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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

Remembering Private William Manktelow, 1/4 Essex Regiment

William Wallace Manktelow was born in Farningham in 1892, the son of William, a carpenter and joiner and his wife, Winifred. The 1901 census recorded William at home with his parents and siblings living at White Post Cottages in the parish of St Peter and St Paul, Seal near Sevenoaks. By 1911, he was working as a footman for the widowed Sir Vyall Vyvyan, a Baronet and Clerk in Holy Orders, who, at eighty four, lived with his daughter and a total of eleven servants.

For several years William had been a choirboy at St Mary’s Riverhead. After his death, William’s friend, Geraldine Parkes published a small collection of extracts from his letters and diaries including letters to herself, the Rev G F Bell, Vicar of Riverhead, and his parents as well as extracts from his diary while on service, including vivid descriptions of his life in Gallipoli and Egypt.  The Sevenoaks Chronicle carried a story in November 1917, detailing the publication of “a neat little brochure” which had been privately printed.The article noted that :

During his leisure hours he made himself almost perfect in French and also studied other languages. When war broke out he was one of first the first to volunteer. He was rejected at one recruiting station, but later tried again at another and was in khaki before many months of war had passed. He did not take the step without anxious reflection, as his thoughts were turning more and more to ordination. Ever a dreamer and a thinker, a soldier’s life was quite against his nature, and it was only the thought that he was helping bring war to an end that he so heroically through so many hardships, to the supreme sacrifice (sic)”.

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Private William Wallace Manktelow 

William served with 1/4 Essex Regiment and his Battalion had left England at the end of July 1915 and landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli in the August. Some weeks later he wrote to Rev Bell: “The Turkish trenches are just 200 yards away. You dare not show a finger over the top. Bullets often go through the periscopes”.

He later described the charge across the Anafarta valley, bathing in the sea and “taking no notice of the occasional shell – whizzz, whizz”.

He wrote of how he celebrated Holy Communion under fire and then how he himself was shot and taken to a dressing station on a hospital ship. He wrote to Miss Parkes that “My cot was put in a sort of wooden cradle and we sailed to Alexandria. You can’t think what it is like after 12 weeks in Gallipoli, it is another world. Still, I am not a coward. I will go back and finish my work right to the end when I am well”.

He was later invalided home and spent Christmas 1915 there. On his recovery in the New Year, he rejoined his regiment, sailing for Egypt in June 1916.

He wrote to Rev Bell: “A great aim of mine is to make myself worthy of the confidence you have placed in me”. To his parents he wrote “I have set my heart on ordination and intend to work hard to make myself fit, physically and mentally.”

He later wrote again to Miss Parkes, commenting that “I am sorry to see that I am the only private out of three hundred men here in Egypt to make my communion”.

By February 1917, he was marching with his battalion to Syria, where he wrote: “ Can you picture our long march across sand? This morning we passed several wooden crosses – the last resting place of some of our English Tommies, fallen on the field of honour. At night I saw those magnificent stars, this heavenly roof. It is so superb, shining and grand. It is enough to make one think and see further than the blood-stained battlefields of Europe“.

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William’s grave at the Gaza War Cemetery 

William died at the Battle of Gaza on 26th March 1917 and was buried in the Gaza War cemetery. His father received a letter stating that “Your son was seriously wounded on the outskirts of Gaza at a place called The Green Hill. He lingered for a few hours but did not suffer pain as we gave him morphia. I saw him just before he died and cannot write too highly of him. He was an example to his officers as well as to the men and would hold Evensong Services in his tent. He, like the master he loved and served with his whole being, died on a green hill far away without a city wall – if not at Jerusalem – in the Holy Land”.

As a young reporter on the Sevenoaks Chronicle, local journalist Bob Ogley interviewed William’s father, Wallace, in the mid 1950’s about his memories of Sevenoaks in the 19th century when he played cricket for the Vine and football for Woolwich Arsenal. Bob recalls:

Aged 90 at the time, he told me about his friendship with Winston Churchill, his early adventures as a prize fighter, his extraordinary trip to the North Pole, how he found a living as a bricklayer and helped to build the Club Hall, destroyed by a bomb in 1940. His most treasured memory was helping to build the world’s first glider, which flew from Magpie Bottom in Eynsford and gave the Wright brothers’ the inspiration to develop their own flying machine. He did not tell me anything about his heroic son Wallace, who succumbed to his wounds in a faraway country. Maybe because I did not ask him. Maybe because the memory of him was just too powerful to talk about”.

