New Beacon Pupil’s Letter to Sevenoaks Soldier

Young people across Sevenoaks have been invited to send letters to those who served in The Great War as part of this month’s centenary commemoration. In a collaboration between Sevenoaks Town Council, the Sevenoaks WW1 project, and MySevenoaksCommunity, a bespoke poppy post box was created by local carpenter Terry Malone and placed in the foyer of the Stag Theatre.

We’ve had a terrific response from young people in the town and all of the letters received will be scanned and uploaded to the Sevenoaks Town Council website as well as our own.

We’re very pleased to print below one of the first letters, from Samuel Tansley aged 11, a pupil at the New Beacon School.

Before the war, Siegfried Sassoon and his brother, Hamo, were pupils at the New Beacon, along with the sons of the Rector of St Nicholas, Guy and Kingsley Rooker. The sons of the Vicar of St Mary, Kippington, Piers, Austen and Sidney Thompson, were fellow pupils. All of those boys, apart from Hamo who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915, survived. In total there were 37 casualties amongst the School’s former pupils. Samuel Tansley decided to write to one of them: Alan George Livesey of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

Dear 2nd Lt Alan George Hilton Livesey

My name is Samuel. I have written to you to thank you for your sacrifices and exploits during the Great War. Like you did, I attend the New Beacon School in Sevenoaks. Unlike you, I have never seen the horrors of a battlefield, the brutal clamour of war, the cruelty of man set against man, under instructions to kill. I have known the fear and the crippling dread of an unknown and horrible death.

What I do know is peace and freedom and a life lived under free skies and friendly times. I know when I wake up, that I will have a good day because you suffered so many bad days for your country, your family, and your friends and for the children of the future, like me.

When you were at school, you played football, like me. You studied hard and went to university, earned a degree and started your career. But then the war came and you did your duty. They found your body at the edge of the German trenches, you had died leading your men into action, a hero. Your short life will be remembered by me and by others. We are truly grateful that you stood up and walked into No Man’s Land with such courage until you couldn’t walk any further. You were twenty six years old when you died.

I hope that you found some comfort amongst your fellow soldiers and knew how your sacrifice would be remembered. Perhaps you would never have imagined that a boy from your old school writing to you 100 years after you fought your last battle. I am writing your name at the top of my letter because your story spoke to me. I hope that my words express my admiration and awe.

Congratulations to Samuel for his excellent letter. There’s still time to post entries and we look forward to posting more.

New book now available!

Our new book, Sevenoaks – The Great War and its Legacy is now available. The book is on sale at Sevenoaks Bookshop, at other stockists, and direct from us at books@sevenoaksww1.org for £14.99 plus p&p.

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The book looks at all aspects of the war in the town, from the men who went away to fight, to the arrival of Belgian refugees and life on the Home Front. Author, Matthew Ball, takes the story of the men who survived up to the 1960s during the 50th anniversary and records how the town has been marking the centenary.

Matthew will be signing copies from 14.30 on Saturday 10th November and will also be at Café on the Vine after the Remembrance Sunday Services (details below).

Cemetery Talks

To mark the publication of the book, Sevenoaks WW1 is giving guided tours of Greatness Cemetery on Saturday 3rd and 10th of November starting at the chapel at 10.30. Tours last for approximately 1 hour and take in a range of local residents who were involved in the conflict. We visit the grave of a Crimean veteran who was involved in recruitment drives and that of Percy John Brooks, a victim of an early Zeppelin raid.

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Matthew Ball leading a WW1 Walk at Greatness Cemetery

The Stag Theatre has it’s own Remembrance season, including a play based on the experiences of Belgian refugees in Sevenoaks, researched by Sevenoaks WW1.

Performances are on 1st and 2nd November with a programme of talks and Q&A from 6.30 before the play begins.

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Our twitter feed @7oaksww1 is regularly updated with more information but if you have any queries then please email matt@sevenoaksww1.org

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Remembering Private Bailey

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the death of Private Ernest Bailey of Seal Chart near Sevenoaks aged just eighteen. His great nephew, David Lambourne and his family will be visiting the church of St Lawrence where their family once worshipped, to remember their ancestor, who is remembered on the war memorial inside the church.

Ernest was born on the 27th December 1899 and lived at ‘Larchwood’, Seal Chart, Sevenoaks.  He was the youngest child of local carpenter and cabinet maker Thomas Bailey and his wife, Caroline.  He had three brothers and seven sisters.  His sister Emily was David’s Grandmother.

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 ‘Larchwood’, the Bailey family home

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 Private Ernest Bailey 50987, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry 

Ernest went to St Lawrence School, Seal Chart and was a member of the congregation at St Lawrence Church next door, where he had been baptised on 11th March 1900.

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 Church of St Lawrence, Seal Chart

David started to research the life of his great uncle after inheriting some family photographs and has set out what he discovered:

Ernest was a boy scout before joining the army.  Unfortunately his Army Records have not survived and the National Archives only hold records of his Medals Index and Medal Rolls Book entries.  Therefore I do not know exactly when he joined up and went to France. Trying to calculate from his War Gratuity Payment of £7 it seems that he may have enlisted as early as September 1916 and joined the Highland Light Infantry.

I have found information from War Diary entries for the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry and the included Operational Order and a subsequent account by D M Murray-Lyon Lt. Colonel Commanding 2nd Bn. Highland Light Infantry.  In April 1918, the Highland Light Infantry were at the front near Hendecourt and Boiry St. Martin.

The diary records on the 20th April “Quiet day. Preparations in progress for a raid on enemy posts opposite the left Company front of the Right Sub Section.  It was decided to have a short shoot on 21st against a suspected post but no artillery preparation or cover for the raiding party was contemplated.

On the 21st April the diary records that the “Raiding party is ready for their work, Lt Thorburn MC,  3 NCO’s and 30 men had been selected. The Orders for the raid are attached as Appendix A.”

On the 22nd April the diary records ”Zero hour for the raid was 3.45am.  The posts visited were found to have been vacated by the enemy, but an identification was obtained.  Our casualties were one killed and two missing.  The narrative of the operation is attached as Appendix B.

In the Operational Order (the Appendix A) it states the men should be divided into three parties and rush enemy posts with the object to kill the enemy and take prisoners.  It goes into some detail about how the operation should be executed. Their dress for the operation would be as follows — “Equipment will not be worn. Every man will carry a rifle and fixed bayonet and 9 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber.  One bomb per man will be carried in the right hand bottom pocket of the jacket.  Cap conforters – not Steel Helmets – will be worn.  Box respirators will be worn.”  It goes onto say “All identification marks – e.g. identity disc’s, papers, pay books etc will be removed before leaving the Assembly Positions.” 

 The account of the raid (the Appendix B) it states that the 3 groups past through their wire and progressed to the enemy posts and on finding them all but empty, because of British heavy bombardment the previous day, they pressed forward onto further targets as per the Operational Order and came under fire.  As it was getting too light they could not get any further forward and withdrew back to the their lines under heavy fire from enemy guns.  One man was mortally injured and two men went missing, but because it was getting too light, it was decided that they could not be searched for as this would have risked further casualties.  Ernest Bailey is one of those two men missing who were out of sight over the crest on the enemy side of a slope.

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The war memorial inside the church of St Lawrence

Ernest is remembered on the church war memorial, alongside other local men, two of whom (Alfred Hope and Herbert Hodder) are buried in the churchyard.

Hidden casualties

The euphoria and relief that news of peace bought gradually subsided. Local life slowly resumed its old routine and the familiar sight in Sevenoaks of soldiers in khaki was replaced by former servicemen with obvious disabilities.

Others had less obvious but no less serious injuries. Continued efforts were made by organisations like the Comrades of the Great War to continue some of the ties that had bound the men closely together in wartime but there was clear evidence of the suffering that some endured. Some, like William John Ritchie, a former private in the Middlesex Regiment who had lost his sight, used the skills that he learnt at St Dunstan’s (which provided training for blind ex-serviceman in order that they could support themselves rather than relying on charity) making and repairing willow baskets and advertised his services in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in the early 1920s.

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Private Stephen Copper

Stephen Copper had enlisted in September 1914 and served with the Royal West Kents. He was shot in the left arm in March 1916, the wound being so severe that the arm was later amputated. Once he had recuperated he returned to his former employer, and despite his injury, drove a motorbike as a delivery man for Kipps the butchers at St John’s. Stephen was no doubt affected by the loss of three of his brothers and his brother-in-law during the course of the war. His sister, Amelia Garrett, also lost her husband, sergeant Thomas Garrett of the Royal Garrison Artillery; a career soldier, who died of natural causes late in September 1918 in Salonika, Greece. The widowed women of Sevenoaks, who had often suffered other family bereavements, were left to raise their children. Others had to contend with a returned husband who was never the same again.

