William Day

Family story contributed by Brian Gudgeon

William Day was born in the winter of 1880, to Alfred Jon Day and Alice Louisa Day (nee Gaunt), in Southwark.  By the 1901 Census, the Day family were living at 10 Rosebery Avenue, Croydon, and the 21 year old William was working as a Bottler in a brewery.

William Day 1902 Attestation Papers. Courtesy of Brian Gudgeon.

His military career began on 13 January 1902, when he enlisted with the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (QRWS), in Croydon, serving as a regular in the 1st Battalion.  His time with the QRWS took him to South Africa and India, from where he posted Christmas cards to his sister Alice Florence (Flo) Day; a card dated from 1905 shows he was stationed in Sialkot, in the Punjab region (now in Pakistan, after the Partition in 1947).  By 1911, he was working as General Warehouseman Dry Goods, and living with parents at 116 Birchanger Road, South Norwood. The family is not sure why he is entered thus as according to his Military records he was in the army at this time. It may be because he was transferred to Army Reserve on 28 Feb 1910 (or maybe April) and then re-engaged 23 Feb 1911, and then transferred again 23 Feb 1912. He was finally discharged on 12th January 1914 having served 12 years.

Although no records of his First World War service (apart from Medal Card) has been found to date, he would likely have been called up or volunteered, upon outbreak of war. In 1917, he is listed as serving with the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) in a Christmas card to ‘Flo and Ed’ (his sister and her husband Charles Edward Mitchell).
In a 1918 ‘Menu’ to [Signaller] Day W.’ he is shown as serving in the 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade.

William Day Death Certificate. Courtesy of Brian Gudgeon.

William survived the war, and died in 1933; he was interred in Mitcham Road Cemetery, Croydon, Plot W4, Grave No. 17716, with his younger brother, Alfred Wilton. William’s death certificate says he was ‘Found dead on 26th March 1933 Holt Wood, Chelsham R.D.’ He was 52. The cause of death was ‘Suicide whilst of unsound mind by lysol poisoning. [Post Mortem] Certificate received from E. Lovell Hewitt Acting Coroner for County of Surrey. Inquest held 30th March 1933.’ His address and occupation were ‘7 Drummond Road Croydon. No occupation. Formerly a Window Cleaner’.

Read the stories of his brothers in the First World War:

Alfred Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/alfred-wilton-day/

Arthur Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/arthur-day/

Fred Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/fred-day/

Herbert Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/herbert-day/

Sydney Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/sydney-frederick-day/

Walter Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/walter-daniel-day/

Arthur Henry Day

Family story contributed by Brian Gudgeon

Arthur Day was born on 12 April 1882, to Alfred John Day and Alice Louisa Day (nee Gaunt), in Lambeth.  By 1891, aged 7, he was a scholar, living with his parents at 97 Kimberley Road, Camberwell.  By the 1911 Census, aged 27 and single, Printer’s Machinist, living with parents at 116 Birchanger Road, South Norwood.

Arthur Day’s Silver War Service Badge Record. Courtesy of Brian Gudgeon

He enlisted as a Private with the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (service number 14721) on 8 November 1914.  He was wounded and awarded the Silver War Badge No. 13220, which states he enlisted 7 December 1915 and was discharged 10 March 1919.  His Service Medal and Awards Roll entry states that he ended the was as a Corporal.

He married Alice Victoria Dives, a war widow, in 1924, and the couple were registered as living at 29 Luna Road, Croydon, in the 1939 Register. He died in 1969, aged 87.

Read the stories of his brothers in the First World War:

Alfred Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/alfred-wilton-day/

Fred Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/fred-day/

Herbert Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/herbert-day/

Sydney Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/sydney-frederick-day/

Walter Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/walter-daniel-day/

William Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/william-day/

Sydney Frederick Day

Family story contributed by Brian Gudgeon

Sydney Frederick Day was born on 2 August 1892, to Alfred John Day and Alice Louisa Day (nee Gaunt), in Nunhead (now in the London Borough of Southwark).  By the time of the 1901 Census, the Day family was living in Thornton Heath, Croydon.  Before the outbreak of war in 1914, Sydney had been working as a Bar Assistant, living at 65 Clapham Park Road.

Sydney Day’s Medal Roll Index Card. Courtesy of Brian Gudgeon.

In 1914, Sydney enlisted with the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (QRWS), serving as a Private, with the service number 200583.  He seems to have done well in the Army, as his Character Certificate describes him as ‘very good’.  The family recall Sydney telling them that he received shrapnel wounds to his upper body, during his service; many years after the war, a small piece came out of his big toe!  He continued to serve with the QRWS until the end of the war, when he was finally discharged at Hounslow on 31 March 1920.

Shortly after the end of the war, Sydney married Edith Collier in Croydon, on 4 January 1922.  The marriage was not a success, and the couple divorced.  Sydney remarried in the spring on 1935, this time to Dorothy Cox; they spent most of their married life at 121 Frant Road, Thornton Heath, with Sydney working as a jobbing gardener (as recorded in the 1939 Register).

Sydney died in 1969, aged 77.  The family remember him as a nice, quiet, gentle man, who kept two highly polished brass shell cases on his mantelpiece, mementoes of the war.

Read the stories of his brothers during the war:

Alfred Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/alfred-wilton-day/

Arthur Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/arthur-day/

Fred Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/fred-day/

Herbert Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/herbert-day/

Walter Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/walter-daniel-day/

William Day: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/william-day/

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.



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





Mr E. Jordan

THE WAR: All the six sons of Mr and Mrs E. Jordan of Middle Street, are now in the service of their King and Country. The eldest, Mr Edward Jordan joined up on July 24th, and has been sent to Yorkshire, where he will probably be employed at his trade as a bricklayer.

The second, Pte Frank Jordan is in the A.S.C. in France. The third, Sergt Frederick John Jordan is an old soldier, having previous to the war served for over 12 years (eight in India). Three years ago he rejoined the forces in the Queen’s and has been in Salonica since Christmas 1916.

The fourth Pte Stanley Jordan joined the Queens in August 1914 and is now in India. The fifth, Pte Leonard Jordan, enlisted in the Queens in February 1916. After training proceeded to India, and from thence to Mesopotamia.

The youngest Pte Harvey Jordan joined the Queens in September 1914. His first experience of warfare was in the Dardanelles, where he suffered from trench fever. He was next sent to Egypt and has taken a prominent part in the fighting in Palestine where he was wounded in the side by a bullet. He landed in France five weeks ago and when he wrote home last was at the base.

