John Lewis Reynolds

JOHN LEWIS REYNOLDS (JACK)

(A Personal South African Tragedy)

A family story shared by Elesa Willies

John Lewis Reynolds (Jack to his family and friends) was the grandpa I never knew.  He was born on 1 August, 1892 in the Peddie District of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.  He was the first child and eldest son of parents who had a farm called Longford.  A tall, serious man with fine features, his air of quiet strength and gentle humour had many a girl’s head turn his way.

Towards the end of 1912, he met my grandmother Catherine Helen Stewart (known as Kate) who was a dedicated teacher at Worthing, the farm school nearby.  After a suitable period of courtship the happy couple were married on the 30 December, 1915.  Meanwhile, world changing events had been moving quickly on the political front.  World War One was declared on 4 August 1914 and in spite of the lingering animosity between the English and Afrikaans people due to the recent bitter Anglo-Boer war, the Prime Minister Louis Botha reassured England that South Africa would lend its support by securing British interests in the country against German invasion and by becoming a part of the Allied Forces.

In spite of the progressive turmoil happening around them, the newly wedded couple felt the war was far removed from their idyllic life, which was heightened when Kate fell pregnant in February, 1916.  But as time passed and news reached South Africa of the decimation of the Infantry on the Western Front, the ugly reality intruded into everyone’s lives at home.

Jack became increasingly restless.  He felt guilty that being able-bodied, he should contribute to the war effort by signing up.  His feelings intensified after he found out that in the previous year on 12 May, 1915, his cousin Alkin had signed up with the 1st Rhodesian Regiment and with the South African forces, was fighting the Germans in South West Africa.  A few months later, Alkin headed back north and as part of the British South African Police force (BSAP) had gone to protect the borders of Southern Rhodesia against Von Lettow Borteck’s forces who were trying to invade the country.  Now, in 1916 he’d become even more deeply involved by penetrating the neighbouring country as part of the famous Murray’s Column, a tightly knit combat unit fighting in German East Africa.

Then on 15 July, 1916, South African soldiers made their debut during the Battle of Delville Wood in France.  The heroic men distinguished themselves by fighting ferociously for six weeks, holding their position but at a terrible price.  When the battle ended on the 3 September, the final cost in lost lives was horrific; out of 3,155 soldiers who entered the battle, only 619 remained.

There was a brief respite for Jack’s dilemma with the birth of his and Kate’s baby girl (my mother) on 28 October, 1916.  They named her Mary Clare and for a while the joys of fatherhood took precedence.  But eventually although there was no conscription, Jack did volunteer to join the South African Infantry in January, 1917.  Whether he discussed this with his wife first or told her after the fact remains a mystery.  Regardless, it is known that an intense argument erupted between them, which ended when a distraught Kate exclaimed the unforgivable; that she had made a mistake marrying him and might as well have chosen his cousin for all the difference it made.

On 26 January, 1917, Jack left his young family to go for training in Potchefstroom near Johannesburg in the Transvaal, returning for a short visit on the 8 February.  A photographic portrait reveals a man standing smartly in army uniform next to his seated wife, who is holding on her lap their baby daughter Mary Clare, now 3 ½ months old.

On the 22 February, 1917, he sent her a telegram saying he was ‘on way to the Cape’.  He entrained at Klerksdorp for Cape Town where two days later he boarded the ship ‘Walmer Castle’ and was gone.  His diary reveals his enthusiasm and excitement at embarking on a ‘grand adventure’.  His voyage to England was fairly uneventful apart from a brief stop at Freetown in West Africa.  During World War 1, this port provided a base for operations by the British forces in the Atlantic.  On the 27 March Jack arrived in Plymouth, Devon, and immediately entrained for the Inkerman Barracks in Woking, Surrey where he stayed for three days.

It then appears he had a bit of a holiday sight-seeing.  During seven days in Glasgow, Scotland, a letter dated 3 April from the Ivanhoe hotel, reveals how he was missing his family, particularly his ‘little girlie.’  He then spent two days in London, during which he visited the Lyceum Theatre in the West End to enjoy a popular play called ‘Seven Days Leave’.

Alas, his time of leisure came to an end when he returned to Inkerman Barracks to train for a week in ‘hell’.  It was bitterly cold and he recorded having to break ice off the top of the pail of water in order to wash himself.  Being South African he was not used to such extreme conditions and had also just come from a summer in the Southern Hemisphere.  The inevitable happened as he fell very ill and spent the next five weeks in Aldershot Hospital, suffering from laryngitis, measles and fever.

It was while he was lying there in bed that his thoughts turned to home as he wrote two poems to his mother and Kate.  The sentiments expressed to both women, shows how he was homesick and had regrets about going against their wishes.  But he appealed to them to understand why he had signed up.  He admitted he had found it hard to say goodbye, but felt he was ‘honour bound to answer the call’.  He suggested they pray for solace and that they must look to the future when he would return.

When he was released in mid-May, he had six days sick leave which he spent in London, before returning to the barracks for an ‘easy time of it’ for the next two weeks.

On the 9th June, he had five days ‘embarkation leave’ at Swanage before catching a boat to Southampton where he boarded another ship to cross the English Channel to Le Havre, France.  He then took a steamship, sailing for eight hours up the River Seine to Rouen where he was stationed for two weeks, before entraining to ‘Savoy’ for two days.

Then the serious work really began when he marched 18 km to join his regiment at billets in Simencourt at the beginning of July.  The next two months until the end of August were spent around Neuvelle and Yrtres, alternatively being in the trenches where he ‘saw a good bit of fighting’ and then retreating to ‘rest’ which really meant marching every night to the front line 6 km away to repair and dig trenches from 7 pm to 4 am in working parties.

By now, he was feeling quite demoralised as he wrote in his diary;

“Oh it’s rotten and we get so little food.  We’re nearly always hungry.  A couple of our chaps get knocked over every day.  I wonder when my turn is coming.  I’ve had a hit on the head but it was not enough to send me to Blighty.  A few days before, I fell down the dug-out steps and a little later part of the wall fell on me owing to the concussion caused by a Minnie exploding near us.”

On the 31 July, the day before his 25th birthday he wrote to his ‘darling’ daughter, sending ‘love to mums and self, and lots of kisses and hugs from your loving Daddy.’

At the beginning of September his regiment travelled to a camp called ‘Henham’ near Aschet Petite where they had a ‘fairly easy time of it, doing a few hours drill every day’.  The weather was ‘very wet and cold’, and they were sleeping on damp cots in muddy tents.  He knew they would be ‘going to Belgium to go over the top in a couple of weeks’ time’.

As predicted, on the 12 September at midday, the soldiers marched 8 km to entrain at Bapaume for Godewaervelde arriving there at 3 am.  They then marched another 8 km to their rest camp where they stayed ‘for a day and a night’ before moving on to billets where they ‘slept in a fine barn with plenty of straw’.

On the 16 September at 2 pm, they marched to Poperinghe, 8 miles west of Ypres for three days of preparations, before ‘going into the line where there is fierce fighting’.  The night they arrived, he and ‘two pals’ went into town for supper.  They had ‘fried eggs, a few drinks and finished off with cigars’ before returning home to camp.  His last words in his diary were, ‘Will conclude this after the battle’.

