Alec Willows (c.1882–1915)

32371 Serjeant David Alexander Willows,
126 Battery, 29th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
Died of Wounds, 21 May 1915,
Buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery, Nord, France.

“He was my very best Sergeant…”

This was a temporary, handwritten Roll of Honour, maintained in the course of the War

Ham’s Temporary Roll of Honour

Alec Willows is not commemorated on the permanent War Memorial for the parish of Ham.  However, his name was recorded on a handwritten, temporary Roll of Honour which was recently found in its frame in St Andrew’s Church.  It seems that when news of the death of a local serviceman reached the parish of Ham, his name would be added to this list, providing one way for parishioners to learn of deaths that affected their neighbours. We do not know why Alec’s name was not eventually included on the permanent Parish War Memorial, since he had a less tenuous connection with the parish than some others who are commemorated on it.

Initially, identifying ‘Alec Willows’ appeared to be straightforward.  He is recorded in the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) database as 32371 Serjeant (sic) Alexander Willows, serving in the Royal Field Artillery.  There are 19 men with the surname Willows on the database for the First World War, and he is the only one with A as one of his initials.  Identifying his link with Ham was not easy. Alec’s situation is unlike that of Richard Greenwood, who is also named on the temporary Roll of Honour, and who was a native of Ham and the great grandson of Cornelius Greenwood, a notable resident of Ham.  ‘Sorting out’ Alec’s family background, however, turned out to be more elusive than expected.

Ellen Reason, Alec’s sole legatee
© Christopher Reason

From the military records which survive for Alec, we know that he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery at New Cross in Kent, that he died of wounds in France, and that his sole legatee was ‘Miss Ellen Reason’.

There was a Reason family in Ham, whose eldest daughter, Ellen, was born on 8 August 1880 in Limerick Ireland. This provided the first clue that her father might also have had a military connection.  However, there was not, at first, any evidence to link Alec with this particular Reason family, other than his being on Ham’s temporary Roll of Honour, and his having left money to an Ellen Reason, who could perhaps be the Ellen Reason in the parish.

The age (31) given for Alexander Willows in the CWGC record was unhelpful, and there was no matching birth for an Alexander Willows of anything near this age. (Once it was discovered that he had been recorded in 1881 as David Alexander, a search was made also for a matching birth for a David Willows, also without success.)

For the three censuses in which Alec is recorded there is conflicting evidence for his birthplace and for his age. I looked first for him in the 1911 Census, and found him recorded as a Bombardier serving in the Royal Field Artillery at Headley in Hampshire.  That census records his age as 28 and his birthplace as Eastbourne.  One might suppose, as I did, that the Army would have based this age on some documentation or information provided to them when he enlisted.  If this age has been calculated accurately, and if one can rule out a transcription error, at the time the details were transferred to the census summary sheet, this would mean he was born in 1882 or 1883.

I found Alec in the 1901 Census at 26 Southlands Road, Bromley, aged 16, with his birthplace recorded as ‘London’.  He was described, moreover, as the ‘adopted son’ of Ellen Tracey, head of the household and a widow, aged 55.  If his age was indeed 16, Alec was born in 1884 or 1885.  This Census also identified his occupation, somewhat broadly, as a Collector.

Armed only with the conflicting information in the 1901 and 1911 censuses, I eventually also found my target in 1891.  Ancestry had unfortunately transcribed the entry with its usual liberality, but Alec is almost certainly the David Alexn (sic) Williams (sic) in the household of George and Ellen Trang, aged 6 and described as a ‘boarder’. The members of the Trang family in this census were found to match closely, apart from surnames, the members of the family of George and Ellen Tracey, transcribed correctly in earlier and subsequent censuses. The age of Alec in this census is consistent with that given ten years later, and his birthplace is given as London—N. K. (Not Known).  It’s clear that the Traceys believed their ‘boarder’ turned ‘adopted son’ had been born somewhere in London.

Alex Willows, at about the time he enlisted as a Bombardier
© Christopher Reason

Alec’s story
Alec was born in London or in Eastbourne and placed at some point in the first five years of his life as a boarder with George and Ellen Tracey and their family who were, at that time, living in Eastbourne.  Alec’s first memories may have been of Eastbourne, which could explain why he might have given the Army that information when he enlisted in about 1902, by which time his adoptive family was living at 26 Southlands Road, Bromley.

It is likely that it was, while living in Bromley, he met Emily Hester Spencer, whose relatives believe she was Alec’s fiancée. The Spencer family was then living in Bourne Road, parallel to, and only one block away from, Southlands Road. It is also likely that Alec and Emily were at least ‘close friends’ and she may have been his sweetheart when the photo on the right was taken.

So what was the relationship between Miss Ellen Reason sole legatee of 13 shillings and Alec Willows? Taking the line of Ellen Tracey, Alec’s adopted mother back to her parents, and William Reason of Ham back to his parents, it became clear that Ellen Tracey was the elder sister of William Reason, and thus the aunt of the younger Ellen Reason.

William Reason & Eliza Wood with their children © Christopher Reason

In the photograph above, Ellen is in the middle of the back row.  William and Eliza’s eldest children, Ellen, Ada and Arthur were born in Ireland, where their father was stationed. William Reason’s mother had died about the time of his first birthday, days after the birth of a daughter.  His father remarried the following year but William and his step-mother did not, unfortunately, get on.  Consequently, as soon as possible, William left the family home in Suffolk and joined the army.  After 12 years’ service in India and Ireland, it was the recommendation of his Commanding Officer that led to William’s finding work as a Coachman and Groom in Richmond, and ultimately brought the family to Ham. Numerous Army Officers had connections with Ham, and it would be interesting to know whether one of them was responsible for their ending up at 3 Victoria Terrace, home to the Reason family from the mid 1890s, for well over 60 years.

