Weald in WW1
All this began as an effort to find out about the fallen of the Great War named on our War Memorial. Of course it also had to include each man’s family but gradually snippets of information about the lives of others in Weald in these difficult years came to light from newspapers and parish records. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of articles over the next four years
Our War memorial shows the names of seventeen sons of Sevenoaks Weald who were killed in the First World War. The youngest was nineteen years old and the oldest forty two. All of these men named on the Memorial had parents and family still living in the Weald when they died but there were other men, born in Weald, who had moved away with their families before the Great War. Their names are commemorated on the Memorials in their new home towns and villages, but this is an area of investigation for the future.
One of our men, twenty one year old Bernard Paul Beanlands who was always known as Paul, was killed after the war ended, in May 1919, when the plane he was piloting crashed. He was still on active service and is commemorated on the Memorial, but another of our young men who died is not. This was Alfred George Miller, known as George, who was gassed and wounded in September1918. He was discharged from the army and eventually recovered sufficiently to join the Metropolitan Police, but it was not to be for long as he become ill as a result of the gas and his wounds and died in a London hospital aged twenty one in July 1921. By this time the Memorial was already in place and his name was never added.
Then there was Daisy Martin who died in February 1919. Daisy wanted to be a teacher and was employed for some time as a Supplementary Teacher at Weald School. However, she became a nurse and trained for four years in Hackney before going as Staff Nurse to Horton War Hospital in Epsom to nurse the wounded. Sadly, she succumbed to the flu epidemic which swept through Europe at the end of the war and was buried in Weald churchyard.
Added to these were the sixty or so men of Weald who served in the armed forces, many of whom were gassed or wounded but survived the war. The civilians left at home also played a part in the war effort in official roles such as Firemen and Special Constables, or in unofficial groups such as the Weald Knitting Party.
The work in collecting information is an ongoing task and can never, one hundred years later, be complete, but I want to make sure that as many as possible of the Weald participants, in whatever role, are recorded.
© Sheila Hocking
THE FALLEN of WORLD WAR 1
THE FIRST MAN to DIE
James Everest, the youngest of George and Annie Everest’s four children and their only son, was born in 1892 in Laburnum Terrace. This was a row of three cottages, long since demolished, in The Hurst opposite Potkiln Cottage. By the time James was nine, his father had died, his two oldest sisters had left home and he was living in Windmill Cottages with his mother, sister Ellen, and Alfred Elphick, a gardener who boarded with them. He attended Weald Board School where, at six years of age, he was given a medal for almost perfect attendance. At fourteen years old he left school and followed most of his schoolmates to work on a local farm.
The 1911 census returns report him as a twenty year old cowman living back in Laburnum Terrace with his mother, his cousin Albert Manning, a milk carrier, and his little nephew William Everest.
After five years working on the farm he decided to start a new life in Canada and so, in June 1911, at nineteen years of age, he set sail from Liverpool to Quebec. The purser on the ship noted that he intended to stay permanently, could read and write and was “C of E”. He travelled as a single man but was soon joined by Amelia and their son, George James, was born.
In September 1914, less than three months after war was declared on Germany, James enlisted in the 1st Canadian contingent of the British Expeditionary Force and was soon transferred to the Field Artillery as a gunner. The largest trans-Atlantic convoy of the time brought James and the other recruits to England and to preliminary training at Shorncliffe. Then they were sent to spend the winter in more training on Salisbury Plain.
February 1915 found James’ 10th Battery being held in reserve at Hazebroek in France but near to the Belgian border and in early March they crossed the border to take up position on the Ypres Salient. By late April they were engaged in the defence of St. Julien, the village where poisoned gas was used for the first time. With no gas masks available at that time, the only defence was to follow the advice given to them which was to cover their mouth and nose with urine soaked handkerchiefs.
At some time during this engagement James was gassed or wounded or maybe both and was taken back to France, to the Canadian hospital at Longuenesse where he died on May 1st 1915, aged twenty three. He is buried in Languenesse Souvenir Cemetery near St. Omer and his name is recorded in the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance as well as on our own War Memorial.
James’ wife, Amelia, returned to England with little George James and they lived in Reading. Amelia never re-married and died in 1957. George became a printer.
At the unveiling of the Weald War Memorial in March 1920 a floral tribute was left with the message “Wife and little George, in loving memory of Jim”
© Sheila Hocking
THE FIRST FEW WEEKS
After weeks of uncertainty, on August 4th 1914, war was declared on Germany because they had refused to honour Belgium’s declared neutrality.
Some mobilisation of our armed forces had already been underway throughout the summer but now all reservists were called back into service.
£100,000,000 was voted through Parliament for immediate wartime contingencies (by contrast, the German government voted through £250,000,000 for theirs) and a nationwide “call to arms” appeared in newspapers, Post Offices and Police Stations.
