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Going to Cologne

The London County Council sports teams’ trip to Germany in Summer 1914 had to be abandoned. By the time that they were meant to be Cologne, many of the sportsmen were in the armed forces preparing to fight against the very Germans they had been planning to race and play sports against just weeks earlier.

The August 1914 edition of the London County Council (LCC) Gazette carried the details of the sports teams’ trip to Cologne, due to take place that month. They were to compete against athletic clubs from the German city. The city authorities were clearly excited by the Anglo-German contest, as medals were being struck especially to be awarded to the winners in the contests.

Cologne Cathedral (image from wikipedia)

Cologne Cathedral (image from wikipedia)

The planned schedule for the games was:

  • Tuesday August 18th: Football
  • Wednesday, August 19th: Lawn Tennis
  • Thursday, August 20th: Swimming
  • Friday, August 21st was held in reserve for playing off draws in the sports already played
  • Saturday, August 22nd: Athletics

In the end, the great mortal contest between Britain and Germany began in earnest on August 23rd – not in Cologne, but in Mons, Belgium, when the British Expeditionary Force met the German Army for the first time. 870 of the LCC’s staff had been called up for military service (as well as 436 naval reservists) and some of these men were in action at Mons – George Baker (who worked at Colney Hatch mental hospital) and L/Cpl E.W. Stretton were reported missing, and John Yates died of wounds the next day.

The LCC’s trip to Germany is a fine example of the general lack of antagonism between Britons and Germans in the months and years preceding the Great War. It also shows how unexpected the war was, as the September edition of the magazine noted: ‘A glance at the August Gazette brings home the suddenness of the catastrophe’.

Several of the LCC organisers joined the British armed forces during the war: Arthur Attwooll of the clerk’s department, the organiser of the football matches, served in the Royal West Kents and in a trench mortar unit. Walter N Halliwell (tramways department), the organiser of the swimming, was a serjeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Twenty-seven year old George Deane Turk, from Walthamstow, worked as a clerical assistant in the Comptroller’s Department, and was responsible for planning the athletics on August 22nd along with Otto Marum in Cologne (who was also the football organiser on the German side). Turk was also honorary secretary of the sports club.

By the end of the August 1914, though, Turk was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He became a corporal in the 85th (3rd London) Field Ambulance, part of 28th Division, and served in Salonika. In late 1916, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Essex Regiment and was posted to the 1st Battalion in 1917. On 14 April, he was taken prisoner when his battalion fought at Monchy-le-Preux. The battalion attacked at 5.30 that morning 31 officers and 892 men strong, captured the first German line, but they suffered heavily in the counter-attack. Turk was one of 17 officer casualties; 644 other ranks were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists 187 officers and men who died on 14 April from the 1st Essex alone – 181 of whom are remembered on the Arras Memorial, meaning that their bodies were not found or could not be identified.

An 18-pounder Battery in action in the open, west of Monchy-le-Preux, 11 April 1917. © IWM (Q 2017)

An 18-pounder Battery in action in the open, west of Monchy-le-Preux, 11 April 1917. © IWM (Q 2017)

Turk did survive 14 April, but sadly died of his wounds on 23 June 1917. Another prisoner, Sergeant George Rogerson of the Rifle Brigade, wrote to Turk’s mother with the details. In one of the horrible ironic twists of fate that war throws up, 2nd Lt G.D. Turk was buried in Cologne Southern cemetery, one of over 1000 allied prisoners of war buried there (he is also commemorated on a grave at Chingford Mount Cemetery, possibly his parents’ grave). His service file doesn’t say whether he was in hospital in Cologne during his two months of captivity. If he was, one has to wonder whether he thought about the irony of having arrived in the city where he had planned to spend late-August 1914.

His correspondent in 1914, Otto Marum, also appears to have died during the war. The German army records on ancestry.com list an Otto Marum, born in Koln in 1885 as having died while on active service on 7 August 1916.*

For George Deane Turk and other sporty staff at the London County Council, August 1914 should have been a time when they were traveling and competing with German friends. In the end, Turk and many others ended up fighting the Germans. One must suspect that the LCC and Cologne athletes would have been among the generation hardest hit by the war, being healthy, relatively young adult men in 1914. How many, like Turk, lost their lives in the conflict?