Some men found life after the war too much to bear and the local paper recorded their circumstances. In November 1919, the paper reported a shell shock victim at Tubs Hill Station one Tuesday evening. A young passenger failed to produce a ticket for his journey and could not answer when asked by staff where he had come from. The staff took him in and gave him some food

While eating this he suddenly bent down, put his hand to his head, and commenced to moan as if afraid of being struck by something. Thinking that he had possibly had a blow on the head, one of the officials made as though to touch his head, but he started off again, saying “Whizz, whizz”. The police had meantime been communicated with and the man was removed to the Union.

Others, unable to deal with their experiences, returned home changed men, with all the implications for their family. Rose Baldwin of Seal was granted a separation order against her husband Charles Adam Baldwin, in 1929. The couple had been married in 1918 and had two children, a boy of eleven and a girl aged eight. Mrs Baldwin stated that the marriage had been very happy until her husband had begun to drink to excess after the birth of her first child. Charles Baldwin lived off his pension, having suffered from shell shock and neurasthenia. Baldwin was a country lad of eighteen and living in Ightham when he enlisted with 1912 with the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment. Mobilised on 1th August 1914, he served in France and was shot in October 1914.

Post war, Baldwin was well known to the police for drinking, bad language and other behaviour. On receiving the court summons he had returned home and “proceeded to sell the whole of the furniture, lock, stock, and barrel for £2, including much of his wife’s furniture”. His whereabouts at the time of the court hearing was unknown and the order of separation was given with Mrs Baldwin being awarded custody of their children and her husband ordered to pay maintenance. In 1935, when Baldwin was charged with yet another count of being drunk and disorderly, the Sevenoaks Chronicle noted that

Baldwin alleged that his drunkenness was caused through the war. He was terribly knocked about through the war and suffered with his nerves.

Charles Baldwin was killed in a motor accident in 1939 when, as a cyclist, he was killed while following the hounds. The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Baldwin’s bicycle was in a very poor condition and there uncertainty as to how much he had been drinking, although it had been asserted that he had only had a pint and a half before setting off.

The Chronicle carried reports of men who took their own lives unable to cope, others were able to carry on but their weakened constitution no doubt contributed to their early death.

Joseph Sutton had fought in the war with the Royal West Surrey Regiment. Two of his brothers, Dick,   a rifleman with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and Percy, a signalman on HMS Lavender, were killed during the war and are remembered on the Sevenoaks war memorial. Joseph sustained a fractured skull in April 1918 at Messines Ridge and was discharged from the Army as medically unfit. His injuries required several operations and caused him to become epileptic. The news report of his death in the Sevenoaks Chronicle stated that he had remained as cheerful as he could and was a much respected member of the Sevenoaks Services Club. However, he remained poorly for the rest of his life and died aged only twenty five in 1924. He was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, without any military ceremony.

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The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported Cecil’s death

Cecil George Thompson served for four years in France as a private with 76th Field Ambulance RASC and was recommended for the Military Medal. Both his older and younger brothers were killed during the war and are remembered on the town’s memorial. Cecil had been demobilised in August 1919 before serving for six months with the Imperial War Graves Commission.  In his obituary in the Chronicle, the paper linked Cecil’s death with his war service. He had been blown up in a car in 1917 and suffered acutely from shell shock as a consequence.

Some five or six years ago the trouble reasserted itself, and he has been in ill-health ever since, but he had not become seriously ill till the day before his death, when he suddenly lapsed into unconsciousness.

The paper noted that the date of Cecil’s death – 25th September – had a number of associations for the family. Cecil had first crossed to France on September 25th 1915; his brother Sidney, serving with 7th Battalion City of London Regiment, was killed on 25th September 1916; his older brother, Captain Arthur Herbert Thompson of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was killed on 25th September 1917. The family, sons of Arthur Thompson, former Superintendent of Sevenoaks Post Office was well known in Sevenoaks and news of Cecil’s death, and full military funeral at Greatness Cemetery, was fully reported and no doubt keenly felt throughout the town. “We are grateful” wrote Arthur Thompson “to all our Sevenoaks friends who have shown us such kindness in the loss of the last of our three soldier sons, we say from the bottom of our hearts – thank you.