Mr and Mrs Jordan have three sons-in-law in the army, viz Pte Henry Leonard Hopgood in the Hussars in France; Gunner Harry Lucas, R.G.A., also in France, and Pte E. T. in the Queen’s. The latter was shot through the foot in France a short time ago and after treatment in hospital and detention in convalescent home is now able to visit his relations in Brockham and Purley.

Of two other sons in Law one has been exempted for three months and the other has not yet received his warrant. Of ten nephews one has been killed, two are prisoners of war in Germany, one has been discharged and six are still on active service.

A letter received on Thursday night from Pte Jack Overton, The Queen’s son of Mr and Mrs Overton of Jubilee Cottages, who was taken prisoner on April 13th stated that he is wounded in the leg.

Information from The Surrey Mirror 2 August 1918 Page 3.

Bob Whittington and the Whittington family of Effingham

BOB WHITTINGTON and the Whittington family

Sgt Bob Whittington MM [Military Medal] is one of Effingham’s Fallen: he died in action aged 21 on 26 August 1916. Bob was one of four brothers all of whom served. This was a high number from one family and so far as we know only superseded in Effingham by the five Wells brothers, to whom they were related.

The Whittingtons were an army family well before World War I. All four brothers had grown up and were stationed or working away from Effingham by the time war broke out, but all four were claimed for Effingham in the Roll of Honour created to hang in St Lawrence Church. The following article describes what we currently know not only of the brothers but also their mother and some of the sisters, and the complex impacts of the war upon them.

The 1911 Census records that Ellen Whittington had had 13 children, 12 of whom were still alive at that date. These twelve siblings had dates of birth ranging from 1874 to 1899 so at the outbreak of war they were very spread in age, from 40 to 15.  Just about all possible consequences of the war overseas and on the home front, from death in action and wounding, to war-time marriages and disrupted relationships, to the desire to find a new world afterwards, were to be experienced by this family.

Bob was born in Effingham in 1895. He was registered at birth as ‘Bob’. At the time of his birth and for many years his mother Ellen ran the laundry based in part of Old Westmoor in Orestan Lane.

Ellen Whittington – widowed mother

Ellen Maria, née Brush, was mother to thirteen children, twelve of whom survived childhood. She was born in 1855 in Fownhope, Herefordshire. She started off in service as a kitchen-maid at Tanhurst, a big house in Wotton. In 1873 giving her age as 21 (she was 18) she married Charles Whittington (1845-1898) in Croydon. Charles’s occupation is described on successive census returns as (1861) a groom, (1871) a grocer, (1881) a carpenter’s labourer and (1891) a laundryman.

By 1873 Charles’s family had been associated with Effingham for several decades. In the 1841 Census Mary Whittington, Charles’ grandmother aged 68, plus her son John Whittington (who would later be Charles’ father) aged 24, a Labourer, and Joseph Whittington age 2 were recorded at a property in Church St, Effingham. Neither Mary nor John had been born in Surrey – John was born at Kirdford near Petworth, Sussex – but Joseph was. Also with them was Mary Mindinghall aged 28, a married sister or sister-in-law of John, and her 4 year old daughter Mary. In December 1841, John married Mary Lucas of Great Bookham. Charles, their second child, was born in Effingham in 1845. With his parents, siblings and then children he was to appear on every Effingham census from 1851 to 1891.

We can work out where the Whittington family group was living in 1841. John ‘Wittington’ was recorded in Effingham’s 1843 Tithe Award occupying a cottage and garden of 13 poles, the plot being owned by Robert Fish. It was plot number 256 on the Tithe Award map. This sits on the corner of Chapel Hill and Church Street, where Old Stantonsis today, although the cottage was not in the same position as the current house.

By the 1861 Census the family had moved and was occupying ‘Westmoor House’, Orestan Lane, where Charles’s mother Mary is listed as a Laundress. The Whittingtons were to remain associated with this property for many years. The Victoria County History Vol. 3 (published 1911) preserves the association of the family with this house: ‘Opposite the Plough Inn is an old house called Widdington; it has a large projecting brick porch of about 1600 to 1620’. It is also known in variously as ‘Old Westmoor’ and ‘Old Westmoor Cottage’.

When they married in 1873, Charles and Ellen initially set up home away from Effingham. Their first four children – three daughters and then a son, John – were born in Leatherhead or Croydon. But in August 1879 Charles’s mother, the Laundress at Westmoor House, died aged 55 (she was buried at St Lawrence Church). Possibly connected with this, Charles and Ellen moved to Effingham. Their son John was born in Croydon on 6 December 1878 but he was baptised some three months later in Effingham, on 23 February 1879. All their subsequent children were born and baptised in Effingham, so it is likely John’s dates fix the period Charles brought his family back to the village.  The 1881 Census confirms they are established here and living with widowed father John. By 1891 Charles is ‘Laundryman’ and Ellen is ‘Laundress’ at ‘Old Westmoor Cottage’ on Orestan Lane.

Old Westmoor on Orestan Lane, Effingham,  in 1907-8, a photo from the Ross family album

Title: Old Westmoor on Orestan Lane, Effingham, in 1907-8, a photo from the Ross family album
Description: Courtesy of Effingham Local History Group by-nc

Charles was 10 years older than Ellen. He died in 1898 when Ellen was about 43. At this time their 12 children were between the ages of 24 and 3, and at least 7 were still at home.  After Charles’s death Ellen continued working as a laundress and, all told, it would seem this was her business for probably nearly 40 years. In the 1901 Census, Ellen’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, by then aged 27, with her husband William Dench and their 10 month old son Edward (who was also to become an Effingham war hero), was living alongside Ellen at Old Westmoor Cottage. In the 1911 Census Ellen has only her youngest child, Marguerite, still at home (in school), one servant, and one laundry maid, although Elizabeth and family were still living ‘next door’.

As mentioned above, as far as we know Ellen and Charles had had four sons. Three of them chose the army as their profession long before the war, and as early as September 1914 three of them were in arms (but not yet all overseas). By September 1916, at least three had served overseas.


The War and Ellen’s sons

Below is what we currently know of the Whittington sons’ war stories, followed by what we know of the daughters’.

Ellen’s sons and their ages on 4 August 1914:

John – 35

William – 29

Dick – 21

Bob – 19


John Whittington – family man, back into service

By 1914 the eldest son, John, had already long finished his first period in the army.

In the 1891 Census John was living with his parents and siblings in Effingham, aged 12. On 16 August 1897 aged ‘18 yrs 8 months’, giving his address as Croydon and his job as ‘Postman’, he signed up as a Private in the Coldstream Guards, Regimental Number 1016, on the ‘Short Service’ contract, ie service for 3 years, then 4 years on the Colours and 8 years on the Reserve.