On the 20 September, he fought in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge and was killed in action.  A letter written to Kate on the 29 September, was from one of his pals who was with Jack when he died.  Private F.A. Quin (Frank), service number 10965, wrote, ‘a bullet pierced his heart and he died peacefully’.  He was hit after they had ‘taken the objective’.

Private John Lewis Reynolds, service number 10984 was lost forever in an unknown grave in the stinking, filthy quagmire of the Western Front.  But, miraculously his wallet with letters and photos, his diary and small note book were returned to his grieving widow, and, in March 1918, a year after he had left home, his identification disk was also sent back to South Africa, along with his British War and Victory medals.

Back in Peddie, the homegrown boy along with fifteen other names, is recognised on a cenotaph in the central square. It reads, ‘This Monument is dedicated to the Memory of the Men of the Town District of Peddie who laid down their Lives in the Great War.  Their Name Liveth Forever More’.  ‘John L. Reynolds’ also appears on the Menin Arch as one of the 55,000 missing dead from the Ypres Salient, the last place he marched through on his way to meet his fate, never to return.

John Reynold’s Medals.  Image courtesy of Elesa

 

In a final poignant mention, his cousin Alkin survived the war.  In 1917 he earned distinction by being awarded several medals and strangely enough, received a Mention in Despatches five days after Jack died.

James Miles Langstaff

Story provided by Robert Taylor, War Memorial Education and Conservation Services 

In amongst my mother’s papers and photos I found a Great War Church Memorial unveiling service pamphlet for the Bloor Street Presbyterian Church Toronto. It was kept as my Mom’s mother (my Maternal Grandmother; Margaret Francis Kirkpatrick). At the age of 15 or 16 she had a crush on a lawyer turned soldier, Major James Miles Langstaff of the 75th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.

James Miles Langstaff (1883-1917), of Richmond Hill, graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1912.  He was a partner with the firm Lowell, Reid, Wood & Wright when the war broke out. The Law Society of Upper Canada encouraged lawyers and law students to enlist for service. Recruits were offered a remittance of fees and allowing students to advance one year or be called to the Bar without examination.  The number of willing lawyer recruits was surprisingly high: 30% of the profession (around 500).  Shortly afterward signing up, Langstaff joined the 75th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. There he rose rapidly to major, and was recommended for the military cross.

At some point during this time, Langstaff was based at the Bramshott Camp, on the Hampshire/Surrey border.  He sent postcards back to Margaret Kirkpatrick from the Surrey town of Shottermill, showing that he and his fellow Canadian soldiers enjoyed exploring the Surrey countryside.

Postcard from James Langstaff to Margaret Kirkpatrick, from Shottermill Courtesy of Robert Taylor

Courtesy of Robert Taylor

Postcard from James Langstaff to Margaret Kirkpatrick, from Shottermill

Courtesy of Robert Taylor

Postcard from James Langstaff to Margaret Kirkpatrick, from Shottermill

He was eventually killed 1 March 1917 at Vimy Ridge, at the age of 33. and is buried at the CWGC – Villers Station Cemetry, Villers-Au-Bois (grave Marker ref VII D.2). As Major Langstaff was from a prominent family in Toronto, there was a Memorial Book written about him. Two copies are held by the family of Margaret Kirkpatrick and her father Frank H. Kirkpatrick. He was a Professor of Public Speaking at the Toronto School of Expression and included a Personal Tribute in the Memorial Book (pg.30). He had taught Miles Langstaff and knew the family.

 

Source: http://www.oba.org/JUST/Archives_List/2015/Fall_2015/Nov11-Langstaff
Memorial Book https://archive.org/details/majorjmlangstaff00languoft/page/n0

Regimental-Sergeant-Major James Allford – a lifetime of Army service

James Allford was born in 1871 in Woolwich and enlisted in the Army in 1891 with 1st Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.

James Allford was a career soldier and his 28 years in the Army included imperial service in Malta and on the North-West Frontier, India. In India, the 1st Battalion formed part of a field force sent to deal with a local uprising and saw action in the Nawagai Valley in 1897. Further campaigns included the Mohmand and Tirah campaigns before the Battalion was posted to Rawalpindi and Sialkot in 1905.

In 1906 James Allford was posted to Permanent Staff Authority and transferred from the 1st Battalion to the 3rd Battalion, which was a Depot training battalion. He remained with 3rd Battalion for the rest of his Army career. He was promoted to Colour-Sergeant in 1907 and eventually Regimental-Sergeant-Major in May 1917.

The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion remained a training battalion during the 1914-18 conflict, providing drafts to the active service battalions of the Queen’s.

At the outbreak of World War I, the Battalion proceeded to its mobilisation station in the Medway area (with its HQ at Chattenden).  Initially, the Battalion fitted out and drafted over 1,000 reservists for the frontline 1st & 2nd Battalions of the Queen’s. In November 1914, the Battalion was posted to Rochester and was at that time composed of regular and special reservists plus a sprinkling of British Expeditionary Force NCOs and private soldiers. Recruits from civilian life carried out their basic training at Chatham Lines  before being sent to service companies located at the various Medway forts, where they received further training. From 1915 onwards, reinforcement drafts were constantly being trained by the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion and then sent out to theatre in France and Belgium. In 1916, the Battalion moved to Sittingbourne and remained there until the end of the war, when in March 1919 its manpower was absorbed into the 1st Battalion.

James Allford retired from the Army in 1919 after 27 years’ service and settled in Stoughton, Guildford, with his wife Florence and their three children.

During his military service James Allford was awarded the India Medal in 1898, Good Conduct Medal in 1915 and the Meritorious Medal in 1919.

Archive records at Surrey History Centre (QRWS/30/ALLF) preserve, amongst other service records, Allford’s Army account book, pocket ledger, certificates of education and certificates of military proficiency (e.g. marksmanship).

James Allford's certificate of good character

James Allford’s certificate of good character.
SHC ref QRWS/30/ALLF/15.

 

SHC archives also hold a letter written by Allford from India to a relation soon after the birth of his first daughter, which can be viewed here (click on each image to see a larger version):

The records also include correspondence with the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, regarding the commutation of James Allford’s pension to assist in the purchase of a house in Guildford and related correspondence with the town clerk and solicitors.

Other sources: Ancestry (including 1911 census), the Long Long Trail website records (https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/) and a History of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment by Colonel H.C. Wylly (London & Aldershot, 1887).

 

 

Mrs Bowen Buscarlet – Lady of the Manor of Stoke D’Abernon

Researched and written by volunteers of the Past on Glass/Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times projects at Sutton Archives.

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Bowen Buscarlet was born on 29th September 1851 in the village of Eling, Hampshire where her father was curate. Her parents were George Newnham Phillips and his wife, Frances Sarah Burroughes.

Her first husband (a relative of her father) was an army lieutenant called Frederick Abbiss Phillips. They married in London in the July Quarter of 1876. When Frederick’s father, the Rector of Stoke D’Abernon Frederick Parr Phillips, died in 1903 the Manor of Stoke D’Abernon passed to him. Frederick died in 1908 and Frances and her son Noel McGrigor Phillips inherited the Manor.

