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.

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Posted in German Spring Offensive, Royal Engineers | Tagged ,

The Petersham evacuees: What became of Edith Johnson?

What stories did the evacuees pass on to their families?

Join me as I hastily talk my way through this, before my sneaky continuation of “the Naylor preoccupation” is discovered by my family.

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. Her mother’s name was Marshall.  That rings 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 unusual sheet in that it lists 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.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Naylor family: Petersham’s civilian losses in the 1940 Blitz

Ernest John Naylor (1899–1940)
Ivy May Naylor, née Richards (1895–1940)
Ellen Louise Naylor, n‎ée Russell (1871–1940)—omitted from the War Memorial
Marie Jane Naylor (1856–1940)—omitted from the War Memorial

In the early evening of 9 October 1940, enemy bombs caused considerable damage to houses in Sandpits Road and to buildings nearby along the Petersham Road.  Four members of the Naylor family were killed, as a result of a direct hit on The Thatch, in Sandpits Road, which was the home of Ernest and Ivy Naylor, both of whom are recorded on the War Memorial (although Ivy’s name is given as Florence). The two not recorded on the Petersham Memorial were their elderly relatives, Ernest’s mother and his aunt, both of whom had, perhaps deemed Petersham to be a safer haven from the bombing, than were their homes in Wandsworth and Chelsea respectively.

Ernest John and Ivy May Naylor had married in Wandsworth the previous year and made their home at The Thatch in Sandpits Road, a house numbered, at the time, as 165 Petersham Road.  Ernest’s mother, Ellen Louise Naylor, known to the family by her middle name of Louise, was born at Albion Villa in Streatham in 1871, and was the elder daughter, and the second eldest of the ten children of the civil engineer, Joseph Russell (1834–1937), and his wife, Ellen Bigg.  Joseph Russell had begun his working life as a marine engineer, but in 1866 went into partnership with the engineer Samuel Egan Rosser to form the company Rosser and Russell. The partnership was dissolved three years later, but the company continued under that name, under the leadership of Joseph Russell for many decades, specialising in heating and ventilation systems. Their clients included Queen Victoria and the Colonial Office and the firm was commissioned to provide major systems for many public buildings, including Olympia and the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington. It also developed the interrupter gear designed for the Sopwith Camel, which will be of some interest to those interested in the Kingston Aviation Project. (The source list includes links to further information about this firm.)

In 1892 Ellen Russell married John Alfred Naylor, a mechanical engineer, employed by her father’s firm to which he had been apprenticed in 1885, at about the age of 18. John Naylor served this apprenticeship at the firm’s Hammersmith works, at Queen’s Wharf. Four years later he was appointed as a draughtsman at Rosser and Russell’s offices at 22 Charing Cross, being appointed assistant manager in 1892, the year of his marriage to Ellen.  Joshua Russell’s confidence in John Naylor is borne out by his putting him in charge of several major contracts, and by his consent to this marriage.   In 1900, when John was still in his early thirties, he was appointed a director of the firm and, in time, his son joined the firm, and at the time of his death in 1940, was one of its directors, working alongside some of his Russell cousins.

Ivy, Ernest’s wife, was a native of Barnstaple and the eldest child of Alfred and Charlotte Ellen Richards, née Mullins, who both survived her.  Ernest and Ivy were involved part-time in the war effort, both serving as local  A.R.P. wardens and he was already in his uniform, prepared to go on duty that evening.  His wife, Ivy, was not scheduled to be on duty that evening.  It was a busy house on 9 October.  As well as their elderly relatives, the Naylors had East End evacuees billeted with them at the time.

The A.R.P. hut at Petersham, © Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive

The A.R.P. hut at Petersham, © Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive

The Richmond and Twickenham Times  gave the following account of what had occurred.

