Elsie, Baroness De T’Serclaes, Madonna of Pervyse

Written by Richard Hughes

For nearly half a century, between 1930 and 1978, there lived in Ashtead, Surrey Elsie Shapter, Baroness de T’Serclaes, whose heroics on the Western Front during the First World War made her at the time a near-legendary figure. With her colleague, Mairi Chisolm, she ran her own first aid post from the village of Pervyse, near Ypres, for much of the war. She also made frequent visits back to Britain to attend patriotic rallies and raise funds for the war effort. So admired were the two nurses that they were termed the ‘Madonnas of Pervyse’. Some years after the war friends of Elsie, somewhat concerned about her unsettled status at the time, secured for her a Haig home in Ashtead – these were properties made available for veterans of the war – and there she lived happily for the rest of her long life; she died at the age of 94 in 1978. During the war she met and married an aristocratic Belgian airman, the Baron Harold de T’Serclaes and hence she became the Baroness de T’Serclaes. The marriage was short-lived but there was no divorce so Elsie carried her title with pride for the rest of her life.

The Baroness was born into a middle-class family in 1884 but when still a very young child she was orphaned and then adopted by the Upcott family from Marlborough, Wiltshire; her adoptive father, Lewis, was a schoolmaster at Marlborough College. Her adoptive parents were loving and Elsie grew up in an affectionate home. But unlike her parents she was no academic and later pursued a career in midwifery and nursing; she also became one of the first female pioneers of motor-cycling. In 1906 she married Leslie Knocker and a year later gave birth to a son, Kenneth. The marriage was not a success and there was a divorce; so Elsie became a single mother.

Elsie volunteered for nursing duties when war broke out in August 1914. But she did not follow a traditional route. She joined a small, rather eccentric group termed the Flying Ambulance Corps which had been established by a London doctor and social activist, Dr. Hector Munro. The doctor was a pacifist but nevertheless anxious to assist in the war effort in a non-combatant way. He saw the need for a small specialist group who could swiftly move about the battlefield dealing with medical emergencies. There would be ambulances – but also motor-cycles, a particular attraction to Elsie. The unit was based at Ostend and so Elsie moved there in the early stages of the conflict. She soon met Mairi Chisolm, ten years younger than her, and they became close colleagues. Elsie soon became frustrated with the Flying Ambulance Corps for it seemed poorly administered and was lacking funds and equipment. It was, though, getting plenty of attention. The war correspondent, Philip Gibbs [who was knighted after the war and settled in Dorking] wrote: ‘They did not seem to me at first the type of women to be useful on the battlefield. I expected them to faint at the sight of blood and swoon at the bursting of a shell. Some of them were too pretty to play about on the field of war.’ This rather patronising view was soon shown to be inaccurate. But both Elsie and Mairi became frustrated. When a local doctor, Dr. van der Ghist, suggested that they might prefer to establish their own independent unit they jumped at the chance. So in October 1914 in a cellar in a modest property on the edge of the small village of Pervyse near Ypres the two nurses, with the help of the doctor, established their own medical centre; they soon became legends.

By the time Elsie and Mairi moved to Pervyse there had been considerable developments in the course of the war in Belgium. Germany had invaded Belgium as part of its Schlieffen Plan to remove France swiftly from the war so that forces could concentrate on the threat of Russia. Under the leadership of King Albert the Belgians had offered tougher resistance than expected, and the British had arrived to support them in their struggle. In due course the number and strength of the German invaders meant the Belgians had been forced back to the coast and the significant city of Ypres, briefly captured by the Germans but soon retaken, was an isolated British-controlled centre with Germans occupying large stretches of the surrounding terrain. Pervyse, close to Ypres and on the road to the crucial coast, found itself at the centre of military activity. In November 1914 King Albert made the decision to open the sluice gates of the Yser canal at Nieuwpoort and so flood much of the terrain between the town of Dikksemuide and the coast. This halted the German advance but it did mean that the warring factions were locked into a smaller terrain and much activity became based on the need to take control of the Belgian coast.

Each day from the base in Pervyse Elsie and Mairi went out onto the battlefield to deal with the injured. If possible these would be brought back to Pervyse for treatment; if injuries were serious the casualties would be transported back to the coast and where necessary returned to Britain. Sometimes the ‘Madonnas of Pervyse’ would take care of Germans found on the field of battle and serve them hot drinks. Elsie mentioned in her memoirs that from time to time there was an extraordinary camaraderie on the battlefield. “At all big holiday times like Christmas and Easter,” she wrote, “we would shout across greetings; friendly, facetious insults to the Germans, and they would reply in kind. To add to the fun the Germans would sometimes hoist placards on long poles with such phrases as ‘The British are bloody fools’. These would be riddled with bullets. Next might appear ‘the Germans are idiots’ and, of course, this sentiment would be heartily applauded and then would appear ‘Let’s all go home’ and there would of course be great applause and laughter and a general feeling of mateyness.” But these incidents did not hide the fact that Pervyse was a living hell on earth. Sometimes the village was evacuated and reluctantly Elsie and Mairi would retreat to the relative security of the coast. These occasions increased when the Germans introduced gas warfare into the conflict.

Elsie would regularly return to England to tell the story of her life at Pervyse or address large rallies to encourage support for the war effort. She sometimes took with her battlefield debris which would be sold to raise funds. Elsie rather relished these opportunities to appear in public – Mairi did not; because of this Elsie became a much more recognisable ‘Madonna of Pervyse’ than her more reclusive partner. It has to be said that Elsie did have a tendency to play down the importance of Mairi and it is noticeable how few references there are to her partner in her autobiography ‘Flanders and Other Fields’ published in 1964.

In November 1914 Elsie met the Baron Harold de T’Serclaes. He was an airman with the Belgian Aviation Unit who flew missions over the battlefield to obtain photographic evidence of German troop movements. He was a member of one of the most senior aristocratic families in Belgium. There was an immediate mutual attraction between he and Elsie and the courtship was swift. They married in January 1915. Elsie was 30 years of age and the Baron was 26. The significance of the Baron and the fame of Elsie is indicated by the fact that the King and Queen of the Belgians attended the wedding ceremony at La Panne, as did the commanding officer of the Belgian army, General Jacques. Clouds, though, were on the horizon; while the royal family might have attended the wedding the immediate family of the Baron did not; in addition, Elsie stated on the marriage certificate that she was a widow; she was not – she was a divorcee. The de T’Serclaes was a strictly Roman Catholic family; there was an immediate problem with the marriage.

As time went by the reputation of the medical unit at Pervyse grew and famous visitors were attracted to the village. The King and Queen of the Belgians were visitors; so too was Marie Curie; and the British Leader of the Opposition, Ramsay Macdonald, called in. In 1916 was published a book by Geraldine Mitton entitled ‘The Cellar House of Pervyse’ which sold in large numbers. Elsie was delighted with this positive publicity. She was less pleased with ‘Young Hilda At the War’ by Arthur Gleason. He was an American journalist who spent some time at Pervyse where his wife helped with chores around the medical unit. In his book he managed to place his wife at the centre of affairs and Elsie and Mairi were little more than secondary characters. Elsie’s view of this book can be imagined.

In 1917 there were huge developments in the war around Ypres. Field Marshal Douglas Haig proposed a new offensive to break the German line. The focus of this offensive would be a village close to Pervyse, Passchendaele. Elsie and Mairi were informed by the infantry commander, Sir Henry Rawlinson, they would need to leave Pervyse while preparations for the advance took place. Elsie strongly objected, making the obvious point that in a new offensive the services of the unit would be more needed than ever. Rawlinson then agreed that the withdrawal would be temporary and that once the offensive was underway the nurses could return to Pervyse.

Passchendaele, of course, became another military disaster and it was eventually impossible to maintain the unit at Pervyse. In March 1918 Elsie was seriously injured in a gas attack; she was sent at first to Boulogne and then back home to England. Her war was over. Mairi continued for a little longer but the unit was closed down in April 1918 and she too returned to England. There was a particularly poignant fatality as a consequence of Passchendaele. Elsie had a pet Airedale terrier called Shot who had remained close to her throughout the time at Pervyse. Shot too was gassed by the Germans. She wrote: ‘My little dog Shot who has been with us for three years came up and looked at me with wandering eyes. He licked my hand and then died. I don’t think I have ever felt I hated the enemy but ever since my dog was gassed I’ve wanted to, I’ve longed to, kill a German.’ [There are memorial statues of Elsie and Mairi together with Shot in the garden of the Ariane hotel in Ypres].

