For gallantry and devotion to duty: five sons of the Sevenoaks clergy

The vicars of Sevenoaks and the surrounding district took an active leadership role during the war. The daily life of the churches continued, despite some unavoidable changes, such as the alteration of service times because of the evening curfew. They continued to minister to their congregations and to support all affected by the conflict; burying those who died of their wounds at home and comforting the bereaved. Each congregation was affected by the war and many former members were now serving aboard. A Roll of Honour was compiled and kept in many churches. Vicars also played an active role in encouraging volunteering and spoke at many of the public meetings that were regularly held and, in some cases, their wives did the same and spoke directly to the women of Sevenoaks. It was perhaps inevitable that many of their children served in the army, worked as chaplains or nursed at home, following in the example of their parents.

The Reverend Thompson officiated at St Mary’s Kippington, living with his wife, Lillian Gilchrist Thompson. The couple had three sons, Piers, Austen, and Sidney and two daughters, Vera and Malys. Through the Thompson line they were cousins to the Rector of Sevenoaks, Reverend John Rooker and his wife, Adele nee Thompson. Archdeacon Dunkerley officiated at St John’s and Reverend Septimus Hebert ministered to his parish at nearby Seal.

The boys were educated locally and the 1901 census recorded Sidney Thompson as a pupil at the New Beacon Preparatory School, along with his distant cousins, the Rector’s sons, Guy and (John) Kingsley Rooker. Their fellow pupils included the future war poet Siegfried Sassoon and his younger brother, Hamo, who died in November 1915 in Turkey.

In all, five of the sons of these clergymen who were old enough to do so enlisted in the early days of the war and served for its duration. It was perhaps unusual that from one small town, these five sons of the local clergy were each awarded the Military Cross for various acts of gallantry during the war. The Bishop of Rochester certainly thought so, writing to the Sevenoaks Chronicle in 1918 to highlight “an interesting fact“.

All three of the Thompson brothers who wore the King’s uniform took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the Essenhigh Corke photographic studio, where Henry Essenhigh Corke offered to photograph any serviceman or woman at no charge.

Some decades later, several hundred glass negatives were discovered during works at 43 London Road, one of the buildings used as a studio by Essenhigh Corke. Over five hundred of these negatives  are black & white portraits of First World War soldiers of various ranks and regiments. These glass plates, including the images of the Thompson brothers, are now cared for by the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone.


Sidney Gilchrist Thompson

Despite his poor health and eyesight, Sidney Gilchrist Thompson obtained his Commission in August 1914 and was gazetted to the West Kent Yeomanry, in which he eventually became a temporary major and then was appointed to the permanent rank of captain. He was sent to France in 1917 attached to the Royal West Kents and was awarded the Military Cross that March.

The citation for Sydney’s award read

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy attack. He commanded his Company most successfully, showing fine courage and sound judgement. He was of great assistance to his commanding officer under very difficult circumstances, and throughout set a high example to his men.

His brother, Austen, had passed through the Officer Training Corps at Winchester College and was working as a clerk to a tea broker  when he was commissioned to the South Lancashire Regiment in October 1914. The following year he was sent first to France and then on to Salonika, where he was awarded the Military Cross in June 1918.

Austen Thompson wrote home to his parents in 1915 from the front

We have now been in these trenches since Friday, my Platoon is in small dug-outs along the road which goes past British Headquarters, the firing line is just over the ridge. I have got a dug-out which is fairly free from rats. The first night they ate all the food I had in my haversack, also my soap and my candles, the next night I had nothing for them to eat, and so they did not trouble me much. It is not pleasant to have them scrambling overt you and dropping on to you from the roof during the night, but one can get used to anything.

Luckily it is still dry, but cold; we are in a hollow near some trees, so it will be damp later. The snipers are very troublesome – was wounded yesterday by one, but on the whole it I fairly quiet. I marvel at the way the men write to a selection of their relatives every day if they can get the paper, but I find it difficult to emulate them myself.


