Pilot Officer Vivian Owen, RAF

Pilot Officer Vivian (“Viv”) Owen,
10 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
Died in the crash of WH669 on 27 March 1953, near Dilhorne, Staffordshire,
Buried in the Ham (St Andrew) Churchyard, Surrey.

The grave of P/O Vivian Owen, at Ham St Andrew.

Every year on Remembrance Sunday, the parishioners of St Andrew’s Church in Ham gather at the Parish War Memorial  to pay tribute to the men and women whose names are recorded there.  At least some members of the congregation are likely to have noticed a grave nearby, whose proximity to the War Memorial suggests it had been chosen as a fitting spot for a local lad, killed while on active service with the Royal Air Force, at the time Britain was involved in the Korean War.

This year a handful  of people also marked the silence at the War Memorial the following Wednesday, on Armistice Day—11 November—carefully adhering to the prevailing social distancing rules.    Not for the first time, I paused at P/O Vivian Owen’s grave, and not for the first time, recorded the details.  I felt impelled to discover the story behind this young man’s death and this time I began my research that afternoon.

On Remembrance Sunday, tributes had been laid at Ham’s War Memorial, and I noticed, as usual, the cross left by a ‘little sister’ who has never forgotten her brother, killed in Italy in March 1945.  Little did I know then, that within a short time, I would be learning from Vivian’s  youngest sister. as well as other relatives. about the loving brother, uncle and great uncle that the family had lost.

Pilot Officer Vivian Owen, 10/Squadron R.A.F.
©Gloria Coldman & the Owen Family

Vivian Owen was born on 19 October 1929 in the Bridgend district of Glamorgan.  His parents, William Arthur Owen  and Blodwen Louisa Jane Rees, were married in Pontypridd in 1920, where the first of their children, Gwaenydd and Megan, were born.  Joan, Ronald, Trevor and Vivian were born in Bridgend, where Ronald died shortly after his first birthday.  In the early 1930s, the family moved to London, the birthplace of the youngest members of the family, Beryl and Gloria. Their family complete, in the late 1930s, the Owens moved further out, to the new housing development in Ham.  Although Vivian’s father was an Aircraft Instrument Assembler this was not, as I initially thought, the reason behind their move. I have since learnt that all the instruments arrived at the Kingston factory already assembled and Vivian’s sister, Beryl, has confirmed that their father did not ever work there. There were indeed a number of manufacturers of aircraft equipment within a few miles of Ham, with Grace’s Guide listing numerous aircraft suppliers in the Croydon area.

The Owens’ family home in Ham

The Owens’ home was in Broughton Avenue.  Vivian was educated at the Gainsborough County Secondary Boys’ School (formerly the Richmond Central Boys’ School). At the time of his death, Vivian was a Pilot Officer, serving in 10 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. 10 Squadron was first formed in 1915 and was disbanded and re-formed between the wars and again after WW2, when it took part, for example, in the Berlin Airlift, before being disbanded again in 1950.  It was re-formed once more in 1953, at which point RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire became the squadron’s base, and it was here that the squadron reverted to its former role as a bomber squadron.  This time the squadron was flying the aircraft industry’s latest triumph, English Electric’s Canberra B2 fighter bombers.

Vivian was killed with two others, on Friday 27 March 1953 during a training exercise,  in the third and last year of the Korean War.  I thought it would be easy to answer the usual “What happened?” question by searching the digitised British Newspaper Library for any reports of a mishap to a Canberra bomber, during March 1953.  Instead I found one, then two, then three Canberra incidents in March, all involving fatalities.  And exactly a week before his death, another Canberra jet-bomber had crashed after an explosion as it was making its approach to touchdown at Hemswell. Its crew was killed.

Designed as a substitute for the de Havilland Mosquito, the first Canberra bombers had come into service in 1951 and were the RAF’s first jet-propelled bombers.  It must have been awful for the aircrew, aware of the risks, and of the loss of many colleagues. How difficult for the families of those airmen to accept that the RAF could tolerate continuing to expose its crews to that risk, at a time when the distant war we were involved in was winding down towards its Armistice. I wondered why these accident-prone Canberras had not been grounded after the first few accidents and explosions, and sought an opinion from David Hassard, the local expert on Kingston Aviation.  From him I learnt that the early part of 1953 was a time when Canberra production was expanding rapidly, with the aircraft being built by four different contractors.  Thirteen new Canberra squadrons were formed during 1953, one of which, as we have seen, was 10 Squadron.

