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.

‘I can only say that his men loved him’: Geoffrey Harrison on the first day of the Somme

Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harrison, Machine Gun Corps

Geoffrey Harrison is the fifth and last of the Sevenoaks men that were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His great nephew, Sir Michael Harrison, still lives in Sevenoaks and has written this account of the life of his great uncle, which is included in my book on the war memorial.

Geoffrey Harrison, my paternal great uncle, was born on 8th April 1896. His father was Bernard Bowles Harrison and his mother was Elizabeth Anne Harrison (nee Franks). In the 1901 Census, Bernard Bowles Harrison was described as a Master Printer. At the time of that Census, the family was living at ‘Hurstdale’ in Granville Road, Sevenoaks, a house which was built sometime between 1890 and 1896 and which is still standing today. The family at that time included Geoffrey’s older brother Bernard Guy (my grandfather, who later became Sir Guy Harrison), who was fifteen at the time, and his two sisters Winifrid Madge, then aged thirteen, and Elsie, then aged twelve. Geoffrey was the youngest, aged four. Guy Harrison married Cicely Vicat, sister of Horatio John Vicat and Frederick Holland Vicat, who are also remembered on the Sevenoaks War Memorial.

Geoffrey was educated initially by Miss Webb in Granville Road, Sevenoaks. He then went to a prep school called Beechmont in Sevenoaks where he was captain of the school. After that, he went to Rugby School in 1910. He left Rugby School in 1914 to go to University College, Oxford but shortly thereafter, on the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the Public Schools Brigade. Documents at that time record that he was 6’ 2 inches tall and weighed 160 lbs. He was described as having a fair complexion, blue eyes and blond hair.

In December 1914, he obtained a Commission in the 12th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, transferring later to the 13th Battalion. On 21st December 1915, he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), and in April 1916 he left for the Front.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.08.54Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harrison

He was killed only a few months later on 1st July 1916 on the first day of the battle of the Somme (there is a telegram from the Army Council to his father dated 9th July informing him that Geoffrey was killed on 2nd July but that was corrected in a later document dated stating that there had been confusion between officers of the same name and confirming that Geoffrey had been killed on 1st July 1916).

The circumstances of his death were that he was leading his Section in ‘No Man’s Land’ at Contalmaison when he received a wound in the thigh. He gave instructions to his NCO to push on, when a shell burst and killed him. He was aged twenty.

Eleven days later a brother officer, GB Martin Scutt, wrote to Geoffrey’s mother.

My dear Mrs. Harrison,

‘I have been out of action ever since the first day of the attack, and only had my first news of the Coy. late last night, and with it the terrible news about Geoff. As you know we have been chums ever since we joined the Corps. and for the last six months have done everything together. Since we have been in France, whenever the officers had to be paired off for billets, etc, or an occasional day free, we two were together. This is a fairly stiff test of friendship, yet I can honestly say that no man could ever want a better pal, and throughout that close relationship I have never known him to say or do anything unworthy of the true Gentleman he always was.

Off parade and in Mess his classical allusions and quaint phrases kept us in constant good humour up to the last. He was everybody’s pal. On parade I can only say that his men loved him.

We said Good-bye to each other on the evening before the attack commenced at about 6.30 when he was in the best of spirits. As our sections were on opposite flanks I had no chance of seeing him during the action, and before we’d been moving a quarter of an hour I had a bullet through both lungs. I shall do my best to learn more details from those who were with him up to the last, if I get the opportunity – but I know there is only one way in which he could have gone out, and that is as a gallant officer and gentleman.

As I am sure you know, my sympathies go out in full to you and Mr. Harrison, and I feel much more than I can express.

If I succeed in learning anything that I think would interest you at all, I will let you know, or, when I am well enough, may I come and see you?

Until then, I remain,

Yours very sincerely,

G. B Martin Scutt

Geoffrey is buried in Ovillers Military Cemetery in the locality of the Somme.

IMG_0346Memorial to Geoffrey Harrison in St Nicholas Church

There is a splendid plaque inside St. Nicholas’ Church, Sevenoaks, in memory of Geoffrey Harrison. It refers to him being killed in action near Fricourt in the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916, aged 20. ‘He died the noblest death a man may die Fighting for God and Right and Liberty’.