 

Sources:

J.W. Adamson and L. Hudson (eds), A London Town Miscelleny, vol 1 (which reproduces articles from the LCC Gazette)

G.D. Turk’s  service records

1st Essex war diary

Ancestry: German casualty lists, 1911 Census, British soldiers’ service records.

* The entry for Otto Marum in a list of casualties lists his unit as “Fusla. Btt. 481 Vz Wachtm”. I would be interested to know what that means, if anyone can help.

 
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Posted by on 1 April 2014 in Ordinary Londoners, Places, War Dead

 

London’s war graves

When walking through cemeteries and churchyards around London and across the UK, it is common to come across the familiar outline of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, or even a Cross of Sacrifice. Well over eight thousand of the British Empire’s war dead are buried in London and Middlesex.

According to the CWGC’s website, there are 9375 cemeteries, churchyards and memorials in the UK that serve as the nation’s commemoration of a fallen service man or women of the Great War. This is a total of over 90,000 of the British and Empire dead of the Great War, out of around 673,000 with known graves in total from that war worldwide (deaths dating from 1914-21). This does not include those mentioned on their parents’ or siblings’ gravestones here, only those who were buried or cremated in the UK or whose bodies were never found and who are officially commemorated in this country.

War graves in front of a Second World War air-raid shelter in Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

First World War graves in front of a Second World War air-raid shelter in Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

In London there are 36 cemeteries and churchyards in which service personnel of the Great War are buried, along with another 79 sites in what used to be Middlesex (now almost entirely in London).  There are bound to be more in the bits of East London that used to be in Essex and South London that used to be in Kent or Surrey, but these are harder to separate from the modern counties’ sites.

In total 8,569 of the Empire’s war dead are buried in London and Middlesex (5637 in London, 2832 in Middlesex). Sixty-three of the 115 sites hold fewer than 10 war casualties each, while the largest six sites hold nearly a third of the London Great War graves between them – over 2,700.

The 27 sites with over 100 war dead are listed in this table:

London CWGC

The men and women buried in London and Middlesex are a mixed groups, from a variety of nations and arms of service. The reasons they are buried here vary too: some were Londoners who died in training or on leave or serving as medics; many died in London hospitals whether as Londoners near home or  hundreds or thousands of miles from their families across the UK and the rest of the globe; others survived the war but died shortly afterwards of their wounds or illness.

Laid to rest thousands of miles from home. Australian war graves in Nunhead cemetery, 25 April 1920. Image from AWM collection

Laid to rest thousands of miles from home. Australian war graves in Nunhead cemetery, 25 April 1920. Image from AWM collection

In addition to the thousands buried in London and Middlesex, the capital is home to the nation’s largest memorial to the missing. The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates the dead of the Merchant Navy and the Fishing Fleet. Almost twelve thousand of its 35,747 names are from the First World War. The other memorials in the UK (the matching naval memorials of Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth and the smaller Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton to those of land and air forces who died at sea) together list another 27,370 names from the Great War dead with no known graves. In addition, 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers are commemorated at Patcham Down after dying in the UK and being cremated in accordance with their faiths.

Near to London are the graves of another 1,738 of the Great War dead buried in Brookwood cemetery (including the Muslim comrades of the Sikhs and Hindus named at Patcham Down). A new monument there also records the names of over 350 war dead who still had no known grave before being commemorated at Brookwood.

Australian and New Zealand headstones in Highgate Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

Australian and New Zealand headstones in Highgate Cemetery. Picture (c)CWGC

 
 

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Three of the fallen of 1 July 1916

The first day of the 1916 Battle of the Somme is notorious as the deadliest day in British military history, the day when over 19,000 servicemen were killed in action for little territorial gain. This post remembers three Londoners who were among those thousands.

L/Cpl ECL Read, 8th Norfolks

L/Cpl ECL Read, 8th Norfolks

Edwin Cyril Laffan Read was born in South London in 1894 and educated at the London County Council School on Eardley Road, Streatham.  After leaving school, he became a tailor.  On 1 September 1914, he joined the army – at the height of the recruiting boom after the battle of Mons.  He joined the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. On 1 July 1916 he was serving with them in 53rd Brigade in 18th (Eastern) Division, which successfully attacked Montauban. He was killed and now lies buried in Dantzig British Cemetery in Mametz, in ground captured during the battle – but he was probably one of the 25 men of his division moved there from a cemetery in Carnoy.

