The Tonsleys’ is now prime real-estate in olde-world Wandsworth, popular with lawyers, advertising executives and hedgefunders. Francis worked at this point as a grocer’s assistant. Emily had married a blacksmith from Crayford in Kent called Benjamin Rooke at St Mary’s Church, Mortlake on Christmas Day 1891. Francis must have got on well with them as ten years later he was still with the Rooke family in Summerstown at 74 Smallwood Road. His occupation is listed here as a packer of china and glass. There were four children, aged between one and eighteen, and Francis probably would have been like a big brother to them. This section of Smallwood Road was cleared in the late sixties but would have backed onto an area of land between the school and the almshouses fondly remembered by older residents as the local ‘horse field’, where the children would go to feed them apples. Its now the site of the extensive Copeland House, just across the road from Streatham Cemetery. A post-war map shows the nurseries on this stretch, a relic from its Bell’s Farm days. The horse presence in the fifties would undoubtedly would have been the legacy of the trade of people like Benjamin Rooke and Arthur Leicester, they were used by the dairies or those who needed a horse to help them go about the business or simply take the family out for a jaunt. With rag and bone men still doing the rounds in the nineties this culture was still a highly visible presence which has now completely disappeared.

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In the spring of 1914, 28 year old Francis’ life took a dramatic turn. He went to Windsor and got married to 24 year old Ellen Annie Siggins from Battersea. They moved in just a few doors down the road from the Rookes at 66 Smallwood Road. She was still there in 1938. Two of the Rooke children; Benjamin and Emily who would have remembered Francis Baker very well are on the electoral roll in the same address in 1969. Francis and Ellen Baker had made their home near St Mary’s Church and given his name is on the memorial, I would assume there must have been a connection. Scouring the parish records has failed to find any indication of a child or a single mention of his name during the conflict. His Summerstown182 comrades surround him; the Wood brothers, the Brigdens, the Jeffries and the Tibbenhams – their names would live on together in this section of Smallwood Road in the post-war years.

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Francis Baker’s name appears in the 1918 Absent Voters List at 66 Smallwood Road – but there is no mention of either Benjamin Rooke. The young man who packed china and glass was a long way from home in Macedonia taking part in a largely forgotten theatre of the First World War, which even one hundred years later is difficult to explain. The fighting when it happened was intense but it was the conditions that caused the trouble. Its generally believed that malaria and other illness accounted for approximately twenty times more casualties than any from combat. There were 162,000 cases of malaria and over half a million non-battle casualties. The Third Batallion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps to which Francis belonged, sailed from Marseilles to Salonika on 18th November 1915, arriving on 5th December. Was he with them at that stage? Its impossible to say, but given his age and his recently married status, I assume its more likely he was conscripted some time the following year. Lets hope so and that he got to enjoy a bit of marital bliss at Smallwood Road with Ellen before their world fell in.

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When they landed at Salonika, the troops would have been able to see Mount Olympus, home of the ancient gods, across the Aegean. It was on the other side of this, a generation later, in another War, that my father left something behind. With the German Panzers pounding at the Monastir Gap and needing to lighten his load, Padre Simmons of the 64th Medium Regiment buried his precious Communion Cups in a wooden box he had picked up in Benghazi. Three months later and having been captured on Crete, he was in Salonika and holed up briefly in the notorious Dulag 185 Transist Camp en route for the Fatherland. Here he witnessed a nervous young Nazi thowing a grenade into a latrine packed with dysentry cases before beginning a hellish ten day train ride to Lubeck and almost four years incarceration.

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Back in the 1915 version of Salonika, British and Irish forces were initially there to defend Serbia and eventually 220,000 of them would pass through there. Things were generally quiet but hotted up with a few skirmishes in 1917. The Allied forces populated the dusty plains surrounding the heavily fortified city known as ‘The Birdcage’ with interminable barbed wire fortifications. The Bulgarians kept to the surrounding mountains. It wasn’t until September 1918 that things came to a head with an offensive against the Bulgarians. The 3rd Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps were part of the 27th Division whose heroics included the capture of the Roche Noir Salient, the passage of the Vardar river and the pursuit to the Strumica valley. Hostilities ended when the Bulgarians capitulated on 30th. The Division continued to advance before being ordered to halt and turn about on the 2nd November. One day too late for Francis Edward Baker. All we know for sure about his experience there, thanks to the soldiers effects record is that he died of pneumonia on 1st November 1918 in ‘6th General Hospital, Greece’ and he left what little he had to his widow Ellen. Between them, dysentry, malaria and pneumonia accounted for half of those twelve Bakers buried in Mikra British Cemetery.

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As for Dad’s box, he had picked it up from booty left behind by the retreating Italian army in North Africa. He’d got so attached to it, that he even gave it a pet name. But just a few months later the fortunes of war had turned things on their head and with the Nazis on the march to Athens and the 64th Medium Regiment in their path, now he was the one needing to get out of town and offload anything that might slow him down. He never spoke to me about it and I only discovered the story after reading his POW diaries, long after his death. Ill health meant that he never went abroad again after he came back from Germany but an elderly relative in Liverpool confirmed that what he had written was true. Look out for me in the Volos Gorge, I’ll be carrying a spade and wandering the mountain passes looking for Dad’s chest.

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‘On the evening of our 3rd or perhaps 4th day at Volos, George came round with instructions. “All superfluous kit and material is to be destroyed. Dump everything you possibly can, boxes, cases, spare wheels, clothes, blankets. Every spare inch of the trucks are to be kept to give stragglers a lift.” We got down to the job at once. It was a real orgy of destruction, thoroughly and efficiently carried out. Of the kit and clothes nothing could possibly be used again. Blankets were reduced to ribbons, so were underclothes, socks, mosquito nets. The boys fairly revelled in it. There were my robes and books and Communion sets. I couldn’t destroy these, nor could I take them with me. I folded them nicely, packed them into ‘I. Impalouis’ war chest, draped it in tattered blankets, put it in a deep slit-trench and buried it. It was indeed with a heavy heart that I parted with these professional appurtenances, especially my Office Book, a present from my cousin George Hobson of Dublin and one which I prized very much dearly. But it was quite impossible to take it with me, and as later developments showed, I did a wise thing in burying it. Nevertheless, in case the chest should be dug up, I left no doubts as to ownership. Inside, on a large piece of paper I left this notice: – “The contents of this box are the property of the Rev. R.A. Simmons. Whoever you are who opens it, be you German or Greek, please take care of the religious articles. When the War is over get in touch with me, c/o The War Office, Whitehall, London, England.” I hope to recover these articles some day’.
Robert Alexander Simmons c.23rd April 1941

Song and Dance

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Just over three years ago I got a lovely message, out of the blue from Perth in Western Australia. It has lead to us knowing about a person of great significance called Sadie Crawford and hopefully the placing later this year of a blue plaque on her family home in Fountain Road. The message was from someone called John Brown who had come across this website after googling for information about Wimbledon Football Club and their plans to move back to Plough Lane. John was born in Scotland in 1944 but relocated to London when he was a baby. His parents moved with John and his sister Christine into a small three room house at 2 Turtle Road, Earlsfield, the home of his Grandmother Rhoda Newbon. She had reared her thirteen children there and John and Christine’s mother Doreen was the youngest of these. After a brief spell on Tranmere Road, John left the area to live overseas when he got married in 1971. Christine’s husband Dave Willis was a much-respected member of the Wimbledon FC team which won the FA Amateur Cup at Wembley Stadium in 1963.

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John had vivid memories of his glamorous ‘American’ Great-Aunt Sadie visiting her sister’s home at Turtle Road. They knew she was a talented musician and had played with quite a few big names of the jazz world. In fact both John and Christine’s son Stephen have inherited her love of the genre. It was though a shock to the family when they heard that ‘Aunt Lou’ was one of the ‘Lost Women of British Jazz and was going to be featured on a BBC Radio Four show with much of the research done by leading jazz historian, Howard Rye. Christine saw a website about the programme which contained a request for people to contact them with any information about certain names they had discovered but knew very little about. One name was Sadie Crawford, the stage name of their Great Aunt, born Louisa Marshall, their Gran’s younger sister who visited the family on many occasions in London from the USA where she lived until she passed away age 80 in 1965. The photograph below was taken at a family wedding outside St Mary’s Church in 1958. Sadie is second from the left beside Rhoda. The eighth and youngest Marshall sibling, Charlotte is on the right.

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‘We knew she had been on the stage as part of Vaudeville acts and that she left home to pursue her career at a very early age around 1901 from Fountain Road where the Marshalls then lived. The researchers of the programme have now confirmed to us that Sadie (Louisa or Aunt Lou to us ) was a major pioneer, the very first british female musician to play with american jazz musicians visiting Europe and the UK for the first time. Some of these musicians and their bands became very famous, Louis Armstrong Satchmo was one. Also Seth Mitchell and Gordon Stretton. She travelled throughout Europe and onto South America and the USA. We have now heard her playing the saxophone and the researchers are gradually sending us more information about her career and we hope to receive some photos of her in the bands soon.’ I was of course fascinated by Sadie’s story and it wasn’t hard to identify the Marshall house on Fountain Road. We began talking about her on our Summerstown182 Guided Walks and her tale always went down a storm.

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John and I have shared many emails and he has some wonderful stories to tell about growing up in this area. ‘Marc Bolan was quite noticeable around the district as his clothes were a bit Carnaby Street compared to the rest of us. I recall him as a friendly guy and my mother said he was always very polite when shopping in the Bakery. The Post office and bakery ( I think it was called Carters ) was opposite the Prince of Wales pub. There was a bus stop outside and a side lane to factory units at the back’.

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‘The off-licence at the top of Turtle (known as Jack Beard’s) was run by the Webbs. And just round the corner was Pop Gowan’s Grocery store. His grandson Ray was a great friend of mine and we went to the same Grammar School. At the bottom of Turtle I think at No14 were the Frenchs. Their son Trevor was also a good friend who contracted polio in the epidemic of that time. The crutches and big boot never slowed him down very much and I still probably have some scars on my shins where he tackled for the ball with his crutches or swung his leg which had no articulation but a big boot with side calipers on the extremity!’ Trevor went on to win a swimming medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.

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Christine’s son Stephen has produced an outstanding website on his family’s history. His grandmother Rhoda Marshall married Walter Thomas Newbon on Christmas Day 1896 at St Andrew’s Church, Earlsfield. They spent the whole of their married lives in this area, firstly at No5 Boyce’s Cottages, Garratt Lane (above), roughly where Earlsfield Police Station is located now, then at No2 Turtle Road, a small cul-de-sac leading from Garratt Lane. Walter and Rhoda lived here until their deaths, in 1940 and 1963 respectively. Walter spent most of his working life as an omnibus driver. ‘He was never well off but brought up his large family in modest comfort. The family remained close, even after the children married, and Christmas gatherings at Turtle Road were large family occasions’. His father, John Joseph Newbon had run a removal business, originally from Boyces Cottages but then from premises next door to the Leather Bottle pub. The signage is visible in many of the old photos of the famous hostelry. By the time of his second marriage, John Newbon had changed the nature of his business and his shop and on his marriage certificate he styled himself ‘master greengrocer’. He died in 1915 at the age of 73 and is buried in Wandsworth Cemetery.

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Back in Turtle Road, John Brown’s parents, Doreen and James Smith Brown lived with Mrs Rhoda Newbon until her death in 1963. They left Turtle Road, the family’s home for over 50 years in 1968, shortly before a weekend of heavy rain in mid-September caused the nearby River Wandle to burst its banks. Two hundred families were evacuated from their homes in the Earlsfield area ‘trapped by muddy, swirling floodwater up to five feet deep’. The damage resulted in the road being demolished soon afterwards. Whereas Maskell and Siward Roads still exist and Burtop Road lives on in the shape of the Burtop Road estate, Headworth Road and Turtle Road are gone forever – truly they are the ‘Lost Streets of Earlsfield’.

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Living on the other side of Turtle Road were two families who would have known the Newbons; the Browns at No7 and the Bakers at No9. George Brown and Fred Baker were killed within a few weeks of each other and are buried in cemeteries just a few miles apart to the east of Cambrai. The Bakers must have been one of the very first residents of Turtle Road and were there on the 1890 electoral roll and 1891 census. David Baker was born in Pimlico in 1853. He married Marion McGinn, the daughter of a silk weaver at St John’s Church Battersea on 31st July 1881. He gave his profession as pianoforte maker, the same as his father apparently. The couple appear to have settled in Battersea and their first son David was born in 1885. Three years later Ethel Ellen Baker was born with the family now living in Rollo Street and nearby Alfred Street. She attended Raywood Street School not too far from the dog’s home. David was now a carman. By 1891 they were in Earlsfield, at Turtle Road with a third child Edward. Over the next decade they raised another five children; Albert, Florence, Edward, Frederick and Mabel. Seven of these appear on the 1911 census, only oldest child David appears to have left the nest though the census indicates that a ninth child had died. The versatile David Senior was now a house painter. The girls Ethel and Florence worked in a laundry, Edward made lamps in a factory, Albert was a carman at the laundry and Leonard worked as a gasfitter’s assistant. Frederick was fourteen and possibly looking for work.

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Sadly Marion Baker died in 1914, a month after the outbreak of the War. One that her five sons would all likely have participated in. Oddly though, there is no mention of any of them serving in the forces in the Absent Voters List. Walter and George Newbon at No2 are on it, but there is no one down for No9. A Commonwealth War Grave Commission record indicates though that 20 year old Frederick Walter Baker of the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment was killed on 20th October 1918, native of Tooting, the son of David and Marion. This must be our man, killed so tragically just a few weeks before the end of the war. He was involved in the eight day Battle of the Selle, forcing the Germans out of the new defensive line they had been forced to take up after losing the Hindenburg Line. After an initial assault on 17th, the British Third and First Armies launched a surprise joint night attack north of Le Cateau in the early morning of 20th October. By the end of the day they had advanced two miles and secured the high ground to the east of the Selle river. The War Diary of the 1st Battalion indicates their advance at Bethencourt that morning began at 2am. 50 prisoners were taken, 20 machine guns and two anti-tank guns – at a cost of the lives of three officers and 25 men including Frederick Walter Baker from Turtle Road.

