The Commonwealth War Graves Commission estimates that there are 300,000 war graves and memorials in the UK.
The Commission lists five graves at St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, which I’ve written about in an earlier post and it seems a timely moment to write about the sixteen First World War graves at Greatness Cemetery. The Town Council has produced a booklet which shows the location of these graves at the cemetery (and which also shows the graves from the Second World War).
Six of these men are remembered on the town war memorial and I’ve written about them in my book. Their stories are included below along with the other ten.
Some of these men were evacuated home to Sevenoaks and died from their wounds. Others were taken ill unexpectedly or died accidentally, not having left the UK. Others were billeted here and died from their wounds or disease and were buried locally rather than returning to their homes for burial. Three of the deaths occurred after the end of the war.
As ever, I welcome any comments that can add to our knowledge of these men, especially from family members.
Sapper James Galligan, 6659 1st Field Company, Royal Engineers
1882 – 4th November 1914
James Galligan was from St Helens, Lancashire, the son of Peter and Elizabeth. The 1911 census records him as a 29 year old at home with his wife, Sarah Ann and two young sons: William aged four, and Peter, four months. James served with the No.1 Co West Lancashire Company of the Royal Engineers. He is recorded as dying of natural causes at the Amherst Arms, Riverhead, (now a Harvester) near Sevenoaks. There does not appear to have been a report of his death in the local paper but he was the first soldier to be buried at Greatness Cemetery. He is remembered on the Roll of Honour in his home town.
Harry McCarthy, Private 14889, 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
1893 – 6th April 1915
Harry McCarthy was born at Shinecroft Cottages in Otford, the third of nine children of John Richard McCarthy, a railway worker, and his wife, Sarah Ellen. Prior to the outbreak of war, he was listed as being a laundryman on the 1911 census. By that time the family was living in Moor Road, Sevenoaks.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle recorded Harry’s funeral in some detail
“ A most impressive spectacle was witnessed on Saturday at Greatness Cemetery, when, with full military honours the mortal remains of Pte H McCarthy, 2nd Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, were laid to rest in the site which has been set aside by the Sevenoaks Urban District Council for the burial of natives and former residents of Sevenoaks or inhabitants of the town who have taken part in the Naval and Military Expeditionary Forces of the Crown.
Deceased, who was only twenty one years of age…enlisted, leaving a situation on the railway at Erith in September last. After some six months training he was drafted to the Front on 11th Marchand took part in the battle of Neuve Chapelle where he was wounded in the spine. McCarthy was taken to a hospital at Boulogne and then to Folkestone where he expired on Tuesday last”.
Harry’s coffin was covered with the Union Jack and borne from his home in Moor Road on a gun carriage by a team of six horses and preceded by the band of 5th Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, which played the Dead March from Saul and Chopin’s Funeral March.
According to the Kent Messenger:
“The treble singers with Mr Neave and Mr Meeks of St John’s Church Choir sang the hymn “On the resurrection morning” at the graveside, after which a firing party from the 2nd 5th King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment fired three volleys over the grave and the “Last Post” was sounded”.
Private Thomas Unsworth, 3916 2/5th Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
1896 – 9th May 1915
The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported details of the inquest into Private Unsworth’s death on Friday 14th May 1915. According to John Bellows, a fellow soldier in the same regiment, the two men had decided to cycle to Oxted together. Bellows was riding behind Unsworth when he saw him fall as his bicycle slipped on the road, which, despite being fairly straight and flat, was greasy because of the soft tar. Private Unsworth was dragged about ten yards by the bike before two men of the Royal Army Medical Corps picked him up; they carried him to a nearby house where an ambulance was sent for and he returned to Sevenoaks.
Unsworth was admitted to the Hospital at Cornwall Hall where he was examined by Dr Mansfield. In his testimony to the inquest the doctor stated that Unsworth was concussed and unconscious, having a bruise on his forehead and one on the back of his head. Private Unsworth never regained consciousness and died from a haemorrhage caused by his fall in the early hours of the following morning.
The funeral was held with full military honours and the coffin was conveyed to the council offices by B Company of Private Unsworth’s regiment, where it was transferred to a gun carriage and carried to the cemetery. Three volleys were fired and the Last Post sounded as he was laid to rest.
Private George Francis Fitzwalter Benest, 2877 2/4th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
1896 – 25th May 1915
George Benest was born in Bebbington, Cheshire, in 1896. He was the son of George and his wife, Gwitha. He enlisted at Ulverston, most likely in August 1914, and was based in Sevenoaks with his regiment when he died at Tonbridge Hospital. He is remembered on the war memorial at Broughton-in-Furness.
