‘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

 

Remembering Private Hope

Today, on the hundredth anniversary of his death, we are remembering Private Alfred Hope G/11209, 10th Battalion, The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

This morning, together with fellow local historian and author, Ian Walker, I went to the church of St Lawrence, Seal Chart just outside of Sevenoaks where Alfred is buried, to pay our respects.

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Private Alfred Hope

Alfred Hope was born in 1890, in Sissinghurst, to Mark, a farm bailiff and his wife, Alice, at Lower Fawke farm, where Alfred later worked as a gardener. He grew up with his siblings, Charles Mark, Harry Benjamin, Emily Louisa and Mary.

By the time of his enlistment on 17th November 1915, Alfred and family were living at Stone Street Farm. He served with the Royal West Kents and records show that he was 5’9 and weighed 142lbs.

Alfred joined his regiment, the 10th battalion Royal West Kents, in France in May 1916 and suffered a severe gunshot wound to his leg early that June. He was transferred to England on the SS Brighton to Graylingwell War Hospital, Chichester, where he later died of blood poisoning, surrounded by his family. His body was bought back to Stone Street and buried on the west side of the churchyard at St Lawrence.

The Kent Messenger carried a report of his funeral, recording that he had worked as a gardener. He was also a successful exhibitor at the Sevenoaks Horticultural Society’s Show and a member of the local Gardeners’ Society, and of the St Lawrence Cricket Club. Alfred was also a bell ringer at the church.

During the course of research for my book on the Sevenoaks War Memorial,  I was able to purchase Alfred’s British War and Victory medals, as well as the memorial plaque awarded posthumously. I had already visited his grave two years ago and this morning was a chance to visit again and remember him on the centenary of his death.

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The church of St Lawrence at Seal Chart

We were met by the Reverend Carol Kitchener and Gretel Wakeham, Lay Reader at the church, who showed us the fine carved memorial to Alfred and the rest of the fallen of the parish (including William Miles, also named on the Sevenoaks War Memorial) inside the church.

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The parish memorial inside the church

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Alfred’s grave at St Lawrence

The four of us then went to Alfred’s grave, where Gretel read Psalm 106 and Reverend Kitchener led prayers for Alfred, his family and all those affected by the conflict. We then stood, in that peaceful churchyard in the Kent countryside, on a fine summer’s morning, in silent remembrance.

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Alfred’s entry in the burial register

Afterwards, Gretel was able to show us the entry for Alfred in the burial register and we discovered that we were not the only ones to visit the church recently to remember one of the war dead of the parish. The family of Stephen Phyall MM, Private G/386 6th Battalion of the Royal West Kents , who is remembered on the church memorial visited in July to mark the anniversary of his death and rang the 1296 Cambridge Surprise Minor, letting the church bells that he would have been so familiar with, ring out in his memory.

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Stephen Phyall’s family recorded their tribute to him in the visitors’ book

According to the CWGC, there are two other first world war burials at St Lawrence’s. Hugh Herbert Hodder, died 16th January 1918 and F A Wickham who died of his wounds on 28th September 1915.

My thanks to the Reverend Kitchener and Gretel Wakeham for welcoming us to the church this morning and remembering Alfred with us.

 

Remember Me – a postcard home

Just this weekend I purchased an embroidered silk postcard from the First World War, in good condition and with the soldier’s name and number written clearly, as well as the name of the recipient.

I try and collect postcards and other ephemera related to Sevenoaks during the First World War, many of which are on display in our postcard gallery to give some idea of what the town would have looked like during this period. This postcard was unusual as the details of sender and addresses meant that it was possible to try and discover more about them.

There is no postmarked envelope to give a date so all I had to go on was the detail given. It was sent by Sapper 24682 C Draper of WR 334 Road Construction Company of the Royal Engineers.

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A quick search on the ancestry website revealed that this was Charlie Draper of Sevenoaks and, fortunately, his service records survive. Charlie’s records show that he was twenty nine and working as an engine driver when he was called up in March 1917, having enlisted the previous March. On enlistment he had expressed a desire to join the Royal Engineers Road Construction Company.

According to his records, Charlie was living at 3, Morants Cottages, Cramptons Road, Sevenoaks with his wife, Elsie Nellie Draper nee Porter, (whom he had married on Boxing Day 1911 in Kippington, Sevenoaks) and his daughter, Elsie Doris, born 1912.

It seems likely that Charlie was employed by the Kent County Council as a letter from the County Surveyor is preserved in his file, which shows that the Council had supported his request to work for the road units in France.

Charlie was sent overseas on 1st March 1917 when he embarked at Southampton bound for Le Havre. In October 1917 he passed a test and was regraded to the skilled rate of engineer pay. The Road Construction Companies performed vital work throughout the war and Charlie’s peacetime skills were no doubt invaluable. It is likely that he was present with 334 Company at Beaumont Hamel in 1917 and I would be interested to hear from anyone who has any more information on this company and its movements during the war. Charlie’s army service continued  until January 1920. He served with 334 Road Construction Company until 24th May 1919, and was then transferred via the base depot to the 5th Transportation Stores Company.

Charlie, as he was christened, was one of seven children born to Charles Draper and his wife, Bertha nee Welfare. Charles Draper senior was well known locally as a cricketer and the landlord of The Halfway House, a pub still open today, not far from Sevenoaks train station on the way to Riverhead.

Through his mother, Bertha, granddaughter of John Wells, Charlie was a second cousin once removed of the writer H . G. Wells. who wrote his novel The Time Machine whilst living at 23, Eardley Road, Sevenoaks.

Charles Draper was born in Penshurst in 1860 and had been landlord of the Halfway House for fifteen years when he died on 14 May 1903 at Guy’s Hospital in London. For a pub landlord, Charles received a fulsome obituary in the Sevenoaks Chronicle, a testament perhaps not only to his prowess as a cricketer but also to his personality and he appears to have been much mourned.

The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that

By his death Sevenoaks loses one of its most celebrated cricketers. From an early age he was more than ordinarily proficient both with the bat and ball and all through his life, up to the last season or so, he has been a most consistent and successful player. For many years he was groundsman to the Vine and it was largely owing to his exertions that the old Vine club was enabled for so many years to maintain its reputation.

Cricket clearly ran in the family as Charles’s father, William (1823-1901), had been a cricket ball maker, while his brother, William (1848-1919) had played first class cricket for Kent from 1874-1880. Another brother, Henry (1847-1896), was a test match umpire. William’s son, Herbert, also served during the war with the Royal Engineers only to die during the Spanish Flu pandemic in November 1919.

Charles’s obituary noted that he left a widow and seven children, the eldest being seventeen.

Charles Draper obituaryThe Sevenoaks Chronicle carried an obituary of Charles Draper

The Chronicle later recorded that the pub licence had been transferred to Bertha but by 1911 she was living at 14, Holyoake Terrace with Charlie, aged twenty three and recorded as a traction engine driver, and five of her other children, including Frank, aged fifteen, a butcher’s assistant . A daughter, Bertha, was residing at 118 High Street at Whyntie & Co. the subject of my last blog post on Cyril John Whyntie.

Charlie survived the war, leaving the army in 1920 and living until 1959 when it appears that he died, aged seventy one, in the St Albans area

Charlie’s younger brother, Frank Draper, enlisted shortly after the outbreak of war,  at Tonbridge in September 1914, was posted abroad in June 1915, and by 1916 had been promoted to Corporal, serving with 6th Battalion of the Royal West Kents. Unlike his brother, Frank did not survive the war and was killed in action in May 1917; the date of his death assumed to be 3rd. Frank is remembered at the Arras Memorial and on the Sevenoaks War Memorial.

What of the the of recipient of the postcard, Miss West, who was perhaps living or visiting at Charlie’s home at Morants Cottages when the postcard was sent? At the moment there is no way of identifying her with any degree of certainty. None of Charlie’s sisters appears to have married a Mr West. The one family of that surname who lived nearby to the Draper family, on Moor Road, did have one daughter of the right age in the 1911 census but she had died by the likely posting of the card in early 1917.

Despite the Draper family being large and well known, I have not been able to trace any descendants of the family, and there are no available photos. I would be very pleased to her from anyone who can shed further light on this story, from more detail of where 334 Road Construction Company was during the war, to any members of the Draper family who may be interested in this snapshot of their family history, all inspired by the detail on one postcard, sent home by a local man with the simple request, Remember Me.