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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Searching for the Sevenoaks airmen

There are five men who served with the Royal Flying Corps named on the Sevenoaks war memorial: Bernard Vernon Gordon, George Walford, Nimrod King, Thomas Sillis and George Walford.

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Tom Silliss

Bernard Gordon’s brother, Cedric Foskett Gordon went on to serve with the RFC as an observer after losing a leg whilst serving with the North Staffordshire regiment. We know a lot about the Gordon family as their archive, especially Cedric’s letters of that period survive. Just over a week before Bernard’s death, Cedric wrote to his younger brother who was then in training:

9 December, letter to 2nd Lieut BV Gordon at the Aerodrome, Cramlington.

How are you getting on?   I am glad you have got over your Preliminary part.   I hope you still like flying.   What sort of a pilot are you turning out to be?   How long will it probably be before you get your wings?   Life out here in the Winter is pretty dull.   I have only been up twice in the last 3 weeks & there is nothing to do.   They have just started quite a decent officers’ club here.   I am going there for dinner tonight.   We have been having dreadfully dud weather here.   Not much chance of it clearing up ‘till about April.   A Hun who was out on a night bombing raid lost his way & landed about 2 miles from here 3 nights ago.   He only broke his prop. so he did pretty well. There was a great soccer match this afternoon.   There is quite a lot of footer out here;  I wish I could play & the fellows who can play don’t want to!   We have got a very good aerodrome here.   The Hun prisoners have made a good job of it.   There have been one or two very good concert parties down this way lately & there is to be a boxing show on this week.   You ought to try boxing one day, it’s quite good fun & very good exercise.   Let me know if I can do anything for you.   Who have you got as your Sqdn Commander & Flight Commanders?   Nice people I hope.    There are a lot of blighters in the Corps.   Well, very best of luck.   Cheerho.

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Bernard Vernon Gordon

Bernard was killed, aged 18, in an aircraft crash near Newcastle on 14 December, his 13th Solo sortie.

The exploits of other local RFC men were often reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle but I am very keen to hear from anyone who might be able to shed more light on our airmen and their stories.

Ernest Horncastle was one such man. A son of Walter Horncastle, a tailor based in the High Street (a family business which still operates today), Ernest was born in Sevenoaks in 1890.  Aged twenty three and at 6’1  and in good health, he enlisted in August 1914 and soon received a temporary commission with the Royal Field Artillery, arriving in France that December. After a few months he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps Balloon Section. In August 1917 the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that Ernest

…has seen some very stiff work and had some thrilling experiences.

By 1916, Ernest was suffering from shell shock and fever and spent a period of five weeks on leave at home. A Medical Board report concluded that his illness was due to active service and that he ‘is very neurotic and complaining of subjective symptoms’.

Ernest recovered well enough to return to service and continued until early 1918 when he was diagnosed with bronchitis and neurasthenia and was sent to hospital before returning home on leave to England. A Medical Board held in that March noted that his bronchitis had cleared but that he still suffered from muscular pains and other symptoms.

The medical officer’s opinion was that

He has done a good deal of active service. It is highly probable that his nerve for flying is failing or has done so. He is otherwise perfectly well.

In fact, by this time, Ernest had clocked up over 150 hours flying. The board concluded that Ernest should return to some duty, in order for his ‘mind to be distracted from himself’.

(he) leads an ordinary life of pleasure and enjoyment and takes plenty of exercise. He has greatly improved in every way since admission.

Ernest survived the war and lived until 1964.

Another Ernest, a brother of soldier Leonard Brooker who is remembered on the town war memorial, initially served with the Royal Engineers.

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Ernest Brooker

The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in September 1917 that Ernest

is engaged in wireless telegraphy work. He has been in France eighteen months and finds his work pleasurable.

A chemist before the war, Ernest joined the RFC and survived the war but was tragically killed in a motor accident in 1929.

Horace Owen was born in 1890, he son of local councillor, Richard and his wife, Laura.

Initially joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve,  Horace later transferred to be the Flying Corps, where he served as a Temporary Lieutenant.

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Horace William Owen

The Chronicle reported in early 1917 that Horace had only recently left Sevenoaks to commence his duties in France as a member of the RFC and went missing after his first flight. After weeks of uncertainty, a letter from Horace arrived home informing his parents that he was now a prisoner of war and had been shot down while flying. Horace had been captured on 28th March 1917 and was repatriated on 14th January 1919. He lived on until 1969.

