St.Martin of Tours
Church Road, Chelsfield, BR6 7SN
St Martin’s War Memorial and the 100th Anniversary of the First World War
On Remembrance Sunday 2015 I listened to the names being read out reverently by Brian Kemp, always a moving moment as there are so many names for such a small parish. Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War started 18 months ago, but it hadn’t occurred to me before to specifically think about the people that lived in our parish who died.
I was inspired to start a research project on them, to find out where they lived and when they died, in order to write a short article each month on those who died 100 years before, so that we could remember and honour them individually. Although we’re already one and a half years in, the research I’ve done shows most of our casualties died from 1916 onwards. The few that I have missed I will write about in months where there isn’t someone to remember 100 years before.
Someone may have already researched this in the past but, as some of you know, I’m very interested in genealogy and social history, so I’ve done it again for my own interest. However I have drawn a few blanks, so I’d be grateful for any help readers can give. Are you related to anyone on the memorial, or do you know anyone who might be? I know Jean Burgess’ uncle George is on it and we had a lovely chat about him and her father. Do you know of any existing research?
The names I’m particularly stuck on are Sidney Davis, William Finn, William Golding, Thomas Graves, James Hills [could be John], Noah Hillman, Walter Mathewson, and Frederick Theobold [could be Theobald]. I can find military records to match these names, but sometimes there are several people with the same name. I've found some census records for 1911 that could also be a match, but not enough evidence to tie the two together. Some cunning detective work has already been employed to trace Albert Miles, whose father Enos lived in Well Hill. There was another Enos Miles with a son Albert who also died, who lived in Shoreham, so I was led astray for a while, but the census helped unravel the mix up.
Ann Blatcher looked for church magazines for the relevant years, but interestingly none were produced for the entire period of the First World War. The memorial itself is not totally helpful! It’s not in alphabetical order in places, and I think there may be spelling mistakes in a couple of names. The spelling of people’s names in official records did vary quite a lot sometimes, but by the First World War things were more accurate. However the current memorial was made in the 1950’s, to commemorate both World Wars, and replaced an old wooden one that may not have been in the best of condition and perhaps not legible in places.
More will be revealed in future church magazines when I write about the individual soldiers, but for now if you do have any information I would love to hear from you. The following pages list those soldiers already written.
Tel: 07826 516481
Or find me in the tower ringing bells or in the choir at Evensong.
10022 Private John Collins, of the 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, is recorded as the son of John and Bertha Collins of ‘Bo Peep’, Chelsfield, Kent. He was 35 when he was killed in action on 14th March 1915, during the ‘Action of St Elois’ following the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. He has no known grave, but is listed on a panel of the memorial at Le Touret in Pas de Calais, France. He was awarded the Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1914-15 Star, which are the standard three medals awarded to soldiers who served in WWI. The medal card record reveals that Private Collins was sent to France on 24th February 1915, which means he died only three weeks after going to the front for the first time.
John Collins was a career soldier; he was already in the army in the census taken in 1901. He was born in Pembury and his parents lived in that area for the next few years, Mr Collins working as a carter on Horseshoe Farm at Tonbridge. By 1901 they are living in the ‘Bo Peep’ area of Well Hill, near the ‘White Hart’ pub, as the Bo Peep was then known. In 1911 the family were living in Hewitts Cottages and Mr Collins is listed as being a ‘waggoner on farm’, presumably Hewitts.
More will be revealed in future magazines when I write about the individual soldiers, but for now if you do have any information on John Collins, or any of the WWI casualties listed on our war memorial, I’d be very interested to hear from you. Please contact me Philippa Rooke firstname.lastname@example.org
233064 Able Seaman Andrew H Symons was serving on HMS Lion when it was involved in the Battle of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915. Fighting was fierce and HMS Lion was hit several times, and at some point Symons was hit in the head by shrapnel. He was transferred to HMS Vivid, a land-based Naval establishment, and died of wounds on 29 April 1915. He is buried in the Woodlands Cemetery at Gillingham, and his memorial includes the words ‘our beloved shipmate’. Andrew Symons is listed as the son of Henry Herbert and Annie Symons of 2 Prospect Place, Green Street Green, which is probably Prospect Cottages, Pratts Bottom.
