In November 2013, a story in the local Wandsworth Guardian newspaper about Private William Clay, one of the soldiers whose name is on the war memorial in my local church, prompted me to get in touch with Reverend Dr Roger Ryan, vicar of St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. He told me about the commemorative tablet that he found a few years ago honouring three Sunday School teachers from the parish, all killed in the First World War. William Mace, James Crozier and Laurence Gibson.
All lived with their families in houses very close to the church. The memorial to the three men who were all in the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment, was placed in the newly-constructed hall on Garratt Lane in 1926. In a prominent postion facing Burmester Road, this was considered structurally unsound and demolished in 1968. The current building on the site, next to the Texaco garage, a meeting place for The Hindu Society, bears a striking resemblance (see photographs below). The tablet was relocated when a purpose-built Sunday School building on Alston Road was opened in 1930. This was demolished in 1970 when the current wooden hall adjoining the church was put up. Somehow in this move, it would appear the memorial was lost. Amazingly it turned up some twenty years later under a pile of compost in the vicar’s garden. How that could have happened has really puzzled me for the last twelve months. How could something be there one minute and gone the next? An object which had been on display in a public place, known to people and of great symbolism and meaning. Then I heard that a similar thing had happened in regard to a much larger war memorial which was in Tooting Central Methodist Hall. This was demolished in 1967, replaced by a Marks and Spencers store and is now the location of Primark. The original hall built by Joseph Rank, the miller and philanthropist of Hovis fame, was a hugely distinctive and grand building in a prime position opposite Tooting Broadway underground station and capable of holding 2,000 people. Sheila was once given a prize there by Harry Secombe. The First World War memorial which contained 68 names is noted on the Imperial War Museum inventory as ‘lost, fate of tablet unknown’. It seems extraordinary, surely local people would have remembered some of the names on there and ensured its safe-keeping? But as someone who has been researching the Mitcham war memorial for many years recently suggested to me, you have to consider the mood of the time, which was very different from today. It was the height of the swinging sixties, the Beatles and the Stones were playing across the road at The Granada. Who cared about fusty old war memorials? It was the era of ‘O What a Lovely War’. The general view was that it was all a huge waste and if those that had been through it didn’t want to talk about it when why would anyone else bother. How things change! So we should be thankful that the Sunday School Three have emerged when others are still missing, though no doubt the Tooting ‘Methodist68’ are out their somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. Please click on the following link to read The Sunday School Three Story