Petersham’s “Poppy Walk”

Petersham’s First World War Remembrance Walk

This route was devised to avoid areas of heavy traffic and the narrow pavements near the bend on the Petersham Road, known locally as Tommy Steele’s Corner.

The blog Petersham Remembers [https://petershamremembers.wordpress.com] has further information on each person commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial. There are hyperlinks to the main blog post for each person mentioned in the course of the Walk, but you might also wish later to use the search box on the blog to find any information updates or mentions elsewhere of people in whom you have a particular interest.

This walk starts in front of Douglas House, which is situated on the Avenue leading from the Petersham Road towards Ham House. The numbers refer to markings on the map for this walk, one of the boards created for the Petersham Commemoration of the centenary of Armistice Day.

Known since 1725 as Douglas House (1), after Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, it now forms part of the Deutsche Schule London. This house was the childhood home of Victor Biddulph, whose father, George Tournay Biddulph became President of the Petersham Land Troop of Baden Powell Scouts the year after it was founded.

Turn, and walk a short distance in the direction of Petersham Road until you reach a wide path on your left. Turn left on to that path and continue along it to the gate which leads to the Scouts’ field (2).  It is over 100 years since Mr Biddulph made this field available to the Scouts when their earlier meeting places were either no longer available or deemed unsuitable.  Subsequent owners of Douglas House and its grounds have continued to allow the Sea Scouts to make use of this meadow, and to maintain a hut and boathouse there. 

The Petersham Troop, founded in 1908, provided three of the first four Scouts to qualify as King’s Scouts in this country, one of whom was Harold Joel, a high achieving student throughout his school career. His father, Walter, had become involved with the group from 1909, when the Troop’s Founding Scout Master, Alfred Thomas Jewitt, emigrated to Canada. Harold Joel and Victor Biddulph became best friends and after their deaths, their fathers took on the role of Joint Scout Masters. Sixteen former Petersham Scouts lost their lives in WW1­—the percentage of this troop’s servicemen who died on active service was more than double the national average.

Turn back and walk a short distance to a footpath on the left.  Continue along this narrow path to River Lane—Frank Charles Liddle was buried from one of the houses in this road.    Cross River Lane and continue to follow the footpath on the other side of the road.  At the end of this path you should find that you have come out next to the entrance to Petersham Nurseries.  Follow the unmade road, bearing right at the bend and follow it a short distance to the gate of St Peter’s Churchyard (3).  The Parish War Memorial is just inside the gate—it was unveiled and consecrated in 1920. Close by you will find the graves of Frank Liddle and also of Gerald and Montague Hindson-Farren, sons of Henry Farren, the actor, whose former home backs on to the Churchyard. Nearby, at the foot of his mother’s grave, is a memorial to Victor Biddulph.

Turn right as you leave the Churchyard, walking back to the end of the churchyard wall and then follow the path to your right. Take care here as the ground is uneven.  It will lead you to the Petersham Road; as you emerge, the Dysart Arms will be on your right. 

Looking across the road and to the left, just inside Petersham Park, was the site of the Petersham British School (4), established by Lord and Lady Russell in 1852 as a non-denominational school for the children of the poor. After its destruction through enemy action in 1943, the Russell School moved to its present location, where it is a close neighbour to Douglas House.

After crossing at the traffic lights, you need to turn right and walk towards Cedar Heights. On this corner is Bute Lodge (5) (182 Petersham Road), home of Frank Allum, a bright and promising lad employed as a clerk in Kingston’s Education Department, who enlisted, soon after the outbreak of war, in the prestigious Honourable Artillery Company.  He was the son of Alfred Allum, Overseer and Rate Collector for Petersham, who also served as a Sudbrook Ward Councillor for many years.

On the other side of this road, and next to the Dysart Arms, is Parkgate (6) (137 Petersham Road), home of the Farren brothers, the last two casualties from Petersham. Both brothers died at home—Gerald in the 1918 influenza epidemic, and Montague, in March 1919, as a consequence of shell shock, aggravated by his brother’s death.

After crossing Cedar Heights, walk until you reach a footpath on the left. Pause before taking it, to view from this point three significant houses. Ahead of you, on your side of the road, is Reston Lodge, on which Felix Hanbury Tracy’s mother, Ada, Lady Sudeley, took a lease. Her son, Algernon Hanbury Tracy, is buried in St Peter’s Churchyard; neither he nor Frank Liddle is commemorated on the War Memorial. 

