Adelaide Slatter brought up her children in Brockley in the three decades before the Great War. Her sons were exactly of the war generation – four of them served in the conflict, one of them never returned. The Slatter family’s story is at once both unique and similar to those of thousands with sons born in the 1880s and 1890s.
Adelaide Avery married water rate collector Alexander Slatter in 1883. Two of their children (Ethel and Olive) died in infancy and were buried in Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery.This is their headstone:
The third name is Alexander, the girls’ father who died in 1903. The last name on the headstone is Leslie, who died on active service in 1917. It was not unusual for families to add the names of men who died on active service to headstones in the UK, either at the time or when the next headstone was needed (often a parent in the 1920s or 30s).
War memorials are often referred to in academic discussions as ‘surrogate graves’ at which people can mourn someone whose body was not available for a normal burial. In the case of these headstone additions, the surrogate grave for soldiers like Leslie Slatter were actual graves, sites already used by the family to mourn their dead.
Alexander and Adelaide had at least ten children before Mr Slatter’s death:
- Alexander B, born 1885 – a clerk in a motor agency in 1911.
- Olive, born 1887 (died in infancy)
- Isabel, born 1888 – shorthand typist in 1911
- Wilfred, born 1889 – no occupation in 1911
- Dudley Clarence, born 1890 – moved to Canada in 1907.
- Aubrey J, born 1886 – engineering draughtsman in 1911
- Oswald G, born 1892 – a shop assistant in 1911, later moved to Australia
- Ethel, born 1893 (died in infancy)
- Leslie Stuart R, born 1895 – merchants clerk in 1911
- Cecil Howard, born 1896 – away from home in 1911 census.
Cecil, Wilfred, Aubrey and Leslie all served in the armed forces in the Great War. The public record of their service is uneven:
Leslie enlisted at Putney in the 3rd County of London Yeomanry, but I don’t know exactly when (it could be that he joined the unit before the war). He later transferred to the Royal Fusiliers and died of pneumonia in March 1917 while serving in the 9th battalion near Arras, France. They were part of 12th (Eastern) Division, who were moved to the area around Arras in January 1917 and attacked the Germans there in April (read more here). He was buried in the cemetery for No 6 Stationary Field Hospital at Frevent. The War Graves Project website has a photo of his grave in France.
Cecil enlisted on 1 September 1914 and served with the 20th (Blackheath and Woolwich) Battalion of the London Regiment. He was wounded at some point in his service and was demobilised in April 1919. The battalion was part of 47th (2nd London) Division, which fought on the Western Front from May 1915 to November 1918 – the battles they took part in are listed here.
Wilfred is listed as absent from home on military service in summer 1918 (in the electoral register), but I couldn’t track down any other records that were definitely him, so we cannot be sure exactly what he did.
There is much more information about Aubrey: he enlisted in November 1915 and in June 1916 went to France with his regiment, the 2/13th Battalion (Kensington) of the London Regiment*. He was repeatedly sick in France and spent three months with a convalescent company. In November, his unit was sent to Salonika Front (in Greece) and in July 1917 they moved on to Egypt via Malta. They were part of the 60th Division, which fought in the Third Battle of Gaze, the capture and defence of Jerusalem in late 1917 and the capture of Jericho in early 1918.
In May 1918 he transferred to the Royal Engineers (2nd (London) Field Company). Having been a draughtsman in civilian life, Aubrey worked as a draughtsman in the Engineers and was praised for the quality of his work when he was demobilised (see below). In August 1919, he eventually set sail from Port Said and returned to Brockley.
Like vast numbers families across the country, the Slatters sent several of their number overseas to fight for their country. Among Adelaide Slatter’s sons, four served: one was killed and one wounded but most returned. Their war stories were each unique but collectively they tell a familiar story of family service, survival and sacrifice.
* 2/13th means that the unit was formed as the reserve battalion for the 13th Londons, who went out to France in November 1914. The excellent Long Long Trail website gives great summaries of units’ war histories,including the London Regt.