Cyril Annesley Cooke

Shared by Georgina Whaley, Cyril Cooke’s granddaughter

A letter home:

Letter home from Cyril Cooke. Courtesy of Georgina Whaley


Tuesday Sept 14th

Dearest heart xxxxxxx(?)

Just a line to tell you that I love you more than life itself.  Oh! How close I was to you in the early hours of this morning.  The most sweet and intimate thing.  We were in my train and I could hardly have been closer(?) to you if you had been in my arms with your dear heart throbbing on mine.  Oh! How I long to see that pulse xxxxxxx(?)mildly in your neck and to kiss you till you nearly swoon with love for me.

You will see what little news I have in my letter to Joy (my mother, his eldest child).  I love you too much to be able to think of anything else, heart of my heart. Light of my soul, love of my life.

Your devoted husband




Robert James Stark

Family History Story contributed by Cynthia Mills (close family friend)

Robert James Stark was born in Feltham, Middlesex, on 22 September, 1893, to Charles John Stark, a wheelwright and carpenter, and Elizabeth Ann Stark (nee Beacon). Both parents were from Devon, ‘Charlie’ from Broadclyst, and ‘Eliza’ from Sidmouth.

Robert was named for his two grandfathers, Robert Stark, a woodsman for the Killerton estate in Broadclyst where Charlie had grown up and been educated with the family heirs, and James Beacon, a blacksmith.

Shortly thereafter the family moved to Godstone, Surrey, where Robert was christened at St. Nicholas Church in December 1893. He had one sibling, Sydney Charles Stark, born November 26, 1894. Sydney served in the Army Service Corps (ASC) and survived the Great War.

Robert attended the Caterham Valley Board School because his father felt the village school would not give his sons the best educational opportunities. Sydney recalled making the long walk from Caterham to Godstone after school every day in all sorts of weather.

After leaving school Robert worked as a shop assistant for the W.C. Brooks Company of Caterham, Oxted and Godstone. An article in the Surrey Mirror from November 24, 1916 has an article about Robert, “Godstone Lad Missing.” The article says:

News has been received by Mr. and Mrs. Stark of Salisbury Road that their son, Pte Robert Stark of the Queens, is reported “missing” in the last “push.” Pte Stark was well known in the district, having been an assistant to Mr WC Brooks, draper, at Godstone, Caterham and Oxted, and it is hoped that some brighter news will soon be forthcoming to his anxious parents.

He was also a member of the Caterham St. John Ambulance Brigade. The only surviving picture the family has of him shows him dressed in his full St. John’s uniform.

By all accounts Robbie was a gentle, upstanding young man who possessed some artistic abilities, a talent he used frequently in his work with the WC Brooks Company. His brother Sydney jokingly told his only child David that his brother was “better looking than me, smarter than me, and got all the girls.”

In 1914, Robert became engaged to Margery Pitt. The couple were deeply in love and the villagers said they were “going strong.” Robert was known to everyone as “Robbie,” and had a fine baritone voice and sang in the choir at St. Nicholas Church. He also enjoyed dancing the latest dances and was known as the “village heartthrob.”

In 1915, after much deliberation, Robert enlisted in London under the Derby scheme on November 15, 1915. Charlie Stark was opposed to his sons joining up, believing there would never be conscription, so when Robbie came home and told him the news, the row they had was so loud the entire Salisbury Road heard it!

Robbie was called up on January 20, 1916. He was sent to France on his mother’s birthday, August 24, 1916, and was killed six days after his 23rd birthday on September 28, 1916 at the Battle for the Schwaben Redoubt on the Somme. Sadly, Charlie and Robbie had a row when Robbie joined up.  Robbie went all the way to London to enlist so his father would not somehow know what he was up to and try to stop him. Robbie had received several white feathers and could no longer stay out of it, as he told his brother. The comment Charlie made to Robbie when he threw his enlistment papers at him was: “Well, my boy, you have just signed your death warrant.” Sydney said he regretted those words for the rest of his life.