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We visited his grave in the village of Bethencourt a few years ago. In the tiny Communal Cemetery are 75 war graves and many of those buried here appear to have died on that Sunday 20th October. Fred Baker is in a long line of headstones of East Surrey soldiers. Other names on the St Mary’s Church war memorial are in other cemeteries nearby; George Brown, his neighbour from Turtle Road, William Bonken, John Lander ‘The Man from Dancing Ledge’, Harry Keatch and ‘Biscuit Boy’ Sidney Cullimore. All so nearly made it to the finishing line.

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Sadie Crawford wrote in an interview published in 1941 that she had performed with her own all-girl orchestra for troops during the First World War at various recreational centres and YMCAs in London. She was at this point performing under the name Sadie Johnson and had formed a song and dance partnership with Adolph Crawford. They appeared at venues like Wimbledon Theatre, Camberwell Empire, the Surrey Music Hall in Southwark and the Canterbury on Westminster Bridge Road. In 1918 she and Adolph got married in Southwark. I have a romantic image that a young lad who she might even have met, because he lived opposite her older sister on Turtle Road, may have caught one of her shows before he went off to fight.

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Join us over the next months on two very special Guided Walks to raise funds to pay for Sadie’s plaque. On Saturday 24th March, ‘Sadie’s Swinging Tooting’ sets off from Tooting Broadway tube station at 2pm. If you can’t make that, we’ll be back again as part of Wandsworth Heritage Festival on 26th May. At 2pm Stephen Willis gives a talk about his Great Aunt in Tooting Library, followed at 330pm by another walk ‘Entertaining Tooting’. We’ll be asking everyone who participates to chip in with a fiver.

http://www.newbonfamilyhistory.com/page28.html

The Red Flag

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At the western end of Wimbledon Road, just the other side of Keble Street, facing the roundabout and looking down Blackshaw Road, No58 shares a sad distinction with No14 Worslade Road. A family living there suffered the agony of losing someone in both world wars. The Bruce family had only come to live there recently when Walter was killed on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, 8th August 1918, whilst serving in the 10th Battalion of the Essex Regiment. He died just three days after his eighteeth birthday. A generation later, his older brother Arthur, aged 46 and serving in the Royal Marines was lost at sea on 15th October 1941. He was on the merchant ship SS Empire Heron, which was in a convoy taking a cargo of sulphur to Manchester when it was met by a U-boat pack in the mid-Atlantic. She sank with the loss of 42 of her 43 crew. A terrible double blow for Mary Bruce who had been living in the neat mid-terrace house on Wimbledon Road for at least twenty years and would have twice received a telegram there bearing tragic news.

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Walter was one of eleven children born to John and Augusta Mary (Maria) Louise Bruce. His father was born in 1862 in Dunblane in Perthshire, famously the home town of Andy Murray, his mother in France. At the turn of the century, many families took the plunge to move from one part of London and then perhaps switched around streets a few times within that – surprisingly there was quite a bit of back-and-forth with the Bruce family between Battersea and Tooting. They had married in 1890 and the census the following year finds them in Bickley near Bromley, with John Bruce working as a licensed victualler at a pub called The Chequers on Southborough Road. They had one son John, who was a year old.

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The pub is still going strong and was in fact in the local news recently with reports that it is ‘haunted by ghosts including a French policeman, a woman in stiletto heels and a poltergeist that forces visitors against walls’. Highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have drank there regularly and could ‘make quick getaways through tunnels from its cellars’. Perhaps spooked out by ghostly goings-on in Bromley, the Bruces headed down the south circular to Battersea. The population here exploded from 7,000 in 1841 to 150,000 in 1891 as people poured in from the countryside in search of work at the wharves, railway yards and numerous factories and mills lapping the Thames.

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Another son Henry (Harry) was born the following year and a daughter Mary in 1893. Twelve months later Peter Duncan was born with the family living at 11 Winstanley Road. John seems to have had enough of being a barman and was now working as a plasterer. Harriet and Arthur were born on Christmas Day 1895 with the Bruces now resident at 94 Speke Road. These roads are all part of a cluster of streets in an area north of Clapham Junction. Built on low-lying, ill-drained ground with an underground river, the Falcon Brook running through it, this lead to chronic housing problems with damp for an impoverished working-class population. However, it was one that under John Burns, another lad with a Scottish father, was now organising itself. He was elected to the London County Council in 1888 and as MP for Battersea in 1892. The Progressive Alliance took control of Battersea in 1894 and pioneered municipal reform.

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Largely razed after the war, some of the names of the streets where the Bruces lived survive on the Winstanley estate. Speke Road developed in the 1860s, along with Grant and Livingstone Roads, commemorate African explorers. John Burns once lived there, one of eighteen children ‘the son of a washerwoman’. He was apprenticed at Prices Candle Factory at the age of twelve. In 1889 he played a major part in the London dock strike and was known as ‘The Man with the Red Flag’. He campaigned fervently against the Boer War. The Liberal Prime Minister invited Burns to join the Cabinet in December 1905 as President of the Local Government Board. His major lasting achievement was the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 which enabled councils to build houses for rent and ensured they were built to a certain standard.

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In 1897 the Bruces were still in Battersea when a seventh child Charles was born. Walter Hugh was their eighth, born in Wandsworth on 5th August 1899. A school admissions record from 1900 shows Duncan and Mary attending Fircroft Road School and the family now resident at 41 Kellino Street. By the time of the 1901 census the family had crossed Tooting Corner and were living at 135 Trevelyan Road. Seven of the children are listed, all under eleven. Harriet was absent and may have died as an infant. Even though there would surely have been plenty of work for a plasterer with all the houses being built at the turn of the century, life would have been hard for the Bruce family, their incessant moving perhaps being because they struggled to pay the rent.

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They were shortly on the move again to 26 Headworth Road, Earlsfield when another pair of twins were born in January 1902, William and Sidney, baptised by Reverend John Robinson. He would have been a busy man then, furiously laying plans for his new St Mary’s Church. Incredibly by the time Agnes Flora was born in December 1903 they were back in Battersea at Speke Road. She was I believe the last of their eleven children. Another school record from 1905 provides a telling indication of the family’s situation. Five year old Walter entered Southfields School, Merton Road on 20th March 1905 and was discharged two months later, apparently ‘removed to workhouse’. The address of John Bruce was given as 80a Penwith Road. The workhouse would surely have been nearby Swaffield Road.

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The family appear to have got itself back on the rails by the time of the 1911 census one once were back in Battersea, now living in a four room tenement at 112 Meyrick Road. Its indicated on this form that two of the eleven children had died. Nineteen year old Harry was a fitters mate at the generating station, Duncan a sales manager for a bakery and Charles aged 14 worked in a grocers. Perhaps having these older children earning had stabilised finances. A military service record for Peter Duncan Bruce indicates that he was discharged from the Hussars in December 1914 after three months service. The reason for this was ‘myopic astygmatism’ – he was short-sighted and ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’. At this time they lived at 16 Este Road. One more move for the family was to come and they were back in Summerstown on Wimbledon Road by 1918. In the Absent Voters list, John Bruce serving on HMS Cardiff was resident at No54, Peter Duncan Bruce, seemingly in the Army Service Corps at No58. There was no mention of Walter. The ‘soldiers effects’ record after his death later that year indicates his mother as sole legatee. She was left one pound, seven shillings and four pence. It would appear Mary Bruce lived on at No58 with her adult children until at least 1939. Sidney was a shoemaker and married at St Mary’s Church in 1928. Agnes Flora, a tailoress wed there two years later. Two other brothers, Harry (Henry) and Arthur would seem to have been with Mary at 58 Wimbledon Road until 1939.