We remember William on the hundredth anniversary of his death.

For King and Country – a memorial to the sons of Henry Forster MP

By 1914, Henry William Forster had been the MP for Sevenoaks for twenty two years, holding the seat from 1892. A Deputy Lieutenant of Kent he went on to serve as Financial Secretary to the War Office from 1915. Forster had married his wife, Rachel, daughter of the 1st Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, in 1890 and the couple had four children, John, Alfred Henry, Rachel and Emily.

Henry Forster later became MP for Bromley in 1918 and was ennobled in 1920 becoming 1st Baron Forster of Lepe in Southampton. From 1920 until 1925 he  served as Governor General of Australia before returning home to live at Exbury House until his death in 1936 aged sixty nine.

Forster’s eldest son, John, was born on 13th May 1893 and was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifles on 3rd September 1913.

In the early days of the war the fact that the son of the local Member of Parliament was already at the front was mentioned several times at public recruitment meetings in Sevenoaks, to demonstrate that the sons of the politicians and the gentry were already ‘doing their bit’.

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Second Lieutenant John Forster

John Forster was killed in the early hours of 14th September 1914 during the First Battle of the Aisne. His battalion had been ordered to advance to the plateau of Troyon and dig in.  They went forward in bad weather and when they reached the crest, were unable to continue further and found themselves pinned down by enemy fire coming from the occupied sugar factory at the crossroads above Troyon.

John’s death was reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle, along with a letter that had been written to his parents

“I ought to have written before about your dear brave Jack, but I was shot through the head the same day and it has been impossible. He died like the gallant English gentleman that he was, leading his men at a critical time when men wanted leading. He was shot right through the head and never recovered. He was my best and brightest officer under all the most trying circumstances and his men all adored him – as of course we all did”.

“The circumstances were as follows:

Our Battalion was ordered out in advance of the Division to occupy some high ground and hold it while the Division passed. We were just getting up to the top at 4 a.m., when, at a point where the space between us and the top was almost perpendicular, we suddenly found ourselves being fired at in the dark by hundreds of Germans, who were firing right down on us as if we were in a rat-pit, so to speak. We had to force our way up to the top of the hill, and when we arrived there we found ourselves confronted by a strong force of Germans, entrenched with machine guns in position, and only 200 yards off. We remained there all day under a heavy shell and rifle fire”.

 “It was a terrible day for our Battalion. By mid-day there were only six Company officers left. We lost 15 officers out of 24 and 283 men. These heavy losses were mostly caused by those dirty Germans holding up their hands in token of surrender and then opening fire on us when we got within 20 yards of their trenches. I am so very sorry about your son, He was a first-class officer and a great favourite with his brother officers as well as his N.C.O’s and men”

John’s brother, Alfred Henry was born on 7th February, 1898 and educated at Winchester College before attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the 2nd Dragoons Guards (Royal Scots Greys) in July 1916.

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Lieutenant Alfred Henry Forster

Alfred was sent to France the following February and was promoted to Lieutenant on 19th January, 1918. On 17th October 1918 he was seriously wounded near Le Cateau and transferred to the Gerstley-Hoare Hospital for Officers at 53 Cadogan Square, Belgravia, London, where he spent five months before dying of his wounds on 10th March 1919.

While at the hospital, Alfred became friends with fellow patient, the sculptor Cecil Thomas (1885-1976). After Alfred’s death, Lord and Lady Forster commissioned Thomas to design the remarkable memorial to John and his brother, which is in the church of St Katherine at Exbury in the New Forest. The bronze figure was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924 and a model is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Memorial to the Forster brothers at St Katherine’s, Exbury

All images ©Come Step Back in Time

The memorial, which displays a recumbent figure of Alfred, is inscribed

To the glory of god and in loving memory of their two sons John and Alfred who gave their lives for king and country in the Great War 1914 -1918 this monument is erected by Lord and Lady Forster of Lepe.

There is a similar memorial in the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London. It was Lord Forster’s wish that this would not be a personal memorial but one to all those who had died. There are similar memorials at the church of St John, Southend and in Newcastle Cathedral, Australia.

There is also a memorial plaque to John Forster at the church in Exbury.

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Memorial plaque to John Forster

All images ©Come Step Back in Time

The Forster family had previously lived at Southend Hall in Lewisham (now demolished) and Lord Forster donated the land for Forster Memorial Park near Catford in memory of his sons and the park was opened by his daughter, Dorothy, in 1922.