WARDEN KILLED
Dressed for Duty When House Was Bombed Early Evening

Mr Ernest Naylor, a part-time warden in the A.R.P. service, was killed when the dining room in the front of his house received a direct hit on Thursday evening.  His wife, Mrs Ivy Naylor, and his mother, Mrs Ellen Louise Naylor, were also killed.  Miss M.J.Naylor, an aunt, 91 years old, was taken to hospital seriously injured.  Mr Naylor, who was a ventilating and heating engineer, was 41 years of age.  It was only during the last year that he had made his home in a charming little thatched house.

A maid, who was standing in the kitchen when the house was struck, was unharmed except for scratches and shock.  Two hot-water bottles were found on the kitchen table, warm and intact.

Mr Naylor, who was still alive when he was found, was dressed ready for his A.R.P. work, and would have been on duty at the post within a few hours.  The family had a good air raid shelter, and would have been in it probably later in the evening.  Four evacuees from the East End had been billeted with them, 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.

Another high-explosive bomb fell in a field, behind some farm buildings, and a third, from the same stick, had fallen in a park, just outside a school and near a lodge.

About a mile distant, a high explosive had made a huge crater where two back gardens had been.  Here there were no casualties, except a canary, and some extraordinary good luck was experienced.

The article continues with a summary of lucky escapes of people and buildings in the neighbourhood.

Ernest John Naylor died in hospital later the same evening as a result of his head injuries. Ivy and her mother-in-law were killed instantly.

Mary Jane Naylor, Ernest’s aunt ‘Marie’, was an artist, whose usual residence was at 1 Stamford Bridge Studios in Chelsea.  She survived the bombing for three weeks, and died as a result of her injuries, on 30 October at the Royal Hospital in Richmond, aged 84 (rather than 91, as the newspaper reported).  Marie’s parents were Ernest’s paternal grandparents, John Naylor, who had emigrated south from Yorkshire and become a successful clothier, and his wife Mary Amelia Avila, the daughter of a well-known Stepney pawnbroker.  Before building a career as a successful clothier in London, John Naylor had worked  for Samuel Avila, as a pawnbroker’s assistant.  (You may have noticed, here, an even earlier case, in this family, of marriage to the boss’s daughter.)

On the same page as this article is a prominent advertisement for Air Raid Shelter Bedding, sold by John Perring Ltd, of London Road Twickenham.

By a disconcerting coincidence, the following month, on 29 November, the Clarkes of Ham Common, along with their dog, were killed instantly “by concussion” when a bomb fell on the dining room of Oak Lodge.  On this occasion, however, the bomb did not explode though was three days before the bomb could be removed by the Royal Engineers’ Bomb Disposal Squad.

Sources
Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History, Institution of Mechanical Engineers: 1938 Obituaries, http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/John_Alfred_Naylor, accessed 26/12/2016.
‘Warden Killed,’ The Richmond and Twickenham Times, 12 October 1940, pp.7 and 9.

Sources for Rosser and Russell 
One of the things I have learnt over the past five years of researching war memorials, is that in the absence of information, one should keep checking. Four years ago, I could find out quite a bit about the Naylors and their ancestors—some of them interesting enough to merit their own posts—but precious little then about Rosser and Russell.

As I am also a local historian, I was interested from the CIBSE research, to discover that Rosser and Russell contributed to the products used by the Sopwith Camel, so meticulously researched by the inimitable David Hassard and Bill Downey of the Kingston Aviation Project.  Do check them out at http://www.kingstonaviation.org/.

Readers interested in Rosser and Russell, or in the history of heating and ventilation systems, may find the following online material of great interest.   The research was undertaken for the Heritage Group of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers  and is hosted on its website http://www.hevac-heritage.org.

Roberts, B., and Yunnie, P., The Story of Russell and Rosser, http://www.hevac-heritage.org/electronic_books/rosser_&_russell-2/1-RR.pdf, accessed 26/12/2016.
There is another document online, pdf 2-RR which is presumably also the research of Brian Roberts and Paul Yunnie.