His name is also recorded on the Roll of Honour inside the church, as well as on the church War Memorial near the entrance to the churchyard. His name is also recorded on the Roll of Honour inside St. Mary’s Church, Kippington, Sevenoaks although not on the War Memorial outside.

The Headmaster’s son: Captain George Heslop at the Somme

George Henry Heslop

Captain, Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment)

George Henry Heslop is the fourth of the five Sevenoaks men who died on (or whose death was officially recorded as having occurred) on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

He was the son of the Headmaster of Sevenoaks School, also George and his wife, Gertrude. Born in Sandbach, Cheshire in April 1895, the 1901 census shows the family living at the School, with George living with his three sisters, Margaret, Evelyn and Faith.

George had prepatory lessons at his father’s school until he was sent to Lancing College, where he was in Olds House from September 1910 to July 1914. He was a member of the Officer Training Corps where he achieved Certificate A. He was in the Cricket XI from 1911 to 1914 being Captain in 1913 and 1914.

He topped the batting average in all his summer terms, scoring 981 runs in his time at Lancing, finishing the 1914 season with an average of 89.

He also bowled, taking nine wickets for fourteen runs against Eastbourne College in 1913 and finishing the years 1913 and 1914 as the school’s highest wicket taker also being second in the bowling averages for both years. Consequently, he was described by Wisden as being “the most promising young all rounder who had yet to appear in a first class match”.

He was also a member of the Football XI from 1911 to 1914 and was Captain from 1912 to 1914. He was appointed as a Prefect in 1913, won his sports colours in 1912, 1913 and 1914 and was Victor Ludorum in 1914.

He won a place at Trinity College Cambridge in 1914 but did not take it, due to the outbreak of war, choosing to join the army instead. On the 11th of September 1914 he enlisted at 24 St James Street, London as Private 433 in the Public Schools Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 16th Battalion on the 29th of September 1914, was promoted to Lieutenant on the 25th of January 1915 and to Captain on the 17th of May 1915.He attended Staff College for a month and qualified as a first class instructor of musketry.

IMG_0892Captain George Henry Heslop

By November 1915 he was at the front where he saw action at the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

On the 26th of January 1916 the Germans attacked across the old Loos battlefield and the 16th Middlesex were called upon to re-enter the front line (they had been resting) to support a battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. On the morning of the 28th of January the Company Commander of B Company, Major Way, was moving along the front line trench with Captain Sholto-Douglas and the company runner. Shortly behind them was George Heslop leading a group of men of roughly platoon strength. Suddenly a heavy barrage fell on the group killing the two officers and wounding Heslop and a number of others.

He returned to his unit shortly afterwards when he spent much time involved in the reorganisation of his battalion after the losses they had suffered during the fighting at Loos.

He was put forward for promotion to Major but this was turned down on the grounds of his age and of insufficient experience. He attended a number of courses in bombing and machine gun practice and was appointed to the staff at his Headquarters.

He took part in a number of raids in the three weeks before the opening of the British offensive on the Somme on the 1st of July 1916. His Chaplain wrote of his attendance at Holy Eucharist shortly before the attack.

In the early hours of the 1st of July 1916 the 16th Battalion Middlesex Regiment moved up from where they had been resting at Auchonvillers to assembly positions from where they would take their part in the opening attack. They were to join the rest of their Brigade in assaulting the German positions from the village of Beaumont Hamel to a position 100 yards to the west of the German trenches at the Hawthorn Redoubt. The Middlesex were to be in support of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers and the attack would be immediately preceded by the explosion of a large mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt which would be the signal for the British advance to begin. D Company, led by Captain George Heslop, would be on the left of the battalion’s advance and would take a Stokes Mortar with them.

They reached their assembly positions by 3am and by 6.25am the British artillery had become intense as zero hour approached. At 7.20am the mine under the Hawthorn Ridge exploded and at 7.30am the British advance began. The Middlesex followed at 7.55am, D Company quickly formed up into ranks, described as “parade ground straight”, and moved forward.

As they crossed no man’s land their ranks were swept by intense machine gun fire and men began to fall immediately. German artillery also joined the retaliation and began falling on the front line and support trenches adding to the enormous casualties.
The attack quickly faded under the weight of fire with the few survivors going to ground to seek cover from the relentless fire. But most had died in the two hundred yards between the British front line and the edge of the Hawthorn crater, including George Heslop.