The Flight Safety Foundation’s ‘Aviation Safety Network’ database provides information on the last flight of WH669 and includes some recommendations made as a result of the RAF Court of Inquiry.  Thus we discover that, when the aircraft took off from its base at RAF Scampton, Flying Officer Patrick Esmond Reeve was its pilot.  Accompanying him were Pilot Officer John Golden Woods as Navigator/Plotter and Pilot Vivian Owen as Navigator/Observer for the training exercise they were required to undertake. The target airfield for this exercise was Meir Aerodrome at Stoke on Trent.

The RAF Court of Inquiry established that the pilot had carried out a ‘Controlled Descent through Cloud’ approach to Meir from 20 000 feet, and had then climbed to 30 000 feet to carry out what was a successful Beam Approach at 700 feet before climbing to 30 000 feet to begin a third approach from a different direction.  Eleven minutes later, the aircraft crashed near Dilhorne, hitting the ground at an almost vertical angle.

This is what was seen from the crash area, as reported in many newspapers the following day:

Crashing jet skims a town: crew die

The crew of three were killed when an RAF twin-jet bomber crashed near the market town of Cheadle, Staffordshire, yesterday, after narrowly missing a crowded service bus.

The bus stopped as the plane flew low over the road, and passengers saw the machine go into a vertical dive and crash in a cloud of smoke, making a crater 25ft deep.

Debris was scattered over two acres.  The plane was on a local training flight from its base at Scampton, Lincs.

The damage to the aircraft was so great that the Inquiry was unfortunately unable to ascertain whether the crash was due to mechanical failure, nor, in the absence of a surviving airman, to rule out human error.

One of the outcomes of the Inquiry was advice that the position of the Gee equipment within the aircraft should be moved, so that its operator could be seated in an ejection seat, rather than having to sit in an ordinary spare seat. It was realised that its position would create a delay before the crew could eject, since its operator needed to move to an ejection seat before the crew could abandon the aircraft. Changes were also recommended as to the sequence of escape from a doomed aircraft.  We can only hope that these measures were implemented to save other lives.

Soon after the crash of WH669, the Canberra bombers began to break the existing altitude records.  This was regarded as a great achievement as well as carrying the superior advantage that being able to climb 1000m higher than your opponent carries—holding the initiative to attack.

Vivian’s death had a huge impact on the Owen family, and was particularly painful, since he had predicted it shortly before his death.  He had come down from Lincolnshire to visit his family in Ham.  During that last visit, Vivian had gone for a walk with his sister-in-law, Ruth, wife of Gwaenydd, his eldest brother. He had confided in her that the aircraft he was flying—the Canberras—were having so many fatal crashes that he was sure he, too, was going to be killed.

Viv’s sister, Gloria, described him as having been, as a child, an action-packed extrovert compared with his brother, Trevor,  a year older than Vivian, who had been the more serious and studious of the two.  In adulthood, their roles would be reversed and Vivian would become the reflective introvert while Trevor became an extrovert.  Gloria described him to me with great warmth, as “incredibly mature, with a lovely nature, gentle and kind”.  From Viv’s surviving relatives, I now know how huge an impact his loss had made on his parents and siblings, and on those who came after, who continue to remember him with affection, acknowledging his charm, and the courage with which he confronted the high risk of death facing the crews flying the new jet-bombers.

My thanks go to Vivian’s great nephew, Owen Toms, who has responded with interest to this project, and who put me in touch, with his mother’s assistance, with Vivian’s youngest sister, Gloria, who in turn has conferred with their other surviving sister, Beryl. Owen responded to this stranger’s tentative approach to him via Ancestry more speedily than any relative ever has.  My thanks to all four for their support of my research of their Vivian.

Local asset and Kingston Aviation expert, David Hassard, responded quickly and helpfully when I queried why on earth the Canberras were not grounded after the first few accidents. I am always grateful for his sage advice.