Although his family never knew what happened to him, his father tried desperately to find out for years until he was tragically killed in a workplace accident in 1926.  One story, although unsubstantiated, came about twenty years after the War ended, when Sydney was at the pub, and began a conversation with two other men. As is often the case, they had all served in the War and began talking about it. It transpired that the two men had been in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment with Robbie, and remembered him. They told Sydney that the attack on the Schwaben Redoubt was hell, and they had to retreat. According to them, Robbie survived the attack while many wounded were lying in No Man’s Land, asking for help. An officer asked for volunteers to bring in the wounded, and Robbie, as a St. John Ambulance man before the War, volunteered. As one man put it, “He brought in a few, and then went out, got hit by a shell, and disappeared.”

When Eliza Stark began packing up Robbie’s things after he went missing (they did not have confirmation that he was KIA until 1921), she asked Margery if she wanted anything to remember him by. Margery chose Robbie’s St. John Ambulance white gloves, which can be seen in the photograph. Her reason? Because when she put her hands inside the gloves, she could hold his hands forever.  Robert’s mother died in 1950 at the age of 90. She kept a shrine to her son in her room, surrounded by his pictures and memories of him. One of Elizabeth Stark’s nieces remembered being invited into Auntie Lizzie’s special room, and recalled seeing pictures of a “lovely young man with a beautiful smile.”

Robert’s brother Sydney later married Margery, who declared that she would never love anyone except Robert for the rest of her life, and kept her engagement buckle ring from Robert on her hand as her wedding ring. She died in 1968, asking for “my darling Robbie” on her deathbed. Sydney died in March 1993 at his son’s home in Vancouver, BC, at the age of ninety-nine years.

Robbie is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and is one of the 600 faces shown on the Panel of the Missing at the Thiepval Visitor Centre.


Always Beloved and Never Forgotten





John Lewis Reynolds


(A Personal South African Tragedy)

A family story shared by Elesa Willies

John Lewis Reynolds (Jack to his family and friends) was the grandpa I never knew.  He was born on 1 August, 1892 in the Peddie District of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.  He was the first child and eldest son of parents who had a farm called Longford.  A tall, serious man with fine features, his air of quiet strength and gentle humour had many a girl’s head turn his way.

Towards the end of 1912, he met my grandmother Catherine Helen Stewart (known as Kate) who was a dedicated teacher at Worthing, the farm school nearby.  After a suitable period of courtship the happy couple were married on the 30 December, 1915.  Meanwhile, world changing events had been moving quickly on the political front.  World War One was declared on 4 August 1914 and in spite of the lingering animosity between the English and Afrikaans people due to the recent bitter Anglo-Boer war, the Prime Minister Louis Botha reassured England that South Africa would lend its support by securing British interests in the country against German invasion and by becoming a part of the Allied Forces.

In spite of the progressive turmoil happening around them, the newly wedded couple felt the war was far removed from their idyllic life, which was heightened when Kate fell pregnant in February, 1916.  But as time passed and news reached South Africa of the decimation of the Infantry on the Western Front, the ugly reality intruded into everyone’s lives at home.

Jack became increasingly restless.  He felt guilty that being able-bodied, he should contribute to the war effort by signing up.  His feelings intensified after he found out that in the previous year on 12 May, 1915, his cousin Alkin had signed up with the 1st Rhodesian Regiment and with the South African forces, was fighting the Germans in South West Africa.  A few months later, Alkin headed back north and as part of the British South African Police force (BSAP) had gone to protect the borders of Southern Rhodesia against Von Lettow Borteck’s forces who were trying to invade the country.  Now, in 1916 he’d become even more deeply involved by penetrating the neighbouring country as part of the famous Murray’s Column, a tightly knit combat unit fighting in German East Africa.

Then on 15 July, 1916, South African soldiers made their debut during the Battle of Delville Wood in France.  The heroic men distinguished themselves by fighting ferociously for six weeks, holding their position but at a terrible price.  When the battle ended on the 3 September, the final cost in lost lives was horrific; out of 3,155 soldiers who entered the battle, only 619 remained.