The brothers are also remembered at their schools and in the parliamentary books of remembrance at Westminster.

 

All images of the Forster memorial are reproduced with kind permission by ©Come Step Back in Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The gallant sons of Sevenoaks’ – the story of our war memorial

The Sevenoaks War Memorial was unveiled on an autumn day in October 1920 when thousands of local people assembled on The Vine to pay their public tribute to the memory of two hundred and twenty five sons of Sevenoaks, who lost their lives during the conflict. The Sevenoaks Chronicle subsequently noted in its report of the event how every class was represented and had suffered loss, all had been bound together in one great act of sacrifice.

The Memorial was funded by public subscription, including from house-to-house collections, with individual donations of up to £500. The total raised being £5,663. On the afternoon of the unveiling the memorial was covered with the Union Jack, with the town’s coat of arms. Lord Sackville and the Bishop of Rochester led proceedings and were joined by many other official representatives of the town. The relatives of the men stood in their own enclosure and a boy scout stood at each corner of the mound. Representatives of the VAD also attended as did many of the local churches and other organisations, all gathered to honour their fellow townsmen.

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Order of Service for the unveiling ceremony

The choirs of St Nicholas, St Mary, Kippington, and St John’s led the singing and the ex servicemen marched to their places from nearby St John’s Congregational Church.

After hymns had been sung and prayers said, Lord Sackville, who had served throughout the war himself, spoke movingly

“I suppose there can be no occasion which calls for greater unity of feeling than an occasion like the present, when we meet here together for the purpose of unveiling and dedicating a Memorial to our fellow towns-men who fought and died in the Great War. It was inevitable that there should be divergence of opinion as to the particular form that any Memorial should take; it is inevitable that there should be criticism of the site chosen and of a dozen other matters: but I think that I may safely say that this gathering, as fully representative of all the various interests in this town of Sevenoaks, is united here today with one common thought, to pay tribute to the memory of those whose names you will find inscribed on this Memorial”.

“Many of these men were known to many of us: some of them met their end in my own regiment with me, and they went forth from Sevenoaks, hoping no doubt, that they might be safely spared to return in all safety, knowing full well the dangers they were going to encounter and yet facing those dangers with that cheerful uncomplaining acquiescence for the call of duty which has won for them a place in our esteem which no Memorial can ever adequately fill… I am glad to know that there are many in the assembly today of the men who were the comrades in arms of those whose memory we are honouring today”.

He concluded by speaking of the relatives gathered before him

May I, on behalf of the whole community, offer to them our heartfelt sympathy, our reverent gratitude for the sacrifices which they were called upon to make, and may I tell them that in erecting this monument, we are not unmindful of their sorrows but that we are erecting it as a sign to this generation and to future generations with the high honour and esteem with which we regard those so dear to them, who gave all, who lost all and yet who gained all”.

He then unveiled the memorial with the words “Let us ever remember with thanksgiving and all honour before God and man the gallant sons of Sevenoaks who laid down their lives for their country in the Great War”.

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Postcard of the war memorial with flowers laid by relatives, October 1920

Mr Frank Robinson, Chairman of the Urban District Council, then read the list of the 225 names, which included those of his son, Frank, and nephew, Herbert Lethebe. He noted that it was unknown how many men from Sevenoaks had gone to war but 225 were remembered on the memorial and 1,265 had returned. He remarked, perhaps with his own loss at the front of his mind, that Sevenoaks had paid rather heavily.

The Bishop of Rochester then spoke saying , according to the newspaper report, that

The monument stands on a great highway along which hundreds of thousands of people would pass through from the great Metropolis to the seaboard. It would stand when all present that day had followed those men beyond the grave into the great Hereafter. It would stand to inspire those that came after us to be worthy of the heroisms of those men…He wanted the monument to uplift them and make them stand as the man on the monument stood, sentry-like, prepared not only to fight for their country but to fight against all that was evil, all that was of discord and all that prevented the country from rising in the time of peace to the high position it attained during the years of war. It was only Christ who would enable them to do so”

After the Bishop’s address wreaths and flowers were placed at the foot of the memorial by the relatives, helped by the Boy Scouts. Then came the Blessing, Chopin’s Funeral March and then the Last Post, sounded by two buglers of the Royal West Kent Regiment. After the silence came Reveille and the end of the service.