Nearer to home, Kent was preparing itself with the West Kent Yeomanry and the Royal West Kent (Queen’s Own) Regiment mobilising and marching off to their headquarters. A group of the Yeomanry, about 40 strong, gathered at the Fountain in Sevenoaks and sang patriotic songs ending with Rule Britannia and the National Anthem followed by three cheers for the King before marching off to their mobilisation centre. The Territorials had an even better send off as they marched from the Drill Hall to the railway station at Tubs Hill between crowds of cheering townsfolk. Sevenoaks Town Band abandoned the Seal Flower Show that day and came to the station to play the National Anthem as the troops departed.
Kent, as it always has been, was the access route to Europe and was now to see the military, the wounded, refugees, voluntary workers and all the paraphernalia of war crossing the county. That night in early August the Drill Hall played host to a detachment of a Cyclist Battalion on its way south to war and the next day more Cyclists were passing through the district. The local people were to turn out on many future occasions to cheer departing troops and offer solace and nursing to the returning casualties.
All young men were exhorted to respond to the national call to arms. Men between the ages of 19 and 30 years could get information at any Post Office or Military Depot and sign on for 3 years or the duration of the war. Obviously not everyone thought it would all be over by Christmas.
The 25th (Sevenoaks) Company of the National Reserve, a body made up of ex-servicemen who had no further obligation for military service, was soon busy too and told to report to the Police Station Yard on the evening of September 6th bringing a greatcoat, a blanket and a stout stick as they were to spend the night in Knole Park guarding a herd of horses bound for military service.
As well as the military mobilisation the local civilians were being organised to do their bit. The VADs, the Voluntary Aid Detachments run by the Red Cross, got to work setting up a hospital in the Cornwall Hall, as they did in towns and villages throughout the country, and appealed for donations of bedding, nursing and cooking equipment and money.
A local corps of stretcher bearers attracted around 50 recruits to the Liberal Hall in Bank Street where ex-ambulance men demonstrated the correct procedures for coping with the injured.
Sevenoaks Rifle Club offered their services at the open air range at Shenden every Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to instruct men in the use of the rifle. Club membership and the use of the rifles would be free for everyone but a small charge would be made for ammunition. St. John’s miniature rifle range at Bat and Ball similarly trained men in shooting skills.
Magistrates swore in Special Constables in Sevenoaks and the surrounding villages to replace the many policemen who were enlisting. Their many duties included guarding reservoirs to ensure a safe water supply, watching out for German spies and saboteurs and keeping their ears open for malicious rumours. One such rumour going the rounds alleged that the 3 years military service that men were signing up for would be followed by 9 years on the reserve. This rumour was, of course, attributed to German spies but was quickly denied before it could affect recruitment.
Older Boy Scouts welcomed the Chief Constables initiative that would release them from school to act as messengers. The Government recognised the Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts as non-military bodies but called upon them for public service. Later reports showed that the boys carried out their duties with every care, with a sense of responsibility and enthusiasm.
The gentlemen of the district were asked to place their motor cars at the disposal of the government. A certain Colonel Walker suggested that they should advise their chauffeurs, who would now be unemployed, to register for National Service. He would personally make the necessary arrangements with the War Office.
Another request was for gentlemen with gardeners who could be spared to allow them to assist in the harvest, which was well under way by then, or to help cultivate allotments for families whose men had gone to war.
Others as well had sympathy for the soldiers’ families in the absence of the breadwinner and the rector of Sevenoaks started a fund to provide for those in need, indeed a lady and gentleman had already given him £25 for this purpose.
Essenhigh-Corke and Co. Ltd., a photographic shop in London Road, Sevenoaks, offered a free photograph to all Military and Naval men and all ladies of the Red Cross, in their uniforms. They could come at any time as no appointment was necessary. Perhaps some of these photographs were among those in the WW1 exhibition at the Sevenoaks Library in 2014.
And to show that patriotism was alive and well everywhere, even in the most ardent feminists, the Women’s Unionist Association called off their fete arranged for August 19th in “Montreal”. They decided to stop campaigning for as long as hostilities lasted and devote themselves instead to providing succour to those who would suffer as a result of the war.
Finally, prayers for Divine intervention were said in every church with calls for denominational differences to be put aside in order to combine their prayers and unite in the face of the enemy.
The war was underway
This information comes from the Sevenoaks Chronicle, the Parish Council minutes, records and recruiting posters of the time.
© Sheila Hocking
1915, THE SECOND CHRISTMAS
Another Christmas has arrived and the War is still not “all over”. By now the villagers in Weald realised that the work they had started in the first days of the War was going to be needed for a lot longer.
At least eight young men from the village had enlisted in 1914 followed by at least another ten in 1915. This included two pairs of brothers, the Hedgecocks and the Marchants who enlisted together. Rueben and Ronald Marchant, who were gardeners at Mereworth Castle, enlisted in the Home Counties Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps. Thomas Hedgecock joined the Royal Field Artillery while his younger brother, William, preferred the Royal West Kent Regiment. One Weald man, Ernest Hawkins, was already serving in the Royal Navy and another, Frederick Wynn, in the Dragoon Guards. Four young men from Weald who had emigrated to Canada rushed to join Canadian regiments and were fighting in the trenches in France by early 1915.
James Everest was one of these who he died of his wounds in France on May 1st 1915. He left a wife and baby son who soon returned to England. Another, Hubert Swift, who went to Canada in 1911, was killed on October 8th 1915.
When war was declared the villagers who remained at home swung into action. The Parish Council were kept busy with requests and directives from various bodies in the form of “circular letters” which were discussed and acted upon. This sometimes simply involved a request to Mr Pyle, the Parish clerk, to put the notice in the village Post Office. A letter from Lord Harris, the County Commander of the Kent Volunteer Corps., concerning “Interned and Missing Soldiers and Sailors” was dealt with in this way. Unfortunately we do not know what it said.
Mr Pyle had notices printed inviting applications from eligible men to become Special Constables and arranged for two magistrates to be available in the School in August to swear in suitable applicants. The Specials were to take over many of the duties of policemen who had enlisted or would soon do so.
In response to a request from the Local Distress Committee, the Parish Council decided unanimously that Miss Nicholson would be the village representative.
Negotiations had been going on for over a year for the purchase of a Fire Engine from Sevenoaks Fire Brigade and they were finalised in early 1915. The task of bringing it to the village was given to Norman Boakes, a 20 year old running his own carrier business, who charged five shillings for the job. Then he housed it in his barn for £1 per annum. Hoses and tackle were bought, a Fire Brigade of eight men, who had to be approved and sign on for the task, was organised and regular drills started.
The School’s headmaster applied to the Education Committee who approved his application to rent two of the village allotments for the boys to cultivate. The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries had prepared leaflets for growers to help them increase food production and another “circular letter” was sent to the Parish Council to alert all allotment holders and gardeners to this benefit.
The school children were busy in other ways. They had collected an amazing 2000 cigarettes which they had sent, together with a number of woollen articles, to the men of the West Kent Regiment at the Front in time for Christmas 1914.
Mrs Percy, the schoolmaster’s wife had opened a subscription list amongst the better off in the village and raised £3 to buy wool. This was knitted up by the school girls into helmets, mittens, gloves, scarves, socks and “knee caps” and sent to Belgian soldiers who had been wounded and treated in St John’s hospital before returning to the Front. Their labour was rewarded by appreciative letters from the Commandant of the hospital and from some of the men as well. Another parcel was sent to *British Marines who were interned for the duration of the war in Groningen, Holland. The money raising and knitting carried on for the duration of the war.
Almost the last task for the Parish Council before Christmas 1915 was to deal with a request from the Parliamentary Agents for gentlemen to assist in “canvassing eligibles” for the Army under Lord Derby’s Scheme. It was obvious by now that insufficient men could be obtained by voluntary enlistment and other methods to increase numbers were being sought before the last resort of conscription was used. Several men were appointed to carry out this task including Norman Boakes’ father Sidney.
Before the conflict ended, at least sixty of the men of Weald would serve in the armed forces.
*The story of the men interned at Groningen is bizarre and worth Googling.
© Sheila Hocking
Hubert Swift was born on 3rd January 1892 in Croydon and started life living with his grandfather, William Pool, a boot finisher. The household consisted of William, the head of the family, two married sons and one single son, two married daughters and one single daughter and two grandsons. None of his children’s spouses was mentioned in the 1901 Census returns but, at Hubert’s baptism, his father was recorded as William John Swift, a decorator.
William Pool’s two grandsons, Hubert and Alfred, aged 9 years and 6 years in the 1901 census, were the sons of his eldest daughter, Emily Swift. They had a sister, Grace aged 4 years, who was not registered at their address in 1901.
Sometime after 1904 Emily moved from Croydon to Patience Cottages in the Weald and became a domestic housekeeper, perhaps working for the Dennetts who ran the village bakery. Another daughter, Doris Gwendoline, had arrived and by the 1911 census the two girls were scholars, no doubt at Weald School and Alfred, by now 16 years old, was working as a labourer in the stone quarries.
Hubert is not mentioned because in 1910, at the age of 18 years, he travelled 3rd Class/Steerage to Canada where he was to join an uncle at Owen Sound, on Lake Huron. The ship’s purser’s records say that he had been farming in England for three years and intended to stay permanently in Canada and carry on farming. However, farming soon lost its attraction for Hubert and he took up more exciting employment as a brakeman with the Canadian Pacific Railway.
When war came, he enlisted on 23rd October 1914 at Fort William, Ontario in the 28th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan
Regiment) as Private 73963. He gave his next of kin as his mother, Emily Swift, of Weald, Sevenoaks, not his father as was more usual but it seems he had not figured large in family life.