Cpl R.L. Brewer, Queen's Westminster RIfles

Cpl R.L. Brewer, Queen’s Westminster RIfles and Royal Fusiliers

Richard Leslie Brewer was born in Leyton in 1895, the son of an insurance broker. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) on 14 September 1914 and served with them in malta and Egypt before landing at Cape Helles in Gallipoli in September 1915 and serving there until the retreat at the end of 1915. In 1916 he was transferred to the Western Front and in April joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles (the 16th Battalion, London Regiment) as part of 56 (1st London) Division. On 1 July 1916, according to letters to his parents, he was seen to assist a wounded comrade before leading his platoon after their officer was hit.  Soon after that he was killed by a shot to the head; he now lies buried in Gommecourt, where hundreds of the dead of 56 Division lie.

2/Lt B Boncker, 1st East Yorks

2/Lt B Boncker, 1st East Yorks

Barry Boncker was born in Upper Norwood in August 1897, but educated at Ardingley College in Haywards Heath. In 1914, he was living on Upper Grove in South Norwood and working as a clerk at the National Bank of South Africa. On 1 September, he joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) in the ranks.  In November 1915 he was given a temporary commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment. The official notice of his promotion was published in the London Gazette on 30 June 1916. On that day, he and the rest of A Company, 1st East Yorks, were parading and moving into their positions at Fricourt, where they were to attack at dawn on 1 July. The excellent Long, Long Trail website has a transcription of their war diary for that week, which describes how the brigade reached their first objective ‘in spite of heavy losses’ by 8.05 am. After repulsing a German attack, the battalion was too depleted to attack further and dug in. They were relieved by another brigade over night, leaving their positions by 6 a.m.  The 1st East Yorks were in action again over the next few days but 1 July was the bloodiest with five officers killed on that day alone out of six killed and anther 13 injured or missing by 4 July, along with 35 other ranks killed, 239 wounded, 158 missing and another nine wounded and missing. Barry Boncker was one of those four dead officers on 1 July 1916. He has no known grave, but is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing – just one of 72,203 names recorded there, 12,360 of them the fallen of 1 July 1916.

Sources:

de Ruvigney’s Roll of Honour (Brewer)

Croydon during the Great War (Read and Boncker)

Long Long Trail

 
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Posted by on 1 July 2013 in Events, Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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SA Gabriel, an unusual hospital death

When we read about the bravery of nurses in air raids, it can be easy to underestimate the danger they were in. These raids on hospitals could be enormously destructive, and of course the patients were often immobile in the face of that danger. The coolness and bravery of the nurses must have been a real benefit. One of those who could not be saved, though, was Stewart Arkcoll Gabriel.

From de Ruvigny's Roll of Honour

(From de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour)

Stewart Arkcoll Gabriel was born in June 1878, the son of merchant James Sutcliffe Gabriel (who owned and ran a wharf) and his wife Susan (nee Arkcoll), the middle son and one of six children. The Gabriels lived in a large house on Leigham Court Road in Streatham. By 1901, Stewart Gabriel, still living at home, was working for his father. In 1905, Stewart was granted the freedom of the City of London as the son of an existing freeman in the Company of Goldsmiths.

In 1906, Stewart Gabriel married Elsie Dorothy Thornton in Forest Gate. By 1914, though, Stewart they were living in Epsom, Surrey, with their daughter Judith Ashley Gabriel (born in July 1913). In March 1915, Stewart enlisted in the army, giving his profession as Dog Breeder.

Gabriel was not at home in the army, though. After reporting for duty in Woolwich on 16 March, he lasted only another week before being discharged as not likely to become an efficient soldier. He had been very specific about the terms of his enlistment – he was to serve at home only and insisted that he should be put to work in shipping, to suit his experience as a civilian. Instead, he was sent to No. 2 Remounts Depot in the Army Service Corps, even though – as he wrote on 23 March “I knew next to nothing about horses.”

His entry on de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour states that his defective eyesight meant that he could serve. In fact, the army doctors thought his eyesight (although poor) was good enough for service. He was rejected anyway in March 1915 and returned to civilian life.

He was eventually conscripted in November 1916 and sent into the Royal Garrison Artillery – not exactly the kind of job he had been after in 1915 and certainly not one that would keep him at home in England.

After going out to the front in April 1917, he was wounded but soon returned to his unit – 76th Siege Battery RGA. The Battery served around Ypres during the Third Battle there, now better known as Passchendaele.

A few weeks into the battle, Gabriel was gassed and sent off to a Casualty Clearing Station at Dozinghem, near Poperinge in Belgium. On the night of 21/22 August, the CCS was attacked in an air raid. As the Matron-in-chief recorded in her diary (on the excellent Scarlet Finders website):

47 Casualty Clearing Station bombed: Miss Roy, QAIMNS, Sister-in-Charge to say that her Station had been bombed last night, several bombs falling near the lines for walking cases and several of them were injured; one of the Sisters, Miss W. M. Hawkins, TFNS, was injured in the left thigh and would be evacuated to the Base by the next Ambulance train with 4 other Sisters suffering from shock. Altogether there were about 50 casualties, 12 of whom have died, including one RAMC orderly.

One of those 12 fatalities was Stewart Arkcol Gabriel. He was buried at the local military cemetery, one of over three thousand British and Empire casualties buried there. The Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website has a photo of his headstone at Dozinghem. Elsie Dorothy Gabriel lived another 30 years, until October 1948; their daughter Judith married in 1940 and lived until 1986.

Gabriel’s story is unusual both for the manner of his (brief) early period in the army and for the manner of his death. In the end though, he was just one of the many men who were conscripted in 1916-18 and left their families behind, and sadly one of those men who never returned.

 
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Posted by on 12 March 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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1918: Annie Bridger’s bad year

1918 was a bad year for Annie Bridger. She was doubly bereaved, but also suffered the pain of uncertainty about her husband’s fate.

Annie grew up in Wandsworth, the daughter of a labourer – the second-youngest of Charles Henry Langley’s children with his wife Mary Ann. The family lived at 27 Garton Street, off Allfarthing Lane. The 1911 census records five of the children still living at home, 14-year-old Annie was a laundry apprentice, presumably working with her older sisters Louise (21) and Elizabeth (19) who were laundry workers. Two sons were also living in the house: 16-year-old James, working as a railway porter, and schoolboy Walter.

Sometime in the spring of 1914, Annie became pregnant by (I presume) Walter Bridger, a shop assistant two years her senior who lived in nearby Aslett Street. Annie and Walter married in the parish church on 13 September, just at the point when men like Walter (young men in the service sector) were enlisting in the army in vast numbers. On Christmas Day, 1914, their daughter Violet Bridger was born.

The Banns of Marriage record for Walter and Annie Langley - Sept 1914

The Banns of Marriage record for Walter and Annie Langley – Sept 1914

The following summer, Walter left his wife and daughter behind in Wandsworth and joined the London Regiment – on 14 June 1915. Another nine months later Annie gave birth to their second child – Walter Charles Henry Bridger. Annie’s wartime address is given variously as 53 Garton Street, 7 Aslett Street (Walter’s parents’ address and his address on his service papers) and 29 Garton Street.

Walter had joined the second-line battalion of the 23rd London Regiment, a unit initially formed to keep the first-line battalion (the Artists’ Rifles) up to strength. A year after Walter had joined up, though, the battalion went out to France in the 181st Brigade, 60th (2/2nd London) Division, before going on to Salonica that December, and on to Egypt in June 1917.

In April 1918, Annie received a War Office telegram bringing terrible news – her husband was reported missing in action. His unit had been engaged in the First Battle of Amman at the end of March, fighting around the River Jordan. The 60th Division suffered 476 casualties, of whom over 100 were killed or missing. One of them was Walter Bridger.

60th Division marching from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, March 1916

60th Division marching from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, March 1916

Walter had entered the limbo of the missing, as far as Annie and the War Office were concerned. Like those whose loved ones went missing during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, she sought information about his fate. In May she heard promising news, writing (in the punctuation-light style of many letters of the time) to the War Office that:

I am writing these few lines to you to tell you I have heard some good news about my husband which may please in one way my father saw a gentleman who he new and he said he son wrote home and told him that my husband was taken prisoner of war with one of there fellow mates he saw him taken. Father said the name of the son father was Williams who told father to tell me as he was comeing to my house to show me the letter but has he see dad he told him so I thought it would be best to write and tell you as might find out some time or other about my husband to see if it is right.
Yours faithful Mrs Bridger

Sadly, the rumour – as so often in these cases – was not true, or if he was a prisoner it was never officially reported. Walter’s body was never found and his death was officially recorded in January 1919 to have happened on or after 28 March 1918.