I have not been able during lockdown to visit The National Archives at Kew, which has the records relating to the loss of WH669. I note their record references here, for the benefit of other researchers or relatives of the three members of the crew.
Aviation Safety Network, Aviation Safety Database, Occurrence #21021, last updated 19/9/2020, accessed 6/12/2020.
Grace’s Guide, ‘1939 Suppliers to the Aircraft Industry’, https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1939_Suppliers_to_the_Aircraft_Industry, accessed 1/12/2020.
The National Archives, AVIA 5/32/S2624, ‘Canberra B2 (WH-669)’, March 1953.
The National Archives, BT 233/144, Services Accidents Investigation Files, Canberra, WH669, 27 March 1953.
The Tatler, ‘New Height Record’, 27 May 1953, p.29.
Vivian Owen, photograph from the collection of his sister Gloria. The Owen family owns the copyright of the photo of Pilot Officer Vivian Owen, which accompanies this blog post.

Appendix: Beginning your research into deaths in service post-WW2
Here is how I accessed Vivian’s story, in the order in which I discovered it, in the hope it helps you if at any point you have to research people who died on active service after WW2.

From the headstone, I knew his age (23), the date of his death (27 March 1953), his rank (Pilot Officer) and his unit (Royal Air Force).

I looked for Vivian’s birth in 1929 as well as in 1930—as he died in the first quarter of the year, I knew it was 3:1 that he hadn’t had his 24th birthday yet.  Over those 24 months, the births of three Vivian Owens were registered, all three being in Welsh Registration Districts.   Two of the three had a middle name, and I thought it likely that the one not blessed with a middle name. was probably our man, unless he had disliked one of his given names and dropped it.

I looked for evidence of the Owen family in Ham—possible sources were the electoral roll, local directories and the 1939 Register.  Vivian would have been 9 on 29 September 1939, when the Register was taken and I knew that his name would not have been redacted.  It wasn’t, and his birth date fell into the category I expected.   It was easy to find his family at 17 Broughton Avenue, though in that household, only the records for Vivian and his parents are visible. the details for the rest of the family having been redacted.

Using the GRO Births Index, I was able to identify all his siblings, and from that information, to identify living relatives, and, finally, to make contact with Vivian’s great nephew.

Posted in Royal Air Force | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Permanence of the Young Men

The title of this post is that of a poem by the Scottish writer, William Soutar (1898–1943), and is often in my thoughts as I work to perpetuate the memory of the people behind the bare names we see commemorated on our war memorials.

The Permanence of the Young Men

No man outlives the grief of war
Though he outlive its wreck:
Upon the memory a scar
Through all the years will ache.

Hopes will revive when horrors cease;
And dreaming dread be stilled;
But there shall dwell within his peace
A sadness unannulled.

Upon this world shall hang a sign
Which summer cannot hid:
The permanence of the young men
Who are not by his side.

They speak for the generation which returned from war, bearing the wounds, both physical and mental, which would shadow them for the remainder of their lives. Few return from war unchanged by their experiences. Who were these men in Ham and Petersham?

As my readers will know, I keep coming across military records for residents of Ham and of Petersham whose names are missing from our war memorials. Sometimes it’s because they died after the respective cut-off dates to be included in the CWGC databases, like Percy Wooldridge (WW1), and as I have come across them, I have added them to my list and from time to time, I add another person’s story to the Ham or Petersham blog.

But I think also of those who suffered life-changing injuries, such as Fred Farnden (WW1) and Gordon Alfred Tuckwell (WW2), whose stories I am currently researching. Do you know of others from Ham or Petersham families, who served, survived and returned after WW2 ended?

Some were amputees, and perhaps as children naturally would, you noticed them and were curious. Even if you did not know their names, if you can tell me roughly where they lived in relation to where you lived, I should be able to identify them from that, and then be able to tease out their lives. I think it’s important that their stories don’t disappear from Ham and Petersham’s history.

Of course I would also like to list all the people from Ham and Petersham who were “serving with the colours” and also those more quickly forgotten, who were involved in the war effort in other ways, perhaps as Air Raid Wardens, Shelter Managers, Nurses or Medics, Boy Scouts or Girl Guides, Little Ships’ Crewmen, Entertainers, Canteen Workers for the British Restaurants. (Have I missed any roles out?) And any veterans of 21st century conflicts?

The easiest way for you to contact me is by adding a comment to this post. Or you can send an email to the following email address, but note that you will need to expand it. Hope the hint below is obvious enough.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

E for EUREKA! Identifying E WILKS on Ham’s WW2 Memorial

I’ve used a sizeable chunk of the time that the National Lockdown freed up to double-check everything I have recorded for the men and women who are commemorated either on the WW2 face or on the Civilian Deaths face of Ham’s Parish War Memorial and also to tie up any remaining loose ends in this research.