Andrew Henry Symons was born in Wexford in 1889, and in 1901 he is still living in Ireland, Trabolgan, Corkbeg, Cork with his parents. The census shows father Henry is a Chief Boatman of the Coastguard, aged 43, and was born in England. His wife Annie was born in County Cork, Ireland, and they have three other children living with them, as well as Henry’s mother Ann who is 75 and was also born in England. Trabolgan is right on the peninsula south east of Cork – if you look on a map you can see why the presence of a coastguard was very important in this area.
Andrew Symons joined the Royal Navy in 1909 aged 18 – his record says he had brown hair, grey eyes, was 5ft 7.5in tall and had scars on his right knee. In the 1911 census he is registered as an Able Seaman at Keyham Barracks in Devonport and his birthplace is given as Kilmuckridge, County Wexford. His Royal Navy record is very detailed and he wasn’t always a model seaman!
In 1911 his parents are living in Falmouth where Henry is the Chief Officer of HM Coastguard, presumably quite an important position at this time. His mother is still living with them at the age of 84. What I can’t discover is what brought them to Pratts Bottom (Prospect Cottages are at the bottom of Rushmore Hill) less than 4 years later.
On our memorial Andrew’s surname has a ‘d’ in it (Symonds), but it is Symons on all records. He is also commemorated on the new war memorial at St Margaret’s, Green Street Green, made in 1996, as is his brother Herbert Henry. Herbert was also in the Royal Navy but isn’t on our memorial, perhaps because he didn’t die until 1921, presumably of wounds sustained during the war.
If you have any information on Andrew Symons, or any of the WWI casualties listed on our war memorial, I’d be very interested to hear from you. Please contact me at email@example.com or find me in the tower ringing bells or in the choir at Evensong.
For more information on the Battle of Dogger Bank, including pictures of HMS Lion, visit:
Lieutenant Wilfred Henry Wescott Haslam served in 4th Battalion of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. He obtained his commission in the Royal West Kent Regiment in 1913, and on the outbreak of war was sent to India, being transferred in August 1915 to the Persian Gulf. According to his medal record card he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. He was killed in action aged 29 on 7th February 1916 helping to defend a camp at Butaniya in Iraq , and he is buried in the War Cemetery at Basra.
Wilfred Haslam was the son of Mrs Ethel Haslam, of Dagenham House, Newton Abbot, and the late Rev Frederick Haslam, Vicar of Hernhill, Faversham. It wasn’t clear why Wilfred Haslam is remembered on our war memorial until I discovered that in 1911 he was living in Orpington with his widowed mother, a sister Dorothy and two servants. On the census their house is called Harbledown, and is next door to houses called Avoca, Summerleas and Ballyhooly in Warren Road. Wilfred was born in Rickmansworth, and in the 1891 census he is living, aged 4, with his parents Frederick and Ethel in Tweedy Road in Bromley. His father Frederick is listed as being a Clerk in Holy Orders and a Curate. In the 1901 census Wilfred is at school at Marlborough College, and in 1911 he is working as an insurance clerk. He is also remembered on the war memorial at Hernhill, and on an inscription on his father’s grave there.
According to information I found on the website KentFallen, Wilfred was educated at Marlborough College from 1900 to 1904, and played for the Rugby XV at the College in his final year, winning the annual matches against Wellington and Clifton College. On leaving school he played for the Nomads, the Marlborough Old Boys team based in Surbiton, Surrey, a founding member of the Rugby Football Union. In April 1911 the club merged with Rosslyn Park, which became the preferred London club for old Marlburians. Wilfred served four years as a Private in the Honourable Artillery Company, in the City of London, while he worked as a Lloyds Insurance Broker for Messrs Dalgety & Co. of Bishopsgate Street, London.
If you have any information on Wilfred Haslam, or any of the WWI casualties listed on our war memorial, I’d be very interested to hear from you. Please contact me Philippa Rooke firstname.lastname@example.org
or find me in the tower ringing bells or in the choir at Evensong.
 Detailed description of the battle in which Lieutenant Haslam lost his life is on the linked website (page 175) - www.janetandrichardsgenealogy.co.uk/QORWK%20-%20C%20T%20ATKINSON%20Ch%2011.pdf
Private G/2202 Oliver Corke was killed in action, aged 28, on the first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916. He was in the 7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, which took part in the ‘Battle of Albert’, one of the very first offensive operations in the Battle of the Somme.
