Herbert Charles Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Lance-Corporal Henry Davis

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

Name: Henry Charles Davis

Occupation: Assistant Teacher, Caterham Hill Council School

Birth Place: Caterham, Surrey

Residence: Caterham, Surrey

Date of Death: presumed killed 28th March 1918

Age: 32 years (born 30th November 1880)

Location: near Arras

Rank: Lance-Corporal

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

Number: 303283

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Elsie, Baroness De T’Serclaes, Madonna of Pervyse

Written by Richard Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victor Silvester (1900 – 1978)

Written by Richard Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dancing Is My Life. Victor Silvester [Heinemann 1958]

Second Lieutenant Harold Vernon Brown

Researched and written by Anne Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lingfield and Dormansland Scouts in the Great War

Research and text contributed by the RH7 History Groups

On 2 August 1914 the Sussex Association of Boy Scouts called for 1,000 Boy Scouts to guard the telegraph lines and culverts, to run messages between the police and military forces, and look out for spies, ‘a duty which their local knowledge and natural inquisitive makes them perfectly fit to render’.  So the Boy Scouts were mobilised as an active National Force, and were ordered to wear their uniform…

The Lingfield scouts were at Summer Camp at Rye Harbour when war broke out and the Troop offered their services to the Chief Constable of Sussex for patrolling watch duties and signalling before a hurried return home after they were relieved by the 25th City of London Cyclists Regiment.  Writing in 1939, one of the scouts, Jim Huggett, recalled standing on the quay at Rye Harbour “waiting for a spy to pop up”.  He pondered whether it would be more effective to hit him with a scout pole or poke him in the stomach.  Fortunately he wasn’t called upon to make a decision. Jim Huggett enlisted in the Army Service Corps in 1915 and was awarded the Military Medal.  He eventually took over the troop after the war.

Once home Lingfield scouts were enlisted to guard the Railway Viaduct over Crooks Pond at Dormans Park night and day.  Writing in 1935 Arthur Potter remember being on watch by himself at the Viaduct in the early hours and being scared by a rustling in the bracken when a large rat popped out and ran across the road.  He was more than glad when his two hour shift ended.  After being relieved by the National Guard the scouts were then sent to guard the Dry Hill Reservoirs during the day – the night duty being undertaken by the Ford Manor employers and the East Surrey Water Company.

In November 1914 the scouts from Lingfield and Dormansland competed against the Oxted and Limpsfield scouts in shooting match.  Several of the scouts taking part went on to enlist: assistant scoutmaster Harry Cox went on to be a gunner in the Royal Artillery and became a prisoner of war; Arthur Potter and Albert Friend joined the Royal West Kent Regiment and George Skinner joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.

By 18 December 1914, 19 Lingfield scouts (past and present) had joined up.  By the end of the war, the majority of senior scouts had joined the Allied forces; most scouts had joined the Army and six had joined the Navy: Fred Baker, Nelson Cox, Fred and Hugh Vincent.  Later in 1914 several more of the boys joined up, including four lads who, after being refused at Lingfield for being underage, went to Edenbridge where they were not known and enlisted in the Royal West Kent Regiment.  All of the boys were 17 but said they were 19. It is fairly certain that three of the boys were Ernest Faulkner, Albert Friend and Norman Funnell.  The name of the fourth boy as not yet been discovered.

The scoutmaster for the 1st Lingfield and Dormansland troop.  Captain Henry Lloyd Martin was later to be killed at the Battle of the Somme on 28 September 1916.  Talking to the boys before he left for the Front he told them “it will be after the war, when our moral strength and courage will be needed”.  On 29 July 1915, before sailing for Bolougne, he wrote a poignant letter to the scouts to be read out in the event of his death.  He appears to have been held in high esteem by the boys.

Ernest Faulkner, one of the boys who enlisted when he was underage, transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and was discharged in 1917 with severe shell shock, suffering from headaches, sleeplessness, tremor and fear of noise.  He was just 19 years old.

Two brothers, Ernest and Jack Caush enlisted on the same day, 10 November 1914, at Guildford in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment along with five others from Dormansland. Jack was only 17 but said he was 19.  Both boys were to died on the Somme aged 20 and 17 respectively.

Another scout, Edward Bysh, of 6 Ormuz Cottages, Newchapel Road, Lingfield, travelled to Guildford and enlisted in the 7th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment on 25 August 1914 along with five other local young men (Alick Stoner, Frank Woolgar, Frederick Longley, Victor Galloway and Victor’s brother Charles, who was only 15 but gave his age as 19).

Alick Stoner of Dormansland and Edward Bysh were both killed on the same day at the Somme on 18 November 1916.  Both are buried at Stump Road cemetery, near Albert in France. Edward and Frank Woolgar may have known each other as they have consecutive service numbers.  Frank had been working at Ford Manor, but was working at Goodwood when he volunteered.  Frank was killed on 8 May 1916, aged 26.  Victor Galloway died on the third day of the battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916, aged 20.  Frederick Longley of Goldhards Farm, Newchaple, survived the war.