Look towards the bend, and the house on the opposite corner, at the start of River Lane.  This is Rutland Lodge (7), which was leased to Jack Stuart Wortley, the highest-ranking officer commemorated on Petersham’s War Memorial. A gallant soldier and colourful personality, Jack was a close friend, and relative by marriage, of the author and war historian, John Buchan, later Lord Tweedsmuir and Governor-General of Canada.

Opposite Rutland Lodge is Montrose House (8), best viewed, because of the wall and non-existent pavement, from the upper deck of a passing bus. This grand mansion was once the home of John Marsh and his wife Gertrude Emma Marsh, and it was there that their grandson, Roger Victor Cecil Hunt, was born in 1895. Although a native of Petersham, his name is not on the War Memorial. Mrs Marsh, a philanthropist and temperance enthusiast founded the local Mission Hall and Coffee House in Petersham, a venue known to locals as the ‘GEM Palace’ (183 and 185 Petersham Road).

Now take that footpath on your left and, ignoring a right-hand fork, follow the path to the end, taking a left turn when you re-join the Petersham Road and continuing into Sudbrook Lane. The childhood home of Hermon Harold Figg was 2 Bute Gardens (9). Harold was a teacher at King’s School, and the only son of Hermon Herbert Figg, for many years the Petersham Parish Clerk and Rent Collector.

Continue along Sudbrook Lane, from which you will turn left into Bute Avenue. This will take you to the prominent building which was once All Saints’ Church (10), a church commissioned by Mrs Lionel Warde as a memorial to her parents. While the church was never consecrated, it was in use as a church and it was there that memorial services for the fallen Scouts were held, as news of their deaths reached the Troop. The fine Memorial Tablet to the Scouts, now in St Peter’s, was moved there when All Saints became privately owned. 

Retrace your steps to Sudbrook Lane, and turn left, walking as far as the entrance to Sudbrook Park.  Turn right into Hazel Lane, just before the entrance, and follow it to the end, where you will again re-join the Petersham Road.  This is a busy road, so you may prefer to take a detour to the left, and to cross it at the traffic lights, before heading back along the Petersham Road.

6 Park Place (215 Petersham Road) was the home for many years of the family of Frederick Morffew, the oldest Petersham man to meet his death on active service.  He enlisted, but was soon discharged when his deafness became apparent. Undeterred, he kept attempting to re-enlist until, at a point when the need of the Army for diggers and tunnellers was paramount, his skills as a roadworker won him a place in the Labour Corps. George Cain, killed in a raid that destroyed parts of Chatham Dockyard, once lived at Brick Cottage (179 Petersham Road). Across the road, (at 226) you will glimpse the home of Frank Hughes, the son of a prominent local builder.  The house has recently been renovated but the drain made by Frank, as part of his apprenticeship as a plumber, has been retained and is visible from the road.

Continue on and turn left into Sandpits Road.  Ernest Wheeler was the son of Edward Wheeler, Queen’s Waterman, and a member of the Wheeler family of Boat Builders in Richmond. W Wheeler can still be seen on the arches at Richmond Bridge.  Ernest grew up in Petersham, at 3 Mayleigh Cottages, later moving to 4 Park Place (219 Petersham Road, just two houses away from the Morffews) but neither he, nor any of his siblings could be induced to continue in the family business. Ernest left the parish, acquired a Scottish wife and found employment elsewhere as a domestic gardener. 

On the left, at the very end of this road, before you come out at the Russell School, is 10 Mayleigh Cottages,the home of Sidney Wilson, who was fostered out at an early age to a local woman, Jane Dulley, whom he named as his next of kin.  Like other young men in the parish looking further afield for work and hoping to acquire a trade, Sidney had signed up in his teens for 7 years’ military service, after which he returned to his foster family. Because he was in the Reserve Army, he was called up when war seemed imminent and was never to achieve his aim of becoming a Carman.

At this point you have the option to return back along Sandpits Road to the Petersham Road. Alternatively, you can continue past the Russell School, and then take the rough path to the right which will come out at the Avenue which leads to Ham House, if you wish to take a detour to the left. Otherwise turn right and go back to your starting point at Douglas House.

If you continue to Ham House, which is most obviously associated with Jack Tollemache, his distant Tollemache cousins, Arthur and Leo, and the Hanbury Tracy families, spare a thought also for Albert Ernest Knowles, a Petersham Scout and the son of the Head Gardener at Ham House. Also associated with Ham House, and commemorated on the Ham Parish War Memorial are Herbert Clarke, a gardener employed at Ham house, and Charles Edward Hack.  Charles’s mother, Emily, was a first cousin of the 9th Lord Dysart and after his wife left him, Lord Dysart invited Emily and her two daughters to join his household and to act as his hostesses when he entertained.

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Petersham’s Forgotten War Graves

The graves of the Farren brothers are not the only Commonwealth War Graves in the Churchyard of St Peter’s.  There are two other graves for men who were on active service at the time of their deaths in 1915.

Neither was a native of the parish, nor strictly speaking a resident for any significant period of time.  The first burial was that of Frank Charles Liddle, who was given a military funeral after his death from enteric fever in 1915.  The other, Algernon Hanbury-Tracy, was an older brother of one of the men commemorated on the Parish War Memorial and, while he was not officially of the parish, the influence of his mother’s Tollemache connections, and the fact that Lady Sudeley moved from Ormeley Lodge to Petersham at about that time, were probably sufficient to seal the deal.

9166 Private Frank Charles Liddle, 2/East Surrey Regiment

Frank Liddle was the son of a blacksmith, George Robert Liddle and his wife, Eliza Caroline Howard.  George and Caroline were married at All Saints’ in Wandsworth, and moved to live in Kingston Vale, then part of the parish of Ham, where all their children were born.  By the time of George’s death, in 1900, the family was living at 94 Washington Road, except for Frank’s elder sister, Mary Ann Elizabeth, whose move to Petersham—after her marriage in 1897 to Harry Marks Randall—may have been what brought Frank’s mother, and eventually Frank himself, to River Lane.  Harry and Mary Ann lived at Elm Lodge Stables for many years.

Frank worked as a carter in Kingston before deciding to enlist in the East Surrey Regiment in 1907.His Service Table suggests that, after a short spell in Jersey, Frank spent the next seven years with the Second Battalion in India and Burma, until eventually, in November 1914 they were ordered back to Europe, arriving on the H.T. Malda. The Battalion’s Diary notes that 21 officers and 908 men arrived at Devonport on the evening of 23 December, departing that night, by train to Winchester.  The exceptions were one officer and one private, who “were there left sick and unfit for service”.  As Frank’s Service Table records his embarking on the Malda, but not his disembarking at Devonport, it would seem that he was probably the private left behind when the battalion, moved off to join up with reinforcements from other battalions in Winchester.  For his battalion, 1915 was a fearful year.  After intensive training and mobilisation, they were sent to Le Havre in mid-January where they continued to train for battle.  Battalion records reveal that of the 1000 men of the Battalion who went “up the line” in 1915, only 200 survived.

I think it very likely that Frank spent his remaining months in an isolation hospital in Sussex,  which is where his death was registered.  Although he cannot have lived in Petersham himself, for very long, if at all, he was given a military funeral and accorded buried in the Churchyard, near to where the Parish War Memorial was later erected.  His grave was, in fact, the first CWGC grave in that burial ground.

I began my research into Frank by locating his burial in the parish register, and working  from that to locate his family.  Viewing the same page in the burial register earlier today, I saw a name immediately below his, which now had added significance.  That burial entry, made about eight weeks after Frank’s death, records the burial of Harry Marks Randall, Frank’s brother-in-law, and also of River Lane.

Major the Honourable Algernon Henry Charles Hanbury-Tracy, Royal Horse Guards, C.M.G.

Algernon Hanbury Tracy was born in Westminster on 11 April 1871, the third child and second son of the 4th Baron Sudeley and his wife, Ada Maria Katherine Tollemache.  He went into the Army, like so many of his Tollemache and Hanbury Tracy relatives, serving in Uganda, Abyssinia and South Africa, and being ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ three times.  He married Frederica Darley in 1905 and there were two children of the marriage, Ursula and Richard.

