Category Archives: War memorials

Bombs begin to fall on London, 31 May 1915

A hundred years ago today, 31 May 1915, the much-feared aerial attack on London began. The Zeppelins, whose visits to England had begun earlier in the year with bombs dropped over East Anglia, visited the East End of the capital – their first bomb was dropped on a house in Alkham Road, Stoke Newington.

Here is a map of all the bomb damage sites across London in 1914-1918:

Where the bombs fell in London, 1914-1918

Where the bombs fell in London, 1914-1918

This week, the London Borough of Hackney unveiled a plaque on the house where that first bomb fell. This interesting modern commemoration echoes a plan in the City of Westminster (see my blog post on it here) to mark the sites where bombs fell, initially every site and later just the first and last. The Westminster plan did not receive any support after the war among the other boroughs where bombs had fallen; it was shelved in 1920.

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Posted by on 31 May 2015 in Air Raid, War memorials


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Westminster’s air raid plaques – a war memorial that never was

After the Great War a vast number of war memorials were erected across London, the UK and other combatant nations across the world. Most commemorated those who had died (also commonly, but less frequently, those who fought and returned were remembered), others marked sites of important events in local war experiences. In the City of Westminster, an abortive scheme was launched in 1919 to commemorate the air raids on London.

The Zeppelin air raids on England killed 1,400 and injured 3,400 people between January 1915 and May 1918. Hundreds of the victims were Londoners in the thirty raids that hit the city. The City of Westminster Council established that in their area (a much smaller area then than now, mainly the area around Parliament and Whitehall and between Kingsway and Green Park) there had been 78 fatalities and 167 injuries due to raid raids. The bomb map produced by the City Engineer shows 54 bombs dropped (22 on 18 December 1917 alone) and 60 other sites where damage was caused by dud bombs or anti-aircraft shells.

Great War bomb sites in central London (from a post-war Harmsworth atlas)

Great War bomb sites in central London (from a post-war Harmsworth atlas)

In February 1919, a councillor called Philip Conway put forward a motion to the council stating

“That it be an instruction to the Works Committee through the City Engineer or as the Committee may think best to prepare a list and map of places and properties within the City which were struck by bombs during Air Raids with a view to obtaining the consent of the owners or occupiers thereof to the placing of suitable memorial or identification tablets for the purpose of reminding in perpetuity the Citizens of Westminster and of the Empire of the brutal, horrible and cowardly character of our principal and present enemy Germany and to submit a scheme and report forthwith.”

The council adopted the resolution and, apparently intending the scheme to be London-wide decided to send it on to all other Metropolitan borough councils. (n.b Germany was still the enemy because technically the war was still ongoing; after the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the war continued in law until 1921)

The Council’s Works committee reported back in July with a design for a plaque, which was to state:

City of Westminster

Near this spot bombs were dropped by

German Air Raiders


Total Casualties …Killed and …Injured.

“Lest We Forget”

They also reported that five quotes had been received for making them, ranging “from £10 10s 0d each to £16 10s 0d each for tablets of varying degrees of artistic merit in various kinds of metal.” The £14 version was picked, to be erected at 19 sites, a total of £266, plus £7 12s to put them up. The Council approved the scheme and the spending.

The scheme was up and running in Westminster, then, but it was less popular elsewhere. “Replies have been received from the Borough Councils of Chelsea and Hammersmith supporting the proposal, though the latter did not propose to take any action, no place in the Borough having been struck by enemy bombs.” Meanwhile, nine boroughs had “replied, not supporting, viz: – Bermondsey, Camberwell, Deptford, Lambeth, St Pancras, Shoreditch, Southwark, Wandsworth and Woolwich. The remaining 17 Borough Councils and the Corporation of [the City of] London have not so far expressed any opinion for or against the proposal.” The scheme was not popular in those boroughs where there had been air raid damage. We might also wonder whether the cost of the scheme did not appeal to the less well-off southern and eastern boroughs, compared with Westminster which (then as now) contained a lot of businesses.

The full map of London bomb sites

The full map of London bomb sites

In January 1920, the works committee felt that “Upon further consideration of the matter we thought that the desired purpose might possibly be served by putting up a tablet on the spot where the first enemy bomb fell in Westminster and another at the spot where the last fell. The Commissioner of Police states that the first enemy bomb in Westminster fell on the Lyceum Theatre at 9.26 p.m. on the 13th October, 1915, and the last on No. 26A, King Street, St James, at 12.30 a.m. on 20th May 1918.”

The Lyceum bomb was, of course, part of the raid that cause Mr Petre, the local pub landlord, such strain that he later committed suicide; the King Street bomb was the only one to fall in Westminster in that raid, although 49 were killed nationwide that night.

Damage caused by the second bomb to fall in Westminster, on Wellington Street near the Lyceum

Damage caused by the second bomb to fall in Westminster, on Wellington Street near the Lyceum

The City Engineer was sent off to inquire about erecting plaques at these two locations, but had little success. The works committee reported to the Council on 20 May 1920 (exactly two years after that last bomb):

“We instructed the City Engineer to report the exact positions where the tablets should be fixed, and whether all necessary consents of parties concerned had been obtained, and he informs us that he has received a letter from the Lyceum Theatre stating that the Directors do no approve of a tablet being fixed at the Theatre.

“With regard to 26A, King Street, the occupiers, Messrs. Robinson, Fisher & Co., have suggested a position which the City Engineer thinks too high to be suitable. The point as to what would be a satisfactory position has not yet been settled with them.

“It will be seen that the Council’s intention cannot be carried out as the proprietors of the Lyceum Theatre are opposed to the fixing of a tablet, and having regard to the circumstances we think the proposal had been be left in abeyance. Moreover, the price of the tablets now quoted is £30 as against £14 each some months ago.”

The Council agreed to put the scheme permanently on hold. Although there are sporadic memorials of the Great War air raids, Westminster Council’s attempt to have a London-wide commemoration failed in the years after the war.


  • City of Westminster Council minutes 1919-21
  • Map of bomb damage sites, Westminster Archives.





Posted by on 12 August 2014 in Air Raid, Places, War memorials


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A war shrine in Leytonstone

Londoners – and other people across the combatant nations – were keen to keep servicemen prominent in their thoughts during the Great War. The residents of Chichester Road, Leytonstone erected a ‘war shrine’ to remember their friends and loved ones and, unusually, kept it after the war.

Early in the war, prayers of intercession were offered for soldiers and sailors, with their names posted up on notices in the church. By 1916/17 these were superseded by street shrines (also known as war shrines) displaying the names of those serving from the locality and other friends and relatives whom residents were praying for. Mark Connelly’s book Great War, Memory and Ritual lists five in East Ham, two in Romford, two in West Ham and one in Ilford – and that is unlikely to be a complete list even just within those boroughs of East London/South Essex.

In Leytonstone, the residents of Chichester Road erected one in their street. In the end it named 32 servicemen, of whom five died and 27 survived the war.

The Chichester Rd War Shrine (picture from

The Chichester Rd War Shrine (picture from

Despite not being on church grounds (as many shrines were, particularly in villages) there was a distinct religious tone to the message on the shrine:


Most street shrines were removed after the war and replaced with war memorials listing only those who died. Some churches still retain both lists after the war. The Chichester Road shrine remained in place until 1995, when it was moved into nearby St Margaret’s Church for safe keeping.

One of those named on the shrine was Claude Francis Goode, who lived at number 28 with his family – who were originally from Bath in Somerset. Before joining up, Claude worked as a compositor at HM Stationery Office HMSO.

Claude enlisted in September 1915, giving his date of birth as July 1896 (although freebmd gives his birth as 1897). He originally signed up for the 3rd/1st City of London Yeomanry, the training battalion of the famous ‘Rough Riders’. Soon he was moved to an infantry unit though, joining the 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. In his three years of war service, Goode spent a year and a half abroad and was wounded twice.

The first injury is not properly recorded in his records, but resulted in two GS wounds (gun shot wounds, but they could include shrapnel wounds, not just bullets) on the righthand side of his chest. In October 1918 he was in action again and was wounded in his left foot, with another GS wound fracturing his toe. Luckily it was a minor wound and, having been moved back to the UK via 47 Casualty Clearing Station and No 9 American General Hospital in France, Goode was discharged without any disability from his war service.

Goode's brief summary of his wounding in October 1918

Goode’s brief summary of his wounding in October 1918

Another Chichester Road family had several names on the list – the Harveys at number 16.  Of John William and Annie Harvey’s eight sons, at least three appear among the legible names on the war shrine.  These were Francis William (the eldest), Alfred Harry and John Clements.  Francis William Harvey’s war record is available online and shows the kind of military career a trained craftsman was often able to have if he avoided the infantry.

As a carpenter working on the railways (like his father), when Francis William Harvey joined the army in 1916 his skills were put to use.  He had attested in December 1915 and was called up in August 1916 and allocated to the Railways Operating Division of the Royal Engineers. In 1917, he was transferred to the 17th Wagon Erecting Company, where he worked (perhaps unsurprisingly) erecting wagons. He gradually increased in proficiency as a carpenter, through the official categories of ‘proficient’, ‘skilled’ and ‘superior’ to ‘v superior’ in early 1919, when he was also promoted to Lance Corporal. During that time, he also married Gertrude Eleanor Stiles, a dressmaker living in nearby Newcomen Road – on Christmas Day 1917. Like Claude Francis Goode, Harvey returned from the war – he was demobilised in November 1919.

We should not be misled by the memorials created after the war into thinking that commemoration and remembrance in wartime was also focussed on death. It was not. The public sites of memory created during the war were primarily about remembering those who were serving. Unlike the war shrines as objects, most of the men (and women) listed on them survived the war, like Claude Francis Goode and Francis William Harvey of Chichester Road, Leytonstone.


Posted by on 30 November 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, War memorials


Bert Hanscombe, the dustman who replaced Earl Haig

At a major crossroad in Beckenham stands the local memorial to the dead of the Great War, which was unveiled on 24 July 1921. Instead of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who had been invited to attend, the monument was unveiled by local war hero Bert Hanscombe, a local dustman.

Beckenham War Memorial - (c) David Anstiss and licenced for reused under Creative Commons

Beckenham War Memorial – (c) David Anstiss and licenced for reused under Creative Commons


Beckenham war memorial was designed by Newbury Abbot Trent, a prominent sculptor from Forest Gate. The Times described the design:

The monument is of the cenotaph type, and stands 23ft high and is built of Portland Stone. It stands at the junction of Beckenham’s principal roads and has cost about £2,500. There are 711 names inscribed on twelve tablets.

Field Marshal Earl Haig – commander of the British Forces in France and Flanders from December 1915 to the end of the war – was invited to unveil the monument but was apparently unable to attend. Instead of seeking another top-brass figure to carry out the ceremony alongside the Bishop of Rochester, the organisers asked local war hero Bert Hanscombe to do it.

Beckenham War Memorial being unveiled in 1921 - Illustrated London News 30/6/1921

Beckenham War Memorial being unveiled in 1921 – Illustrated London News 30/6/1921

Bert is described in all the national newspaper stories as having earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal during the war.  “He was mentioned in despatches and was promoted to sergeant on the field [sic] for bravery at Hulluch in 1915. At Cambrai in 1917 he was one of seven men in his battalion to escape capture by the Germans.” (Times 25/7/1921)

Bert Hanscombe - Daily Mirror 16/6/1921

Bert Hanscombe – Daily Mirror 16/6/1921

The newspapers also referred to the fact that he was one of nine brothers who served.  In 1901 census, Bert is listed at 2 Rosemeath Terrace, Arthur Road, Beckenham with his widowed mother Sarah Ann Hanscombe and six other brothers: Frank, Frederick John, Richard Arthur, Joseph, David and Stephen. Bert himself was born in 1887 and, in 1909, he married Ellen Cromwell. In 1911 he was working as a dustman for Beckenham urban district council and they lived at 173 Churchfields Road. Sarah and most of the other brothers were living at number 93 (possibly the same house as in 1901, as Arthur Road had been renamed Churchfields): Frederick and Richard working as carmen (i.e. drivers) and Joseph and Stephen as landscape gardeners. Thee eldest brother, George Edward, is listed with his wife Annie on a separate entry for the same address – 93 Churchfields. The ninth brother, James (b 1880), was living with his wife in Wales by 1911, working as a stoker.

By 1914, several of the Hanscombe boys had military connections. David had joined up as a regular soldier in the 2nd East Surreys and was serving in Burma, while Joseph was in the same regiment’s Special Reserve 3rd Battalion. George Edward had served in the East Kents (the Buffs) from 1898-1910, including five years in India where he contracted Malaria and was sent back to the UK via Aden. Once the war had begun the all other brothers did indeed serve.