Piers, Sidney, and Austen Thompson

His brother, Piers, served with the 4th Battalion Royal West Kents and wrote to his parents on 13th January 1916, giving his address as A Tent on the Beach, Egypt.

Behold two sons of the Vicars of Sevenoaks in a tent together, listening to the sea roaring a few yards away, while the wind is whirling half the sands of Egypt against the tent walls. When I landed a terrible thing happened; my baggage suddenly vanished while I was collecting a few last things on the boat, and I was in despair that I would never see again the kit which we chose with such care and thought. However, after spending two days, and a fabulous sum in cab fares – I at last found it.

This place is a sort of Home for Lost Dogs; all men coming out of hospital, or from home, come here for a while before re-joining their units. I am 2nd in command of a Company, and the parades and the work are very much the same as in England.


Sidney, Piers, and Austen Thompson

It was Cecil  Dunkerley who took shelter with Piers Thompson in that tent in Egypt. He had been a member of the Cambridge University OTC and served first as a Lieutenant with 2/4th Royal West Kent Regiment and was later Captain with the Welch Divisional Staff. Like the others, Cecil won the MC and went on to serve as Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal in Egypt and entered Jerusalem with Lord Allenby. His Military Cross appeared in the London Gazette on 16th August 1917, according to the citation

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. After all the gun crews of a tank had become casualties he ascertained how to work the gun, and kept up fire during the withdrawal of the tank, thus preventing further counter-attacks on the part of the enemy. He displayed great gallantry and resource at a critical moment.

In July 1917, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that the Rector’s son, Guy Rooker, of the Divisional Signal Company in the Indian Army Reserve, was said to have been involved in heavy fighting on the North West Frontier. A telegram later reached the Rectory informing his parents that he had been wounded but was recovering well in hospital.

The Rector’s other, son, Kingsley, had been at the front for a year before he was appointed ADC to General Kelly, who commanded 69th Division East Anglian Division based at Thetford.  He was subsequently  Assistant Provost Marshal at Rouen and was transferred at his own request to the Machine Gun Corps. In autumn 1917 he was in England undertaking training in Lincolnshire . At the same time, his brother, now recovered from his injuries, was heading to Mesopotamia, having sent the previous three years in India.


Kingsley Rooker was awarded the MC

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an evening attack. He displayed the utmost coolness under intense shell and machine gun fire, and gave the greatest confidence to his gun teams, and together with some infantry, held his position with great gallantry. He was finally wounded.

Reverend Hebert’s son, Bernard Theodore Martyn Hebert, a Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards, was awarded his MC for

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in remaining in charge of his platoon though wounded, superintending the relief, and taking out a wiring party and started them to work. He then returned to company headquarters in a fainting condition.

While all of the sons of the vicars of Sevenoaks were fortunate to survive the war, the Vicar of Kippington’s nephew, Arnold Bosanquet Thompson, was killed in the Dardanelles on Christmas Day 1915 and a memorial plaque was unveiled at St Mary Kippington in September 1917.

After the war

Two of these clergymen’s sons followed their father’s example; Cecil Dunkerley was ordained and lived until 1978. His son, Flying Officer Michael Dunkerley was shot down and killed over France in November 1943.


Reverend Cecil Dunkerley

Bernard Hebert was also ordained and lived until 1976 when he died in Wiltshire. His brother Reverend Arthur Gabriel Hebert had served as a chaplain with the YMCA during the war.

Austen was the first of the Thompson brothers to die, being killed in a motor accident in Canada, where he had emigrated, in 1941. After the war his brother, Piers, was briefly a Member of Parliament for the Liberal party in the 1920s. He died in 1969. Sidney lived on until 1985, when he died in Tunbridge Wells.

Of the Rooker brothers, Kingsley had a distinguished career which included working with Duff Cooper as a counsellor at the British Embassy in Paris during the Second World War and was at one point the British minister to the Gaullist National Committee. Kingsley Rooker was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in the Honours List of January 1945 in respect of his war work. He died in 1951. His brother, Guy died in 1964 in Hampshire.