Algernon died of heart failure at 96 Westbourne Terrace, Hyde Park on 3 December 1915, almost a year after the death of his younger brother, Felix. He is buried in the Churchyard of St Peter, within a stone’s throw of Reston Lodge, where his mother lived for the last few years of her life.

The Second World War was in turn, to bring more grief to the families of Algernon’s children. His son, Richard Algernon Frederick Hanbury-Tracy, by then the 6th Baron Sudeley, was, like his father, a Major in the Royal Horse Guards at the time of his death.  He died at sea, off the coast of Norway, while serving with the No. 8 (Guards) Commando in 1941.

Algernon’s daughter, Ursula Katherine, was the wife of Brigadier Claude Nicholson, who led the brigade which became famous for its heroic defence of Calais in May 1940.  His bravery and leadership continued to be exceptional throughout his captivity, but the unremitting demands of this led to his death, in tragic circumstances, three years later.

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“Baby Edith” revisits Petersham

Not long after uploading my post on the Naylor family, I began to wonder what had happened to little Edith Johnson, the baby who had survived the bombing.  As she’d been so young, I thought there was a good chance she was still “with us”.  In time, this became a nagging feeling, but, because I had course deadlines to meet, I wasn’t free to do that until Christmas Eve and, well…  I took my first chance on Boxing Day, and set to work.  The steps I took to work out who she was, and to identify her parents, are described in the post which I uploaded to Petersham Remembers on 27 December 2016.

Not long after that, I noticed two messages on Facebook, from people unknown to me.  They turned out to be Edie’s son and daughter who had heard about the blog post from their mother and aunt, who had sought their help in locating the person who’d written it.  The first time I spoke to Edie on the phone, we talked for an hour and a half.  As we knew from the newspaper report, that they, and the family’s maid had survived with only minor injuries, I was surprised to learn how very lucky they had been to survive.  Edie was  told by her mother that the force of the bomb had blown the bedroom door off its hinges and hurled it across the room, where it had landed on Edie’s cot. I also discovered that Edie had married one of the Haldenbys from Stretton Road.

It was Edie’s younger sister, Christine, who had first come across my post.  With all the commemorations and exhibitions there have recently been for both World Wars, she had become curious to find out more about her mother and her sister’s escape, when the only bomb to kill civilians in Petersham fell on The Thatch. This was the house to which her mother, sister and grandmother, as well as a cousin, had been billeted, when they were evacuated from the East End, where the family had already survived an earlier bomb that had destroyed their flat.

Christine googled:   bomb + petersham + thatched house.

Google responded to the input of these words with a link to my blog post, The Petersham Evacuees: What became of Edith Johnson?

Had I delayed writing the post beyond Boxing Day, there would have been nothing for Christine to find.  And had she searched just a couple of weeks earlier, there would have been nothing for her to find.  I’ve always appreciated how fortunate that timing was, and also found the ‘niggling feeling’ I had to ‘get on with it’, really rather spooky.

A few weeks ago we met up with Edie and Christine and their husbands in Sandpits Road.  I pointed out to them the cottages nearby where men who are commemorated on the Petersham Parish War Memorial had lived.  And I took them to the location of The Thatch, where we certainly struck lucky.  Despite our turning up out of the blue, we received a genuine welcome and we were shown the nameplate for the old house, “The Thatch”  which seems to have been retained by former owners despite the house’s lack of thatch—plans for its rebuilding after the bomb date from 1947.  I took a photo of the owner, with our four visitors from Bath and Petersfield, with Edie proudly holding the nameplate.  Edie and Christine have told me that that moment was a highlight in a very happy return visit to Petersham.

I took them to the pub, the Royal Oak, so that they could look at the amazing collection of historical photos in Keith Mulberry’s collection.  There we were warmly welcomed by Keith and Louise Dilloway—thank you both, you made our day.  Having mourned the loss of the Royal Oak to developers, I can see what an asset it has now become to the community, thanks to those who worked so hard to restore it to, and for, us.

Keith Mulberry popped in to meet the four pilgrims during that visit and Keith and Rex, Edie’s husband, regaled one another with memories of the old times, triggered and inspired by Keith’s photo collection.  I can see that for emigrants from Ham, this all helps to revive and refresh so many memories.