After training in Canada he came to Shorncliffe in Kent for further training before being sent to France in mid September 1915. His regiment was deployed on the southern part of the Ypres Salient in Belgium where they were engaged in engineering works alternating with periods in the trenches. At 5pm on October 8th 1915 two German mines explode under the “Glory Hole”, the section of trench that Hubert was helping to man. 19 men were killed, 30 wounded and 7 missing. Hubert, aged 23 years, was one of the missing. Insufficient remains of the 7 missing were found to allow for burial so Hubert and the others are recorded on Panel 28 of the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. He is also commemorated on Page 38 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance.
At the unveiling of the Weald War Memorial in 1921 two floral tributes were left for him; one from his family “From mother, sisters and brothers to dear Hubert” and the other “From Mr. Mrs Dennett in loving memory of Hubert Swift”.
© Sheila Hocking
GEORGE JAMES FRANCIS
Little is known of the war service of GEORGE JAMES FRANCIS as his records were destroyed in a WW2 bombing raid along with over 60% of all First World War service records.
However, census, baptismal and school records give a good picture of the Francis family who were long-time residents of the Weald. George was born on 25th January 1893 the third child and eldest son of George John, who worked as a labourer or a quarryman, and Mary Francis. Father George was a native of the Weald but Mary came from Pasnatran, Wicklow, Ireland. All seven children, four girls and three boys were born in the village between 1888 and 1904, all were baptized at St George’s church and all attended Weald School.
The 1911 Census reveals that the two older girls, Mary Elizabeth and Agnes Ann had left home but the rest of the family was living in Parris’ Cottages, just listed as two rooms and a kitchen. At this time 18 year old George was working as a garden boy, his younger brother William, aged 16, was a shop messenger and the other three children were still at the village school.
George enlisted in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment as Private S/8714. This must have been at the outbreak of the war as the War Medal records show that he was awarded the “14 Star”. The 3rd Battalion was a Depot/Training unit initially based in Maidstone but soon moved to Chatham.
On 4th May 1916 George died, whether as the result of an accident or from illness is not known at present. He was buried at Fort Pitt Military Cemetery.
Two of his younger brothers also served in the army. William Henry, who by then was employed as a “working jeweller” joined the Royal Engineers’ Signals Division in 1915 and, it appears, spent the first part of his army life with 67th Division Signals based at Hall’s Green. He later he served overseas as a Driver and survived the war. A report in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in May 1919 tells of a concert held at the Church Room in Weald in which Driver W Francis sang a song.
Frank Francis, who was 21 years old when the war ended, was reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle at the end of August 1918 as being “ home on fourteen days leave direct from the Front at Ypres where he has seen much fighting”. He survived the war but part from this no other information has come to light about Frank’s service.
© Sheila Hocking
Four Weald men died in the First Battle of the Somme
On July 1st 1916 the First Battle of the Somme began. On the first day, the costliest, over 19,000 British men were killed. By the end of the battle, 141 days later, the total of all the men killed on both sides was over 1 million. By the time the worsening weather conditions brought the fighting to a halt the Allies had advanced just about seven miles into German territory. The Allied army was made up not only of the French and British armies but also Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, (the ANZACS,) and Indians. Men from all over the British Empire had joined to fight far from home.
This long battle took the lives of four men from Weald. The first to fall was
Arthur Kingswood. At 41 years of age he was one of the oldest of the Weald men and, as a time served soldier still on the Reserve of the West Kent Regiment, he was recalled to the Colours on the outbreak of war.
Arthur was born in the Weald in 1874 to Thomas, a farm labourer, and Mary Ann. In the 1891 Census Arthur is recorded as a 16 year old general labourer living in Windmill Cottages with his grandfather, mother, father, two older brothers, a younger sister and an “afterthought”, 3 year old Bertie. Alfred Wickenden, an 8 year old grandson was also there on the night of the Census. Small wonder then that Arthur left these overcrowded conditions and joined the army. He enlisted in the Queen’s Own “Royal West Kent” Regiment for a term of engagement, usually twelve years and may have served almost anywhere in the Empire as well as in the South African “Boer War” and on garrison duty back in England. He probably completed his service in 1906 returning to work as an agricultural labourer and living with his cousin, Alfred Inkpen in Sevenoaks. His oldest brother, Thomas, was married with grown up children by this time and living in Laburnum Cottages together with the youngest brother, Bertie. Two of Thomas’ sons and Bertie served in and survived the war.
In the spring of 1914 Arthur, now aged 39, was married to Alice Laura Gertrude Wright a 36 year old maidservant, but by late summer he was away in the army.
As Private S/350 in the 1st Battalion he joined his Regiment who were positioned on the Marne in France having been forced to retreat from Mons by the German forces. At this early stage Arthur may have recognized warfare as he had known it, there were even English and Indian cavalry regiments engaging the enemy, but by the time he had fought at Ypres in Belgium and then back in France on the Somme he was experiencing the full horror of industrial warfare.