At the time of the Armistice in November 1918 Elsie, by now fully recovered, was keen to remain involved in matters connected with the military; Mairi was not so inclined and returned to Scotland where she led a quiet life until her death in 1981 at the age of 85. Elsie joined the new Women’s Royal Air Force and became an officer. She tired of this and made an imaginative and brave career change. She set up a company, the British Warriors Film Company, whose purpose was to make films about the war which would feature veterans of the conflict. The idea was to both keep in peoples’ memory the sacrifice made by so many and also, more practically, provide employment for discharged veterans. Despite the honourable intentions the idea met with firm opposition particularly from the influential Horatio Bottomley, politician and owner of the John Bull magazine. For no clear reason Bottomley took against Elsie and her project. He claimed she had no business experience and there was every likelihood investors would lose their money. It is true that a number of initiatives were established after the war to help war veterans re-establish themselves and many were ill thought-out and poorly managed. But Bottomley was hardly the man to take action here. It soon transpired that he had funded a lavish lifestyle through fraud, mainly the mis-use of funds raised through the War Bonds he had promoted during the war; he was jailed and spent his final years in penury and disgrace.

Elsie pursued a number of less than satisfactory projects after the failure of the film project; she was a commercial traveller, a hotel manager, a housekeeper for a wealthy businessman; in 1926 there was a brief return to the limelight when she opened a medical unit in Poplar during the General Strike. In 1930 a group of her friends, somewhat concerned by the restless nature of her life, lobbied for her to be provided with a Haig home; these were properties funded in memory of Earl Haig which were made available to veterans of the war. Elsie was thus provided with a cottage in Park Road, Ashtead, just off the High Street, which she named ‘Pervyse Cottage’. She lived there happily for the rest of her long life, dying in 1978 at the age of 94. She became fully involved in the community of Ashtead. During the Second World War she trained female ambulance drivers and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Elsie knew that in her busy life she had not paid enough attention to her son, Kenneth, who had been brought up by his adoptive grandparents while Elsie had been in Belgium. But Kenneth grew into a young man she could be proud of; he pursued a career in the RAF and at the outbreak of the Second World War was a Wing Commander. Sadly he was killed in 1941 when he was shot down over France while returning from a bombing mission. Elsie’s wartime marriage to the Baron de T’Serclaes was short-lived. After a brief period together in London they went their separate ways but there was no divorce. As a prominent Roman Catholic the Baron did not contemplate this. So Elsie proudly carried her title with her throughout her life. The politics of Baron de T’Serclaes took an ominous turn. He had a number of business interests in Germany which led him into supporting Belgian-German co-operation. When hostility between the two countries broke out again in the late 1930s the Baron became involved in collaboration activities against Belgian resistance. Indeed he performed services for the Gestapo. After the war he was sentenced to death for treason but the sentence was reduced to twenty years imprisonment. He never served the sentence for he escaped to Italy where he lived in secrecy for the rest of his life, dying sometime in the middle of the 1950s. Elsie rarely mentioned him and when asked would say he had died during the First World War. Elsie’s autobiography, ‘Flanders And Other Fields’ was published in 1964. At the end of her long life she admitted ‘Only in time of war have I found any real sense of purpose and happiness.’

Other reading:
Flanders and Other Fields, The Baroness de T’Serclaes, Harrap 1964
Elsie and Marie Go To War, Diane Atkinson, Random House 2000

Victor Silvester (1900 – 1978)

Written by Richard Hughes

Victor Silvester became World Ballroom Champion in 1922 and went on to be a hugely successful dance band leader and the first dancer to bring ballroom dancing to the wider public through his hosting of, first, BBC Dancing Club, 1941, a radio programme, and then in 1948 Television Dancing Club which later became Come Dancing which in due course lay the ground for Strictly Come Dancing. He was also the author of the definitive instruction book Modern Ballroom Dancing. In his time he was a household name. As a fourteen year old boy, though, he made a contribution to his community which drew less acclaim but displayed extraordinary determination and courage. He volunteered as an under-age schoolboy to fight for his country in the First World War.

Victor attended St. John’s School, Leatherhead, between 1910 and 1912. His father, the Reverend John Silvester, was the vicar of Wembley. He had sent his son away to boarding school in Sussex in 1909 but Victor survived just a single term at Ardingly College before being transferred to another boarding school closer to home, St. John’s School in Leatherhead, Surrey. Both these schools offered favourable rates for sons of the clergy. Victor survived two years at St John’s before he was transferred to the John Lyon School at Harrow; this was the school he was attending when he volunteered for armed service in November 1914.

Victor signed up with the London Scottish Territorial Regiment at its recruiting station in Buckingham Palace Gardens, central London. He was fourteen years old. He was to claim that the attraction of the London Scottish came about because he had Scottish ancestry. Another factor was probably the image that the regiment conveyed at the time. It was the first territorial attachment to see action on the Western Front and this prompted considerable positive publicity. Some recruits other than Victor would become famous after the war; these included the film stars Ronald Colman, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone.

It is difficult to comprehend why caring and thoughtful parents would conspire with the authorities in turning a blind eye to the fact that their offspring was under-age at the time of volunteering. There was of course considerable patriotic fervour in the early stages of the War; there was also the widespread belief that the conflict would be short-lived – ‘over by Christmas’ was the much-used phrase. It was generally agreed that recruits under the age of 19 would not be sent to the front line. In Victor’s case there were more specific factors; he had been an unsettled and unruly schoolboy who had never prospered at school – a touch of regulation and discipline would undoubtedly do him good was the thinking of his parents. In addition his father, the vicar of Wembley, left his parish in the War and served as an Army chaplain; he would be in a position to keep an eye on the welfare of his son. It is notable that on Victor’s application form there was no space where he needed to write down his age; there was a space where he must list his military experience – he wrote ‘St John’s School Cadets’.

In fact Victor’s early days with the London Scottish were free from danger – too free for the liking of Victor. He was initially posted to Dorking and his military activity was confined to exercises on the North Downs. A highlight was being inspected by Lord Kitchener and the French Foreign Minister. Victor experienced nearly two years of inactivity before frustration set in and he submitted an application to join the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. In September 1916 he was summoned to Stirling Castle for initial training. He now claimed he was 20 years of age when in fact he was 16 and he had to write down his age on the application form. The reason for the age change was no doubt to ensure he saw some action. Victor had joined his new regiment in the midst of the Somme offensive. So swiftly he was despatched to France and soon was participating in the Battle of Arras.

Victor’s desire to see action was soon satisfied. A shell exploded next to him as he awaited a move forward to the front line. The soldier next to him was hit. He wrote in his autobiography “He was the first man I ever saw killed with both legs blown off and the whole of his face and body peppered with shrapnel. The sight turned my stomach. I was sick and terrified, but even more terrified of showing it.” This was a harrowing experience but Victor’s battle experience was short-lived. Soon it became obvious that his under-age status was public knowledge. He was summoned back to base-camp at Etaples and given mundane duties. After several months of tedium it was suggested to him that if he sought action he might consider volunteering as a stretcher-bearer for the Red Cross Ambulance service. More leniency would be taken about his age for he would not be on the front-line with a weapon. So in the summer of 1917 he took the train journey to north-east Italy and became a stretcher-bearer with British Volunteer Red Cross Ambulance unit. The timing was fortuitous for this period was the prelude to one of the most significant battles of the war, Caporetto.

A controversy remains over Victor’s period in France. In 1978, shortly before he died, he gave an interview on the television programme Nationwide in which he spoke of his time on the Western Front; he mentioned that he had been recruited to a firing squad which shot deserters. His description was graphic: “The victim was brought out of a shed and led struggling to a chair to which he was bound and a white handkerchief placed over his heart; tears were rolling down my face as he tried to release himself from the ropes. I aimed blindly and when the gun smoke had cleared away was horrified to see that, although wounded, he was still alive. Still blinded he was attempting to make a run…an officer stepped forward to put a finishing touch with a revolver held to the poor man’s temple. He had only cried out once and that was when he shouted the one word ‘mother’. He could not have been much older than me.”