There was a brief respite for Jack’s dilemma with the birth of his and Kate’s baby girl (my mother) on 28 October, 1916.  They named her Mary Clare and for a while the joys of fatherhood took precedence.  But eventually although there was no conscription, Jack did volunteer to join the South African Infantry in January, 1917.  Whether he discussed this with his wife first or told her after the fact remains a mystery.  Regardless, it is known that an intense argument erupted between them, which ended when a distraught Kate exclaimed the unforgivable; that she had made a mistake marrying him and might as well have chosen his cousin for all the difference it made.

On 26 January, 1917, Jack left his young family to go for training in Potchefstroom near Johannesburg in the Transvaal, returning for a short visit on the 8 February.  A photographic portrait reveals a man standing smartly in army uniform next to his seated wife, who is holding on her lap their baby daughter Mary Clare, now 3 ½ months old.

On the 22 February, 1917, he sent her a telegram saying he was ‘on way to the Cape’.  He entrained at Klerksdorp for Cape Town where two days later he boarded the ship ‘Walmer Castle’ and was gone.  His diary reveals his enthusiasm and excitement at embarking on a ‘grand adventure’.  His voyage to England was fairly uneventful apart from a brief stop at Freetown in West Africa.  During World War 1, this port provided a base for operations by the British forces in the Atlantic.  On the 27 March Jack arrived in Plymouth, Devon, and immediately entrained for the Inkerman Barracks in Woking, Surrey where he stayed for three days.

It then appears he had a bit of a holiday sight-seeing.  During seven days in Glasgow, Scotland, a letter dated 3 April from the Ivanhoe hotel, reveals how he was missing his family, particularly his ‘little girlie.’  He then spent two days in London, during which he visited the Lyceum Theatre in the West End to enjoy a popular play called ‘Seven Days Leave’.

Alas, his time of leisure came to an end when he returned to Inkerman Barracks to train for a week in ‘hell’.  It was bitterly cold and he recorded having to break ice off the top of the pail of water in order to wash himself.  Being South African he was not used to such extreme conditions and had also just come from a summer in the Southern Hemisphere.  The inevitable happened as he fell very ill and spent the next five weeks in Aldershot Hospital, suffering from laryngitis, measles and fever.

It was while he was lying there in bed that his thoughts turned to home as he wrote two poems to his mother and Kate.  The sentiments expressed to both women, shows how he was homesick and had regrets about going against their wishes.  But he appealed to them to understand why he had signed up.  He admitted he had found it hard to say goodbye, but felt he was ‘honour bound to answer the call’.  He suggested they pray for solace and that they must look to the future when he would return.

When he was released in mid-May, he had six days sick leave which he spent in London, before returning to the barracks for an ‘easy time of it’ for the next two weeks.

On the 9th June, he had five days ‘embarkation leave’ at Swanage before catching a boat to Southampton where he boarded another ship to cross the English Channel to Le Havre, France.  He then took a steamship, sailing for eight hours up the River Seine to Rouen where he was stationed for two weeks, before entraining to ‘Savoy’ for two days.

Then the serious work really began when he marched 18 km to join his regiment at billets in Simencourt at the beginning of July.  The next two months until the end of August were spent around Neuvelle and Yrtres, alternatively being in the trenches where he ‘saw a good bit of fighting’ and then retreating to ‘rest’ which really meant marching every night to the front line 6 km away to repair and dig trenches from 7 pm to 4 am in working parties.

By now, he was feeling quite demoralised as he wrote in his diary;

“Oh it’s rotten and we get so little food.  We’re nearly always hungry.  A couple of our chaps get knocked over every day.  I wonder when my turn is coming.  I’ve had a hit on the head but it was not enough to send me to Blighty.  A few days before, I fell down the dug-out steps and a little later part of the wall fell on me owing to the concussion caused by a Minnie exploding near us.”

On the 31 July, the day before his 25th birthday he wrote to his ‘darling’ daughter, sending ‘love to mums and self, and lots of kisses and hugs from your loving Daddy.’

At the beginning of September his regiment travelled to a camp called ‘Henham’ near Aschet Petite where they had a ‘fairly easy time of it, doing a few hours drill every day’.  The weather was ‘very wet and cold’, and they were sleeping on damp cots in muddy tents.  He knew they would be ‘going to Belgium to go over the top in a couple of weeks’ time’.