Corke is buried in the Combles Communal Cemetery Extension in France. He was the son of Thomas & Naomi Corke of Well Hill, and in the 1911 census he was a gatemaker in West Hoathley, Sussex, which is where is parents were born. In 1901 the family were living in Well Hill in a cottage next to the Rock and Fountain pub, and father Thomas is listed as a ‘Lath render and park pail cleaver’ – the latter is someone who splits wood, particularly chestnut, to make gates, fences etc (thank you Richard George for this explanation). As a boy Oliver was a member of Chelsfield Church choir and of the Parish Church Sunday School. He attended the village school and in 12 July 1899 he received a prize for proficiency and good conduct from Mr Norman the Chairman of the School Board, at the annual Prizes event.
One of the two well-documented of the names on the memorial, (the other being Maurice Asprey), he is commemorated in a stained glass window in the church opposite the South Door, and remembered on the family grave which is to the left of the path into the new churchyard. 2nd Lieutenant Stewart Alexander Miller-Hallett of the 11th Battalion South Wales Borderers was killed in action on 11th July 1916. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France, one of the most visually striking monuments of the battlefields.
Stewart Miller-Hallett was the second son of Alexander & Amy Frances Miller-Hallett of Goddington House. He went to Rugby School and there is a lot of information on a site dedicated to ex-Rugbeans who fell in the Great War, from which I quote: He entered the School in 1905, leaving in 1909, and was in the XI in 1908 and 1909 (he was later a member of the MCC). After leaving Rugby he passed through the Central Technical School of Engineering, South Kensington. In September 1914 he joined the Public Schools Brigade and obtained a Commission in the South Wales Borderers in the summer of 1915. He went to the Front in France in December 1915, and in May 1916 was attached to the Brigade Staff. He was killed in action by machine-gunfire in Mametz Wood on July 11th 1916 while carrying an important verbal message from the General, accompanied by a runner who was badly wounded, but escaped. His Colonel wrote :- "I cannot tell you how much I sympathise with you on the loss of your dear boy; he had a charming personality which endeared him to us all, and was in addition a splendid Officer. Not long ago I picked him out to join our General's Staff, and I know how much he appreciated him." The Brigadier-General wrote :- "May I add my sincere sympathy in your grievous loss? Your son was attached to my Staff. He was a gallant lad, always cheery, bright and willing, and had endeared himself to us all. He was a son I should have been proud of, and his absence causes a great blank here.”
Rifleman 551287 Albert John Miles was also killed in action on 1st July 1916, aged 31. He was a member of the 16th Battalion of the London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles), who were in action on The Somme taking part in the diversionary attack at Gommecourt, designed to pin German forces to their trenches and attract artillery fire away from the main assault. Albert Miles is buried at the Gommecourt British Cemetery No 2, Hebuterne in France. He was the eldest son of Enos and Harriet Miles of Well Hill; Enos was a ‘flower and fruit grower’ on the 1901 census, and Albert is a ‘house boy’. Albert attended Chelsfield School, and must have been a diligent boy as the school log records he was awarded School Board prizes for good conduct and proficiency three times, with a prize for drawing in 1896. Before enlisting he had been a butler in the household of Raymond Asquith, the Prime Minister’s son, who was himself killed in action later in the war. Pam Temple points out that this in itself is interesting, as in 1915/16 Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was coming under mounting pressure to conscript men like Miles, contrary to his own inclination. The question was whether married men should be forced to go and leave their families as opposed to volunteering, but volunteering wasn't producing enough "cannon fodder" so Asquith had to push it through, as recorded in Roy Jenkins' 1964 biography of him.
Private G/4756 Walter Boothby Cade of the 1st Battalion Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment was killed in action on 22nd July 1916, aged 40. His battalion was involved in an action to capture Wood Lane, near Longueval and Bazentin le Grande; he is also remembered on the Thiepval Memorial as he has no known grave. He is recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission papers as husband of Mrs Rhoda Cade of 1 Ash Road, Green Street Green, and he was father of Edward Cade, who is also on the memorial as he was in the Royal Artillery and died of wounds in September 1916. Mrs Cade lost her husband and eldest son within two months, and was left to bring up five young children. When Walter Cade signed up in December 1914, he states he was born in St Neots, Huntingdonshire, and lives at 8 Chelsfield Lane, Green Street Green; he gives his occupation as ‘baker and confectioner’. In the 1911 census the family were living at 8 Stearn’s Cottages, World’s End Lane and he was a farm labourer.
