‘The gallant sons of Sevenoaks’ – the story of our war memorial

The Sevenoaks War Memorial was unveiled on an autumn day in October 1920 when thousands of local people assembled on The Vine to pay their public tribute to the memory of two hundred and twenty five sons of Sevenoaks, who lost their lives during the conflict. The Sevenoaks Chronicle subsequently noted in its report of the event how every class was represented and had suffered loss, all had been bound together in one great act of sacrifice.

The Memorial was funded by public subscription, including from house-to-house collections, with individual donations of up to £500. The total raised being £5,663. On the afternoon of the unveiling the memorial was covered with the Union Jack, with the town’s coat of arms. Lord Sackville and the Bishop of Rochester led proceedings and were joined by many other official representatives of the town. The relatives of the men stood in their own enclosure and a boy scout stood at each corner of the mound. Representatives of the VAD also attended as did many of the local churches and other organisations, all gathered to honour their fellow townsmen.

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Order of Service for the unveiling ceremony

The choirs of St Nicholas, St Mary, Kippington, and St John’s led the singing and the ex servicemen marched to their places from nearby St John’s Congregational Church.

After hymns had been sung and prayers said, Lord Sackville, who had served throughout the war himself, spoke movingly

“I suppose there can be no occasion which calls for greater unity of feeling than an occasion like the present, when we meet here together for the purpose of unveiling and dedicating a Memorial to our fellow towns-men who fought and died in the Great War. It was inevitable that there should be divergence of opinion as to the particular form that any Memorial should take; it is inevitable that there should be criticism of the site chosen and of a dozen other matters: but I think that I may safely say that this gathering, as fully representative of all the various interests in this town of Sevenoaks, is united here today with one common thought, to pay tribute to the memory of those whose names you will find inscribed on this Memorial”.

“Many of these men were known to many of us: some of them met their end in my own regiment with me, and they went forth from Sevenoaks, hoping no doubt, that they might be safely spared to return in all safety, knowing full well the dangers they were going to encounter and yet facing those dangers with that cheerful uncomplaining acquiescence for the call of duty which has won for them a place in our esteem which no Memorial can ever adequately fill… I am glad to know that there are many in the assembly today of the men who were the comrades in arms of those whose memory we are honouring today”.

He concluded by speaking of the relatives gathered before him

May I, on behalf of the whole community, offer to them our heartfelt sympathy, our reverent gratitude for the sacrifices which they were called upon to make, and may I tell them that in erecting this monument, we are not unmindful of their sorrows but that we are erecting it as a sign to this generation and to future generations with the high honour and esteem with which we regard those so dear to them, who gave all, who lost all and yet who gained all”.

He then unveiled the memorial with the words “Let us ever remember with thanksgiving and all honour before God and man the gallant sons of Sevenoaks who laid down their lives for their country in the Great War”.

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Postcard of the war memorial with flowers laid by relatives, October 1920

Mr Frank Robinson, Chairman of the Urban District Council, then read the list of the 225 names, which included those of his son, Frank, and nephew, Herbert Lethebe. He noted that it was unknown how many men from Sevenoaks had gone to war but 225 were remembered on the memorial and 1,265 had returned. He remarked, perhaps with his own loss at the front of his mind, that Sevenoaks had paid rather heavily.

The Bishop of Rochester then spoke saying , according to the newspaper report, that

The monument stands on a great highway along which hundreds of thousands of people would pass through from the great Metropolis to the seaboard. It would stand when all present that day had followed those men beyond the grave into the great Hereafter. It would stand to inspire those that came after us to be worthy of the heroisms of those men…He wanted the monument to uplift them and make them stand as the man on the monument stood, sentry-like, prepared not only to fight for their country but to fight against all that was evil, all that was of discord and all that prevented the country from rising in the time of peace to the high position it attained during the years of war. It was only Christ who would enable them to do so”

After the Bishop’s address wreaths and flowers were placed at the foot of the memorial by the relatives, helped by the Boy Scouts. Then came the Blessing, Chopin’s Funeral March and then the Last Post, sounded by two buglers of the Royal West Kent Regiment. After the silence came Reveille and the end of the service.