Looking at the photos in the Royal Oak with Keith Mulberry. Edie is on the right.

Christine is currently busy finding out, from her aunts and other evacuees and from historical records, more about the East End bombing raid which her parents and sister survived and about their experience as evacuees.  Apparently the evacuees, after arriving in Richmond by train, were taken to the Cinema to be allocated to Richmond families.

Edie’s father served in the Second World War, and had already enlisted by the time the family was bombed out of the East End.  His death soon after Christine was born, means that, while Edie has some memories of her father, her sister has none.

Among the photos that Christine and Edie brought with them, was one which included their mother. She is in the middle of the back row in the photo below.  They were moved the day following the ‘Petersham bomb’ to Richmond.  Edie’s mother worked at the Orchard School, in the catering team—possibly about the 1960s—and I think there will be quite a few local people, who would have been at the Orchard then, and may remember her.  Keith Dilloway did!

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Update to my post on the Naylors

Recently, in a comment elsewhere on this blog, Roger Bamkin provided me with a link to a webpage on Marie Naylor, written by John Simkin in 1997.  Interested readers can find more information about  her role as a noted campaigner for Women’s Suffrage.  I have added a link to this information in my post The Naylor family:  Petersham’s civilian losses in the 1940 Blitz.

Simkin, J., ‘Marie Naylor’, http://spartacus-educational.com/WnaylorM.htm, accessed 17/5/2018.

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Eileen Rose Allen (1935–2017)

I have chosen to upload a post about the relative of one of Petersham’s servicemen, because I wish to pay tribute to Eileen Allen, whom I have come to know over the past six years or so. Our initial contact was in connection with my research of the stories behind the names of the people commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial.

Eileen Allen and her brother, Frederick, were natives of Petersham, and the only grandchildren of Frederick George Morffew, who is commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial.

However, as the member of a family that has had a presence in Ham for at least 200 years, Eileen was also related to several men on Ham’s War Memorial.  As an example of this connection, I will soon upload a post on Walter Stanley (alias Frederick) Benson to Ham Remembers.  W.S. Benson turned out to be the half-brother of Eileen’s Auntie Vi—Violet Emmeline Buckner, the wife of Eileen’s great-uncle, Robert Samuel Morffew. Older residents may remember Vi as the wife of the bootmaker  near the New Inn.  Indeed, if rumours Eileen shared with me about her black sheep of a great-grandfather are true, quite a few descendants of Ham’s 19th century families may unwittingly be distant cousins of the Morffews.

Fortunately, by the time my post on Eileen’s grandfather, Frederick George Morffew, came to the attention of the Deaf Heritage project, I had already made contact with Eileen and her eldest son, Mark.  Deaf Heritage was then working with BBC Two See Hear on a television programme about deaf soldiers in the First World War and the producer contacted me to find out more about Frederick.  I was able to put her in touch with Eileen and Mark, and the three of us were subsequently filmed for that programme. This was done at unexpectedly short notice because of Mark’s heavy schedule, which gave us little time to prepare.  I think, however, we all remember it as a pleasant  experience, and the programme was duly broadcast as one of the commemorative documentaries which were screened during Remembrance Week in 2014.

Eileen was born on 6 March 1935 at the Grove Road Hospital in Richmond, from where she was taken to the Morffews’ home at 6 Park Place on the Petersham Road. She was the younger of the two children born to Frederick Robert James Morffew (1905–1974) and his wife, Maud Alice Walder (1905–1992).  Also in the family home at the time of Eileen’s birth were her elder brother, Frederick, and her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Morffew, née Ball (1872–1949). It was not until after her grandmother’s death, and as a consequence of  the Dysart Sale, that the family moved from Petersham to Ham, the parish to which her ancestors had migrated in the early years of the 19th century.

As a child, Eileen was curious and observant, and a good listener.  I met her first in connection with her grandfather. Later, Eileen provided information to support my local history research, confirming the accuracy of a database which I had built up to map the names of the many cottages of Petersham and Ham with their present street addresses.  (I needed to know the precise houses from which the men had gone to war.)  Over time I came to marvel at the rich trove of memories she had to share.

Eileen has been a valuable ally in my research.  She always seemed delighted to help when there was something I wanted to run by her, and gave generously of her time. She listened with interest when I had titbits to pass on from our war memorial contacts.  Her indomitable spirit was also something that I found inspirational.