With thanks to Roy Hanscombe (James Hanscombe’s grandson), here is a summary the brothers’ war service:

  • George Edward rejoined the Buffs in November 1914. He arrived in France in April 1916 and, in October that year, was wounded in the arm. Almost a year later – in September 1917 – he returned to the front with the 7th Buffs, serving as a Lewis Gunner. The battalion took part in the fighting at Cambrai in late November and Hanscombe was posted as missing on the 30th. In fact, he had been serious injured and captured by the Germans; he was held as a prisoner of war for the next year. The difference in him after his service and period as a prisoner was marked, his mother told the local paper that ‘I hardly knew him when he came home, he was so thin and so old and worn.’
  • Frank served in the 9th East Surreys, arriving in France in August 1915; later he served in the Queen’s (West Surrey Regiment)
  • Stephen served in the Royal Field Artillery and the Garrison Artillery, arriving in France in July 1915
  • Joseph served with the East Surreys in Salonika and contracted malaria in September 1917. In November-December 1918 he was in hospital again with a relapse, treated in the malaria camp in Great Baddow, Essex.
  • David arrived in France in January 1915 and was wounded, being discharged (after a transfer to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers) in November 1916. He later rejoined the army and served with the RWF again.
  • Frederick John Hanscombe joined the 1/22nd London Regiment (the Queen’s). He was retained at home by his unit, to work in ordnance depots. Sadly, he was not safe even there and suffered severely injuries to his head after an accident while loading ammunition. After being demobilized in 1919, he returned home to his wife Louisa Annie Hanscombe in Rotherhithe. He continued to suffer the effects of his accident and was sent away to a hospital in Wiltshire; he died in 1940, never having fully recovered from his accident in the Great War.
  • James joined the East Surrey Regiment in May 1915 – declaring that he previously served in the East Kents. Three months later, he was sent to France. After a few months back in the UK, he returned to France in April 1916 but was wounded in the head in October that year and eventually discharged suffering from “shrapnel wound to the head and loss of teeth” in August 1917
  • Richard served in the Royal West Kent Regiment, in their 1st and 8th battalions, arriving in France in August 1915. His bravery at Nieppe Forest in 1918 is decribed in the 1st Battalion’s history, ‘Invicta’ by Major C.V. Maloney: “During the operation of 28th-30th June 1918, when all the company runners had become casualties, [he] repeatedly took messages to Battalion H.Q.under heavy shellfire. His fearless conduct and fine sense of duty set a fine example to all.” In 1920, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “continuous gallant conduct, covering a long period of service in France. This soldier has on every occasion showed exceptional gallantry and very high sense of duty and has taken part in many actions.” (LG 11/3/1920) High praise indeed for a private soldier!
  • Bert himself arrived in France as a private in the East Surrey Regiment on 1 June 1915 and was promoted to Sergeant, according the newspapers this was during the battle of Hulloch, part of the Battle of Loos. He was serving in the 7th battalion in 1916 when his son Stan was born (see entry at the bottom of this page), but it’s not clear whether this was his unit throughout. In September 1916, he was awarded the Miltary Medal for bravery in the field.

The Hanscombes served en masse and for a long time – most were a theatre of war by September 1915, with old-soldier George following early in 1916 (and only Frederick remaining in the UK). Oddly, though, Bert Hanscombe does not appear to have earned the DCM, despite the decoration being mentioned in all the papers at the time.  Perhaps the reports confused Bert and Richard and conflated their decorations (it may be possible – but it less likely – that Bert’s DCM is simply not recorded in the available London Gazettes, but he also does not have a DCM medal card, unlike his brother). Both brothers were heroes so it doesn’t really make too much difference – they were the two who were given gallantry medals out of a set of brothers who served in the war.

At Christmas 1918, Mrs Hanscombe was interviewed by the Weekly Dispatch about her sons’ service – they were all expected home for Christmas that year. ‘I never believed they would all come back’ she told the paper, relating basic accounts of where each son had served.

The Hanscombes' reunion marked in a newspaper.

The Hanscombes’ service and reunion marked in the Weekly Dispatch.

Mrs Hanscombe also told the paper that she had had a letter from the Buckingham Palace to thank her for the the patriotic effort and sacrifice her family had made in answering their nation’s call.

Letter congratulating Mrs Hanscombe on her family's patriotism

Letter congratulating Mrs Hanscombe on her family’s patriotism

Two years after the family reunion, Bert was given the honour of unveiling the Beck war memorial, in front of a crowd that reportedly number 10,000. In October 1932, Prince George, the Duke of Kent, visited Beckenham to open the new Town Hall. Earlier that afternoon visited the memorial to lay a wreath in 1932; a one of the Hanscombes played a part (it is not clear which, but it seems like it was probably Bert) – this time as the chairman of the local British Legion, whose guard of honour the Duke inspected.