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List of names from the Order of Service, 1920

The Memorial was designed by sculptor and painter, Arthur George Walker, who designed several others, including those of Dartford and Ironbridge which bear the same figure. The inscription on the Memorial reads ‘To keep in mind those from this place who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918’.

Private Bartholomew

There were  225 names listed on the memorial when it was unveiled. Two more were later added and one was removed, that of Adrian Maurice Bartholomew of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Adrian’s service records survive and show that he enlisted in 1914 and was sent for instruction at the Royal Army Medical Corps School in Chatham before being posted.

He survived the war and lived to see his own name commemorated. His name is listed in the order of service for the unveiling of the memorial in 1920 (above) and is visible on a postcard of the memorial taken shortly after its unveiling.

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Side view of memorial, October 1920

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Panel showing where Private Bartholomew’s name had been

Adrian was born in 1895, one of seven children born to Frank Bartholomew, a house painter and his wife, Annie. The 1911 census shows that Adrian was working as a grocer’s boy and the family living at 3, Bradbourne Road Cottages.

His inclusion on the memorial is curious as there were plenty of family members living locally, none of whom would have requested his name to be included. His brother-in-law, John Tester, had been killed in 1915 and was remembered on the memorial, although not under his regiment, the Royal West Kents but with five other unassigned names. Adrian’s two nephews, John’s sons, Eric and Leslie Tester, were later included on the memorial as both died in the Far East at the end of the Second World War. However, their names were only added after their mother’s death in 1979 as she could not bear to see them named on the memorial while she lived.

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Adrian’s obituary in the Sevenoaks Chronicle

Adrian Bartholomew died in Sevenoaks in 1966, aged seventy.

In August 1914, our memorial project gathered descendants of the men from across the country to remember them in a special service and family members lay crosses at the foot of the memorial as the names of the men were read out once more in remembrance.

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Descendants of those remembered gather at the memorial, August 2014

 

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The Copper brothers – one family’s war

Some families had just one relative remembered on the war memorial at The Vine. Others, like the Copper family from the Hartslands area in Sevenoaks, lost more of their men.

Silas and Emma Copper had ten surviving children from a total of fourteen born during the course of their marriage. They lost one son in the war every year from 1915. Then, in September 1918, their son-in-law, Thomas Garrett, husband of their daughter, Amelia, died of natural causes. Two other sons, Charles , a veteran of the Boer War and Stephen also fought, both surviving the war although Stephen was badly wounded.

Benjamin Copper

Benjamin Copper, born in 1889, was the youngest of the brothers and the first to be killed in action. The 1911 census records Benjamin, a general labourer, as a patient at the local cottage hospital.

Private Benjamin Copper

Benjamin Copper

Benjamin served with the Royal West Kent regiment and was at the Front from June 1915. He was killed in October that year at the Battle of Loos and is remembered on the Loos Memorial.

Silas George Copper

Silas Copper, born in 1879, was the eldest of the brothers who died. The 1911 census shows Silas, known by his second name of George, self employed as a chimney sweep. According to his service records, he lived at 6, Holyoake Terrace with his wife, Margaret Edith, whom he had married just before the outbreak of war, on 1st August 1914.

Private Silas George Copper

Silas George Copper

Having previously fought in the Boer War, Silas enlisted in December 1915 aged 37 and was recorded as having good physical development, being 5’ 8 1/2 tall and weighing 165 lbs. He had various tattoos, including, marks on his right forearm and the initials SG in a heart with a dagger. He served with the Royal Sussex regiment before being transferred to the Royal West Kents. Silas died of his wounds in December 1916 and is buried in the Bethune Town cemetery, north of Arras, France.

William Robert Copper

William Copper was born in 1883. The 1911 census shows him living with his wife, Martha Louise and young son Roy. William is recorded as a bricklayer’s labourer. According to his obituary, William had worked at Knole House, home of the Sackville family, for six years before joining the army, having been in the regular forces for twelve years. He was a keen cricketer and played regularly for Godden Green, where he is remembered on the village war memorial.

