Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to Friends of Slade Gardens many of whose photos are used in this story
http://www.sladegardens.org.uk/

Cousin Herbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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http://www.hoxnehistory.org.uk/Military.php

http://www.clcgb.org.uk/documents/historical-group/194-brigade-factsheet-13-the-16th-battalion-krrc/file

http://jeremybanning.co.uk/tag/fontaine-les-croisilles/

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It is ‘Women’s History Month’ and we’ve just done a special ‘Women of Summerstown’ Guided Walk. We have celebrated the stories of the wives, sweethearts, mothers and sisters of the Summerstown182 and those of other significant local women who made a mark in this area one hundred years ago. Why did we do that, well it had became apparent that though the 182 are all male, when we try and explain their experiences, it is very often the women who in one way or another glue their stories together. They deserved for once to be the main focus of our attention. Such a case is Violet Collins, the younger sister of Albert Stewart. We know very little about her, but two traumatic experiences, half a century apart, shine some light into the history of our area and help us understand how it has been shaped.

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Albert is one of fifteen of the Summerstown182 who died this spring, one hundred years ago in the Battle of Arras. He was wounded in an attack on a place called Oppy Wood, east of Arras. It is best known for the huge losses of soldiers from the Hull Pals on May 3rd – part of the same Third Battle of the Scarpe that killed Summerstown182 William Brown and William Pitts. One of the Humbersiders, 2nd Lieutenant Jack Harrison VC was a well-known rugby league player and in 2004 a plaque was unveiled after him at the KC Stadium. On it he is described as ‘husband, father, citizen, soldier, sportsman, hero’. Arras was a bloody affair with a daily casualty rate of 4,076. Compare that to 2,943 for the Somme and 2,323 for Passchendaele. It was in an earlier assault a few days before this that Lance Corporal Albert Stewart of the 7th Royal Fusiliers from Maskell Road was wounded. He made it back to south London but died of his injuries some three weeks later on 22nd May 1917. He is buried in one of the city’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ Nunhead (All Saints) Cemetery, just a few miles along the south circular.

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He was the son of John and Hannah Stewart. Born in St Pancras in 1856, his father was a timber bender involved with coach building. In 1881 he and Hannah were at 5 Luard Street, Islington with two children Florence and John. By the next census in 1891 the family had moved out west and were at 22 Peter Street, Bedminster in Somerset, not far from Bristol. There were three more children and it was here in 1893 that a seventh, Albert would be born in 1893. Two more would follow and in 1901 they had a family of nine.

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Their youngest Violet was born in Somerset in 1901 and it was some time around then that they moved back to London and were at Cumberland Villas off the Wandsworth Road. In spite of her large family, a new baby and three children under ten including Albert, Hannah  is listed as working as a wood frame sawyer, perhaps helping her husband with his coach building. Charlie worked in a mantle factory of which there were several in the Garratt Lane area. In 1911 they were firmly in the Earlsfield/Summerstown orbit and living at 10 Maskell Road, surrounded by many Summerstown182 families. It was a bad time for the area and just a few weeks before Albert was wounded, William Baron also in the Royal Fusiliers and living just a little bit further up the road was killed on 11th April. Albert, now eighteen is listed on the census as an errand boy. Four of the their children are present and three of them are in employment. The notes indicate that John and Hannah had now been married 37 years and had ten children, seven still alive, and were living in five rooms.

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John Stewart died aged 79 in 1933, Hannah was aged 61 when she passed away a year after her son in 1918. Ernest Stewart was four years older than Albert and in 1911 was a press worker. He married Edith Mancey in 1911 and they are living at 26 Skelbrook Street in the 1939 register. Youngest child Violet married Thomas Collins in 1920 and they were still at 10 Maskell Road in 1939 when he was working as a garage hand machinist. Almost thirty years later, an extraordinary newspaper account in September 1968 records Thomas and Violet being rescued from their home in Maskell Road by a fork-lift truck on the occasion that the Wandle burst its banks. An estimated 500 people in seven roads in the area were affected with up to five feet of water flooding the ground floor of over 100 houses. Thomas passed away in 1971 and Violet died in 1980. Its unlikely Albert married as his soldiers effects record shows he left everything to his father.