Private 18325 Frederick George Checksfield was killed in action on 23rd July 1916, aged 20. He was in the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, who on that day took part in an attack on enemy strongpoints located in the orchards to the north of Delville Wood, Longueval in France. The attack began at 3.40am and despite early success the battalion was driven back to Pont Road by enemy counter attacks.
Checksfield is buried in the cemetery at Delville Wood; his gravestone has the epitaph ‘Death Divides But Memory Clings’. He was the son of Edward & Rose Checksfield of Hewitts Cottages, and his brother Sidney also joined up but fortunately survived the war. On the 1911 census it shows Frederick was born in Wateringbury and his father is at Hewitts as ‘Farmer’s Bailiff’. In 1901 the census shows they are living at Hewitts Cottages next door to John Collins, who is also on this memorial.
106169 Gunner Thomas Hopkins of the 81st (Howitzer) Brigade Royal Field Artillery enlisted on 24th August 1915 and underwent only a brief training before sent to the war. He was an scholar of Pratts Bottom and Chelsfield Village Schools. He died of wounds aged 20 on the 2nd August 1916 and is buried at the Carnoy Military Cemetery in France. He was the son of Thomas & Alice Hopkins of Station Cottages, Warren Road; father Thomas worked at Court Lodge Farm. There are no records about where Thomas was injured but his brigade saw action during The Battle of Albert in which the Division captured Fricourt and took part in the Battle of Delville Wood, so it is very likely he was hurt during this and taken to the field hospital north of Carnoy, which had been established in July.
In the 1911 census Thomas is 15 and a farm labourer, living with his parents and a younger brother and sister at Station Cottages; he was born in Carshalton. In 1901 the family were living in Ash Road, two doors down from a Frederick Theobald and his family. This Frederick Theobald is very likely to be the one on our memorial but I haven’t found a link yet to a specific casualty. I will keep searching.
George Asprey and his wife Florence moved to the Court Lodge, Chelsfield, in 1892; a well-to-do silversmith, George later became Chairman of the family business in Bond Street. Before his marriage to Florence he was a widower with a young son, Kenneth, while the family was soon added to by the births at Chelsfield of Philip, Maurice, Joan and Eric. Philip's son, also named Maurice, has very kindly lent me much family memorabilia for copying, including George's diary. That has daily entries from 1893 until his death in 1918, a wonderfully detailed account of happy family life at the Court Lodge. This was in some ways a golden era, but it was not without tragedy for the Aspreys. Joan died of meningitis in 1907 and is commemorated by a stained glass window in St. Martin's church, where the family were devoted worshippers. On the evidence of the diaries they were also model employers to their numerous servants.
The outbreak of the Great War came as a sudden shock, and Maurice was soon serving in France as a Captain in the Buffs. George and Florence sent parcels of food, clothing and tobacco to him, to be distributed to the troops under him.
Writing to his mother from France after Christmas 1915, Maurice thanked her for her present to him, a tiepin "…it was a topping one…The men enjoyed the pudding very much indeed,…I gave the men 50 cigarettes each on Xmas Day which I got from a Field Force Canteen in Calais …I kept one box for myself, and they are quite good….[the men] are extraordinary in their tastes. Some would give a whole box of good cigarettes away for a few wild woodbines…"
He wrote reassuringly to Florence a few weeks before his death " am up for a few weeks in the trenches. Have quite a nice dugout, weather's good and the Bosche has not been too objectionable…" Nonetheless he was killed in action, aged 23, on 12th August 1916 when commanding a Trench Mortar Battery. I have a photo of the wooden cross which was originally erected over his grave. Later the Imperial War Graves Commission erected a gravestone over his final resting place in Bray Military Cemetery. He is commemorated also on memorials in St. Martin's church and churchyard.