Debates continue over this account. In his autobiography, published in 1958, there is no mention of the incident. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders have no record of deserters being shot in France. The general tone of the regiment’s approach to Victor is one of concern for an under-age volunteer whose father was a commissioned officer; the idea that he would be part of a firing squad, a notorious and unpopular role, seems unlikely. It is possible that he might have volunteered for the role, or been lent out to another regiment; this sometimes happened because participating in a firing squad within your own unit was not popular. Desertion was a murky topic and often records of incidents were incomplete or non-existent. It might also be true that the Victor Silvester of 1958, still a celebrity of national and international stature, would not want his name and image associated with such events while in the twilight years of his life he could reveal more aspects of his life. The mystery has never been resolved.

Victor was seventeen and a half when he reached Italy. He faced a different landscape to that of northern France. Majestic mountains replaced lines of muddy trenches. These might be beautiful and majestic in peace but were frightening in battle when shells crashed into rocks and sent fragments flying into the bodies of combatants. The participants in battle were also less convinced of their cause. Italy had been bribed into war with promises of land from the vanquished which would be given once victory was achieved. It was not an honourable cause and resentment was rife amongst Italian recruits.

After 1917 the Austrian army had been strengthened by large numbers of well-trained Germans; cholera was widespread, many roads were impassable; there were too few ambulances for the tasks involved. The battle of Caporetto showed the extent of Italian despair; over 10,000 soldiers were killed and more than 250,000 prisoners were taken. The move from rifleman to stretcher-bearer had not brought any tranquility to Victor’s life.

Victor describes in his autobiography an incident when he lost contact with his unit. He had to take shelter for the night in a barn. He detected a foul odour and there were pools of congealed blood on the floor. On investigation he saw that the blood had been trickling down the wall. When he felt the surface of the wall he was horrified to discover that it was a structure built from the corpses of Italian soldiers who were stacked up one on top of each other. The wall was constructed from the soles of the boots still worn by the corpses.

Despite this alarming experience Victor flourished in Italy. He was particularly impressed by his commanding officer, George Macaulay Trevelyan, the eminent historian. Surely no field of battle has ever put together such a strange duo; the future world ballroom dance champion and one of the most distinguished historians of his age? Macaulay was considered one of the greatest historians of Italian unification and his biography of Garibaldi was an internationally admired work. The offer of an ambulance unit to the Italians was a thin response to requests for help but there might be some appreciation if it was led by one of the most admired historians of Italian history. Trevelyan was in his early 40s at the time; he could offer little by way of military commitment because of his poor eyesight, so he was given an ambulance unit to lead. It would seem his leadership skills compensated for any absence of fighting experience and Victor held him in huge regard; the feeling was clearly reciprocated. When he suffered a minor wound Trevelyan wrote home to Victor’s mother to explain the incident: ‘Allow me to take the opportunity of expressing to you the affection which your son has already won from all his English comrades. He is certainly one who will be loved wherever he goes in life and besides he is made of sterling stuff.’ Victor was honoured by the Italian government with the Bronze Medal for Military Valour.

In February 1918 Victor was given some home leave. Back in Wembley he celebrated his 18th birthday. He saw this as a chance to return to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders without the need to lie about his age. He was soon desptached to Ireland with the third battalion where he assisted in the repression of the unrest which had followed on from the Easter Rebellion. He was quickly in hospital having been bludgeoned with a hammer in Kinsale by a republican he was trying to arrest. While with the Highlanders he was encouraged to apply for a commission and this application was successful. When the war ended in November 1918 Victor was a newly commissioned Army officer training at Sandhurst. He seemed set on a military career.

This was not to be. Sandhurst was like boarding school all over again. A fortuitous meeting at a tea-dance in central London led to Victor beginning a career in dance. Victor was offered a position partnering ladies at a series of tea-dances; in addition there was coaching in ballroom dancing. Within three years he was World Ballroom Dance champion on the cusp of a career that would make him a household name as band-leader, coach, television host and the author of a definitive guide to dance. It would be a shame, however, if this career as a celebrity was allowed to overshadow his extraordinary years of valour as an under-age volunteer in the First World War.


Dancing Is My Life. Victor Silvester [Heinemann 1958]

Second Lieutenant Harold Vernon Brown

Researched and written by Anne Wright

2nd Lt H V Brown
8th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 3.5.1917
Age, 25

Harold Vernon Brown was the only son of school teachers. He had two younger sisters and the three siblings were all born in Weybridge. Harold’s father, Edgar Weston Brown (1860-1917) was the son of a railway stationmaster and his mother Susan Amelia Badge (1864-1947) the daughter of a shoemaker. The couple married at St. Alphege’s Church in Greenwich on 11 September 1890 and their first home was in the School House in Baker Street, Weybridge. Harold was born on 18 July 1891 and baptised at St. James’ Church a few weeks later on 12 September. By 1901 Edgar Brown was the Head Teacher of the Girls’ and Infants’ School in Baker Street and in 1911 the family had moved to ‘Lulworth’ in Minorca Road. At this date Harold, a former pupil of the boys section of the school in Baker Street (St James’ School) was employed as a clerk by the Law Society.

His military experience began as a Private (1142) in the Middlesex Regiment, he then transferred to the 8th Battalion (Bn.), of the East Surrey Regiment and was attached to the 11th Bn., the Royal Fusiliers as a Liaison Officer in October 1916. The 8th Surreys (55th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division) had fought through phases of the Battle of the Somme and would go on to fight in the 1917 operations on the Ancre and the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Harold must have relished the prospect of the 12 days home leave he was granted on 16 December 1916. However, his return to the front was delayed as a result of attending a Medical Board in England in January 1917. His father died whilst he was in Weybridge and he attended the funeral at St James’ Church on 9 March. Harold finally returned to the 8th Surreys on 17 April, a day of heavy rain on which they received a warning order to prepare to move to billets in or around Bethune. The battalion arrived at Bethune on 21 April and a week later were in Arras and moved immediately to Neuville Vitasse (south-east of Arras) where they were accommodated in Telegraph Hill Trench, part of the Hindenburg Line; they were to take part in the second Battle of Arras (9 April-16 June 1917). They moved to the front line and support trenches on 1 May opposite the village of Cherisy. On the 2 May the battalion was subjected to intermittent enemy shell fire and sniper activity as final preparations were made for the attack on Cherisy on 3 May.

Second Lieutenant Harold Vernon Brown. Image courtesy of Miriam Tappin.

Second Lieutenant Harold Vernon Brown. Image courtesy of Miriam Tappin.

There was no moon so it was a very dark night and within a few minutes there was considerable confusion partly caused by the shrapnel barrage not starting in unison. Advancing rear waves caught up with the leading waves and Harold and his fellow officers found it very difficult to keep their commands together. However, they were able to advance to their first objective with relatively little opposition; the bulk of the enemy between them and Cherisy ran away. The same pattern was repeated when a second attack was launched. The tide started to turn at about 7 am when 35 out of 50 men entering the northern end of Cherisy were cut down by machine gun fire. Low flying enemy aircraft were able to light up British positions which came under heavy machine gun and shell fire. At about 7.45 am the Germans began to reoccupy the village using staged bombardments and with the British in danger of being outflanked the retreat was ordered.

The 8th Bn., the East Surreys had sustained 394 casualties of which 13 were officers. 2/Lt Harold Vernon Brown was one of the fatalities. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (Bay 6) Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in the west of Arras. The second Battle of Arras failed in its main objective to make a strategically significant breakthrough.

Harold’s mother moved to Sussex where she died on 11 May 1947. His sister Doris married George Tappin in November 1918 and emigrated to New Zealand the following year where Harold’s two nieces and a nephew were born.


Boland Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 18th (Eastern) Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/18th-eastern-division/
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk

Arthur (1869-1918) and Iona Davey (1870-1945), Liberals and Women’s Suffrage Supporters

I noticed during my research at Surrey History Centre that Hon. Mr Arthur Jex Davey and his wife were cropping up in newspaper reports of the meetings of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society and felt that this interesting political couple needed investigation.