Posted in The Blitz | Tagged , , , , , ,

Resolving the Ronald George Bateman mystery—well, PERhaps…

I may at last be a little closer to answering a question which has dogged me for four years now: “Who was RONALD G. BATEMAN, R.M.M?”   I have already posted about my search to match this name to a WW2 casualty, including in this post from March 2013 and the mystery has been there at the back of my mind, ever since.  I have followed many lines of enquiry, without coming any closer to matching this inscription to a WW2 casualty. Having consulted some of this country’s uber-experts on military history and archives, I am still not even sure what unit RMM represents.

Ronald G. Bateman on the Petersham War Memorial © Margaret Frood

Ronald G. Bateman on the Petersham War Memorial
© Margaret Frood

I have been accessing the 1939 Register, to satisfy myself about what those named on Ham’s memorial were up to in the first month of Ww2.  I used it most recently to establish more closely when the Naylors moved to Petersham.  I realised that this register provided a new opportunity for me to find, if not our Ronald G. Bateman, then at least to eliminate some of those on the shortlist.

 

Here’s a recap of the problem: Petersham has a man named on its War Memorial who does not match a casualty on the CWGC database.  (This does not mean that he was not a casualty.) On the CWGC database for WW2, there are four Batemans with the initial R, one of whom is Canadian.  None of the four is called Ronald.  None of them is flagged up as a civilian death.  Since 1915, the births of nine boys have been registered as Ronald G Bateman.

I have managed to eliminate a significant number.  I have also eliminated deaths in the Merchant Navy, just in case RMM has something to do with Mercantile Marine.  Nearer home, I have followed up a number of Batemans listed among the local residents, from directories and electoral rolls and other sources, hoping, to find Ronald, somewhere within their extended families.  The Richmond Parish Magazine for December 1939 included, for example, an advertisement for a firm of opticians, Frederick Bateman & Co., Ltd, at 14 Hill Street.  I have recorded and followed up as far as possible every Bateman in Kew, in Teddington and in Richmond.

In England, since 1915, the births of nine Ronald G Batemans have been registered, with one of them, certainly of interest, in Kingston in 1920, during most of the nine were too young to have been on active service in WW2.

While you can conduct a basic search of the 1939 Register with just a name, you can also narrow it down if you have a year of birth and know the place where your target might have been living.  However, I could only search for Ronald—also with fingers crossed on that— using the name Ronald Bateman as, without a match to a casualty, we cannot know how old he was in 1939, nor where he lived.  Amongst the 53 Ronald Batemans generated by this search, I found four Ronald G. Batemans, and I could eliminate two of them, (born 1931 and 1934) as they were too young to be on active service in 1945.  That left three: one was a Schoolmaster, born in 1911 and living in Wembley, and another, a Moulder, born in 1913 and living in Melksham.  I did not find Kingston’s Ronald Bateman with his parents, George Hencher Bateman and Lily (maiden name Needs), who by 1939 had moved from Teddington to Sunbury on Thames. He appears to have been their only child.

The 1939 Register required the actual date of birth and these were duly noted.  One of the options I have been considering most recently is whether the schoolmaster could have been a teacher at the Russell School.

While following up these three ‘candidates’ in other records, a birth date stood out, as I ran my eye down the list of search results.   It seemed too much of a coincidence for there to  have been two Ronald G Batemans born on the same day, 14 April 1911. Focusing on it more clearly, I realised the record was a death registration.   Since dates of birth have only appeared in death indices since 1969, this meant that our schoolmaster had survived until at least 1969.  Following it up, I obtained the date and place. Ronald George Bateman died in Nottingham in 1991.