The National Army Museum has an online microsite dedicated to Maurice Asprey, with photographs he took on front line online and excerpts from his diary, which is well worth a look: http://www.nam.ac.uk/microsites/ww1/1562/news/captain-maurice-asprey/#.V4vyt7grKhc
17681 Private William Edward Fathers of the 7th Battalion East Surrey Regiment died of wounds, aged 22, on the 17th August 1916. He is buried in Puchevilliers British Cemetery in France. He was the son of Thomas and Susan Jane Fathers, of Hill Brow, Craven Estate, Chelsfield. William was born in Deptford, and in 1911 he is living there with his parents and seven siblings in Church Street. He is a fishmonger like his father, and ten years before on the 1901 census they are living same address, but father is a boot repairer. It’s not clear when William was injured but I have found an online Regiment war diary for his specific battalion which makes interesting reading:
For me this is one of the more moving stories, as it brings home not only the circumstances in which these men died, but the effect of the war on families. 78266 Gunner Edward Walter Cade of 150th Battery, 22 Brigade Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds age 19, on the 25th September 1916, and is buried in the Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt L'Abbe in France. This was a big field hospital, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC] website records that burials in this cemetery were carried out under extreme pressure, and many of the graves are either too close together to be marked individually, or they contain multiple burials. Edward is buried with two other soldiers who died at the same time. He was the son of Mrs Rhoda Cade of 1 Ash Road, Green Street Green; you may remember from the July magazine his father Walter was killed in action. Mrs Cade was left to bring up five young children having lost her husband and eldest son within two months.
16778 Acting Sergeant Herbert Game served in the 11th Battalion of the Essex Regiment, and was killed in action on 15 October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. A relative of his has given more details of his life on a website dedicated to wartime memories and I’ve included that here.
The son of Robert Game and Sarah Ann Willingham, Herbert Game was born on 26th Oct 1878 in Cockfield, Suffolk. He was part of a large family with many siblings, and was an agricultural labourer. By the outbreak of the war he had married Alice Symons, the daughter of a coastguard officer, in Blackmore, Essex and had three children. In 1911 he and his family were living in Ongar Road, Brentwood. Although the exact date is not known, he volunteered to serve in the army as one of Kitchener’s K3 tranche of volunteers and served in the 11th Service Battalion Essex Regiment. He was killed during the Battle of Le Transloy, probably in a pre-dawn attack when the 11th Essex overran Mild Trench and bombed up the Beaulencourt road before being forced back by a counter-attack. His body was never found and his death is therefore commemorated on the Thiepval memorial. At some point his family must have moved to this area as his daughter Elizabeth was registered as being born in Farnborough, Kent in 1915. In 1922 his wife Alice remarried, a Robert Clark, and records on the CWGC website shows that they lived at ‘Melrose’, Chelsfield Lane (probably Worlds End Lane), Green Street Green.
More information on the battle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Le_Transloy
Wartime memories project: http://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/view.php?uid=216630
A/129397 Staff Sergeant Louis Percy Martin died aged 38 on 26th September 1916 of enteric fever at home here in Chelsfield. Army Service Corps (Canteen). He was the son of Samuel & Mary Martin, and lived with his wife Mary and daughter Clarissa at 4 Edith Villas, Warren Road. He is buried in St Martin's Churchyard, in the section by the car park, with a Commonwealth War Grave headstone but his name isn’t on the war memorial in the porch. Louis Martin signed up in September 1915; unfortunately, his Service Record file shows that he was discharged from military service on 3rd September 1916 ‘owing the fact that his standard of intelligence was not high enough to carry out his canteen duties’. A later note says he was ‘medically unfit’. In the file there is also a newspaper cutting recording the details of the inquest following his sudden death at home shortly after; there is also a photograph but sadly it is not clear enough to reproduce here. The report says that Martin had recently returned home ill from Salonika where he had been serving with the British Expeditionary Force. It is apparent that the coroner didn’t know that he was no longer in the army. The report records that before joining up Martin had been a Ship’s Steward with the Union-Castle Steamship Company. He had also served in the Boer War on ships conveying troops. It is difficult to understand how a man who had risen to the rank of Ship’s Steward for a prestigious company could be though not intelligent enough to carry out canteen duties. It’s also a mystery why he’s not on the war memorial - if they didn’t include him because they discovered he had been discharged from the army, it’s unlikely he would have received a CWCG headstone, as these were created after the war when his full history must have been known. His service record shows he was posthumously awarded the standard serving medals and the memorial scroll of honour that all combatants received, which again was processed long after the war ended. A small mystery.
L/8750 Private George Edwin Dolley of the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment was Jean Burgess’ uncle, and her brother was named after him. He was the son of Stephen and Mary Dolley who lived at 13 Laxey Road, Green Street Green. Jean tells me that George and his family lived at Halstead before the war, and the family moved to Laxey Road during WWI. George was born in Richmond, Surrey in 1888, but his father Stephen was born in Halstead, and family returned there not long before the 1901 census.