Eileen once rattled off, house by house, the names of all the residents who were on the west side of the Petersham Road during the 1930s, when she can’t have been more than four years old.  I’m not sure many of us could do the same.  The recent release of the 1939 Register confirmed all but one, and that a minor variation which was easily explained!

A leading oral historian praised  Eileen’s ‘very rich world of memory’ commenting on the quality of our relationship ‘which came through in the quality of [Eileen’s] memories and stories, which are pearls’. I am glad that I was able to feed that praise back to Eileen.  Indeed he had previously sought permission, which she was happy to grant, to add a clip from that interview to the Child Care History Network’s website. In this particular clip Eileen described a visit she and her father had paid to the Gordon Boys’ Home.

What I always enjoyed was Eileen’s ready wit, and her bubbly sense of humour.  Another bonus for any researcher was her sharp recollection of what she had observed as a child who watched and noticed, and puzzled over and retained what she had seen or heard.  She also had a wonderful appreciation of anything that was at all incongruous.   She was fascinated by what I was discovering about her Petersham neighbours and what I was able to find out about her own family’s history.  At her instigation, I recently researched her mother’s family history and had the opportunity to share this with her, clearing up and putting to rest things she had long puzzled over.

The interest of others certainly refuels you when you are wilting and my still hanging on to the war memorial research owes more than a nod to her ongoing interest in it. We both relished the additional information I received and the contacts with descendants, some from very far afield, when stories eventually found their way to the blog.  After the Great War, there came a period called The Great Silence, so, for some, this is often the first time they discover the stories of family members about whom they, as well as their parents, had been told perilously little.

That I had opportunities to chat at length to Eileen is thanks to the tolerance, warmth and hospitality of Judy and Phil and their family, and on one crucial day, also to the patience of Skye, the family’s dog, when we were recording our conversation.

My sincere condolences go to her children and grandchildren on their loss.  I am sure I am only one of many friends and acquaintances who will also miss her.  I certainly feel, as the song goes, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’.

Frederick Morffew, Eileen’s grandfather
‘Frederick George Morffew’,
https://petershamremembers.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/frederick-george-morffew-1878-1917/, accessed 5/1/2018.
‘A great-grandson pays his respects at Talana Farm’,
https://petershamremembers.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-great-grandson-pays-his-respects-at-talana-farm/, accessed 5/1/2018.
Mager, W., ‘The untold stories of deaf people in WW1’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-29846154, accessed 21/1/2018.

 

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Ernest Wheeler (1881–1918)

180123 Sapper Ernest Wheeler,
106th Field Company, The Royal Engineers,
Killed in Action in France, 22 March 1918.

Sapper Ernest Wheeler served in the Royal Engineers, in the 106th Field Company and died on 22 March 1918.  He was the son of Edward Wheeler and his wife, Alice Jane Marshall. Edward was born and grew up in Water Lane, Richmond, and, like his father, William, became a boatbuilder in Richmond.  Edward was appointed a Queen’s Waterman, continuing as a King’s Waterman after Victoria’s death.

After their marriage in Richmond at St John’s Church, Edward and Alice began their family life at Grosvenor Cottage in Grosvenor Road, where their first three children were born.  After Ernest’s birth, the family moved to Petersham where the youngest four children in the family were born. One of Ernest’s great-nieces has told me that not one of Edward’s children was induced to follow their father in the family tradition of working with boats. The family moved around a bit in Petersham, living at 3 Mayleigh Cottages  and then at 4 Park Place. Later his parents moved to 10 Catherine Villas, in New Road, Ham, where they were recorded in the 1911 census.  By that time, of their seven children only Walter and Aubrey had not yet left the nest.

Ernest, who for much of his working life was employed as  a domestic gardener, was by living and working  in Putney. Later that year, he married a Scottish lass, Mary McLennan, in the Strand Registration District.

Since Ernest’s service records are among those destroyed in 1940, we can only speculate when he might have enlisted.  He was awarded the campaign medals known affectionately as Mutt and Jeff, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal respectively.  This suggests that he enlisted no earlier than 1916, at about the time that conscription was introduced.  This was a time when the army’s need for experienced diggers and tunnellers was increasing, so Ernest’s background in horticulture would have appealed to the Royal Engineers.