As predicted, on the 12 September at midday, the soldiers marched 8 km to entrain at Bapaume for Godewaervelde arriving there at 3 am.  They then marched another 8 km to their rest camp where they stayed ‘for a day and a night’ before moving on to billets where they ‘slept in a fine barn with plenty of straw’.

On the 16 September at 2 pm, they marched to Poperinghe, 8 miles west of Ypres for three days of preparations, before ‘going into the line where there is fierce fighting’.  The night they arrived, he and ‘two pals’ went into town for supper.  They had ‘fried eggs, a few drinks and finished off with cigars’ before returning home to camp.  His last words in his diary were, ‘Will conclude this after the battle’.

On the 20 September, he fought in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge and was killed in action.  A letter written to Kate on the 29 September, was from one of his pals who was with Jack when he died.  Private F.A. Quin (Frank), service number 10965, wrote, ‘a bullet pierced his heart and he died peacefully’.  He was hit after they had ‘taken the objective’.

Private John Lewis Reynolds, service number 10984 was lost forever in an unknown grave in the stinking, filthy quagmire of the Western Front.  But, miraculously his wallet with letters and photos, his diary and small note book were returned to his grieving widow, and, in March 1918, a year after he had left home, his identification disk was also sent back to South Africa, along with his British War and Victory medals.

Back in Peddie, the homegrown boy along with fifteen other names, is recognised on a cenotaph in the central square. It reads, ‘This Monument is dedicated to the Memory of the Men of the Town District of Peddie who laid down their Lives in the Great War.  Their Name Liveth Forever More’.  ‘John L. Reynolds’ also appears on the Menin Arch as one of the 55,000 missing dead from the Ypres Salient, the last place he marched through on his way to meet his fate, never to return.

John Reynold’s Medals.  Image courtesy of Elesa


In a final poignant mention, his cousin Alkin survived the war.  In 1917 he earned distinction by being awarded several medals and strangely enough, received a Mention in Despatches five days after Jack died.

Rifleman Wilfred Geeson

Letters courtesy of Melvyn Roffe, descendant of Rifleman Geeson

The following letters relate to the death in action of Rifleman Wilfred Edwin Geeson, #552245, of 2nd/16th Battalion, London Regiment, who died on Saturday 8 December 1917, aged 24.  He is buried in plot U106 of Jerusalem War Cemetery, Israel.

For more information, read the story about Surrey fireman who died in the war:

“Dec.  10th 1917

Dear Sir

May I write to say how very deeply the officers, NCO and men of your son’s company sympathise with you in his loss. It was in the action of the 8th Dec which resulted in the taking of Jerusalem that he was killed. He was, as you doubtless know, one of the Company’s stretcher bearers and it was in hurrying to the help of a wounded man that he lost his own life. His was as brave an action as I have seen during the war, for he didn’t hesitate a moment to see whether other shells would follow the one which had already caused the casualty with the result that he was himself hit a minute later.

We buried him the same morning on a hillside about two and a half miles west of Jerusalem and overlooking the little village of Karim. His personal kit has been collected and will be sent to you through the usual channel.

He was not only a good and cheerful soldier, but he showed an unselfishness and devotion to duty which greatly increases our sense of loss.

Yours very sincerely,

CH Flower (Cpt)

OC C Company 2nd/16th Battalion London Regiment”


“PO West Molesley


March 10th 1918

My Dear Edith

Thank you for your kind sympathy in our great loss. Oh, the awful blow the mothers of England are called upon to bear is terrible. I try to be brave but it’s very hard. He was my all in everything, nothing came amiss to the Dear sweet Lad, everybody loved him. I try to think God knows best. How hard it is for those that’s left. He spared him further suffering in this wicked and evil war and they had gone through some fighting and hardships. Fancy, I had not seen him for 19 months. How I prayed and hoped for his home coming. I thought you would like one of his Captain’s letters. I also had a beautiful letter from a chum that came home but he happened to be in hospital at the time. Another chum was killed [at the] same time and his mother wrote to me that they were both buried in [the] same grave. They were born a stone’s throw from one another in Ashford. The other was 26 years old…..