We know from the War Diary for the 29th RFA Brigade—comprised of the 125, 126 and 127 Batteries—that the Brigade embarked at Southampton on H.M. Transport ARMENIAN on 22 August 1914, sailing at 7 p.m. The Armenian arrived at Le Havre the following day, with the disembarkation completed by 6 p.m. On the 24th the Brigade left Le Havre on three trains, bound for Rouen and Amiens.  Little could these men in the Regular Army have anticipated how many casualties they would incur in the months to come.

In 1914, Alec’s Brigade was involved in the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of Aisne and the Battle of Messines; and then, in the Spring of 1915, from 22 April to 25 May, in the Second Battle of Ypres, a not conclusively successful attempt to secure the Ypres Salient against a German attack. ‘Second Ypres’ was notable for the role of the Canadian Forces, and for the deployment of poison gas.

The RFA Brigade was responsible for the zone held by the 2nd Canadians with the 45th French Division to their left.  May had begun fairly quietly for the 29th RFA Brigade with all three batteries at PLOEGSTEERT in Flanders, and with fine weather, some mist and some days in which none of the Batteries were ‘firing’.  They spent time with repairs and improving their dugouts overnight.

Extract from War Diary of 29 RFA Brigade 20 May 2015 © The National Archives

Towards the middle of the month there was some movement of the positions of the Batteries, and in spurts of firing, registering and retaliating.  From the description given by his commanding officer, Alec and three others were hit by a shell, intended for a French Battery to their rear, which fell short, and one can assume that his injuries were grave. From the War Diary account, it is clear the shell responsible for his death was fired on 20 May when 126 Battery was positioned at B 29 b and engaged in Retaliation. Alec was one of 2 NCOs & 2 other ranks wounded. He died the following day.

Alec was just one of over 59 000 soldiers of the British Empire who were reported killed, wounded or missing during the five weeks over which this Battle ran. His key mourners would be the members of his adoptive family, the Reasons, and none among them more so than Ellen Reason of Ham.  It is the understanding of relatives of Ellen Reason, that at the time of his death, their great aunt was Alec’s fiancée.  There is much evidence that she was important in his life: a letter survives which he wrote to her younger sister, Beatrice, enclosing the ‘German bullets’ she had requested, and it was to Ellen Reason that Alec’s Commanding Officer,  Major Harry Miller Ballingall, ‘a Scotchman’, wrote, as follows, on 2 June 1915:

Dear Miss Reason
As sergt Willows’ Commanding officer, I take liberty of writing you concerning his Death.  I dont know his poor Mother’s address or I should write to her too.  it is a sad blow and I am terribly grieved to lose him. — a gallant fellow and one who stood high in my esteem, it happened one evening that a French Battery behind us was being shelled—not our Battery at all; and he was one of three unlucky fellows who was hit.  Please accept my heartfelt sympathy and kindly tell his relations that he died a noble end, as he lived, doing his duty always keenly and smartly and a great credit to the Royal Regiment of Artillery. one and all of us miss him now, and I most of all here for he was my best Sergeant, and a very good comrade. If there is anything further I can do, Please ask me and I shall be only too willing.  I think he was buried at Bailleul, not far from here.

Yours Sincerely
H.M. Ballingall
Com[man]ding 126 B[atter]y

William Reason outside 3 Victoria Terrace
© Christopher Reason

Alec’s relationship with the Reason family was strong enough for him to have been deemed ‘belonging’ to Ham, when news came of his death.  It’s difficult to understand, therefore, why this soldier was not commemorated on the war memorial, when some, with no personal connection with the parish, were.

I have been told that Ellen was so deeply affected by Alec’s death, that she never married, and that she cherished a locket, containing a lock of his hair, until the end of her life.  Ellen lived on in the family home, 3 Victoria Terrace, until her death in 1961.

Alec continues to be remembered by Ellen’s great nieces and nephews.

Sources of images
All but one of the photographs of Alec and of members of the Reason Family are used with kind permission of Christopher Reason.  I am also grateful to him for the sharing with me the letter written by Alec’s commanding officer and the letter he sent to Beatrice, enclosing ammunition.
The photograph of Alec as a young Bombardier was uploaded to Ancestry by an Ancestry user, clairdylou, with whom I have not yet been able to make contact.

Further Reading on the 29 RFA Brigade
The Long Long Trail, ‘ CXXXIII, CXXIV, CXXV AND CXXVI (Howitxer Brigades (37th Divisional Artilllery)’, accessed 3/7/2019.
Wartime Memories Project, ‘126 Battery, Royal Field Artillery’,, accessed 3/7/2019.  This contains a brief summary of how and where 126 Battery was deployed in the First World War.
Woolmer Forest Heritage Society, ‘The Military History of Louisburg Barracks and Broxhead House’,, accessed 18/3/2019. This was interesting in the information it gives about Alec’s military base in 1911.

Sources for Descriptions of the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April –25 May 1915)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘The Second Battle of Ypres’,, accessed 3/7/2019.
The Great War 1914–1918, ‘The Prelude to the Second Battle of Ypres’,, accessed 3/7/2019.
History Crunch, ‘Second Battle of Ypres’,, accessed 3/7/1915.
The National Archives, WO 95/1466/5. ‘War Diary of 29 Brigade Royal Field Artillery’, 1 August 1914–31 January 1918, 20 May 1915.  Note, if downloading this file, 20 May 1915 is Image 81 on the first pdf for this period, covering the period 22 August 1914 to 22 July 1916..

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Walter Henry Saunders (1898–1916)

68723 Gunner Walter Henry Saunders,
75th Battery, 146th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
Died 6 September 1916 in Greece,
Buried at the Salonika Military Cemetery.

Note:  Here we again have two Walters in the same family unit.  After the initial Walter Henry, I refer to the man on the Ham War Memorial as plain Walter even though I have a suspicion that our man was probably known in the family as Henry.  I refer to Walter’s father always as Walter Edward.

Walter Henry Saunders was born in Ham on 25 May 1898 and baptised at St Andrew’s on 14 August 1898.  He was the second child and the eldest son of the eight children of Walter Edward Saunders, a native of Ham, and Sarah Edith Johnson, an Irish lass, who hailed from County Cork.

Walter was the great-grandson of Daniel Saunders (1820–1898), a native of Ruislip. whom we first come across in the 1841 Census, with his father, John Saunders, a bricklayer.  By 1843 he was in London, working as a Baker at the time of his marriage in Stepney to Ann Jaques (pronounced Jakes) daughter of James Jaques, a Miller.  Daniel and his wife were still north of the river in 1861, when we find them in Marylebone, with their sons, Daniel and Horace, as well as Daniel’s younger brother, Joseph, both men working as Gardeners.  At some point between 1851 and 1852, they moved to Twickenham where their daughter, Sarah was born; they soon moved to Ham, where three more children were added to the family between 1855 and 1861.  In that year, Daniel was described as a Farm Labourer—the family’s home was in Cambridge Grove, in Kingston.

The next decade saw a noticeable rise in Daniel’s fortunes, for the family was living in Ham, in a house on Ham Common, close to that of Thomas Benson, then a Corn Dealer, but in later years a Potato Dealer, ancestor of the Walter Stanley Benson on the War Memorial.

Perhaps of interest to present and former pupils at Fern Hill School, the next decade resulted in an even more striking rise in Daniel’s fortunes, for he was a Market Gardener, with 8 acres, employing one man at “Fern-hill, Richmond Road”.  Ann had died in 1873, so Daniel was described as a widower, living with his son-in-law, Frederick Gower, husband of Daniel’s youngest daughter, Eliza, as the Head of the household.  It is slightly mystifying why Daniel’s name is first on the list, and his son-in-law, head of the household, is described as “Garden Labourer”.  By 1891, he was a lodger at 5 Victoria Terrace, Lock Road, in the household of John W Fidler.  Daniel died in 1898, at which point he was living at Brockwell’s Cottages, and is buried in the St Andrew’s churchyard.

Of Daniel’s eldest surviving sons, Daniel and Horace, it seems that Daniel took on the potato dealership, operating out of this home in New Road.  The 1871 Census, taken taken eight weeks before Horace’s marriage, has his bride to be, Louisa Marshall, a ‘visitor’ in his family home.  Walter’s father, Walter Edward, was born in 1873.  Horace seems to have been a ‘potato salesman’ for at least ten years, and by 1891, was described as a Market Gardener, as was his son, Walter Edward.

It was probably at the time that Daniel ‘retired’ to Ham, that Horace took over at ‘Fernhill’.  He was there in the 1901 and 1911 Census, and was described on both occasions as a Farmer; he was still at ‘Fernhill Farm’ at the time of his death in 1931.  his wife, Louisa, continued there until her death.

Following the marriage in London, in 1895, of Walter’s parents, Walter Edward and Sarah Johnson, when they were both in their early twenties, the couple began their married life at 12 Dysart Cottages (now 27 Lock Road).  Although the family later moved to Norbiton, it was in Ham that young Walter had made some lasting friendships and it was to Ham that his parents would later return.

Walter was the only one of his parents’ five sons who would have been old enough to be involved in the Great War.  But was he old enough to have enlisted when he apparently did? At the time of his death in the Middle East in September 1916, Walter was barely 18 so he would certainly have commenced his basic training before reaching his eighteenth birthday.

Indeed, the Royal Field Artillery’s own records show Walter as having ‘disembarked’ on 17 April 1915, which was before his 17th birthday.  It is highly probable that he enlisted as early as August 1914—the month that war was declared—as it usually took 8 or 9 months of training before a soldier was competent enough to be deployed to a theatre of war.

There may be a clue in a ‘coincidence’ I have spotted.  The regimental numbers for George Victor Randall and Walter Henry Saunders are consecutive which also raises the possibility that they enlisted in the Royal Artillery together, and that the younger man may have been influenced by, or have been following, the example of his older friend. If that was the case, their military duties would have separated them early on, with George going into the Horse Artillery before his attachment to the Field Artillery and with both men in units deployed to different theatres of war.

It was Walter’s fate to be sent to the Balkans, where the fighting was harsh, the climate inhospitable and where malaria was endemic.  He eventually contracted it—as did well over 150 000 Allied soldiers during the Great War—and was admitted to the 43rd General Hospital in Salonika.  There he succumbed on 6 September 1916, and was buried in the Salonika Military Cemetery.  As was common, his mother was his sole legatee.

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Their Name Liveth: the Scottish Commemoration

On Sunday 11 November 2018, the names of every Scottish man or woman who died on military service during the Great War will be projected on the façade of the Scottish Parliament.  Starting at 5 p.m., it will take seven hours to beam 134 712 names.

Many of these were in Scottish Regiments that did not have a Scottish base—for example in the London Scottish (14/London) and the South African Scottish (4/South African Infantry Regiment).  Our Frank Lane served in the Canadian Scottish, one of a number of Scottish and Highlanders’ battalions in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Ham has at least eight soldiers who were serving in Scottish regiments and their names appear in regimental rolls of honour in the Scottish National War Memorial.  I’ve touched on this in my recent post on James Cockburn.  You can also find out more in that post about visiting this memorial in Edinburgh.

Those listed on the War Memorial who served in Scottish Regiments were:

Walter Stanley Benson [Scottish Rifles, “The Cameronians”].

Leonard George Buckle [Seaforth Highlanders]

David Archibald James Chapman [Scots Guards]

Herbert Clarke [Border Regiment]

James Douglas Cockburn [London Scottish]

Harry Thornton Fricker [Highland Light Infantry]

Frank Lane [Canadian Scottish (16 Bn Canadian Expeditionary Force]

Felix Charles Hubert Hanbury Tracy [Scots Guards]



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David Archibald James Chapman (1893–1916)

2/Lieut. David Archibald James Chapman,
2 Battalion, The Scots Guards.
Killed in Action in France, 15 September 1916,
Commemorated on The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

David Archibald James Chapman was born on 18 September 1893 at 29 Selborne Road, Hove, the only child of Colonel David Phelips Chapman, a professional Army Officer, and his wife, Agnes Mary Laurie. His father had reached the rank of Major, and seen service abroad, notably in the Sudan, by the time he married Agnes in 1892.  After his retirement, he retained the rank of a Colonel with regard to the Army.

The Manor House, Ham ©Matthew Rees 2009

David was educated at Eton College, and served as a Private in the College’s Officers’ Training Corps from 1908 to 1910 when he left school and joined the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.  At the end of his training, he was ranked 92nd in the Sandhurst Competitive Examination of June 1911 and was one of 13 candidates who were successful for appointment in the Cavalry.

It seems his sights were set on becoming an Army Officer. In June 1914, he applied for a Commission in the 19th Hussars’ Special Reserve, a Cavalry Regiment, giving his address as The Manor House, Ham.  While the medical examination  found him to be ‘unfit’, he was appointed a Second Lieutenant five months later (21 November 1914).

David A J Chapman, © IWM (HU 119789)

Four months later, on 17 March 1915, while based at East Liss, Hampshire, David obtained a licence to enable him to marry Lillian Georgina Warren, in the parish of St Simon Zelotes in Upper Chelsea. The marriage duly took place at that church three days later.  His bride was the daughter of a baronet, Sir Thomas Courtenay Theydon Warner and his wife Leucha Diana Maude.

In December of that year, David applied for a commission in The Scots Guards’ Special Reserve, a prestigious infantry regiment, with his application endorsed by Colonel Henry Fludyer of the Scots Guards itself. I add this last bit purely to save others who come after from the peril of transcribing the said colonel’s signature.

September 1916 found David’s battalion in the vicinity of Ginchy, Bernafay Wood, and then camped at Happy Valley.  On the 14th the battalion left camp and proceeded to Trones Wood.  The following account is taken from the Battalion’s War Diary for 15 September 1916.  As will be seen, it was a day which took out of action all the senior officers of the battalion, leaving it in the charge of a Lieutenant until a Major could be sent up to take command.  That officer was wounded on his way to join the Battalion.

The Division attacked LES BOEUFS  zero [hour] 6.20 am.  Owing to attack being held up about 6 pm the Battalion was ordered up to support Colonel I Campbell, 3rd Batt[alion] Coldstream Guards. Lieut.Colonel R.S. Tempest lead [sic] the Battalion between GINCHY and DELVILLE WOOD on a N.E. position. The Commanding Officer and Adjutant were hit almost immediately and Captain J S Thorpe and Lieut. D.A.J. Chapman were killed during a counter attack on our R[ight] Flank Company. Captain R.E.F. Maitland and 2/Lieuts Dawkins, Murdoch and Wodehouse were wounded. 2/Lieuts Dawkins and Murdoch died of wounds 4 days later. Lieut. W.A. Boyd was then left in command of the Battalion. Major Hon. R. Coke came up to take command. Lieut. E. ? M McDougal to do Adjutant and Lieut. D. J. Bethell to command R[ight] F[lank] Co[mpan]y.  Major Hon R. Coke was wounded on the way up.

David died three days short of his twenty-third birthday.  His parents, David and Agnes, moved away from Ham and lived on into the 1930s, dying in 1939 and 1937 in Canterbury and Chelsea respectively.  Both are buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard.

Ten years after her marriage to David, Lillian remarried, and by her second husband, Charles Ronald Mansel-Lewis, had a son, David Courtenay Mansel-Lewis (1927–2009).  She died in Essex in her 90th year.

Imperial War Museum, Bond of Sacrifice Collection, HU 119789, ‘Lieutenant David Archibald James Chapman’, accessed 9/11/2018. Copyright attribution © IWM (HU 119789).
The National Archives, WO 95/1223/4, ‘Battalion War Diary, 2 Battalion Scots Guards, 1 August 1915–28 February 1919’, accessed 2015..
The National Archives, WO 339/48788, Officers’ Service Records, 2nd Lieutenant David Phelips (sic) Chapman.  Note that this record has his father’s name in the record description, as well as the surname of Chapman written twice.

Posted in Agnes Mary Laurie, Army, Cavalry, David Archibald James Chapman, David Phelips Chapman, Ham, Ham War Memorial | Leave a comment

John Lucas Frost (1898–1918)

50014 Corporal John Lucas Frost,
C Company 16/King’s Royal Rifle Corps,
formerly East Surrey Regiment.
Killed in Action or Died of Wounds, 12 October 1918.
Buried at Montay, in the Montay-Neuvilly Road Cemetery.
Commemorated on the War Memorial Tablet for the Petersham Scout Troop.

The death of a popular, local 20 year old. occurred 100 years ago today.  Of those listed on the WW1 face of the Ham War Memorial, he was the “last to die” during the course of that war.   This is his story.

John (“Jack”) Lucas Frost was baptised in Petersham on 13 March 1898, the second son of a couple who were first cousins twice over—their fathers were brothers, and their mothers, sisters.  While the nickname Jack is usually associated with the name John, it is also routinely applied as a nickname, as many Frosts will ruefully acknowledge, to boys with the surname Frost.

Arthur and Ann Elizabeth Frost hailed from Derbyshire, where they were married on 4 January 1894 at All Saints’ in Bakewell.  At their eldest son’s baptism, in Matlock Bank in October of that year, his father was described as ‘House Steward’ and the family’s abode as Sudbrook Park. At the time of Jack’s christening, in St Peter’s, Petersham, the family was living in ‘The Annexe’ at Sudbrook Park, where Arthur had by then been the Club Steward for at least four years.

The Home Guard on an exercise in WW2 outside the former Ham Post Office © Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive, used with permission.

Arthur was later appointed the Postmaster of the Ham Post Office on the Petersham Road, but he combined that with employment at the golf club as Club Steward, while his wife, Ann, traded at their shop on the Petersham Road as a Draper and as Postmistress of Ham, when necessary.

In 1908, six boys became the founder members of The Petersham Troop of Baden-Powell Scouts—Jack, then aged ten, was one of those six and we are told that he was known to all the Troop as “Happy Jack”. He thrived in the Scouts, and maintained his links with the Troop until the end of his life.  His Scoutmasters, reflecting on their loss, recalled him as having been “an unselfish and popular fellow, always smiling and happy, and kept the Troop merry at their camps.  He was a sad loss to us all.”

Jack joined the colours at Kingston upon Thames, where he seems to have signed up initially with the East Surrey Regiment before his transfer to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. It is likely that, like his fellow Scout, Harold Joel, he joined up as soon as he reached his 18th birthday. (Jack’s being awarded the Victory and British medals indicates that, while he saw service abroad, he did not enter a ‘theatre of war’ on foreign soil before January 1916, at the earliest.)

It is difficult to work out exactly how and also  when Jack died. At the time of his death, he was acting as Sergeant in the Lewis Gun Section. Certainly there was action on the day of this death, but at least two sources (Soldiers Died in The Great War and the Register of Soldiers’ Effects) maintain that he died of wounds. I like to think that he may not have suffered for long, since his parents were told that he had ‘fallen’, which suggests death in action, or very soon after.

The morning of 12 October 1918  found the King’s Royal Rifle Corps east of Troisville and on the east bank of the River Selle, which had been bridged by the Royal Engineers. Jack was attached to C Company, but he would have been manning the Lewis Guns, rather than moving forward in the column formed by his company.

Extracts from the battalion’s War Diary follow, in italics.

At 0500 the Battalion attacked without Barrages in two columns consisting of A Company with C Company in support.

Initial news was that the attack was proceeding ‘satisfactorily’ and by 0800, C Company reported that it was in position on high ground. D Company, supporting the left column had both of its officers out of action, one killed and one wounded.

C Company reported the 9/H[igland] L[ight] I[nfantry] had to be helped up but that they were making progress towards the line of the Railway.

Shortly after Colonel Pardoe decided to advance to the next target, QUARRY, a heavy barrage was directed on the whole battalion. The decision was made to bring up a Lewis Gun —when the battalion eventually reached the Quarry, they found it occupied by the enemy, “in force”.  Perhaps Jack, as Acting Sergeant, was in charge of the gun which was then ordered forward.  Moving the Lewis Guns between positions was a complex job, often hard, slow work. The guns and the team operating each gun would also be a key target for snipers.

A Lewis Gun was brought up…and the enemy prevented from crossing the Railway at that point. Colonel PARDOE was here badly wounded. Runner sent to report situation to Major WILLIS who was left at Report Centre in Ravine…Adjutant and Intelligence Officer with Lewis Gun held on and endeavoured to find out the situation in front.

The Brigade was reinforced by 1/Middlesex Regt and ordered to attack the same objectives at 1700 hours.

This attack was postponed and eventually cancelled.

The Brigade was ordered to establish the line of the River SELLE with advanced posts beyond the River covering the crossings over the road…16th K.R.R.C. ordered to take over front of 9/H.L.I. but this was found impossible with the men available. Accordingly 70 men from 9th H.L.I. were left in the line under command of Lieut. THOMAS. The night was very dark and black with much Artillery and Machine Gun fire making movement and reorganisation extremely difficult…Officer casualties were Colonel PARDOE wounded, 2nd Lieut. SURRY killed, 2nd Lieut, BUDD wounded (since died of wounds), 2nd Lieut. A.H. VILLIERS wounded and missing.

The Diary’s report on the day does not mention the casualties incurred by the Other Ranks. In the absence of information from his fellow soldiers, we cannot be sure what happened to Jack. Perhaps some reports from his fellow soldiers reached his parents later.

The Richmond and Twickenham Times of 26 October 1918, carried this report of Jack’s death:

News has just been received by Mr and Mrs Frost of the post office, Ham, that their second son, Company-Sergeant John Frost of the Lewis Gun Section, has fallen in action in France. Previously to joining the colours he took a great interest in the local scout movement, and his death is regretted by a large circle of acquaintances.

He died in the vicinity of Montay, on 12 October 1918, aged 20 and is buried nearby in the Montay-Neuvilly Road Cemetery. The words chosen by his parents for his headstone  were ABSENT, BUT EVER NEAR.

Jack died just over four weeks before the Armistice and this War Diary reveals that the Imperial German Army was still holding its own at that point.  Victory was not yet certain.  The jubilation on Armistice Day must have been hard for Jack’s parents to bear, when their grief would still have been quite raw.  Jack’s father died in 1946 and his mother in 1952.  His brothers, Archibald and Sidney, lived on until 1987 and 1988 respectively so, had Jack survived, he might have expected to live, like his brothers, into his 80s or 90s.

It should be noted that Jack also has a link to one of those commemorated on Ham’s WW2 Memorial. Jack’s brother, Archibald, was the husband of Lois Emma Sanders, the aunt of John Harry Arthur Sanders, who was killed on active service in 1945.

Notes on “the last to die”
I described Jack as “the last man to die in Ham”, using the words of one of his relatives.  We believe that Percy Joseph Wooldridge was the last Ham man to die of injuries incurred on active service, but because he died after 31 August 1921, he was deemed  not to ‘warrant’ a Commonwealth War Grave.  He is, however, buried in the Churchyard of St Andrew’s in grave BB32—in a grave which the good folk of Ham might wish to visit.  We ought not to forget that many men returned home to Ham, but as invalids, and while their time in the services was shortened by that, their lives may also have been shortened and altered by the severity of their injuries.

While some consider that Happy Jack’s relative, Private John Harry Arthur Sanders (The Queen’s RWS) was, coincidentally, the last man to die in WW2, there are actually two named on the memorial who died later than he did.  Lieut. Bruce Edward Enzer (RNVR), was carrying out his duties as a ‘Human Torpedo’ against the Japanese when he was killed in an exercise on 22 June 1945.  Signalman Reginald Harry Griffiths (RCS) died on 21 March 1947, inside the CWGC’s WW2 ‘cut-off’ date, and was also, quite properly, duly commemorated on the Parish War Memorial.

I have yet to discover whether there are people who died after the official cut-off date as a result of injuries acquired while on active service during WW2.

Key Sources
BIDDULPH, G.T. and JOEL, W.C., A short history of the Petersham Troop of Baden Powell Boy Scouts with some account of the commencement of the Movement in the District from 1908 to 1922, 1923.
The National Archives, WO 95/2430/3–7, ‘War Diary of 16 Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 12 October 1918.

Recommended Reading
I have recently been reading Harry’s War, the diary of Harry Drinkwater MC, a private who later became an officer in the British Army.  Soldiers were strictly forbidden to keep a diary, yet he managed to keep it throughout five and a half years of Army Service, without it seems this crime having been discovered.  If you want to get a real feel of what the war was like for ordinary soldiers, you should try to get hold of it—Richmond Library has at least one copy.  By coincidence, when I was writing up my post on Jack Frost, I was reading the chapters which relate to Harry’s being in a Lewis Gun team. The risks and difficulties that the Lewis Gun team faced, made me wonder, considering all that Harry had been through, that he could have been induced to stay on in the Army after the end of the war.

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Archibald Francis Noble (1886–1916)

Captain Archibald Francis Noble,
Adjutant of the 10/Cheshire Regiment.
Killed in Action in France, 21 May 1916,
Buried at the Ecoivres Military Cemetery.

Selby House
© Matthew Rees, used with permission.

Two of the men whose lives are commemorated on the Ham War Memorial have links with Selby House, one of the grand mansions on Ham Common.  Elizabeth Mary Noble, the daughter of the house, was to lose both her brother, Archibald and her husband, Kenneth Douglas Field, who were both killed in action in France.  And in 1940, her son-in-law, Arthur David Watson, was also killed in action, while serving in the RAF—he is commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial.

Archibald was the only son of a prominent solicitor, Joseph Horace Noble and his wife, Sarah Sturgess and, unusually for this family (hence my emboldening the names by which they were known) was called by his first name. Archibald (born 4 July 1886) and his sister, Elizabeth Mary (born 11 November 1888) moved to Selby House from 7 The Circus, Greenwich, on 15 March 1889. Three weeks later the family was joined by their widowed grandfather, Joseph Alfred Noble and their father’s unmarried sisters, Fanny Elizabeth and Emily Maria, as well as their personal maid.

We can be exact on this, as detailed records were  kept by the Nobles throughout the family’s sojourn in Ham. For a local historian, the minutiae of the family’s life makes interesting reading, as the names of others in the community are included in the narrative, like George Rooke, the builder, employed to ‘rectify’ the dilapidated house. There are alleyways too numerous to follow: why did the nursemaid leave? Was Ham too remote for her? We know the price he paid for the 5 seat family pew, We learn which local ‘charlady’ cleaned the house, and which bricklayer built the gate pillars, that they kept hens, were self-supporting, what plants they added to the garden, what the gardeners were paid, the nursery that supplied the plants and even the cheeses the family preferred. Every working day, Horace walked to Richmond Station, always travelling first class; though on holiday, he always travelled in third. A leading local philanthropist, we know which local charities and sports clubs he supported.

A memorial to Archibald Noble in St Andrew’s Church.

The fee for the family’s 5 seater pew was a necessary expense, given his wife’s strong religious faith. A regular worshipper at St Andrew’s, Sarah never missed a service at All Saints’ (Kingston) and St Alban’s (Teddington) where the music was apparently “very good”. The compiler of this summary, typing before the computer age, notes that “Walking quite long distances was taken as a matter of course 100 years ago, not as somewhat eccentric as it would be today.”
We know also the roles Archie’s parents played in local societies and that among their close friends were the solicitor, Arthur Onslow Julius and his wife, Elizabeth Woodifield, (parents of Cecil Herbert Woodifield Julius who is also on the Ham War Memorial), and the Harkers of The Elms, as well as the Misses Hornby of Orford House.

Genealogy and Heraldry were Horace’s weakness, the only ‘non-essential’ on which he spent his money until eventually attaining a grant of arms in 1891.

Despite the family’s comfortable background, their two children grew up unspoilt with few presents, though Archie, aged four, had a fishing rod, a violin and skates–all relating to Horace’s own interests–ones he hoped, perhaps, would bring the same pleasure to his son.

Horace and Sarah did not skimp where the education of their son and daughter was concerned. A governess taught Archie at home from the age of six, and the following year he was sent to Miss Holland’s ‘dame school’ at Elm Lodge, before starting at Kingston Grammar School in September 1895, when he was nine. At twelve he started at Westminster School, where he was a boarder at Grant’s House in term time. He progressed well as scholar and sportsman and was confirmed in the school chapel in 1901.

However, as the School’s website points out, Archie’s career there was not without some minor incidents:

He did not have an unblemished record at the school; the Grant’s House ledger notes that he was tanned twice in 1902. One of the occasions was for smoking in Grant’s on Saturday night, and the other was for being “more than 5 minutes late for Sunday breakfast”!

It was perhaps at Westminster, or through the family’s friendship with Colonel Biddulph of Grey Court (uncle of Douglas House’s Victor Biddulph, who is commemorated on the Petersham War Memorial) that he became keen to join the army. This was not Horace’s choice of career for Archie, as he was anxious for his son to join him as an articled clerk in the firm of Bayley, Adams, Hawker and Noble, based at Moorgate and later at Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey.

Archie was, however, able to join the Inns of Court Rifles Volunteers in 1903, and thereafter spent his holidays at army camps undergoing basic training. He passed the London Matriculation in the First Division in 1904 and was articled three months later. By 1908 he was a qualified solicitor.

In 1912 Kenneth Douglas Field, then an army officer and stationed in Edinburgh, became engaged to Archie’s sister, Mary, whom he married in 1913. He was known in the family as “Grouse’ but whether this was a nod to his shooting skills or to his temper, I cannot say! Later that year, the couple sailed for Colombo to take up Douglas’s posting to India.

In early November, Horace’s illness took a dramatic turn for the worse. He died on 6 November following an emergency operation. In his funeral address, the Vicar spoke of the high esteem in which Horace had been held in Ham, of his “penetrating insight” and his “polished culture”. As a person, he was “simple, deep and quiet”.

When war broke out, having served in the Inns of Court Rifles as a Volunteer since 1903, Archie was called up almost immediately, enlisting in September in the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. At the time of his death, he was its Adjutant, with the Battalion engaged in heavy fighting at Vimy Ridge (near Arras).

The following passage is the entry made in the War Diary of the 10th Cheshire Regiment on 21 May 1916.  Normally this would have been Archibald’s job, as adjutant for the Regiment.  The previous day, the headquarters of A and D companies were hit, the former being set on fire.  This would have made communication difficult.

During morning the C[ommunication] T[renche]s suffered some damage caused by shellfire and minen werfen.

At 3.45 pm an intense bombardment was opened on all C.Ts and supports, this firing was particularly heavy on the left of our sector.  The bombardment continued with unabated violence for four hours at the end of which time most of the trenches on the left were crushed and a very large proportion of the men were killed or wounded.  At 7.45 pm the enemy attacked and took our outpost and line of resistance on the left with but little resistance as there was as a result of the bombardment practically nobody left to oppose them.  A counter attack was delivered at 2 am which was successful in retaking the line of resistance (GUERIN).  The adjutant CAPT. NOBLE and CAPT. LANGDON were killed.  Five officers including the C[ommanding] O[fficer] LIEUT.COL. BROUGHTON were wounded.  Other ranks 33 killed, 101 wounded and 41 missing.

What the diary does not make clear is that Archie was wounded, and taken for treatment to a nearby dressing station. While he was being treated there, the dressing station was hit by a shell and Archie was killed.

More grief was to come to the family with the death of Mary’s husband in 1917, following which Mary moved back to Selby House with her daughters, Anne and Rosemary. The sisters married two brothers, Martin and David Watson, of Greystones in Petersham. David was killed in action in 1940.

In 1953, Mary moved away from Ham to live with her daughter, Rosemary. By then the house had been in the Noble family’s hands for 65 years.  Mary died in 1988, aged 100.

The photograph of Selby House is used by kind permission of Matthew Rees, who holds the copyright. His blog,, is a remarkable resource for those interested in the parish of Ham.

The National Archives, WO 95/2243/1, ‘War Diary of 10 Cheshire Regiment, 18 May 1916–31 May 2016.
Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive, ‘Evelyn Pritchard’s file on Residents of Selby House’.
Westminster School, ‘The Fallen’, accessed 4/10/2017.

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Harold Anson Gunner (1891–1916)

1126 Corporal Harold Anson Gunner,
Royal Field Artillery (A Battery, 282nd Brigade).
Killed in Action in France, 7 October 1916,
Buried at the Guards’ Cemetery, Lesboeufs.
Chorister at St Andrew’s Church.

Following on from James Douglas Cockburn, we have the story behind another man who was also killed in the vicinity of Ginchy, barely a month after the death of James in that very area.

Matching the name H.A.GUNNER to the correct war casualty was not straightforward.  Four H. Gunners were killed in the Great War.  None of them had the easily recognisable connection with the parish of Ham that a local historian expects to find—residence, birth or even employment in the parish at some point during his or her lifetime.

One of these men was 2/Lieut. Harold Gunner, also known as Percy, and serving in the Australian Infantry Force, though described as a “native of England“. This man had been employed as a Page Boy in his youth and was the son of  Ellison Gunner and Caroline Noble.  Had he been a page boy at Ham House or one of the other grand houses?  Was his mother connected with the Noble family of Selby House?  The answer to both those questions was, No.  This Harold had emigrated to Australia with his mother and his sister, Matilda, and had an enviable service record, intact and detailed, in contrast with the majority of British servicemen’s records which were lost or damaged in 1940.

There was also a Corporal Harold Anson Gunner, in the Royal Field Artillery, and described as a “native of Huntingdon”.  He was a Civil Servant in the 1911 Census, and had by then been living for some time in Wandsworth at 291 Earlsfield Road, in the household of David and Elizabeth Taylor.  (Harold was still listed at that address on the Electoral when he left for France in 1915.)  He was the son of John Matthias Gunner, a Schoolmaster and his wife, Elizabeth Ann (“Bessie”) Northway.  Could his father have been appointed to a school in Ham or Petersham?  Further research indicated that no, he wasn’t.

I fairly soon ruled out the other two, Gunner Harry Gunner of the Royal Garrison Artillery, and Lance Corporal Herbert Gunner of the Sherwood Forresters.  There was also an Eliza Gunner, working as a Cook at Petersham House, whom I was also able to eliminate as a relative of any of the four H. Gunners on the CWGC database.

All the above may seem a little irrelevant to Harold himself, but I have come across elsewhere mistakes over the identities of some of the Gunners, and I hope this will be useful and of interest to more distant relatives of ‘our’ Harold who currently who may be researching this family.

St Andrew’s Choristers
Eventually a list, Men in the Parish Serving with the Colours, was located in a box labelled St Andrew’s Church, and held by Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection.  This list revealed that Harold Gunner had been a member of the Church Choir.  Five other members of the St Andrew’s Choir were also on that list: John Elder (later a churchwarden at St Andrew’s, whose wife, Anna Paula Schmidt, whom he had married in 1914, was German); H.G. Hall; John Motton; Ernest Owen and R. Price.

Harold’s story
Harold Anson Gunner was born at The School House at Great Stukeley, in Huntingdonshire, in the third quarter of 1891.  His parents John Matthias and Bessie had married in 1883 in St Mark’s Chapel of Ease in Battersea and, by the time of John’s birth, had a daughter, Elizabeth.

Anson was the middle name of several sons in this and earlier generations of the Gunner family and may indeed, if interpreted as the first half of a “double-barrel” have bumped  Harold’s name to the head of the list, by alphabetical order, of names on the South Petherwin War Memorial.

Harold’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Honey Gaud, was the daughter of John Gaud, Innkeeper of The Queen’s Head, an ancient pub in West Street, Tavistock, while his maternal grandfather was Samuel Northway, a watchmaker.

His maternal grandfather, David Gunner, had been a Tailor working near Golden Square in Westminster, who became a Scripture Reader when he reached his fifties.  Scripture Readers worked among the illiterate, the poor and the destitute, reading Bible passages and religious tracts to them. Their work in this field in Poplar may have inspired their children to become teachers at a time when the passing of the 1870 Elementary Education Act recognised the need for a few years of basic education to be compulsory for all children.

The 1881 Census has Sarah, widowed and at 167 East India Road, Poplar, as a Scripture Reader, perhaps having only taken this up after her husband’s death the previous year.  David had died the year before, but three of their children were still living in the family home—one was a governess, and two were teachers. There was a fourth teacher visiting the household, while under the same roof were a lodger and her niece, both teachers.

The births of Harold and his three siblings, all within 8 years of each other, were registered in Blything, Hendon, Aylesbury and Huntingdon—each one in a different county—depending on where their father happened to be teaching at the time. The second of them, Ralph Anson Gunner, died before his first birthday.

South Petherwin War Memorial
Used under the terms of a Creative Commons licence.

Eventually their father’s promotion took the family to South Petherwin, in Cornwall where John Matthias ended his career as a Head Teacher and where he and his wife remained for the rest of their lives.  Perhaps the move to Cornwall had been in the pipeline for some time since Bessie had been born at Gunnislake in Cornwall, giving the couple all the more reason to settle down there with their three surviving children. In later life, their son Percy’s affection for South Petherwin was reflected in the name of his house, Petherwyn, in Shere Avenue, Epsom.


Harold Gunner in the Board of Trade record of Staff on Active Service

Almost certainly this Schoolmaster’s children received a sound basic education under the watchful eye of their father, and this must have been of some benefit to Harold when he sought employment.  His first job, as a Boy Clerk in the Civil Service, required him to move to London where, as we have found, he lodged with the Taylors.  Thanks to those at the Board of Trade currently researching their memorial, we now know that Harold went on to reach the grade of Abstractor, working in the Seamen’s Registry.

Harold enlisted in the Territorial Force in February 1913, expressing a preference for the Royal Field Artillery. He served first as a Gunner—there must have been the odd double-take when a call went out for Gunner Gunner—and then as a Bombardier before his promotion to the rank of Corporal which he held at the time of his death.

At some point, Harold’s elder brother, Percy Cyril—also a clerk in the Civil Service, but with the Charity Commission—joined him at 291 Earlsfield Road. It may well be that this was simply to  establish residence in the parish as it is the address Percy gave when he married Marie Emily Glover, by licence, in St Andrew’s Earlsfield, just nine days after the outbreak of war.  Harold was a witness, as was Marie’s sister, Maud.

Perhaps the haste suggested by a marriage by licence was propelled by the onset of war and the prospect of separation. Percy Cyril had enlisted in the Territorial Force in 1911—so even earlier than Harold—also having chosen to serve the Royal Field Artillery. Indeed, the brothers arrived in France on the same day, 5 October 1915, though in different units and the coincidence of this in their records led to my looking more closely at Percy’s military records.  His rise in the Territorial Force was rapid—following his enlistment, Percy was promoted at every annual T.F. camp and had reached the rank of Sergeant by March 1914.  Percy soon became his brigade’s Quartermaster Sergeant—perhaps his training as a civil servant helped to make him the very model of a modern quartermaster.

A gunner’s life in the RFA is the topic of a Google Site which focuses on the 175th Brigade. Anyone with a gunner in the family will find this informative and interesting.  We know that the initial training of a recruit took three months for an infantryman—but it was said that it took twelve months to train a gunner to the necessary standard.  Unfortunately, they did not always have the luxury of that length of training.  Being a gunner was skilled work, demanding and dangerous because the guns were a key target for the enemy. Because the guns were heavy, it was difficult to move a gun out of range at short notice.

The War Diary for 282 Brigade for October 1916.

Harold’s service in a theatre of war during 1915 entitled him to receive the full suite of three medals.  He was killed in action on 7 October 1916  a year and two days after his arrival in the Western Theatre of War.  It is said he was killed when an enemy shell landed near his gun position. Unfortunately the War Diary for 282 Brigade for the entire month of October has been lost, as I discovered when I viewed the unit’s War Diary at The National Archives.

Harold’s grave is in the Guards’ Cemetery at Lesboeufs, in France.  He is also commemorated on the Ham Parish War Memorial, on the Board of Trade’s War Memorial in London, and on the South Petherwin War Memorial in Cornwall.

The Board of Trade War Memorial is now at 55 Whitehall/3 Whitehall Place London SW1A 2AW.  Those commemorated on that memorial have not been forgotten by those who are now at the Department of Trade.

Google Sites, 175 Brigade Royal Field Artillery, ‘A gunner’s life’,, accessed 29.7/2018.  This is not the brigade to which Harold Anson Gunner was attached, but the general description of the life of a gunner applies to other Brigades and Batteries in the Royal Field Artillery.

Photograph of the South Petherwin War Memorial is used under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence.

The National Archives, BT series, ‘War Memorial’,

The National Archives, WO 95/2941/1, War Diary of 282 Brigade Royal Field Artillery, 1/10/1915–31/12/1916.  Note: the diary for the entire month of October 1916 is missing.

Genealogical Research conducted by Margaret Frood.

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