Does this eliminate him?  Or does it mean that his listing on the war memorial is a mistake?  How might a mistake of this magnitude occur?   Could this man have been declared missing though still alive, and after the war, perhaps not have returned to the Petersham area?  Within my folder of research for Batemans, I remembered noting the case of a report which appeared in the Hull Daily Mail on 6 July 1944.  This referred to a Ronald Bateman, aged 24, who had been taken prisoner at Tobruk, but who had escaped from a POW camp in Italy, and spent nine months in hiding in the Italian hills, until eventually managing to reach the Allied lines.  The name of his next of kin, an aunt, a resident of Hull, is mentioned.  That of course, means further research, for which I don’t have the time right now…so I’ll be back about this later. If this fails, I will have to contemplate possibilities such as that he may have been G. Ronald Bateman, and known by his middle name.

Advice is always welcome!

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged

Ronald Daniel & the Petersham Horticultural Society

In the run-up to the loss of Ham Fruiterers, which closed yesterday, and which has been a greengrocer’s for something like 80 years, I have reflected, ruefully, and more than once, on the detrimental effect that the gradual accumulation of ‘modern’ shop-fronts has had on the architects’ original designs for the street level frontage. While it is not clear what will replace the greengrocer, I suspect that yet another of the traditional shop-fronts is under threat—as are those dark green ceramic tiles and other traditional features.

The architects were, of course, Partridge & Daniel, and the Daniel in the partnership was Ronald Daniel who is commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial.  If you have not read my post on him, he was Second-in-Command of the HMT Juniper, a mining trawler, which pluckily, and single-handed, took on the Hindenburg and several other enemy warships on 8 June 1940 in the North Sea.

That architectural partnership was also responsible for the 1930s developments in Bute Avenue and in the extensive development along the roads south of Sandy Lane, so some of the Petersham residents who may view this page may well be living in a Partridge & Daniel designed house.

What I was not aware of, at the time I wrote that earlier post, was that Ronald Daniel had been the secretary of the Petersham Horticultural Society.  Having been just old enough, in 1918, to enlist in the Royal Navy, Ronald had reached the rank of Lieutenant, by the time of his transfer, after the war, to the Royal Naval Reserve.  He was still on the Reserve when war was declared in 1939.

Information about his role in the Petersham Horticultural Society appeared in the Richmond and Twickenham Times of 22 June 1940 and reported that the Admiralty had declared the Juniper ‘overdue’ and that she should be considered lost.  It was to be a year before Ronald’s widow would receive confirmation of his death.

The headline read: LIEUT. DANIEL ‘MISSING’.  Former Horticulturist: In Navy Only Two Months.

The following sentences expand on his contribution to the Petersham Horticultural Society:

Mr Daniel, who is 40 years of age, was secretary of the society for five years until he resigned to enable him to join the Navy.  In that time he had been to a great extent responsible for the society’s success.

My recent research in Ecclesiastical Archives included viewing a range of documents associated with the various Vicars of Petersham, and the history of The Old Vicarage. The Petersham Horticultural Society, though displaced from its usual ‘quarters’ for the duration, continued, in its very British way, to operate throughout the war.  But Ronald Daniel, alas, never returned home to Bute Avenue.

Posted in Royal Navy | Tagged , , , ,

Sidney Wilson (1888–1916): a foster child in Petersham

9163 Private Sidney Wilson, 1/East Surrey Regiment,
Killed in action, 22 July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.
Buried at the Quarry Cemetery, Montauban, France.

Since I gradually developed a bit of a soft spot for Sidney Wilson, his story ought to have featured on Petersham Remembers long ago, rather than its being one of the last posts to be uploaded.  Matching Sidney to the ‘correct’ soldier was initially a little tricky.  He was not the only Sidney Wilson from his battalion to be killed in action; the Petersham Memorial has his name as ‘Sydney’ and a Sydney Wilson was another East Surrey casualty. There were other complications in the research, which I describe, for those who are interested, at the end of this post.

Sidney Wilson's childhood home

Sidney Wilson’s childhood home

It appears Petersham’s Sidney spent most of his childhood with a foster mother, Jane Dulley, at 10 Mayfield Cottages, Petersham.   It is likely to have been a happy household, because Sidney chose to return there when he left the Regular Army in 1912. Like many of the young men of Ham and Petersham at the turn of the century, Sidney had taken the opportunity to enlist in the Army for a specified period.  At the time he was working as a gardener, perhaps at Sudbrook Park, where his foster-sister’s husband, Thomas Henry Burrows, was employed.