Arthur Jex Davey was born in Kensington in 1869, the son of Sir Horace Davey and Louisa Hawes Davey (née Donkin). He was Chairman of the Weaving Company and set up the Mills Equipment Company of which he was a director in 1906. This company made the webbing belts, straps and haversacks which became standard in the British Army from 1908. He was a member of the Clothworkers Company. He took on many public roles such as the governorship of the Central Foundation Schools in London and the chairmanship of the Gordon Hospital, Bridge Road, Vauxhall. His father Sir Horace was a Liberal and was one of the hundred people present at the opening of Wonersh Village Liberal Club in 1887. He had been brought up in a family which held liberal political views and it is not a surprise that Arthur Jex Davey became active in local Liberal politics.

Arthur Jex Davey married Mary Iona Fothergill Robinson (known as Iona) at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, London, in June 1894. Iona was the daughter of the Vice Chancellor of Lancashire, William Fothergill Robinson.

The couple moved to ‘Ockford House’, Milford, in 1907 with their two young daughters Iona Hildegarde and Julia Christobel.

Arthur had political ambition and was adopted as Liberal Candidate in the Guildford Division in 1910. However, he was defeated by the Unionist candidate William Edgar Horne in December 1910. Following this he turned his attention to municipal affairs, in 1912 he was voted on to the Godalming Town Council and served as Mayor of Godalming 1915-1916. He continued to stand as Liberal Candidate but resigned from his candidacy at the outbreak of war in 1914. He was also president of the Godalming and District Liberal Association.

Iona also took an active part in local and national politics; she was president of the Women’s Liberal Association and secretary of the Women’s Local Government Society, as well as campaigning for women’s suffrage. During the First World War, as the mayor’s wife, she raised funds for both the Red Cross and the St John’s Ambulance, she was also a committee member of the Godalming Division of the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association (Lady Jekyll [Agnes] and Alison Ogilvy were also committee members).

Both Arthur and Iona were active branch members and supporters of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society, promoting the cause in meetings of both the Liberal Party and the local suffrage societies.

A column in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) newspaper Common Cause that listed forthcoming meetings noted that on the afternoon of 19 October 1911 Lord Lytton would speak on suffrage at Watts Picture Gallery, Compton, near Guildford, at the invitation of Mrs G F Watts, President of the Godalming Branch. Lady Midleton would be in the chair. Lord Lytton would also speak the same evening at meeting chaired by Miss D [Dorothy] Hunter and Mr A [Arthur Jex] Davey, to be held at Godalming Borough Hall. The meeting at Compton was a success, attended by 200 people including some “Antis”, and 11 new members were recruited (Common Cause, 9 November 1911).

On 23 March 1913 Common Cause gave advance notice of a meeting on women’s suffrage to be held in the Borough Hall, Godalming, at which the speakers were Hon. Arthur Davey, Rev. A H Fletcher, A R Heath, Sir William Chance, Lady Betty Balfour, Alison Ogilvie, T C [Ogilvy], Miss Aston, Miss D Hunter and Miss Hay Cooper.

The Godalming Women’s Liberal Association held a meeting at the Liberal Club on “Liberalism and Anti-suffrage Candidates” (Surrey Advertiser 31/3/1913) where Iona Davey was one of the speakers, she pointed out in her address that women in the party should not support Anti-suffrage Liberal candidates in the forthcoming election. A motion in favour of this view was passed.

The Surrey Advertiser 21 July 1913 reported on a Liberal Party meeting in Guildford at which Arthur Davey answered questions on the “Cat and Mouse” Act. He commented that it was a “disagreeable remedy” for a problem which some people would prefer be solved by suffragettes being allowed to starve and die in prison. He believed that the women should not be allowed to die because that was wrong and that the government had little choice. He said that he supported the aim of the suffrage campaigners but not the methods of the suffragettes.

The Mayor of Godalming, Alderman E Bridger, was in the chair for a debate held at Borough Hall, Godalming on the subject of “Why Godalming Women want the vote”. The debate was organised by Godalming Branch NUWSS and speakers from the local Anti-suffragists were invited. However, Lady Midleton, Miss Aston and Mr A R Heath sent letters of apology (Miss Aston and Mr Heath were invited to the meeting to represent the case for the anti-suffragists). The Godalming Branch NUWSS decided to continue with the debate and set out to make the case for women’s suffrage by answering the arguments and assertions made by anti-suffragists. Arthur Jex Davey was among the speakers, challenging the argument that women were unsuited for politics, saying that in his experience of politics there was nothing that a woman could not do. He said that women were complimentary to men and asserted that both men and women did their best work when working together (Surrey Advertiser, 7 April 1913).

One of the NUWSS’s most spectacular mobilisation of support for their cause known as The Great Pilgrimage passed through Godalming and was reported by Surrey Advertiser on 21 and 23 July 1913 The 150 pilgrims who had already walked from Portsmouth left Haslemere on 21 July and arrived in Witley in time for lunch at ‘Great Roke’. They then continued to Milford, where they had tea at ‘Ockford House’ at the invitation of Hon Mrs A Davey [Iona Davey]. The report lists some of the names of the local suffrage supporters who met the marchers. These names include Lady Chance, Lady Scott Moncrief, Miss Scott Moncrief, Hon Mrs Arthur Davey, Mrs G F Watts, Mrs Dixon, Mrs Osgood, Miss Meugens, Mrs Redhead, Miss Ogilvy, Mrs [Miss T] W Powell, Miss Burnett, Mrs Overton, Miss Mellersh, Misses Beddington, Mrs Pollock, Mrs G T Pilcher and others. The local overnight hosts were Lady Chance, Hon Mrs A Davey, Miss Franklin, Mrs Overton, Miss Powell, Mrs Dixon and Mrs G T Pilcher. Iona Davey was one of the pro-suffrage speakers at an open-air meeting in Godalming later in the evening of 21 July 1913.

A meeting of the Home Counties Union of the Women’s Liberal Association was held in Guildford (reported in the Surrey Advertiser 19 November 1913) chaired by Iona Davey with support from Lady Jardine and Alison Ogilvy on the subject of women’s role and position in the Liberal Party. A speech from F D Acland MP said that women’s suffrage was not achievable in the current parliament. In an address from Eva MacLaren the women were urged to support the adoption of pro-suffrage candidates as women in the party would not support anti-suffrage candidates in the Liberal party and would rather see Tories elected. Arthur Davey also addressed the meeting.

Iona addressed the first meeting of the Wonersh and Bramley Women’s Liberal Association at the end of November (Surrey Advertiser 1 December 1913).

In 1916 the Davey’s moved from Godalming to Abbots Wood in Guildford and Arthur stood down as Mayor and from his seat on Godalming Town Council. In 1917 Arthur retired from his company and became Deputy Director of Army Contracts. Sadly, a year later whilst returning to England on the mailboat RSM Leinster, following an official visit to Ireland in the capacity of his work at the War Office, the vessel was hit by a torpedo and sunk by a German submarine UB-123 on 10 October 1918. Arthur was one of the 501 out of 650 people on board who lost their lives. There is a memorial to him next to his parent’s grave in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Forest Row, and he is also remembered on a plaque to commemorate the war dead members of the Wonersh Liberal Club. The Surrey Advertiser published an obituary on 12 October 1918 and the Times 22 October 1918.

Contributed by Miriam Farr.


Surrey Advertiser, Times and Common Cause newspapers, accessed via British Newspaper Archive online, via Surrey Libraries Online Reference shelf available at Surrey History Centre

See a photograph of the Wonersh Village Club Memorial Plaque for members of the Wonersh & Bramley Liberal Club, including Arthur Jex Davey, on the Surrey in the Great War project website https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHMEM_W_M_3042

See Godalming Museum’s information page on Arthur Jex Davey at http://www.godalmingmuseum.org.uk/index.php?page=arthur-jex-davey

The Royal Mail Archive’s story of RMS Leinster can be seen online at https://www.postalmuseum.org/blog/the-centenary-of-the-sinking-of-rms-leinster/

William Charles Layton, Redhill boy given military funeral

Written by Moira Nairn

William Charles Layton was born on 28th May 1898, the first son and third child of Charles Robert Layton and Clara Layton née Clarke. Both parents had been born in South London but, by 1901, had settled with their family in 24 Fengates Road, Redhill where Charles worked as an upholsterer and picture framer. Sadly, in the same year of William’s birth, his sister, Mary Elizabeth, died. A fourth child, Frederick Charles Layton, was born in 1907.