Before finding this out, though, more sad news hit Annie and her family. Her two youngest brothers had also enlisted in the army during the war. James, the older sibling, had joined up early in the war and went out to France in March 1915 in the RAMC; he served in the 4th London Field Ambulance. Walter was conscripted in December 1916 and joined the 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. Walter was wounded during his time in the army and was awarded the Silver War Badge to mark his injury. James Langley some how ended up in a series of Yorkshire units in the last 18 months of the war – in the 1st West Riding Field Company (Royal Engineers), the East Yorkshire Regiment, and finally the 1/6th West Yorkshires as they fought the Germans back across France in autumn 1918. On 11 October – exactly a month before the Armistice – James was killed in action near Iwuy, where his body now lies in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

We can only wonder at the feelings of the Langleys and Annie Bridger when they received this news, and how they greeted the Armistice that ended a war that had so recently taken away James, wounded Walter Langley, and still held Walter Bridger in limbo. Individual circumstances had such a great impact on people’s attitudes to the war. How did Annie, her parents, siblings, and children feel about this war and the men who were taken or scarred by it? How did they remember Walter Bridger – missing so far away and presumably completely unknown to his son Walter and virtually so to Violet?

 
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Posted by on 22 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead, Women

 

A year of Great War London

This blog has now been going for a year. At the risk of being a little self-congratulatory, I thought it would be good to look back over some of the people, places and events that we have seen in the posts.

Return to the Front: Victoria Railway Station, by Richard Jack.

Return to the Front: Victoria Railway Station, by Richard Jack.

We have met Londoners who performed great acts of heroism, like Revd Noel Mellish, Arthur Feldwick and CLR Falcy. There was also James Collis, who had been stripped of his Victoria Cross but had it restored after his death in the Great War. Lancelot Dickinson Chapmen pretended to have earned the VC.

We also met the Slatter brothers, Reginald Savory (who, contrary to reports, did not die in the war) CO Oglethorpe (who was not a spy), burns victim HR Lumley, war artist Eric Kennington, drowned soldier AJ Duddeidge, propaganda speakers Thomas Harper and the Bishop of London, musician Percy Gayer, youngster H.J. Bryant, and Henry Allingham – who outlived all other British Great War veterans.

Sportsmen played their part in the war, men like Harry Lee, Bob Whiting and Reggie Schwarz.  So too did the Golliwog.

Men from London’s ethnic minorities served in the British army, including young Czech men and the Jewish battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. G.E.K. Bemand and Walter Tull, two of the British army’s first black officers also left the capital to serve in the war.

We also met Hilda Hewlett, an aviator pioneer; Edie Bennett, longing for her soldier husband; hero’s widow Gertrude Jarratt; and brave women like Mary Bushby Stubbs, Sara Bonnell and nurse Beatrice Allsop.

Other soldiers committed crimes like Henry Canham, who murdered his cheating wife, or WJ Woolner the underage soldier who went on the run from the army.

People found out about the war through the Field Service Postcards, letters (read by censors like Martin Hardie) and through films like The Battle of the Somme, the most successful British film of the age.

Familiar London sites and objects took on a different look or role in the war: St James’s Park hosted Government departments, a factory in Silvertown was destroyed in a huge explosion, the London bus went to war, war-workers’ housing was erected in Woolwich, an ice-rink held stores for the Red Cross, town halls played host to Military Service Tribunals, the British Museum was locked up for the duration, a German submarine arrived in the Thames, and the American YMCA ‘Eagle Hut’ opened in Aldwych.

Germans have appeared in London in the form of civilians interned at Stratford, air raiders (who damaged Cleopatra’s Needle), victims of rioting, and the British Royal Family. They also met with Londoners in the British Army in the 1914 Christmas truce. Meanwhile, a mock Iron Hindenburg appeared in Stepney.

And finally, we have seen the first London war memorials of the Great War and the Royal Naval Division’s memorial, and met one of the men depicted on the Royal Artillery memorial. We have seen the arrival of the Unknown Warrior, a protest at the Cenotaph, and seen its Hyde Park predecessor.