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On the 8th August 1918 the Allied forces launched the hundred day Amiens offensive, a surprise attack that heralded the end of the First World War. The so-called ‘Black Day’ for the German Army. It was also a very black day for the Bruce family. Walter died in the attack by the 10th Essex Regiment at Gressaire Wood on the Morlancourt Ridge. This commenced at 420am on a misty morning and when the mist lifted his already depleted batallion were completely exposed. In the mayhem the war diary records ‘Casualties; other ranks killed 56, wounded 191, missing 24, 2 officers killed, 8 wounded, 3 missing’. Widely commented upon in accounts written shortly afterwards, was the fact that by this stage the 10th Essex comprised largely of very young inexperienced soldiers. One of these was the eighteen year old birthday boy from Summerstown. Near here, just a few months earlier, Manfred von Richthofen, the famous ‘Red Baron’ met his death from a single bullet in aerial combat, while flying over Morlancourt Ridge.

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The map showing the planned attack on 8th August amazingly indicates the village of Sailly-Laurette in the bottom left corner. It is here, at Beacon Cemetery that Walter Bruce is buried. There are 517 First World War burials there, mostly killed that month. The fact that short-sighted Peter Duncan Bruce and his under-age brother Walter were back in the army in 1918 shows the desperate need for manpower at that time. Walter was still two years short of the required minimum age for service overseas when he was helping hold back the German Spring offensive.

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In July 1914, John Burns MP wrote, ‘Why four great powers should fight over Serbia no fellow can understand. This I know, there is one fellow who will have nothing to do with such a criminal folly, the effects of which will be appalling to the welter of nations who will be involved. It must be averted by all the means in our power. Apart from the merits of the case it is my especial duty to dissociate myself, and the principles I hold and the trusteeship for the working classes I carry from such a universal crime as the contemplated war will be. My duty is clear and at all costs will be done.’ He resigned his post as President of the Board of Trade, played no role in the war and left Parliament in 1918. John Burns died aged 84 in 1943 and is buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Battersea Rise.

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The Delhi Durbar

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The 1911 census showed the Leicester family living at 48 Wimbledon Road on the corner of Keble Street, next door to St Mary’s Church. There was no sign of Arthur, the eldest of their eight children. He was in fact, a long way from home, with the Middlesex Regiment in India, one of 20,000 British troops involved in a massive show of colonial power. This was a big year for the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ with King George V in town on a five week tour from Bombay to Calcutta to Delhi. A whirl of cermonies and cocktail parties, playing polo with the Maharajas and shooting tigers from the top of an elephant. The main event on 7th December was the extravagent ‘Delhi Durbar’ an opulent assembly of some 250,000 people. Just a few weeks earlier Edward VII’s statue was unveiled in Tooting, now his son and Queen Mary were enthroned as King Emperor and Queen Empress of India. The British Empire had never seemed any grander. The Durbar was the first major news story for the fledgling film industry and one of the first events recorded in colour. One of those massed ranks marching past in their scarlet tunics may have been Arthur Leicester. Three years later he went to France and fought through until the final year of the First World War. On 3rd June 1918 he succumbed to his wounds in a hospital in Rouen. He is buried there in St Sever Cemetery Extension.

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The great city of Rouen, capital of Normandy, stands on a huge bend in the Seine. Perhaps best known for Claude Monet and his numerous portraits of the catherdral, it is a city steeped in English medieval history. William the Conqueror often held court there, Richard the Lionheart was crowned Duke of Normandy in the town and left his heart there, quite literally. Joan of Arc, inspired a series of successes against the English army in the second half of the Hundred Years War between England and France. She was tried for heresy and ended up on a funeral pyre in Rouen in 1431. Throw in further devastation through fire and plague, not to mention Allied bombing raids during the Second World War and its safe to say the city has had a turbulent history.

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Not far outside Rouen is what was once known as L’abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec in the tiny village of Hellouin. It was founded in 1034 by Herluin, a Norman knight who left military service in 1031 in order to commit himself to a life of religious devotion. Very quickly it became a centre of eleventh century ecclesiastical life and several of the early Abbots went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, including the Italian-born Anselm, from 1093 to 1109. William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and enriched the abbey with extensive properties in England including the village that became known as ‘Tooting Bec’. Anselm reputedly visited the area before he became Archbishop and his name also lives on, in the large Roman Catholic Church opposite the tube station. Tooting Bec appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Totinges’. Canonised shortly after his death, there’s a relief sculpture of Saint Anselm visiting the Totinges tribe on the exterior of Wandsworth Town Hall. Spare him a thought on 21st April, St Anselm’s Feast Day.

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Back in France, during the Hundred Years War, the English army attacked and pillaged the abbey in 1418. Much restoration was done over the next century only for it to be damaged again during the Wars of Religion. It was left a ruin in the 1792 French Revolution but the 15th-century Tour Saint-Nicolas from the medieval monastery still stands. The monks departed and the abbey was occupied by the army until the Second World War. In 1948 monastic life was restored by a community of Benedictine monks.

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Arthur Leicester grew up in south west London and went to France, probably for the first time in November 1914. He had another war on his mind and medieval monasteries were probably not on his radar. Far from the front line, Rouen was an extensive hospital centre with at least twenty hospitals based there for practically the entirity of the war. He has some local company in St Sever Cemetery. Also buried there are another of the Summerstown182, William Darvill from Hazelhurst Road and a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse from Elmbourne Road called Mary Cawston Bousfield. Her name is on the war memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Tooting Bec. She died of pneumonia, following influenza, contracted on duty at 8th General Hospital in Rouen on 24th February 1919. She had been there from 1916 so might well have treated Arthur Leicester,

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Arthur’s father was born Alfred Leicester in Kensington in 1870, but seems to have been known as Arthur. He married Agnes Mary Darling at St Faith’s Wandsworth in 1888. Arthur Henry Leicester was the oldest of their ten children, born in July 1889 at 100 Kamballa Road. Battersea seemed to be the family base and in the 1891 census they were living at 23 Harroway Road, near Prices Candle Factory. Alfred/Arthur was a labourer and riveter, working in the nearby railway yards. It seems they moved frequently, living also at Musjid Road and Afghan Road. In that 1891 census Arthur was two and his sister Alice was five months old. She died a few months later. Alfred and Agnes had seven boys and three girls; Arthur born 1889, Alice 1891, Charles 1892, Agnes 1896, Alfred 1897, Bertie 1899, Thomas 1902, Valentine 1905, a second Alice in 1909 and Harold 1912. Charles who lived for a long time in Alston Road died in 1973 aged 81, Harold in 1988 aged 76, Alice in 1990 aged 81 and Thomas in 2002 aged 100. He had worked in the twenties as a stoker at the Dust Destructor and lived on Foss Road.