Sapper Ernest Wheeler
© GIllian McAlpine

The 106th Field Company, in which Ernest served, was one of the Royal Engineers’ Field Companies established as part of Kitchener’s 4th New Army.  This field company supported the 25th Division from January 1915, to be joined in February by the 105th Field Company and in May, by the 130th.

The Field Companies provided the various Divisions in the British Army with technical support.  At the start of the war, the British Expeditionary Force was made up of Six Divisions, and the decision was made to reorganise the existing 13 Field Companies, into 12 companies and to allocate two to each division.  A month later, it was realised that more were needed and a third field company was provided. This was not nearly sufficient for the needs of a division.

Ernest’s older brother, Frederick William, Wheeler, Petersham’s postman in civilian life, also enlisted in the Royal Engineers, as a Sapper, and was fortunate to be based at Sandwich, in Kent, for his entire military service.

Postcard sent by Ernest to his nephew, “Dicky” Wheeler
© GIllian McAlpine

This postcard, which has an aerial view of Rouen on the reverse, was sent by Ernest to his nephew Maurice Edward Wheeler, always known as Dicky.  Dicky was the son of his brother Frederick.

It is difficult to see the faded words without enlarging the image.  The card reads:

To Dicky
from Uncle Ernie,
Somewhere in France.

While the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has Ernest’s date of death as 22 March, this is at variance with the following report of his death in the Richmond and Twickenham Times of 6 April 1918.

News has just reached us of the death in action in France on the 28th ultimo of Ernest Wheeler of the Royal Engineers, second son of Mr E. Wheeler, King’s Waterman and  Mrs Wheeler of Sandpits Cottages, Petersham, with whom and the widow great sympathy is felt.  The dead soldier was well known and respected in the parish and his death is regretted by a large circle of friends.

Like so many of those killed during the last week of March 1918, during the German Spring Offensive, or ‘Kaiserschlacht’, Ernest has no known grave.  Besides his being commemorated on the Petersham Memorial, he is also listed on the Pozières Memorial to the Missing, which lists the names of 14 657 British and South African soldiers killed in the German Spring Offensive, who have no known grave.

There are six other Wheelers on the Pozières Memorial, one of whom was apparently ‘serving as Whelan’.  Discovering there were at least six Ernest Wheelers serving in the Royal Engineers alone, with another among Richmond’s war dead, reminded me how popular the name Ernest had become in the fourth quarter of the 19th century.

Following Ernest’s death, Mary’s sister, Flora McLennan, came south to live with her sister in Islington, where Mary died in 1960, and her sister in 1962.  A family photo suggests that, from time to time, over the years, these “Scottish aunts” came to Ham to visit Mary’s in-laws.

We have previously observed, in researching the people commemorated on the Petersham Memorial, how often the loss of a child on military service, was followed by the death of one or both parents. Sadly, Edward Wheeler, Ernest’s father, was one of those.  He died in the autumn of the same year.

Sources
Photographs of Ernest Wheeler, in the possession of one of his relatives, are used in this post with her permission.
The Long, Long Trail, ‘Order of Battle of the 25th Division,’
http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/25th-division/, accessed 29/12/2016.
The National Archives,  WO 95/2235/4, War Diary of 106 Field Company Royal Engineers, Sep 1915–Feb 1919.
The Richmond and Twickenham Times, 6 April 1918, p.3

Houses in Petersham and Ham that are associated with Ernest Wheeler
Any relative wishing to know the current street addresses for the houses associated with the Wheelers, should feel free to contact me, using the Comment facility.  For those not living in this area, I am willing to take photographs of all of them.

Update on changes to this post
The CWGC database provides no family information for Ernest, and it is only from the above report, mentioning “the widow” that this researcher became aware that there might be records of a marriage. Once the Register of Soldiers’ Effects became available for scrutiny, it revealed that Ernest’s sole legatee was his widow, and that her name was Mary. Research did locate a possible marriage for an Ernest Wheeler and a Mary McLennan.

At the time of first uploading this blog post, I could not, without paying for a copy of the certificate, have sworn in court that this was the correct marriage for Ernest and his widow, Mary.  Ernest Wheelers were then marrying in significant numbers. In that first post, I indicated that I hoped one of Ernest’s relatives might be able to confirm this.  One could.