 

The Royal Naval Division memorial

In the corner of Horse Guards Parade, partly hidden behind the Admiralty Citadel is a memorial to an unusual Great War fighting force: the Royal Naval Division. These naval men served as infantry at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

The Royal Naval Division memorial

The Royal Naval Division (RND) was an odd hybrid unit, seamen serving as and alongside footsoldiers. It was both a category of naval personnel and a fighting unit of the British Army, although the two were not for long the same thing. The history and the make-up of the Division told well elsewhere, but a brief summary is that Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, formed the Division from surplus naval troops (mainly reservists) as the Germans rapidly invaded Belgium in 1914. The Division first saw action in the (unsuccessful) defence of Antwerp in October – many of the RND escaped over the border to the neutral Netherlands and were interned there.

Recruiting poster for the RND

Reconstituted, and following further training, the Division was sent to Egypt in 1915 and landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April in the first landing of British troops there. They served throughout the campaign there before being sent back to the Western Front in 1916, where the Division served out the rest of the war, fighting in most of the major battles.

The RND at Gallipoli – full page photo in page 1 of the Daily Mirror (15/7/15)

During this time, though, the battalions that made up the Division were – as in other Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force – moved around and the RND as a fighting unit became less naval in its make-up (the memorial remembers those from the army units that served in the RND as well as the naval personnel). Its original battalions bore names evocative of British naval history: Nelson, Hawke, Drake, Collingwood, Benbow, Hood, Howe and Anson.

In 1925, a decade after the landing at Gallipoli, Winston Churchill unveiled a memorial to the officers and men of the Division who died during the war, alongside him was Sir Ian Hamilton – the commander of the Gallipoli campaign.

Churchill and Hamilton at the unveiling ceremony (Daily Mirror 27/5/25)

The memorial was constructed at the corner of Horse Guards Parade, at the back of the Admiralty building. Its inscription lists the places that the RND served and bears the words of a sonnet by Rupert Brooke – the Division’s most famous casualty.

BLOW OUT YOU BUGLES, OVER THE RICH DEAD / THERE’S NONE OF THESE SO LONELY AND POOR OF OLD / BUT, DYING HAS MADE US RARER GIFTS THAN GOLD / THESE LAID THE WORLD AWAY: POURED OUT THE RED / SWEET WINE OF YOUTH; GAVE UP THE YEARS TO BE. / OF WORK AND JOY, AND THAT UNHOPED SERENE / THAT MEN CALL AGE: AND THOSE WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN / THEIR SONS, THEY GAVE THEIR IMMORTALITY

The view of the memorial in 1925, looking towards the Mall (Daily Mirror 27/4/25)

The same view today, blocked by the citadel.

The memorial under construction (Times 6/4/25)

Two South Londoners served as naval soldiers with the RND and had very different war stories:

Able Seaman H. Hardcastle, from Vauxhall, was a serving naval rating in 1914, but was drafted into the RND for the fighting on the Western Front.  He later rejoined his ship and saw action at the Battle of Heligoland Bight, where (according the National Roll of the Great War) the ship was sunk and Hardcastle was taken prisoner.  After a second attempt to escape, he was recaptured and moved to a punishment camp. Eventually he was sent to Holland and repatriated in England in November 1918.

Unlike Hardcastle, virtually all of Able Seaman Alexander Frederick Smith‘s war service was in the RND.  He was a surveyor from Catford and enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.  After Antwerp, most of the original Hawke Battalion, RND, had been killed, captured or interned, and the battalion was reformed incorporating men from the Public Schools Battalion in its D Company. Hardcastle served in Gallipoli throughout the fighting there and then as an anti-aircraft gunner on the Island of Imbros. After a few months in the UK from July 1916, he was sent out to France and Flanders in December and was killed in action on 18 February 1917, at Miraumont during the battle of the Ancre. He is commemorated on the Theipval memorial to the missing in France, and on the war memorial in St George’s Church, Catford.

The Royal Naval Division memorial has had an odd history since 1925.  It was removed from Horse Guards Parade in 1939, when the Admiralty Citadel was built between Horse Guards Parade and the Mall, and only re-erected in Greenwich in 1951. Forty years later it was moved back to Westminster and restored to its original location – albeit dwarfed by the citadel.