Ernest Edward Mitchell, Leading Stoker, K/13729, HMTB 11, Royal Navy
2nd April 1886 – 13th March 1916
Ernest Mitchell was born and grew up in Beckenham, the son of William, a bricklayer and his wife, Laura. Ernest married Lilian Charlotte Tolhurst on 11th November 1908 at Wandsworth and the couple went on to have four children, Ernest, born 1906, Dorothy Ellen, born 1909, William Louis, born 1915 and Alfred James, born 1917.
His records show that he was working as a printer’s machine minder when he joined the Royal Navy on 2nd April 1909. He served first on the Nelson and then the Jupiter and the Prince of Wales before becoming a Stoker on 24th January 1912. Ernest was serving on HM Torpedo Boat 11 when he was killed as a result of enemy action.
Regimental Serjeant Major Ernest Alfred Bence, L4803 2/9th Middlesex Regiment
1879 – 29th April 1916
Ernest Bence was found dead by his colleague, Company Sergeant Major Henry Charles Thorn, on 29 Aril 1916, having apparently shot himself with his revolver. According to newspaper reports, Thorn had gone to see if Serjeant Bence was coming for his dinner at around 14.30. No one had heard a shot being fired but he testified that his fellow Sergeants had been in the mess and there was generally a lot of noise. The inquiry heard how Bence had recently been arrested for a disciplinary offence but nothing had yet been proved; his conduct was generally good and if he had been found guilty, the punishment would have been light, not more than a demotion to Sergeant.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle carried a detailed report of the Inquest
Lieutenant Quarter Master W R Shepherd had known Serjeant Bence well and gave evidence to the inquest that Bence had been practicing cleaning his revolver recently, and some cleaning materials were found on the scene. His body had been discovered lying on his back with his head underneath the bed and a bullet wound to his left breast. His revolver was lying on a table with its butt toward the bed and had been issued to him at the end of March as part of his kit. According to the newspaper
It seemed from the position of the chair and the body that the deceased had been “fiddling” or “playing” with the revolver. It was not customary to have it loaded but the deceased had only been issued with ammunition recently…Before deceased was a Company Serjeant he was a Colour-Sergeant and they did not carry revolvers. Deceased was a thorough man and a good soldier, but he did not think he would understand a revolver.
Second Lieutenant Bryan reported that within the last 10 days he had been together with the deceased practicing revolver shooting when, after firing off several rounds, Serjeant Bence had reloaded his revolver when it had suddenly gone off and hit the ground yards away ‘the pull-off being very light’.
Serjeant Bence’s widow, Annie Maud Wywne Bence, who resided at the Drill Hall at Staines, stated that she had last seen her husband when he had visited Staines a fortnight before his death when he had appeared in his usual health, with nothing appearing to trouble him, his usual disposition being “happy and bright”.
Dr Brown who examined the body stated that the deceased had died from syncope as a result of internal bleeding, having shot himself, at the table at very close range.
An open verdict was recorded and Serjeant Bence was buried with full military honours at Greatness.
George Bernard Taylor, Private G/12547, 7th Battalion, The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment
1889 – 26th July 1916
George Taylor was the son of William, a house painter and his wife, Mary of 4, Cobden Road.
The 1911 census shows George working as a gardener, while a few years later his service papers show that he was working as a plumber when he enlisted in 1916. He was confined to barracks for five days for ‘Improper conduct on the line of march’, while stationed at Fort Darland in Kent. He arrived in France that June, joining his Battalion on 6th July.
On 13th July George received a gunshot wound to his left leg, resulting in fracture and gangrene. He was evacuated from France to the 1st Birmingham War Hospital, where he died as a result of his wounds on 26th of July 1916. He was buried at Greatness Cemetery and the Kent Messenger carried an account of the funeral in its edition on 5th August. The 2/7th Devon Regiment provided a firing party and funeral bearers.
George Taylor is the only man buried in Greatness to have died from wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme.
Henry Ramsdale, Private G/13035, 3rd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
1875 – 17th October 1916
Henry Ramsdale was born in Sevenoaks to Silas, a coal seller of Cobden Road and his wife, Sarah. By 1891 the family had moved to Bethel Road and Henry was working at the local laundry. He married Clara Jane Pickering in 1900 and the 1901 census shows the couple living on Golding Road and both working in the laundry. Ten years later and the couple are living with their five daughters on Sandy Lane.
Henry enlisted in Sevenoaks and joined the Royal Sussex Regiment. His service records have not survived but the Kent Messenger reported that, having enlisted in June 1916, he was sent to France in September and was taken ill while crossing, being sent to hospital in Calais on arrival. He stayed for four days before being sent to hospital in Birmingham but was discharged and returned home, dying shortly after. The paper recorded that he had never been a strong man and there had been surprise when he was passed fit for active service.