One of the uncertainties was the identity of the serviceman or woman, identified on the Memorial simply as E WILKS. In 1915, I was asked by the Friends of Ham Library, to locate the addresses in Ham that are associated with people who lost their lives in WW2, either while on active service or through enemy action, and who are commemorated on the WW2 Face of the Parish War Memorial. At that point, now five years, there were still six names for whom there was no proven match on the CWGC database that could match them to anyone connected with Ham parish. 

52 men with the surname Wilks were killed in WW2. Four had E as the first initial, and another five had E as another initial. The four with E as the first initial had no obvious link to Ham and so I broadened my search to include the other five servicemen. None of the nine had next of kin with an address in Ham or Surrey or in neighbouring counties, which meant I had to draw up each person’s family tree to try to work out whether there was any connection with Ham in their wider family.

When I turned also to researching parish records, I could find no Wilks baptisms, marriages or deaths in Ham, nor in its neighbouring parishes. Nor could I find any residents of Ham, with the surname name Wilks listed in Censuses, on Electoral Rolls or in Street Directories, prior to 1940.  The parish of Ham was part of Kingston until the 1930s when it was divvied up between Kingston and Richmond, with half the parish absorbed into the borough of Richmond. Half remained in Kingston which is why so many of the people named on the WW2 face or Ham’s War Memorial lived on the then brand-new Tudor Estate.

When I researched this for the Friends of Ham Library over five years ago, I was able to find, in the 1945 Electoral Roll, Joseph O Wilks and Olive G Wilks listed at 1 Lock House, Ham Fields,. At that point, I suspected that E Wilks was related to this family, but those early searches could not establish his precise connection.

I was able, then, to locate the marriage of Joseph Oliver Wilks to Olive Gladys Short in 1920 at St Nicholas, in Harwich, but there were no resulting Wilks births where the mother’s maiden name was given as Short.

About four years ago the 1939 Register was released  and I used the Lockdown time to work through the names on the War Memorial to find as many of them as I could, wherever they were, in England or Wales.  I concluded with the elusive Wilks, his being the last surname in the alphabetical list. I found that in the month war broke out, the same couple had been living at Teddington Lock, where Joseph had been the Assistant Lock Keeper. But there was also one redacted name, and on the following page, the unredacted name of a child, the fourth and last person recorded in that household: Wilks, Leslie J., date of birth 11 Sep [19]24. His name had not been redacted when the 1939 Register was redacted, because the GRO had been able to match his name & date of birth with the death of someone with the same name and date of birth. A name is redacted if the GRO believes that person could still be alive.

Knowing the date of his birth, I was able to locate Leslie James Wilks in the GRO Register of Births, and then to find that the redacted individual was probably an older child, Clive L Wilks, born in 1921 in Tendring, the same registration district in which Joseph and Olive were married. The mother’s maiden name for both Clive and Leslie was given as Challis, not Short. That suggested that Joseph Wilks had married a Mrs Short. I therefore needed to find a Mr Short who had married an Olive G [surname to be left blank]. There was one promising result.

On 6 April 1917, Olive Gladys Challis and Company Serjeant Major Ernest William Short were married in the Church of St Nicholas, Harwich, the bride’s parish church. CSM Ernest Short was then serving in the 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment. Three years later, as a widow, Olive Gladys Short, would marry Joseph Wilks in the same church.

I suspected that the person I was zooming in on, would prove to be a child of this marriage,. He was Ernest William Gordon Short, born on 6 January 1918, exactly nine months after his parents’ marriage. This baby’s father died of wounds in Northern France, nine months after his son’s birth, and is on the list of soldiers who were awarded the Military Medal during the Great War. This is the Other Ranks’ equivalent of the Military Cross, though why they would decided to distinguish between valour depending on rank, is incomprehensible to me.

His son would in turn become one of those who lost their lives on active service in WW2. Here is the entry for the younger Ernest Short in the CWGC’s Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery Grave Registration Report:

This GRR confirms his link to Olive Short.

The Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery is 8 km (5 miles) east of Caen, and the timing of Ernest’s death suggests he was killed early in the first of seven weeks of intense fighting before that city was eventually freed in the last week of August. The cemetery contains 2170 servicemen identified as “Commonwealth burials”—that total includes burials of 140 unidentified Commonwealth soldiers and also the ‘non-Commonwealth’ Polish allies, killed alongside us in the Battle for Caen.