Sources:

UK National Inventory of War Memorials

Page on the RND on a site about Jack Clegg, one of its number

And (as ever) the Long Long Trail webpage on the RND

 
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Posted by on 29 November 2012 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead, War memorials

 

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Hitler’s wreath at the Cenotaph

The central public site for national commemoration of the Great War is the Cenotaph in Whitehall. It represents the war dead of Britain and the Empire (irrespective of race, colour and creed). As such it meant a lot to those who served and those whose friends, comrades and relatives were killed in the war. In 1933, it was the site of protest against Herr Hitler, the new Chancellor of Germany.

Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933 (he only became “Führer of Germany” after also becoming President in 1934). On 10 May 1933, his emissary Dr Alfred Rosenberg laid a wreath from the Chancellor at the Cenotaph on behalf of Hitler. It was not welcomed.

On the 11th, it was snatched and thrown in the river. Newspaper accounts differ, but it appears that early that morning a man stepped from a car and slashed off the swastika that was displayed in the centre of the wreath. Later that morning, another man (or possibly the same one) got out of a car and snatched the wreath – taking it off with him in the car and throwing it into the Thames.

People inspecting the damaged wreath (D Mirror 13/5/33), presumably before it was thrown into the Thames

The man who did this (or at least certainly took the wreath away) was James Edmonds Sears, a 57-year-old British Legion member and owner of a Norfolk building firm, who was also the prospective Labour candidate for the St Pancras South West constituency in the next election. Sears had served in the Great War as an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps, arriving in France in November 1915.

James Edmonds Sears

Sears’s medal index card

Appearing in Bow Street magistrate’s court on 11 May, Sears stated that:

I removed the wreath from the Cenotaph as a deliberate national protest against the desecration of our national war memorial by the placing on it of a wreath by Hitler’s emissary, especially in view of the fact that Hitler’s Government at the present moment are contriving to do those things and foster the feeling that occurred in Germany before the war in which so many of our fellows suffered and lost their lives.

Sears was cleared of a charge of theft but ordered to pay 40 shillings for willful damage, being told that whatever his personal views it was an ill-mannered thing to do. The general public feeling, though, seems to have been supportive of Sears. In Germany, the regime was furious. One German newspaper stated that England’s reputation for treating its guests well had been dealt a severe blow.

An American ex-serviceman also added his voice to the protests, laying a single lily beside the cenotaph with a card reading:

If the Unknown Soldier could speak to this unknown American, he might voice his preference for this single flower to the wreath of a murderous dictator which now desecrates this memorial.

A policeman removed the card, but left the flower.

The eventual fate of Hitler’s wreath, is neatly summed up by the Yorkshire Post:

It appears that when a wreath has been placed on the Cenotaph, it becomes, ipso facto, the property of the Office of Works. When this one had been rescued from the river, Scotland Yard inquired what the First Commissioner of Works wished to have done with it. A representative inspected the wreath and reported that it had suffered so severely from immersion as to be of no further value. So Hitler’s tribute has now been consigned to the rubbish heap with the approval and blessing of Whitehall.

This was not the only time that the Cenotaph has been at the centre of protest. The event also has resonance with unease people feel today about the British National Party laying wreaths at war memorials – including one group removing a wreath in Lancashire in 2010.

It was also not the last time that a swastika-bearing wreath was laid at the Cenotaph in 1936, as Nazi ex-servicemen laid a similar wreath there as guests of the British Legion.

German ex-servicemen in Whitehall, 1936 (from nickelinthemachine.com)

German ex-servicemen giving a nazi salute after laying their wreath at the Cenotaph (Yorkshire Post, 21/1/36)

Postcript: James Edmonds Sears did stand as Labour candidate in St Pancras SW in the 1935 General Election, but he was defeated by the Conservative incumbent Mr G G Matheson.

Further reading:

Interesting blog post from Nickelinthemachine.com about the Hitler wreath, the other anti-Nazi protests and the Cenotaph.

 

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Victoria Station, 10 November 1920: the arrival of the unknown warrior

The Unknown Warrior is part of the UK’s national remembrance of the Great War. A single, unidentified serviceman, he represents all those whose bodies were missing, while the Cenotaph represents all those who did not return. On 10 November 1920, the warrior arrived at Victoria station en route to Westminster Abbey.

The idea was that an unidentified body would be repatriated from the battlefields in France and Flanders to lie in the heart of London (and thus of the nation and empire) to represent the British Empire’s one million dead, and especially those whose bodies were not located or identified. The warrior’s journey is depicted in this five-minute Pathe film.

