Lindsay (nee Freer), Alice Mabel

Alice Mabel Freer was born on 26th February 1893 in Walton on Thames to her parents David and Elizabeth Freer. She was one of five children with brothers George Ernest Freer b 07/07/1885, Francis Richard Freer b 20/06/1888 and Arthur Edgar Freer b 20/04/1895 and her sister Margaret Elizabeth Freer b 24/09/1890. The 1891 census shows the family at 8 Chaldon Road, Fulham but by 1901 they were living in Ivy Cottages, Gascoigne Road, Weybridge. She was baptised on 21/05/1893 at St Peters Church, Hersham.

In 1911 at the age of 19, the census records show she was employed as a House Parlourmaid for a Charles Moreton Wigley Pigott and his family at Westhays, Bowes Road, Walton on Thames

Her brother Francis served with the 7th Rifle Brigade during the First World War and lived until 1967 but her brother Arthur was killed serving with the 11th Battalion, Middlesex Regt. on 9th April 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France.

On 20/10/1915 at St James Parish Church, Weybridge, Alice married Private 3076 Thomas Graham Lindsay a Canadian soldier of the Canadian Service Corps. Thomas had been born in Arnpoor, Ontario, Canada on 08/11/1891 and enlisted in the Canadian Army on 4th March 1915, served in France and finally was discharged on 6th August 1919. His Canadian Service Records are available via the Ancestry website and the Library and Archies of Canada website. These records show that at one time Alice, listed as his next of kin, was living at 36 Windmill Street, Gravesend in Kent an address her brother Francis and his wife Ivy were shown living at on the 1939 register. When they married, Alice and Thomas’ marriage records show them as living at 13 Westgrove Villas, Hersham.

Following the War, Thomas and Alice moved to Canada and lived out their lives there. They had two daughters, Mavis Delphina Lindsay born in 1920 and Brenda Margaret Lindsay born in 1921. Thomas died on 13th October 1938 in Ontario at the age of just 46, a notice of this appearing in the Ottawa Journal of Saturday 15th October 1938 (via Ancestry) which gave the family address of 25 Gordon Street. Alice lived until 31st May 1961 when she too passed away in Ontario. A notice announcing her passing appeared in the Ottawa Journal of Thursday 1st June 1961 (via Ancestry) and mentioned her home address still being 25 Gordon Street and her two daughters as Mrs H A Marshall (Mavis) of Perth and Mrs F Beauchamp (Brenda) of Renfrew. The Ottawa Journal of Mon 23rd Nov 1942 shows Brenda Margaret Lindsay married L/Corp Fernand Beauchamp, R.C.C.S., son of Mr & Mrs J E Beauchamp of Arnprior


Sources:   census records Barr/Jackson family tree

The Ottawa Journal c/o or  Canada records



Freer, Lance-Sgt Francis Richard

Francis Richard Freer was born on 20th June 1888 in Fulham, the son of David and Elizabeth Freer and he was baptised at St Peter’s, Fulham on 30th September that year. The 1891 census shows the family at 8 Chaldon Road, Fulham but by 1901 they were living in Ivy Cottages, Gascoigne Road, Weybridge. Francis (Frank) was one of five children with brothers George Ernest Freer b 07/07/1885 and Arthur Edgar Freer b 20/04/1895 and his sisters Margaret Elizabeth Freer b 24/09/1890 and Alice Mabel Freer b 26/02/1893.

Francis joined the British Army and served with the 7th Rifle Brigade during the First World War. His brother Arthur was killed serving with the 11th Battalion, Middlesex Regt. on 9th April 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France.

During the war Francis was mentioned in Despatches, was wounded and received the Military Medal. He was also captured by the Germans and spent time as a prisoner of War.

On 30th July 1915 at Hooge, Belgium,  a Lieut. Gilbert W T Talbot, youngest son of the Bishop of Winchester, was badly wounded when leading a charge at the head of his platoon in the 7th Battalion Rifle Brigade. The Colonel asked for a volunteer to go out and fetch him in. Rifleman F Freer volunteered and went out, but was hit when within 10 yards of the officer, with his right boot being blown clean away and the heel taken off his left one. He managed to crawl back and with the help of a corporal got back to his lines. (Story recounted in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, Saturday 18th December 1915, page 3 column 3).  The Officer Commanding, Major-General Couper, noted Rifleman Freer’s Gallant and Meritorious Service. On 30th November 1915 Francis was mentioned in Despatches by Field Marshall Sir John French and this was recorded in in the London Gazette of 31/12/1915, Gazette No. 29422.