Sidney was to serve in the 1/East Surrey Regiment for over 5 years, transferring to the Reserve in June 2012.  The forms summarising his service at the end of that period show that the Army had offered the young gardener the opportunity to acquire additional skills.  He worked as a Librarian for a year although the career he hoped to follow, after leaving the army, was noted as ‘Carman’.  (‘Footman’ had been written down first, and then struck through.) We learn also that he had a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, light brown hair and was 5′ 10″ tall, with tattoos on his arms.  Sidney’s conduct and character were summarised as ‘Good’.

He was back with his regiment just over two years later, probably within days of war being declared. Within a month, he had received a shrapnel wound to the head, which required a stay at a Convalescence.  His medical records show that from time to time he was recorded with skin infections such as Impetigo and the umbrella term of “I.C.T.” an umbrella term for a parasitic skin infection, common in the inhospitable and crowded conditions in the trenches.

His records give us no information as to how he was killed, but we can gather something of his last day of life, from his Battalion’s War Diary.  And therein lies another reason for my soft spot for Sidney, because he was involved in attempts to recapture Delville Wood.  Its very name is today still closely associated with the South African Brigade, which, ordered to hold the wood at all cost, did so, at great cost. Only a week before Sidney’s death, my grandfather had been one of those fighting to hold the wood, under the battering of 400 shells an hour.  A handful survived.

On Wednesday 19 July, Sidney’s battalion had moved from their bivouac at Becordel, east of Albert, to Longueval, a village, by then in ruins, on the western edge of Delville Wood. With more trenches having to be dug to provide accommodation for the whole battalion, just as they were settling in, they were suddenly ordered to relieve the remnants of the 22nd Brigade in Longueval and to take up a position with the DCLI [Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry] to their left and the 18th Brigade to their right..  Doesn’t remnants say it all?

The East Surreys can have had no doubts that life was precarious and that the days ahead would be harrowing.  At 3.25AM, on Thursday (20th) the 2/Suffolks proceeded to attack the enemy from the sunken road west of the wood.  The two leading companies lost communication with the rest of the battalion and were believed to have been mown down by concealed machine guns, since none returned.  The 1/East Surreys spent the day, in the words of their adjutant, “rendering our surroundings a trifle safer by digging, and more sanitary by burying the dead of various units who were lying in and above our trenches”. Throughout, the Surreys were subjected to heavy shelling.

On the Friday, enemy planes flew high above them, leading the Allies to believe it was their observation of the activity below that was responsible later that morning for the heavy shelling of the Surreys’ No.1 Company,  “causing casualties to the company and to the cooks as well as three of the cookers”.  The afternoon and evening seem to have passed without further incidents.

Here follows an extract from the War Diary of the 1st Battalion of the East Surreys for Saturday 22 July 1916, the day on which Sidney lost his life:

TRENCHES N[EA]R LONGUEVAL, Saturday July 22nd 1916.
Ref. Map Longueval 57C S.W.3
Enemy shelled us all day and towards evening with great vehemence, finally about 10PM he opened a fierce rifle and machine gun fire against our trenches, at the same time sending up numerous red flares.
Everything pointed at this moment to a possible attack and, taking into consideration the weakness of our position (our right flank being “in the air”) the S.O.S. signal by both Co[mpan]y Com[man]d[e]rs in the front line was by no means unreasonable.
The artillery reply was vigorous and only a most determined Infantry attack would have succeeded against our barrage.  About midnight conditions became more normal.
Total casualties up to 12 noon 4 officers 132 O[ther] R[anks].  A large proportion of these were wounded and practically all the casualties were from shell fire. 2/Lieut[enant] Cooper was sent to instruct at a Machine gun school. 2/Lieut[enant] MAZENGARB took over command of the Lewis Gun detachment.  About 10PM orders were received from the 95th In[fan]try B[riga]de H[ead]Q[uarters that the 5 Division would co-operate with the 3rd Division and take by assault the portions of LONGUEVAL and DELVILLE WOOD previously taken from us on the evening of the 19th inst[ant].  The attack was to commence by the usual artillery bombardment lifting at 3.40AM (23rd) at which hour the 9th B[riga]de of the 3rd Div[ision] would continue with the 95th B[riga]de in making an attack on certain strong points W[est] and N[orth]W[est] of the village.  At the same time the 13th B[riga]de would attack from the line HIGH WOOD to R[oa]d junction S 10 d 8/9.