[Elizabeth Geeson]”


“Dear Edith

Excuse the long delay in answering your letter but our time is so much taken up by the shop that we get very little leisure, indeed very little time to dwell upon our great loss, but a loss like ours is not for a day it is for a life time, a blank that can never be filled. It was our hope to see our lad return to take over from us the responsibilities which we had hoped to lay down, but war upsets all our calculations and although we sow, we know not who will reap. In the full beauty of manhood he like thousands of others has been swept away. I hope that you are all well. You are now safer than you were owing to the failure of the Zeppelins – we hear the guns and bombs in the distance every London raid. Thank God it is in the distance.

Your loving Uncle

E J Geeson”

Geoffrey Cather VC

Text and research by Limpsfield Chart Golf Club

Geoffrey St George Shillington Cather was born in October 1890, the elder son of Robert and Margaret Cather.  Robert was a partner in Jospeh Tetley and Co, tea merchants in Fenchurch Street, London.  The family moved to Limpsfield sometime in the 1890s, and lived in Red Roofs, Bluehouse Lane.  He went to Hazelwood School in 1900 and then to Rugby School, which he left in 1908.  He was a member of the Limpsfield Chart Golf Club.

Geoffrey Cater followed his father and joined Tetley’s in London in 1908 as a tea buyer’s assistant.  He worked for them for a time in the USA and Canada before returning to England in 1914.  While in London, Cather had served in the Territorials.  When war broke out, he enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers but then chose to go back to his Ulster roots, so he was commissioned in May 1915 in the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

On 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Somme battle, Cather’s battalion was part of the 36th Ulster Division’s assault on Thiepval Ridge.  The first wave left the trenches at zero hour but came under intense machine gun fire, which also decimated the following waves.  By nightfall nine officers and 235 men had been killed or wounded.

Cather, the battalion adjutant, did not take part in the initial assault but could hear the cries of the wounded out in no man’s land and near the German wire.  As evening fell he filled some water bottles and crawled out to help them, dragging or carrying many of the wounded to where the stretcher bearers could pick them up.  There was heavy German artillery and machine gun fire throughout the four hours in which he was carrying out this work.  The next morning he went out again in full view of the enemy trenches to help more of the wounded in no man’s land until he was killed by machine gun fire.  His Victoria Cross was gazetted in September 1916, the citation stressing ‘his conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice’.  Cather’s body disappeared in the carnage on Thiepval Ridge, but he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

Sergeant Percy Batten

Research and text by Robert Newman

Sgt P Batten MM and Bar, Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (1st Battalion) Service Number L/9813 Born Reading, Berks 1895 Died of wounds 2nd October 1917 aged 22yrs Laid to rest in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium

Percy Batten was born to Mr and Mrs G Batten, residents of Beech Hill, in 1895. We know little of his family and early life but he was undoubtedly from a working family, perhaps farm labourers, and attended the village school along with his siblings (at least four). He signed up for military service at the Hounslow depot either in the run-up to the war at the age of eighteen or as war broke out in the summer of 1914 at the age of 19.

According to his medal index card, Percy served with the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (known as the ‘Mutton Lancers’ due to the lamb on their Regimental arms) and landed in France on October 4th 1914. As a regular soldier he was clearly viewed as a reliable and trustworthy young man, as by 1916 when he next appears in military records, he has been promoted through the ranks to Lance Sergeant. During this period he also transferred from the 2nd Battalion to the 1st. This was probably due to the horrific level of casualties suffered within the Regiment early on in the war. By the end of the first week of November 1914 there were only 32 survivors out of a total of 998 men from the 1st Battalion. The 2nd Battalion had suffered 676 casualties.

Percy had done well to survive. But not only did he survive, he displayed outstanding gallantry and the Surrey Times of September 8th 1916 lists him as one of 11 men from The Queen’s to be awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. Although the citation has not been found, we know from the Regimental war diaries that Percy’s award was gained in the Somme during the battle to take and retake High Wood between the 15th and the 21st July 1916, during which the Battalion suffered 362 casualties.