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On the 9th April 1917 the British Third Army launched the Battle of Arras striking towards Cambrai. Albert’s medal roll shows that he was originally in the 23rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers from 17th July 1916. But only for a week when he was transfered to the 7th. It indicated that he served with them until 30th April when he must have been wounded and died of his wounds on 22nd May. On April 23rd, the second Battle of the Scarpe began and the 7th Battalion were heavily involved in the attack north of Gavrelle. A few days later on April 29th the attack was continued as four battalions of the Royal Fusiliers made another attempt to conquer the seemingly impregnable Oppy defences which held a key position in their defence of Arras was resisted and in the mayhem the boy from Maskell Road was fatally wounded . It was also at Oppy Wood that the famous 17th Middlesex ‘Footballers Battalion’ suffered its heaviest casualties in a single day’s fighting during the entire war. Among those taken prisoner on 28th were Joe Mercer of Nottingham Forest, father of the legendary Manchester City manager of the same name.

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Nunhead is perhaps the least known, but most attractive of London’s great Victorian cemeteries. Consecrated in 1840, it is one of seven huge cemeteries established in a ring around the outskirts of the city. Left to rot when the company that ran it went bankrupt in 1969, its gates were locked. It was bought by Southwark Council for £1 in 1975 and much of the restoration was done in the late nineties thanks to Lottery funding and the strenuous efforts of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery. Much of it though is still wild and many of the graves are inaccessible. One of its most moving memorials commemorates nine young boys aged between 11 and 14 who died on a camping and sailing trip at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey. They were out in a boat which overturned and all very sadly drowned. Eight of them were from the 2nd Walworth Scouts. The ninth was Frank Masters from the training ship Arethusa, who died trying to help them. By coincidence, a few years later Charles Moss of the Summerstown182 served on a ship called HMS Arethusa.

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Maskell Road Floods 1968 3
On Friday 20th September 1968 ‘The Gazette’ reported that ‘two days of torrential rain at the weekend caused the River Wandle to burst its banks, flooding homes, shops and factories along its borders. Worst hit was Earlsfield where 200 families were evacuated after becoming trapped by muddy, swirling floodwater up to five feet deep’. ‘Willing helpers together with council officials and uniformed police manned thirty rowing boats from Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens and rowed to and fro through the night between the flooded houses and Garratt lane ferrying the stranded families. All the houses in Maskell, Headworth, Burtop, Turtle and Siward Roads, Earlsfield and some in Summerstown were evacuated, except for three families who refused to move out’. ‘Among the stranded people were elderly invalids who could not descend ladders to the boats . They were carried in the scoop of a fork-lift truck and lowered into a car waiting to take them to Brocklebank old people’s home, Swaffield Road’. One of the heroic rowing boat rescuers was none other than Hazelhurst Road V2 survivor, our great pal, John Keeley.

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Mrs Minnie Sharp gave a lucid description of the chaos the floodwater had caused in her home. ‘We’ve had flooding before but never like that. We thought at first that it would subside and gradually disappear but it just rose higher and higher and the smell was awful. About four in the afternoon the water started rushing in. We had a lot of furniture in the front to try and stop it but it was no good. Another couple who have been residents of Maskell Road for 60 years are Mr and Mrs Thomas Collins who were both evacuated by fork-lift truck after they had been stranded in their flooded home all night. Mr Collins is blind and suffered a stroke only a few days ago and Mrs Collins recently underwent a serious hip operation.’ This of course was Albert Stewart’s younger sister Violet.

Soap and Water

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1893

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In about a month’s time we will be celebrating the heroics of Wandsworth’s best known First World War soldier, Corporal Edward Foster VC. The six foot two, ‘Tiny Ted’ from Fountain Road, Tooting who stormed a German machine gun battery at Arras and paved the way for the liberation of Villers-Plouich by the 13th Wandsworth Battalion. On the morning of 22nd April, almost one hundred years to the day of his great valour, a VC Commemorative paving stone will be placed outside Wandsworth Town Hall. Later that day, we’ll be honouring him with a Guided Walk around key local locations relevant to Tiny Ted and his East Surrey comrades. The day will also see the unveiling of a green plaque on No92 Fountain Road, the house where he and his family lived for many years. One spot, which sadly we won’t be able to get to on this occasion is Foster’s Way, a stretch of pathway, named after our hero, bordering King George’s Park. Running alongside the Wandle it stretches from Kimber Road to the new development behind the Henry Prince Estate.  A small footbridge on one section of this leads into Lydden Road, a street very much associated with another soldier who fought at the Battle of Arras, but whose fortune was very different from Corporal Foster.

