Researched and written by Anne Wright
Lt S N Simmons
Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry
Died of wounds, 27.10.1916
Roydon Lodge on Woburn Hill was the Simmons family home from 1880 until at least 1939. George and Emily had four sons: George Alan, (Sydney) Noel, Humphrey Lee and Leslie Hyland. Their father who was born in 1844 in East Peckham, Kent, owned a brewery. Their mother was the daughter of a prosperous Sussex farmer, Frederick Tuppen; she was born in 1854. There appears to be no record of Noel’s early education but he may have attended one of the schools where his brothers were pupils in Eastbourne, St. Leonard’s on Sea, Milford in Surrey or Bradfield College in Berkshire. However, an S N Simmonds is commemorated on St James’ School Memorial to masters and former pupils; aged 10 at the time of the 1891 Census Noel was at home while two of his brothers were away at school so could have attended the local school. This spelling of his surname does not appear in any other related records. Ten years later he was an architectural student.
Noel went on to pursue a career as a painter and designer. He exhibited at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea which promoted much of the work of Augustus John; the New English Art Club, one of the most respected exhibiting societies in the British art world; the Manchester Gallery of Fine Art, which displayed top quality contemporary art and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, another prestigious institution.
When he enlisted in the army at Chippenham on 8 September 1914 he had already spent ten years in the Territorials and four years in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps (OTC) from which he was discharged in July 1913 on completing his service and judged to be of ‘good moral character’. Noel stood six feet and two inches tall and was 33 years old when he initially agreed to serve for the duration of the war with the Territorial Force of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (RWY) and on 17 September he stated his willingness to serve abroad in an emergency. Noel became Private Simmons number 1054. He had been a Sergeant in the OTC and on 10 January 1915 reached the same rank with the RWY. Noel applied for a Commission on 6 February when he went to France. By 23 February 1916 he was a temporary Lieutenant.
The RWY remained on the Western Front throughout the war; whilst a cavalry unit their key tasks were observation and police work. By the time of the Battle of the Somme, 1916, they were part of XV Corps and Noel carried out observation duties. The Germans were heavily dug- in and well-fortified at Delville Wood north-east of Longueval; they had to be cleared out. The second phase of the Battle of the Somme began on 15 July with just over 3,000 South African soldiers attacking Delville Wood. To the soldiers it soon became known as Devil’s Wood; hand to hand fighting ensued, it was difficult to bring supplies forward or to take the wounded and dead back. On 18 July a German officer reported:
Delville Wood had disintegrated into a shattered wasteland of shattered trees, charred and burning stumps, craters thick with mud and blood and corpses, corpses everywhere. In places they were piled four deep.
Yet, still the Germans held on. An attack along the line from Guillemont to Thiepval Ridge which included Delville Wood was planned for 18 August, the fiftieth day of the Battle of the Somme. A Surrey Advertiser report of 26 August reported that Noel ‘……was chosen for observation duty on account of his utter fearlessness.’ His task would have been made more difficult by the four stormy days which led up to the attack; he was wounded while carrying out his duties. Noel was taken to No. 5 Casualty Station but embarked for Britain from Le Havre on the Asturia arriving at Southampton on 20 September. From here he travelled to Lady Carnarvon’s Hospital for Officers at 48 Bryanston Square in west London. Noel died of his wounds on 27 October.
His funeral took place at St James’ Church in Weybridge on 30 October. The last post was sounded by six trumpeters of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry from Chippenham. Among the floral tributes was one from Captain Henderson and the officers of D Squadron. Noel was laid to rest in Walton and Weybridge Cemetery (2071). He was one of those remembered in a Memorial Service at St James Church on 2 November. Christmas Day that year must have been especially poignant for his family as it would have been his 36th birthday. His brothers Leslie and Humphrey also served in the war, the former with the Royal Field Artillery and the latter with the Royal Naval Reserve. Both survived.
The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art, 1918, included painted furniture and two hand tufted rugs by the ‘late Lt Noel Simmons’. The statue of King Alfred in the Triptych in All Souls Chapel of St James Church was sponsored in his memory.
Sydney Noel Simmons 1880-1916, Artists Biographies: British and Irish Artists in the Twentieth Century, www.artbiogs.co.uk
British Army Service Records, National Archives, WO 374/62434
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 38th Welsh Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Macdonald, Lyn Somme, 1983
Trueman, C N ‘Delville Wood’, www.historylearningsite.co.uk
Gifts to All Souls Chapel, St James and St Michael and All Angels Parish Records, Surrey History Centre, 3204/10/8
Died of Wounds, Surrey Advertiser, Saturday, 4 November 1916
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1987, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk