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.