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List of names from the Order of Service, 1920

The Memorial was designed by sculptor and painter, Arthur George Walker, who designed several others, including those of Dartford and Ironbridge which bear the same figure. The inscription on the Memorial reads ‘To keep in mind those from this place who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918’.

Private Bartholomew

There were  225 names listed on the memorial when it was unveiled. Two more were later added and one was removed, that of Adrian Maurice Bartholomew of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Adrian’s service records survive and show that he enlisted in 1914 and was sent for instruction at the Royal Army Medical Corps School in Chatham before being posted.

He survived the war and lived to see his own name commemorated. His name is listed in the order of service for the unveiling of the memorial in 1920 (above) and is visible on a postcard of the memorial taken shortly after its unveiling.

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Side view of memorial, October 1920

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Panel showing where Private Bartholomew’s name had been

Adrian was born in 1895, one of seven children born to Frank Bartholomew, a house painter and his wife, Annie. The 1911 census shows that Adrian was working as a grocer’s boy and the family living at 3, Bradbourne Road Cottages.

His inclusion on the memorial is curious as there were plenty of family members living locally, none of whom would have requested his name to be included. His brother-in-law, John Tester, had been killed in 1915 and was remembered on the memorial, although not under his regiment, the Royal West Kents but with five other unassigned names. Adrian’s two nephews, John’s sons, Eric and Leslie Tester, were later included on the memorial as both died in the Far East at the end of the Second World War. However, their names were only added after their mother’s death in 1979 as she could not bear to see them named on the memorial while she lived.

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Adrian’s obituary in the Sevenoaks Chronicle

Adrian Bartholomew died in Sevenoaks in 1966, aged seventy.

In August 1914, our memorial project gathered descendants of the men from across the country to remember them in a special service and family members lay crosses at the foot of the memorial as the names of the men were read out once more in remembrance.

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Descendants of those remembered gather at the memorial, August 2014

 

Letters home – ‘The Full Story of the Arethusa by a Sevenoaks Jack Tar’

In the early weeks of the war, a number of men from Sevenoaks who were by then in training or already on active service, wrote to the Sevenoaks Chronicle with tales of their exploits. One of the first to do so was Thomas Porter. Thomas was born in Sevenoaks in 1891, the son of Thomas Porter and his wife, Ellen. The 1911 census showed Thomas as aged twenty four, living at 13, Redman Place, High Street, Sevenoaks, with his parents and four of his siblings.

Thomas’s letters are accounts of his time as a Stoker on the Arethusa during the Battle of Heligoland Bight, the first naval battle of the war, which was fought on the 28th August 1914.

Thomas had joined the Royal Navy on 6th August 1909, for the usual period of twelve years. At the time of his joining up he was working as a plumber and his papers show that he was nearly 5’4 tall, with a fresh complexion, brown eyes and hair. Thomas served on a number of ships before joining the Arethusa. From 1909 he was part of the crew of nine ships including the Pembroke, Agamenon, and Blenheim. He was promoted Acting Stoker while still with the Arethusa in January 1915 but left the ship that March and continued to serve with the Navy until October 1919 when, as Leading Stoker, he was invalided out of the service with his character having been ‘Very Good’ throughout.

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Thomas’s first letter in the Sevenoaks Chronicle

Thomas wrote two letters that were published, the first to his mother, the second to the Sevenoaks Chronicle. He tries to strike a reassuring tone in the letter to his mother

Don’t worry over me as I am as safe as ‘houses’. Since I said goodbye to Dad and the boys, I have been in the thick of the war and thank God for that. He has spared me to come back. We were in the great battle of Heligoland and I am sorry to say we have eleven killed and two wounded. We were engaged in the battle for six hours and our ship sunk four German cruisers, eight submarines and two torpedo destroyers. You talk about the charge of the Light Brigade, it was not in it. Now no more. We had a very rough time so now I will close. I have a lot to tell you when I write again, so goodbye, I remain, your loving son, Tom.

The second letter was published the following week billed as the Full Story of the Arethusa by a Sevenoaks Jack Tar.

This is an account of the great battle of Heligoland. I am just writing as I was an eye witness. It was a sight I shall never forget. We had only been in commission a week. We left on the Thursday from Harwich to try and decoy the skulkers out into the North Sea.

My captain told us the night before we went into action that we were going to have a rub at them sometime next morning. We were steaming all night long without lights, which was a very dangerous job, as there were forty seven destroyers of the British and two 2nd class cruisers about – the Arethusa and HMS Fearless. Well, all went well until about 7 o’clock next morning, and then we were at it.