In the event he stayed slightly longer than this – 4 years and 226 days. Just under a year of this in 1900-01 was in South Africa during the Boer conflict: he served in Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal, and was wounded. He gained the Queen’s South Africa Medal 1900-1901. He was discharged as medically unfit on 29 March 1902, still in the rank of Private but with a Good Conduct badge. He gave the address he was returning to as his ‘father’s house in Effingham’ (- although his father had died in 1898; but of course Ellen was still there).

On 31 December 1904 John married Ada Emily née Chitty (b. 1 May 1880) at Brockham Green, Surrey. In 1911 aged 32 he was living with Ada and 4-year-old Mabel Emily at 149 Murchison Road, Low Leyton, Essex, employed as a Metropolitan Police Constable. In 1913 another daughter, Violet, was born.

When war broke out, John would have ceased to be on the Reserve by a matter of months, but despite being a family man his role as ex-Army and now Police may have created expectation, and he signed up again. So far little definite is known of his WWI military service. A newspaper report at the time of his brother Bob’s death in 1916 reported that John was at that time serving as a ‘Corporal in the Coldstream Guards’ but this seems currently untraceable in surviving documents. Effingham resident Effie Jane Ross, who tried to record all ‘Effingham’ men in service, created a photograph album including a calligraphic hand-drawn Roll of Honour, and in the latter she gives his branch of the armed services as ‘Mil. Prov. Staff’, ie Military Provost Staff Corps, ‘the Army’s specialists in custody and detention, providing advice inspection and surety within custodial establishments’. Whether this is reliable, and if so whether it was overseas or in the UK, is not currently known.

On 11 November 1928, aged 49, John retired from the London Metropolitan Police after 26 years’ service. In 1939, described as a Museum Warden, he was living at 116 Wadham Gardens Ealing, with Ada (‘unpaid domestic’), Violet (‘Shop assistant’) and his mother Ellen (‘incapacitated’).


William Whittington – professional soldier

William was born in Effingham on 3 January 1885 and baptised on 5 April 1885.  He was 29 in August 1914.  The 1901 Census finds William aged 16 as a Private in the 3rdBattalion Worcestershire Regiment, stationed at Blenheim Barracks in Farnborough. In 1911, age 26, he was still a Private, stationed at the Grand Shaft Barracks, Western Heights, Dover, where his role is listed as ‘musician’.  (His younger brother Bob, age 16, was by then also in the army and at the same barracks, and so was another Private called Henry Morse, age 23, who will feature later). In the 1916 newspaper article reporting Bob’s death, William was said to be a ‘Sergeant in the 5th Worcesters’.

Subsequent details of William’s service and his life after the war are patchy. He is listed among the survivors on the Roll of Honour in St Lawrence Church and in Effie Ross’s Roll of Honour. However he was not amongst the returning ex-servicemen listed to have received one of the commemorative walking sticks given by the Parish Council, which presumably implied that he was not associated with Effingham after the war, and this is more than likely the case.

In the last quarter of 1913 aged 28 William married Laura Maud Reeves née Gould (b. 11 September 1882 in Peckham), in the Registration district of Wallingford, Berkshire. Laura had previously married a Robert Reeves in 1900, but it seems that two children had died and this marriage had failed because by the 1911 Census Laura, aged 28, was living with her parents William and Mary Ann Gould in Wallsend, Northumberland. Robert Reeves, a bricklayer, enlisted in 1915 at the stated age of 38 and it is noted in his army papers that he was unaware of the whereabouts of his wife. He was sent on active service in 1916, was gassed and was discharged wounded with eye problems in 1917.

After the war, Electoral Rolls for 1920, 21, ‘22 and ‘23 record William and ‘Maud’ living together at Chelsham Common, Warlingham, Surrey. In 1924, ’25 and ‘26 William is now resident within the Mental Hospital at Chelsham Common. This was Croydon Mental Hospital (the first to be called this, rather than ‘asylum’, opened in 1903, ‘a pioneering centre for psychosurgery’). Laura is resident at the Queen Mary Hospital for Children in Carshalton. William and Laura are next recorded residing together in 1927, when they are at 10, Green Lane in Harrow, and they reside together from then on. In the 1939 Register, William Whittington aged 54 and Laura M Whittington aged 57 were living at The Gables, Prospect Place in Eton, Buckinghamshire, where William is a Beer Retailer and Laura is doing unpaid domestic duties. It seems they later found their way back north. A William Whittington with the same date of birth died in Newcastle on Tyne aged 89 in 1974, and a Laura Maud Whittington died in the Registration District of Tyneside in 1979, aged 97.


Dick Whittington – war wounded

Dick was 21 in August 1914. He was born at Effingham on 15 July 1893 and baptised there (as ‘Dick’) on 20 August. Aged 17 in the 1911 Census (named as ‘Richard’), it looks as if he was the only son not to have chosen the army as a career: he was a domestic groom boarding in the household of coachman John Dunn in Chelsea. In 1914 at the time of his marriage, he described himself as a chauffeur. Such skills would have made him an obvious candidate for prompt enlistment alongside, possibly, pressure not to be the only brother not in service. A newspaper article of 26 September 1914 reported that Dick was based at Erith serving with the 5thEast Surreys. Following Bob’s death, an article about the family in September 1916 records that, by that time, Dick had already been invalided out. Currently we have no further information about his war service.  He is not listed among survivors who were presented with a commemorative walking stick by the Parish Council at (or rather just after) the Peace Day celebration in 1919, but his name is on the Roll of Honour in St Lawrence Church.

It is possible that his personal life may have been a casualty of the war. On 30 July 1914, the eve of the conflict, at St Lawrence Church Effingham, Dick married Rose Phyllis Holland from Isle of Wight Cottages, Bookham. Less than two months later he was on the way to France. A son, Phillip C. Whittington, was born on 7 January 1916. Phillip was admitted to St Lawrence School on 25 April 1921 and re-admitted on 3 September 1923. We know little more about Phillip. In 1939 he was a cowman, unmarried, in Ulverston, and he died in Penrith aged 90 in February 2006. In 1939 his mother Phyllis Whittington was living in a shared property at 30 Victoria Avenue in Surbiton, on ‘private means’. She died in March 1969.

After being invalided out, Dick returned at some stage to living with his mother Ellen for several years. According to the Electoral Rolls, he was living with her during 1922-23 at Westmoor House, and in 1924-30 at Victory Cottages. In 1931-33 he was at ‘Dormers’ on Church Street, but no longer with Ellen. By 1939 he had moved to Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire and was in business as a poultry-farmer. With Isobel, née Bradley, a son, Dick Whittington, was born in 1937 and another, David Whittington, in 1940.