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By the 1901 census, the family were at 52 Musjid Road, a network of Battersea streets names after places associated with the Second Afghan War and dubbed ‘Little India’. Arthur was eleven and would have had little idea that one day he might visit these places. Four of his siblings are on the census, oddly all initialised rather than indicated with a full name. This road still stands though only six of the original houses have survived. Arthur and the other children probably attended Mantua Street School at the end of the road, now Falconbrook Primary.  The following year Thomas was born at 52 Stewarts Road, on the Vauxhall side of Battersea. He died in Lewisham shortly after his one hundredth birthday. Three years later when Valentine was born they were living in Wandsworth. The 1911 census is interesting as the Leicesters were now at 48 Wimbledon Road, just across Keble Street from St Mary’s Church. Alfred, now using the name Arthur on his census form was forty and apparently working as a blacksmith for the City Corporation. He and Agnes had been married 22 years and its indicated that they had nine children, two, Alice and Alfred having died. Six of them were present on the census, Charles eighteen working as a carman for a laundry. Arthur is on another census record, a military one containing the names of thousands of men stationed in India. Over the next few years an Arthur Leicester appears in the local electoral rolls, living variously at 12 Bertal Road, 25 Summerstown and 21 Khartoum Road. Whether this was Arthur Henry or his parents, we can’t be sure. From 1915 though its clear that Arthur/Alfred and Agnes were resident at 116 Smallwood Road and were there until 1939. He died in 1942, Agnes ten years later. Again this was a house very close to a school and again their home no longer exists. An ‘A Leicester, 2nd Middlesex’ is indicated in the Smallwood School Roll of Honour’ suggesting he attended there. Odd though that there is no mention here or in the Absent Voters lists of any of his brothers involvement and Charles, Bertie, possibly Thomas would all have been liable for war service.

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The 1st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment were in India and thereabouts from 1899 and moved to Aden in 1912 before returning to Britain in 1913. Arthur Leicester was a hardened soldier who had seen something of the world, certainly not a fresh-faced volunteer plucked from civvy street. His medal card indicates that come the First World War, he entered France on 7th November 1914. He was in the 2nd Middlesex Regiment at that stage and if he was still with them in the summer of 1916 he would have been lucky to survive the fearsome first days of the Somme. At some stage he transfered to the 8th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and then to the 2/4th. He was with them when he died of his wounds on 3rd June 1918. There are no clues on his soldiers effects records as to where this happened but its likely he was taken to one of the hospitals in Rouen, far behind the lines. Here he died and was buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension. There is no mention of him being in the army in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine over the course of the war but his death is noted in the November issue in the same paragraph as William Darvill who was killed the previous month.

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Just a few miles from St Anselm’s Church at Tooting Bec, down the A24, once the great Roman road of Stane Street, , was the extraordinary Merton Priory. This remarkable establishment was believed to be once supplied with corn, ground at a mill in Summerstown. It was founded in 1114 and destroyed in 1538 by Henry VIII. The priory became an important centre of learning, attended by Thomas Becket in 1130 and Nicholas Breakspeare who went on to become Adrian IV, the first English Pope, in 1154. King Henry III held a Parliament here in 1236. Traces of it can amazingly still be found amidst the ugly commercial mess dominated by the Sainsbury’s superstore complex and its attendant millenial retail developments. Currently the diggers are at work in the car-park next to the Merton Abbey Mills site and there are plans afoot to make the Chapeter House foundations under Merantum Way more accessible.

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Just across the road from St Anselm’s Church at Tooting Bec is an eclectically furnished cocktail bar/eaterie called The Imperial Durbar. If you get a chance, do pop into this quirky establishment and raise your chai or gin sling to a Tooting soldier who one hundred years ago sweated in his scarlet tunic among a quarter of a million people in the Delhi heat as King George V, the Maharajas, the elephants and the camels went past. Indeed perhaps think of this establishment as our very own Tooting tribute to Arthur Henry Leicester from Smallwood Road.

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Horse and Groom

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In a pivotal olde-world Tooting location, separated by the cobbled Salvador passage-way from Macdonalds and the great hulk of the Tooting Granada Bingo Hall, this ancient inn has seen a lot of history. And a lot of drinking. Tooting has always been renowned for its pubs and many of them still survive though not necessarily with the same name. Always a bit of a rough and ready old-school boozer with something of a reputation, the Horse and Groom has been rejuvenated by the Antic company whose Tootopia festival creates such a buzz around here every September. Its now the Graveney and Meadow, a rather nice gentle name, conjuring up pastoral visions of a tinkling brook running through fields of lavender and camomile. Very much in keeping with the field mushrooms, eggs benedict and carrot hash on its brunch menu. If that’s not your thing, how about some Graveney House Beans on toasted sourdough with sriracha ketchup. In the effortless Antic manner its been done-up just enough to make it a comfortable place to drink or eat, yet preserving some of the rough edges of the past. The low dark timber ceiling and the odd exposed crumbling brick make it easy to transport yourself back to the mid-nineteenth century when the Brigden family were pulling pints for the good people of Salvador.

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One of the names on our war memorial at St Mary’s Church in Summerstown is Henry John Brigden, who died in the final weeks of the war on 2nd September 1918, one hundred years ago. He was born at 1 Smallwood Road on 29th October 1888, the fifth and youngest child of William Brigden, a postman from Wandsworth and his first wife Mary Ann. Very sadly, when Henry was only eighteen months old, his mother died on 21st April 1890 at the age of 36. She left behind four other children; 13 year old William, 11 year old Alfred, 9 year old James and 8 year old Elizabeth.

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William married again four years later at St Saviour’s Church in Southwark. His second wife Ann Bloom was a widow from Carlisle and on the certificate he gave his profession as a house painter. The 1901 census sees them living at Elizabeth Cottages, 3 Smallwood Road, right in the eye of the dramatic building development engulfing the area. In 1906 this may have become 98 Smallwood Road, a house that William Brigden was still living at in 1933. He died a year later aged 79. Henry was probably one of the first pupils at Smallwood School.

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Rewind two generations and his Grandfather, also Henry and originally from Buckinghamshire had relocated to Wandsworth. Here he married and worked as a ‘letter carrier’. The 1861 census indicates a change of career. He was now a beer retailer with a family of six children, resident at the Horse and Groom pub in Mitcham Lane, Tooting. Henry was probably familiar with another local publican up the road in Summerstown. Indeed he may well have gone there to place a wager at one of the contests at Robert Sadler’s running grounds. The Brigdens were still there ten years later. William aged 15, like two of his siblings was ‘employed at home’ so very likely helping out at the pub. There were now seven of them, five boys and two girls. A decade later William had assumed his father’s earlier trade and was working as a ‘letter carrier’. He married Mary Ann Hussey in 1875 and they had four young children; William, Alfred, James and Elizabeth. Henry Senior died in 1872 but the family were still on Mitcham Road at No22. William’s older brother Henry ran the corn-chandlers shop at No37. The Horse and Groom was now listed as No21 and managed by the Boulter family. An Irish widow called Jane Boulter ran the show with her four daughters and a son.

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The Brigdens had a big stake in mid-Victorian Tooting. A map of 1860 shows a still largely rural area and how even a generation later it was still far removed from what it would become in the early years of the twentieth century. Most of the building was along Tooting High Street with a cluster of development on Church Street leading to St Nicholas. Around Salvador, the Horse and Groom is just about visible on the map. New Road hadn’t yet become Garratt Lane and leads through the fields to Wandsworth. There was no hospital, no Streatham Cemetery, just a great swathe of open ground all around the Surrey Lunatic Asylum. Below this were the fishponds, once possibly the moats of the medieval manor houses which dotted this area. One of these, roughly where Selkirk Road now stands is believed to have been visited by no lesser person than Queen Elizabeth 1st, en route to Nonsuch Palace.