The Gazette of Friday 27/10/1916, issue number 29805 page 10479, announced that Francis had been awarded the Miltary Medal for bravery in the field.

During the German offensive of March 1918, Francis was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war. At first posted as missing, the War Office Daily List, number 5679, of 25/09/18 reported that in a list received from the German Government, that Francis was now reported as a prisoner of War. The Red Cross records show that he was captured on 21/03/18 and he spent time in captivity at the prisoner of war camps at Lagensalaza and Messeburg (believed Merseburg) in Germany and was designated prisoner number P.1.807 (he kept a hold of his numbered armband as a souvenir).

On release at the end of the war, the Germans apparently just opened the camp gates and left the prisoners to their own devices and Francis made his way home via Scandinavia to Britain. He arrived at Leith where on 4th January 1919 he sent a post-card home saying he was going to a POW War Reception Camp (South Camp) in Ripon.

A War Office certificate dated  31/07/1920, mentioned in the London Gazette, recognised Francis for valuble services whilst a prisoner of war

Francis married his wife Ivy, b 06/07/1895, in 1917 and in 1939 they were shown as living in Gravesend in Kent. Francis passed away in 1967 and Ivy in 1976.


Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser

London Gazette

Interviews with members of the Dunn family, with thanks





Ripley Court School in WW1

Research and text by Richard and Rosemary Christophers

Brief History

In 1886 a school called Durston House was founded in Ealing by Mr Ben Pearce and his brother Mr Robert Pearce. Both were graduates of Trinity College, Dublin and keen to become worthy school-masters.  In 1886 Mr Robert Pearce married Miss Mable Perks and in 1893 they moved to Ripley to start the boarding school, Ripley Court having purchased the property from Mr William Wainwright. There had been a house on the site since at least 1568 and the present main building of the School dates from the 17th century and is grade 2 listed.

Mr G Onslow married Mr and Mrs Pearce’s daughter Angela in 1916 and in 1922 joined the staff of the school as Assistant Headmaster.  By this time the School was being run by Mrs Pearce, for Mr Pearce had died in 1917 in a cycling accident

During the Second World War the School moved to Betton Strange Hall, near Shrewsbury and Ripley Court became a Maternity Hospital to cope with overflow from the Westminster Hospital.  Sadly, Mrs Pearce did not return to Ripley Court for she died in 1941 so Mr and Mrs Onslow took the pupils back to Ripley Court in 1946, and continued in charge of the School until Mr Onslow’s death in 1952.

In 1953 the School was sold to Mr Ashmore who remained as Headmaster until 1956.  In 1956 Mr and Mrs W M Newte bought the School and began the task of turning it into a modern Preparatory School.  This they did with typical skill by increasing the number of both boarders and day pupils and elevating the reputation of the school in the local area.  Much new building was undertaken and the School, now a lhriving centre of education, became a Charitable Trust in 1968.  Day girls were admitted from 1977 and in greater numbers from 1979, and boarding ceased in 1998.


Ripley Court School during WWI

Before 1914 the school remained small, with only 16 boys listed in the 1901 census and 23 in the 1911 census, with an age range of 7 to 15 – the 1901 census was taken on 31 March, Palm Sunday, and the 1911 census on 2 April, two weeks before Easter, so it is possible that some boys had gone home, but nevertheless numbers would have been very few.  All the old boys who died in the war had gone onto public schools, with four to Rugby and three each to Wellington and Cheltenham College – the latter two schools being particularly feeders for the armed forces and suffering losses next only to Eton.  The school magazine for the Winter term of 1916 is the first conspicuous record of the proportionally great losses the school had suffered among its former pupils.  73 names are shown there as being on active service, of whom 21 are marked with an asterisk either then or (in ink) later as having been killed in action.  This does not tell the whole story, as those who served later have not been included. Three more old boys, plus a former teacher, are known to have died, but on the other hand three of the men marked in ink as dying did survive. It is now probable that all those who gave their lives have been accounted for and it is hoped that there will be a garden of remembrance at the school in honour of all former pupils killed in conflicts.

The magazine article which prefixes the list and obituaries of some of the fallen outlines the loss felt by the school:

Interesting stories are to be told about several of these men, both in their service careers, and in their achievements in lives so cruelly cut short by the war.

Frank Pearce Pocock was a nephew of Robert Pearce, the owner and headmaster of Ripley Court. From the school he went on to St Paul’s and thence to Westminster Hospital on an open scholarship.  On the outbreak of war he offered his services to the Navy and was on a battleship in the North Sea, but gaining his first MC in France with Drake Battalion. With chronic influenza he was invalided home in 1917 but returned to serve as surgeon on HMS Iris II in the Zeebrugge raid, where he gained a DSO, the citation reading  “By his devotion to duty he undoubtedly saved many lives when Iris II was hit.  He at once commenced tending the wounded and as all the sick-berth staff were killed had all the work to do alone.  After the dynamo was damaged he had to work by candle and torchlight”. He returned to Drake Battalion and was mortally wounded, gaining a bar to the MC with the citation “He attended to the wounded under very heavy fire & most adverse circumstances during operations lasting several days.  His courage & self-sacrificing devotion to duty were a splendid example to his stretcher-bearers & his skill was instrumental in saving the lives of many wounded men.”   Not obviously a military person, this citation and the use of his medical skills marks him out as the most heroic of Ripley Court’s war dead.

Desmond O’Brien was a more spirited old boy, whose sense of adventure probably led him to his death in the early stages of the war.  He was a son of Lord Inchiquin, an Irish peer, and passed through Ripley Court briefly on his way to Cheam School and thence to Charterhouse, from which he was expelled.  His one report from Ripley Court, now in the National Library of Ireland, shows him to be of variable ability – top in some subjects, bottom in others – but he played a useful innings of 42 for the fathers in the annual fathers’ cricket match, his own father having died.  At Charterhouse his inventiveness caused him to forge keys to the chapel  (where he played ragtime on the organ), the library and the headmaster’s study, as well as setting up a radio station in the shrubbery. His exploits are recorded in Robert Graves’s ‘Goodbye to all that’, and he was cheered by the boys as he left for Godalming station on his expulsion.  His talents were put to good use then as he went to work for his brother-in-law – Marconi.  He gained qualifications as a pilot in September 1914, but was killed flying in action off Cuxhaven on 16 Feb 1915: his body was never found.

Less flamboyant was Harold William Bennett Daw, from the Grange, Ealing, who was at Ripley Court from about 1902 to 1904 and briefly afterwards at Rugby before joining the training ship ‘Conway’, and thence to the Merchant Navy.  On the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and served on various ships from the Dover patrol to Mesopotamia, where his health suffered.  On recovery he joined the Grand Fleet, but was taken ill on HMS Perthshire, a transport ship disguised as a battleship, and was transferred to the hospital ship Soudan and died on 28 March 1917, aged 26.

One boy from the School who went on to Rugby was a local boy, Edward C.H.R. Nicholls whose home was in Woking.  After Rugby he went to Sandhurst Military College, from which he graduated in July 1916 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the West Surrey Regiment.  He attended the Military Flying School at Brooklands to learn to be a pilot, gaining his aero certificate on 6th August 1916 flying a Maurice Farman Biplane.  Edward was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps 41 Squadron, and was injured on 1st May 1917 during the Battle of Arras.  By October 1917 Edward was declared fit for light duties on Home service but no flying, although he was declared fit for limited flying in November 1917 but only in aircraft with dual control. He was still considered unfit for general service for a further 2 months. Edward was killed in a flying accident at Stow Maries on 20th September 1918, aged 20. His death certificate gives the cause of death as a “Fractured skull resulting from falling out of an aircraft”. He is buried in the churchyard at Stow Maries.

This article records the stories of only four of the 25 old boys and staff who were killed in the First World War and its aftermath.   Although the school was larger by the time of the next conflict, there were fewer deaths in that war, twelve in all, mostly serving in the Royal Air Force, and since then one Old Courtier, Charles Morpeth, was killed in a helicopter crash when acting as a civilian observer during the Bosnian conflict.  The School hope to be able to give further details of all these men on their website in due course.

Herbert Charles Cox

Herbert Charles Cox was born on 15 March 1896, the only son of Albert Charles Cox, journeyman wheelwright of 34 Fawcett Road, Croydon. He was baptised at St John’s Church, Croydon (now Croydon Minster) on 7 June 1896.

He had five sisters: Minnie, Hilda, Violet, Eva and Mabel. Herbert was known in the family as Bertie and also known as Bert. In 1901 the family were at Fawcett Road, South Croydon and by 1911 had moved to 7 Parker Road, South Croydon (UK censuses).

The family business was behind the Parker Road house, between Southbridge Road and South End, South Croydon. The earliest trade directory entry for Cox & Son is 1882 and the last 1928; at different times the business is listed as Wheelwright, Blacksmith and Whitesmith.

Herbert married Francis Elizabeth Moyle in Fulham, where Francis had relatives, on 14 August 1913. Herbert was 18 and Francis 34. Herbert’s age was recorded as 22 on the marriage certificate. In the 1911 census Francis is listed as being a cook at a residence not far from St Peter’s Church, South Croydon.

In 1916 Herbert is recorded on his daughter’s birth certificate (Doris Hazel, born 11 June) as being in the Pay Corps, no. 1942. There is no record of the enlistment date. He had been a stockbroker’s clerk before joining the army.

Herbert re-enlisted while in the Pay Corps to ‘see action’ and arrived in France on 18 January 1917 with the Royal Garrison Artillery 232nd Siege Battery. Herbert was a Signaller and would have been at the front signalling to colleagues to let them know where their shells were landing when he was shot in the head in May 1917.

He is recorded on the Roll of Honour as Gunner A. Fox, 97229 Royal Garrison Artillery, from South Croydon. On his medal card the forename is recorded as Alfred and he is listed by the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) as A. Fox, Gunner, 232nd Siege Battery. (He used the name Albert so that he could continue to be called Bert and Bertie.)

Herbert is listed on the war memorial inside St Peter’s Church, South Croydon, and as Bert on the Sunday School memorial. His name also appears on a metal plaque of the names of WWI war dead, letters C to H, found in the grounds and believed to be the remains of a war memorial that used to be in the churchyard, destroyed as a result of a bomb falling close by in WWII.

There is an entry in the Croydon Advertiser dated Saturday 26 May 1917 in a column headed ‘Died in the War’:

COX – May 12th, killed in action, Herbert Charles Cox, Signaller, Royal Garrison Artillery, dearly loved and only son of Albert Charles and Elizabeth Cox of 7 Parker Road, Croydon, aged 21 years.

Herbert was originally buried in Vaulx A.D.S. British Cemetery and in 1929 his remains were exhumed and reburied in plot III.B.9. Vraucort Copse Cemetery, Vaulx-Vraucourt, which is in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais, six kilometres North-East of Bapaume.



Lance-Corporal Henry Davis

This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.

Name: Henry Charles Davis

Occupation: Assistant Teacher, Caterham Hill Council School

Birth Place: Caterham, Surrey

Residence: Caterham, Surrey

Date of Death: presumed killed 28th March 1918

Age: 32 years (born 30th November 1880)

Location: near Arras

Rank: Lance-Corporal

Regiment: 1/5th (City of London) Battalion (London Rifle Brigade)

Number: 303283

Henry was the son of the late Robert and Matilda, nee Lung. They had ten children, eight boys and two girls. Henry’s father, Robert, had various jobs: a ‘kitchen man’, a ‘servant in the asylum’, chef. He appears on the Caterham Asylum wage book (1887-1899) as a ‘kitchen man’.

Henry was born in 1881 and christened at the Caterham Asylum Chapel in February 1882.

In 1901 (census), Henry was boarding at 10 Albert Street, Islington, and describing himself as an assistant teacher.

By 1911, Henry was working as an elementary school teacher in Caterham. In December 1909 he married Florence Westley in her home town of Northampton. In 1911, the couple were living in Hill Cottage, Livingstone Road, Caterham.

By the time of Henry’s death Florence had moved to 14, West Street, Reigate, Surrey. They had one son, Alan, who was three years old in 1918.

Henry’s date of enlistment is not known, but we do know he went to France on 4 December 1916. He joined the 1/5th (City of London) Battalion (London Rifle Brigade) which had been in France since 1915. It had fought at Second Ypres in 1915 and the Somme in 1916, where it lost heavily on the 1 July at Gommecourt. Most recently, in October, it had been involved in fighting around Les Boeufs-Morval where, of 563 men going into action, just 110 men answered the roll afterwards. It was a tough, veteran unit.

In 1917, presumably with Henry now in their ranks, the 1/5th Battalion fought in the battles of Arras, Third Ypres (Passchendaele) and Cambrai, where it continued to suffer horrendous casualties. In January 1918 the battalion was in the area Frévillers to the north of Arras. In February it marched to trenches to the north of Arras, where the War Diary describes it as being somewhere on the ‘Bailleul-Willerval line’. It also notes that the battalion had been working on defences, just in case of German offensives.

From the 21 March 1918, the Germans began a series of offensives along the Western Front in an attempt to win the war before the Americans arrived in strength. The first was against the British 5th Army on the old Somme battlefields, and despite early successes, the offensive was finally halted at Amiens on 5 April.

Towards the end of March, the 1/5th London Regiment was in the Gavrelle sector, just to the east of Arras. On the 25th, it captured a German soldier who warned them that a major offensive by two divisions was imminent. This was to be part of the German offensive called ‘MARS’ to be directed against the British at Arras.

On the 27th, it had to extend its front to cover the withdrawal of British troops moving south to stop the German offensive on the Somme. On the 28 March, at 3 a.m., an intense two-hour bombardment of the battalion preceded an attack by the enemy at 7 a.m. The War Diary notes the Germans attacked ‘with very large forces and immediately broke through the front-line system’. The 1/5th initially held them back, but was forced to withdraw, strongly contesting the ground the whole time.

By the early morning on the 29 March, when the ‘remnants of the battalion’ were relieved, the battalion fighting strength had been reduced from 23 officers and 564 other ranks to 8 officers and about 60 other ranks. It was during this action that Henry died.

After his death, Henry’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Henry. As part of the process, the Council carried out an investigation into the circumstances of the family. In correspondence, his wife Florence, now 38, was described as unable to earn through ill health, and as a result she was living with friends.

The insurance pay-out should have been up to £100, but a document from Surrey County Council dated 3 July 1918 indicated that subsequent underpayment of premiums and overpaid salary to Henry meant that the council believed Florence was only owed £31 and 11 shillings.

The overpayment appears to have caused by Henry’s death only being assumed in March 1918, and so Florence continued to receive his pay from the council. She wrote to the Education Committee on the 1 July stating that she could ‘hardly understand’ this position. It may be that Florence won; a later document dated 8 July from the insurance company enclosed a cheque for £104 15 shillings, but the final position of the council is not recorded.

Henry’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

He is entitled to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.


Surrey History Centre File CC7/4/4 file 49
The History of the London Rifle Brigade (5th London Regiment) 1859-1919, (London, Constable & Co., 1921)
Regimental War Diary – 1/5th (City of London) Battalion (London Rifle Brigade)
England Census
Commonwealth War Graves Commission –
Ancestry website –

Henry George Bundy

My grandfather Henry George Bundy and his brother William John Bundy were born to John Frederick Bundy and his wife Sarah. John was a coalman’s carman and Sarah was a housewife. John had died by the time of the 1911 Census, leaving Sarah a widow. In the 1911 census Henry (born 1890) is listed as a engine cleaner, and William (born 1887) as a labourer.

I have not many records on my Grand-uncle William, but I do on my Grandfather Henry. He was conscripted on the 26 June 1916, joining the 11th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment on 16 January 1917. His brother William was in the same battalion. Four days later on the 20 January 1917, William was killed, near Ypres.

The story in the family is that William died for a cup of tea. He told my grandfather Henry that he  wanted a cup of tea from the canteen down the trench. Henry warned him to duck down at a corner of the trench, as there was a German sniper targeting it. He forgot and was shot in the neck by the sniper.

My grandfather remained in the battalion until 7 June 1917, the first day of the Battle of Messines (when the German front line was destroyed by nineteen giant underground mines). He was shot in the right hand.

Messines Map small

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Henry ended up being shipped home to England on the 10 June 1917 in the Belgium troopship HS Pieter de Coninck. He was treated at a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital at Hoylake, Cheshire. Either The Châlet, Hoylake or the annexe, New Bunnee, Hoylake. The Chalet still stands today.


The Chalet Hoylake

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He was sent to EC Shoreham camp for convalescing (including massage) and retraining to return to the front lines, 27 August to 7 December 1917.

After that, reclassified as British Army Medical Category B2, on 1 April 1918 Henry was transferred to the Labour Corps, joining the 694 Agricultural Company which was based in Guildford. It had been set up to help with the 1918 harvest, after the disastrous harvest of 1917. There he worked as a farm labourer (which was what he was doing just before he was called up).

Between 6 November 1918 and 26 November 1918, Henry was sent to Kingston military hospital with the dreaded Spanish Flu, which killed more people than the war itself. He was lucky: despite coming in with a temperature of 102 degrees, he recovered.

On 8 March 1919, Henry was posted to Royal Army Service Corps, 425 Company. This was formed in May 1915 as a First Army Auxiliary Horse Transport Company. This was a unit responsible for miscellaneous transport services, under command of an Army or other formation HQ in the field. On the 12 August 1919, he was posted to the Mechanical Transport Depot at Shortlands, Kent.

On the 20 December, Henry was demobbed to Class Z Reserve. The Class Z Reserve was a Reserve contingent of the British Army consisting of previously-enlisted soldiers, now discharged. The Z Reserve was authorised by an Army Order of 3 December 1918. When expected problems with violations of the Armistice with Germany did not happen, the Z Reserve was abolished on 31 March 1920.

Henry was awarded a gratuity on the 20 April 1920 of £65 (worth £2,881 now). This was for his damaged hand.

My family have long owned a book called The Story of Seventy Momentous Years: the Life and Times of King George V 1865-1936 (ed. H. Wheeler, Odhams Press, 1936). On page 98 is a picture of my grandfather standing in a captured German trench (see image above).

He is the man in the centre holding a rifle. The man on the left, pointing to the sign, was killed three days after this picture was taken.

After the war, Henry became a driver for Guildford Council at the pumping station in Ladymead. He died in 1953. Here he is with my mother at her wedding in 1947.

Grandad and Mum small

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His brother William has been incorrectly named twice: once as W. Bendy on the local parish memorial, and as Bunday (right service number, of course) in the Book of Remembrance at The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment War Memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Guildford.


Sergeant John Gamble Waller

This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.

Name:                                       John Gamble Waller

Occupation:                             Haslemere School

Birth Place:                              Manchester (Longsight), Lancashire

Residence:                               Haslemere

Date of Death:                         Killed in Action 11 September 1916

Age:                                           29 years (born 1 December 1886)

Location:                                  Nasiriyah, Mesopotamia

Rank:                                        Sergeant

Regiment:                                1/5th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment

Regimental Number:            T/1519

John was the son of Herbert and Marian Waller of Brinkley, Southwell, Nottinghamshire.  They had eight children of whom seven survived. The 1911 census shows them living with John and two brothers and two sisters. Incredibly, in the census all family members were described as teachers apart from Marian.

On the 12 February 1917, Herbert wrote a letter to the Surrey Education Committee giving details of the family: Herbert B. (38 years old), Flora E. (36), Eva M. (34), Lily (31) was married and farming in Australia, Arthur F. (25) and training to become a teacher at St John’s College, Battersea, and Sid H. (24) a soldier, possibly commissioned.

By the beginning of the war, John had moved to Surrey, and was living at Lomond Villa, West Street, Haslemere. At the time of his death he had been teaching at Haslemere Council School for two years.

The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser of Saturday, 14 November 1914 listed all Surrey County Council staff that had joined the forces by that date. It lists John as having pre-war service in the ‘5th West Surrey Territorial’, a part-time soldier.

He was ‘mobilised’ (called up) in Bramley, Surrey, on 5 August 1914, joining the 1/5th Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, which was a Territorial Force (T.F.) battalion – part-time soldiers.

It had been formed in 1908 out of the old 2nd Volunteer Battalion formed following a reorganisation of the army. As it was a Territorial unit and therefore established for ‘Home Service’ only, soldiers, including John, had to volunteer for overseas service.

In October 1914, the 1/5th Queen’s embarked at Southampton on board the SS Alaunia for India, arriving in Bombay on the 2 December 1914.  It appears the battalion was then dispersed around India carrying out garrison duty until October 1915 when it was warned to be prepared for a move. On 2 December 1915, it sailed from Bombay, and then Basra, Mesopotamia (Iraq) arriving on 7 December.

Here the battalion joined ‘Tigris Force’, comprising regiments newly arrived from Gallipoli and India. In a Territorial Forces Record Officer letter dated 20 September 1916 within John’s Surrey Education Committee file, it describes him as being a member of Expeditionary Force ‘D’ Persian Gulf. This was an army group established in 1914 and responsible for protecting the oil wells in southern Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Tigris Force’s role was to relieve 8,000 British and Indian troops trapped in Kut, 100 miles south of Baghdad. In trying to reach the besieged men, the 1/5th Queen’s supported the relief column, fighting several engagements as it went. The relief failed, and Kut surrendered in April 1916.

The battalion was then based in Nasiriyah, and spent the summer fighting disease and the heat more than the enemy. On 11 September 1916, the Battalion was part of a column that sought to engage a significant number of ‘Arabs’ or ‘Turkish Irregulars’ around the village of As Sahilan.

John was a member of ‘D’ Company which initially supported the 90th Punjabis in the attack. The ‘Arabs’ withdrew, and the village was captured although at the cost of casualties to the battalion, including ‘D’ Company. After engineers had destroyed buildings in the village, the British started to withdraw, but confusion led to a delay and the ‘Arabs’ had time to return. The ‘Arabs’ continued to contest the British withdrawal, and it was not until after two hours of difficult fighting that the Battalion was finally clear.

The Surrey Advertiser of Saturday, 21 October 1916 was the first to report the incident under the banner ‘Mesopotamia Fighting – Casualties to Surrey Territorials’:

‘It was reported last month that on Sept. 11th a British force from Nasiriyah attacked a body of Turkish irregulars who had molested patrols and defeated them. The engagement cost us some casualties, which West Surrey Territorials shared.’

A week later the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser of Saturday, 28 October 1916, in ‘Surrey & The War, Surrey Territorials in Mesopotamia’, confirmed the casualties:

‘It now appears that in the successful attack by a British force in September, on a body of Turkish Irregulars who had molested our patrols, the West Surrey Territorials took part, and sustained some casualties. Two officers and eight non-commissioned officers and men were killed… the list included 1519 Sergt. J. Waller’.

On 17 September, Captain F.E. Bray wrote to John’s father:

‘You will have heard your son was killed in action on the 11th, and knowing him as I did, I can understand how heavy a blow it must have been to you.

I was near him when he was killed, just as we had begun to work back after covering the party destroying the village which was our objective. I went up to him at once, but he was killed instantaneously by a bullet through his head.

It is just about 4 years since I first knew him, when he was transferred to my company on going to Haslemere, and during the whole time I have never known him to do other than the right thing, and it has always been a pleasure to me to help him get the quick promotion he deserved. But he was much more than merely a good N.C.O. Everyone, officers and men who had anything to do with him, liked him for himself, and I know that I feel I have lost a friend more than a subordinate.’

The officer commanding the 1/5th, Lieutenant Colonel W.L. Hodges also wrote:

‘Last Monday we had to attack an arab [sic] village and destroy it. Your son was right in the thick of the fighting and early on in the action he was struck by a bullet and killed instantaneously. His death is a great loss to us as he was one of our best Sergeants and a type of man will can ill afford to lose. I trust that the thought that he gave his life for his country may be consolation to you in your loss’.

A comrade, Sergeant G.E. Smith, wrote on the 15th

‘I am writing on behalf of the Sergts. Of “D” Company. 1/5th Queens and on my own behalf to offer you our deepest sympathy in the loss sustained in the death of your son Sergt. G. Waller [sic], who, as you have probably already been informed, was killed after an attack on the village of XXX.

He was shot through the head and died almost instantly.

May I suggest that at least you have the consolation (perhaps a poor one in such cases) that he died for his Country and trying to do what he could to further its interests.

Personally my sorrow is of the deepest, for he was in my platoon and I was near him at the time, so that I can testify to his ability, efficiency, and cheerfulness as a soldier and also his staunchness as a mate.’

Another comrade Lance Sergeant Stafford (No. 138) wrote on the 11 September:

‘You will doubtless have heard… of poor Jack’s death in action which occurred this morning, but I feel that I must write to offer you my sincerest sympathy in your sad bereavement. While in India Jack was my closet friend, altho’ the exigencies of the service have not allowed of such close and intimate companionship just lately he was still my best chum. I was not with him when the bullet hit him and cannot give you details of his death but I can assure you he died in the thick of the fighting, and that he died instantaneously.

Last September we spent the holidays together and twas only yesterday that we were recalling some of the splendid times we had… I can only say that I have suffered the loss of the best pal a chap could have had, and both cases the wrenches are very great.’

Finally, A P.H. Crozier, a chaplain with the I.E.F. wrote a quite different type of letter on 18 September:

‘May I convey my deep sympathy with you in your sad bereavement. Your son was amongst those who were to voluntary services (sic). He was killed in action on Sept. 11. He died an Englishman’s death worthy of the traditions of the Regiment to which he belonged he is deeply mourned by those who knew him. He is with a goodly number of men who have laid down their lives in their Country’s cause, and as such he is honoured’.

After his death, John’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, which had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of John.  As part of the process, the Council carried out an investigation into the circumstances of the family. In one letter his family is described as ‘all in good positions’ and in no financial need. His father, however, wrote to the council in January 1917 stating that they had raised eight children on limited means, and it had been ‘no easy matter to struggle through’.

The family was eventually awarded £85 12 shillings and sixpence.

John is buried in the Basra War Cemetery, Iraq, and remembered on memorials at the following locations:

He is entitled to the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.


Surrey History Centre CC7/4/4 File 18

Colonel H.C. Wylly, History of The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment in The Great War, (1925)

The History of the Hampshire Territorial Force Association and War Records of Units, 1914-1919

Commonwealth War Graves Commission –

Ancestry website –

Captain Percy Levick

Captain Percy Levick

Percy was born in West Ham, London, in 1873, the son of Dr George and Martha Levick. His father died in 1881 leaving his family unprovided for. Percy gained a Foundation Scholarship to Epsom College in 1886 and proved to be an all-round performer. Amongst his haul of prizes was the Propert prize in 1892, awarded to the boy who had achieved the highest honours during the year.

Percy was also a prominent athlete and sportsman. He was in the first cricket XI for four years and captain for two. He excelled at Fives, being captain and champion, and played in the first hockey XI. He became a prefect in 1891. He won a scholarship to Jesus College, University of Cambridge, where he graduated in natural science in 1895. He continued to excel at sport and played cricket for Jesus College where he was a useful bowler. He also played hockey for Cambridge University.

Percy proceeded to King’s College Hospital, London, where he won the gold medal, the surgery and pathological anatomy prizes, and was awarded a certificate of distinction for hygiene.

After filling the posts of house surgeon and clinical aural assistant at King’s College Hospital, Percy went into practice at Guildford. He worked with Dr Gabb, and became his partner, for nearly twenty years. He was much beloved by all his patients, young and old, for his genial nature and devotion to their care. He was particularly popular with the poor in the area. He was made honorary Medical Officer (MO) of the Royal Surrey County Hospital in 1902 and became Senior MO in 1908. He was also surgeon to the Fire Brigade.

Percy was a keen motorcyclist and around 1911 had a serious accident in which he sustained head injuries which prevented him from working for several months.

When war came, Percy served initially as medical examiner of recruits at Guildford prior to taking a temporary commission as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), attached to 4th Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC). He was posted to France on 21 January 1917.

Percy felt that the facilities for caring for the sick and wounded were inadequate and provided a hospital privately to accommodate about ninety men.

Percy was killed on 15 March 1918 whilst working with the ammunition column near Arras. His horse slipped, fell and threw him beneath a motor lorry.

A correspondent wrote of him ‘One cannot help comparing him with men of long ago like St Francis and St Martin. His loss will be felt as keenly in France as at home. He died as he would have wished – working for the alleviation of the sufferings of others’.

Percy is buried at Anzin-St Aubin British Cemetery on the north-western outskirts of Arras. His friends at home collected £570 for a cot in his memory in the children’s ward in Guildford Hospital.

See further:

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,
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 18th (Eastern) Division,
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966,
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912,
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919,