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Ivan Hart Davies

Ivan Hart Davies (1878-1917), had been  a schoolmaster at the Beacon School in Sevenoaks and counted Siegfried Sassoon amongst his pupils. Himself the son of a vicar, he also taught the sons of the Rector of St Nicholas and  the Rev. Thompson of St Mary, Kippington. Hart Davies had left the school by the time of his death, which was reported in The Times

Lieutenant Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies, RFC, who was killed in an aeroplane accident in England was the son of the late Rev John Hart-Davies of Southam Rectory, Warwickshire and was 39 years of age. He was educated at a school at Maidenhead and at King’s School, Canterbury, and began life as a schoolmaster at New Beacon, Sevenoaks. Afterwards, however, he worked up a wide life insurance and motor insurance business in the Midlands. He held the “end-to-end” “record” for motor cycles and light cars, and in 1913, with three other motorcyclists, won the Murren Cup, though none of the four had done any bobsleighing before. He took to flying before the war as an amateur, but last year he obtained a commission in the RFC and was on the eve of going to the front. A brother officer writes ‘A gallant fellow who we all liked immensely, and are deeply grieved that he should have been fatally injured when he so much wished to go to France, where doubtless he would have won honours’.

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Harry Watson Durtnell

Harry Watson Durtnell was a scion of the Durtnell family of Brasted, builders since the reign of Elizabeth I. Harry was a cousin of Richard Neville Durtnell who was killed in action in 1917. Initially serving with the Welch regiment, Harry later transferred to serve with the RFC. He survived the war, living until 1971.

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Frederick Whyntie

Fred Whyntie was the brother of Jack Whyntie, whom I recently wrote about. Like his brother, Fred survived the war but died in 1937 aged 48. His grandson, Adrian Whyntie, told me that the family believed his health had suffered by his job of ‘applying aircraft dope to the fabric. This damaged his lungs badly, which resulted in his early death’.

Many other local men served with the RFC at all levels in the new service. John Potter  had worked with his father for five years in the Blacksmiths Forge at Knole and had joined the army in November 1916 aged 19. Putting his training to good use,  the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that he had been selected for ‘flying machines repair work’ and was employed in the Royal Naval Flying Corps workshops.

Little is known about Howard Reeder Daws (1898-1969) beyond this excellent photo of him and I’d be very pleased to hear from relatives of any of these men and those listed below whose service is mentioned only briefly in local papers.

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Howard Reeder Daws

Sevenoaks airmen mentioned in the Chronicle
Capt Nevill Hudson
Lieut Halliday
Lieut A Sargent

Air Mechanic Charlie Bassett
Air Mechanic George Dawson
Air Mechanic A Diamond
Air Mechanic Anthony Holmden
Air Mechanic Charlie Martin
Air Mechanic Arthur Terrry
Air Mechanic Frank Thorogood
First Class Air Mechanic B Frank Townsend
Second Air Mechanic Gordon A Waters

Private S Brazier
George Dawson
Private Harrington
Lionel Hicks
Private W Hoadley
Private Charlie Martin
Corporal R Morris
Private Rich
T E Weller

Air Mechanic (First Class) E C House, RNAS
Bernard Sears RNAS
Arthur Smithurst RNAS
F W Weller, RNAS

 

 

Mollie’s story, ‘My father was a conscientious objector’

When I wrote about conscientious objectors in Sevenoaks earlier this year, I tried to convey a sense of how the men who objected and their families were viewed and treated in the town but any personal testimony was difficult to find. In the last week, I have been extremely lucky to find exactly what I was looking for in a book of reminiscences from Somerset.

Mollie Wren was born Ivy Florence Tester in 1912 in Sevenoaks to George Tester (1883-1962) and Emma nee Banfield (18881-1960). Known as Mollie, she married Philip Wren and later in life moved to Somerset. In the early 1990’s, Mollie, along with several other elderly women living in the Winsham area, talked about her childhood memories in an initiative run by the South Somerset Reminiscence Project, the results of which were published, with several of Mollie’s family photos included. Mollie died in 1996 and the couple do not appear to have had any children. Fortunately, her memories are clear and evocative of the challenges her family faced as a result of her father’s stance, as the family were abused, ignored and faced financial hardship.

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George Tester and Emma Banfield on their wedding day

The 1911 census shows Mollie’s parents, George and Emma, living at 13, St Botolph’s Road with their son, George Albert (1906-1994) with George recorded as a builder. The family were active members of the Vine Baptist Church. By 1916 the family had moved to Cedar Villa, Cedar Terrace and, that June, George was mentioned in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in its report on the proceedings of the  local Military Tribunal. The paper noted that George

wanted to save life rather than take it, but did not object to non-combatant service, to which he was referred.

George’s military records show that he was thirty three and a half, five feet tall, and working as a painter when he subsequently  enrolled with the Non Combatant Corps in July 1916. That December, George was working at Newhaven when he was charged with disobeying a lawful command given to him by an officer while on active service. He was tried by court martial and sentenced to be detained at Wormwood Scrubs.

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The family at Seaford Cliffs

Mollie recalled this these events in a number of interviews that were edited and published in 1995.

Father said no, he wasn’t going to fight. He just simply believed Thou Shalt Not Kill. He was sent with a lot of others to Seaford Cliffs to load food ships for the troops. He continued with that until they wanted him to load firearms. They all refused. So then we was sent to Lewes gaol and court-martialled. He was tried by Lord Salisbury, who was sympathetic to conscientious objectors. Even so, he sent my father to Wandsworth prison for a year in solitary confinement, and then to Dartmoor Prison for two years and seven months.