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The main residential areas appear to be around Tooting Grove and Salvador. In the decades that followed these, would become densely populated and the most notorious of the Tooting slums, eventually cleared in the 1930s. The Fairlight area was also identified as a slum area but apart from a few properties, wholesale demolition was avoided – that was left to a V2 rocket and sixties development. In Salvador’s case the houses were replaced by Sidney Bernstein’s massive Granada Cinema. The Horse and Groom quietly observed it all; Frank Sinatra, Beatlemania, the coming of the bingo age. By the early 1880s the open spaces were filling up and familiar road names appear. Selkirk, Graveney and Defoe Roads. The railway line skirts Lambeth Cemetery and runs alongside Longley Road. Certainly there were now plenty more local drinkers to keep the beer flowing in the Horse and Groom.

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By 1911 the family had moved away from the hustle and bustle of Tooting and were living at 98 Smallwood Road with 22 year old Henry working as a butcher’s assistant. His father’s occupation was listed as a general labourer. No98 was Henry’s pivotal address, it would have been just to the right of the Schoolkeeper’s Cottage, most likely demolished in Sid Sporle’s sixties purge. We left a candle at the nearest house and a little card in his memory when we did our Remembrance Walk last November. I was amazed to get a reply on Twitter from the resident saying how much the gesture was appreciated.

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Two of Henry’s aunts, who would have probably grown up helping in the Horse and Groom ended up living just a few doors along Smallwood Road from William and his fmily. His younger sisters Eliza and Agnes neither of whom ever married lived at No92. Eliza died aged 79 in 1944. Agnes passed away in 1944 aged 76. In the 1891 census, Henry Brigden their two year old nephew is present with them at 6 Elizabeth Cottages, Smallwood Road. Quite possibly his Aunts were looking after him as a consequence of his Mother’s death. They were both dressmakers at that time. With his Dad now settled with a new wife Henry was back at No3 with them in 1901.

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Living so close to the school, its impossible that Henry would not have attended there and he probably worked in one of the butcher’s shops in the area. His name does not appear in any of the lists of those who joined up in the early years of the war which appear in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine, nor is he in the ‘Old Smalls’ booklet published in 1916. This would suggest he was conscripted in the later part of the war. He enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery in Wimbledon and died of his wounds on 2nd September 1918, whist serving as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, a few months short of his thirtieth birthday. His soldiers effects record show no sign of a wife. He left everything to his father. Henry was in ‘Anti-Aircraft Battery L’ at the time of his death and is buried in St Martin Calvaire British Cemetery, St Martin-sur-Cojeul, a village about eight kilometres south-east of Arras It contains only 228 Commonwealth burials. His death ‘killed in action’ was reported in the December issue of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. As for the old Horse and Groom, its enjoying its new lease of life at the centre of Tootopia and if you are passing, have a look at the old gable wall on the Tooting Broadway side of the building and you can still see the name (or at least half of it) painted onto the bricks. Better still, try looking out for it from the top of a passing bus.

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The Broken Spur

Written and researched by Chris Burge. His website is dedicated to the memory of the 587 individuals named on the Mitcham War Memorial.
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This is the story of seven young lads from neighbouring streets in the Fairlight area of Tooting who volunteered to join a Welsh Yeomanry unit in 1915. This was no glamorous adventure, just a hard slog in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and finally on the Western front in France. Nor did it have a happy ending, as at least three of them did not survive the war; John Burke, Arthur Mace and Walter Tappin are all on the memorial in St Mary’s Church, Summerstown. Their story may well be unique in the history of the unit they joined, The Welsh Horse, a unit which itself would cease to exist by early 1917 when it was absorbed into a battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

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The Welsh Horse Yeomanry was formed early in August 1914 initially in Cardiff. Its existence was due almost entirely to the energy and passion of one man, Arthur Owen Vaughan, better known as ‘Owen Roscomyl’. He was a charismatic figure who had been a cowboy adventurer in America during the 1880’s. He had served as a soldier in Egypt and the Sudan and in irregular cavalry during the Boer War. A fierce Welsh Nationalist and author, it was his dream to establish a regiment of Welsh Cavalry. Plans were already in place before the outbreak of war, and on the 4th of August 1914 some 160 men enlisted at Cardiff. Official War Office recognition followed but also plans to restrict numbers and a bureaucratic tangle overall saw them designated a territorial unit and command passed to Lord Kensington. In November they left Wales for Diss in Norfolk. They were still a highly regarded unit, the Navy and Army Illustrated Magazine, issue 24, dated 30th January 1915, included a feature on the ‘Welch Horse’, their glowing description accompanied by a number of photographs. ‘The Welch Horse is one of the finest mounted Regiments in Great Britain. I have inspected none better’. They were now part of the East Coast Defence Force. Invasion threats were being taken seriously after what happened on the north east coast at the end of 1914 and in the spring of 1915 several towns in East Anglia were bombed by Zeppelins.

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Incredibly, in March that year, at least seven lads from neighbouring streets in the Fairlight area joined The Welsh Horse almost ‘en masse’. Indeed six of them must have literally packed their bags and travelled together to the sleepy market town of Diss on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. Here they stood in line and signed up one after the other as they have consecutive service numbers. Three of them lived in adjoining houses on Pevensey Road (above) – Sidney Carpenter at No52, John Burke at No54, John Soane at No56. Another two were in neighbouring Thurso Street. Charles Bodset at No14 backed onto the other’s houses, Walter Moore was across the road at No17. Walter Tappin lived round the corner at 19 Fountain Road. Arthur Mace from 2 Thurso Street would appear to have been the catalyst for this, joining first on 7th March 1915. A few weeks later the others followed; the six Tooting lads were now: 1120 Carpenter, 1121 Soane, 1122 Tappin, 1123 Burke, 1124 Bosdet and 1125 Moore of the 1/1st Welsh Horse.

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The St Mary’s Church parish magazine of May 1915 listed John Burke and his neighbours Sidney Carpenter and John Soane as joining The Welsh Horse. Burke, Tappin and Bodset declared their age as 19 and gave their occupation as porters. Walter Tappin had lived all his life in Tooting, just as his father had. The Mace brothers spent their early years in Kent, John Burke in St Pancras, and Charles Bosdet in Camberwell. The Mace family had come to Tooting in around 1905 as had the Burkes, the Bosdet family closer to 1910. While Walter Tappin and John Burke may have known one another as boys, their friendship with Charles Bosdet must have started later. The nature of their work seems to be one thing the trio had in common.