We do not know at what point Sidney was killed but it is likely to have been during that heavy bombardment. He was buried alongside three other soldiers from his Battalion who died on the same day.  They were:  Private T Bone, aged 20, Private Albert John Phipps, aged 24 (in the A Company of the ESR, and Private W.A. Young.

According to the Grave Registration documents, a Memorial Cross  was later erected to these men in the Quarry Cemetery.  A note records that the cross is “to the memory of these 16 British soldiers killed in action in July 1916 and buried at the time in Quarry Scottish Cemetery, Montauban, which was destroyed by the enemy. Their glory shall not be blotted out.” Sidney is one of the sixteen soldiers, whose graves were lost.

The search for Sidney’s story is ongoing
We do not yet know who Sidney’s parents were, or how he came to be fostered by Jane Dulley. His service record states that he was born in Clapham, and viewing the age he gave when enlisting on 29 January 1907, 18 years 2 months,  it is likely that he was born in the last quarter of 1888 or the first quarter of 1889, since they had six weeks in which to register a birth. This is fairly close to that derived from the age of 23 years and 8 months provided on the documents relating to Sidney’s transfer, on 7 June 1912, to the Army Reserve. There is no matching birth registration in the Wandsworth Registration District at the time that Sidney claimed to have been born in Clapham.

In updating this aspect of my research (in the last days of 2016) I decided to cover Sidney’s possible exaggeration of his age, when first enlisting in 1907, I looked for births of a Sidney or a Sydney Wilson, in England and Wales, and then sifting out those in the Greater London area—not just those born in Wandsworth and Lambeth—for the period 1 January 1888 to 31 December 1890, with 52 results.  I extended the time range because I thought it possible that Sidney might have joined the army in preference to continuing to work as a gardener.  I looked for a further two years, until the end of December 1892 in Wandsworth and Lambeth but found only the two already included in the 52 results.

I extended the area within which I searched, partly because Sidney was fostered as a child, and we cannot assess how reliable this information was.  Who was the informant? The birth registrations of the 16 Sidney/Sydney Wilsons born in the Greater London area in that three year period, all noted a mother’s maiden name.  It will take some time to follow up the 16 family units into which these children were born, and I may not have time to do this until the summer.

Even though Sidney’s military service records have survived in the so-called the Burnt Records’, the page for his next of kin is blank. This lack of information, meant that it took some time to match him to a Petersham family but the service records did, however, reveal that he lived at 10 Mayfield Cottages, and that he named his his foster mother, Jane Dulley, as his next of kin.

Following Jane Dulley’s death, in 1919, Mrs Hammond went on to claim Sidney’s medals, which had been sent to Jane Dulley, who had been named as Sidney’s foster mother and next of kin. The War Office subsequently wrote to ask Sidney’s foster-sister, Ellen Burrows, asking her to return his medals,  so that they could forward them to Mrs Hammond.  This Ellen was clearly reluctant to do, replying pointedly that she did not know the address of “the person” referred to in their letter of such and such date.  Perhaps she felt that Sidney had been neglected by the person claiming to be his aunt?

Reconstitution of the family of Jane Dulley did not flag up a possible connection with Sidney Wilson.  What I am now attempting to understand, is Sidney’s relationship with a woman claiming to be his aunt, in the hope that this will lead me to one of Sidney’s parents.  She appears first, as Mrs J. Hammond, and the Register of Soldier’s Effects more helpfully records her as Jane Hammond.

Two addresses for Mrs Hammond, one at Egerton Cottage, in Paradise Road, Richmond and one at 59 Alexander Road, were listed in Sidney’s service records, so I spent quite a time looking at various records for those addresses for the period 1917–1922.  I could not find a record listing a Mrs Hammond at either address. This does not rule out her being in the house, perhaps as an employee. Nor does any of the 16 “mother’s maiden names” suggest a connection to the two Jane Hammonds under scrutiny.  There is no record of Sidney being admitted to a workhouse in Wandsworth.

I found a family of Hammonds in Richmond, at 15 Hill Street, including Jane Elizabeth Hammond, née Currie, (1831–1921) who had an unmarried daughter, Jane, born in 1855. We can’t rule the latter out as Sidney’s ‘aunt’. There is another Jane Hammond, née Guns (1855–1903) to consider, who lived all her life in Kingston, but as she died in 1903, she can’t have been the person striving for medals after Jane Dulley’s death in 1919.

The Register of Soldiers’ Effects has recently been digitised and Sidney appears on it. Equal payments of £7 13s 3d were made in 1917 to Jane Dulley and Jane Hammond, but a somewhat later supplementary payment of £5 10s was made to Ellen Burrows, Jane’s daughter and to “d[aughter] of Jane Hammond”.   Was this because both the original legatees had died?  If so, it may be relevant since Jane Dulley died in 1919 and Jane Elizabeth Hammond (née Currie) in 1921, aged 90 leaving four daughters, including a Jane, and two sons, any of whom might have had a role in Sidney’s life.

Source
National Army Museum,  Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60. [NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 343001-344500; Reference: 181.]
The National Archives, WO 95/1579/1, War Diary for 1 Bn East Surrey Regiment, 22 July 1916.

Posted in Battle of the Somme, East Surrey Regiment | Tagged , ,

William Luke Bex (1898–1916)

J/31809 1st Class Boy Signaller William Luke Bex, R.N.,
HMS Hampshire,
Lost at sea, off the Coast of Orkney, 5 June 1916.

Two days after the death of her son, his mother received a letter from William,enclosing a brooch, with this poignant message which, in the three years since I first came across it, has tweaked at my heart more than just the once:

“I do not know what the future has in store for me,
but I should not like to go under without another letter from home.
I have been in action and had a decent time.”

William Luke Bex was born on 10 October 1898 in Richmond, the son of William Hughes Bex, a native of Richmond, and his wife, Rebecca (née Teather or Tether). His parents were married in Lincolnshire in 1896, before starting their married life in Richmond where their daughter, Beulah Kathleen, was born a year later.  William was baptised William Luke at St Mary with St Matthias, in early December, being given his maternal grandfather’s name as his middle name.

Rebecca came from Nocton, in Lincolnshire and was the youngest daughter of enterprising parents.  Her father, Luke, was a gardener cum grocer, eventually becoming the ‘General Manager’ of the Co-operative Stores in Nocton, the parish where her mother, Sarah, was the schoolmistress.

William and Rebecca Bex shared some of the entrepreneurial talents of her parents. William had started his working life as a butcher’s assistant working his way up to become a skilled butcher. At about the time that William was becoming involved in the Scouts, his parents were running the Cat and Dog Kennels at 139 Sheen Road and by the time of their daughter’s marriage, the elder William was describing himself as a Veterinary Surgeon.

Our William—’young William’—was a pupil at the Vineyard British School, joining the Royal Navy immediately after leaving school,  just two months before the outbreak of war. We know a little about William, at the time that he enlisted, from his naval service record, which notes his brown hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion.  We can assume also that he was of slight build—chest 31 inches, height 5ft 2¾in.  At 15, he would still have had a growth spurt ahead of him.