Bob Whittington – war hero; the only brother killed in action

Bob was the eleventh child of the twelve, and the youngest son. He was the highest achiever militarily-speaking, and the only one of the four brothers to die on the field of battle. He was 19 at the outbreak of war.

Bob was born on 8 March 1895 and baptised at St Lawrence Church on 7 April. Effingham’s school logbook records for the week beginning 10 March 1909 ‘Bob Whittington has left this week’, ie as soon as he was 14, the school leaving age. He enlisted long before the war, reportedly at the age of 15. He followed his older brother William (ten years his senior) not only into the 3rdBattalion Worcestershire Regiment, but also into the musical tradition – perhaps a drummer or a bugler. In the 1911 Census, both brothers are at the same Grand Shaft Western Heights Barracks in Dover.

This connection formed by the two brothers with the Worcestershires seems to have been strong and to have involved others in the family. In July 1915 Bob came home on leave, and during this, on 24 July 1915, his sister Jennie married Henry Charles Morse, a ‘musician’, the same specialism as William and Bob.

Bob Whittington and his mother Ellen on 15 July 1915, a photo taken in Effingham by Miss Effie Ross

Title: Bob Whittington and his mother Ellen on 15 July 1915, a photo taken in Effingham by Miss Effie Ross
Description: Courtesy of Effingham Local History Group by-nc

On the citation for his 1917 Star, it is stated that Bob, a Lance-Corporal, arrived in France on 20 August 1914. He served as a stretcher-bearer in this same battalion, with Service Number 12133. Very soon he displayed merit: on 19 October 1914, the Supplement to The London Gazette included him in its list of those “Mentioned in Despatches” as No. 12133 Lance-Corporal R. Whittington’, and the Surrey Advertiser later reported that the Despatch concerned was Sir John French’s report written 17 September 1914 (second Despatch). This covered the retreat from Le Cateau to the far side of the Seine, and the dramatic turnabout and epic Battle of the Marne.

 In 1915, Bob was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, as reported in Captain H.F. Stacke’s book The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War:

‘Attack on Spanbroek Mill, Lindenhoek, Belgium

12 March 1915

The defence was maintained until dusk. Lieutenant C. G. Martin (Royal Engineers officer who volunteered to lead a small bombing party against a section of the enemy trenches which was holding up the advance. Before he started he was wounded, but, taking no notice, he carried on with the attack which was completely successful. He and his small party held the trench against all counter-attacks for two and a half hours until a general withdrawal was ordered) showed great bravery (Lieut. Martin, R.E., was awarded the V.C.), and Sergeants Ince and Drinkall were conspicuous for ability and determination, grimly holding an improvised sandbag block under a continuous fire of bombs (Sergeants lnce and Drinkall were awarded the D.C.M.). Outside the trench efforts were made to rescue the wounded. Two of the Battalion stretcher-bearers, Corporal B. Whittington and Pte. W. Suffolk crawled forward across the open under heavy fire and brought back stricken men from the German wire entanglements (Corpl. Whittington and Pte. Suffolk were awarded the D.C.M.).’

A summary of Bob’s DCM award was also published on 3 June 1915 in a Supplement to The London Gazette:

‘For gallant conduct and devotion to duty at Spanbroek Molen on 12 March, 1915, when he crawled through a gateway which was under very heavy machine gun fire, and bandaged the wounded who were lying only 30 yards from the enemy’s trenches.’

On 26 August 1916, Bob was killed in action on the Somme.  His commanding officer wrote to Ellen expressing his admiration for her son’s character and actions.  The Rev. G.M. Evans, Chaplain to the Forces, also wrote to her:

‘I feel your son’s loss as a personal one.  He was a splendid character and a most upright, consistent Christian… Unfortunately we had to leave him where he fell, as it was impossible to get his body down.  But the better testimonial to him will be the influence of his life, which will live on in the memory of his comrades and of all who knew him.  He lived a noble life, and he died a noble death.’

[Reported in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times and County Post, 28 October 1916].

Under the sombre heading ‘Dead Heroes’ Medals – presented to relatives at Stoughton Barracks’ on 14 April 1917, the Surrey Advertiser reported – almost nine months after Bob’s death and almost two years after he was awarded the DCM – that Ellen attended the Barracks where Colonel H. H. Smythe ‘presented medals to the relatives of three non-commissioned officers who have given their lives in the service of their country. Mrs Whittington of Westmore House, Effingham, was present to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to her son, Sergt. Whittington, 3rd Worcestershire Regt.’ Two other soldiers’ medals were also being presented. ‘Col. Smythe, in addressing the parade, said they were assembled to present medals to the parents of those who had gallantly sacrificed their lives in the service of their country. He was sure all joined him in offering the deepest sympathy to the relatives in their irreparable loss, but at the same time would extend their heartiest congratulations to them on the honour bestowed on their sons. He regretted he had no record of the individual services rendered by the deceased men, but he was sure they must have shown great gallantry and devotion to duty to have been singled out for such an honour. Col. Smythe then presented the medals, saying a few kindly words to each recipient as he did so’.  It is not known when the family received Bob’s Military Medal.

Bob is commemorated on the Thiepval Monument, for soldiers with no known grave.


The War and Ellen’s daughters

Ellen’s daughters and their ages in August 1914:

Elizabeth – 40

Kate – 38

Fanny – 37

Nellie – 31

Mary – 27

Jennie – 24

Sally – 23

Marguerite  – 15

As with the sons, we do not yet have the full WWI story for all of them and their husbands. Below is information we have been able to track reliably so far.


Elizabeth (Dench) – mother of Edward Dench, war hero

Elizabeth Whittington (b. 1874) was Ellen’s first child. She married William Dench (b. 1873) in 1899. Elizabeth and William had grown up virtually alongside each other since childhood. William’s parents were Thomas and Sarah Dench, and in the 1881 census this branch of the Dench family is recorded as next household but one to the Whittingtons in Effingham.

Elizabeth and William’s son Edward Dench was born in Effingham on 20 May 1900. As mentioned above, in the 1901 Census Elizabeth and William both aged 27 with Edward aged 10 months were living at Old Westmoor Cottage alongside Ellen. In the 1911 Census Elizabeth and family were still near Ellen and at the same address.