Having survived the war, there is no memorial to the bravery of these men in Sevenoaks but their stories deserve to be remembered and I would be very pleased to hear from anyone with further information on any of these men.


My thanks to Robert Illingworth and Elizabeth Finn at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, for information and permission to reproduce images from the Essenhigh Corke collection.


Echoes across the century – a memorial for William Goss Hicks

An exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London is telling the story of local man, William Goss Hicks, who died as a result of his wounds on 3rd July 1917. The exhibition has been curated by artist Jane Churchill, a Great Great Niece of Hicks, and Alison Truphet. Based on Hicks’ life and drawing on family documents and his romance with fiancée, Jessie Ellman, Jane has worked with City livery companies and local school children to produce a moving chronicle of her uncle’s life, including many creative responses to the story from the children. The exhibition features over 600 objects through which real and imagined tales are told through heritage artefacts and reactive ‘response’ artworks.



This Monday, 3rd July, on the anniversary of his death, family and local residents remembered Second Lieutenant William Goss Hicks at St Nicholas, the church where, with his fine singing voice, he was a member of the choir and helped run the Sunday School. Children from Lady Boswell’s School and scouts from the 1st Sevenoaks (Hicks Own)  took part to remember their former headmaster.

William Goss Hicks was born in 1882 in Fulham, the son of William, a footman and then butler at Eton College and his wife, Mary.


Second Lieutenant William Goss Hicks

260th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

In 1881, the family were living on Chipstead Lane, with William senior now working as a butler at Knole. The 1901 census, shows William Goss Hicks  living with his mother and sisters at 1, Surrey Villas, Sevenoaks and working as a teacher. This arrangement continued to 1911 with the family now living at 8, High Street.

William had joined the staff of the Lady Boswell’s School in 1898 as an assistant teacher and by the outbreak of war had risen to become its Headmaster. He is credited with having brought the new scouting movement to Sevenoaks and would have been well known to many of the other men who are remembered on the Sevenoaks war memorial, such as Ernest Chatfield, Arnold Jarvis and George Marshall, as their former teacher or scout master.

Hicks was a popular figure; on his last leave home, he was spotted by his former scouts and pupils and carried shoulder high through the town.


Hicks, on right of group

He was an active member of the congregation at St Nicholas, and a long standing member of it’s choir. After his death, the Sevenoaks Chronicle carried an appreciation of him by Reverend J Rooker, Rector of St Nicholas

He was amazingly brave and smiling quite up to the last”, wrote the chaplain in a letter to the parents, the words brought up to one’s mind the picture of Mr Hicks as he always was. bright, alert and cheery, with a breezy swinging carriage, he moved about his boys and friends as one who rejoiced in life, and wanted others to share his joy…When the war broke out he was in some doubt as to his duty. It was at my request he waited, for I put it to him that while many could fight, few could teach. But as the war went on he felt he must go and it was plainly his duty. He joined the R.F.A and had rough times but was always cheery. When he came home there were no complaints, but he was full of fun about his adventures. Then he applied for a commission and was gazetted a Lieutenant in the R.G.A. It was not long after that he went out to France. His letters were still buoyant and hopeful – even when he got up to the line…

Lieutenant Hicks was in charge of the Battery on Monday 2nd July. A German shell came over and struck him. He was removed to the clearing station but the loss of blood was great. Transfusion was tried and it is a witness to his popularity that many men offered to give their blood to him. The operation was tried and he seemed to rally. It was only temporary, however, and about mid-day on the Tuesday he began to collapse and died about half past four. He knew he was dying but was quite happy. He left messages for those he loved and thanked all who had been kind to him, and passed away smiling”.

William Hicks was buried in the Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, France.