In 1940, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported the case Albert Edward Chew. Chew, then aged fifty eight, was found drunk, singing and shouting in the High street, after drinking a toxic mix of beer and methylated spirit. Brought before the local magistrates he declared himself ‘Guilty, sir, and I am very, very sorry’. It was stated that Chew had tried hard to get work and did not normally drink methylated spirt, given to him on that occasion by another man. He had fallen on hard times and had already pawned his medals for 7s. He was able to provide the paperwork to demonstrate that he had kept up the payments in the hope of being able to recover his medals. The case was dismissed as a first offence on the understanding that Chew would leave the district.

This was not Chew’s first appearance on such a charge. Before a previous court he had explained that

He was hit on the head during the war and not been right since.

Among his medals was the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which he had been awarded as Gunner A E Chew of the 308th Trench Mortar Battery, Royal Field Artillery for

Conspicuous gallantry when I charge of an isolated trench mortar gun. When his wires were cut he continued firing with good effect and observing for himself under very heavy fire.

Chew’s story clearly moved the magistrates who heard the case. One of their number, Sir Edward Meyerstein paid the costs to redeem his medals and returned them to him.

For gallantry and devotion to duty: five sons of the Sevenoaks clergy

The vicars of Sevenoaks and the surrounding district took an active leadership role during the war. The daily life of the churches continued, despite some unavoidable changes, such as the alteration of service times because of the evening curfew. They continued to minister to their congregations and to support all affected by the conflict; burying those who died of their wounds at home and comforting the bereaved. Each congregation was affected by the war and many former members were now serving aboard. A Roll of Honour was compiled and kept in many churches. Vicars also played an active role in encouraging volunteering and spoke at many of the public meetings that were regularly held and, in some cases, their wives did the same and spoke directly to the women of Sevenoaks. It was perhaps inevitable that many of their children served in the army, worked as chaplains or nursed at home, following in the example of their parents.

The Reverend Thompson officiated at St Mary’s Kippington, living with his wife, Lillian Gilchrist Thompson. The couple had three sons, Piers, Austen, and Sidney and two daughters, Vera and Malys. Through the Thompson line they were cousins to the Rector of Sevenoaks, Reverend John Rooker and his wife, Adele nee Thompson. Archdeacon Dunkerley officiated at St John’s and Reverend Septimus Hebert ministered to his parish at nearby Seal.

The boys were educated locally and the 1901 census recorded Sidney Thompson as a pupil at the New Beacon Preparatory School, along with his distant cousins, the Rector’s sons, Guy and (John) Kingsley Rooker. Their fellow pupils included the future war poet Siegfried Sassoon and his younger brother, Hamo, who died in November 1915 in Turkey.

In all, five of the sons of these clergymen who were old enough to do so enlisted in the early days of the war and served for its duration. It was perhaps unusual that from one small town, these five sons of the local clergy were each awarded the Military Cross for various acts of gallantry during the war. The Bishop of Rochester certainly thought so, writing to the Sevenoaks Chronicle in 1918 to highlight “an interesting fact“.

All three of the Thompson brothers who wore the King’s uniform took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the Essenhigh Corke photographic studio, where Henry Essenhigh Corke offered to photograph any serviceman or woman at no charge.

Some decades later, several hundred glass negatives were discovered during works at 43 London Road, one of the buildings used as a studio by Essenhigh Corke. Over five hundred of these negatives  are black & white portraits of First World War soldiers of various ranks and regiments. These glass plates, including the images of the Thompson brothers, are now cared for by the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone.

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Sidney Gilchrist Thompson

Despite his poor health and eyesight, Sidney Gilchrist Thompson obtained his Commission in August 1914 and was gazetted to the West Kent Yeomanry, in which he eventually became a temporary major and then was appointed to the permanent rank of captain. He was sent to France in 1917 attached to the Royal West Kents and was awarded the Military Cross that March.

The citation for Sydney’s award read

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy attack. He commanded his Company most successfully, showing fine courage and sound judgement. He was of great assistance to his commanding officer under very difficult circumstances, and throughout set a high example to his men.

His brother, Austen, had passed through the Officer Training Corps at Winchester College and was working as a clerk to a tea broker  when he was commissioned to the South Lancashire Regiment in October 1914. The following year he was sent first to France and then on to Salonika, where he was awarded the Military Cross in June 1918.