As with most ‘other ranks’ there is little evidence of Percy’s achievements during the War. Commissioned officers were routinely listed by name in the war diaries, if they were injured, killed or led particularly notable actions. Enlisted men and ‘other ranks’ were largely anonymous. However, during the period between July 1916 and September 1917, we know that he was not only promoted to full Sergeant but gained a Bar to his Military Medal for a further act of gallantry. Percy’s war ended on October 2nd 1917 at the age of 22yrs when he died of wounds inflicted on the battlefield.

We can only speculate about the exact circumstances of Percy’s death, but the Regimental war diaries suggest he was probably one of the 387 casualties the Regiment suffered during the battle for Polygon Wood between September 25th and 28th 1917.


Regimental war diaries of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment

Cranleigh in November 1918

Research and text by Joy Horn (as published in the Cranleigh Magazine)

At last – the end of the fighting!

How did the people of Cranleigh learn the momentous news of November 11th, without television or even radio? The answer is, in a very low-key manner. The announcement was phoned through to the Post Office and a notice was displayed there. Gradually the news was passed through the village by word of mouth, and flags began to appear in the streets. By midday, the church bell-ringers had been assembled, and the bells began to ring out. The Rector wrote, ‘Though there was no immediate cessation of work here, people walked up and down the village all the afternoon greeting their friends with happy faces.’  In the evening, people gathered at the local churches for impromptu thanksgiving services.

The pupils at Miss Annie Street’s school at ‘Burleigh’ in Knowle Lane, however, did stop work. One pupil described how Miss Street came in and said, ‘You can have the rest of the day off because the war is finished!’ The County Infants and Elementary School also had a half-holiday. Cranleigh School was already closed for two weeks, because of the Spanish flu epidemic. As one small boy remarked, ‘There might have been a half-holiday, had it not been for the flu.’  In reality, of course, he had a fortnight’s holiday at home.

In the evening, people gathered at the local churches for impromptu thanksgiving services.  The Rector described the service at the parish church in these words: ‘Rarely has the church been so full. Pews that ordinarily held four were holding five, and worshippers were sitting on the sanctuary steps, and within the sanctuary itself. Mrs Sumner had found time to deck the altar with white flowers and had most appropriately draped the great Union Jack above and behind the reredos. There was no doubt about the reality of the worship which was offered, and the singing and responsive reading and praying came from hearts tense with emotion. The whole service did not occupy much more than half-an-hour, but it was a half-hour which will never be erased from our memories.’

Meanwhile Joe Cheesman and his prisoner-of-war comrades were having an exciting time in Belgium. Over several days, the Germans forced them to walk long distances ever further east, towards Germany. Then 120 of them were picked out to go as a working party to a town called Turnhout.

‘Well, that took us about 48 hours on the train with only one day’s food, and when we got there we couldn’t get off the train as the German troops had been rioting and taken the law into their own hands, and killed several of their own officers. When we arrived there about 7.30 on Sunday night last [November 10th 1918], the German sergeant in charge of us couldn’t get rations for us, and more than that the rioters would not let him take us back, so they put us in a siding close to the street. The guards had got hold of a barrel of beer and were well away, so we were soon in close conversation with the civilians over the station railings, with the result that a good many were invited and went over the railings into the houses, and had a good feed, the best we have had for months.

We were absent about three hours, and when we came back over the railings, we were told that the rioters were getting up steam in an engine and were going to run us up close to the frontier and let us free. The engine came about 2am in the morning, and we went and got out close to the wire. The German sergeant came with us, and, having warned the sentries just close not to fire on us, they let us go.’

They struggled in the dark through woods and marshes and eventually reached the Dutch border town, where they were given a big welcome, including a ‘fine feed’ and a bath. Imagine the delight of his parents in Victoria Road to receive this postcard:

‘I am writing this from Rotterdam. We are in a big building on the wharf, and are being fitted up with new clothes and expect to sail very soon. I can’t say exactly when. Expect to be on the way by the time you get this. Love, Joe’.