Frances was married again in 1910 this time to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bowen Buscarlet who was born in France but was a naturalised British Citizen. It seems she was a gracious Lady of the Manor being frequently mentioned in the Stoke D’Abernon magazine for her charitable donations and actions. In 1915 she and the Lieutenant Colonel organised a Garden Meeting at the manor which raised money for disabled soldiers and sailors. She also sent linen to the Red Cross for Belgian Refugees, lent her fields for soldiers to camp in and helped local groups with their debts.

She had two children with her first husband: Norah Logan Phillips, (1877-1945) and Noel McGrigor Phillips (1881-1943). Noel’s second wife was the writer Dorothy Una Ratcliffe. This couple bought and renovated Temple Sowerby Manor in Cumbria which is now owned by the National Trust and known by its earlier name Acorn Bank.

Frances died on 4th April 1925. There is a memorial to Frederick Abbiss Phillips, Frances and the two children in the church of St Mary, Stoke D’Abernon.

 

Sources: Ancestry UK Census Collection, familysearch.org, churchmonumentssociety.org, surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk, nationaltrust.org.uk, google

All research carried out of behalf of the HLF funded Past on Glass/Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times projects at Sutton Archives is the work of volunteer researchers and is unverified by the Sutton Archives team. All sources have been credited where possible.  If you notice any errors or discrepancies in this work, or can add to the research, please contact [email protected].

 

The School of Musketry at Bisley Camp

The National Rifle Association was founded in 1859 in reaction to fears of French invasion ‘to give permanence to Volunteer [Rifle] Corps and to encourage rifle shooting’ throughout Britain and the Empire.  Early prize meetings were held on Wimbledon Common until, for reasons of space and safety, they were transferred to Bisley, near Brookwood in Woking, in July 1890 on a site purchased for £13,439 3s 11d.  A branch line from Brookwood station was built to carry passengers into the camp during annual prize meetings, along with two stations, one at the entrance and one near the refreshment pavilion.  The tramway previously used at Wimbledon was transferred, and skirted the east side of Bisley Common, to the rear of the principal firing points.  The refreshment pavilion, first used at Wimbledon in 1871, was also transferred.  A clock tower was located centrally at the highest point in the camp, some 226′ above sea level, and the new butts and ranges, established on land belonging to the War Department, were named Stickledown, Shorts, Century and Long and Short Siberia.

Shooting for the Ashburton Shield at a NRA Meeting in 1906 (SHC ref QRWS/30/CLARGG/1 p.46)

Membership of the Association was open to private individuals and, at discounted rates, to members of the armed forces and of County Rifle Associations.  Local rifle clubs could join as affiliate members and membership extended across Great Britain and its colonies and dominions: affiliated Surrey clubs included Albury; Byfleet; Dorking; East Surrey Regiment (5th Battalion); Epsom; Esher; Frimley, Yorktown and Camberley; Godalming; Guildford; Haslemere; Knaphill and Brookwood; Putney; Queen’s Regiment (4th Battalion); Reigate; Surrey Brigade Company of the ASC (Territorial); Surrey Yeomanry; West Surrey; Wimbledon Park; Woking Working Men’s; Woking and Horsell; and a large number of miniature shooting clubs.  Members were admitted to the annual Bisley Prize Meeting in July and could take part in shooting competitions; they could also use the range tramway and travel on the London and South Western Railway to Brookwood at Territorial rates.

All this activity came to an end with the outbreak of war.  Competitions were suspended, and the chairman of the NRA immediately met with Lord Kitchener and placed the camping ground and ranges at the disposal of the War Office and offered to raise a Corps of Musketry Instructors who would train officers and NCOs as musketry instructors within the divisions, brigades and battalions of the New Armies.  The Commandant of the School of Musketry was Maj-Gen Lord Cheylesmore, KCVO, later succeeded by Lt-Col P W Richardson, who had served as the first Chief Instructor, Major J P Somers taking over from Richardson in that role.  Originally it was intended that the Corps should comprise 18 officers and 80 staff sergeant instructors, selected from skilled members of the NRA who were over the age of active military service or unfit for general service; however by the end of the war its staff consisted of 66 officers and 400 warrant officers.

NRA offices at Bisley, 1909 (on left) with a pavilion on the right (SHC ref 6316/435)

These instructors would provide, over the course of 2-4 weeks of training at Bisley, instruction in such subjects as the care of arms, the mechanism of the rifle, firing positions, the art of aiming and trigger pressing, how not to ‘flinch at the recoil of the rifle’, the influence of wind and atmospheric conditions, the use of ground and cover and the art of rapid fire.  Successful students who passed the exams would be sent back to their units to instruct the men who had volunteered for the new armies.  In the 1915 report of the School (SHC ref 6227/1/54) it was estimated that indirectly the School had trained around 1.5 million men to shoot straight.  The newly qualified instructors, the 1915 report claimed, came from all walks of life, and included a dentist, a professional cricketer, and organ builder and a fishing tackle maker among their number.  Once the needs of Kitchener’s new armies had been met, the School moved on to train Territorial officers and NCOs and some officers of the Volunteer Training Corps.  Instructors from the School were also sent out to France to share their expertise with students at the sniping schools that were established behind the lines and Lt-Col Richardson’s lectures on sniping and the use of telescopic sights were published and distributed.

In January 1915 a machine gun training centre was also set up at Bisley, which used the ranges at Stickledown and schooled officers and NCOs in the use of Maxim, Vickers and Lewis guns.  In its first year, 527 officers, 506 NCOs and 400 privates successfully completed the fortnight-long training course.  The machine gun school as a separate entity was discontinued in September 1916 but Lewis gun and Hotchkiss gun classes were run in 1917-1918.  In addition, in March 1915 until May 1916 the School took on the calibration of telescopic rifle sights for snipers and over that period dealt with 3537 rifles.  In 1918 Captain C W Wirgman ran revolver classes for officers.

British team, winners of the Empire Challenge Trophy, 1910 (SHC ref 6227/1/49)

The new School of Musketry took over all the NRA’s buildings at Bisley, along with the club houses and pavilions established by rifle clubs; even then, more accommodation was needed for instructors and students and many wooden buildings had to be erected on the site; as the NRA’s 1915 annual report states, ‘every corner of Bisley has been filled up’.  The Brookwood and Bisley Camp railway was extended to Blackdown and Deepcut Camps and was taken over by the military authorities.

The School came to an end on 14 December 1918, its closure marked by a shooting competition among its staff, a dinner and a musical entertainment.  The staff-sergeants of the School formed a rifle club to preserve the comradeship that had developed among them.  Over the course of the School’s existence, 87 officers and 571 NCOs qualified as NRA instructors; 1881 Territorial officers and 4566 Territorial NCOs similarly passed their rifle shooting examinations; 1049 officers and NCOs qualified in the use of the Hotchkiss gun, 976 in the use of the Lewis gun, and 189 qualified in range finding.  In addition, 203 officers passed the tactical handling course and 108 officers passed in pistol shooting.