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George (third right) in the workshop at Wormwood Scrubs

As a family, we were ostracised. I remember walking hand in hand with mother along St John’s Road. Two men, up ladders, shouted something abusive at my mother. She gripped my hand tightly and hurried me away. Father had said mother must continue to go to the Baptist church, although no-one spoke to her. I remember walking up the aisle to our pew, which was halfway up the church. My mother held my hand tightly.

A couple of teachers at Sevenoaks Council School were horrible to me because my dad had been a conscientious objector. They felt very strongly.

As my father was a conscientious objector, my mother had no government pay, and in the end she was virtually penniless. One night she knelt at the armchair by the cold grate in the kitchen, and prayed to God to help her. Even as she prayed the front door rattled, and she heard something put through the letterbox. She went through the passage and there was an envelope on the mat. No letter in it, but a five pound note, which in those days was a great deal of money. Mother never forgot this, and she always used to quote me afterwards: The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail. And it never did. Finally, kind people came to their senses and brought Mother sewing. She was extremely able. People would bring their sewing on the quiet to start with, but at least it came.

Lord Mons (actually Robert Mond of Combe Bank), who lived at Sundridge Place, gave Home Farm over as a convalescent home for wounded officers and their batmen. Mother became the sewing woman here. Her eldest sister, Fanny, became cook-housekeeper, and my uncle became head cowman.

There was no shortage of food there, despite the war. My aunt was a typical cook of that generation: a large lady in a blue-print dress and snow-white apron, with her lovely hair brushed back. I can see her now, standing at the kitchen table with enormous tin plates covered in pastry, and a gallipot of jam clasped to her bosom, ladling jam onto these plates. Then they were cut in six for the wounded soldiers. They loved her pastry.

Not only was  I spoiled by my aunt, but by the soldiers, I walked out with them in the country lanes and into Sundridge village, where they bought me sweets. A lot of them were married and had children of their own.

There was a great bronze gong hanging on a stand and a stick with a leather ball at the top, I loved sloshing this gong. The soldiers tried to teach me how to work up a real crescendo, but I was too little. I just loved banging it! On Sundays we went to Chevening church in a horse brake, which had seats on either side. There was I, in the middle of all these soldiers, going off to church!

There was one ward for the batmen, and the officers were in another. I remember the long rows of beds and red blankets. One particular officer was very fond of me, and when he was he dying asked to see me. Mother carried me upstairs and told me to be good. We went in with the Matron. I remember being sat on the bed. He held my hand, and his hand was very hot. I remember that clearly but no more. 

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Mollie and her ‘particular officer’ at Combe Bank

In 1916, my mother took in a lodger, a Miss Bunting. This lady was a brilliant dressmaker. She’d been very adventurous and gone off to Russia and become one of the Tsarina’s court dressmakers. When the Revolution was boiling up, she fled home quickly. One night she tapped at the bedroom door and said, ‘Mrs Tester, you must come quickly! You must see this!’. My mother picked me up out of the cot, wrapped a shawl round me and carried me into her bedroom, which had a wonderful view over the North Downs. And there was this airship going along, a German airship. It had caught fire: it was blazing as it went along. I remember my mother murmuring over my head, ‘Poor souls, poor souls!’.

Father wasn’t released from Dartmoor until 1919. I was seven. Mother couldn’t go to the station to meet him after that separation, so my brother and I went. I remember running round the garden picking a bunch of flowers. It was perfectly ridiculous: I was going to meet this unknown ‘Dad’. I remember getting to the station, and a cloud of steam; and out of it came this man whom my brother rushed to, because he remembered him. Then I remember being crushed, flowers and all, against this man. When we got to the garden gate, Mother, who had been standing watching in the sitting-room window, came to the front door. Father went in, and I was going to prance in after, but my brother hung on to the back of my frock and took me round the garden. He was more sensitive that for just a little while they wanted to be alone.

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George senior, George and Mollie after the war

George Tester lived on until 1962, surviving his wife, Emma, by two years. His own mother, Martha Tester nee Letchford (1845-1946) lived to see her 101st birthday. Interestingly, she had been born at Chatham Barracks where her own father, Frederick Letchford (1806-1887) was Colour Sergeant with (according to the Sevenoaks Chronicle) ‘the old 50th regiment, known as the Blind Half Hundred’. He had been born in Sevenoaks in the house which eventually became a pub, The Halfway House, and at one point, home to Charlie Draper the subject of a recent post.

Mollie and Philip do not appear to have had children but I would be very interested to hear from anyone who remembers her or any family members who may be able to share more of her and her father’s story. Thanks to Mollie and the oral history team in Somerset, we have this insight into the life of a conscientious objector and his family in Sevenoaks during the war.

 

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.

‘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.