Voces8 perform at the memorial


Local schoolchildren performed wartime songs


A wreath to remember William beneath his memorial plaque


Local Scout leaders and former members of Hicks Own


William’s niece, Jean, remembers her 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”.


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.





William Guy Cronk – a recent medal sale

Last week someone was kind enough to leave a comment on this site about William Guy Cronk, one of the early casualties of the war from Sevenoaks. William’s medals, along with his memorial plaque and a letter addressed to him, had just been sold at an auction in Hampshire. Listed in the catalogue with a guide price of a couple of hundred pounds, the plaque and trio eventually sold for £1650 after some determined telephone bidding. Initially I was annoyed that I hadn’t seen the medals were up for sale but was consoled by the fact that they were sold for a price way above my medal purchasing budget.

As William is listed on the Sevenoaks War Memorial he is mentioned in my book. He was born on 26th April 1893 and was the only child of William Henry Cronk (1848-1921), a land agent, and his wife Winifred Ruth nee Kidd (1872-1956). The 1901 census shows the family living on Sevenoaks High Street but by 1911 they have moved to Northamptonshire, living with five servants, from parlour maid to coachman and groom. In his obituary the family home is given as Suffolk Place, Sevenoaks.

Second Lieutenant William Guy Cronk

William was educated privately in Westgate on Sea, before going to Eton and then to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. According to the Bond of Sacrifice, he enjoyed hunting, polo, cricket and tennis. After graduation he choose to enlist with the East Kent Regiment, The Buffs, and was attached to the King’s Royal Rifles. He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in March 1914 and left immediately for the Front after completing his training on the last day of that September.

William was killed in action 2 miles east of Zonnebeke near Ypres, on 26 October 1914 whilst leading his platoon in an attack on the German trenches. He was on attachment to 1 Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps at the time.

According to the War Diary

“2/Lt Cronk (Buff S.R Attached) was killed on the right. – apparently he was under the impression that the Germans were retiring out of their trenches and rushed forward with part of his platoon. The Germans allowed them to get well out onto the open and then opened a very heavy fire. Almost all of this party were either killed or wounded.”

The battalion suffered 13 killed and 34 wounded – most from D Company (Cronk was D Coy). He was the only officer killed. Two others were wounded.

William was the first fatality to be featured in detail by the Sevenoaks Chronicle, with a photo included in the obituary. The paper recorded that his friend, the Rev. Herbert Fleming, whom he had first met at the Military Academy where Fleming was then Chaplain, wrote to his parents:

“He has died leading his men like the gallant lad he was, without fear and pain”.

He wrote that he had quickly gained the trust and affection of his men, being always thoughtful of them and the best young officer they had.

“This was said before they knew I was his friend. I cannot grieve for him, as no one could desire a greater death or a better epitaph, but for you I do grieve and pray to God to comfort you. I expect to march again tomorrow, and may not be able to kneel by his grave, as he is in another brigade, but I will do if I can”.

William Cronk is remembered on the Menin Gate and in his former parish church of St Nicholas,  with a memorial plaque. When his father died in 1921, he was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas and William was also remembered on the gravestone.



Memorials to William Cronk inside St Nicholas as well on the family grave in the churchyard


I would be very pleased to hear from any family members – the Cronks had a long history in Seal and Sevenoaks and other family members are also buried at St Nicholas – and from the person who bought the medals!

UPDATE: Paul, the bidder who bought the medals successfully has got in touch and kindly shared a photograph of them.