Sources

Annual reports of the National Rifle Association (SHC ref 6227/1/53-57)

Bisley Camp Branch Line

The original Bisley Camp branch line opened in 1890 and finally closed in 1952. It was built for the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which had moved there from Wimbledon Common. The line was put at the disposal of the War Office at the outbreak of the War, after which large numbers of troops were trained at the NRA facility.  The line started from a spur beside the up line at Brookwood Station and ran parallel with the main line until turning towards Bisley camp after crossing the Pirbright – Bisley road. The line ran for approximately 1 ¼ miles.

A three-mile extension was built in 1916 to serve the camps at Pirbright, Deepcut and Blackdown. This was partially built by German POWs and was opened by King George V and Queen Mary. Standard gauge services to Deepcut commenced on 1 August 1917. All camps had their own station. The station at Deepcut was very palatial with ticket offices and a W.H. Smith bookstall. It was built by Canadian Army Engineers in the style of a Rocky Mountains log cabin. Deepcut also had a small engine shed and inspection pits.

The line was normally operated by small tank engines but it is believed larger engines were sometimes used. Motive power usually came from Nine Elms motive power depot. The line was extensively used for freight but also for passengers, including weekend leave trains right up to 1921.

There were bridges and level crossings as well as sidings and loops for engines to run around for return journeys. Few remains of the railway have survived although it is still possible to trace some of the route except where it crosses MoD land.

The 1916 extension was lifted in 1921 but there were further extensions built in World War II. The L.S.W.R. (London & South Western Railway) took over the line in August 1918. The branch was always uneconomic to operate and British Railways finally closed it in September 1952.

Sources

Harding, Peter, Bisley Camp Branch Line (Harding, 1986)

Jackson, A.A., The Railway in Surrey (Atlantic, 1999)

The War on Surrey Commons

An article in The Spectator from 7th November 1914 paints a vivid picture of the growing effect of the war effort on the Surrey landscape:-

WAR ON SURREY COMMONS

The face of Surrey changes with the war. No other county near London offers the War Office such opportunities for development on military lines. It is a county which, with all its beauty—indeed, because of the very reasons which make it beautiful—is dedicated to soldiers. Its wide stretches of common and its high and open hills have been parade-grounds and areas of manoeuvre for every description of troops for nearly sixty years. In 1860 the first meeting of the National Rifle Association was held on Wimbledon Common. When the National Rifle Association left Wimbledon twenty-nine years later they went to Bisley. Chobham Common, Chobham Ridges, Bagshot, Brookwood, Normandy, Worplesdon, the Fox Hills by Aldershot, Tilford, Frensham, Thursley Common, are names as familiar to soldiers as Piccadilly and the Strand to Londoners ; and since the war broke out tens of thousands of Londoners have found the centre of their world shifted from the City to the Surrey hills. That is a world, too, which during the last three months has more than once altered its appearance.

Large View of 'Frith Hill' Internment Camp, England - 1915 - George Kenner GK030a

Large View of ‘Frith Hill’ Internment Camp, England – 1915 – George Kenner GK030a

One of the earliest of the new growths of the war was the prisoners’ camp on Frith Hill by Frimley. Many photographs of this camp have been reproduced in the papers, but no one could get from them a really comprehensive idea of the camp. You cannot get a satisfactory picture by photographing wire enclosures. The wire merely runs lines across and across; you do not realize the depth and the hopelessness of that transparent containing wall until you stand a few yards from it. There are two wire walls, with a space of heathy turf between them. The outer wall is lower than the inner, and is a contrivance of barbed wire fastened to posts, looped and woven and hanging in loose strands which would swing and catch and drag like brambles. The inner wall is high and stiff, deep at the bottom and tapering to the top, with electric cables run along it like threads through a gathering; there are look-out stations at intervals, and great electric lamps swing high over all the camp, so that it is as light by night as by day. The long lines of tents are not easy to count, nor are the prisoners; nor is there much to be seen of what they are doing, or how they spend their time. There might be some hesitation in standing looking at them, if it were not all so distant and aloof a business; but the space of ground between the wire and the free soil outside makes any kind of inspection entirely impersonal. It is only possible to take in the larger features of the camp–the wire shining in the sun, the groups of grey, idle figures, the empty danger zones and pacing sentries, the arrival of supplies and firing. One of the most bizarre of arrangements for feeding the camp was the store of bread. An omnibus without wheels stood near one of the entrance gates. Outside it was marked in large letters “Aldershot and Frimley.” Inside it was piled from floor to roof with loaves of bread, which one German prisoner was tossing out in couples to another much as a bricklayer throws bricks. Another engine of peace put to unaccustomed uses was a locomotive with the iron legend “So-and-so’s Travelling Circus,” which was puffing in at a wire-guarded gateway drawing a huge pile of sacks of meal.

Witley Camp, 1914-1918

Witley Camp, 1914-1918 SHC ref 8511/159/29.

But by far the largest addition to or alteration in the scenery of Surrey and its commons has been the building of the hutments which are to form the winter quarters of the new Army. This is a change which is visible near and far. Go up Hindhead on a clear day, and from that sunlit and windy plateau look out east and north towards the chalk downs and the heights beyond Bagshot. The landscape has changed from the familiar slopes and levels of three months ago. The blues and greys and greens are streaked and slashed with yellow and white. The quiet of the pines and heather and the great stretch of English country spread to view from these high places has gone. It is as if those who had hitherto walked about and looked at the heather and the woods had suddenly discovered that they must be put to another use; which, indeed, is the decision that the owners of the commons have come to, only you do not realize it fully until you see all these camps and preparations for camps set out in rows before you, streak beyond streak and row after row, as a schoolboy may look over his lines of troops set out on the dining-room table. It is a rather strange comment on the efficiency (apart from the presence) of the German spy that the fact that an extra army of a million is being trained in this country should apparently still be refused belief in Germany.

Officer Training Corps Camp at Mytchett,

Officer Training Corps Camp at Mytchett, No. 3 Battalion marching, c1915 SHC ref PC/68/28.

The Cologne Gazette, which observes that statements as to this army are “not very credible,” should arrange with an emissary to climb Hindhead and to gaze out over the small portion of England which is visible from the top. The hutments should be comforting evidence. When you come close to them, the effect is that of a very new and very large village built with three objects kept constantly in mind—warmth, dryness, and rapidity of construction. These hutments spring up like mushrooms. Two months, one month, a week ago, there were large stretches of heather between Milford and Hindhead which were bare and brown and empty, and which still showed traces of the devastating heath fires of three years ago which burned acres of pines to the ground and left other acres with nothing but charred trunks thrusting leafless boughs above the new ling sprouting from the roots. Since two months ago stretch after stretch has changed from heather to flat building ground. The charred stems have been cut down; the heather has been burnt, or re-burnt; posts and flags set out to measure the sites have given place to piles of timber, heaps of bricks, pipes, trestles. Roads are being cut in the peat, and the heavy metal is being placed in the roadway almost the moment after the peat has been cut to make way for it. Beyond and about the roadways are the huts themselves, frameworks of timber posts with weatherboarding nailed on them, and roofs made warm with felt against rain and wind. The lines of huts stand furlong after furlong on each side of the road; they grow longer day after day, and day after day fresh sites seem to be chosen, with fresh piles of timber and bricks and pipes. The railway sidings are full of truckloads of timber, water-pipes, sections of vast cisterns which will be riveted together on the hills miles from the station. Time presses, the camps must be built faster and faster still, and soon a light railway, branching from the siding, will be sending trollies and navvies swinging up to the open heather from the main line from London to Portsmouth.

Hutments to house a million men cover a large area of ground. What will happen to the hutments and the ground they have covered after the war? The main fact to be remembered, surely, is that the hutments will have comfortably housed a million men; that there was no room available for these men until the hutments were built, that they were built fast, and that they answered their purpose. But that is stating in other terms the cheap cottage problem. To house labourers in the country you need sound cottages built fast and cheaply. The architect with an eye to large designs and expensive materials will doubtless provide excellent cottages if someone else will provide the money for them; but if the money is not there? The brick and timber and weatherboarding, at all events, are there, visible and easily movable, on the Surrey commons. It may be that, among its other changes and lessons, war may emphasize the value of tarred weatherboard as a means of providing warm, dry, and healthy homes. There is no cheaper and better housing material.

Article courtesy of The Spectator Archive.

View a gallery of George Kenner’s paintings of Frith Hill camp from Surrey Heath Museum.

View the film Enemy Aliens Interned (1915) by the Topical Film Company. Enemy Aliens of military age on their way to the internment camp at Frimley.

Milford – 1915

St John‘s Church, Milford – 1915

In January 1915 the vicar’s New Year address was, unsurprisingly, very different to that of 1914 which had been entirely preoccupied with parish finances. Only a few months into the war Reverend Nattrass remained optimistically cheerful in his outlook, certain that, when God saw fit, the black cloud of war would lift and the process of healing begin. He praised the troops training in nearby camps, who desired no pity despite the fact that they lived their life in ‘shush and rain’, and viewed their behaviour as evidence of the trustworthiness of reports of the ‘cheerfulness of our men in the fighting lines’. The Reverend also continued to see the war as a just one, concluding that:

‘Everyone of us feels it is a privilege to do what is in their power to meet the endless demands which our country makes upon us in this hour of its great need. God grant that this year may see the end of the Great War, but if this may not be, then our happiness will be found in the unceasing opportunities which are being given us of rendering, however humble, a support in maintaining that heroic conflict until it shall end in a victory such as none shall every [sic] grudge the cost of.’

It seems that earlier pleas for greater support of the Curate’s Stipend Fund had been heeded as the vicar had been joined by a second clergyman, Reverend C J Johnstone.

Finite resources, both human and material, meant that the support given to the South African Church Railway Mission had been deferred, in actuality only until March, as ‘the extra work that is being done to provide for the comfort of the Troops and for the needs of those who are suffering because of the war’ was prioritised. In the meantime the Working Party continued to make garments for soldiers at the Front and mend socks for those at ‘our Camp’. A new Working Party was also to be instigated every Thursday fortnight at 6.30pm, for those who could not attend in the afternoon. Members of the League of Honour were particularly asked to attend.

The ‘League of Honour for Women and Girls of the British Empire’ was established in response to the national crises. Its motto was ‘Strength and Honour’ and its members pledged ‘by the help of God to uphold the honour of our nation and its defenders in this time of war, by Prayer, Purity and Temperance’. The organisation’s four key objects were very much couched in terms of women’s responsibility for the moral welfare of the nation, in particular for ‘the manhood of our country’.

It seems, however, that these aims were misunderstood and the magazine’s authors were keen to establish that ‘far from casting any aspersion on our soldiers, as some have mistakenly thought, members of the League should be ready to do all they can for the true welfare of those who have given up so much in the service of their country’. In practice, by August 1915 the Milford branch of the League had so far held no meetings, although one was proposed towards the end of the month in the Vicarage Garden.

In February 1915 the privations of wartime were clearly demonstrated as magazine recorded that the ‘dearness of food, the heavy taxation, and the irresistible appeals… reaching us daily’ meant that Lent this year was to be welcomed as offering ‘a consecration by Religion of that abstinence which necessity has laid upon us’.

The issue of church seating was once again mentioned and thanks were offered to members of the congregation who had given up their usual seats at the 11am service in favour of Officers and Soldiers from the local camp, who were also welcomed to the Sunday services.

Financially, the Alms Fund was showing increased solvency, which was largely attributed to ‘the special circumstances arising out of the war’, and total church collections had also increased.  However, subscriptions had fallen and this was attributed to the ‘departure from the parish of many regular subscribers’.

March 1915 saw reports that, on Sunday 21st February, the parish bade farewell to the first group of men who had occupied ‘Hut City’ at the military encampment. In contrast to their apparent initial misgivings, the it was recorded that they ‘know now that soldiers make excellent neighbours’ and, in response to the appreciation shown for the efforts made by the parishioners to mitigate the hardships of camp life, ’we shall take the more pleasure in doing what lies in our power to be of service to them’. Throughout the year the parish continued to take pleasure in the appreciation shown by the occupants of Milford Camp.

The April and May 1915 editions were mainly taken up with church business, including, once again, the falling off of subscriptions ‘occasioned by death, and by the departure from the parish of several regular subscribers’, particularly in relation to the parish’s ability to maintain an assistant priest at the exact time ‘when unique circumstances call for the utmost exertion’. In May these fears were realised when the Vicar announced that it had become necessary to cancel the services of Reverend Johnstone, despite the increase in work caused by the Military Camp, which included a corresponding increase in Sunday worshippers. However, the Diocese came to the rescue when Reverend H P Thornton, Honorary Secretary of the Diocesan Clerical Registry, consented to help out temporarily, on a part-time basis.

Appeals for money continued throughout the year as the church attempted to compensate for these lost contributions. These included appeals for The Parish Funds, the Curate’s Stipend Fund, funds for fittings at the four Church huts at Milford Camp, the Winchester Diocesan Fund, funds for those made homeless by War, the Sunday School annual Christmas Treat, the National Committee for Relief in Belgium, the Red Cross, and Missions Overseas. The demands on parishoner’s finances were plentiful.

In June 1915 the magazine reported that the parish was to respond to the Bishop of Winchester’s repeated charges of lack of support for the summons to Prayer, by moving the special Intercessory service from Friday evening to Thursdays at 7.30pm, and, if not successful, to Wednesday evenings.

At Milford Camp The Church Army had established a hut, the only institution provided by a Church agency within the camp. The Camp Hospital called for gifts of magazines to relieve the monotony of ‘these innocent prisoners’. Arrangements had been made for The Boy Scouts to call and collect any suitable publications.

In addition the inevitability of conscription was addressed, as the author asserted that ‘to wait for compulsion is to forfeit the honour of self-sacrifice’ and expressed a hope that, when the day arose, no Milford man ‘will be found to be taken other than those whom good reason has restrained from voluntary enlistment’.  This sentiment was to be repeated later in the year when King George V made his ‘call to arms’.

July 1915 was once again taken up with matters financial and in many ways, although for different reasons, this was a return to matters that had preoccupied the parish’s organisations before the outbreak of war. Additionally, the magazine reported that a special day of continuous Intercession had taken place on 21st June, which was well observed but by comparatively few. The coming departure from the Camp of XI Division, ‘among whom we have found so many good friends’, was also anticipated.

