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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‘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.

Cedric Gordon, An Undaunted Hero

Of the five Gordon brothers who fought in the First World War, two are remembered on the Sevenoaks War memorial. Donald Jervis Gordon was the first to be killed, dying on the third day of the battle of the Somme in 1916. Donald was a Lieutenant in the Border Regiment.

Captain Donald Jervis GordonDonald Jervis Gordon

His younger brother, Bernard Vernon, was killed later that year in December 1916, in a flying accident in Northumberland whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps.

Second Lieutenant Bernard Vernon GordonBernard Vernon Gordon

The remaining brothers who fought were Thomas Milford – a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, Edward Basil and Cedric Foskett Gordon. During the course of my research for the book, a family friend of Cedric, David Lambourne, contacted me with information about him, including Cedric’s obituary and recently one of Cedric’s nephews, Martin Gordon, wrote to me from Australia, having been pleased to find the photograph of his uncle that David had sent me and which is now displayed on my ancestry page for Sevenoaks as well as in the War Memorial Gallery on this site.

Cedric lived to the ripe old age of  89, dying in Sevenoaks in 1979. Like his brothers Donald and Edward he was educated at Lancing College, were he excelled in sports. In 1910, he was commissioned into the North Staffordshire Regiment. He was sent to France on the outbreak of war and was wounded twice. In 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross for leading an attack on a village.

imageCedric Gordon (on right)

His second injury was the most serious and resulted in his losing a leg. You might be forgiven for thinking that this would be the end of his war service but Cedric joined the Royal Flying Corps and continued his wartime service as an observer and air gunner on the Western Front. He was subsequently awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1917, was mentioned in dispatches four times and awarded the military class of the OBE in 1919.

According to another nephew,  quoted in his obituary, Cedric was shot at during one flight with the bullet shattering his wooden leg. On landing, he was said to have found the stray bullet in his pocket and was confined to bed until the camp carpenter had made him a new leg.

imageCedric, on left, having lost his right leg

After the war, and having gained his pilot’s licence despite his wooden leg, Cedric was sent to Russia with British forces to aid the White Russians in the Crimea in their fight against the Bolsheviks. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and received the Order of St Ann and the Order of St Stanislas from the Russians. After leaving Russia, he flew in Palestine, where during one flight for reconnaissance work, he was forced to land in the desert and was, according to his obituary ‘picked up by a band of friendly Arabs’.

Cedric later worked for British intelligence in mainland China, before returning to England and taking command of the RAF Bloom Centre. During the Second World War, he was eventually put in charge of the South East Air Training Corps and was also a member of the Home Guard.

On his retirement, he returned to Lancing College, where his brother Edward was a Master, to become Bursar. Later in life he became well known in Sevenoaks for his involvement in the local scouting movement.

imageCedric Foskett Gordon

Cedric’s nephew, Martin Gordon, wrote to me with his memories of his uncle:

He lived in a big house with grounds in Sevenoaks. He had big vegetable gardens, a large pig, called Mr Pig, and even a little wood on a hill. He had a little MG which he used to drive my sister and I into town with – we stood up in the boot. He never married and lived with his sister Kathleen. She affectionately called him “Beast” and he had a similarly uncomplimentary name for her, which I can no longer remember. He was a wonderful man- we lived near London, but we drove over to visit about once a year when I was a child, and it was always one of my favourite days of the year.

To my shame, I never quizzed him about his life. All I can remember is that he was a pilot in World War I and he lost a leg. He still had the trench coat he was wearing when he was wounded, with a hole burned in it – he showed it to me. He said he also fought in Russia after the war for the RAF. One of the things he told me was that when he was in Russia, he was shot down and had to walk through the snow back to base. I have recently been able to check the facts, and this is what actually happened:

On 23 December 1919 the plane he was in was hit and they had to make a forced landing behind enemy lines. He and the pilot burned the plane and set off walking through the winter snow. You can imagine how cold it was, Christmas time in Russia! And they didn’t get back to base until the next day. I can’t imagine how he did that with one leg.

Martin Gordon is investigating his uncle’s service in Russia and I am continuing to research the service of all of the brothers who fought during the war and who gave so much to their country.