Four bodies were disinterred in from the battlefields of the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres. They were taken to St Pol and one was blindly selected to return to Britain.  This warrior was transported across France to Boulogne and onto the – significantly named – HMS Verdun. The ship landed at Dover and the coffin was tranferred to a train.

The Unknown Warrior being removed from HMS Verdun by soldiers, a sailor and an airman. (Daily Mirror 10/11/20)

The train arrived at platform 8 in Victoria Station at 8.32 on the 10th of November, the coffin being borne in the same carriage that had returned the bodies of Nurse Edith Cavell and Captain Fryatt to the UK.

The Unknown Warrior at Victoria Station, guarded overnight

A plaque next to platform 8 now marks the occasion and the Western Front Association meet there at 8pm each year to pay their respects.

The plaque marking the event of the warrior’s arrive

On 11 November, the warrior was transported on a gun carriage to Westminster Abbey. The procession left Victoria at 9.40am and travelled via Hyde Park Corner and the Mall to Whitehall, passing the Cenotaph before arriving at the Abbey.

The procession’s route, 11 November 1920 (from Daily Mirror 10/11/20)

A guard of honour of a hundred Victoria Cross holders welcomed the coffin, accompanied by the King, Field Marshals Haig and French and many other luminaries of the Great War era.

After a shortened version of the burial service, the King dropped a handful of French soil onto the coffin as it was lowered into the grave. After thousands of mourners had passed the spot, the grave was filled with 100 barrels of French soil.

The Unknown Warrior’s grave being filled with French soil

So, by the evening of 11 November 1920, the key pieces of the landscape of British national (and imperial) remembrance were in place. The Unknown Warrior and the Cenotaph (used in temporary form in 1919 but replaced in stone in 1920) are central to remembrance in London. The warrior also plays a part in other events in the Abbey, such as the recent royal wedding, when the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid their respects.

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Sources and further reading:

Adrian Gregory – the Silence of Memory

Neil Hanson – the Unknown Warrior

Westminster Abbey website

BBC picture gallery of the Unknown Warrior’s final journey

 

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Czechs in Great War London

London in 1914 was home to thousands of people from around the world. While not as diverse as it is today, there were people from dozens of nations in Britain’s capital. One of these minority communities was made up of Czechs.

In 1911 there were around 8,700 people living in London who were citizens of Austria-Hungary or had come from that Empire and become naturalised as British citizens. Czechs were not enumerated separately at that point as they were part of Austria-Hungary’s enormous population, but in 1921 there were 984 Czechoslovak residents in London (of whom around 700 were Czechoslovak citizens).

When the Great War began, Czech men – and other Austro-Hungarian citizens in Britain – became ‘alien enemies’. Keen to show their loyalty to their new country or to strike out for independence for the Czechs (or both) – many Czech men joined the British Army.

Czech soldiers in the British Army (Illustrated London News, 10/1/1917): “Practically all the Czechs of military age resident in Great Britain have volunteered for the Army or are engaged in war-work.”

Others agitated for Czech independence from Austria-Hungary through the Czech National Alliance, such as their secretary Francis Kopecký. In January 1917, the Alliance opened new offices near Piccadilly Circus, in which they displayed a roll of honour of Czech soldiers in the British Army. From their office, the Alliance distributed their propaganda “explaining the problem of the Czechs and their aspiration for independence from Austria, and also why they have the cause of the Allies at heart” (as the Times described it).

One of the Czech men who served in the British Army was Joseph Kořinek, whose family lived in Carlton Road, Kentish Town, having left Austria in the first decade of the twentieth century; by 1911 he was working (aged 15) as an electrical engineering apprentice. He joined the army in the Great War and served as a signaller in “A” Battery, 91st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, part of the 20th (Light) Division. Sadly Joseph died (aged 21) just before the Armistice – on 5 November 1918 – probably in either number 30 or number 22 casualty clearing station near Cambrai. Whether he was one of the men in the photo, we will probably never know.

The Korinek family’s entry in the 1911 census – then living at 30 Rochford Street, NW.

Sources:

Times 10/1/17

Catalogue of material relating to Czechoslovakia

Illustrated War News, 10/1/1917

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Update:

Topfoto have this wonderful photo from Trafalgar Day celebrations in London in 1916. In the background is a banner carrying the words: “London Czechs salute the heroic British Navy and the glorious memory of Nelson”

 
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Posted by on 29 September 2012 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead