Sergeant Cecil Robert Newman

Cecil Robert Newman was born in Twickenham on 24 June 1888. He was the son of Kathleen and Ernest Newman.

Cecil did not follow his father into the banking industry and instead enlisted in the Army aged 18 in 1906. He joined The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment and was posted to its 2nd Battalion.

In 1908 Cecil married Alice Norman, by which time he was a Lance-Corporal. He became a father to twin girls.

Cecil’s Battalion was posted to Pretoria in South Africa and records at Surrey History Centre relating to him (QRWS/30/NEW) describe his visits to the 2nd South African War battlefield at Willow Grange. By this time, Cecil was a Lance-Corporal.

With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the 2nd Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment was posted back to Great Britain in preparation for service with the BEF. The Battalion formed part of 22nd Brigade, 7th Division, which landed at Zeebrugge on 6 October 1914. The Division was soon involved in the 1st Battle of Ypres during which heavy casualties were sustained, including Cecil Newman, who was killed on 21 October 1914.

The records at Surrey History Centre include a photocopy of a postcard sent by a resident of Ypres visiting London to Alice Newman (of  2 Park Cottages, Morden) explaining that Cecil Newman had been staying with him in Belgium – ‘he is on the front and full of energy as well as his men and all those of The Queen’s’.

The Surrey History Centre papers also include a photocopy of a letter from Cecil’s wife dated 9 November 1914 describing her sea journey back from South Africa (the Battalion had returned earlier) with their children. During the voyage, there was a measles outbreak on board which affected 380 people. Eleven children died.  Sadly one of Alice and Cecil’s daughters died after arriving at Southampton on 1 November 1914. By this time,  Cecil had been killed in action.



Captain Billie Percy Nevill – a short history of military service

Wilfred Percy Nevill (often referred to by his family as ‘Billie’) was born on 14 July 1894, one of seven children, in Highbury, North London.

Educated at Dover College (where he was recorded on 1911 census), he started at Jesus College, Cambridge, reading a Classical Tripos, with the original intention of following a teaching career. Wilfred gained a temporary commission on 27 November 1914 following the outbreak of war in August 1914.

Although gazetted into the East Yorkshire Regiment, Wilfred was posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, which was part of 55 Brigade, 18th Division (a ‘New Army’ Division commanded by General Sir Ivor Maxse).

The 8th East Surreys were posted to France in May 1915 and held part of the line near Albert. Wilfred’s correspondence home described life on or near the front line and included some humour despite the front line conditions.

On 1 July 1916, at the start of the Battle of the Somme, the Battalion took part in the 18th Division’s attack at Montauban. The objective of the Battalion was to secure part of a ridge-line near Mametz.

Wilfred commanded B Company, 8th East Surreys, and is remembered for commencing the attack by encouraging his soldiers to kick footballs before them as they advanced towards the enemy lines. Wilfred was killed during the early phase of this assault.

Compared to fortunes further north on the assault front, 18th Division achieved more of its objectives, although at a high cost, the East Surreys suffering over over 400 casualties.

Shown here are some images of ‘Billie’ and fellow officers in France in 1915 and 1916 (from a photograph album described below). Several of these images include two 8th East Surrey officers who were awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry on 1 July 1916. Captain C. Janion (then a Second Lieutenant) rallied surviving soldiers from the Battalion and led bombing raids down the enemy trenches and organised a further assault against the Battalion’s final objective. Captain E. C. Gimson was the Battalion Medical Officer who spent many hours on the front line dressing the wounds of injured soldiers whilst under constant shellfire.

Wilfred is buried at Carnoy Soldiers’ Cemetery and commemorated at Jesus College, Cambridge, and on St Mary The Virgin War Memorial in Twickenham.


Billie Nevill’s Photograph Album

The photograph album was donated to the East Surrey Regiment by Reverend T. S. Nevill, the brother of Wilfred Nevill. The album contains views of trenches at Tambour & the remains of Bercordel (including one of the church bell which apparently was used to warn of gas attacks). The images also show views from Flixecourt, the Somme Valley, Vaux Wood, groups of soldiers (mainly Battalion officers, including ‘Billie’ Nevill), a nurse and occasional civilians, taken 1915-1916. Also an unclear photograph of senior Allied Commanders (Haig, Foch, & Allenby).



  • Surrey History Centre Archives reference ESR/25/NEVI (include a photograph album capturing trench and rear area life prior to the Somme battle).
  • Ancestry Institution records, Long Long Trail and Surrey Infantry Museum records.

Pioneer Walter Norman Welton

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:                                       Walter Norman Welton

Occupation:                             Woodwork Instructor

Birth Place:                              Attleborough, Norfolk

Residence:                                Wallington, Surrey

Date of Death:                         Died 26th June 1916

Age:                                           31 years

Location:                                   No. 4 Casualty Clearing Station, Beauval, France

Rank:                                         Pioneer

Regiment:                                 1st Battalion, Special Brigade, Royal Engineers

Regimental Number:              128805

Walter Welton was born in 1885 and was originally from Attleborough, Norfolk, and the son of George, a former school master, and Elizabeth Welton, of Norwich. He married Alice, a farmer’s daughter from Norfolk, that same year, and in 1915 he became the father of a son. They were living at 8, Demesne Road, Wallington, Surrey when he enlisted.

During the early 1900s, he specialised in woodwork and learnt his trade by attending the Norwich Technical Institute.  He became a certified teacher of practical skills at Bandon Hill Manual Training Centre, South Beddington, from 1913 onwards. His will suggests that he also worked at the Coulsdon Roke (Surrey) Handicraft Centre.

In a letter after Welton’s death, dated 12th July 1916, the Surrey Education Committee described Walter as ‘…one of the Committee’s Instructors of Woodwork’. 

Walter was living and working in Wallington when he volunteered for the 4th Battalion Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment at the start of the war.  His technical skills were probably soon recognised and likely led to his transfer to the Royal Engineers.

There is no evidence of when Walter went to France with the Royal Engineers. On his death he was a pioneer, the equivalent of a Private, with the 1st Battalion, Special Brigade, Royal Engineers. The Special Brigade was responsible for one of the most controversial elements of the Great War, poison gas.

Poison gas was first used on the Western Front by the Germans against allied units in the Ypres Salient in 1915.  The British developed their own response and, according to the official history of the war, its use at the Battle of Loos had warranted ‘further development’.  In January 1916, Kitchener agreed to expand the original four gas companies of the Royal Engineers.  By May 1916, five ‘Special Brigades’, containing four battalions, each of four companies, were ready; initially manned by volunteers and then ‘drafts of suitable men’.   Each ‘Special Brigade’ was attached to an army group in France, and Walter’s 1st Special Brigade went to the 4th Army, which was preparing to fight the Battle of the Somme.

There is evidence from war diaries and histories that Walter and his comrades were part of the preparations for the Somme offensive. A 4th Division report states that the Special Brigade had taken casualties on the night of 25/26th June. Shrapnel hit one of the phosgene gas cylinders the men were handling causing a leak. Walter and several of his comrades were evacuated to No. 4 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) located at Beauval. 

A letter from H.B.W. Denison, Chaplain, No. 4 CCS letter dated 27th June 1916 completes the story:

‘It is with deep regret that I write to tell you of the death of your husband, Pioneer Welton, in this hospital. He was admitted yesterday suffering severely from gas poisoning and he died during the evening. Everything possible was one for him and for his comrades suffering from the same horrible gas, but it was of no avail. I am burying him with four of his comrades this afternoon in Beauval cemetery.’

The R.E Record Office confirmation of his death, dated 4th July 1916, states that Walter ‘died from Drift Gas’.

After his death, Walter’s wife, Alice, pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Walter. In correspondence with the Council Alice makes the point that she has a son to look after. A letter from the Surrey Education Committee to the Clerk to the County Council states that Alice is ‘badly off and is (going back) to live (in Norfolk to) get work of some kind’. She is described as ‘a capital young woman and deserving of all help’. Alice would have eventually received approximately £100.

Walter is buried at the Beauval Communal Cemetery, Somme, France where his inscription reads “In Ever Loving Memory of My Dear Norman Rest in Peace”.

His name also appears on two memorials in Norfolk and a school memorial in Wallington.

In addition, his name appears on the “Beddington & Wallington” War memorial, which is close to where his widow lived for at least two decades after the war.  An image can be seen online here:

Walter was entitled to the War Medal and Victory Medal


Surrey History Centre Files CC/7/4/4

J. E. Edmonds, Military Operations France and Belgium, 1916: 2nd July to the End of the Battle of the Somme, (MacMillan & Co., London, 1932).

War Diary – 4th Division

The Special Companies of the Royal Engineers (poison gas), (‘The Long, Long Trail’, 30th July 2015),

England Census

Commonwealth War Graves Commission –

Ancestry website –



Charles Alfred Clark DSO MC

Alfred Charles Clark (‘Nobby’ to his comrades) DSO MC was born in Bermondsey in 1879. He was the son of Mary Ann Elizabeth Vaughn and Charles Clark.

Alfred Clark joined the Army in 1896. Initially he joined the militia in 1896 carrying out basic training at Kingston-on-Thames. He then transferred to the East Surrey Regiment, which was based at Dover Garrison. Clark took part in Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and in September 1897, following an intensive training course (and having been in the 2nd Battalion East Surreys for 10 months), Clark was promoted to Lance-Corporal.

The East Surreys were posted to South Africa and fought in the 2nd South African War between 1899 – 1902. Documents at Surrey History Centre under reference ESR/25 /CLARK contain Clark’s descriptions (including an unfinished life story) of service in South Africa. These include details of the journey by sea to Cape Town (bread making on board was a notable event!). The Battalion eventually arrived at Pietermaritzburg and shortly afterwards took part in the Battle of Willow Grange (22 November 1899), a moderately successful surprise attack on the Boers, who retreated to Colenso. This was followed by the action at the Battle of Colenso on 26 November 1899 and the fighting at Spion Kop, part of the effort to relieve Ladysmith. Clark witnessed the action at Spion Kop, including the ill-fated attack by the Lancashire Regiments. The East Surreys were pinned down under intense enemy fire for much of the action.

Having survived the South African War, Clark was posted to the 1st Battalion in 1902 and then the 4th Battalion in 1914 – by which time he had been promoted to Company-Sergeant-Major.

Clark eventually received his commission and  was posted to the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment.

Clark was wounded and captured in 1918 during the German March offensive. Clark commanded the battalion at the time as a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, and the delaying action by his 9th East Surreys, saving the 72nd Brigade, is well recorded. Having already been awarded the Military Cross for a bombing raid on the Somme, he was awarded the DSO for his leadership in 1918.

Clark was acquainted with RC Sherriff, the famous playwright (who also served in the 9th Battalion) and maintained correspondence with him during the post-war years. In a memorandum written by Clark on 9th February 1929, he described Sheriff’s service with the 9th Battalion – ‘ A steady unassuming young fellow of good presence. Carried a warm charm in his personality and had a certain calm, quiet air of distinction, much respected by his men’.

Clark continued his Army service post WWI, serving in Egypt and Gibraltar. Amongst his documents is a photograph of the visit of the Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan to Cairo in 1921, when the East Surreys provided a Guard of Honour.

During the Second World War, Clark became Chief Air Raid Warden of Folkestone, Kent. He died in 1971.








The Mount family of Hatchford

Cobham Remembers

The first name recorded in the St Andrew’s Church Book of Remembrance is that of “Francis Mount, Captain, Royal Berkshire Regiment. Fell in action at the battle of Hulluch, 13th October 1915”. As with many of the names on our memorial there is a story to be discovered behind this brief entry.

The 1913 Kelly’s Directory entry for Cobham & Hatchford lists Poynters as the residence of Mrs Mount, with Francis Mount esq. recorded as lord of the manor. Originally owned by Thomas Page, a local landowner and partner in the 18th century firm of printers of maps and bibles, Page & Mount, Poynters passed into the Mount Family of Wasing Place, Aldermaston following the marriage in 1781 of Jenny Page, Thomas’ daughter, to William Mount.

Francis born in London in 1872 was the seventh of ten children of William and Marianne Mount and the house was given to him, the second eldest surviving son, following his marriage in 1910 to Gladys Mary Dillwyn-Llewelyn the daughter of Sir John Talbot Dillwyn-Llewelyn of Penllergaer, Swansea, Glamorgan.

Gladys’ father’s London house was in Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington and Francis had a house in Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge. He was a Church Warden at St Matthew’s Church, Hatchford and despite his privileged background had worked for years among the lads in the slums of Bethnal Green. Francis and Gladys quickly made their mark on the village with Downside Common being drained “by the generosity of Mr F Mount who married at Eastertide and received over 400 presents” (Cobham Parish Magazine (CPM) May 1910).

Gladys soon became involved in the life of the village as would have been expected of a lady of her class. As reported in the CPM of August 1910 “Mrs Mount invited local members of the Mother’s Union to Poynters to be addressed by the secretary of the London Diocesan branch. After tea the more adventurous ladies went out on a punt on the river. The vicar who got out to pull the craft across the shallows, fell backwards into the water, thus adding considerably to the enjoyment of the ladies”. By 1914 Gladys was President of the Mother’s Union and she hosted many meetings of that group at Poynters throughout the war years..

Their world was soon to change and the Hatchford & Downside Notes in the CPM (December 1914) printed a list of names of “Those who have responded to the call of their King and Country since the beginning of the War” including “F Mount (Lieut)”. He was then aged 42 and had at first been turned down for active service on medical grounds. But he persisted and joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and by June 1915 “nearly all our Hatchford and Downside soldiers of the new army, including Captain F Mount have now gone to the front” (CPM).

In October 1915 Francis Mount was reported “missing”. Lieutenant-Colonel F W Foley, Captain Mount’s Commanding Officer, wrote to Mrs Mount “It is with the greatest regret I write to tell you that poor Frank is missing and I fear there is little hope of his being alive …

Major Bayley and your husband led the attack in the most gallant manner. Unfortunately before they reached the trench, the Germans had retaken it and brought a very severe machine gun fire to bear on them.”

Captain Mount’s body was never found and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial in France as well as the memorial in St Andrew’s Church.

But life had to go on and both Mrs Mount and Elizabeth, Francis’ eldest sister who took up residence at Poynters, played an active role in the village. Mrs Mount’s support was mainly financial, her name appearing in almost all lists of donors to good causes. Elizabeth sat on many committees relating to Downside School, the District Nurse Fund, Hatchford & Downside Bed Fund, Cobham War Relief Fund and the Coal & Clothing Club. As a member of the Soldiers & Sailors Families Association she was supportive of the wives of those serving overseas and a number of her letters to help obtain medals for widows survive in the national archives. She was also active in helping provide parcels for the troops. In the CPM May 1915, Hatchford & Downside notes it was reported that “small acts of sympathy are appreciated while more solid gifts such as water boots and other clothing sent by Miss Mount as her own personal gifts have been acknowledged in letters of most touching gratitude”, and in August 1915 “From the offerings given on Easter Day we have sent out some 35 parcels, most of them costing 2/6d each, from the Church to our soldiers and sailors at the front. Miss Mount selected the gifts and together with Miss Chubb packed and despatched them. The children of the school and our energetic work party under Miss Mount’s supervision have made and despatched about 200 sandbags for which Capt. Mount appealed from the trenches and of which our soldiers are badly in need”.

Elizabeth died in 1953 and was buried at St Matthews Church, Hatchford. Gladys died in Reading in 1968.

Life of Stanley Skelton

Stanley Skelton was born on 18th November 1894 to Charles, a labourer, and Elizabeth Rosa Skelton of Banstead and was baptised at St Andrew’s Church in Kingswood the following April. He lived in Banstead his whole life, becoming a carman for a local coal merchant by 1911 when the family lived at 10 Fir Tree Cottages on Pound Road. On 7th November 1912 he received notice and joined up to the East Surrey Regiment at Kingston-upon-Thames as a reservist.

With the outbreak of war in August 1914 he was mobilised and, after training, posted to the 1st Battalion whom he joined in the field at Ypres on the 6th April 1915. Less than two weeks later, the battalion took part in the ferocious defence of the recently captured Hill 60. After being subjected to a two-and-a-half hour ‘annihilation bombardment’, their position was assaulted by German bombing parties and infantry attacks. Despite the heavy attack, the East Surreys held the line and were relieved the following day.

The Battalion spent the summer months around Ypres before being moved south to the defences around Maricourt on the Somme. Here they remained for the winter, being rotated in and out of the trenches. After nine months at the front, Stanley was granted his first and only leave in January 1916. That spring, the Battalion was moved again, this time to Arras. It was here the Stanley received a gunshot wound to the abdomen on 24th April and was invalided back to England, spending three months at the Northfield Military Hospital in Birmingham. On 3rd October 1916 he was formally discharged as ‘physically unfit’, earning a Silver Star (Silver War Badge) for his wounds.

After his military service, Stanley returned to Banstead where he eventually found work as a gas stoker. He met Alice Daniels, a war widow, and they were married on 3rd August 1918 at Banstead All Saints’ Church. Three months later the war ended, but peace for Stanley was short lived. Shortly after his 24th birthday, he contracted influenza and bronchitis, succumbing to his illness on 9th December 1918. Three days later he was buried at All Saints’ Church in Banstead and given a military headstone as recognition for his service. His only child, a daughter named Kathleen, was born the following year on 2nd August 1919.

Two of Stanley’s brothers, Thomas and Alfred, would also lose their lives in the First World War and are remembered on the Banstead war memorial.


Herbert and Richard Hunt of Chertsey

East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings page 13, 3 November 1914 (SHC ref ESR/1/12/11)

East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings page 13, 3 November 1914 (SHC ref ESR/1/12/11)

Mrs Eleanor Hunt, a Chertsey widow, had four sons fighting at the front.  Two of her sons, Richard and Herbert, were killed on the same day, at the battle of the Aisne on 9 September 1914.  They were both Sergeants in the 1st Battalion the East Surrey Regiment.

Mrs Hunt’s family

William Robert Hunt, a carpenter of St Anne’s Road Chertsey, married Eleanor Mary Heath Harris of Windsor Street Chertsey, daughter of an upholsterer, on 4 June 1881 in St Peter’s Church Chertsey.  In 1901 the family lived in 3 Finchley Villas, Drill Hall Road and there were four sons.  Richard (18) was a carpenter, Herbert (15) was an Ironmonger’s errand boy, and Archibald (12) and Frederick (9) were still at school.  By 1908 the family had moved to 33 Grove Road Chertsey, and Mr William Hunt died later that year.

Sergeant Herbert William Hunt, 8049 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, killed in action 9 September 1914

Herbert was born 27 February 1886 in Chertsey.  He was baptised 9 May 1886 in St Peter’s Church and attended William Perkins School.  Herbert joined the East Surrey Regiment 11 November 1903 aged 18.  He married Elizabeth Cummins at Kinsale Cork 12 December 1913, and their son Herbert Charles Aisne Hunt was born 16 September 1914.

Herbert’s Medaille Militaire was sent to his mother with a letter from Colonel JR Longley who was commanding the 1st Battalion the East Surrey’s saying “I forward you a French decoration for your late son Sergt H Hunt which you will please pass on to his poor widow. Believe me indeed when I say how greatly we all feel the loss of your two sons, and deeply sympathise with you and the widow.  I recommended your other son also for a similar decoration.  They were both equally deserving of them: but unfortunately there was only one allotted to the battalion, and that is awarded to Herbert.”  (French Decoration for Dead Sergeant.  Epsom Advertiser 6 Nov 1914 page 3 column d.)

East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings page 9, 24 October 1914 (SHC ref ESR/1/12/11)

East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings page 9, 24 October 1914 (SHC ref ESR/1/12/11)

On 22 October 1914 Herbert’s possessions, two photos, a letter, a postcard, a lock of hair and identity disc were sent to Mrs Hunt at 19 Married Quarters Wellington Barracks Dublin; and on 26 September 1915 his Diploma of Medaille Militaire was sent to Mrs Hunt Ballyregan Kinsale Co Cork Ireland.  In 1918 his wife remarried, so in 1921 his Mentioned in Despatches certificate was sent to Mrs Elizabeth Morgan 26 Married Quarters, Gandalorpe Barracks Bordon.

Sergeant Richard Henry Hunt, 7978 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, killed in action 9 September 1914

Richard was born 5 December 1882 in Chertsey.  He was baptised 7 Jan 1883 in St Peter’s Church and attended William Perkins School.  Richard enlisted with the East Surrey’s in 1902 served in the South African War.  He served in Dublin 1912-1914.  He was married with two sons, Richard George born 9 December 1913 and Lawrence Henry born 12 April 1915.  In 1921 Richard’s Mentioned in Despatches Certificate was sent to his widow Mrs Rebecca Jane Hunt of 39 Marlborough Street Dublin.

Sergeant Archibald Thomas Hunt 30521 6 Mountain Battery Royal Garrison Artillery

Archibald was born in 1888, and was baptised 20 January 1889 in St Peter’s Church Chertsey.  Archibald was a gunner in No 8 Mountain Battalion Royal Garrison Artillery serving in India when the 1911 census was taken. In 1923 he was living in 33 Grove Road with his mother Ellen.

Corporal Frederick Charles Hunt 3582 1st Life Guards

Frederick was born 24 February 1892, and was baptised 17 April 1892 in St Peter’s Church.  In 1911 he was a cabinet maker living with his mother at 33 Grove Road Chertsey, and he enlisted as a Trooper in 1st Life Guards 20 August 1912.

Frederick was wounded in France.  He had two bullet wounds in his right elbow 1 November 1914 and was treated in the Connaught Hospital in Aldershot.  Frederick was transferred to the Guards Machine Gun Regiment 10 May 1918 and was discharged as no longer physically fit for war service 30 April 1919.

East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings page 11, 28 October 1914 (SHC ref ESR/1/12/11)

East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings page 11, 28 October 1914 (SHC ref ESR/1/12/11)

Back home in Chertsey, he soon set up in business again as a cabinet maker, and advertised in the local newspaper, “Mr F Hunt, who as Corporal in the Life Guards landed with the First Expeditionary Force in France, and fought throughout the War, is commencing business as a cabinet-maker, upholsterer, polisher etc. at 33 Grove Road.”  (Surrey Herald 16 May 1919 page 5 column c.)


Service records on

Census on

Marriage and baptism records on

1939 register on

School admission registers on findmypast

Other newspaper reports

ESR Casualties – Two well-known sergeants amongst the killed.  East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings SHC ref ESR/1/12/11 page 4, 14 September 1914.  (See Military records indexes)

Mentioned in Despatches – Officers and Men who have done Noble Service at the Front.  East Surrey Regiment scrapbook of press cuttings SHC ref ESR/1/12/11 page 9, 24 October 1914.  (See Military records indexes)

Daddy’s Medals.  The Beverley Recorder and Independent on Saturday 13 February 1915 page 2.  Includes a picture of Mrs Hunt holding her grandson whose father had been killed.  The baby was wearing one of his father’s medals and looking at some other medals.  Mrs Hunt is holding Herbert Charles Aisne Hunt, who had been born 16 September 1914, the day after his father Herbert and uncle Richard had been killed at the battle of the Aisne.  (See this online on The British Newspaper Archive – free to use in Surrey History Centre and Surrey Libraries.)

In Memoriam – The Brothers Hunt.  Surrey Herald 14 September 1917 page 5 column c.  (See Newspapers)

Cabinet Making.  Surrey Herald 23 May 1919 page 5 column c.  (See Newspapers)

Cyril Annesley Cooke

Shared by Georgina Whaley, Cyril Cooke’s granddaughter

A letter home:

Letter home from Cyril Cooke. Courtesy of Georgina Whaley


Tuesday Sept 14th

Dearest heart xxxxxxx(?)

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

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

Your devoted husband




Robert James Stark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Always Beloved and Never Forgotten





Lance-Corporal John McLean Wiseman

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 McLean Wiseman

Occupation:                               Assistant Master, Richmond County School

Birth Place:                               Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Residence:                                Richmond

Date of Death:                          Killed in Action 11th March 1917

Age:                                           28 years (Born 1888)

Location:                                   Zillebeke, Ypres Salient

Rank:                                         Lance-Corporal

Regiment:                                 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment

Number:                                    354253 (previously 8135)

John was the son of John Mclean senior, an estate clerk, and Harriet, of Nacton, Ipswich, Suffolk. John senior had married Harriet in 1883.

In the 1891 census, John senior had listed his profession as elementary school teacher, probably at the National School in Nacton, but had given this up by the turn of the century. In Kelly’s Suffolk Directory in 1912, he is recorded as being the clerk to E.R.H. Moorsman, a land agent.

In the 1911 census John and Harriet stated they have five children: Winifred (a school mistress), Maud, John, Archibald, and Marian. John had left home by this point. He is recorded in the University of London ‘War List’, which lists the military services of students and former students, as attending Birbeck College before the war.

By 1911, John was now boarding at 35, Larkfield Road, Richmond, and was already an assistant master, Richmond County School. He was single. It is not known when John enlisted.

When he did, he enlisted into the 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment, which was a pre-war Territorial Force unit, part-time soldiers. It was mobilised for war on 5th August 1914 at Finsbury Square, going to France in March 1915. Since its arrival it had fought at Festubert, Loos in 1915, and in 1916 at Vimy Ridge, and High Wood and Warlencourt on the Somme. This last engagement in October 1916 cost the battalion 300 casualties.

As John did not qualify for the 1914/15 Star, awarded for service in 1914 and 1915, it is likely that he arrived in France in early 1916.

The battalion then moved to the Ypres sector and saw in the new year there. They were based around the area of ‘Belgian Chateau’, a reserve area, still within the range of enemy artillery, to the south-west of Ypres. Much of January and into February was filled with working parties and parades, but from the 4th of February they moved up to the trenches. The War Dairy then paints a picture of the front-line being relatively quiet with few casualties, and limited enemy activity.

On 11th March 1916, the War Diary records the situation as all quiet. It notes that the enemy heavily shelled the trenches in the area, but little damage was done to 7th Battalion trenches. It then notes simply ‘Casualties 2 OR killed, 1 OR wounded’. John was sadly one of the other ranks killed.

M. Davidson (Chaplain to the Forces) wrote an undated letter to John’s family:

‘I am sure you feel an honourable pride in giving one to die for his country with all it stands for at present. He has made the great sacrifice for the cause of honour and Justice.

He was killed by a shell and I understand death was immediate. We buried him in a cemetery and a cross marks his last resting place.’

In a letter dated 25th May 1917, the Territorial Forces Record Office informed the family that John had been buried at Railway Dug-outs Burial Ground, Transport Farm, Zillebeke.

After his death, John’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of John. As part of this process, local enquiries were made into the circumstances of the family. John’s father, giving his address as Owell Park Estate Office, Nacton, Ipswich, wrote a letter to the Surrey Education Committee on 4th June 1917. In making his case he says, rather sadly, that the family had ‘strained our resources to keep him at London University and, quite voluntarily, he was recouping us for our outlay’. It is not recorded how much they received from their claim.

John is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) with the inscription ‘In Loving Memory’.

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


Surrey History Centre CC7/4/4 File 27

War Diary – 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment

University of London Student Records, War List 1914-18

England Census

Commonwealth War Graves Commission –

Ancestry website –