In August 1915 the effects on a small population of having a military camp nearby were highlighted, when the magazine reported on the Vicar of Aldershot’s appeal for help in building additional schoolrooms for a village that, before the Crimean War, had a population of 200 and which now had ‘a military population of 40,000, and a civil one of 24,000’. The author concluded that it did not call for much effort to foresee a day when Milford might have to take similar action.

In ‘Practical Patriotism’, the magazine recorded that the Educational Authorities, at the request of the Government, had distributed leaflets through the School advising of practical ways in which adults and children could support the war effort. These included practising ‘careful economy in our daily expenditure’ and ‘avoiding, so far as is possible, the purchase of foreign products’. In addition it was asserted that ‘it should be the ambition of everyone to possess at least one £5 War Loan Stock Certificate’.

In June 1915 the Government had announced a new War Loan scheme. Unlike an earlier scheme, in which the minimum subscription of £100.00 could only be made via the Bank of England, the new loan was designed to be more widely accessible and, to that end, bonds for the sum of £5 and £25, paying interest at 4.5%, were to be obtainable through the Post Office. For those for whom this was too much of a stretch, vouchers were also made available in five shilling multiples, not only through Post Offices but also through bodies such as Trade Unions, Friendly Societies and Works Offices. These vouchers carried interest at 5% per annum and, once accumulated to £5, could be exchanged for a bond.

National War Bonds: woman with flag

Title: National War Bonds: woman with flag
Description: Source: The National Archives, NSC5/11 by-nc

Parents in Milford were invited to encourage their children to ‘save up for the proud moment when they become possessors of a voucher of their own’.

In September 1915 a meeting was held to explain a County Scheme that had been set up to enable individuals to become 2 shilling contributors to the War Loan scheme. Payments were to be made weekly, with a penny fine for each lapsed week, and parents were able to invest in the name of a child, so endowing them with a benefit for the future. However, the meeting was poorly attended and few had become contributors.

The thorny subject of poor attendance at Intercessory prayers was tackled yet again as the author asked ‘how is it that any home which has sent out a sailor or solider to the war has no one to represent it, but leaves it to others to offer united prayer for their own dear ones in danger?’ This was contrasted with the situation in France where it had been reported that partially ruined Churches in devastated districts were ‘crowded with supplicants’.

With the approach of Michaelmas Day, also known as The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, the magazine made reference to the story of ‘The Angels at Mons’ as one of many reasons for keeping this festival ‘with special earnestness’.

Lastly in September, the news that Corporal William Ogden, a postman, had become the first of Milford’s own to lay down his life. This had been followed, more recently, by the death of Sydney Voller (known as Frank), who was baptized in Milford Church and had spent his life within the community.

The October 1915 issue advised that the List of Honour in the Church Porch had been revised and, ‘to the credit of our Parish’, been considerably lengthened to reflect the names of all Milford men serving in the Navy and the Army. Amongst these were the churchwarden, Walter Butterworth (known as Cecil), who had taken up a commission in the 3rd West Surrey Regiment, necessitating the appointment of Mr Mackintosh as Acting Churchwarden.  Cecil was to fall at the Somme on 21 July 1916.

In addition, the Superintendent of the Ockford Sunday School, Miss E Laidman, had accepted foreign-service as a Red Cross Nurse. Finally, the sad news of the loss of the Bishop of Winchester’s youngest son, Gilbert. The Bishop asked that his two elder sons, who were both serving as Chaplains in France, should be remembered in prayers.

November 1915, opened with the ‘King’s Appeal’ and the looming possibility of ‘compulsory recruiting’. The Girl’s Friendly Society and War Working Party were continuing their good works, and it was announced that strict measures would be adopted to enforce the regulation requiring windows to be blacked-out after dark.

Two more Milford soldiers had also lost their lives in France, Alfred Herbert died of wounds in hospital and Alfred Luff fell in action. The message from the Front telling of Alfred’s death, and the way in which he was ‘so valued by his officers and comrades’, was a matter of both pride and consolation to the parish.

1915 closed with the December issue and extracts from a charge by the Bishop of Winchester, which detailed his reflections on the nation’s response to the War so far.

The Bishop stated that, having found the War necessary, and therefore right, ‘the nation plunged with something of the blitheness of good conscience, and of conscious unanimity into the greatest adventure of history’, and the Church, having found itself convinced that treachery and cowardly self regard are more anti-Christian than war, ‘threw the whole weight of its influence into strengthening and consecrating the nation’s decision’. However, Bishop Talbot went on to assert that ‘a little too content with its decision, the nation was a little slow to see how much the decision involved, and how much it left untouched’.

Sources:

St John’s Milford, Monthly Magazine, January 1915 to December 1915, SHC Ref. 8005/2/17.

‘The League of Honour’, Surrey Mirror and County Post, 4 December 1914.

‘The New War Loan’, The Times (London), 22 June 1915.

 

Milford – 1914

St John‘s Church, Milford

As 1914 opened the Vicar of Milford, Ronald Nattrass, was primarily concerned with matters financial, particularly in relation to the parish schools and the Alms Fund, which had ‘broken down under the strain of the increasing demands which have been made upon it’. For the majority of the year the parish magazine was taken up with the usual day to day concerns of a parish, including missionary work, Sunday schools, local societies, the choir, the Boy Scouts and rummage sales, as well as the controversy surrounding the passage of the Welsh Church Act 1914.

However, by March 1914 the world outside the parish started to encroach, as concerns about the ‘national troubles’ began to be voiced and calls were made for individuals to add special petitions to their ordinary prayers, in line with the Bishop’s wish, for guidance through this time. The Bishop’s own attitudes were also voiced for the first time as he described this time of trouble as ‘the chastisement which our sins deserve’. In April the magazine recorded that special prayers, again authorized by the Bishop, were to be said from time to time during service, for ‘so long as grave unrest continues’. In particular prayers were to be said for the King, that he may be guided by God to meet the tremendous responsibility which faced him.

In September 1914, the magazine began with an address by the Bishop of Winchester, Edward Talbot. On August 5th, 1914, he wrote from Farnham Castle that ‘an unspeakably solemn and momentous time is upon us… [as we] find ourselves faced with a crisis which shakes every stone in our national house’. The Bishop recognised the ‘tremendous reality… that in its scale, in the numbers whom it will touch, in the amount of suffering which it may cause, there has been nothing like it in the history of Europe’ and, highlighting the feelings of uncertainty, he continued, saying that ‘there is not one of us who can tell what it may mean to himself or herself, not one to whom it may not be personally ruinous, for whom it may not change the whole outlook of life’.

The Bishop called upon Readers to remember that ‘this awful thing comes to us in the Providence of God’, asserting that if this is ‘chastisement or discipline’ for what many have felt to be a life of ‘luxury, pleasure-worship and money-worship, with all its forgetfulness or contempt of God, all its unequal pressure on the poor’ that ‘could not go on long unchanged’, then it is necessary to ‘humble ourselves as a people and as individuals before Him’ and ‘have the penitence and faith’ to search for the ‘good to come out of agony and suffering’. He recognised that there will be a temptation to doubt God but recommended returning to the Bible, Psalms and Prophets to see how faith and hope have led to victory in the darkness of previous trials. Finally the Bishop called for all to unite, forgetting differences and recognising that what seems wrong to us may seem right to our enemies, who ‘will suffer horribly too’, before entreating people to ‘pray as you have never prayed before’.