Like all young recruits, William started off with the rank of ‘Boy 2nd Class’ on the training ship, Impregnable, being promoted within six months to the rank of Boy 1st Class.  His first (and only) posting to a seagoing vessel was to HMS Hampshire, in May 1915. When the Hampshire went down on 5 June 1916, William was only seventeen.

There is some contention over the sinking of the Hampshire which had earlier left Scapa Flow, heading for Archangel with Lord Kitchener and seven of his staff. Their mission was to keep the Russians, our allies, in the war. The ship unwittingly entered a minefield two miles off the coast of Orkney, in a Force 9 gale—weather so appalling that its accompanying destroyers had been ordered back to port, leaving no friendly vessels in the area. The mine which the  Hampshire struck had been laid by the German submarine U–75.

For some days it was not clear what had caused the loss of the ship. Herbert Sulzbach, then an officer in the German army, recorded in his diary two days’ later, that news had reached them that the Hampshire had been torpedoed by one of their U boats. This was not the case.  For both sides however, it was the death of Kitchener that gripped the imagination and overshadowed the many losses in the Battle of Jutland a few days earlier.

One hundred years later, our thoughts go to those whose sacrifice was overlooked when the Kitchener Memorial was erected on Orkney after the war.

Whether the Battle of Jutland was a victory, a defeat or a draw, it did keep the German Navy at bay for the remainder of the war, and for that the Allies are indebted to both those who survived and their comrades who were lost.

A Memorial Service was held at All Saint’s, Petersham, for Albert, Edgar and William.  The first of its kind, it was to be the forerunner of many more.

William Luke Bex is commemorated on the Scouts’ Memorial Tablet in St Peter’s and also on the Chatham Naval Memorial.  His name is now inscribed on the new memorial wall on Orkney, built for this centenary, in order to remember the crew and to recognise their loss.

Early in 1925, William’s sister married Thomas Henry George Dallaway in Richmond.  I think that they may have had two children, Kenneth (b.1925) and Doreen (born 1939).  If correct, they and any descendants, will be William’s closest relatives.  Beulah herself, who may well have inherited her mother’s brooch, died in Richmond in 1988, more than 70 years after the death of her brother.

Information about the loss of HMS Hampshire
Of the sources I list here, I think it is the two BBC features which relatives of survivors will find most absorbing and accessible. The first is an audio clip, the second a video clip, which certainly helped me to appreciate why ‘the rocks’ that are always mentioned, were quite so deadly.  It seems a miracle that twelve survived —a description of the sinking in the words of a survivor, is read in the radio clip.

BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation]World War One at Home, ‘Lord Kitchener and the sinking of the Hampshire’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02rzcpr , accessed 1/6/2016, 26 May 2015.
BBC News North East Scotland Orkney and Shetland, ‘HMS Hampshire: 100th anniversary of sinking commemorated on Orkney’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-36443888 , accessed 5/6/2016
Orkney Heritage Society, ‘HMS Hampshire’, http://hmshampshire.org/, accessed 4/6/2016. [This society is raising funds for the new memorial wall, which will be unveiled today, and which will record, for the first time in Orkney, the names of the other 736 men lost off its shores.]
The Scotsman, ‘The truth behind the sinking of HMS Hampshire revealed’, 5 June 2016, http://www.scotsman.com/news/truth-behind-the-sinking-of-hms-hampshire-revealed-1-4146171, accessed 5/6/2016.  [My instinct is to be a little wary of headlines which claim to reveal the truth.]

Other sources
The National Archives, TNA, ADM 188/710/31809, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services 31501–32000, ‘William Luke Bex’.
Richmond and Twickenham Times, ‘Drowned with Kitchener’, 10 June, 1916, p.6.
Sulzbach, H., With the German Guns:  Four years on the Western Front, 1973, p.81.  [Translated by Richard Thonger from the German Zwischen Zwei Lebende Mauern, published 1935.]

Posted in Battle of Jutland, Royal Navy | Tagged , , ,