Private Herbert Thomas Lloyd, 2439 Dorset Yeomanry (Queen’s Own)
1892 – 30th January 1917
Herbert Lloyd was born in Westerham, to George and Elizabeth. The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in its 2nd February edition that Private Lloyd was a shoeing-smith who had recently transferred from the West Kent Yeomanry to the Dorset Regiment. He had died of a cerebral haemorrhage. A military funeral was held and three volleys fired over his grave. It is likely that he is the Herbert Lloyd remembered on the war memorial at Hastingleigh.
Major Edward Stigant Carruthers, Royal Engineers
1866 – 16th May 1917
Edward Carruthers was born in Chatham in 1866. An Inspector of Works with the Royal Engineers, he had returned to Sevenoaks in May 1917 to attend the funeral of his late father, who had died aged 86. The funeral was held in Chatham and, after returning to Sevenoaks, Major Carruthers was taken ill and died suddenly that evening at his home, The Laurels, on St John’s Road. The funeral was held on the Saturday when, according to the Chronicle, large bodies of men from the Essex Yeomanry and the Hertfordshire Yeomanry followed the cortege to Greatness Cemetery, preceded by a firing party, and the band playing Handel’s Dead March.
Frederick George Dobson, Private 13169, Royal Army Service Corps
1874 – 7th July 1917
Frederick Dobson appears to have been born in Margate in 1874. His army pension records show that he was working as a hotel porter when he first enlisted with the army in 1895 aged twenty, going on to serve as a Gunner with the Royal Artillery. He served in India and had a good service record until he was invalided out of the army in 1901 on health grounds. He reenlisted in 1915 when he was nearly forty one and was sent to France and served with the Army Service Corps.
Frederick reported sick in 1916 and was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer and discharged as unfit for further active or home service. He died the following year, aged forty three and is buried in Greatness cemetery.
Serjeant Arthur Sidney Piper, 200044 Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
1876 – 28th August 1918
Arthur Piper was born in Hildenborough, the son of John and Charlotte. Arthur served as a territorial from 1908 and had been employed as a railway guard for several years. During the war he served in India from March 1917 until January 1919.
How the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported Arthur’s funeral
Described in his obituary as a popular NCO in the Territorials, he was demobilised only months before his death. Arthur was killed in an accident during the routine shunting of trains at Shoreham station. The inquest reached a verdict of accidental death but how it was caused remained unknown.
Gunner John Thomas Fisher, 83338 Royal Garrison Artillery
1881 – 17th October 1918
John Fisher was born in Spitalfields, the son of John and Annie. He was married with three children and working as a clerk when he enlisted in May 1916. During the war, John served at home with the Anti Aircraft Artillery. He had been a patient at the Cornwall Hall Hospital with pneumonia since September 1917. Gunner Fisher had lived at Clerkenwell, London and was survived by his wife and family.
Reginald Frederick Sudds, Lance Corporal 204838, 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment
1896 – 16th December 1919
Reginald Sudds was the third son of Edward, a coachman and his wife, Annie, who lived at 46, Cobden Road. By the time he was fifteen, Reginald was working as a bottle washer in a local brewery.
He appears to have enlisted in 1915, first with the Royal West Kents and later serving with the Royal Devonshire Regiment, where he reached the rank of Lance Corporal. He served in the Dardanelles as part of the Gallipoli campaign, and then in Egypt. He died in December 1919 not of wounds but of an unspecified disease contracted while abroad, and was buried in Greatness Cemetery.
Private William Fuller, L/14263 Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
1889 – 5th July 1920
William Fuller was the second son of Mr & Mrs John Fuller of Chatham Hill Road, Bat and Ball. William had enlisted in September 1906 and his records show that he was 18 years and 9 month, being just over 5’4 tall with grey eyes and brown hair.
His records note that his conduct was indifferent, while also recording that he was hardworking. Numerous drunken incidents and absences appear on his conduct sheet throughout his years of service.
William was sent to France with the Expeditionary Force on 13th August 1914. He returned home after forty six days, on 29th September and did not return to the Front until two years later in September 1916. After the war, he sought to reenlist and, despite his previous conduct, it was noted on his application that he was
A very smart and intelligent man; has previously served 13 years Colour Service and wishes to reenlist to complete 21 years service in order to qualify for a pension.
He was stationed at Maidstone and died at the Fort Pitt Military Hospital in Chatham of pneumonia. A private rather than a military funeral was held, in accordance with his family’s wishes.
Corporal George Thomas Slade 9656 Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
1893 – 1920
As yet, I have not been able to find much information relating to Corporal Slade. He served with the 2nd Battalion Royal West Kents from 1915 in Asia.