In thirty years of fighting all around the world up to 1913, only 22 men of the West Kents had been killed in battle. On a single day, the 30th July 1916, Arthur Kingswood and 20 of his comrades were killed.
A report in The Sevenoaks Chronicle of 20th November 1916 states that he had been reported as wounded but now he was wounded and missing. His body was eventually recovered from the battlefield and was buried in Sere Road No.2 Cemetery at Serre-les-Puisieux, Somme, France.
His widow Alice was awarded 13s.2d a week in May 1917 after Arthur was reported missing and her husband must have been presumed dead as, later that same year, she married
J D Marsh who also lived in Sevenoaks. This marriage too was a short one as she died in September 1920.
Alice had been in touch with the War Office to ask for Arthur’s effects to be returned to her in her new married name of Alice Marsh but was told there were none. By the time the war medals, the 14/15 Star, the Victory and the British War Medals were sent out she had been dead for two years. A letter still exists in the war records with a request to Mr J D Marsh to complete and return the certificate to acknowledge receipt of the medals. No further records remain to tell if this was ever done nor if the medals ever got to his family back in the Weald.
Arthur is the only one of our four men who fell in the 1st Battle of the Somme to have a grave. The other three are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, three names amongst 72,244.
© Sheila Hocking
Herbert Long – someone’s sweetheart
Herbert Long, the eighth of the twelve children born to William and Mercy Jane Long, was born in the Weald in December 1895 and baptised at St. George’s Church the following March. His father worked as a bricklayer’s labourer. His mother was a laundress taking in washing from the big houses surrounding the village and using the village green as a convenient drying ground as their home was at 5, Patience Cottages.
All the children went to the village school where it seems they did well being awarded medals and prizes for good work and attendance. Herbert managed full attendance in three consecutive years aged 5, 6 and 7 years old.
At the age of 14 years, like so many of the local lads, he started work as a farm labourer and was still so employed when he volunteered to serve in the Royal West Kent (Queen’s Own) Regiment on 23rd February 1916. The 1st Battalion was engaged on the Western Front in France when Herbert joined them on 15th July 1916, one of his first battles being the attack on High Woods on the Somme. Of the 650 men who attacked that day 421 were lost. Herbert was one of the survivors.
In September the British were preparing for more attacks on the German defences around Guillemont. The 1st Battalion had the dangerous task of digging the assembly trenches, forward of their own lines, a job undertaken only at night. It was probably while engaged in this work that Herbert was killed on September 4th 1916 at the age of 19 years.
His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on Pier and Face 11C of the Thiepval Memorial.
His family left a floral tribute for him when the Weald War Memorial was unveiled from “Mother, Dad, sisters and brothers of our dear son and brother Herbert”.
In Win Ellis’ book Tom Tiddler’s Ground, (edited by Rodney Castleden) she sadly recalls the death of “Curly Long, my childhood sweetheart”
© Sheila Hocking
KENNETH JOHN LAWRENCE
The Lawrence family lived in the Gardener’s Cottage at St Julians where father, William, was Head Gardener. He was a local man from Chevening but his wife, Harriet came from London. They had eight children, seven of whom, three boys and four girls, survived to adulthood. Kenneth John was the sixth and youngest son.
It would have been a very long walk to Weald School for the children, so it is most likely that they all went to Underriver School. That was still a long walk along unmade roads and tracks.
As they left school the three boys all worked in the gardens with their father before moving on when they had some experience. Four children were still at home in 1911, Alice Jane, the oldest daughter helping at home, another daughter, Daisy Louisa, working in the Big House as a sewing maid and Kenneth John, then aged 15, and his older brother, Basil, working in the gardens and the house.
Young Kenneth was probably conscripted in 1916 but may have enlisted in the Royal West Kent Regiment earlier than that as Private 2278. (His records no longer exist.) However, he was transferred to the 20th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment as Private 6718 in early August of 1916. This Battalion was engaged in the fighting on the Somme, in particular the Battles of the Transloy Ridges. At the beginning of October 1916 Kenneth’s battalion were given the task of capturing the abbey in Eaucourt l’Abbaye which they managed to do, setting up a new front line but with heavy losses; over 50 men killed, many who died of wounds and more again who were wounded.
On 3rd October the Germans responded by heavy shelling on the 20th’s new front line and in this bombardment the 21 year old Kenneth, along with many others, was killed.
His body was never found and so he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
By the time of the Battle of the Somme around 30 men of Weald were serving in the Armed Forces, some of them on the Somme and other parts of the Western Front. Others were fighting against the Turks in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine. Several men were in the Royal Navy protecting convoys from the U-Boat threat. The Royal Flying Corps had a pilot and a mechanic from Weald and two of our men were prisoners of the Germans, remaining in Prisoner of War Camps until the Armistice.
© Sheila Hocking
Arthur Eric Martin
Arthur Eric Martin was born 1892 in Priory Cottage, Scabharbour Road on the border of Weald and Leigh. He was the ninth of the eleven children, six boys and five girls, of John Samuel Martin, a farm labourer born in Rotherfield and Caroline who was born in Leigh. Arthur’s father died in early 1901 and shortly afterwards Caroline moved to Meopham Cottages in Weald with the six or seven of her children still living at home. They all went to Weald School but by the Census of 1911 all except Alice May, the youngest, were at work.
By this time Arthur Eric, now 19 years old, was working as a printer’s compositor, a highly skilled trade, probably at Salmons Printers in Sevenoaks.
He served as Private S/9000 with the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders raised in 1914 at Fort George in Inverness, Scotland. Arthur enlisted in 1915 when the battalion had moved to Aldershot and was sent to the Front in France in October 1915.
The Seaforths were in action on the northern part of the Somme throughout the offensive of 1916 but their particular objective on October 12th was the Butte de Walencourt, a heavily defended German position.
Early in the day some of the Seaforths were killed when the Allied bombardment fell short on their trenches but at 2 o’clock they were ordered to advance up a slight hill towards the German positons. A report of the battle says that “the Seaforth’s front ranks were swept away by a hurricane of machine gun and rifle fire”.
In this battle Arthur Eric, aged 24 years, was killed. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on Pier and Face 15C of the Thiepval Memorial.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle in August 1918 reported that one of Arthur Eric’s older brothers, Private George Edgar Martin, was home on leave after seeing much action in Mesopotamia.
On 13th December 1918 it tells of another of Arthur Eric’s older brothers, Alfred James, who was the first released prisoner of war to return to the Weald. He had been held for three years in Westphalia and said he was “fairly well treated considering the shortage of food” but was now home on two months leave.
Daisy Emily, who was two years older than Arthur Eric, wanted to become a teacher but, as further education was too expensive for the family, she trained for four years as a nurse in Hackney before becoming a staff nurse at the Horton War Hospital in Epsom. She died there after becoming an early victim of the flu’ epidemic, was brought home to Weald and lies in St. George’s burial ground.
© Sheila Hocking
Alfred George Wright
Although the Battle of the Somme was over in November 1916 and the next great horror of WW1, the 3rd Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele, did not start until July 1917, fighting along the whole of the Western Front continued. There was little rest for the men who were not only battling the enemy but also the harsh winter conditions. Alfred was one of five Weald men who died in this period between the two infamous battles.
Born in Riverhead in summer 1892, Alfred was the eldest child of Alfred and Alice Wright. He had a brother, Albert William, just one year younger than himself and two younger sisters, Beatrice Daisy and Elsie Lilian. Mother, Alice, was a native of Sevenoaks Weald and Father, Alfred, was born in Riverhead but moved from Riverhead to the Weald in the early 1900s. They lived first in Meopham Cottages then moved to New Cottages, now known as Clivale Cottages. He worked as a Foreman Platelayer on the South East and Chatham Railway and the children attended Weald School.
Alfred junior started work as a farm labourer but later joined his father as a railway worker with the S.E. and Chatham Railway until he enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Royal West Kent (Queen’s Own) Regiment as Private G/24485 in May 1915. He was trained in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks before finally being sent to the Front on New Year’s Day 1917. Alfred’s Company was detailed to attack a part of a trench held by the Germans in the early hours of February 14th but they had little success, losing eighteen of their men, including Arthur. After only six weeks active service on the Somme in the Western European Theatre he was killed at 23 years of age. His body was subsequently recovered and is buried in Grave Ref. 1V. F1 in the Queen’s Cemetery, Bucquoy, Pas de Calais, France. A short report of his death appeared in the Sevenoaks Chronicle on February 16th 1917.
Alfred’s younger brother was of an age to serve in the war but as yet no information about military service has come to light.
© Sheila Hocking
Albert Edward Martin
Albert Edward Martin was born in 1892 in Titsey, near Oxted, Surrey. His parents were born in Kent, Alfred in Yalding and Mary Ann, in East Peckham. The family had lived in Horsleydown, then in the County of Surrey but now a parish in Southwark, London where Alfred worked as a general labourer but then moved to Titsey and lastly to the Weald sometime in the 1890s.
Albert, the youngest in the family, had four older sisters and one brother, Alfred, who was eleven years older than him.
In 1901 Alfred and Mary Ann were living in Lower Brook Cottages with the youngest of their children; Alfred Henry, aged 20 years and a quarryman like his father, Mary Ann junior, aged 12 years, and 9 year old Albert Edward, both at school in the village.
In 1907, brother Alfred emigrated to Canada and lived in Hamilton Ontario where he worked as a forge hand.
After a few years working as an agricultural labour Albert Edward decided to follow his brother and on September 24th 1912, at the age of 20 year, he boarded the SS Ultonia in Southampton to sail to Quebec. Arriving there on October 4th, he travelled on to Toronto intending to find work as an industrial labourer.