By the end of the day the battalion had suffered 3 officers killed, 10 wounded, 5 missing with 6 more officers missing believed killed. Among the other ranks 19 were killed, 306 were wounded, 37 were missing believed killed and a further 138 were missing.

One of his men wrote that he advanced that day “not minding the shells and bullets, but just leading us on as if nothing was happening“.

His Colonel wrote of the love felt for him in the regiment, of his rapid promotion and that of the 24 officer casualties on the 1st of July and that “no one’s death would be more deeply felt”.

 

In order to establish what had happened to George Heslop a number of statements were taken from members of his battalion who were present that day.

On the 25th of October 1916 a statement was taken from Sergeant 1217 H.G. Valentine while he was in No. 11 General Hospital at Etaples. Valentine had been with the battalion signalling section that day

“I started out with the Colonel, but got separated from him and found myself with Captain Heslop who was in charge of the Pioneers. By his order, we lay down by the wire and advanced about 100 yards. Then we saw him drop down. At first we thought he was giving the signal to halt, but as he lay still, we concluded that he was dead and continued on, leaving him there. Later we retired and reported to the Colonel. Search parties were sent out, but could find no trace of him”.

A statement from Sergeant 1443 A. Butler, D Company was taken while he was at 5 Southern General Hospital, Faucett Road, Portsmouth

“Informant states that on 1st July or July 2nd at Beaumont Hill Capt. Heslop was seen lying dead just outside our parapet by L/Cpl Sephin, who told informant that he had examined Capt Heslop and had found him to be dead. Informant was lying out wounded for three days in this part of the line and said that the Germans were picking up and taking in many of our wounded, but as he was told that Capt. Heslop was lying nearer to our parapet than that of the Germans he did not think it likely that they had taken him in”.

The date of death was accepted for official purposes as having occurred in action on the 1st of July 1916.

Heslop’s family received a telegram informing them of his death on 6th July. His devastated father wrote to a in a letter to a parent

“My boy was killed on 1st July in the first ten minutes of the great push. There is nothing to say. He had a duty and it was done”.

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imageGeorge Heslop senior’s letter describing the loss of his only son

Later in the war, in November 1917, Heslop wrote to another parent

“The war is very cruel. By our post yesterday I heard of the deaths of two more old boys. We schoolmasters have suffered. For though our boys are not of our blood they become very dear to us and something more than friends”.

imageGeorge Heslop senior

Over three hundred Old Boys of Sevenoaks School fought during the war with around forty being killed.

George Heslop’s body  was  recovered, identified and buried in 1917 and in another letter his father wrote

“I have just had a letter from the Front giving me a full account of the finding and burial of my boy”.

Captain George Heslop is buried at Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery and commemorated on the war memorial in the chapel at Trinity College Cambridge and with a memorial plaque inside the church at St Nicholas, Sevenoaks.

IMG_0345Memorial to George Henry Heslop at St Nicholas Church

The Sussex Daily News recorded another memorial to Captain Heslop on October 28th 1916

“In memory of Captain G.H. Heslop, Middlesex Regiment, who fell in action last July, and who was very prominent in athletics at Lancing College, an anonymous gift has been provided, by means of which a cricket bat will be presented annually for the best individual performance in the Brighton College match”.

 

 

 

My thanks to John Hamblin on behalf of Lancing College and Mrs Sally Robbins, archivist at Sevenoaks School, for their collaboration and permission to use some material published elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Sevenoaks Anzacs; a visit to the war graves

I’ve written before about some of the Sevenoaks ANZACS. In particular,  George Marshall and his friend, Arnold Jarvis, who emigrated to Australia together in 1912, possibly with another friend, Kenrid Horace Davey. Tina and Robert Higgs are related to Arnold Jarvis and were the first relatives of a man named on the Sevenoaks War Memorial that I met on a glorious summer day in August 2014 when we held a special service at the memorial to remember the outbreak of war, one hundred years to the day. At the time, I hadn’t found any relatives of Arnold’s friend George Marshall and so, during the ceremony, Tina lay a cross to remember George as well as one for Arnold. Since then I’ve been very pleased to meet Tim Marshall, George’s Great Nephew and we’ve all exchanged emails. Tina and Robert have recently visited a number of family First World War graves and have written an account of their visit, including a trip to George’s grave.