Bombardier William Robert Copper

William Robert Copper

William, a bombardier with the Royal Garrison Artillery, had been home on leave in December 1916, spending Christmas with his family and no doubt mourning the death of his brother, Silas. He died six weeks after his brother in January 1917, shortly after returning to the Front, at the Somme and is buried in the Longueval Road Cemetery, France.

Thomas Albert Garrett

Thomas Garrett was born in Chevening in 1886, the son of Sampson Henry Garrett, a shepherd and his wife, Tryphena. The 1901 census shows that Thomas has became an apprentice coach builder.

Unfortunately, Thomas’s service records have not survived but he appears to have joined the army in 1904 and the 1911 census records him as stationed abroad with the Royal Garrison Artillery.

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Thomas Albert Garrett

During the war he wrote a letter from the Furzedown Convalescent Home in Limpsfield, which was reproduced in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in February 1915:

‘The retreat from Mons was a grand feat of arms. The infantry covered retirement of our guns daily in perfect style, and when it was possible for us to get into position we also helped to cover the infantry regiment, who fought the Germans often to a standstill and forced them to retire before retiring themselves. Then came the day for advance, which was a bad day for the Germans when they had to retire from their prize Paris to the Aisne. They fought very hard at times but were no match for that ‘contemptible little army’, which were at them night and day.

There were awful sights on our retirement, but it was beaten by the sight on the line of the German retreat, leaving many prisoners who were glad to be taken. They were half starved in their rush for Paris. They were well fortified with big guns and they gave us a warm time. One day, finding our battery with their Jack Johnsons, we lost nine men killed, five wounded, and one wagon was destroyed. We had nerves for a time I tell you, but got over it and we did good work until we were relieved by the French. We then left for Flanders, and there have been some warm times there. I left the “boys” behind fighting their hardest and getting the best of it. I saw the West Kents a few times and like lots of other Regiments have gone through it bravely and have done good work’.

‘ I have had the luck not to be wounded but Mr Rheumatism caught me and I was taken to Boulogne, from there to Charing Cross Hospital, and now I am at Furzedown Convalescent Home. Everything is done here for our comfort. We have all sorts of games and go for nice long walks when it fine. We also have a nice kind lady and sister in Mrs Bently, and a fine staff of kind nurses to look after us. We were also well looked after at Charing Cross Hospital. We have had nice motor rides, and kind ladies often asked us to tea.

I was pleased to see the name of Mr Weth in the Roll of Honour in your paper. He is a good soldier and marksman (a dead cert). I hope that new war picture “Wake Up” will soon be shown in Sevenoaks. It will all help to swell the ranks of Sevenoaks. Sevenoaks have made a grand show, and I do hope if enlistment comes as a thing of force men who have enlisted voluntary will get a badge of some sort; also that men who have tried to enlist and have failed because of health should not in any way be slighted”.

Thomas had married Amelia Copper in the later summer of 1913 and lived at 9, Prospect Place. He died of natural causes in 1918. He had served in the army for nearly fourteen years, having seen service in India and Aden. Thomas had been in France for eight months before being posted to Salonika in November 1915 for the remainder of the war and is buried in the Salonika Military Cemetery, Greece.

Stephen Copper

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Stephen Copper

Stephen Copper enlisted in September 1914 and served with the Royal West Kents. He was shot in the left arm in March 1916, the wound being so severe that the arm was later amputated. Last year I asked Stephen’s son what his father did after the war, he replied that despite his injury, he drove a motorbike for Kipps the butcher’s at St John’s! His employer’s son, Lieutenant George Kipps, was also killed during the war and is remembered on the memorial.

George Walter Quinnell (1892 – 1915) and his brother Albert Edward (1900 – 1917), both remembered on the town memorial, were first cousins of the Copper brothers, through their mother, Emma’s (nee Luckman) sister, Elizabeth. It is possible that John Luckman, also named on the war memorial, is connected to the family but his background has proved difficult to research. It is possible that he was sent to Canada as one of the British Home Children before later returning and enlisting. At least seven members of this close family in Sevenoaks paid the ultimate sacrifice while others lived with the consequences for the rest of their lives.