On 14 April 1917, the East Grinstead Observer reported: “Mrs Bysh of Ormuz Cottages, Newchapel Road, has learned that her son Edward who was serving in the [Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment] was killed as long ago as November 16 in last year.  James Martin, [Honourable Secretary], Lingfield Recruiting at the Mutual Help Committee writes to Mrs Bysh: May I personally add how deeply I sympathise with you…My dear son and he were greatly attached.  They were both not only fellow Scouts but they arrived afterwards in the same battalion in which they both lost their lives”. James Martin’s son, Henry Lloyd Martin, was the scoutmaster of the 1st Lingfield and Dormansland Scouts, of which Edward Bysh was a member.

In early Spring of 1915 Lingfield Scouts went on camp to Pett Level on the south coast to help the Coastguards and Coast Watchers looking for enemy aircraft and submarines.  They were there for three months before many more left the troop to join up.

Out of over 60 scouts who joined up some were not to return:
Jack Caush – missing September 1915, aged 17
Henry Lloyd Martin, Scoutmaster – killed 28 September 1916, Somme, aged 36
Ernest Caush – killed October 1916, Somme, aged  21
Edward Bysh – killed 18 November 1916, Somme aged 20
Fred Faulkner – died of sickness whilst on active service, July 1918, aged 19



Ian Blackford, 1st Lingfield and Dormansland Scouts

Boy Scouts Newsletters, Our Vinculum dated 1935 and 1939

Surrey Mirror archives

East Grinstead  Observer archives

Edward Heron-Allen’s Journal of the Great War

Arthur Henry Dare

Research and text by Gary Simmons (grandson)

Arthur Henry Dare was born 8 September 1892.

Enlisted:  August 1914

Service number:  G37068

Regiment:  Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment.

11th (Service) Battalion, 41st Division, 123rd Infantry Brigade.


The following is a copy of Arthur’s hand-written pencil notes made during his time in the Great War.


Left Blight on September 8th 1917.

Joined 11th Battalion Queens, September 19th 1917.

Ypres   September 20th. Stretcher bearing

Returned to Miemac Camp1 September 23rd. Entrained to Hasle Brook2 & left there by motor to Uxham3 then to Rossendale4 & into the line. Yorkshire Camp5, Coxhide6, Neuport7. Quiet except for a few whizz bangs. Shelled at S. Corner8, no one hit. Marched to La Panne. Remained there till marched to Uxham3 on Sunday November 11th.

Entrained for Italy November 14th. Lovely journey Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo disentrained on November 20th. Started march on 22nd finished on 29th. Slept in a church under shell fire relived Italians on 30th November near Nevesa9. Post on island.

Relived on the 8th December 1917 returned to fire support   X10 on 16th. Front line Xmas Eve

X Sent Killing Ingram11

(Received two Pels12) Plenty of snow. Whizz banged on open road (very nice)

Relived on January 3rd 1918 by R.F. (32nd Royal Fuailiers)

4 men wounded about December 28th.

Bells rung the Old year out & New in. Over in Jerrys line. St Andrea13

January 11th 2 days Nevesa9

2 days shelled at 2 in the morning.

Trench digging in the day good billet.  Photos saw of children. Relived on 16th by H.A.C 2nd Battalion band from _____   Riesie14.  then in support of French in the mountains. Behind Mount Grappea15.  Left for 137 F.A. Falzie16. return to Battalion then marched to Antivole17 Sports. Brought wrap of cover. Marched through Monte B18 to relive 23rd Division on February 16th. Relived in support by 23th Division on February 24th, marched away to Riesie14 and then to Padova19 (Italy). Entrained here on March 1st 1918 for France (Got drunk 30th April) special) Dulons20 March 6. Inernary 21 till March 21st entrained at Montacan22 to Ashby Le Grand 23. Proceeded to line Dig in artillery.

Vic stand to then front line to relieve Chestines. R.W.F. 24 March 22nd dig in.  March 23rd surrounded and Captured about 6 o’ clock. Carried wounded about 7 or 8 kilometres. Work all night. Sunday 24th, march nearly all day to small camp nothing to eat. Slept in stable next day piece of Bread and some Horseflesh soup. (went down good) arrived Denain25 Monday25th, Entrained on 26 for Munster II. Good Friday 29th. First PC with add, sent on April 1st.

Left Munster II April 18th for Wallrope26   Munster III

Started work on Coke on 19th.

May 5th Day off (Chatts27)

May 6th started work in Mine

July 16th Frenchman Died. 1st _ _ _ 2028

July 20th Prisoners 20 arr ill

July 21st 2 Photos sent also July 14th.

