At first we were quite puzzled by this plaque in St John the Baptist Church, Wonersh. The wording suggested military or possibly diplomatic service but searches of the usual military sources yielded nothing. So what was a 60 year old doing in France on duty for his country in 1920? Surrey History Centre helped explain this by locating Frank Sparkes’ obituary in the Surrey Advertiser and County Times of January 1 1921.
Frank Sparkes lived in a house named Stentsfield in Wonersh. He came from a well known family of landowners in this part of Surrey and in the 1911 Census he was described as a ‘gentleman farmer’. He had been carrying out the duties of a King’s Messenger since the end of the 1914-18 war and these duties had occasioned the need for travel between Paris and Geneva. He died of heart failure following a bout of pneumonia.
At the start of the Great War, Mr Sparkes had served with the Red Cross at Farncombe Hospital and subsequently went to France where he continued his good work. By virtue of his service with the Red Cross his name appears on the British Red Cross Society & Order of St John Victory and British War Medal list.
One of the attendees at Mr Sparkes’ memorial service was Mrs Beatrice Cook of Barnett Hill, Wonersh. Mrs Cook was the wife of Frank Cook, the grandson of Thomas Cook, the travel agent. They built their home at Barnett Hill around 1905. In 1940 Beatrice Cook, by then a widow, offered Barnett Hill to the Red Cross and Order of St John War Committee for use as a convalescent hospital and she moved to a house in Wonersh Village. This was the house that Frank Sparkes had built around 1907 and had called Stentsfield. After Frank’s death subsequent owners had renamed the house Little Hatch and later still Abbott’s Close. When Beatrice Cook bought the house she promptly renamed it Sparkes Place recalling the connection to a prominent local man who had died on service for his country. In 1944 Beatrice Cook handed over the deeds of Barnett Hill to Queen Mary, the late Queen Mother, who accepted them on behalf of the British Red Cross, which, after the war, converted the house into its National Training Centre.
Click here for more information about this memorial.