Edward would have been only 14 when the war broke out.  We do not know exactly when he joined the armed services but he would have become eligible for conscription when he turned 18 in May 1918, and he was in combat by August that year. He served in the Grenadier Guards, 3rd Battalion. The Surrey Advertiser and County Times for 7 September 1918 reported that ‘Mr. and Mrs. W. Dench. Laundry Cottage [confusingly, this is not in the Old Westmoor ‘laundry’ area, but at High Barn – they had moved], have received news that their son, Pte. E Dench, Grenadier Guards, is in hospital in France suffering from gunshot wound [sic] in the right arm, received on August 23rd.’

Edward was awarded the Military Medal just after the war, in January 1919. This meant Ellen had both a son and a grandson highly honoured. On Peace Day Edward would have been just 19 but, although so young, with this honour he was chosen to lead Effingham’s Peace Procession ahead of many other returned ex-servicemen who were older or who had served longer (Robert Wells, the other surviving holder of the MM, was probably still away from the village on active service).

In 1921 Elizabeth and William were selected for one of the new Victory Cottages (No. 8; Ellen was also nearby, at No. 12).  Also in 1921 Edward married Clara E. E. Seaton and they had at least 4 surviving children. He died in Buckinghamshire in late 1978.

Elizabeth and William Dench at their home in Victory Cottages, on or around their 50th wedding anniversary in 1949

Title: Elizabeth and William Dench at their home in Victory Cottages, on or around their 50th wedding anniversary in 1949
Description: Courtesy of Effingham Local History Group by-nc

In WW2, Elizabeth saw another son, the fifth child of her six, go to war. Charles Thomas Dench (b. 1908), younger brother of Edward, was killed in action in North Africa while serving in the Royal Artillery. He is listed amongst the names of the fallen on the WW2 memorial board in St Lawrence Church.


Kate (Dench)

Kate was born 6 September 1875. Like her older sister Elizabeth, she married one of the Denchs from the immediate neighbourhood whom she had grown up alongside since childhood. Arthur Dench, born 17 May 1875 in Effingham, was the same age as Kate. They married in 1905 in Eastbourne, Sussex. In the 1911 Census they were living in Eastbourne with their children ‘Edie’ (Edith K), ‘Florrie’ and Arthur. Arthur snr was a General Labourer. In August 1914 he would have been 39. It is not known that he enlisted, which is not surprising given his age. In 1939 they were living at Hop House Cottages, Battle Road, Battle. Arthur died in 1945 in Battle, Sussex and Kate died there in September 1972 aged 97.


Fanny (Penfold)  – Reservist husband re-enlists

Fanny was born on 28 January 1877 and baptised at St Peter’s Church Croydon on 11 March. In 1914 she was married and living at 2 Church Cottages, Effingham, with her daughters Cissie, Annie and Lily. She took in laundry, even though it was a tiny cottage.  Her husband Edward Penfold, aged 40, was a carpenter born in Ockley. Having previously served in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, in 1914 he was in the Reserve and was called up. He re-enlisted on 24 September. He passed his first medical but was then discharged within a couple of months as unfit (“chronic rheumatism”). Fanny died in 1941, and Edward in 1949.


Nellie (Botting)

‘Nellie’ is usually a diminutive of ‘Ellen’, her mother’s name. Nellie was born in Effingham on 25 November 1882. In the 1901 Census, when Nellie was 18, living with the family there was a servant (laundrymaid) called Celia Botting born in Nuthurst, Sussex, aged 24. Nellie was ‘in service’ when she married John Botting at St Lawrence Church Effingham on 10 June 1905. In 1911 she was living with John, a gardener aged 30 (b. 1881 Nuthurst) and three sons under the age of 4 at The Lodge, Bourne Hill, Horsham. Nellie died in 1925 aged only 43 and is buried in the graveyard of St Mary the Virgin, Horsell, Woking, with John, who died in 1962.

John would have been 33 at the start of the war and so was quite likely to have been in the services at some point, but his records have not been identified so far.


Mary (Wright)

Mary was born on 2 April 1887 and baptised on 7 August. On 13 November 1909 she married George Alfred Wright, a plumber, said to be resident in Effingham, having been born on 30 July 1885 in Brixton or Clapham and baptised at Streatham Hill on 4 October (in the 1901 Census his mother Hester Alice was a laundress ‘Employer’ there). Mary’s marriage was witnessed by her younger sister, Jennie, and by William Dench, husband of her eldest sister Elizabeth. They left the village and in 1911 were living 17 Sulina Road, Brixton Hill, with a 3 month old daughter, Ethel Mary; George aged 25 is now an Electrician’s Labourer. By 1939, however, George is living at 20 Carew Street, Lambeth, married to Catherine Wright (née Delay, b. 2 August 1899), and they have a young son Jack Wright, b. 29 March 1935. So far, nothing further can be found out about what happened to Mary, or George’s war service, or his re-marriage.


Jennie (Morse) – wartime bride

Jennie (or Jenny) was born 27 June 1889.

Rev. Bayly conducted eight marriages at St Lawrence Church during the War, and two* of these were for Whittington daughters, Jennie and Sally.  They were witnessed by siblings because their father was dead.

(*or three, if you include Dick’s marriage five days before the declaration of war).

As mentioned above, in July 1915 Bob came home on leave and on 24th, also as mentioned above, Jennie aged 25 married Henry Charles Morse, ‘Musician’. Jennie’s eldest brother John, her younger sister Sally and ‘D’ [Dick] Whittington were witnesses to the marriage. Henry’s father is described as ‘Unknown. Deceased’, and Henry is residing in the Parish at the time of the marriage.

Also as already mentioned above, in 1911 Private Henry Morse aged 23, Musician, was at the Dover Barracks in the 3rdBattalion the Worcestershire Regiment. He had had a tough childhood. He had been born in Faringdon, Berkshire, in the 4thquarter of 1888. In the 1891 Census, age 2, he was living with his grandparents, Charles and Elizabeth Morse, and his unmarried mother Lucy aged 19 in the parish of Little Coxwell, Faringdon. What fate befell Henry’s carers is not currently clear, but by 1901 aged 12 he was an inmate of the workhouse in Faringdon. A career in the army was a very typical sequel to a childhood in the workhouse.

In a newspaper article of September 1914 patriotically reporting that 5% of the available Effingham population has already joined up, among the names listed is an ‘Edward’ Morse in the same regiment as William and Bob, the 3rd Worcestershires: he ‘has been included because he makes his home in the village when on leave’ (presumably the allusion to his lack of a settled family home), although by that date he had already ‘been invalided from Mons on account of rheumatism’. This is presumed to be an error by the newspaper reporter, the Edward in fact being Henry. An ‘H. Morse’ is listed both on Effingham’s Roll of Honour in St Lawrence Church, and also in Effie Ross’s photograph album Roll of Honour where he is assigned to the ‘Worcestershire Regt’. But amongst Effie’s photographs there is no-one with the surname Morse.