Dustman VC

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Like quite a few of the Summerstown182 that we’ve written about lately, William Baron’s roots lie in the cluster of historic streets off Garratt Lane, about half way between Earlsfield and Wandsworth. It was here that a painter called Robert Baron settled with his wife Annie. He was from Middlesex and she from Dawley Green, Shropshire. They were married at the famous St Anne’s Church, Soho on 5th January 1873. By the time of the 1881 census the family were living at 17 Lydden Road and William Thomas was the youngest of four children. His baptism records indicate he may well have been born in Wardley Street. That took place on 19th December 1880 at another well known St Ann’s, Wandsworth’s ‘Pepperpot’ Church. Robert and Annie had seven children in total and by 1891, they had moved one door along to No15.

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What a place to grow up, these bustling streets so influenced by the presence of the Harrison and Barber slaughterhouse and its attendant industries, would have been alive with the smells and sounds of horses, hawkers, costers, twenty four hour activity. It was a frenzied world fraught with danger and exploitation. In August 1888 three young women were killed in an explosion and a fourth permanently disabled at a firework factory on the site of what is now the Henry Prince Estate. An employee accidentally stood on one of the toy cap guns. A wave of shock ran through the area and emotion was so high at the funerals that according to the Wandsworth Borough News, ‘Many of the weaker sex had to be lead away’. A little bit further down the road in 1885, a huge new workhouse complex was opened on Swaffield Road, keeping everyone on their toes. Only last week our Summerstown182 Walk provided a harrowing account of what could happen when the wheels come off. Betsey Higgs entered this workhouse in 1900 having been abandoned by her husband with two small children and pregnant with a third. Thanks to Neil Kirby for providing the interview notes relating to his great grandmother’s misfortune. They make for painful reading but we were pleased to know she found happiness in later life. Today, two popular Garratt Lane pubs still stand on the corners of Lydden Road and Wardley Street, The Jolly Gardeners and The Grosvenor, what stories they could tell us.

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Getting married didn’t change William’s circumstances much when he wed Sarah Elizabeth James at St Andrew’s  Earlsfield, Surrey, on 23 October 1899. He gave his age as twenty and his profession as a floor layer. The Barons were now as 21 Lydden Road and it appeared Sarah’s family lived at No6 which would have made them the neighbours of Raymond Briggs’ father Ernest. The aspiring milkman, as featured in the brilliant ‘Ethel and Ernest’ lived at No8.

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Charles Booth believed poverty and slums were spreading along the Wandle Valley and was most uncharitable in his comments about the area. He visited in 1902 describing Wardley Street and Lydden Grove as the worst streets, summarising the former thus; ‘Houses, two storeyed, most of them flush with the pavement, a low common lodging-house on one side and a yard full of wheelless gypsy vans on the other, each inhabited by a family. There is throughout the street a family to almost every room, and a great number of loafers hang about at the corner – men who work either not at all or only on market days’. This provoked an angry response from the local Medical Officer who produced a report which claimed only 25 families in Wardley Street lived in a single room – bad enough surely. The report noted ‘Insanitary conditions sometimes resulted from careless habits – the people themselves seem to have an instinctive dislike to soap and water’. Very sadly he didn’t quite get as far as Wardley Street with his map so we can’t see what colour he would have given it but nearby Iron Mill Place where Betsey Higgs lived was dark blue ‘Very poor, casual, chronic want’. She lived in Wardley Street in 1891 and quite possibly crossed paths with the Barons.