At some time later Albert moved west to Alberta as on February 2nd 1915 he enlisted in Calgary in the King’s Own Calgary Regiment, part of the 50th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. When the Regiment set sail for England in October 1915 he is listed as Private 434696. At this time his parents were living on their own in Potkiln Cottages, Weald and his father is named as his next of kin.
It was not until August 1916, eighteen months after enlisting, that Albert and his comrades travelled to the Western Front in France. They spent their time in reserve until after Christmas when they started preparations for the attacks on Vimy Ridge. In reports of the fighting there the Canadian soldiers’ successes were put down to, amongst other things, their meticulous planning and extensive training.
By this time Albert had been promoted to Lance Sergeant.
On April 9th 1917 his Battalion was fighting in cold, windy weather with snow flurries at the start of the battle for Vimy Ridge. Their particular target was Hill 145, a heavily defended German position which, in spite of heavy losses, they finally captured. In the two days of this engagement four Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian soldiers.
On the second day of this action, April 10th 1917, Albert, aged 27 years was killed. The official report of his death merely stated, “Killed in Action”.
His body was never recovered so he is commemorated on a panel of the Vimy Memorial, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.
© Sheila Hocking
Herbert Horick Wynn
Herbert Horick Wynn was born on March 20th 1895 in Sevenoaks Weald and baptised at St George’s on July 7th together with his brother, Henry Roland, who was two years older than him. Their older brother and sister were born in Bexhill where their father, Frederick, and mother, Emma, had worked as grocers and beer retailers. The family was completed by the birth in Weald of another daughter and a son. Their father worked as an agricultural labourer and then as a wood cutter on Bowzell estate, although the Baptismal Record shows him as a gamekeeper.
Herbert was almost the same age as his next door neighbour, Leonard Bashford, who attended Weald School with him and all the other children living on Bowzell Common. At the age of six young Herbert, known as Bert, was given a Conduct Award at school.
At the age of 16 years he was at work as a gardener and house boy, perhaps at the big house.
He enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as Able Seaman LZ/2192 on June 7th 1915 but the Navy was oversubscribed with recruits and so the men were formed into the Royal Naval Division, fighting as infantry men but with naval customs and traditions. Early December 1915 found Bert en route to Gallipoli but by mid-January 1916 he was in hospital at Mudros Bay on the Greek Island of Lemnos suffering from tonsillitis.
He recovered and rejoined his unit but when the Gallipoli campaign collapsed they were sent in May 1916 to join the fighting on the Somme. Despite very heavy losses in the Hawke division, Bert survived to spend ten days leave at home in late January 1917. Back at the Front, in fierce fighting on 27th April to take Gavrelle village from the Germans, Bert received a gunshot wound to his right shoulder and face. He was taken 100 miles to hospital at Bologne sur Mer
Despite an early improvement, his death was recorded there at 13.55 on 8th May 1917 and he lies in grave 1V. B in Bologne Eastern Cemetery. He was just 22 years old.
© Sheila Hocking
Arthur James Simmons
Arthur James Simmons was born in 1875 in Tonbridge but the family moved to Fletcher’s Green before he was six years old. He was part of a large family with five brothers and three sisters between the ages of 22 years and 4 years in 1881and all still living at home. His father worked as a labourer as did all his older brothers. Although he was baptised as James Arthur after his father, he soon adopted his second name and was known as Arthur.
The 1891 Census shows that his parents had moved to Lower Brook Cottages with three of their children, Edwin, Roland and Ada. Arthur, then aged 16 years, was lodging at Pitfield Cottage, Weald with Eliza Whaley and her three children and working as a gardener.
By 1901 he had left the Weald and moved to Station Terrace, Twyford in Berkshire where he lodged with the Lailey family and another lodger called Edwin. He and Edwin both worked as railway porters.
Some time before 1911 he emigrated to New Zealand working as a gardener again. In 1916 he enlisted in the Canterbury Infantry Regiment, C Company, as Private 40252. They embarked in early 1917 according to the New Zealand Embarkation Roll which names all those who left the country for any kind of war service. In the Embarkation Roll he gives his next of kin as Mrs. J C Kirby (friend) of Coleman road, Blenheim.
On disembarking in Europe his Company was sent straight to the Western Front where they suffered heavy casualties in the fighting on the Somme but then, in June 1917, they successfully stormed the Messines Ridge and captured Messines. When the carnage of the Battle of Passchendaele began in August, Arthur’s Company was still heavily involved. Only days into the battle, on August 6th 1917, Arthur, at the age of 42 years, was killed. His body was recovered and is buried in Grave XA18 in Strand Military Cemetery, Hainault, Belgium.
Two floral tributes were left for him at the Weald War Memorial when it was unveiled; one from A and N Simmons, Arthur’s brother Abraham and sister in law who lived in Sevenoaks, and Ethel. The other was from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
(An amazing statistic from the New Zealander’s involvement in the War;
From a population of just over 1million, 100,444 New Zealanders, soldiers and nurses, served overseas. 42% of the men of military age enlisted of whom 16,697 were killed and 41,317 were wounded. About another one thousand men died within a few years of the War’s end which resulted in the awful, final figure of 58% casualties.)
© Sheila Hocking
On the Home Front
A taste of the war was brought to the Home Front with the appearance of the first Zeppelin in early 1915, dropping bombs which killed four people and injured sixteen others. By the end of the war the airships had cost the lives of 557 civilians with over 1300 injured. The damage to property was estimated at over £1,500,000. Although searchlights and anti-aircraft batteries were set up, particularly around London, they had little effect as the Zeppelins flew at heights up to 20,000 feet, and, as they also came at night, they were difficult to see or to hear. Because of their height and the difficulties in navigation their bombs were often dropped far from the intended targets.
These raids struck terror into the hearts of civilians around the coasts and far inland in England; one Zeppelin raid caused damage as far north as Edinburgh but many of these raiders suffered a horrendous death when their airships crashed or were attacked and burned.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle reports one such incident in late 1916. “A burning Zeppelin was clearly visible on Sunday night in the elevated district of Sevenoaks and loud cheering was heard. At the first moment the light was seen it looked something like a bright red signal lamp”
Mr Alfred Docker of the Imperial Air Fleet Committee sought to “relieve the constant state of anxiety which nervous people suffer” by listing for the readers of the Sevenoaks Chronicle the occasions when the Zeppelins would NOT come.
- When the glass is below 30o
- When the wind is travelling over 15 m.p.h.
- When it is very foggy.
- When it is thundery.
- When there is the least prospect of rain, snow, etc.
- When there is a moon.
- When it is not dark.
“Consequently there are very few nights in an ordinary year, possibly six or seven, when a raid may be anticipated”.
As fifty one raids were reported over four years, his estimate was slightly optimistic.
Worse was to come in 1917 when aeroplanes joined in attempts to bomb London and strategic sites mainly in the south east. An attack by Gotha bombers in May cost ninety five lives in and around Folkestone, thirty four of these being Canadian and British soldiers at Shorncliffe Camp. The first daylight attack on London took one hundred and sixty lives including eighteen children in school in Poplar. It was, in the words of Air Commodore Charlton, “the start of a new epoch in the history of warfare”. These new air raids resulted in over eight hundred deaths by the war’s end.
Life continued in Weald with these day to day fears, the sadness of families affected by the death or wounding of sons, fathers, brothers, uncles in the continuing battles overseas and with food shortages at home. It was the intention of the U boat commanders to starve Britain into submission. As always in times of trouble gardens and allotments grew as much food as possible for the hungry villagers. Neighbour helped neighbour in cultivating allotments for those whose men were overseas but still changes had to be made to the usual diet. We relied on overseas sources for bread flour which soon became in short supply because of losses at sea. The King appealed to the populace to reduce the amount of bread they ate and for children to bring less bread, cakes and biscuits to school for lunch. Miss Percy, the headmaster’s daughter, gave the children a lesson on “National Thrift” and thirty children pledged themselves to respond to the King’s request as did another seventy villagers. Those who signed were given a special purple badge to wear and were congratulated on the effort and their patriotic feelings by the National War Savings Committee. The government made leaflets, with hints and recipes for using potatoes as a bread replacement, available to the Parish Council to distribute to their parishioners to help feed their families.
The war touched the people of Weald in other ways. In late 1916 PC Hills arrested Private J. Yates of the Lancashire Regiment at the Chequers Inn. In court Private Yates said he had through the fighting from Marne to Loos until “only eleven of us were left”. These few were transferred to the Middlesex Regiment but Yates said he had lost his nerve because of his experiences. He had been absent from France for four months and was now detained and awaiting a military escort.
In 1917 the decapitated body of 34 year old Frank Tuffley of The Buffs, a married m an with two children and now stationed in Tonbridge, was found on the line near the Sevenoaks tunnel. He had just been inoculated against tetanus but the Doctor, called as a witness, discounted the inoculation as a cause of depression. His father described him as a happily married man with a happy home life and about to report to Maidstone before going to France. At an inquest held at the Prince of Wales Inn the jury, with William Pearson of Morleys Farm as foreman, returned a verdict of “suicide whilst temporarily insane”.
At the 40th annual meeting of the Mission Hall in late 1916 the Brethren heard that one of their number had written from France asking for their prayers. He had missed three of the Annual Meetings having been in France since October 1914 with a Siege Battalion but had had many wonderful escapes and never been hurt. Mr Usher reported that “other Members are in the Army and all are well, which is much to be thankful for”.
Mr Usher, in his ministry, often found something to be thankful for; a difficult task in these difficult times.