Jean explains George and his brother Ernest both lied about their age to join the Army, George at 14 pretending he was 16. In the 1911 census they are both already in the Army, and are together in India. Records about his army service are sketchy but George was a prisoner of war in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) when he died on 28th October 1916, aged 27, and he is buried in the Basra military cemetery.
More information on the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment in World War I:
12987 Private Herbert Charles Sewell of the 7th Battalion the Royal Sussex died of wounds on 16th April 1917 aged 40. He is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery France. He is listed as the son of the late William Alfred and Rose Sewell, and husband of Emily J Sewell of 'Retreat', Laxey Road, Green Street Green. He’s also remembered on the war memorial at St Mary’s Green Street Green. In the official Commonwealth War Graves listing he is a ‘native of Clapham Rise London’.
Herbert was born in Clapham in about 1877, and on the census for 1881 he is aged three, living with parents William & Rose, and five brothers and sisters in Clapham Road. William is listed as a horse dealer but later, on Herbert’s marriage record, he is listed as a veterinary surgeon. By 1901 Herbert is living in a boarding house in Westbourne Grove, with at least 30 other people – the living conditions can’t have been very pleasant - and is listed a drapers assistant.
In 1911 Herbert is living in Reedworth Street, Kennington, with his wife Emily (nee Parker), whom he married in 1903 at St Philip’s, Lambeth, and three young children, Cecil, Kathleen and Rosemary. He’s still a Draper’s Assistant, but unusually for the census it also specifically states he works for ‘Liberty & Co’. Sewell’s army service records haven’t survived but as he enlisted at Bromley, and his wife was listed as living in Laxey Road at the time of his death, perhaps he had moved to a new job in Green Street Green before he joined up.
The 7th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment was formed in September 1914 by men volunteering for Lord Kitchener's New Armies and landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as part of the 36th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division in June 1915 for service on the Western Front. As Herbert Sewell died on 16th April 2017 of wounds, I think it’s possible he was injured as they were taking part in the Nivelle Offensive in the Battle of Arras. The French Commander-in-Chief, General Robert Nivelle, ordered a new offensive against the German trenches, promising that it would end the war within 48 hours. The 16th April attack, also known as Chemin des Dames, after the area where the offensive took place, would be 1.2 million men strong, to be preceded by a week-long artillery bombardment and accompanied by tanks. However, the operation proceeded poorly as the French troops, with the help of two Russian brigades, had to negotiate rough, upward-sloping terrain. In addition, detailed planning had been dislocated by the voluntary German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. Secrecy had been compromised and German planes gained control of the sky making reconnaissance difficult. This allowed the creeping barrage to move too far ahead of the advancing troops. Within a week 100,000 soldiers were casualties.
Herbert’s headstone has the simple message ‘Requiescat in pace’, which was paid for by a Miss Violet Sewell, C/o Athenaeum, 107 Pall Mall. Violet was one of Herbert’s sisters, and as in 1911 she was a Housekeeper for a large London hotel, the Hotel Russell in Russell Square, I suspect she was not a member, so perhaps she had moved to work at this esteemed London Gentlemen’s Club.
Percy Harry Thorpe
M/16987 Percy Harry Thorpe, who served in the Royal Navy as an Engine Room Artificer 4th Class on HMS Tyne, and died on 22 May 1917 aged 29. He is special for us because he is not buried at sea, or in a cemetery in a different country, but in St Martin’s churchyard. Looking at the records it appears he was invalided out of service on 23 August 1916 for tuberculosis, so perhaps he died at home but was recognised as a casualty of war because of his service. I can imagine the conditions he worked in could have contributed to his condition.
Percy Thorpe’s wife is recorded as Edith Emily Thorpe of 2 Oak Road, Green Street Green, and his parents were John and Emma Thorpe of Bilsington, Ashford. I think Percy and his wife may have had at least one child, as there is an Irene Pedder buried in the same plot and her maiden name was Irene Thorpe; she was born in 1913.