July21st   Frenchman Died 2nd Buried July 24th

Nov 9th 1918 Republic

Nov 24 Left Wallrope26 for Munster III

Dec 1st Rotterdam

Dec 4th Landed at Hull






Micmac. Canadian camp located
Rosendale, near sand dunes.
Yorkshire camp listed as Oost-Dunkerle.
S. Corner?
St. Andrea. (Battalion War Diary)
Monte Grappa.
Monte B?
Padova.  (Battalion War Diary)
Mondicourt. (Battalion War Diary)
Achiet-Le-Grand (Battalion War Diary)
Possible; Cheshires, Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Body lice commonly know to the British soldier as Chatts, which may be derived from chattel. Almost every man who served in the Great War had lice as a constant companion.
1 to 20.

Battalion War Diaries.
History of the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment in the Great War. Colonel H. C. Wylly, C.B. Chapter XXV page 267.
The British Army in Italy 1917-1918, John Wilks & Eileen Wilks. Chapter 3 page 50, Chapter 4 pages 55,56,61,66.
Battle Ground Europe Touring the Italian Front 1917-1919, Francis Mackay. Pages 16,74,86.
Map of the Main Prison Camps in Germany & Austria, Mrs. Pope-Hennessy. Map & Page 9.
International Committee of the Red Cross, Attestation confirmation of capture & POW camp.
Note, Items shown under Legend heading still in red are unconfirmed to date.


The Knight Family

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

Sergeant William Knight was born in Altar Cottages Crowhurst in 1888.  William was the third child, second son, of William and Mary Jane Knight.  In 1906, when he was aged 18, William enlisted as a Regular soldier in the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I.) at a recruiting office in East Grinstead.

On 9 August 1914 the Battalion was inspected by […] the King and Queen.  Early on 13 August they left Aldershot and embarked the same day at Southampton, part of the British Expeditionary Force,  They landed at Boulogne on 14 August.  The battalion was engaged in various actions on the Western Front: the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat, the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Aisne, where Sergeant Knight was killed.

William Knight was [Lingfield’s] first local casualty; he was killed in action at Veneuil on 20 September 1914, aged 27.  He has no known grave, but his name is engraved on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.  William’s younger brother, Private Alfred Charles Knight, enlisted in 10th Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.  He died on 6 August 1917, aged 23 in the Third Battle of Ypres (today, generally known as Passchendaele).  He has no known grave; his name is engraved on the Menin Gate Memorial (Ypres).  The battle was launched on 31 July and continued until the fall of the village of Passchendaele on 6 November.

William and Alfred’s cousin, Fred Knight, survived the war.  He lived at 20 Saxbys Lane, Lingfield.  Fred enlisted in the Army Service Corps (ASC), the unit responsible for keeping the British Army supplied with provisions; it did not receive the Royal prefix until late 1918).  Corporal Fred Knight survived the war and remained with the ASC until 1921.  His last posting was in Norwich where he met a local girl.  They married and made their family home in Norwich.  Fred died in March 1967.

The Warriner Brothers

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

Albert and George Warriner were the sons of Emily and Charles Warriner of Old Town, Lingfield.

Sergeant Albert Warriner a married man living at Blindley Heath, enlisted in the 9th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment on 12 September 1914.  He died of wounds at Baileul on 17 June 1916.  He was 35.  The local paper reported that he had been gassed and severely wounded by shrapnel.  It appears that he was greatly respected by his men and his local community.

George Warriner lived at home with his widowed mother in Old Town.  He served in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 1st Class on HMS Lancaster.  This ship was part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron initially protecting convoys in the West Indies before she was sent to join up with the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, in 1915.  Just before the Battle of Jutland, the Lancaster was transferred to the Pacific Ocean in April 1916, patrolling North and South America and the Falklands until 1919.  It would appear that the ship was badly hit by the Spanish ‘Flu epidemic in December 1918, when up to 300 men on board fell ill out of a ship’s complement of 680.  As well as the usual medals awarded to servicemen who served in the war, George was also issued with the Silver War Medal which was issued to men discharged due to sickness or injuries sustained in the conflict.  It is quite possible that George was on of the men affected by the influenza outbreak, although [there is] no record of this.  Unlike his older brother, George survived the war, returning to Lingfield in 1919.


The Joseph Brothers

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

The Joseph Brothers were the three sons of the Pastor of Dormansland Baptist Church, and lived at The Manse, Clinton Hill.  All three were killed on the Western Front.

Private Sidney Herbert Joseph enlisted in 8th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment on 12 September 1915.  He was killed in action on 5 May 1917, aged 28.  He has no known grave; his name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial.

Lance Corporal Albert Edward Joseph enlisted in the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment at East Grinstead.  He was killed in action on 27 March 1918. He had no known grave but his name is inscribed on the Pozieres Memorial.  The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.

Private Archibald Joseph also enlisted with the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment at East Grinstead.  He died of wounds on 17 June 1916, aged 21, and is buried in Bailleul Community Cemetery Extension.