By autumn 1919 Jennie and Henry were settled together in Leas Road, Guildford; Henry seems to have been living alone through 1918. In 1927 they were together at 4b Queen’s Square Battersea, Nine Elms Ward (Electoral Roll); in 1938 they were in Mitcham. In the 1939 Register they were living at 69 Kensington Gardens Square in London, where Henry is listed as a musician and ‘Jenny’ is doing unpaid domestic duties. Jennie died aged 68 in 1957, but it is not known when Henry died.


Sally (Chitty) – young war bride of recalled Reservist

Sally was born on 18 March 1891. On 30 July 1914 her younger brother Dick had married Rose Phyllis (née Holland) before departing for war. Sally was a witness, and so was a ‘Percy W. Chitty’. Two years later, on 24 June 1916, Sally, aged 25, married ‘soldier’ Percy William Chitty, aged 32, in St Lawrence Church Effingham. In his Army Record, he is described as ‘Reservist without leave’, in this context presumably meaning that he did not need to have formal Army consent to marry. Sally’s address is given as 102a Penwith Road, Earlsfield (after the war this is given as 104a). Since 1904 Percy had effectively already been a member of the family: his elder sister (by four years) was Ada Emily, who in that year had married John Whittington.

Percy had been born at Brockham Green, Betchworth on 8 November 1884. His Army service record, although very damaged by burning, records that he had enlisted on 21 September 1905 with the Army Ordnance Corps at Woolwich, aged 20 years 10 months, having previously attempted to enlist but having been rejected on health grounds. Having served his three years, in 1908 he transferred to the Reserve. It is recorded that his conduct was ‘Good’, and ‘He has been employed as a Storeman, and has carried out his duties in a very satisfactory manner’. In the 1911 Census he was a Grocer’s assistant in Brockham Green.

Percy was recalled on 5 August 1914 and was in France by 30 September. In August 1915 he was appointed an Acting Sergeant, and in September, Acting Sub-Conductor (‘Conductor is a role associated with the management of Army stores and is a very responsible post).  In May 1917 he was appointed Temporary Acting Warrant Officer with the rank of Sub-Conductor for the duration. He had a week’s leave in the UK over Christmas 1917, but apart from that, and the visit to marry Sally, and a period in Grove Hospital, Tooting, from 30 October to 6 December 1918 with influenza, he seems to have been overseas throughout the whole war. He was examined and found to be fit in Cologne on 20 June 1919, returned to the UK on 23 June 1919, and his service terminated on 23 July 1919.

After his return Percy notified the Army Record Office that his address for the future would be at Brockham Green. On 12 May 1923 a daughter was born, Kathleen M. Chitty. In 1924 Percy applied to the Metropolitan Police for a licence to act as a ‘conductor of stage carriages’ and they sought a reference from the Army as to his suitability and conduct. Percy died in the Croydon Registration District in the last quarter of 1951.

Sally died aged 85.  Her death was also registered in the Croydon Registration District in the first quarter of 1976.


Marguerite (Margaret, Maggie) Edith (Chuter) – married a demobbed soldier and emigrated after the war

She was born 6 August 1898 and baptised on 18 September in Effingham. In the 1901 and 1911 Censuses and in the Civil Registration Birth Index her name is given as ‘Marguerite’.

Marguerite did not know her father – he was buried on 16 April 1898, a few months before she was born. Bob was her nearest sibling in age, just over 3 years older. He left home in 1909 or ‘10 to join the army when Marguerite would have been about 10 or 11. In 1911, aged 13, she is the only child – a ‘Scholar’ – still at home with Ellen and two servants.

Alongside her eldest brother John, ‘Maggie’ stood as a witness at the marriage of her elder sister Sally with Percy Chitty on 24 June 1916 when she would have been almost 18, and one can observe that she performed this duty in preference to her mother.

In early September 1917 Margaret, then aged 19, appears to have undergone some sort of crisis.  According to reports in The Surrey Advertiser, she was working in service in Esher.  Having been at home in Effingham she set off back to her work, apparently to collect luggage, but did not arrive there and was not seen again for a week.  She was described in the newspaper as ‘about 5ft. 6in. in height, of stout build, with pale complexion, brown hair and eyes.  When she left home she was dressed in a grey skirt and jacket, with a white blouse, and brown Tam o’Shanter cap.’ She subsequently sent a letter home saying how sorry she was for all the trouble she had caused (no-one was aware of any),and that she was intending to ‘do away with herself’.  Shortly afterwards, with the greatest good fortune, her brother-in-law Henry Morse who was living in Guildford, acting on a hunch, found her at Guildford Station.  Apparently she returned home and all was well.

In the last quarter of 1919, Marguerite married Horace Charles Chuter (b. 24 May 1893) in Dorking. Horace’s birth was registered (as ‘Horace Charlie’) in the Kingston Registration district. He was born in Kingston, his father Albert Charles Swann Chuter, and in 1901 the family were living at Surbiton.  By 1911 when the family was at 117 Munster Road Teddington, Horace was no longer in England. He went to Canada in May 1910, when he would have been 17. He is next recorded on 20 June 1913, aged 20, sailing on the Ansonia crossing from Canada, where he had been living in Peterborough and working as a farm labourer, into the USA at Port Huron, Michigan, where he arrived on 24 June 1913. He later returned to Canada from the UK, sailing on the Ansonia of the Cunard Line out of Southampton for Quebec on 29 May 1913. On 10 December 1914 he sailed from St Johns, to enlist in the army. This cost him £13 13s 10d, an expense which was refunded to him at the end of the war.

He enlisted as ‘Charles Chuter’ on the ‘Short Service’ Attestation (for the duration of the war) at Woolwich on 12 January 1915, aged 20 years 11 months, declaring his profession to be ‘Horseman’, and was posted to the RAVC (Royal Auxiliary Veterinary Corps), service number 3267, as a Horsekeeper. From 19 January 1915 he was with the British Expeditionary Force, then from 28 August 1915 to 18 February 1916 in Egypt (‘Med Ex Force’), from 19 February to 12 October 1918 in Mesopotamia, then in the UK until he was de-mobbed on 5 March 1919. He returned to living at his parents’ house in Teddington. In November of that year, he was trying to get work and requested an ‘Army Character’ – a reference – but this was refused him as being only available to soldiers serving before the outbreak of war. Perhaps this difficulty contributed eventually to the decision to return to Canada.