There was a black fog all around us, but we were not more than three miles off the big forts of Heligoland, and we could see the German destroyers coming to meet us. But we had no idea we were going to meet cruisers. We opened fire on them and of course they retaliated and we had not been in action more than 20 minutes when we sunk one of their destroyers. Yes! Our boats peppered it into them. Then all of a sudden we saw a big cruiser coming towards us, so of course we had to do our best. I had just come off watch, and the fog was still very black, and as I came on deck a terrible sight I saw. Dead and wounded all around me, and the shells of the Germans still bursting over our heads. But we had to stick it. I did my best. I gave a hand with the wounded but I could not see a stretcher, and so I picked up a piece of old canvas, carried two poor chaps to sick bay in it, and back I came.

We came out of action and we had not been out about half an hour when our skipper sighted another two cruisers of the enemy, so of course we had to face the music once more. And this time we all thought it was all up with us, as we were badly damaged. We had our gunners shot away from their guns like nine-pins, and others came up to take their places and then we had four guns out of action, but we had two or three to carry on with, as we meant to fight until the last. Then all of a sudden we sighted the cruisers and battle cruisers of our own Fleet coming to our assistance. It was a Godsend, because we were hit badly below the waterline. We could only steam 20 knots then, as our engines had nearly been put out of action, and afterwards we had to be towed home to Bonny England by the cruiser Hague, and when we got to Sheerness we did get a “chuck-up” by the lads on the battleships.

Mr Churchill came aboard and had a look over our ship to see the damage and to look at our poor lads who had fallen in the battle. After all we went through, it was a marvel to come out of it all. And last of all I must tell you that our captain told us that we had all done our duty and the next time we went in action he hoped we would put our trust in him as we had put our trust in us. We are going to have another out later on to see if we can make some more of them come out and go under.

Apart from a brief reference to Thomas when his brother George was mentioned in the Sevenoaks Chronicle, I haven’t yet been able to find further reference to him, either during the war or after. On 21st September 1917, in its regular ‘Our Boys’ column, George Porter was mentioned as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers home on leave from his current base at Canterbury. According to the brief article, George’s brother Ernest was serving with the Kent Cyclists while Tom was noted as being ‘for some time on board the Arethusa when she did saucy things in the North Sea’.

This short but detailed piece was the first account of any Sevenoaks man who had experienced combat to be published and read by local people.

All of the Porter brothers appear to have survived the war but there was one wartime casualty in the family with the death of their sister, Clarice May Cross nee Porter  (1892-1918). In its report of her burial, the Chronicle reported that Clarice had died of blood poisoning in hospital in Folkestone. Her obituary noted briefly that Clarice had worked in a munitions factory during the war ‘and there contracted the disease of which she died’. Clarice was buried in the cemetery at St Nicholas and left behind her husband, Clarence, and baby daughter, Clarice, who was just a few weeks old.

Another of Thomas’s sisters, Elsie Nellie (1886-1975) married Charlie Draper, the soldier whom I wrote about in my post Remember Me 

As ever, I would be very interested to hear from anyone with further information regarding this local family, at least four of whom served either abroad or on the home front.

 

‘For gallantry and leadership’ – the story of Jack Whyntie MC

Cyril John ‘Jack’ Whyntie was an early recruit to Kitchener’s Army and had a successful career throughout the war. Clearly earmarked as a promising recruit, his bravery was to win him the Military Cross in the last year of the war.

Cyril was born on 5th October 1894 in Kentish Town, London, to William Whyntie (1860-1948) a draper originally from Scotland, and his wife, Annie Frances (1867-1938).

imageA young Cyril John ‘Jack’ Whyntie

By 1901 the family were living in Sevenoaks at 118, High Street. That year’s census shows William working as a draper’s manager and living with his wife, sons Jack and Fred, and daughter, Olive. Thirteen servants were also listed as residing at the premises.

By 1911, Jack was listed as an apprentice draper and the family now included two other daughters, Doris and Kathleen. Including servants and a companion to his wife, William Whyntie’s sizeable home of fourteen rooms housed fifteen people, including the appropriately named Bertha Draper, sister of Frank Draper who was killed in 1917 and is remembered on the Sevenoaks War Memorial.