Prince George visiting the war memorial before opening the town hall - Daily Mirror 21/10/1932

Prince George visiting the war memorial before opening the town hall – Daily Mirror 21/10/1932


Sadly, Sarah Ann Hanscombe did not live to see her son acting as a local VIP in unveiling the local war memorial. She died in early 1920.  All of her sons who had served in the war survived it though.  Unfortunately, David (who appears to have been the only one to remain a soldier) was killed in action in Waziristan in May 1922, though – shot by a sniper at Ladha.


I am very grateful to Roy Hanscombe for providing me with the extra information and images in the update of this post – 21/12/2013.


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Remembering the fallen of the Great War, 1914-1917

In early 1917, there was a strong sense that this would be the year of victory. The directors of the East London Cemetery were so confident that they had it set in stone.

In February 1917, a new monument was unveiled in the East London Cemetery. Under a celtic cross and over a soldier’s cap, rifle and sword set in bronze, the monument’s main message read:













1914 – 1917

At some point the latter date was removed and, after the war, replaced with ‘1918’ to leave the monument as it stands today:

The East London Cemetery cross (photo (c) flickr user )

The East London Cemetery cross (photo (c) flickr user DeeGeeBee51)

On its other faces the directors express their sympathy of the families of the dead and their gratitude to the maimed servicemen and record the full list of Britain’s allies (which includes the ‘US America’, presumably added after they entered the war later in 1917).

The preemptory inclusion of an end-date for the war is an interesting reflection on the optimism hope felt early in 1917 that the war would indeed end that year. It is a reminder of the obvious fact that one must bear in mind when reading contemporary material from the Great War – that they simply did not know how much longer it would last.


UK National Inventory of War Memorials

West Ham and South Essex Mail, February 1917

Thanks to Dai (DeeGeeBee51) for permission to use his photograph of the cross


Posted by on 5 October 2013 in Places, War memorials


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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.


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.


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

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 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.


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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Some of the Missing of the Somme

The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval is one of the most memorial memorials on the Western Front battlefields of the Great War. But what did it mean to be missing?

Those ‘missing’ during and after the war were separate but overlapping groups. After the war, those commemorated were the men whose bodies had never been found, or were found and could not be identified (either because they were so badly damaged or because their ID discs were missing), or those who whose graves had been lost in subsequent fighting.

During the war, the ‘missing’ were the men about whom there was no certain information. They might have been killed, severely wounded, or taken prisoner. Not knowing what had happened to them caused anguish to  these men’s families.

The large overlap between these two categories during major battles is shown by the group of ‘missing’ published in the Daily Sketch in August 1916:

An appeal for information in the Daily Sketch, 4/8/1916 (thanks to Historic Newspapers for sending me this paper)

These men’s families were desperate for information. Their photos and details were published along with the addresses of those seeking information – two of the six addresses here were in Clapham, one from Seven Kings, and the others elsewhere in the UK.

All six were killed on 1st July 1916, at the start of the Battle of the Somme, meaning that these pictures were published over a month later. If there was no firm news, it would be months later that they were officially assumed to have been killed.

  • 2nd Lt Aubrey White from Dublin – 1 July 1916 aged 20 – Lonsdale Cemetery, Authuille
  • 2nd Lt William Henry Ratcliffe from Nottingham – 1 July 1916 aged 19 – Dantzig Alley cemetery, Mametz
  • Cpl Thomas Edward Dicks from Clapham (59 Leppoc Road) – 1 July 1916 aged 21 – Thiepval Memorial
  • Rfm James Britten from Clapham (4 Bewick Road) – 1 July 1916 – Serre Road Cemetery
  • Sgt Lionel Robert Last from Clacton, Essex – 1 July 1916 aged 20 – Thiepval Memorial
  • Rfm Clifford Hugh Butcher from Leyton (about whom V.W. Parrish in Seven Kings sought information) – 1 July 1916 aged 18 – Thiepval Memorial

All of these men were aged between 18 and 21 (I think Britten was 19, but am not certain). In Clapham, Seven Kings, Clacton, Nottingham and Dublin, there were men and women hoping that they had survived, or at least that they had died painlessly.

Three of them were buried in cemeteries, so one would hope that news of this burial reached home before too long. The other three remained ‘missing’ for ever, commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

Unveiling the Menin Gate in 1927 (the equivalent monument for Ypres), General Plumer attempted to assuage the grief of the families of the missing:

“Now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today: ‘He is not missing; he is here’.”