When Ernest’s relative replied to my inquiry, she told me that I had solved a family puzzle for her.  When younger, she had seen a photo of her grandmother holding her younger brother, in which two women, unfamiliar to her, were standing behind her grandmother. When she had asked who they were, they were explained to her as “the Scottish aunts, Mary and Flora”.  When I had asked her if she could confirm that Mary was “the widow”, the penny dropped for her.  Realising in turn, that the photo must have been taken after 1939, I was soon able to  find more about Mary and Flora for Ernest’s great niece. Mary Wheeler and Flora MacLennan (sic) were recorded in the same household in Islington in the 1939 Register.  On my next visit to General Register House, I was able to fill in the gaps for Mary and Flora McLennan.

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Petersham’s evacuees: What became of Edith Johnson?

I’ve been wondering what stories the evacuees passed on to their families about their time in the village of Petersham?

Here’s what we know about baby Edith from the piece on page 9 of The Richmond and Twickenham Times of 12 October 1940:

Four evacuees from the East End had been billeted with [the Naylors], but two of them were away; a mother and baby who remained were bruised.

The four evacuees who had been living with the late Mr and Mrs Naylor would in any case have been spending their last night there, as they had planned to move next day to a permanent home in another borough, and they have now moved.  They were Mrs Marshall, David Hayes, Mrs Johnson and Edith Johnson.

Mrs Johnson and Edith Johnson appear to be the mother and baby in this report.  Where was Mr Johnson?  Engaged in vital war work, already?

I found two births for an Edith Johnson in England and Wales in the period 1 January 1939 to 31 March 1941, a wide range of dates to cover what age group might be covered by ‘baby’.  Two stood out.

Edith #1 was Edith N Johnson, birth registered in the first quarter of 1939 in Woolwich.  Her mother’s maiden name was Johnson, so could the ‘Mrs’ in the report have been a tactful ‘courtesy title’?

Edith #2 was Edith L Johnson, whose birth was registered in the first quarter of 1940 in Stepney. This baby’s mother’s name was Marshall.  That rang a bell.  Could the ‘Mrs Marshall’ billeted at The Thatch have been the baby’s grandmother?

As Mrs Johnson was evacuated with only one child, I thought it likely that Edith was her mother’s first child.  Based on this, I looked for a marriage in Stepney in the years 1935–1940 inclusive between a Marshall female and a Johnson male.  I found a marriage registered in the third quarter of 1938 between Francis W Johnson and Edith L Marshall in Stepney.  The Edith L Marshall probably seals the deal, with the usual caveats in case it doesn’t.

At this point I knew that I could look for ‘Mrs Johnson’, as Edith L Johnson in the 1939 Register.   I hoped to find her, ideally with her husband, on 29 September 1939, and probably in an area that might need to be evacuated, and I did.  They were listed at ‘The Bus’ on Berry Drive in Billericay, Essex.

Mr and Mrs F W Johnson in the 1939 Register © Find My Past Ltd

Mr and Mrs F W Johnson in the 1939 Register © Find My Past Ltd

The 1939 register also shows that Francis was employed as a Greengrocer’s Assistant, and his wife was engaged in the huge ‘Unpaid Domestic Duties’ sector, which left virtually no household in the nation untouched.

Incidentally, the sheet on which the Johnsons were enumerated was an unusual sheet in that it listed a fairly random assortment of abodes on different streets, i.e. it is not organised by consecutive street addresses.  I wonder what accounts for this?  Were these households missed out on the day, and added to lists later?  Could ‘The Bus’ on Berry Drive even have been a temporary shelter?  Pages on either side in the Register are likely to provide clues.

Well, we now have dates of birth for Francis and Edith Johnson, a good start for a family reconstitution exercise for which ‘Someone’ will have to find the time to embark, if we are to discover what happened to Edith and what stories were passed on to her, or to any younger siblings about the family’s wartime experiences, starting with their evacuation to Petersham.

Source
The National Archives,  RG 101/1476E/006/8, Schedule 559, accessed on Find My Past, 27/12/2016.

Update:  the question, What became of Edith Johnson was answered within a few weeks.  There is an update to this post here.

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