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The 1901 census shows that William and Sarah had one child, Annie Elizabeth, born in March 1900. Also present on that day at 21 Lydden Road were William’s parents. Were they just visiting for tea, or all cosied up together is impossible to say. Lydden Road is now completely changed, a messy hotch-potch of industrial units, builders merchants and lighting suppliers pepper its length. In 1957 the council knocked everything down in Lydden Road and Wardley Street along with some of the older houses in Lydden Grove. No21 is still indicated and is now the location of ‘Mr Resistor, Lighting Specialists’. By 1911 the Baron’s address was 34 Lydden Grove and William is absent. The fact Sarah isn’t working shows he was probably just having a night out. They now had four children; Annie, William born in 1903, Lillie born in 1908 and Reginald in 1910. A fifth child Ivy was born in 1915. Lydden Grove is an odd-shaped street which bends round from the bottom of Lydden Road and emerges on Kimber Road. Much of it still seems intact and it looks like No34 may be the same home where William and Sarah Baron lived over one hundred years ago. Hopefully the door they used was the same shade as the delightful violet that the current one is painted in.

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With five small children and a wife, its almost certain that William was conscripted. He appears to have joined the 8th East Surreys on 13th November 1916, at the start of the last British offensive on the Somme, the Battle of the Ancre. Whether he saw any action there, within ten days he had been transfered to the 13th Royal Fusiliers. In the spring of 1917 he was to be involved in the even bloodier Battle of Arras. He lost his life on 11th April in the attack on Monchy-le-Preux, a small village standing on a hill to the east of Arras whose name constantly recurs in many of our stories. At a place called Broken Mill on the 10th April the 13th Royal Fusiliers attacked before dawn. This continued on the 11th and the village was eventually taken, but at a heavy cost. As H C O’Neill put it in ‘The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War’- ‘It was a memorable day. At one time there was a blinding snowstorm; but the troops ignored such small inconveniences’. Attacking as part of a mounted division in that snowstorm were the Essex Yeomanry. They lost 135 men and most of their horses. Lance-Corporal Harold Mugford from Bermondsey (below), although severely wounded in both legs, which were subsequently amputated, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

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William Baron is buried in the tiny Houdain Lane Cemetery at Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, just about a mile east of Arras. There are only 76 burials here, 67 identified. He has though got plenty of his Summerstown182 pals not too far away to keep him company. Just a few days before William Baron was killed, Charles Barnard Richmond of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps who lived on Wimbledon Road also died. He is buried in the same village but another cemetery, Tilloy British Cemetery. William would have been fighting alongside another of the Summerstown182, William Pater who was killed just twelve days later. Ernest Seager from Thurso Street died on 10th and is buried at Feuchy with William Steers. Herbert Tibbenham was killed on 23rd and Henry Wilton on 28th. Arras claimed a heavy toll of Summerstown casualties.

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In 1997, in the Arras area, the bodies of 27 British soldiers were found, buried together in a shallow mass grave. It transpired that they were members of the 13th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, killed in the fighting around Arras between 9th-14th April 1917. It was believed that they most likely lost their lives in the attack on Monchy. The remains of 24 of the soldiers, impossible to identify were buried there in a quiet ceremony in December, 1996. Three of the others, two of whom were identified were buried in another ceremony on 15th April, 1998. They were  Private Frank King from Hampton and Private George Hamilton Anderson from Paddington, comrades of William Baron who died alongside him, now buried with full military honours.

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Sarah Baron died in Wandsworth in 1929 aged 50. At some stage she had moved to 25 Maskell Road and it was there that she gave her next-of-kin details to the War Graves Commission after William died. All of her children married and four of them would appear to have had offspring themselves, so we hope one day, a descendant may read this and know that William Baron has not been forgotten.

The Die-Hard

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If there is one house that I must pass, three, perhaps four times a day, depending on the number of occasions I need to feed my addiction to Tesco AKA The Prince of Wales, it is 684 Garratt Lane. Its pretty much identical to any of the houses on Keble Street, but fronting onto the busy road it definitely sees more of the action. There’s a small cluster of three houses then an entrance to the Hitchcock and King builder’s yard which a few years ago hosted the Summerstown Lido. Only visible on google earth by the way and a dip definitely not advisable. Here I believe was once a bakery frequented by Marc Bolan. Next to that is the garage, then the wonderful Wimbledon Kitchen chinese takeaway and equally splendid Figli Del Vesuvio pizzeria. Cross the road and Nosher Powell’s old pub stands proud at the beating heart of Summerstown. The Prince of Wales may wear the Tesco stripes for now, but one day it will rise again. It has its beady eye directly on Burmester House across the road, eagerly anticipating the placing of a plaque there. This of course will honour the great Robert Sadler and his Victorian running grounds, but just opposite at No684 lived his namesake and someone who was seemingly no relation, George Stanley Sadler. We should celebrate this location, because it brought a brief period of happiness to what must have been a very troubled young life.

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Sadly the First World War ended all that and the husband of Julia and father of two young children was killed 100 years ago this month. George Stanley Sadler was 32 and served in the 2nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. He is buried in Heudicourt Communal Cemetery Extension, just ten minutes away from a small village called Villers-Plouich. It was here, about five miles north of Heudicourt, a little over three weeks after George was killed, that someone who lived a few streets away from him was awarded the Victoria Cross. Corporal Edward Foster of the East Surrey Regiment was a dustman from Fountain Road and showed outstanding bravery in the liberation of this village. On 22nd April we will be remembering ‘Tiny Ted’ with a tour of his Tooting haunts and that morning Wandsworth Council will place a commemorative VC paving stone in the Town Hall Gardens.

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George Stanley Sadler had a painful and unsettled upbringing, moving around a variety of south London locations. Throughout the Victorian era, both men and women were often just one step away from the workhouse and those without close family to rely on, were the most affected by the death of a partner. Wives whose husband had died were often at the mercy of the parish. A man that had lost his wife, had none of the help available today to look after children whilst he worked. George Sadler senior was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk around 1844 into a blacksmith’s family. By the age of 18 according to the 1861 census, he was in Finsbury working as a plumber, a world away from the rural life he was born into. On 12th October 1862 he married Elizabeth Jackson. In 1871 George and Elizabeth were in Marylebone with daughters Lottie Maria and Minnie Florence. Some time after that they moved to Wandsworth and Jessie Louisa was born in 1878. Elizabeth Sadler died in June of that year. In 1881 George Sadler was living at ‘The Retreat’ off Roehampton Lane. Minnie had died aged five, Lottie moved away to work and Jessie was placed with his deceased wife Elizabeth’s family. On Boxing Day 1881 George married again, to a widow called Louisa Ann Jackson. They moved to Battersea and settled at 25 St Andrew’s Street, off the Wandsworth Road. Winifred was born in 1882 and George Stanley on 7th December 1883. Arthur Richard completed the line-up in 1886. Blissful family life didn’t last long though, for in December 1889 when George was just six years old his mother Louisa died.

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On 21st September 1890 in Battersea, George Sadler senior married for a third time, another widow called Charlotte Gulley. They now lived at 62 St Andrew’s Street. The road, which still exists in a much-changed area was later called St Rule Street. My favourite bus journey, the 77 to Waterloo via Earlsfield Road, Clapham Junction and Lavender Hill goes past this. Its about half way along the Wandsworth Road and will be another thing to look our for on what is a route soaked in history. Grab yourself the front seat, off-peak top deck for a real treat. Young George would almost certainly have attended the school on St Andrew’s Street which was established in 1884 and still stands as Heathbrook Primary School. The 1891 census shows George and Charlotte with three children, Winifred, George and Arthur. Tragically George lost his third wife in 14 years when Charlotte passed away in December 1892.

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There was no stopping him though, on 10th January 1897 in Battersea, George Sadler wed for the fourth time, to yet another widow, Susan Ferguson. Once again, marital bliss was short-lived and on 17th July 1897 George Sadler died at the age of 53. He is buried in New Cemetery, Morden. George junior was just fourteen and both his parents and two stepmothers had died. The family started to fall apart. By the time of the 1901 census George’s widow Susan had moved on her own to Marylebone. Winifred Lucy Sadler age 19 was in Battersea working in a laundry. George, now 18 was in Southwark working as a carman for a  licensced victualler. Saddest of all, Arthur Richard Sadler, aged 11 when his father died, was sent to a children’s home, Carter Boy’s Home in Clapham High Street.

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The Carter Boys Home for Destitute Boys was founded in 1870 at 52 and 65 Clapham High Street. In the 1890s, the home had about 100 places for boys between the ages of seven and sixteen and moved to No49. There was no charge for taking in destitute boys but payment was required from ‘depraved parents’  The boys were made to work for their living, shoe and boot making, hamper and chair caning. They were engaged by local businesses and also ran errands and acted as messengers. They could also be hired out for cleaning knives and boots, chopping and ‘delivering firewood free within two miles’. Older boys attended night school on the premises to learn skills. By 1902 with 150 boys, the home was taken over by Barnardo’s and many boys were sent to Canada under an emigration scheme.

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By the time of the 1911 census, the Sadler children were scattered far and wide. Winifred was in Lancashire. Arthur had now left the boys home and was a clerk in lodgings in Hammersmith. George Stanley, now 28,was a lodger at 684 Garratt Lane with the Iddiols family. He was working as a general porter. This document, relating to the house that I go past so often, sets the imagination racing. The family had five rooms there and Thomas Iddiols was 55 years old and a general labourer, his wife Ellen was three years older. Their daughter Julia is 23 and listed as a general servant and single. Also present is a two year old grandson Thomas, Julia’s son. In the June quarter the following year, George Stanley Sadler married Julia Eleanor Iddiols. Young Thomas Iddiols was three years old at the time of their marriage. Its possible that he may have been the son of George Stanley Sadler but whatever the case, having been through so much parental upheavel, George would surely have been more than happy to call the young lad his own. The couple don’t appear to have been married at St Mary’s Church, Summerstown, although Julia’s brother Thomas Langford Iddiols was married there on 1st April 1906.

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George and Julia had two children. George Thomas Langford Sadler was born on 24th February 1913 (George after his father, Thomas after her father, Langford after Julia’s brother who died in 1910). Ellen Louisa Sadler was born on 17th July 1915. She is indicated in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine as having been baptised in the church on 1st September 1915. Curiously the name is spelt ‘Saddler’ with a double D which matches with how it was written on her father’s birth certificate. Two tots who were dangled in the St Mary’s font not long before her that summer are worthy of mention. Leonard Francis Jewell, our old mate who recently passed away at the age of one hundred and one and a half years old. Also the fantastically named Horatio Herbert Kitchener Skelton who lived at 13 Summerstown. Whatever happened to him?

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Just before his 32nd birthday, George joined the 5th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers on 27th November 1915 in Wandsworth under the Derby Scheme. He gave his occupation as chamberman. At some stage he transfered to the 2nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, known as the Die-Hards. In the spring of 1917, the Germans were retreating to the Hindenberg Line defence. In a preliminary move in the Battle of Arras, at 445am on 30th March, 2nd Middlesex were part of an attack on the village of Heudicourt. Somehow in this offensive, George Stanley Sadler was killed. He was unlucky, as in his book ‘The Die Hards in the Great War’ Everard Wyrall recounts that ‘the advance had been made at a trifling cost, for between 17th March and 4th April only two officers are reported wounded while in other ranks the losses are given as five killed, fourteen wounded and two missing’. George Sadler is buried in Heudicourt Communal Cemetery Extension. Its a small graveyard with only 85 identified casualties.

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Julia moved with her family and the children to 3 Burgoyne Road, off Landor Road, not too far from where Brixton Academy is today. They eventually all settled in the Maidstone district of Kent. The National Roll of the Great War is a 14 volume series of short biographical sketches of British soldiers who served, including some who died, in the First World War. The volumes are arranged geographically according to where the soldier was from. Amongst a section covering south London, Private G S Sadler is mentioned. ‘He joined in June 1916, and crossing to France in the following September, took part in various engagements. He fell fighting in the Somme sector on March 30th 1917, and is buried in the Communal Cemetery Extension at Heudicourt. He was entitled to the General Service and Victory Medals’. It ends with a quotation ‘His life for his country, his soul to God’.

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It must have been very hard on George to lose his mother at the age of six and have three stepmothers come and go. His family was broken up and his brother Arthur Richard put into a home. He was fortunate to find comfort in a young family of his own, something to consider when next passing 684 Garratt Lane.

Thanks to Marion Gower for piecing together the details of this very moving story.

Upper Tooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are indebted to Jill Stock for sharing her family history with us.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Love to All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George’s Door

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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