The Royal Naval record of Seaman’s Services says Percy was born on 8 June 1887 at Ashford in Kent. His occupation is given as Fitter and Turner. He enlisted on 12 November 1915 and served at HMS Pembroke II, then on HMS Tyne, and then at HMS Pembroke II again. His Royal Naval occupation, Engine Room Artificer [ERA], was a fitter, turner or boilermaker, competent in the workings of engines and boilers, and trained in the maintenance and operation and uses of all parts of marine engines. ERAs were the senior maintainers and operators of all warship mechanical plant. HMS Pembroke II is interesting because it was a Royal Naval Air Station, at Eastchurch, so perhaps Percy was also involved in the maintenance of aircraft for this precursor of the RAF. HMS Tyne was a depot ship, which among other things act as a floating workshop for small mobile units.
Looking at his early life, on the census in 1911 Percy Thorpe is living with his brother, who was a Publican, in the White Horse pub in Long Acre, Covent Garden. Percy’s occupation is given as an Engineer for a firm of button makers. Further back in 1901 he’s living with his parents in Hambeldon, Surrey, and his father John is a Gamekeeper.
G/4748 Corporal Frederick James Wickham of the 7th Battalion Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment was killed in action on 21 July 1917 aged 33. His body was never found so he is remembered on the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium. Frederick was the son of Mary Ann and Thomas Wickham of Oak Road, Green Street Green, and he was baptised at St Martin’s on 17 February 1884. From the 1881 census Frederick’s father was a blacksmith in Pratts Bottom but it appears he died soon after Frederick was born, as in the 1891 census Frederick’s mother Mary is a widow, living with her parents in Otford without the children. It seems the children had been found homes elsewhere, as one is on the census as having been adopted by a family in St Mary Cray. However, I can’t find Frederick, so perhaps he was also adopted and given the surname of the family he was living with.
By 1901 Frederick is reunited with his mother, living with her in Banks Cottages next to All Souls church in Pratts Bottom, and working as an agricultural labourer. In 1911 he is still living with his mother and her grandson Thomas but they have moved to Oak Road, just off World’s End Lane. He married Alice Rosina Tomkins at Green Street Green on 3rd August 1912 and at the time he signed up they were living at 2 Nash Cottages, St Paul’s Cray. His attestation papers say he had already served 6 ½ years in the Territorial section of the Royal West Kent’s, in 1/4th Volunteer Battalion. He signed up on 30 November 1914 and is recorded as being 5ft 3½ inches tall – at that height the ½ was important! The 7th Battalion of the QORWK formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in Europe. Frederick’s army service record shows he was sent back to England in 1916 to recover from Bronchitis. It also shows he was reprimanded in the field on 12 July 1916 for ‘playing cards at 10.45pm’!
In 1917 the 7th Battalion took part in the Operations on the Ancre including Miraumont and the capture of Irles, they fought during The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line and in The Third Battle of the Scarpe before moving to Flanders. I can’t find a reference to a specific battle in the period in July that Frederick was killed, so perhaps he died earlier but was only confirmed as missing on 21 July.
His widow Rosina’s address is initially given as 1 Chelsfield Terrace, Green Street Green, but later she has remarried and is living in Carlisle. She received the war widow’s pension of 15/- a week.
In 1918 Frederick’s mother is living at Edith Villas, New Road, Green Street Green.
48788 Private Frederick Smith of the 52nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment died on 27 July 1917 aged 40. Like Louis Martin, Frederick Smith is not on our memorial but is buried with a Commonwealth War Grave headstone in our churchyard. As with Percy Thorpe, who died at home in May 1917, I would imagine this is because he gave loyal service before succumbing to illness and being invalided out. He lived at Rounds in Chelsfield village with his parents James and Emma Smith and their large family, and in 1911 he is registered on the census as being a carpenter for Bromley Board of Guardians, who ran the local workhouses; his army record says he had been employed by them for 13 years. His father James was also a carpenter. Frederick signed up in November 1915, but was discharged in December 1916 as being no longer physically fit for war service, and it appears he was never sent to the Front. Sadly his army record shows he developed cancer, and it seems he married his wife Lucy only two months before he died.
Sapper William Hills was one of 8 children and 2nd son of Thomas & Elizabeth Hills born in Spring 1876 at their cottage on Well Hill. Thomas Hills was an agricultural labourer. He had married Elizabeth Baldwin from the adjacent parish of Eynsford just six years earlier. They wasted little time in having William christened at the ancient parish church of St Martin of Tours on March 19, 1876.