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It’s always special for family members to visit the graves of their relatives and I’m pleased to share Tina’s account of their trip in memory of both friends and the sacrifice they made:

My husband and I have recently returned from visiting the WW1 graves in France and Belgium of six of our great-uncles, plus the best friend of one. This was something we had been intending to do for several years and at last we were on our way.

We travelled from our home in Peterborough to France via Eurotunnel, and stayed for a week at a gîte just south of Lille. This was a fairly central location, with the furthest cemetery being 1 hr 10 mins away and the nearest 30 mins. We visited two memorials at Thiepval and Loos (Dud Corner) and five military cemeteries at Bulls Road, Dozinghem, Carnières, Calvaire (Essex) and Dernancourt. The smallest, with only 54 headstones, was in the picturesque village of Carnières and the largest, commemorating over 72,000 men, was Thiepval. The cemeteries were of similar appearance in their design, with a Great Cross, Stone of Remembrance, Grave Register and Visitors’ Book. The book and register were stored in an unlocked metal box in the wall, but there was never any sign of vandalism or graffiti. The cemeteries were all immaculately kept.

Two of the men are remembered on the Sevenoaks War Memorial – Arnold Jarvis and George Marshall. They were best friends who emigrated to Australia in 1912, no doubt full of excitement and optimism for their new lives. They enlisted in the Australian Infantry Force and ended up in France, where they died.

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Headstone of Arnold Jarvis

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Headstone of George Marshall

Another great-uncle, Harry Underwood, is remembered on the Knockholt Memorial. The family lived in Star Hill Road, Chevening, where his father was a gamekeeper.

At Dozinghem we met a young Belgian couple who told us that they often visit the cemetery and feel much love and respect for the men who lost their lives there. This was so heart-warming to hear.

At each grave we laid a small wooden cross and said a prayer. We left for home feeling reassured that our loved ones are at peace and not forgotten.

Since Tina’s visit, further research has led to the discovery of extracts from two letters that Arnold sent home during the war, to the Reverend Thompson at St Mary’s, Kippington, Sevenoaks, which were published in the parish magazine, the first in Spring 1915.

Ulysses. – here I am, really a soldier at last. This is a family large boat, and it is carrying (number censored) of us fellows: we all belong to the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade. None of us have the faintest idea as to our destination, whether it will be England or Egypt. We have just passed Aden and the voyage has been magnificent. we are getting 5s. a day, and 1s. a day deferred pay, and we all put in about ten weeks hard training before we came on board. I am sorry that I must not tell you much of our doings yet, but if we come to England and get a day or two off, of course I shall come up to the Vicarage to see you all. I have not been sea sick and I am quite happy. Do wrote to me often.

A later extract is introduced in the magazine with the news that after 12 weeks silence, a letter had arrived from Arnold, who had been wounded at the Dardanelles and had written from hospital in Egypt.

Heliopolis Hospital

June 8th

I received a slight wound in my leg, it is nothing in itself, but poison or something has got in so I cannot put my foot to the ground, however I hope soon to be out of this, although I am getting very good treatment. We had a very rough time of it for six weeks, with two days in the trenches and two days out all the time. Our Company lost nearly all its non-commissioned officers and several officers before we had been in the firing line an hour. It seemed awful at fist to see ones own friends being shot dead all round you, but afterwards everything seemed natural. I had several very marvellous escapes – in the first half hour a machine gun was turned on us and we had no trenches then, one bullet took a piece out of my trousers and another hit me in the jaw and took half a tooth out, another made a furrow in my leg and I had a piece of shrapnel in my back. I shall never forget it if I live another two centuries. There is a great fascination about it all and I am longing to be back, it is a nuisance to be lying here when there is so much to do, and I want to get back to my pals.

Update: July 2017

Tim Marshall and his three sons, Stuart, Doug and Gary, visited the grave of George Marshall on the centenary of his death on 13th July and later visited the grave of Arnold Jarvis, meaning that both families have now visited the graves of the two friends. A few weeks earlier, Stuart and joined me at the annual ANZAC service at Westminster Abbey to remember his uncle.

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Tim Marshall with his sons at the grave of their Uncle George

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Stuart Marshall and Matthew Ball on ANZAC Day