Austen Thompson wrote home to his parents in 1915 from the front

We have now been in these trenches since Friday, my Platoon is in small dug-outs along the road which goes past British Headquarters, the firing line is just over the ridge. I have got a dug-out which is fairly free from rats. The first night they ate all the food I had in my haversack, also my soap and my candles, the next night I had nothing for them to eat, and so they did not trouble me much. It is not pleasant to have them scrambling overt you and dropping on to you from the roof during the night, but one can get used to anything.

Luckily it is still dry, but cold; we are in a hollow near some trees, so it will be damp later. The snipers are very troublesome – was wounded yesterday by one, but on the whole it I fairly quiet. I marvel at the way the men write to a selection of their relatives every day if they can get the paper, but I find it difficult to emulate them myself.

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Piers, Sidney, and Austen Thompson

His brother, Piers, served with the 4th Battalion Royal West Kents and wrote to his parents on 13th January 1916, giving his address as A Tent on the Beach, Egypt.

Behold two sons of the Vicars of Sevenoaks in a tent together, listening to the sea roaring a few yards away, while the wind is whirling half the sands of Egypt against the tent walls. When I landed a terrible thing happened; my baggage suddenly vanished while I was collecting a few last things on the boat, and I was in despair that I would never see again the kit which we chose with such care and thought. However, after spending two days, and a fabulous sum in cab fares – I at last found it.

This place is a sort of Home for Lost Dogs; all men coming out of hospital, or from home, come here for a while before re-joining their units. I am 2nd in command of a Company, and the parades and the work are very much the same as in England.

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Sidney, Piers, and Austen Thompson

It was Cecil  Dunkerley who took shelter with Piers Thompson in that tent in Egypt. He had been a member of the Cambridge University OTC and served first as a Lieutenant with 2/4th Royal West Kent Regiment and was later Captain with the Welch Divisional Staff. Like the others, Cecil won the MC and went on to serve as Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal in Egypt and entered Jerusalem with Lord Allenby. His Military Cross appeared in the London Gazette on 16th August 1917, according to the citation

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. After all the gun crews of a tank had become casualties he ascertained how to work the gun, and kept up fire during the withdrawal of the tank, thus preventing further counter-attacks on the part of the enemy. He displayed great gallantry and resource at a critical moment.

In July 1917, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that the Rector’s son, Guy Rooker, of the Divisional Signal Company in the Indian Army Reserve, was said to have been involved in heavy fighting on the North West Frontier. A telegram later reached the Rectory informing his parents that he had been wounded but was recovering well in hospital.

The Rector’s other, son, Kingsley, had been at the front for a year before he was appointed ADC to General Kelly, who commanded 69th Division East Anglian Division based at Thetford.  He was subsequently  Assistant Provost Marshal at Rouen and was transferred at his own request to the Machine Gun Corps. In autumn 1917 he was in England undertaking training in Lincolnshire . At the same time, his brother, now recovered from his injuries, was heading to Mesopotamia, having sent the previous three years in India.

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Kingsley Rooker was awarded the MC

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an evening attack. He displayed the utmost coolness under intense shell and machine gun fire, and gave the greatest confidence to his gun teams, and together with some infantry, held his position with great gallantry. He was finally wounded.

Reverend Hebert’s son, Bernard Theodore Martyn Hebert, a Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards, was awarded his MC for

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in remaining in charge of his platoon though wounded, superintending the relief, and taking out a wiring party and started them to work. He then returned to company headquarters in a fainting condition.

While all of the sons of the vicars of Sevenoaks were fortunate to survive the war, the Vicar of Kippington’s nephew, Arnold Bosanquet Thompson, was killed in the Dardanelles on Christmas Day 1915 and a memorial plaque was unveiled at St Mary Kippington in September 1917.

After the war

Two of these clergymen’s sons followed their father’s example; Cecil Dunkerley was ordained and lived until 1978. His son, Flying Officer Michael Dunkerley was shot down and killed over France in November 1943.

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Reverend Cecil Dunkerley

Bernard Hebert was also ordained and lived until 1976 when he died in Wiltshire. His brother Reverend Arthur Gabriel Hebert had served as a chaplain with the YMCA during the war.

Austen was the first of the Thompson brothers to die, being killed in a motor accident in Canada, where he had emigrated, in 1941. After the war his brother, Piers, was briefly a Member of Parliament for the Liberal party in the 1920s. He died in 1969. Sidney lived on until 1985, when he died in Tunbridge Wells.

Of the Rooker brothers, Kingsley had a distinguished career which included working with Duff Cooper as a counsellor at the British Embassy in Paris during the Second World War and was at one point the British minister to the Gaullist National Committee. Kingsley Rooker was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in the Honours List of January 1945 in respect of his war work. He died in 1951. His brother, Guy died in 1964 in Hampshire.

Having survived the war, there is no memorial to the bravery of these men in Sevenoaks but their stories deserve to be remembered and I would be very pleased to hear from anyone with further information on any of these men.

 

My thanks to Robert Illingworth and Elizabeth Finn at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, for information and permission to reproduce images from the Essenhigh Corke collection.

 

Wartime Christmases in Sevenoaks

Mention Christmas and the First World War to most people and they’ll imagine some variation of Christmas truces, football between the warring sides and the seemingly general notion that ‘it will all be over by Christmas’. Certainly Cedric Gordon of the North Staffordshire Regiment wrote this to his mother from France in September 1914. But there would be a further three Christmas Days before the Armistice was signed and I want to look at what that entailed for the people of Sevenoaks, those at war and at home.

In 1914, the popular firm of S.Young and Co. used its regular advertisement in the Kent Messenger to promote its Grand Bazaar, setting the tone by asking the question: Christmas as usual? Why not?

There are thousands of soldiers and sailors to whom Christmas will mean more this year than ever before. There are thousands of children for whom Christmas would be as indeed if the old customs were not kept up.

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With so many local men away and large numbers of Belgian refugees in the town, as well as wounded servicemen at the newly established hospitals, fundraising was the order of the day.

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Patriotic Christmas cards like this were sent in 1914

Lord and Lady Sackville hosted a concert at Knole in aid of the St John’s hospital where their daughter, Vita, was Commandant. Held on the afternoon of 15th December, the concert featured some well known artistes, including Miss Phyllis Dare and Miss Constance Collier. Children of the estate workers were also invited to a Christmas tea on a Wednesday afternoon.

The troops billeted in the town were not forgotten and the Territorials Christmas fund raised £167 17s 5. which was distributed between 4th and 5th Loyal North Lancashires, 4th and 5th King’s Own, the Army Service Corps, and the Army Medical Corps and Divisonal Headquarters division. The remainder being given to the Soldiers’ and Sailors Families Association.

Letters sent home were regularly forwarded to the Sevenoaks Chronicle to be reproduced for popular consumption. In 1914 Private F G Saxby of G Company 4th Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment wrote to local recruiting officer Captain H W Knocker

I am pleased to say that I am quite enjoying myself in my new life. The fellows here are a very sociable lot. The food we have is very good indeed and I have no doubt Major Laurie looks after G Company as well as any.

Our 1st Lieutenant is the Reverend Percy Thompson’s son, and our Second Lieutenant is Archdeacon Dunkerley’s son of St John’s.

I expect to get home for Christmas and I hope I shall as I have always spent it at home up till now. We have some very nice route marches of sixteen to eighteen miles and come home very tired, but full of fun. We have a football XI and are going to play for a cup and shield among the Companies. After all, army life is not all bad.

In January 1915, the Sevenoaks Chronicle printed an article by Thornton Shaw on How Our Troops Fared at Christmas. The article was in fact more of a guide to the men of the north and what was perceived as their strange habits.

“You have got to know the average Northerner before you can hope to understand him. He is, by nature, hardy and brusque, he often omits to lift his cap (which he wears in great preference to a bowler hat) to his lady friends and when he is not on military duty he has an inherent objection in saying “sir” to anybody on earth. But he possesses a heart as big as the wide world itself…”

He continued

“And if some of them seem just a little bit uncouth you must forgive them. And they have done Sevenoaks heaps of good in the matter of trade. Ask any tradesman you like…”
Shaw noted that the residents of Sevenoaks had raised £710 to ensure that the soldiers present in the town during Christmas enjoyed the festivities, with lavish amounts of food and entertainment; one contingent of 25 men “polished off an entire pig between them…as my informant (an officer) laughingly remarked ‘only a collier could have done it’”.

All of the men, wrote Shaw, were grateful but also wistful for the lives they had left at home, one corporal remarking, as he posted home a box of chocolates to his wife
“Ah’d reyther ‘uv bin up at whoam, if ah’d had nowt but kippers”.

News sometimes arrived home from Sevenoaks men being held as prisoner of war. One such man was twenty year old Albert Hayward, the son of William, an old soldier and his wife Jane, who resided at 13, Buckhurst Avenue, Sevenoaks. Albert was working as an apprentice printer before the war and enlisted in London in November 1914. He fought at Ypres With 2nd Battalion The Buffs, where he was taken prisoner in April 1915.

The Chronicle carried a report in January 1916 under the title A Sevenoaks Soldier in Germany, Xmas in an Internment Camp, which featured a postcard that Albert had written to his parents:

Just a hurried line to thank you for the two parcels which I received in quite good condition. I think I told you that the pudding was quite good, and that the cigars were quite nice and mild. I enjoyed my ‘Xmas quite well under the circumstances. My chum and I had a tin of mutton chops, ‘Xmas pudding, beef and vegetables, for dinner. Of course we managed to forget nuts, oranges, apples etc. the ‘boss’ gave us a bag containing 50 cigarettes, buns and lbs of apples; we also had a ‘Xmas tree decorated up, and we were allowed one bottle of lager beer, which was half the dinner. I hope you all had a very enjoyable ‘Xmas and New Year, and good weather, for we have had some heavy falls of snow lately, but it has changed to rain now. Please tender my thanks to the Rev J Rooker for the card he sent me of the Parish Church. I hope you are all as well at home as this letter leaves me – in the best of health.”

Albert saw one more Christmas before he died as a result of his diabetes in Otcober 1917. He is buried in the Niederzwehren Cemetery in Hessen, Germany and both brothers are remembered on the family grave at St Nicholas’ Church, Sevenoaks.

Throughout the war years, the Chronicle reported how Christmas was spent in the local VAD hospitals, where staff and patients celebrated the festive season together. In 1916, the large ward at Cornwall Hall was decorated with holly and laurel. Another ward featuring ‘a model of a gigantic Zeppelin, with excellent models of aeroplanes in close proximity to it’.

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The paper printed a letter from A PATIENT, who outlined what he and his fellow patients had enjoyed

On Christmas Day, after many of the nurses and patients had attended Divine Service at the Parish Church, there was an incessant round of festivities, commencing with a splendid dinner, served in the large ward (cooked at the Royal Crown Hotel, through the kind thoughtfulness of Mr Marshall). Crackers and flowers made the tables look inviting, but when the board was covered with turkeys, mince pies, plum puddings and dessert, the effect was greatly increased.

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At St John’s Hall hospital,

The festivities began in the early morning with the good old custom of Santa Claus, each man waking up to find  bulging sock in his bed; a surprise provided by the staff and much appreciated by the patients.

In the afternoon, after a typical Christmas tea, there was the stripping of a fine Christmas tree laden with gifts of all kinds, both or the staff and patients. A first-rate football from the nurses to the patients caused much applause as being a happy omen of future victories.

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In its 1918 Christmas editorial, the Chronicle noted that despite the still somewhat dimly lighted streets, Sevenoaks has been wearing during the past week or so, a cheerier aspect. The Christmas of 1918 promises to carry with it some of the old-time gaiety. Peace on earth has a greater meaning than, perhaps, it ever had before.

 

 

 

Fifty years on – veterans remember

Half a century ago, the fiftieth anniversary of the First World War prompted many veterans to remember their wartime service or to recall life at home during the conflict. Fortunately, some of these memories have been preserved as the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported the thoughts of these veterans as they either returned to Sevenoaks where they had once been garrisoned, or looked back to their boyhoods to a time when thousands of soldiers were stationed in the town, along with many wounded at the local VAD hospitals, as well as refugees from Belgium.

Fifty years after he had been stationed in Sevenoaks as a Private with 5th Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment, between November 1914 and February 1914, Harry Burrow returned to Sevenoaks. Harry was interviewed by the Chronicle during his visit and said

Sevenoaks was utterly familiar. I booked into the famous Royal Oak Hotel and it had many of it 1914 qualities. Sevenoaks was still full of riches and Granville Road was no exception. At the junction with Eardley Road, recognisable to me at once, were the two detached houses commandeered for our battalion HQ and Quarter-Master stores. Down at Tubs Hill, to my delight, I found the Elite. This was the local flea pit, a small music hall.

On Thursday nights the local talent tried out its stuff. Entrance was 2d for men in uniform. The stage was still there but the laughing legion of the 5th King’s Own had long since dissolved. On the other side of Tubs Hill station I found Holyoake Terrace and to reach it I drove over the main bridge where we had assembled on the bleak, historic, wet and cold St Valentine’s Day 1915 to embark for France. At Knole Park, all I could do was peer in the gates and see again in flashback our battalion in trench digging practice. Little did I know that within a few months this was to become a stern reality.

In 1914 the main shopping street was full of dignified horse and carriage trade and urbanity. Now much of that personality was lost. The Shambles area retained its antiquity and I was delighted to find the pavilion band stand on the Vine had not changed. I was swept back to a Sunday afternoon where we sat expectantly in the gardens, a great concourse of khaki figures, when a lady mounted the platform. She wore a flimsy hat and, to our delight, Lancastrian red roses on her bosom. In a moment she slipped into the rousing, emotionally, recruiting song that was sweeping the country. A thousand cheers, a thousand pair of clapping hands, a thousand hearts wishing she would do the kissing now. And then her encore, ‘you made me love you, I didn’t want to do it’. She was Mrs Reubens, someone said, the wife of Paul Reubens, the composer.

John Edward Smith was featured in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in 1966 in his workshop at the foot of Wickenden Road. A local resident and a gunmaker during the war, he was also best man at the wedding of the parents of future Prime Minister, Edward Heath.

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John Smith with son, Leslie, in his workshop

Smith worked at Woolwich Arsenal during the war, where he was in charge of a giant steam hammer, which could be adjusted so closely that it would come down on a watch placed on the anvil without breaking the glass. “I used to do it regularly. When the hammer fell, you couldn’t pull the watch out, but the glass was still intact”.

Smith bored 100ft long gun barrels for naval vessels. When the Zeppelin raids came he would climb into a barrel and wait until the bombing as over. “There was never a safer air raid shelter”. He recalled seeing Zeppelins brought down at Potters Bar, Cuffley and Billericay and was closeby when the Silvertown ammunition dump blew up.

Frederick Charles Zealey returned to Sevenoaks from further afield, having emigrated to Australia in 1920. Zealey was born in 1904 at the Limes, St John’s where his father was a well known builder. He attended Cobden Road School before graduating to the school at nearby Bayham Road. Although too young to enlist himself, his brother, Arthur William Zealey (1894 – 1960) served as a corporal with the West Kent Yeomanry and was stationed in India.

imageArthur Zealey stationed in India

Frederick recalled his memories of wartime Sevenoaks, writing for the Sevenoaks Chronicle that

I can remember when the firm of Quinnells, the removalists and contractors had a traction engine which pulled vans and wagons through the town, in 1911 – the Coronation year.

This engine and three open wagons, all covered in bunting took all the school children up through the town to Knole Castle (sic) where we had a picnic on the green in front of the castle.

I also remember Mr H Hill, the baker at St John’s, with his bread cart and blind white pony – also Mr Kipps, the butcher, with his butcher’s carts and his piebald pony Tetratch It used to pull a governess cart or trap around the town, and in it would be Mr and Mrs Kipps, their daughter, and son George, who was killed in World War One.

Intriguingly, Zealey continued

I have a photo of the men of the Royal West Kent Regiment on the Tubs Hill Station, waiting for the train to France on about August 4, 1914. Sevenoaks in those days became a garrison town for troops, and many were in billets and empty houses. Regiments such as the Loyal North Lancashires, Yorkshires, and King’s Own were stationed in Sevenoaks. I attended the unveiling of the war memorial at the Vine after the war.

 

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Bat & Ball from Zealey’s own photographs

The old cinema was opened before World War One and the prices listed in the Sevenoaks Courier were listed as twopence a seat for children and nice plush seats for 6d and 9d and 1s for the gallery. There used to be a pianist to play and sometimes a violinist. You could hear us roar the house down at Charlie Chaplin, Steve Hart, Broncho Bill, John Bunny, and Flo Finch, and other old time film actors.

We used to play in the old Oast House or hop kiln opposite the cinema, long since pulled down.

I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone related to these men, especially if any photographs from the time are still in their possession.