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John’s father, Alfred Burke was born in the St Pancras parish in 1870. In December 1889 he married Alice Harris. Two years later in the 1891 census they were living in Kentish Town Road with infant daughter Flossie. Alfred worked as a ‘mineral water traveller’. Over the following decade the family expanded; Alfred was born in 1892, Charles in 1895, Sidney in 1896, John in 1897 and Robert in 1901. They were now living at 99 Arlington Road, St Pancras where John may have come into the world. Two more daughters, Dorothy in 1902 and Rose in 1905 were born in Peckham. The Burkes, with their seven children at this stage, must have decided that a better future lay in ‘the brighter borough’ and 1911 found them in Wandsworth, at 54 Pevensey Road. Alfred now 41 was still a salesman and his eldest son worked as an electrician. 14 year old John was an office boy. Two ‘memorials’ give a clue to his life – he is on the one in the Fairlight Christian Centre, once the location of Fairlight Hall, so he must have been connected to that in some way. Along with his brother Charles, John also appears on the roll of ‘Old Smalls Serving their Country in His Majesty’s Forces’ from Smallwood School. Fairlight Hall opened its doors in 1905 and did extraordinary work for almost eight decades, catering for the social needs of those in the streets around it, many of whom had very little. The below photo was taken in 1914 a year before John Burke joined the army. Its just possible he could be one of the older lads in the photo.

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Only Robert Burke, was too young to serve in the early years of the war. One older brother, Charles Maurice Burke had a chequered military career. In the 1911 census he is listed as a private in the Middlesex Regiment based at Hendon. But after John had joined the Welsh Horse in March 1915, Charles Burke volunteered to join the Royal Field Artillery at Lambeth. He signed up on the 10th July 1915 describing himself as a ‘machinist engineer’. Charles was declared a deserter in November after absenting himself from barracks in Aldershot, on 30th October with all his kit. In fact, he had already joined another unit and enlisted again with the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars on 2nd November 1915. They had been in Gallipoli since August 1915 and moved to Egypt in December. Charles remained in the UK until 11th September 1916 having attended a machine gun course in June 1916. Its possible he may even have crossed paths with young Sidney Lewis when he was at Grantham. He was transferred to the newly formed 17th Mounted Machine Gun Corps at the beginning of 1917 and like his brother John, took part in the campaign in Palestine. After the war, Charles Burke returned to work for the Morgan Crucible Company in New York.

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John’s older brother, Alfred Albert Burke had married Florence May Baker in mid 1914 and they were soon expecting their first child. They were living in Smallwood Road, Tooting, literally, round the corner from the Burke family home in Pevensey Road. Alfred would finally join the War after responding to the appeal of the Derby Scheme late in 1915. Alfred attested at Wandsworth on 10th December 1915, and was posted to the Royal Garrison Artillery. Alfred survived the war having been promoted Corporal at some stage. His name appears on the Wandsworth Absent Voter’s List in 1918 at 99 Smallwood Road, Tooting, next door to ‘Smallwood Stores’.

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Whatever the reason for joining the Welsh Horse, it must have been something of a culture shock. The nearest they had probably been to a horse was being careful about what they trod in as the dodged the London traffic. Then there were the foreign Welsh accents of men they rubbed shoulders with, many of whom were old soldiers with years of cavalry experience. Just how would the young London boys have fitted in?

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In September 1915 they were ordered to ready themselves for foreign service and to hand in their horses. They were bound for Gallipoli and sailed from Liverpool on board SS Olympic (a sister ship of the Titanic) on 23th September 1915. They arrived at Mudros, a port on the Greek island of Lemnos on 8th October. Insult was added to injury when the men of the Welsh Horse discovered they had effectively swapped horses for shovels. They were given the task of digging trenches, saps and mines under the Turkish positions, dangerous and strenuous work. Less than two weeks after arriving at Gallipoli, Arthur Mace became so ill that he had to be evacuated back to England, arriving on 19th Novenmber 1915. He never recovered from TB, and passed away on the 1st October 1918, almost exactly three years after he had landed at Gallipoli.

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There is no record of Tappin, Burke or Bosdet falling sick while at Gallipoli, but it was reckoned that some 75% of all men who served there suffered from what the soldiers called ‘the Gallipoli trots’. After evacuation from Gallipoli the Welsh Horse arrived in Egypt at Christmas 1915 at the sprawling Sidi Bashr base. Any hope of being reunited with their horses was dashed as in early 1916 they were used to dig trenches in the sand as part of strengthening the Suez Canal defences. A casualty form indicates that on 14th June 1916 John Burke was ‘awarded five days forfeiture of pay for hesitating to obey an order’. A re-organisation of the Army in Egypt involved the creation of a new 74th division. The Welsh Horse were now the 25th (Montgomery & Welsh Horse Yeomanry) Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Still together, Tappin, Burke and Bosdet were given new consecutive army numbers and new insignia. Mindful that the 74th Division comprised of dismounted Yeomanry, the division’s commander chose the ‘Broken Spur’ as its badge. The irony was not lost on the men.

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The division took part in the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, the Battle of Beersheba in October, the Third Battle of Gaza in November and subsequent Battle of Jerusalem. Walter Tappin was killed at the Battle of Tell ’Asur in March 1918. He is buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery. His grave was visited this year by local Summerstown resident Colin Davis who was welcomed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission stonemason, Nader Habash. Walter’s parents requested for his headstone, the words ‘ALTHOUGH FAR AWAY – STILL NOT FORGOTTEN’.

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A week before the Battle of Beersheba, on 24th October 1917, John Burke was appointed a Lance Corporal. He was on the sick list repeatedly at the end of 1917 through early 1918, suffering from scabies, impetigo and tonsilitis. The great German Spring Offensive of March 1918 had placed the Western Front in a state of crisis and the 74th Division including John Burke and Charles Bodset were required in France. They withdrew to Egypt, and after a rapid refit embarked at Alexandria on May 2nd, bound for Marseilles. They were given six weeks to acclimatise and receive the all important training required for operations on the Western Front. The Army of 1918 was very different to that of 1914. John Burke was absent again for several weeks during this period, hospitalised with fever in June 1918.

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In mid-July the 25th Royal Welsh Fusiliers went into the line at Merville near the Franco-Belgian border. This was John Burke and Charles Bosdet’s first experience of front lines trenches in France. The early days of August were quiet in this sector but as the month progressed there was increasing activity and probing forward movements. Gas shelling resulted in a number of casualties in the second half of August. John Burke has been away from the front, having being granted 14 days leave on the 4th August. It had been over three years since he left his home in Tooting and sadly this was the last time he would see it.

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August 1918 had seen a complete reversal of the spring crisis on the Western Front. The Allies had launched their own offensive east of Amiens on 8th and advanced over seven miles on the first day. By the end of August the 74th Division received orders to move south to the old Somme battlefields. John Burke returned from leave to find his battalion is on the move. On the night of 31st August they were at Trigger Wood, south of Fricourt, fighting alongside the 2nd Australian Division. The first days of September saw heavy shelling and on the 5th patrols pushed forward to locate the enemy. The 25th Royal Welsh Fusiliers War Diary coldly recorded: ‘No great opposition encounter enemy shell fire and M.G. fire accounts for 1 OR killed and 10 ORs wounded’. John Burke’s war had ended, just eight days after his return from leave. His name is carved on Panel Six of the Vis-en-Artios Memorial, a few miles east of Arras. We visited there on a dazzling Autumn day in 2015. Charles Bosdet survived the war and is recorded as being discharged on 23rd June 1919. He appears on the 1918 Absent Voters List at 14 Thurso Street, next door to the Tibbenham family.

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Part of the Burke family were still at 54 Pevensey Road in 1920, when John’s mother Alice Mary Burke took her W5080 form to the ‘War Pensions Committee’ at Gatton Road Tooting to be countersigned by the committee’s secretary. One of John’s brothers. Alfred Albert Burke, would live in Smallwood Road for many years after the War. Alice remained at 54 Pevensey Road until she passed away, aged 82, in 1953. Her husband Alfred died in 1949 at the age of 79. The houses at the top end of Pevensey Road are largely unchanged, they have a uniform look and stand in line, looking one way towards St Georges Hopsital, the other to Smallwood School. Who could ever pass them and not think of the seven Welsh Horsemen, their journey to Diss and the faraway places it would eventually take them.

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Nine Elms

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When you enter Wandsworth Town Hall Civic Suite, the first thing that you see is an impressive marble war memorial. Beneath the council’s crest, it states that 333 members of its staff served in the First World War. It then lists the names of 31 of those ‘who made the supreme sacrifice’. Two of these are known to us – David Baldwin from Tooting and Frank Tutty from Earlsfield. Three on the list are librarians, most worked for the Borough Engineer’s Department’ – roadsweepers, dustmen, gardeners, caretakers, general labourers, fixing and repairing, keeping the wheels of Wandsworth turning.

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Sandwiched between Battersea and Vauxhall ‘Nine Elms’ is tucked away in the north-eastern corner of the borough of Wandsworth. Huge amounts of foreign money have poured into the development here currently marketing itself as London’s ‘greatest ever transformational story’. The area is home to Battersea Power Station, slowly disappearing behind a cloak of glass and steel. New Covent Garden Market will be re-invented as a gastronomic food hub and the moated fortress that is the new American Embassy, braces itself for the visit of Donald Trump in a couple of months. The family of Wandsworth’s most famous soldier and another council employee, Tooting dustman Ted Foster originally came from this area. Currently its a world of cranes, towers, construction trucks, high-security and homes that are way beyond the reach of dustmen, librarians, council workers and pretty much everybody else.

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One of 28 of the Summerstown182 whose remains lie on Belgian soil, Frank is buried in Nine Elms British Cemetery, to the west of the town of Poperinghe, about 45 minutes drive from Calais. There were a number of casualty clearing stations based in this locality dating from 1917. It is the final resting place of a notable New Zealander, born in Co Donegal, who was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele on 4th October 1917. Dave Gallaher was the first captain of the touring All Blacks rugby team who played in Ireland in 1905. When we visited the cemetery in 2015, I didn’t know anything about him but unwittingly spotted a grave that was festooned with kiwi tributes so I took a photo. There is a story that my Grandfather played against the touring in All Blacks in 1905 in which case he might have come up against Big Dave.

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John Tutty, born in Hackbridge in 1851 was a proper Wandle dweller, working the river as a printer and labourer. On 13th November 1870 in Croydon he married Emma Manning and they had seven children, one of whom was Frank Ernest Tutty. A year later the census picks them up at Dixon’s Cottage, Mitcham and a son Alfred had been born. Ten years on, they were in Martin’s Cottages with two more children, Harriet and Albert. John’s occupation is listed as a ‘journeyman silk printer’. Three other sons followed; Sidney in 1882, Frederick in 1885 and Frank in 1887. The 1901 census finds them still in Mitcham, at 4 Lock’s Lane, just to the south of Figges Marsh. Emma was working as a laundress and Albert like his Dad was a silk printer. Four sons were present, Alfred had joined the navy in 1890 having settled with his wife in Portsmouth. Harriet had married a Thomas Weller and lived next door. Very sadly she died, quite possibly in childbirth.

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Frank meanwhile went to work for Wandsworth Council and in 1907 married Edith Emily Smith from Kandahar Road in Battersea. She was born in 1885, so was two years older than Frank. Edith’s family, originally from Norfolk, edged along Garratt Lane towards Summerstown via Inman Road and Aslett Street. In the 1911 census, Frank and Edith were living with the in-laws at 11 Franche Court Road. One of a nest of houses at the Garratt Lane end of the road with Summerstown182 connections. The stories come thick and fast whenever we pass this stretch on our guided walk; Tickner, Kirkland, McMullan, Chapman, Danzanvilliers.

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Fred was just round the corner living at 833 Garratt Lane, then No3 Squarey Street (above) where he would have been a neighbour of Reginald Knight. Sidney married a girl from Rostella Road but appears to have emigrated to California shortly afterwards. Also present was four year old Frank Ernest, other children followed, Arthur in 1912, then Mabel. At some stage the Tutty family moved to No10 Squarey Street (below), before alighting at 81 Summerstown. This would have been at the Wimbledon Road end of the street, close to the White Lion pub. Their home was one of a stretch of twelve small houses known as Sadler’s Cottages. These are long gone and soon the area will be completely transformed with the building of the new AFC Wimbledon stadium. X marks the spot where the Tutty homestead was once located.

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Frank and Fred, both married with children, were conscripted under the Derby Scheme in 1916. Frank attested in Wandsworth on 5th June 1916 into the 3rd Battalion of the Royal West Surrey Regiment. He was just short of his thirtieth birthday and gave his occupation as a labourer. Fred, also married with children joined the 15th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. At some stage Frank transfered to the 1st Battalion of the West Surreys. They were in the Ypres sector in the early months of 1918, so avoided the main thrust of the German Spring Offensive at the end of March. At 7am on the morning of 12th March, whilst inspecting the line, their commanding officer was killed by a shell. The splendidly named Lt-Colonel St Barbe Russell Sladen had only assumed command of the battalion at the beginning of February. A partner in a law firm and from a notable family, his death prompted a telegram from Buckingham Palace.

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It is likely that Frank was killed or wounded and subsequently died in one of the retaliatory raids in the days after Lt-Colonel Sladen’s death. These were organised by a 2nd Lieutenant Morgan, who lead a fighting patrol of 15 men in an attack on a machine gun post near the village of St Jean. On the 13th they withdrew with two men wounded. The following night a smaller group of nine went out again at midnight but upon seeing a large party of Germans they assumed an attack was imminent and withdrew. They held their line in the following skirmish but in doing so two men were wounded and one killed. Its very likely one of those was Frank Tutty, possibly taken to one of the casualty clearing stations near Poperinghe where he died of his wounds.

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magazine

News of his death came through fairly quickly and was reported in the July issue of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. Mentioned in the same paragraph was the death of Mark Archer and also Albert Ball, whose name curiously does not appear on the war memorial. Terrible news for eleven year old Frank and his younger siblings, Arthur and Mabel. Edith was 32 and faced an uncertain future. She is listed as living at 81 Summerstown the year Frank died. Between 1923 and 1933 she appears to have moved back to 11 Franche Court Road, probably to be with her parents. After a brief spell at Lidiard Road she then went to 48 Burntwood Lane.

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After nearly six decades of widowhood, Edith died aged 91 in June 1977. Frank junior married Emily Bailey and they lived in Bellew Street before settling at 46 Freshford Street. He passed away in 1980, his wife in 1999. Fred Tutty survived the war and died in 1953 aged 68. When I called by to take the photo of the house on Burntwood Lane I bumped into a long-term resident who remembered ‘old Mrs Tutty’ and also recalled other family living in the next street. One of Frank’s grandsons, Colin has been on a number of our walks. Such encounters make the world of one hundred years ago feel so much closer.

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Thanks to Chris Burge for kindly researching Frank’s story. Please look at his website dedicated to the memory of the 587 individuals named on the Mitcham War Memorial.