In 1920, Marguerite, aged 22, and Horace 27, and baby Jean Helen, aged 3 months, sailed from Liverpool for Quebec, heading ultimately for Toronto, Ontario, on the Minnedosa of the Canadian Pacific Ocean Services line, where they arrived on 27 June 1920. The ship’s Passenger List records that they intended to settle permanently in Canada. Horace had first been there in 1911, and may at some point and the papers include him with ‘Returned Canadians’, although he had not taken out Canadian citizenship before 1920. They had £25 in their possession, and their fare had been paid by the Overseas Settlement programme.

They settled in Canada in the Toronto area; Horace informed the army authorities that his address was c/o Norman Hutchinson, Mallorytown, RR4, Ontario, Canada, and here in due course his 1914-15 Star medal was sent. By the 1921 Canada Census they were living in Escott, in the Leeds district of Ontario. They had further children: Winifred Mary in 1925 (d. 28 June 2008), and Robert Whittington 7 April 1930  (d. 22 September 1990) named, perhaps, as a tribute to Maurguerite’s brother Bob. Horace and Marguerite are listed on Electors’ lists for 1945 and 1 May 1957, living at 74 Buell Street in the town of Brockville, where Horace is described as, respectively, a wireworker and an engineer. Horace (only) made a further trip back to the UK returning on the Saxonia heading for Montreal in July 1959. In the ship’s list he gave his address while in the UK as c/o Mrs J Lansdell, 128 Minster Road (should probably be ‘Munster’ Road) in Teddington.  It is not currently known what year either Horace or Marguerite died.


Ellen – after the war

In 1921, the new Victory Cottages on Guildford Road were being completed. There was no stated arrangement that relatives of ex-servicemen had priority, but as the widowed mother of a decorated fallen soldier, Ellen was allocated one of these and had moved into No. 12 by 1924. It must have been very different from Old Westmoor.  For a while her son Dick lived there with her, but in the early 1930s (judging by the Electoral Rolls for Effingham), Ellen moved away from Surrey. In 1939 she was living with John’s family in Ealing. She died aged 85 in Greenford, Middlesex, in 1941 and was brought back to Effingham for burial at St Lawrence on 9 April of that year.



The newspaper reports of 1914 and 1916 referred to in this article are:

The Surrey Advertiser, 26 September 1914

The Surrey Advertiser, 9 September 1916

The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 28 September 1916


Research by Susan Morris, Chris Hogger, Jeremy Palmer and members of Effingham Local History Group

“Too glorious for words”: Archie Forbes and the Armistice

Archibald Herbert d’Esterre Forbes (‘Archie’) was born on 29 January 1899. His family lived at France Hill House in Camberley.  Archie attended Uppingham School where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps.  In the summer of 1917 he joined the 13th Officer Cadet Battalion in Newmarket before being gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment, joining the 3rd Reserve Battalion in Dover.  In March he was posted overseas and sent to the 6th Battalion, the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment.

He served through the remainder of the war, sometimes as captain, and was also in demand as a Lewis Gun instructor. He was wounded on 30 June 1918 on the first day of the attack on Bouzincourt which saw 3 officers killed and 9 wounded and 28 other ranks killed, 8 missing and 190 wounded.  In a letter to his mother of 5 July he described his men as having ‘played up like bricks, and followed me magnificently, and helped me at every turn’ and mourned the loss of som many ‘fine fellows … and such decent comrades’ whom he viewed as his ‘good pals.  He was awarded the Military Cross on 4 August.

1st page of letter from Archie Forbes to his mother, 6 March 1919, listing battles in which he had fought (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2).

In his letter of 6 March 1919, with the end of censorship, he was able to list all the actions the battalion had fought in during August and September 1918 as the momentum of the allied advance became unstoppable. Some, he told his mother, ‘were quite cushy – with light casualties- & merely a case of strolling along under a terrific barrage’ but he underlined the names of the most ‘fearful’ battles, including Epehy, Noyelles, the Queant Drocourt line, Brielle and the breaching of the Hindenburg line.  He recalled, with admiration, the day-long resistance of a single German machine gun post in Epehy despite being surrounded: ‘It was one of the best and bravest pieces of work I’ve ever seen the Bosche do, and if ever any Huns ever deserved the Iron Cross, they did!’  He also described the terrific German bombardment after the battalion captured Molasses Farm: ‘after we had taken it & dug in just in front & behind the Farm – the Bosche simply banged & bumped & crumped & shelled it all day & night for some time afterwards’.  His batman Otter followed Archie faithfully across the shell-blasted ground: ‘I used to laugh as we were the most priceless sight imaginable – what with my long legs striding over the ground, & little Otter toddling along with his tiny legs after me – picking up numerous articles that I dropped in my hurry – tin hat, etc!! At times I tried to look dignified, but Otter used to hurry me along – saying “Come along, sir” – “Run sir!”  – or “Keep Low sir, your head is sticking up a long way, sir!” etc, etc’.

Rumegies village and war memorial

The unit war diary states that news of the signing of the Armistice was received at 0800 hours on 11 November while the battalion was behind the lines at the French village of Rumegies, north of Cambrai and just south of the Belgian border. All work for the day was cancelled and in a wonderful letter to his mother Archie looked back on the events of the day.  His exuberant joy contrasts with the gloom of Franklin Lushington: unlike Lushington, Archie was in a position to share the relief and joy of the local French people and of course, despite all he had endured and the responsibility heaped on him in 1918, he was still just a teenager.  His letter is worth quoting extensively.

Dearest Mother,

At last the end of the war has come, and Germany is done and beaten to the very last card! But, by Jove, she’s fought it out well, and stuck out deceiving us up to the very last minute – for not one of us really knew till this morning what a frightful pitch of starvation and despair the Germans had reached.

            It is useless to try and express my feelings of joy and relief now that it is all over – and I don’t suppose you could express yours – it’s all too glorious for words. No doubt England is upside down with delight, and rejoicing from top to bottom, the same that we are doing out here. The men are absolutely off their heads with glee, and it’s topping to think of the happy meetings and rejoicings that will take place when we all get back to England. But on the other hand it’s terrible to think of the many sad homes and sorrowful hearts where this long looked for return will not be, and to them, I fear, peace will only bring their losses back more vividly. We heard this grand news this morning, and all hostilities ceased at 11 a.m. and I am thankful to say we are not in the line, but in another village which has been the scene of endless shouting and waving of flags, etc, throughout the day. The French people – on whom we are billeted – have simply fallen over us with joy all day since we told them that the guerre had finied!! The women and girls and children are practically falling on our necks and feet with gratitude – and I was all but kissed by the old lady and girls in my billet! and seem to have spent half the day shaking hands with dear old men of about 90 who are tottering about the streets shaking all over with delight. Of course you must remember these people have only recently been released by us from the Bosche – and I can’t say whether all the French people are so full of gratitude as this towards the British soldiers. We’ve spent the day marching about the streets with bands playing and everybody waving flags and shouting, singing, and cheering – and numerous rockets and coloured lights have been sent up all day, to say nothing of squibbs and fireworks!