Jack Marshall – saved by his pocket watch

Earlier this year, I was pleased to hear from Tim Marshall. Tim is a Great Nephew of George Marshall, one of the fallen of Sevenoaks of the First World War and one of several of the men who had lived on Buckhurst Avenue in the centre of the town. George Marshall had emigrated to Australia in 1912 with his friend Arnold Jarvis. Both had previously been pupils at the Lady Boswell’s school and sailed for a new life together on board the Ionie. Another Sevenoaks ANZAC, Kenrid Davey, was also on board and I wonder if they were known to each other. George Marshall died from wounds sustained, according to a report in the Sevenoaks Chronicle of 27 July 1917 by

…the accidental bursting of a bomb. Deceased, who left Sevenoaks for Australia about five years ago, joined the Imperial Force last year. In April last, he was married at Kensington and afterwards spent some days in Sevenoaks. Private Marshall is a brother-in-law of Mrs Marshall, whose husband is with the colours in Mesopotamia. Another brother of Private Marshall’s is serving in France whilst Mrs Marshall has seven brothers in the army, the eldest of whom has been a prisoner of war in Germany since the battle of Mons, in which he was wounded.

Tim Marshall’s grandfather, Harry, was one of the brothers mentioned, serving with the Army Service Corps in Mesopotamia. Harry, who before the war had worked for E.J. Payne, a grocer (now the site of the Sun Do restaurant), was himself mentioned in the Chronicle when he was hospitalised as a result of an accident, later making a full recovery. Harry served as a Verger at St Nicholas church and died in 1937 aged 58.

imageHarry’s delivery van, parked in Buckhurst Avenue

The other brother mentioned in George’s obituary, John, known as Jack, was 29 and working as a gardener at the Royal Crown Hotel in Sevenoaks, when he enlisted in December 1915. He served with the Royal West Kents

Jack was wounded in early 1918 and invalided home to England to recover before returning to action. Later in the August, the Sevenoaks Chronicle carried a news report detailing how Jack had again been wounded. As the paper noted,

This is the second time that he has been wounded and but for a remarkable circumstance his wound on this occasion would undoubtedly have been fatal. It appears that in returning to France, after recovering from his previous wound, he purchased a watch at Folkestone, which he was wearing when struck for a second time.The bullet passed clean through the watch, which broke its force, before it entered his body, and so saved his life. It is also a notable coincidence that the second wound was exactly on the same spot as the first.

imageHarry in later life with his wife, Jane and son, Edward, who served in World War II

Both Harry and Jack survived the war but, as in so many families, it seems as if their war service and the story of Jack’s life being saved by his pocket watch, was not mentioned in subsequent years, only being rediscovered in recent research. The Marshall brothers grew up on Buckhurst Avenue, as did many other local men who fought in the war, including the Hayward and Hodgson families, who I’ll be writing about in my next post.

Buried in Sevenoaks – war graves at St Nicholas Church

The majority of men named on the Sevenoaks war memorial are buried or remembered abroad in the immacualately maintained cemeteries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Some, however, are buried much closer to home, often because they were invalided back to England and were buried locally after dying of their wounds. There are CWGC graves at Greatness Cemetery and in local churches, in and around Sevenoaks where men such as Alfred Hope and Harry McCarthy are buried. Many of these men buried at home were given a funeral with full military honours, which was reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle.

At St Nicholas, the parish church of Sevenoaks, there are several memorials to some of the Sevenoaks fallen inside the church; others are buried in the churchyard or remembered on family graves despite being buried elsewhere.

Inside the church are memorials to John Sherbrooke Richardson, Geoffrey Harrison, George Henry Heslop and William Guy Cronk. Cronk is also mentioned on the tombstone on his parents grave and was one of the earliest of the Sevenoaks casualties, being killed in 1914.


imageMemorials to William Cronk inside St Nicholas as well on the family grave in the churchyard

Herbert Sears and his wife, who both died within a week of each other during the influenza pandemic of late 1918, leaving five young children are also buried in the churchyard. Herbert had run the Rectory Farm for the Rev John Rooker and, as a conscientious objector, had served with the Labour Corps.

imageThe grave of Herbert Sears and his wife, Rose

Others remembered on family graves include Frederick Harold Bourne who fought with the Australian Imperial Force, brothers Percy and Albert Hayward and Jack Baldwin.

imageFrederick Harold Bourne remembered on the grave of his parents

All of these men are remembered on the town war memorial and so I have recently been researching the graves of those men who are buried in the churchyard but not named at The Vine.