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imageViews of Whyntie & Co. in the High Street, Sevenoaks

The family were Wesleyans and William Whyntie often preached and involved himself in church business. Cyril had been educated at Avenue House School, Sevenoaks, followed by the Judd School in Tonbridge. After leaving he had been apprenticed as a draper to Frank East of Tonbridge. Like many Sevenoaks men, shortly after the outbreak of war he enlisted at Tunbridge Wells on 4th September 1914 where he was assigned to 7th Battalion The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment, one of the new regiments composed of recruits who answered Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers. His papers show that he was 5 10 & 3/4 tall with grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

imageSergeant Jack Whyntie, Royal West Kents

By the time Jack was sent to France with his battalion in July 1915 he had been promoted from lance corporal to corporal,  lance sergeant and then sergeant. As a sergeant in 7th Royal West Kents, Jack saw action in the early days of the Somme and was present at the capture of  Trones Wood, where three other Sevenoaks men, Fred Gilks, Lawrence Bowles and James Pettitt, all in Jack’s battalion, lost their lives on 13th July 1916.

imageJack Whyntie, taken at the Essenhigh Corke Studio, Sevenoaks

Jack Whyntie’s records show that he remained at the front until February 1917 when he returned home for four months. Perhaps it was during this period of leave that he sat for local photographer, Charles Essenhigh Corke, whose firm was situated on the London Road. The Essenhigh Corke studio had offered free photographs to serving men, and many locals, as well as men who were stationed in the town, took advantage of the offer. In 2008, five hundred glass plate negatives were found in the former studio. These, including Jack’s portrait, were digitised and put on public display before being housed at the Kent County Archives in Maidstone.

In 1917 while still a serving sergeant in B Company of the 7th Royal West Kents, Jack applied for a temporary commission, which he received in the June, being gazetted as a temporary Second Lieutenant in 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment.

A few months later in October 1917, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that Jack had been wounded

‘in the big advance, last Friday, October 12th. Going over the top – during which operation all his senior officers were hit – it fell to Lieut. Whyntie’s lot to lead his company on in the advance until he, too, was hit by shrapnel some distance on. Lt. Whyntie is now lying in a hospital at the Base, suffering from shrapnel wounds in the thigh’.

The incident was mentioned in the battalion war diary

The barrage started at Zero mins four minutes by Brigade time, and appeared fairly intense, but machine gun fire was immediately opened from guns posted close to our tape, which was not touched by the barrage at all. Second Lieutenant C Whyntie, the sole remaining Officer of ‘D’ Company, was wounded at once…

In its November 23rd edition the Chronicle was able to report that Jack had sufficiently recovered to be able to rejoin his regiment.

On 4th April 1918, Jack was again injured, this time at Villers-Bretonneux on the Somme. Once again the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported news of his injury, stating that on this occasion he had been wounded by a bullet in the arm. Jack was sent back to England where he was treated at the 5th Southern General Hospital before being transferred to a convalescent home for officers. By June 1918 a Medical Board concluded that he had regained perfect movement in his shoulder and was fit for general service.

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Jack Whyntie’s Military Cross, still in family ownership

Later that year, by now serving as Acting Captain, he was awarded the Military Cross, according to the citation

For conspicuous gallantry and leadership near Ronssoy on the 18th September, 1918. He held his company well together in the dense mist and kept them straight on their objective. Owing to the failure of troops in front to take the Green Line the company soon found itself in the front line and met with heavy machine-gun fire. He at once extended his company and pushed on, thereby gaining two thousand yards of ground and reaching the Green Line.

imageJack as a captain in the East Surrey Regiment

After the armistice, Jack continued to serve, for a time in the army of occupation, before he returned to the family business where he became a director and settled in Sevenoaks with his wife, Helen, and two children, Barbara (born 1923) and Brian (born 1925). A popular businessman, local resident and a keen follower of cricket, he was often seen watching a match at the Vine ground which overlooks the war memorial.

imageAn advert for Whyntie & Co, Sevenoaks Chronicle, 1922

Jack Whyntie was taken ill suddenly when preparing to close the shop one Thursday evening in 1935 and died of meningitis on his forty first birthday on the following Saturday 5th October. He was buried in Greatness Cemetery. His brother Fred, who had served as an Air Mechanic during the war, survived him by only two years, dying in 1937, followed the year after by their mother, aged seventy one. William Whyntie, the patriarch of the family, lived on until 1948 when he died aged eighty eight and was survived by his daughters and grandchildren.

imageThe family grave at Greatness Cemetery

I am grateful to Jack Whyntie’s Great Nephew, Adrian, for sharing information and some splendid photos of his Great Uncle.