William Charles joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) at the age of 16, joining up on 18th May 1915. After training, he was quartered in the borough where he was working as an orderly.

Newspaper report on William Charles Layton's funeral

Newspaper report on William Charles Layton’s funeral

He took ill suddenly and died of peritonitis on 3rd March 1916. A gun carriage carried his coffin to Reigate cemetery where the Last Post was played and a firing party was deployed. His burial on 8th March was reported in a local paper.


‘The 2/5th Battalion on the Queen’s West Surrey Regiment, who are quartered in the Borough, have lost a very promising and popular soldier in the person of Pte W.C. Layton, who died after a very short illness on the Reigate and Redhill Hospital on Friday morning and was buried on Wednesday at the Reigate Cemetery with military honours. Pte Layton, the son of Mr C. R. Layton, 24 Fengates-rd., was a keen soldier. He enlisted in the 2/5th Queen’s on the 18th of May 1915, at the age of sixteen, and, with the military training he received at Windsor and other places developed and looked older than he really was. Since the battalion had been in the Borough he has been engaged as a clerk in the orderly room. He was suddenly taken ill last week and removed to the hospital, where he died in the early hours of Friday morning in the presence of his father and mother.

A large number of people witnessed the funeral, which was of an impressive character. The coffin, draped with the Union Jack, was taken on a gun carriage drawn by six horses to Shrewsbury Hall, the Plymouth Brethern Mission, where deceased attended regularly prior to joining the Army. Mr Joseph Burt and Mr F. Kent conducted a service, and kindly and sympathetic reference was made to the dead solider.

After the service the cortege proceeded to Reigate Cemetery, headed by a firing party under Sergt. Tovey. The band of the Battalion attended, and played suitable music en route. The mourning coaches were followed by the “B” Company of the Battalion, to which Pte Layton was attached. Lte.-Col. St. B. Sladen, the Acting Adjutant, Lieut. Chase, and Regtl.-Sergt.-Major Childs were also present.

The mourners included Mr and Mrs C.R. Layton (father and mother), Miss Cissie Layton and Master Fred Layton (sister and brother) and his aunts and cousins. The Battalion Chaplain conducted the service at the graveside. Three volleys were fired and the Last Post being sounded on the bugles, the company dispersed. A number of floral tributes marked the love and affection and esteem in which Pte Layton was held. They were sent by the mother and father, sister and brother, grandma, “Horace.” Aunt Sophie, Aunt Fanny and cousins Flo and Nellie, Mrs Haylar, Mr and Mrs Manning, Mr and Mrs Gandy, the Misses Woodman and Crawley, Mrs. Canter, and Mr and Mrs Bacon. Lt-Col. St. B Sladen, officers and men of the Battalion sent a wreath, Lieut. Sparks a floral tribute, and the men of “B” company also subscribed for a permanent token of respect. The funeral arrangements were placed in the hands of Messrs Geo.Comber and Sons.’

Keith Field, William’s great nephew recalls his grandfather, Frederick Charles Layton, speaking of his childhood memory of the guns being sounded over the coffin. Nine years of age at the time of his brother’s death, the brothers had been close.

Photograph of William Charles Layton with surround

Photograph of William Charles Layton with surround.

The newspaper report concluded by mentioning a ‘permanent token of respect’ given by his regiment to the family. It does not specify what that might be. However, Keith Field has in his possession a framed tribute containing a photo of his great-uncle. The rear of the frame has two metal stamps, one with his great-uncle’s name and service number, and the other with the name of his battalion.

Might this be the ‘token of respect’ referred to in the article?

My thanks to Keith Field for sharing this information about his maternal great-uncle. Keith and his father, Charles Field have also been interviewed as part of the Oral History project where they talk about Charles Field’s Uncle Charles’ WW1 service.

Surrey Submariners who lost their lives in the Great War

In 1911 the British Admiralty was of the view that submarines were an ungentlemanly form of warfare, as they relied on stealth, and should not be used for military purposes. During the Great War submarines were used increasingly by both the British and German navies.

Submarines can be traced back to drawings made by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th Century. The first, reliably documented, submersible vessel was built in 1620 by Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutchman in the service of James I of England.

In 1864, late in the American Civil War, the Confederate navy’s H. L. Hunley became the first military submarine to sink an enemy vessel, the Union sloop-of-war USS Housatonic. In the aftermath of its successful attack against the ship, the Hunley also sank, possibly because it was too close to its own exploding torpedo.

In 1881 the Fenian Ram, designed by John Philip Holland, was launched by the Delamater Iron Company in New York. Built with funding from the Fenians’ Skirmishing Fund. The Fenian was an Irish republican organization founded in the United States in 1858 and the submarine was intended to be used against the British. It was never actually put into service.

Submarines were used increasingly during the First World War. They were still relatively fragile craft and were forced to spend much of the time on the surface as their batteries to power the electric motors used underwater had limited capacity. On the surface they generally used diesel engines which produced toxic fumes and therefore could not be used when submerged.

Many men lost their lives in submarines during the First World War, of these the following came from or had links to Surrey.

HM Submarine D2

HM Submarine D2 was one of eight D-class submarine built for the Royal Navy during the first decade of the 20th century. Built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness and commissioned on 29th March 1911. On 28 August 1914, D2 fought in the Battle of Heligoland Bight. Lieutenant Commander Jameson was washed overboard off Harwich on 23rd November and as a result Lieutenant Commander Head took over command. D2 was rammed and sunk by a German patrol boat off Borkum, off the coast of Germany, on 25 November 1914, leaving no survivors.

ROLFE, Charles Burt: Leading Seaman

HM Submarine D6

HM Submarine D6 was one of eight D-class submarine built for the Royal Navy during the first decade of the 20th century. Built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness and commissioned on 19th April 1912. D6 was sunk by UB-73 73 miles north of Inishtrahull Island off the west coast of Ireland on 24th or 28th June 1918.

EVERSFIELD, Frederick: Able Seaman

HM Submarine E3

HM Submarine E3 was the third E-class submarines to be constructed, built at Barrow by Vickers in 1911-1912. Built with compartmentalisation and endurance not previously achievable, these were the best submarines in the Royal Navy at the start of the First World War. She was sunk in the first ever successful attack on one submarine by another, when she was torpedoed on 18th October 1914 by U-27.

BARROW, John Gerald: Sub-Lieutenant

HM Submarine E4

HM Submarine E4 was a British E class submarine built by Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness, costing £101,900. E4 was laid down on 16th May 1911, launched on 5th February 1912 and commissioned on 28th January 1913. On 24th September 1915 E4 was attacked by the German airship SL3. On 15th August 1916, she collided with sister ship E41 during exercises off Harwich. Both ships sank and there were only 14 survivors, all from E41. Both boats were raised, repaired and recommissioned. She was sold on 21st February 1922 to the Upnor Ship Breaking Company.

PRESKETT, Harry: Leading Seaman

HM Submarine E5

HM Submarine E5 was a British E-class submarine built by Vickers Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on 9th June 1911 and commissioned on 28th June 1913. She cost £106,700. The E5 was lost on 7th March 1916 while rescuing the survivors of the trawler Resono, just north of Juist (Germany) in the North Sea. In 2016 divers found the wreck of E5 off the island of Schiermonnikoog, (Holland). Her hatches were open, which suggests that the crew had tried to escape. There was no sign of damage to her hull, indicating that she had not sunk as a result of enemy action.

ALDRED, Albert: Stoker (1st Class)
OWEN, Arthur Robert: Petty Officer

HM Submarine E11

HM Submarine E11 was an E-class submarine of the Royal Navy launched on 23rd April 1914. E11 was one of the most successful submarines in action during the 1915 naval operations in the Dardanelles Campaign, sinking over 80 vessels of all sizes in three tours of the Sea of Marmara. 19 ratings on Submarine E11, received the Distinguished Service Medal in connection with the sorties by Submarine E11 into the Dardanelles to attack Turkish Warships and transports supporting or resupplying the Turkish defence of Gallipoli. The E11 was sold for scrap in March 1921.

LAKE, William Theophilus: Engine Room Artificer 4th Class
NASMITH, Martin Eric: Commander
SHARPE, J, Able Seaman

HM Submarine E14

HM Submarine E14 was a British E class submarine built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness and commissioned on 18th November 1914. Her hull cost £105,700. During the First World War, two of her captains were awarded the Victoria Cross, and a large number of her officers and men also decorated. She was sunk by shellfire from coastal batteries in the Dardanelles on 28 January 1918.

PITHER, Henry: Leading Seaman
RANDALL, John Benjamin Baldwin: Chief Engineroom Artificer
WHITE, Geoffrey Saxton: Lieutenant Commander

HM Submarine E15

HM Submarine E15 was launched on 23rd April 1914. During the First world War, E15 served in the Mediterranean, participating in the Gallipoli Campaign against the Ottoman Empire. On 16th April 1915, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Theodore S. Brodie, E15 sailed from her base at Mudros (Greece) and attempted to break through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara. Early in the morning of 17th April, the submarine, having dived too deep, become caught in the vicious current and ran near Kepez Point, directly under the guns of Fort Dardanos. E15 was soon hit and disabled; Brodie was killed in the conning tower by shrapnel and six of the crew were killed by chlorine gas released when the submarine’s batteries were exposed to seawater after a second shell strike. Forced to evacuate the vessel, the remaining crew surrendered, to be incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp near Istanbul where six later died. Lieutenant Price was one of the prisoners of war and died of pneumonia.

PRICE, Edward John: Lieutenant

HM Submarine E16

HM Submarine E16 was built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furnes. She was laid down on 15th May 1913 and was commissioned on 27th February 1915. Her hull cost £105,700. E16 was the first E-class to sink a U-boat. U-6 was sunk off Karmøy island near Stavanger, Norway on 15th September 1915. E16 was sunk by a mine in Heligoland Bight on 22nd August 1916. There were no survivors.

BULBECK, William Henry: Able Seaman

HM Submarine E.18

HM Submarine E18 was an E-class submarin, launched in 1915 and lost in the Baltic Sea in May 1916 while operating out of Reval (Estonia). The exact circumstances surrounding the sinking remain a mystery. In October 2009, the wreck of HM Submarine E18 was discovered by a Remote Operated Vehicle deployed by the Swedish survey vessel MV Triad. The position of the wreck lies off the coast of Hiiumaa, Estonia. Photographs taken of the wreck show the submarine with its hatch open, suggesting that it struck a mine while sailing on the surface

BAGG, Edwin Albert: Chief Petty Officer
EDWARDS, Clement Harry: Leading Telegraphist

HM Submarine E 20

HM Submarine E 20 , built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness, was laid down on 25th November 1914 and commissioned on 30th August 1915. She was sunk, torpedoed by UB-14, on 6th November 1915. Operating in the eastern Mediterranean, E20 was scheduled to rendez-vous with the French submarine Turquoise on 6th November 1915. However, on 30th October, Turkish forces sank the Turquoise off Nagara Point in the Dardanelles, refloating her shortly afterwards and retrieving intact her confidential papers. Unaware of her plight, E20 attempted to keep the rendez-vous. The Imperial German Navy submarine UB-14, which was at Constantinople, was sent to intercept E20, reportedly going so far as to radio messages in the latest British code. Upon arriving at the designated location, UB-14 surfaced and fired a torpedo at E20 from a distance of 550 yards. E20’s crew saw the torpedo, but it was too late to avoid the weapon. The torpedo hit E20’s conning tower and sank her with the loss of 21 men. UB-14 rescued nine, including E20’s captain, Clyfford Harris Warren, who was detained as a prisoner of war until 21st November 1918.

WARREN, Clyfford Harris: Lieutenant-Commander

HM Submarine E24

HM Submarine E24 was launched on 9th December 1915 and was commissioned on 9th January 1916. She left Harwich on the morning of 21st March 1916 to lay mines in the Heligoland Bight, off the coast of Germany. She did not return from the mission, and was logged as missing on 24th March 1916. Human remains found in the wreck during a salvage operation in 1973 were buried in Ohlsdorf Cemetery, Hamburg.

TRENDELL, Frederick Arthur: Able Seaman

HM Submarine E26

HM Submarine E26 was built by William Beardmore and Company, Dalmuir. She was one of a pair of submarines ordered by the Ottoman Navy on 29th April 1914, but taken over by the Royal Navy and assigned the E26 name. She was laid down in November 1914, launched on 11th November 1915, and commissioned on 3rd October 1915.

HMS E26 was lost with all hands in the North Sea, probably in the vicinity of the eastern River Ems (North Western Germany), on or about 3rd July 1916. Her wreck has been found by a group of Dutch divers in 2006.

ATKIN-BERRY, Harold Harding: Lieutenant

HM Submarine E36

HM Submarine E36 was built by John Brown, Clydebank, for the Royal Navy. She was laid down on 7th January 1915 and commissioned on 16th November 1916. E36 was sunk in a collision with E43 off Harwich in the North Sea on 19th January 1917. There were no survivors.

CONEY, Herbert Henry: Petty Officer Stoker

HM Submarine E37

HM Submarine E37 was built by Fairfield, Govan, Clyde. She was laid down on 25th September 1915 and was commissioned on 17th March 1916. E37 was lost in the North Sea on 1st December 1916. There were no survivors.

HARLOCK, Philip: Lieutenant

HM Submarine E50

HM Submarine E 50 was built by John Brown, Clydebank. She was laid down on 14th November 1916 and commissioned on 23rd January 1917. E50 was damaged in a collision with the Imperial German Navy submarine UC-62 while submerged in the North Sea off the North Hinder Light Vessel on 19th March 1917. She was lost on 1st February 1918. It was believed that she struck a mine in the North Sea off the South Dogger Light Vessel. In 2011 the wreck was found by a Danish Expedition much closer to the Danish coast, 65 Nautical Miles west of Nymindegab.

HARDS, William Walter Jordan: Leading Stoker

HM Submarine G8

The G-class submarines were designed by the Admiralty in response to a rumour that the Germans were building double-hulled submarines. She was commissioned on 30th June 1916. Her last patrol began from Tees on 27th December 1917, leaving with the submarine HMS G12 and the destroyer HMS Medea for the Kattegat. She was ordered to start her voyage back on or shortly after 3rd January 1918. She never arrived at Tees and was not heard from again. She was officially declared missing on 14 January 1918. The cause remains unknown

ARMSTRONG, Philip Furlong: Sub-Lieutenant. Served on HMS Warspite during the Battle of Jutland.

HM Submarine H3

HM Submarine H3 was built by Canadian Vickers Co, Montreal. She was laid down on 11th January 1915 and commissioned on 3rd June 1915. After commissioning she crossed the Atlantic from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Gibraltar escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Calgarian. H3 was mined in the Gulf of Cattaro, Adriatic on 15 July 1916.

SANFORD, John: Able Seaman

HM Submarine H5

HM Submarine H5 was built by Canadian Vickers Co, Montreal. Launched June 1915. She sank the U-boat U 51 in July 1916. H5 sunk after being rammed by the British merchantman Rutherglen, mistaken for a German U-boat, on 2 March 1918. All on board perished.

COLBRAN, Charles John: Petty Officer

HM Submarine H10

HM Submarine H10 was by the Canadian Vickers Co., Montreal. She was commissioned in June 1915. H10 was lost in the North Sea, reasons unknown, on 19th January 1918.

BRANCH, Robert Douglas: Petty Officer

HM Submarine K4

HM Submarine K4 was built by Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on 28th June 1915 and commissioned on 1st January 1917. She was lost on 31st January 1918 during the night time fleet exercises later known as the Battle of May Island. She was lost with all hands. The Battle of May Island is the name given to the series of accidents that occurred during Operation E.C.1 in 1918. Named after the Isle of May, an island in the Firth of Forth. On the misty night of 31st January to 1st February 1918, five collisions occurred between eight vessels. Two submarines were lost and three other submarines and a light cruiser were damaged. 104 men died, all of them Royal Navy.

CORFIELD, Alfred Abe Benjamin: Petty Officer

HM Submarine K5

HM Submarine K5 was commissioned in 1917. She was lost with all hands when she sank en route to a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay. George Booker was swept overboard on 31st July 1918, his body was never recovered

BOOKER, George Lewis: Chief Stoker

HM Submarine L11

HM Submarine L11 was built by Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness, She was laid down on 17th January 1917 and commissioned on 27th June 1918. She was one of five boats in the class to be fitted as a minelayer. The L11 survived the war and was sold for scrap in 1932. Leonard Gale was assigned to HMS Lucia, a submarine Depot Ship supporting the 10th flotilla which included submarines E27, E33, E39, E40, E42, E44, L11, L16, L20 and L55. His death is recorded as accidental.

GALE, Leonard Frank: Able Seaman

HM Submarine L.55

HM Submarine L.55 was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Clyde. She was laid down on 21st September 1917 and was commissioned on 19th December 1918. On 4th June 1919 (some sources say it was 9th June), while serving as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, the submarine unsuccessfully attacked two Bolshevik destroyers that were laying mines to protect Petrograd (now St Petersburg) and in so doing suffered damage and was sunk. L55 was raised in 1928 and refitted for the Russian Navy, she finally was scrapped in the 1953.

CRYSELL, Albert William: Able Seaman

Private Albert Edward Tickner

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte A E Tickner
12th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 4.6.1918
Age, 23

E A Tickner, a former pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street), Weybridge is commemorated on the school’s Memorial Board to the Fallen of the Great War, but no such person appears in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). However, Albert Edward Tickner who was born in Addlestone (c.1895) and by 1911 lived with his family in Pelican Lane, Hamm Moor, Weybridge is listed among the dead on the CWGC’s site. He is known as Edward on Census returns but as Albert Edward in his military records which also confirm his biographical details.

He was the third child of William and Elizabeth (nee Wilson) Tickner who were married at Holy Trinity Church, Aldershot on 10 June 1889. William John was a soldier who had been born in Walton-on-Thames in about 1864 and Lizzie had been born in Ireland in about 1865. In 1901 they lived in Simplemarsh Road in Addlestone and William earned his living as a machine minder in a flour mill. They had five children by 1911: William, Mary, Edward, Kathleen and Arthur. Edward was a shop assistant with the grocery business, International Stores.

Two years later, on 25 November 1913, Edward or as he now becomes known, Albert, joined the East Surrey Regiment’s Territorial Force for a period of four years and was allocated to the 1/6th Battalion (2060). He stood five feet and four inches tall and was 17 years and 6 months of age. For the first three years of the First World War he was home based but from 22 September 1917 he was part of the British Expeditionary Force, embarking from Folkestone the next day. From 2 October he served with the 12th Battalion of the East Surreys. Albert spent two weeks at La Danne in training before being involved in coastal defence near Nieuport Bains, here he had his first experience of enemy artillery and aeroplane action. By the end of November Albert’s battalion was on the Italian Front to reinforce the Italians following their retreat after the Central Powers attacked at Caporetto on 24 October. They remained in Italy until the end of February 1918. The battalion was mostly based in the Montello Range sector where they became used to active artillery and aerial action; on 8 December the Italians brought down a German plane and the injured pilot was very surprised to find himself among British troops! After some respite in billets Albert and his comrades returned to the line on Christmas Eve, they spent the following day in working parties and repairing wire. They had had their Christmas dinner on the 21st.

The 12th East Surreys returned to France on 3 March and after two weeks training were in the line in front of Sapignes. They were caught up in the onslaught of the German Spring Offensive and retreated to a line south of Gommecourt. At the beginning of April, they transferred to the Ypres Salient taking up a position on Passchendaele Ridge where they had a relatively quiet time. Albert’s final location from 2 May was in the Ypres Sector itself where the city was under constant artillery attack. He was in the line from the 25 May until 3 June when there was heavy artillery action from both sides. Albert’s military records say that he was killed on 3/4 June although there is no mention of a fatality at that time in the war diary. However, the diary gives the total number of casualties for June as 3 other ranks killed and 19 wounded. Albert was one of the three fatalities, probably killed in the course of his battalion being relieved on 3/4 June, always a vulnerable time.

Albert is buried in Hagle Dump Cemetery (1.B.5) at West Vlaenderen 75 km west of Ypres (Ieper). His brothers both served in the war and survived; William in the Royal Garrison Artillery and Arthur in the 52nd Bedfords. William died in 1969 and Arthur in 1981. After their mother’s death in 1909 their father remained at his home in Hamm Moor Lane until his death in 1935. He remarried twice, first to Annie Elizabeth Sheldon in August 1913 at St Paul’s Church, Addlestone and after Annie’s death, in 1922, to May Agnes Jackson in 1924. A son, Anthony Charles, was born from this last marriage.


British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Tickner & Hyttenrauch Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk

After the Armistice – a Soldier’s View

At 11am on November 11 1918 the Armistice between France, Britain, and Germany came into effect.

After four years of fighting the war on the Western Front was brought to a halt. Away from the Western Front fighting continued while peace negotiations got under way and it took many more years to finally end the Great War. The Armistice was prolonged three times between 1918 and 1920 although the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that finally brought the Great War to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. The Treaty of Lausanne was signed in Palais de Rumine, Lausanne, Switzerland, on 24 July 1923; this Treaty officially settled the conflict that had originally existed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied French Republic, British Empire, Kingdom of Italy, Empire of Japan, Kingdom of Greece, and the Kingdom of Romania since the onset of the Great War.

The signing of the 1918 Armistice was greeted with varied responses. In many Allied towns and cities – especially those freed from enemy occupation – there were scenes of happiness. Big Ben rang out in London for the first time since 1914. However, the celebratory mood was tempered by the grief of the many thousands who mourned for the war dead.

For the troops remaining on the Western Front the situation had suddenly changed, from living in daily fear of death to peace and potential boredom following the Armistice. British officers struggled to maintain a sense of order and discipline amongst the men in their command, many of whom wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

One officer wrote home to a relative a few weeks after the Armistice and described the situation:

“I am afraid there is not much to tell you about Peace celebrations out here. We had a most mouldy time. In fact I’ve seldom spent a more depressing day than November 11th, and everybody I’ve met from other units says the same.”

“I don’t think the people at home realise that this period between peace and demobilisation is going to be much the most trying one for the soldier, more trying than any battle.”

Click on the images below to see and read Franklin Lushington’s original letter (SHC ref: 7854/4/7/4/26)

Click here to read a transcript of the letter(pdf PDF).

Susan and Vanessa Stephen in gardens at 36 Kensington Square (SHC ref: 7854/4/47/3/8 p2)

Susan and Vanessa Stephen in gardens at 36 Kensington Square (SHC ref: 7854/4/47/3/8 p2)

The author of the letter was Franklin Lushington (1892-1964), son of Sydney George Lushington. He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England and served as a Second Lieutenant and later Captain with the Royal Garrison Artillery and served with the poet Edward Thomas. He was a novelist and wrote The Gambardier: giving some account of the heavy and siege artillery in France, 1914-1918 (written under the pen name Mark Severn, 1930) and Portrait of a Young Man (1940), both of which include descriptions of his service in World War I, and Cottage in Kyrenia (1952). He fought in the Second World War, where he was mentioned in despatches. He held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel between 1939 and 1943 in the Royal Artillery. He died on 2 September 1964 at age 72, following a car crash.

Franklin was writing to Susan Lushington. During World War I and World War II Susan corresponded with a large number of servicemen who were based at the army camp at Bordon near her Kingsley home. They were invited into her home to share her musical interests, and later wrote back to her from the front line. Read more about Susan and her correspondence with soldiers. An archive of Susan’s correspondence is now held at Surrey History Centre, along with many other papers relating to the Lushington family. There is more about the Lushingtons on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website where it is possible to browse the collection of family papers.

Private Harold Alfred Pook

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte H A Pook
1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, attd. 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Killed in action, 3.5.1917
Age, 20

On 8 June 1917 the Surrey Herald carried a plea from a desperate father, Mr J D Pook, seeking information about his son Harold Alfred who had been reported missing after ‘an engagement in France’ on 3 May. Mr Pook hoped to hear news of his son as the Herald was ‘…..so widely read both at home and at the Front.’ Harold was killed in the brutal Arras Offensive but his story had begun twenty years earlier; his birth was registered in the Chertsey District in the first quarter of 1897. He was the eldest child of James Doddridge, a bricklayer, who went on to become a builder’s foreman, and Florence (nee Humphreys) who had married the year before. Three more children followed – George, Phoebe and Freda. In 1901 their home was at Gladstone Villa in Oakdale Road, Weybridge and by 1911 they had moved to Sunnymead in New Haw. Harold was educated at St James’ School (Baker Street) before becoming a plumber’s mate.

He enlisted in Addlestone, when is not known, and was initially posted to the Royal Sussex Regiment (4/5324) before his connection to the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and eventually being attached to the 4th Battalion in early April 1917. In the two months before he joined them Harold’s final unit were based in and around Arras, either in the trenches or occupied in working parties. They received 87 reinforcements to the ranks on 4 April; it is likely that Harold was one of them. He was just in time to be engulfed in the Arras Offensive which began five days later. This was a major operation intended to break through the German lines and end the stalemate on the Western Front.

The 4th Royal Fusiliers left their assembly trenches at 7 am on 9 April. They reached the last trench of the old German front line but then came under heavy shell and shrapnel fire which increased as they descended a slope. They were then forced to stop for a few minutes to allow the creeping barrage to move on, however, the right flank had been caught by the barrage and had ‘suffered considerably’. The enemy trenches were captured as the wire had been well cut by the artillery. The day had cost the battalion 2 officers killed, 4 wounded, 37 other ranks killed, 126 wounded and 30 reported missing. Harold’s unit held their position during the next day and moved to an assembly position on 11 April to continue the advance.

At 6.45 pm on 13 April they moved forward once again. They had to endure three enemy barrages and came under heavy machine gun fire on both flanks. The unit made it to a sunken road where they were held up by severe rifle fire; only three officers remained with the companies. The battalion had left their assembly point just one and a quarter hours earlier; 3 officers were dead, 2 wounded, 12 other ranks were dead, 40 wounded and 34 missing. They were ordered to withdraw. Harold and his comrades spent the rest of the month in billets in Arras or Duisans carrying out training, parades and inducting reinforcements. Their respite was brief.

On 1 May the 4th Royal Fusiliers went into trenches east of Monchy-le-Preux. Two days later they attacked once again. At 3.45 am on the 3rd their supporting barrage lifted and advanced in waves of 100 yards with the battalion following at a distance of 75 yards. Not long after starting they were hit by heavy machine gun fire from the right flank and there were heavy casualties as the German front line had been left untouched by the advancing barrage. Upcoming support had been decimated crossing no man’s land and the unit did not have enough strength to complete their mission despite repeated attempts to hold on as their right flank was rolled up by the enemy. The leading companies reached the line 100 yards east of the Bois des Aubepives and dug in. They faced two counter attacks the second of which came from three directions. The two leading waves of the unit were feared to have been cut off, yet the remainder of the battalion held its ground until nightfall with just one officer left. They then retired to their original position.

The 3 May 1917 cost the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers the following casualties: 4 officers killed, 4 wounded, 3 reported missing, 30 other ranks killed, 156 wounded, 99 missing and three suffering with shell shock. Harold was reported missing, presumed dead. It is not surprising that the army could give little information to Harold’s anxious parents considering the events of that day. The 4ths had been attacking a major defensive part of the Hindenburg Line which resulted in fierce, bloody, attritional combat. The Arras Offensive came to an end three days later; no breakthrough had been made.

Harold’s body was not recovered. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (Bay 9) with almost 35,000 other casualties. He is also remembered at St Paul’s Church and Victory Park in Addlestone and on the Memorial to the Fallen of St James’ School in Weybridge. Harold’s father died in 1935 and his mother in 1952.


England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1856-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
War Memorials, www.thegenealogist.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Elizabeth Spencer Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk

Surrey Casualties at the Battle of Coronel, 1 November 1914

The Battle of Coronel was a First World War Imperial German Naval victory over the Royal Navy on 1st November 1914, off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel.

On 4 October 1914, the British learned from an intercepted radio message that German Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee planned to attack shipping on the trade routes along the west coast of South America. British Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock cabled the Admiralty, on October 22nd, that he was going to round Cape Horn. Cradock’s Squadron consisted of the armoured cruisers HMS Good Hope (flagship) and HMS Monmouth, the modern light cruiser HMS Glasgow, the armed merchantman HMS Otranto. Spee had a superior force of five modern vessels, the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg.

Whilst in Coronel harbour HMS Glasgow intercepted radio messages between the German supply ship Göttingen and Vice-Admiral Spee which suggested that German warships were close. Spee decided to move his ships to Coronel, to trap HMS Glasgow, while Admiral Cradock hurried north to catch SMS Leipzig.

At 09:15 on 1 November, HMS Glasgow left port to meet Cradock at noon, west of Coronel. At 16:17 SMS Leipzig, accompanied by the other German ships, spotted smoke from the line of British ships. Spee ordered SMS Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig to full speed to intercept. At 16:20, HMS Glasgow and Otranto saw smoke to the north and then three ships, the British reversed direction, so that both fleets were moving south and a chase began. Cradock was faced with a choice; the three faster cruisers could outrun the Germans but this meant abandoning HMS Otranto, or all the vessels stayed and fought. At 17:10, Cradock decided he must fight.

At around 19.30 HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth were hit and caught fire, making them easier targets for the German gunners. HMS Good Hope was hit repeatedly and around 19.50 her forward section exploded, she broke apart and sank. HMS Monmouth attempted to reach the Chilean coast but was hit and sunk by shells from SMS Nürnberg. There were no survivors from either Good Hope or Monmouth, 1,600 British officers and men were dead, including Admiral Cradock. HMS Glasgow and HMS Otranto both escaped.

A memorial to Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, K.C.V.O.C.B. and the officers and men under his command was placed in Saint John’s Church in Concepción, Chile.

In 1927 British Instructional Films made The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, a lavish recreation of the two naval engagements of November and December 1914 re-enacted for the cameras by ships of the British Mediterranean Fleet based at Valetta, Malta. The film is fascinating not just for its faithful recreation of the battles, but also for presenting the Germans as honourable and worthy foes who fought gallantly for their country. Such was the impact the film made in Germany, that it was given a premiere at the first convention of European film exhibitors in Berlin in 1928. The film was digitally restored and remastered by the British Film Institute in 2014.

Of the men lost during the Battle of Coronel the following had Surrey connections.

HMS Good Hope

Bashford, Alfred, Able Seaman
BROWN, George Shipton, Lance Corporal
CHEESMAR, Stanley William, Able Seaman
COTTER, Francis John Anson, Sub-Lieutenant
DAVID, Charlie, Stoker 1st Class
ELSON, George Edward, Stoker 1st Class
FISHER, John Maurice Haig, Lieutenant
FLOWERS, George, Joiner
GASKELL, Gerald Bruce, Lt-Commander
GOSLING, John, Able Seaman
HOPTON, Thomas Francis, Mechanician
LARBY, Walter, Stoker 1st Class
ROYAL, Arthur Charles, Able Seaman
SMITH, William Wilton, Able Seaman
TAPLIN, Percy Charles, Stoker 1st Class
TRUSSLER, Frederick James, Private

TUDOR, Douglas Courtenay, Lieutenant
WHICHER, Frederick, Able Boy

HMS Monmouth

BAGOT, Maurice John Hervey, Lieutenant
BRYAN, Norman Ford, Ordinary Seaman
COOPER, John, Fleet Paymaster
COWIE, Charles Gordon, Able Seaman
PASCOE, John Mydhope, Midshipman
SINGLETON, Eli, Able Seaman