James Miles Langstaff

Story provided by Robert Taylor, War Memorial Education and Conservation Services 

In amongst my mother’s papers and photos I found a Great War Church Memorial unveiling service pamphlet for the Bloor Street Presbyterian Church Toronto. It was kept as my Mom’s mother (my Maternal Grandmother; Margaret Francis Kirkpatrick). At the age of 15 or 16 she had a crush on a lawyer turned soldier, Major James Miles Langstaff of the 75th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.

James Miles Langstaff (1883-1917), of Richmond Hill, graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1912.  He was a partner with the firm Lowell, Reid, Wood & Wright when the war broke out. The Law Society of Upper Canada encouraged lawyers and law students to enlist for service. Recruits were offered a remittance of fees and allowing students to advance one year or be called to the Bar without examination.  The number of willing lawyer recruits was surprisingly high: 30% of the profession (around 500).  Shortly afterward signing up, Langstaff joined the 75th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. There he rose rapidly to major, and was recommended for the military cross.

At some point during this time, Langstaff was based at the Bramshott Camp, on the Hampshire/Surrey border.  He sent postcards back to Margaret Kirkpatrick from the Surrey town of Shottermill, showing that he and his fellow Canadian soldiers enjoyed exploring the Surrey countryside.

Postcard from James Langstaff to Margaret Kirkpatrick, from Shottermill Courtesy of Robert Taylor

Courtesy of Robert Taylor

Postcard from James Langstaff to Margaret Kirkpatrick, from Shottermill

Courtesy of Robert Taylor

Postcard from James Langstaff to Margaret Kirkpatrick, from Shottermill

He was eventually killed 1 March 1917 at Vimy Ridge, at the age of 33. and is buried at the CWGC – Villers Station Cemetry, Villers-Au-Bois (grave Marker ref VII D.2). As Major Langstaff was from a prominent family in Toronto, there was a Memorial Book written about him. Two copies are held by the family of Margaret Kirkpatrick and her father Frank H. Kirkpatrick. He was a Professor of Public Speaking at the Toronto School of Expression and included a Personal Tribute in the Memorial Book (pg.30). He had taught Miles Langstaff and knew the family.


Memorial Book

William Charles Trimmer

Research and text by Jonathan Collins, and enhanced by Rachael Merrison (Records and Heritage Manager, Cheltenham College)

William Charles Trimmer born 19th September 1896 in Addlestone, Surrey, the son of William Septimus Trimmer and his wife Elizabeth educated at Cheltenham College where he spent four years in the College OTC reaching the rank of Corporal, he left in December 1914.  He was in the “Modern” department at College, which prepared boys with a more military education than the “Classical” department (where boys worked towards university entrance). He was a boarding pupil, and stayed in Leconfield House (which is still running today).

His home address on the outbreak of war is recorded as Runwick House, Farnham, Surrey. A student at Wye Agricultural College, he attesting for the Honourable Artillery Company at Armoury House, Finsbury, East London 20th January 1915, he was discharged to a commission into the 3/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry 3rd December 1915. Serving in France with the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion from 30th May 1916 and was killed in action 21st July 1916, south west of Pozieres, Somme sector. Ordered to attack at night, the Battalion could not push home owing to the large number of enemy machine guns, and although one party, a Corporal and six men succeeded in entering the German line on the extreme right of the attack, the attack was unsuccessful.

The following extract from the battalion’s war diary entry (The National Archives WO 95/2763) on the 21 Jul 1916, during the Battle of the Somme:

‘A tape was laid 175 yards from the German front line by the RE – the attacking companies assembled in the sickle-shaped trench and moved forwards up to the tape at 2.30 am. D Company occupied the sickle-shaped trench after the other three companies had left. At 2.30am the enemy started sending up numerous white flare and after a few minutes red flares, as a result of which machine guns opened fire. At 2.45 pm, an intense artillery barrage opened on the German front line, and lifted at 2.47 am. The attack could not be pushed home owing the large number of enemy machine guns, though one party of  1 Cpl and 6 men succeeded in entering the German line on the extreme right of the attack. Casualties were heavy: Killed: Capt LW Crouch, 2nd Lt CG Abrey, 2nd Lt JP Chapman, 2nd Lt CW Trimmer (initials reversed in error by bttn adj – ed) and 7 ORs.’