1st page of Archie Forbes’s letter to his mother on armistice day (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2)

            The general himself is quite mad, and sent up an S.O.S. Rocket this morning from the midst of a huge crowd of Tommies in the market square. The S.O.S Rocket – I must explain – is the signal for an intense artillery barrage to be put down on the Bosche when he comes over the top at us, and is immediately answered by all our Guns. (i.e. if the war is on!) But this morning the only reply it got was a terrific outburst of laughter and applause – and the joke appealed to the men like anything. The remainder of the day – (when I haven’t been marching about or waving flags or cheering) – I seem to have spent in standing to attention and listening to “God Save the King” and the Marseillaise and Belgian National Anthem about 100 times over at different times & places!

            It has really been an historic day in this place, and one which I shall never forget as long as I live. And the beauty of the whole thing to me is that it is genuine whole-hearted rejoicing – and no drunkenness at all or even lively spirits through drink – as there isn’t a drop of drink in the place, and we can’t get whiskey for the officers’ messes at present.

            Tomorrow there is a large voluntary Thanksgiving Service – and I haven’t the smallest doubt that every single man in the battalion will turn up, as every one of us thinks and says the same thing – that we have so much to be thankful for that we can never express it in words. And really – when I come to look back on my 6 or 7 months out here, there is such a lot to be thankful for – and all the awful narrow escapes I’ve had time and again, that it makes me go cold all over to think of it! For although I’ve only been out for 6 or 7 months, yet these 6 months have seen some of the worst battles & fighting of the war – and fellows who have done as many “over the top” stints and been through as many battles as I have during these 6 months and come through without a scratch have got more to thank God for than they can hope to do in a lifetime.

I somehow can’t yet realize that I am safe and sound with a whole skin, as an infantry subaltern’s life out here is nothing but one of huge risk – seeing that he plays about with barrages half the time – or else under Machine Gun fire.

2nd Lieutenant Archie Forbes (on left) (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2)

Now that it’s all over, I don’t mind telling you that time and again I’ve wondered how much longer I should last out, and how much longer my luck would hold. And time and again, I’ve gone over the top with my Platoon or Company – usually well in front of them – and yet when I looked round I’d see them being knocked over all round me especially that memorable occasion when I went over with a Platoon of 35 and afterwards found myself with 7. It makes one think a bit, I can assure you, and I’ve wondered and wondered why some fellows like myself have been so lucky, and I’m sure your prayers have done it, and other poor fellows haven’t been so fortunate because they haven’t got Mothers who pray for them so earnestly as you have done for me all along, I know.  [……….]

I can hear the old lady of my billet coming up the stairs to my room – I believe she wants to kiss me this time!! – No, it was alright, not the old lady after all – but her young daughter who has brought me a cup of coffee. I thanked her frightfully as she’s quite pretty! – and I said numerous merci “beaucoups” and “biens” and “bons” and “tra bongs”, etc! which seemed to please her greatly. I talk quite a lot to them, as they love hearing the war news – especially this morning’s news of peace! But I find it pretty difficult as they can’t speak a word of English in these parts – but very amusing and great fun at times.

On demobilisation, 3 March 1919, Archie was given a fine reference: ‘He is a strict disciplinarian and a very fine leader, especially in action and he knows how to handle men’. After the war, he became a Latin teacher at Lambrook preparatory school Winkfield, Berkshire.  He married Flora Keyes and they had two daughters, Isla & Rona.  In the autumn of 1939, he achieved his long-held hope of becoming headmaster of Lambrook.  He died of cancer on 31 October 1956.

Images and transcripts reproduced by permission of the grandchildren of Archie Forbes.

John Windham-Wright, son of a notable Witley resident.

Some earlier sources state John was born John Wright and changed his name on marriage to John Windham-Wright but we now know he was born Whittaker Wright in the United States, the son of James Whittaker and Annie Edith Wright. The family, including John’s sisters Edith and Gladys, returned to the United Kingdom in 1889 and James bought Lea Park (now Witley Park) in 1890 and spent a fortune remodelling it. James was popular in Witley, providing much employment, but was convicted of fraud in 1904.  James committed suicide after the judgement and is buried in All Saints churchyard with Annie who died in 1931.


John was educated at Eton and Oxford. He joined The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) Volunteers when he was 22 years old  in 1906 as a second lieutenant.  In 1911 he was living with Annie, Edith and Gladys at Parsonage Farm, Witley.  John married Violet Agnes Smijth-Windham, daughter of John Charles (a retired colonel) and Frances Helen Smijth-Windham on 15 August 1912 in Wrecclesham, Surrey.  The banns and marriage certificate give his name as John Windham-Wright, occupation gentleman, residence Witley, father John Whittaker Wright, deceased.  John had an uncle named John who invented the electric trolley pole and brought electric light to Toronto but he died in 1922.  In October 1912 John and Violet went to British Columbia, Canada on the Cunard liner S. S. Carmania (19,500 tons) so perhaps his change of name was meant for a new life as a farmer in Canada.


John and Violet returned to England in 1914 and John re-joined the Queens (Royal West Surrey Regiment) as a captain. He became medically unfit so was posted to the Fifth Reserve Battalion at Guildford and promoted to major in 1915.  John did much for the welfare of the men under his command; he led an appeal in December 1915 raising a considerable amount for their Christmas welfare.  John and Violet’s son, Patrick Joseph Stewart Windham-Wright was born in 1916.  By November 1917, John had recovered and was posted to the Sixth Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and served in the Somme area and in Belgium.  At the end of 1918, John was attached to the Eleventh Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), part of the occupying army in Germany based at Cologne, as a temporary lieutenant colonel.  In February 1919, the family received a telegram advising John was desperately ill with pneumonia and a few days later he died on 14 February.  In the meantime, The London Gazette of 13 February 1919 John announced as being awarded the Order of the British Empire.  Violet is listed at Winkford Lodge on the 1921 voter’s roll but then moved to Swanthorpe, East Liss and thereafter to several addresses in Sussex, Surrey and Berkshire.  Patrick married Weiti Urban in 1945 in The Netherlands.  Violet’s final home was in St. Leonards but she died on 14th February 1959 in The Netherlands, possibly whilst visiting Patrick’s in-laws.