October 1914 again began with a message from Bishop who felt ‘increasingly sure that we are fighting in a righteous cause, for freedom and for a better future’. He was encouraged in this by the support given by the colonies, as well as ‘the main body of American opinion, and by public feeling in Italy’, all of whom he considered to be ‘independent witnesses’ to some degree. The Bishop returned to the idea of God teaching us lessons that will lead to ‘moral gains’, as well as the lessons of courage and prayer that ‘we are being taught by our countrymen’, who ‘face up with high spirit and unwavering readiness to a war by sea and land’. He particularly highlighted the courage of Belgium, ‘a victim sacrificed, in a war for with which she has nothing to do, for the strife and sin of the great nations’, and called for contributions to the Belgian Relief Fund.

The Magazine detailed Milford’s response to the war, which was to take the form of:

Firstly: Prayer – an intercession at every service and a Special Intercessory Service in the Parish Church on Fridays at 7.30pm, and another at Ockford on Thursday evenings. The bell was also to be rung by volunteers at noon each week day ‘to invite all to join in prayer for our Sailors and Soldiers and for those of our Allies’.

Secondly: Men – Over 60 men had gone to serve, the majority volunteering, several of whom were old service men. A List of Honour was being prepared for the Church Porch, which was to give the names of Milford men on service which they expected to continue to grow ‘after so splendid a start’.

Finally: Self Sacrifice – so much voluntary service was being undertaken that ‘space does not allow us to detail’ and, while ‘there was no sort of need to appeal to Milford parishioners to support generously the various War Relief Funds’, there was also a need to, at the same time, maintain the ability of the Alms Funds to render assistance to the parish’s poorer brethren.

It was also announced that Milford had set up a Rifle Club and, with a range provided by Lord Midleton and ‘hearty support’ by Archdeacon Potter, it had been possible to meet this ‘urgently felt’ need.

In addition, a War Working Party was to meet at the Working Men’s Club every Thursday from 2.30-4.30pm and members were invited.

In November 1914 the magazine began with ‘War News’, which talked about the strain of waiting for news ‘from the Front and from our Fleet’, and called for the prayers provided at the outbreak of the war to be supplemented by special intercession that was informed by what was being learnt about the actual progress of the struggle. For the author, ‘prayer is our part in the war which is being waged’, and we should ‘follow our braving fighting men right up to the front with our prayers’.

Returning to the subject of prayer, ‘War Intercession’ lamented the fact that the church was unable to maintain a daily Eucharist, as well as the fact that, even though St John’s was a small parish church, it was not ‘packed to the doors [at the special Intercessory Service] on Friday evenings’. Each reader was asked to give thought to the question ‘How can I allow any obstacle, short of absolute duty, to keep me away when they gather in God’s house to offer those special prayers for those who are offering their lives, that I may dwell in safety’.

Troops were to be quartered in the parish at the locally situated Milford Camp, a part of the Witley Military Camp, and the magazine reported that the Godalming Federation of the Church of England Men’s Society had resolved to offer its services to Reverend Nattrass for him to utilise in ‘whatever work he would apportion it among the troops’ quartered therein. It was also recorded that the Church of England Sailors and Soldiers’ Institute, amongst others, had offered support to supplement the efforts that were to be made locally in hosting this ‘somewhat large number of welcome guests’. However, concerns about funds continued, and attention was drawn to the need for larger support of the Curate’s Stipend Fund. This was to ensure that the parish was not left without the help of a second priest at just the time when their work was ‘calling for the utmost effort’ and they were being given the opportunity ‘of rendering special service in connection with the camp’.

The Mothers’ Union reported that its usual monthly meetings were being suspended in favour of the Working Party, whose numbers had varied from 30 to 40, and who had already made over 50 garments for those who had been impoverished by the war. These were to be sent through the Surrey Needlework Guild to the Queen’s Guild and Red Cross Society. It was also reported that 25 belts and six pairs of socks had been sent towards to the Queen’s gift to the troops, with more being made. In addition, the Girl’s Friendly Society (GFS) was to meet on two Wednesdays in November and any young women interested in doing ‘war work’ and unable to attend the working party, were welcomed. Lastly, Mrs Edith Urmson of Elm House, was to give out work for the Red Cross. To date ‘210 garments of various kinds and 41 bandages have been sent to Headquarters in Godalming, to Hospitals in London and… Godalming [and] two sacks of clothes, four complete sets of baby clothes (also a cradle), have been sent to Belgian Refugees’.

As 1914 drew to a close, with the exception of an announcement about Christmas services, the December edition of the St John’s, Milford, Monthly Magazine was entirely preoccupied with the effects of the war, both directly and indirectly.

The magazine highlighted the Bishop of Winchester’s appeal for contributions towards a special fund aimed to supplement the provision being made by the government for the wellbeing of the troops quartered in camps in the diocese. Part of this fund was to be allotted to providing small hut chapels and the remainder devoted towards the erection of recreation huts, mainly by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The parish welcomed this action as it relieved them of the responsibility of providing and maintaining a hut themselves, and they resolved to support the Bishop’s scheme. At a meeting convened on 19th November, to carry out this resolution, the YMCA had reported that they intended to erect four large huts for recreation and refreshment, that would also be available for religious uses, and appealed to Milford for the use of twelve people for each evening for the week to ensure the timely opening of the first hut.

In ‘Navvy Mission’ it was reported that while the camp construction had brought hundreds of men into the parish, any attempt to have a care for these men had so far met with failure. It was with apparent relief then, that the magazine reported that Mr Sutton of the Navvy Mission Society was now hard at work in the Camp supporting these men. A large hut had been set apart as a Workmen’s Institute, which was to provide shelter and a place to relax in the evening, and Mr Sutton was keen to receive offers of help, both in the form of personal service or gifts. In addition, it was reported that the Navvy Mission Society would be glad to receive any financial contributions towards its expenses.

The ongoing financial strain on the parish and its parishioners was a recurring theme, and so it was with some great pleasure they reported that the parish’s response to their earlier appeal had resulted in the total amount of offerings on Sunday 8th November ‘exceeding the usual average of our annual contribution towards the work of the Diocese’. This response was taken as ‘proof that Milford Church people are resolved not to allow the ordinary work of the Church to be hampered because they are being called upon to meet so many demands upon their purses’. The magazine also acknowledged the subscriptions received by the treasurer of the National Relief Fund from various Milford parishioners.

In addition, and in contrast to the previously reported lack of attendance on Friday nights, the magazine reported that, in order to ensure ‘that all who come to the services shall find themselves welcome in our Church’, regular worshippers who have a preference for a particular seat should ensure that they attend in good time as, once the final bell begins, any vacant seats will be liable to be occupied by visitors.

Finally, the congratulations extended to ex-Milford school pupil Walter Harris, on his promotion from Lance-Corporal to 2nd Lieutenant, marked the first time that an individual’s war-time service is reported in the parish magazine.

Sources:

St John’s Milford, Monthly Magazine, January 1914 to December 1914, SHC Ref. 8005/2/17.