In 1891, William aged only 15, was lodging with the family of John Mitchell, the foreman of Court Lodge Farm where he was employed to tend the horses. In February 1898, William just turning 22 married Susan Ann Hayes. William and Susan first set up home in a house in Lower Road, Orpington. But it meant William had been obliged to leave the land and work instead as a navvy on the railways.
By 1911 he was working for his uncle, John Baldwin, as a waggoner at Hulberry Farm. William and Susan had to wait an agonising 15 years before they had their first child. Florence was born in November 1913. In less than two years his life was twice rocked by tragedy. Little Florence lived only a few weeks and died in February 1914. The couple moved to another farm, Waldens, just three miles along Eynsford Road from Hulberry Farm. William had secured another position there, again as a waggoner. On Friday, August 7, 1915 Susan collapsed. The local doctor was called but she was already dead from cerebral haemorrhage. In just 18 months William had lost his entire family.
This personal tragedy took place in the midst of a national crisis. Across the channel the savage conflict in France and Belgium was accompanied by daily reports of a staggering loss of life among the British forces. At the time of Susan’s death the British army still comprised of volunteers. But within just a few months a new scheme was introduced, a precursor to conscription, and although William was now nearly 40 years old he would be caught in the net. By the end of 1915 William had come forward to “attest” his eligibility for service. He was given a grey armband with a red crown to indicate he had volunteered and was placed in the Army Reserve. In July 1916 he received his orders. He was to join the British Expeditionary Force.
On his attestation form William had described himself as an “excavator” rather than a waggoner. This, together with his diminutive stature (he was only 5 foot 4 inches tall) meant he was immediately identified for one of the most demanding jobs on the front - a tunneller.
Sapper William Hills joined the 254th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers and was sent to Clipstone Camp in Nottinghamshire for a month’s training before posting to Flanders. In September 1916 William was near the town of Bethune. Here by the tiny village of Givenchy the two armies had been waging an underground war since the start of hostilities. Throughout the second half of 1916 William and his comrades were digging tunnels deep under enemy lines. When the mines they placed in those tunnels were detonated everything and everyone immediately above was destroyed. The work was backbreaking and dangerous and the risk of a tunnel collapse ever-present. Sometimes it was just an accident but more often it was the consequence of enemy listening devices detecting the Allied digging.
In May 1917 William’s 254th Tunnelling Company was sent to Ypres. When the tunnellers weren’t working underground they were employed in building and maintaining trenches and roads just behind the front line. Ironically it was working on this mundane task rather than the infinitely more dangerous tunnelling work that placed William in mortal peril.
In the early hours of the morning of July 31, 1917 the British launched the third Ypres offensive and triggered the bloody episode now known simply as Passchendaele. Torrential rain was falling as the sappers of the 254th Tunnelling Company were sent forward to work on the roads in the front line. The company’s war diary names the area of activity as around St Jean and Wiltje. These are two small settlements only a mile apart and now called Sint-Jan and Wieltje that lie just to the east of Ypres. When the opening barrage began at 3.50 am on July 31 the front line ran north to south through Wieltje.
The sappers of the 254th Tunnelling Company were operating on the edge of the unfolding battle. On that first day British troops pushed forward behind the advancing artillery bombardment and by day’s end had advanced the line several hundred metres. But German forces had not been completely eliminated. In isolated pockets behind the new front line there were machine gun nests and fortified farms still under their control.
The following day William Hills and his comrades were again deployed on roadwork, but now in the previously occupied area beyond Wieltje. The conditions were shocking. The terrain, already churned up by artillery fire and destroyed German fortifications, had been turned into a quagmire by the heavy rain.
Unexpectedly the team of sappers became exposed to enemy fire. Three of William’s comrades were killed outright. He and another six sappers were wounded.
Suffering from gunshot wounds to the legs he was carried by stretcher-bearers through the mud first to a nearby dressing station and then to a Casualty Clearing Station behind the front line. But the severity of his wounds meant he had then to be transferred to the Base Hospital 140 miles to the south in Rouen.
It’s possible that he didn’t survive the long trip south or perhaps he clung on for a day or so at the hospital the Allies had erected on the Rouen racecourse. The official records only show that on August 4, 1917 Sapper William Hills died from wounds.
Today William Hills lies alongside 12,000 of his comrades at St. Sever Cemetery in Rouen.
An abridged version of ‘Well Hill brothers in Arms,’ by Shaun Brown – read the full story.