Casualties on 21st July 1916 are recorded as 4 officers (including 2nd Lieutenant Trimmer) and 7 other ranks killed, 3 officers and 97 other ranks wounded, 1 officer and 42 other ranks missing. Aged 19 years William Charles Trimmer now rests in the Poziers British Cemetery, Ovillers La-Boisselle, Somme, France.

Service record TNA reference WO374/69519

Cranleigh in October 1918

Text and Research by Joy Horn (as published in the Cranleigh Magazine)

Ruth and Chris Cheesman of Victoria Road received further news from their prisoner-of-war son Joe, who had been suffering from a bad foot for some months. ‘I came out of hospital a week ago, after a month of it,’ he wrote, ‘but was sorry really, as I was better off in there than in the camp. The food was better, and of course you had no navvying [labouring] to do. We are in a big camp now. There are about 1,200 of us together. We keep getting exciting rumours about the fighting, but we don’t know what to believe. We keep smiling. If you were here sometimes and heard the singing at nights you wouldn’t think we were prisoners, but at other times we know it with a vengeance.’

By October 1918, hopes were high in Cranleigh for a speedy end to the war.  On

October 2nd, the Surrey Advertiser wrote: ‘The news from all fronts, so wonderfully and consistently good, has been capped by Bulgaria’s complete collapse and unconditional surrender … the joy bells are ringing in our hearts’.

Nevertheless, men were still dying on the Western Front, and on October 7th, the newspaper published a lengthy list of recent local casualties.

However, a new threat had arisen. Under the heading ‘Influenza in Surrey: A Widespread Epidemic’, the Surrey Advertiser reported, ‘So far, there have been comparatively few deaths among the civil population, but in the camps, it is a different matter … there are victims by their hundreds’. Mrs Ruth Cheesman wrote to Joe at the end of October, ‘There is a lot of illness in Cranleigh. Influenza going about. Hope we shall avoid it.’

At Cranleigh School, the school magazine reported, ‘The flu came with great suddenness, and within a few days some 260 boys were in bed’. It must have been a nightmare for the staff. Fortunately it proved to be a mild strain, but the boys were sent home and the main school was closed for two weeks to be thoroughly cleaned.

There was nothing ‘Spanish’ about the flu epidemic. Most of the countries of Europe had strict wartime control of the news that was printed. Spain, however, being neutral, published details of the number of its victims, and it was initially thought that the disease had originated here. In fact, the first recorded case was in a US army camp in Kansas, and soldiers brought it to the trenches of the Western Front. It killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide, and particularly attacked people in their twenties and thirties.

Precise details about the impact of the epidemic here are not easy to come by. The parish register of burials does not give the cause of death and does not seem to have many more entries than usual. The Village Hospital annual report is no help either. However, we do know of six victims (verified by their death certificates), and there may well have been more.

Mrs Alice Nightingale, aged 38, wife of Jabez Nightingale, died on November 19th, at her husband’s furniture shop in the High Street. The Baptist Church sent condolences to him from the church members’ meeting.

Mrs Florence Parsons of The Mount was 31 when she died of influenza, leaving two young daughters aged 10 and 8. Her husband, Thomas, was away in the Navy, serving as a Gunner on HMS Shrewsbury.

Dorothy Mandell-Hall died at the age of 24 at Oliver House (recently the Cranleigh Village Hospital shop) on December 6th. She was the manageress of the railway station bookstall.

Particularly tragic were the deaths from influenza of three Gamblin brothers, all farmworkers living at Rye Cottage, who died on successive days in 1919. Two of their brothers, Walter (33) and Ernest (18), had died in the Dardanelles and on the Somme respectively, and are named on the Cranleigh War Memorial. Now John (18) died of influenza at Underslaugh Farm, his sister’s home, on March 5th 1919, followed the next day by William (27) and on March 7th by Henry (25), both of whom died in the Hambledon Workhouse infirmary. Because these two had served in the Army, and died before August 31st 1921, they were entitled to a Commonwealth War Grave in Cranleigh cemetery and are buried together, though they are not recorded on the War Memorial. John is buried separately.