 

 

Private Tom Gridley Cox – Died 26th July 1916

Tom Gridley Cox was born in Greinton, Somerset, on 31st August 1880. He was baptised at St Michael and All Angels, Greinton, by Reverend Barter on 7th November of that year.

Tom’s parents were George and Elizabeth (nee Gridley) Cox. The family lived on Greylake Road, somewhere between the two villages of Greinton and Moorlinch, which are situated on the marshy Somerset Levels about halfway between Bridgwater and Glastonbury. George and Elizabeth were both Somerset-born and George was from nearby Moorlinch. Tom had at least three older brothers: William, John and Edward.

Sadly, Tom’s mother died when he was 15. His brothers had married and left home by the time Tom was 19 but they didn’t go far: one lived next door and another in a nearby cottage. Tom stayed at home with his dad, working as a dairyman at a local dairy farm while George tended to the herd in the fields.

George retired in the 1900s and Tom moved north across the Bristol Channel to live with his eldest brother, William, in Wales. They, together with at least one other man, worked as carmen, delivering goods in horse-drawn vans. In 1911, Tom was recorded living with William and his family at 24 Leckwith Road, Canton, Cardiff.

Tom, 5ft 8in tall and a pipe smoker, was a bell ringer. On 31st August 1903, he rang his first peal for Llandaff & Monmouth Association of Ringers, ringing the treble bell at St John the Baptist, the oldest church in Cardiff, in a three hour and seven minute peal, J.J. Parker’s Twelve Part, conducted by John Clutterbuck. The bells were half muffled in respect to the late Lord Salisbury, three-time Prime Minister, who had died a fortnight earlier. Tom is recorded taking part in several peals in the years leading up to the war, the last on 27th June 1914. The bells then fell largely silent as the ringers answered their country’s call.

Although Kitchener’s volunteers numbered over 2 million by the end of 1915, the number of recruits had fallen sharply since its peak in September 1914 and had been gradually declining ever since. The age limit was raised from 38 to 40 in May 1915 but still it wasn’t enough. The Derby Scheme (named after Lord Derby, Director-General of Recruiting, and descendant of the Lord Derby for whom the horse race was named) was introduced in the autumn of 1915 and required men to make a face-to-face declaration to a recruiting officer as to whether they intended to attest or not. Those that agreed to join the Army had the option of deferring their service until their age group was called up at a later date and were issued with an armband to wear showing that they had either pledged to serve or were ineligible and so unable to serve. Uptake under the scheme was disappointing and conscription would soon be brought in. Tom was among the last men to join under the Derby Scheme, attesting at Cardiff on 11th December 1915 and choosing to defer his service.

The younger Derby Scheme men began to be mobilized in January 1916 and older Derby men and conscripted men from March onwards. A proclamation was issued on 16th February that Tom’s age class were to be mobilized on 18th March for both Derby and conscripted men; Tom was officially mobilized a few days late, on 23rd March. Two medical boards met each day at Cardiff to examine the men. Although you could express a preference for the Navy (which was in need of more men), there was now no choice of which regiment you joined if you ended up in the Army. The Welsh Guards took 200 of the men enlisted at Cardiff in March and Tom joined them.

On 2nd February 1915, a letter to The Times had pointed out that Wales was the only country of the United Kingdom not to have its own regiment of Foot Guards, having to share the Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards with England while Scotland had the Scots Guards and Ireland had the Irish Guards. The idea of a Welsh Guards regiment gathered support in the Welsh Press and a deputation of civilians and military men formally put the suggestion to the Minister of War, Lord Kitchener. He approved the idea – and ordered that it be done within a week! The King authorised the Regiment’s creation and they were on duty, mounting the King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, by St David’s Day. The nucleus of the Regiment was formed from 300 Welshmen of the Grenadier Guards and another 200 (presumably guardsmen of the other regiments) joined within a few days. They began a recruitment campaign all over Wales and their first battalion was soon up to strength.

The 1st Battalion were stationed at Wellington Barracks, by Buckingham Palace. They sailed to France in August 1915. At this time, a reserve battalion was formed in order to train new recruits and to reintegrate convalescent wounded men of the 1st before they returned to duty. They were based at the Tower of London over the winter of 1915-16.

Tom’s basic training would have been at the Guards Depot at Caterham, Surrey. He would then have joined his battalion at the Tower of London before they moved to Tadworth on 12th June.

Tadworth Camp was a “miniature city of marquees and tents” on Epsom Downs which stretched from Tattenham Corner as far as Walton-on-the-Hill. It was “teeming with lads in khaki” and home to 8,000 men at its peak. There had been soldiers training on the Downs since November 1914, when the Royal Fusiliers arrived. They had been billeted in houses in Epsom and in railway carriages at Tattenham Corner station (from where they used to march to St Mary’s, Burgh Heath, on a Sunday morning for church service, led by their band). A proper camp – eight of them really (three at Tadworth and five at Walton-on-the-Hill) – was constructed in Spring 1915 and later expanded to at least eleven sites. Here men would be trained in trench warfare in mocked-up trench systems dug in the fields of generous local landowners, learn how to protect themselves against gas attacks in what is now known as Gas School Wood, practice their shooting on a rifle range, learn to throw (dummy) grenades and be “exercised in everything that the military mind deemed necessary and in every kind of athletic sport.

The London Territorials, various volunteer units, artillery and field ambulances used the camp, as later would the Volunteer Defence Corps (the WW1 equivalent of the Home Guard). The Guards also had a large presence there. The whole of the 2nd Welsh Guards were based at Tadworth over the summer of 1916 and the other Guards regiments sent individual companies there for month-long spells of field training and occasionally sent larger parties to join Brigade camps. When the Guards formed a machine-gun battalion later in the war, their training was carried out at Tadworth Camp.

Drafts of men regularly crowded the platforms at Tadworth and Epsom stations as they left for the front line and a draft of men from the Welsh Guards left once or twice a month, with smaller groups of specialists (machine-gunners, signallers, etc) leaving more regularly. The group of men that Tom joined with would eventually leave to join the 1st Battalion in France in October 1916.

The war claimed its victims in many ways: on 26th July 1916, Tom, suffering from some unknown trauma, found a quiet spot behind a hedge and took his own life. He was 35 years old.

Tom’s body was found after noon on the 26th. An inquest was held at the Church Institute, Banstead, by the Surrey Coroner on 29th July. Several witnesses were interviewed and it was determined that Tom had been of unsound mind on that sad day. His death was not reported in the Press.

Tom was buried at All Saints on 31st July. He is commemorated on the wooden panels in the Lady Chapel in All Saints, on the Roll of Honour in the Burgh Heath War Memorial Hall, on the Llandaff Diocesan Association of Change Ringers war memorial in the ringing chamber at Llandaff Cathedral, and in the Bell Ringers Rolls of Honour and (with incorrect details) in the All Saints Book of Men Who Served Overseas. He does not appear to have a memorial in Somerset.

On 1st July 2016, 12 Llandaff ringers rang 1311 Stedman Cinques in 50 minutes for the men who died in the Battle of the Somme and to honour Tom. The All Saints’ bell ringers rang the tenor bell 100 times at noon on 26th July 2016 and then rang handbells by Tom’s graveside.