A Sudden Death

Frank Powell is one of these men. His grave is marked by the traditional headstone of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but, unusually, is surrounded by a family grave that names his wife, Edith Amy Blanche Bees (1882 – 1969) and daughter Winifred Frances Gwendoline Powell (1909 – 1984). A little research revealed that Frank, a Sergeant Major in the Army Service Corps, had died suddenly in 1916. The Sevenoaks Chronicle recorded that

Shortly after mid-day, the deceased walked up through the town and spoke to Mr Fulbrook about a game of billiards that was played the previous evening. He then appeared to be in his usual health and was in good spirits. Two or three minutes later however, he fell down in front of the side door of the Dorset Arms Hotel. A member of the R.A.M.C and several others rendered assistance but before medical aid could be summoned the unfortunate man had passed away.

Deceased who was about 38 years of age, was a popular non-commissioned officer, both among the corps and the townspeople to many of whom he had become known during his stay in Sevenoaks. A native of Gillingham, he had seen 18 years service in the army.

The funeral took place with full military honours …when the remains were interred in St Nicholas cemetery. The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, was conveyed to the church on a gun-carriage, supplied by a Home Counties Battery whilst the Middlesex Regiment provided a firing party and trumpeter who sounded the Last Post. The band of the Middlesex Regiment led the solemn procession which included a very large number of deceased’s friends from the various units stationed in the town.

imageFrank Powell’s unusual CWGC grave in St Nicholas churchyard

Frank appears to have been born in 1874 but lied when he enlisted in 1901, giving his age as twenty, meaning that his grave shows his age as thirty six and not forty two. Frank’s only daughter doesn’t appear to have had children who could shed further light on the story and I wonder how unusal this grave is? I’m aware of some CWGC graves where the names of other family members have been added but have not seen any others like this.

A Flying Ace

Others buried in the churchyard include Second Lieutenant Charles Nesfield Andrewes. Born in 1876 in Horsham, Sussex, Charles Andrewes attended Trinity College, Cambridge and joined the South Devon Yeomanry in 1902. He served during the war as a Lieutenant in the Labour Corps and died of influenza after the Armistice on 29 November 1918.

Perhaps the most famous combatant to be buried in the churchyard is Captain Bernard Paul Gascoigne Beanlands, a Canadian flying ace credited with several victories.

IMG_2088Captain (Bernard) Paul Gascoigne Beanlands MC

Beanlands was born in Canada in September 1897 to Canon A.J. Beanlands and his wife, Laura, later of Wickhurst Manor, Sevenoaks Weald. He was educated at Oundle before attending Sandhurst and joined the Hampshire Regiment in December 1914. Eventually serving as a Lieutenant and serving seven months in the trenches, he was transferred to 70 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corp in May 1916 (achieving most of his kills with 24 Squadron). His first victory came in that September when he killed German aces Hans Rosencrantz and Wilhelm Fahlbusch. Later that year he was promoted to Flight Commander, serving as temporary captain. He scored eight more victories and was awarded the Military Cross (gazetted 25 April 1915) according to the citation

‘He has brought down three enemy aeroplanes out of control and driven down several others over the enemy lines’

The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in 1917 that he had been suffered gunshot wounds in both thighs, having previously been wounded once before. The paper noted

He is at present at Brighton and has been out on parade on a spinal chair. It will be a long, slow cure. Captain Beanlands has the honour of being known as a very clever Airman and has been responsible for the fall of numerous enemy aircraft.

Paul Beanlands recovered and was wounded again three days after his final victory in March 1918 and did not return to combat. However, he survived the war only to die in a flying accident at RAF Northolt on 8 May 1919. He was buried next to his father in the churchyard at St Nicholas.

imageThe grave of Paul Beanlands and his father, Canon Beanlands

With the passage of time some of these graves have fallen into disrepair while others are still legible and bear witness to the men who fought. As usual, I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone who has a connection to any of these men.