The inscription on Ernest’s grave reads as follows:


The cap badge of the Middlesex Regiment

In the period 8 June 1944 to 20 August 1944, 21 men identified as soldiers in the Middlesex Regiment lost their lives in the battle to free Caen, and are buried in the Banneville-la Campagne War Cemetery. Of those, five died on 16 July 1944.
They were:
Serjeant Ernest William Gordon Short
Lance-Serjeant Jack Ernest Cross
Private Stanley Newton
Private John Maurice Donnelly
Private Thomas Arthur Dugan.

It seems that, as he grew up, our man may have been known as, or assumed by locals to be,  Ernest Wilks. However when Ernest enlisted, and again when he married Violet Newman in Worcestershire in 1943, he did so using his birth surname, Short.

It is likely that a child named Robert Short, whose birth was registered in Upton in 1944, was a child of that marriage. How sad that the infant Robert, like his father before him, would have been too young to retain a memory of his father.

Violet, like her mother-in-law, Olive, was left a war widow with a very young son. Violet, like Olive, remarried within a few years of her husband’s death. Violet Short and John James Adams were married in Chester in the first quarter of 1947. Their first child, Stephen, was born towards the end of the year, followed by Julia and Martin. All these children were born in the Midlands. Violet died in the USA on 3 June 2012, aged 88.

Violet’s obituary names her children as Robert, Stephen, Julia and Martin. I reckon this confirms her son, Robert Short, as the son of the E WILKS named on Ham’s Parish War Memorial.

I suggest when the parish commemorates this solder in 2044, that we do so, as follows:

6205786 Serjeant Ernest William Gordon Short,
1/8 Middlesex Regiment.
Killed 16 July 1944,in France,
Buried at Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery, Calvados, France.

Background to the difficulties when there are no obvious matches
People could be regarded as “of the parish” by virtue of birth, employment or residence there. Sometimes there is a more tenuous connection. For instance, Harold Anson Gunner lived in Wandsworth and worked in London at the Board of Trade, and had never lived or worked in Ham. He turned out to be a loyal member of the Choir at St Andrew’s.  Ernest Parsons and Alec Willows were among others commemorated on either the Interim or on the Final Roll of Honour (i.e. the War Memorial) without having a clear connection to Ham.

While it would involve, at best, twice the research time, I took into account that the E might be a middle initial because in the past, it was not unusual for people to be known throughout their lives by their middle names. This was because people generally, across Europe, followed the same traditional naming pattern for the first three sons and the first three daughters in a family unit. This, I hope explains why I looked at another five Wilks servicemen who had E as a ‘middle’ initial.

At some point I will upload a post on how I identified those WW2 casualties for whom there was no documentary evidence of ANY connection with the parish. This could be of help readers of this blog who are looking for the records of their relatives’ military service.

Posted in Army, Family Members serving, Identification Challenges | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ham War Memorial and its links with Ormeley Lodge

At the turn of the previous century, Ormeley Lodge was the home of the 4th Baron Sudeley and his wife, Ada Maria Katherine Tollemache, the parents of Felix Hanbury Tracy. Indeed, Felix appears as a ‘visitor,’ with his mother at that address on the night of the 1911 census, in which he is described as ‘Land Agent’.

The present Lord Sudeley, in a review of a book on Ham House (for details, see below),  wrote with some feeling of the role played by Lloyds Bank, which, although “low down on the list of creditors” filed a petition for bankruptcy against Lord Sudeley, which made it impossible for him to salvage his financial situation.  Because Lady Sudeley’s Tollemache inheritance was greatly reduced by her having guaranteed her husband’s loan from the bank, their relationship suffered an irreversible blow.  Lord Sudeley notes, “They retired to Ormeley on the Ham Estate, where every feeling of her for him was dead except pity and stiff hatred.”   At the time that Lord Sudeley’s financial difficulties came to a head, Felix was about eleven years old, the youngest of the couple’s children and the most likely of them to have felt the pain of their marital discord.

As we have seen, the Sudeleys were a driving force in the decisions made re the nature of Ham’s tribute to its war dead.

Lady Sudeley was a Tollemache by birth and it is the family connection with Ham House, which explains Felix’s name appearing also on the Petersham Memorial, itself barely a stone’s throw from Reston Lodge, to which the Sudeleys moved in September of 1922.

How about this for shades of unrelated Goldsmiths!
Felix’s mother-in-law was a Gouldsmith (sic) while the current owner of Ormeley Lodge is Lady Annabel Goldsmith, mother of Zac Goldsmith, the former MP for Richmond Park, a constituency which includes both Ham and Petersham.  The mother-in-law of the current Duke of Cambridge was also born a Goldsmith.

‘Decision as to Tribute to the Gallant Dead’, Surrey Comet, 6 January 1917.

Further Reading
Anstruther, E.I.H., ‘The Gossip Notes of Ada Tollemache, Lady Sudeley’,  http://www.zipworld.com.au/~lnbdds/home/adasudeley.htm, accessed.

The review by the present Baron Sudeley of Christopher Rowell’s book, Ham House 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage, appeared in the Genealogists’ Magazine, Volume 31 No 7, September 2014, p.277–8.

Posted in Connection with Ham House, Ham War Memorial, Petersham War Memorial | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Researching soldiers who served in the East Surrey Regiment

Many men from, or of, Ham chose to serve in the East Surrey Regiment during the Great War. A key attraction was that it was Kingston’s ‘local regiment’ and Ham was part of the borough of Kingston, Surrey. Those of them who lost their lives while on active service in the East Surrey Regiment were, in alphabetical order of surname:

  • Frederick William Adams, 1/East Surrey Regiment;
  • William Charles Brooker, 7/East Surrey Regiment;
  • Richard Charles Greenwood, 13/East Surrey Regiment (Wandsworth Battalion);
  • Thomas Henry Fisher, 8/East Surrey Regiment.

For anyone with an interest in others who served in a battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, may I recommend 1st World War Diaries, a site with images from the First World War diaries of the Regiment’s many battalions.

From that page, use the drop-down arrow (to the right of the search box) to select the battalion of interest to you. Then click on the GO button to proceed. This will take you to a page with hyperlinks to each month that the battalion was in a Theatre of War. Note that this diary is a typed transcript. You can also move back and forth between months from links at the bottom of the webpage for the month you are viewing.

Whether your soldier died or survived, you can trace his battalion’s movements in a theatre of war, month by month, from wherever you have access to the Internet.

The Queen’s Royal Surreys, ‘1st World War Diaries’, http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/war_diaries/war_diaries_home_new.shtml , accessed 11/8/2019).

Please note that in my blog posts on East Surrey soldiers, I provide a different source. That’s because, even when there may be an online transcript, I always visit The National Archives at Kew, to view any war diaries I can for every soldier I research. If a regiment’s war diary is missing (lost, destroyed or incomplete for a particular period), I move ‘upwards’ to search for information about that battalion in war diaries of the brigade and division to which it was attached at the time of interest to that soldier. When necessary, I also search sideways, looking at the regiments to their left, right, and rear in that particular action and viewing their war diaries for that period.

Further Reading
For a modest fee, you can download a battalion’s diary from the website of The National Archives. Sometimes, you may need to download more than one diary to cover the period of interest to you. If some terms or abbreviations confuse you, you will find helpful lists for military abbreviations online. I recommend also that you look at my transcriptions of War Diaries because I expand abbreviations using square brackets to contain the ‘missing’ text.

Paul McCue’s Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War 1915–1918 provides most interesting background, not just on the two battalions of the East Surrey Regiment on which it focuses. I wish I had come across it earlier! It came up in a search, when I was researching the action in which Richard Greenwood was possibly wounded, which led me to snippets of the book in a Google Search. I used that information to find the book on Amazon, where I read the sample pages for the Kindle edition.

Even though I had done as much as I felt was needed for Richard G., and even though I have far too many books on war memorials and military campaigns and histories and our bookcases have long since overflowed, Fellow Enthusiast, I bought it. I’ve got three riveting books ‘on the go’ as I write, and I’m working my way through them in spurts. If I pick up anything I’ve missed, I’ll edit the Greenwood post. Here are the details and, as it’s a Surrey regiment, I should imagine Wandsworth, Battersea, Richmond and Kingston libraries will have copies or be willing to obtain them for their borrowers:
McCue, P., Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War 1915–1918, Barnsley, 2010.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Richard Charles Greenwood (1897–1917)

14841 Private Richard Charles Greenwood
/East Surrey Regiment.
Died of Wounds received in Action, 25 April 1917.
Buried in the Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme, near Albert.

Richard’s place in the Greenwood family
In 2015 I was asked to research the men commemorated on the WW2 Face of Ham’s Parish War Memorial, one of whom was Robert Ernest Greenwood.

In the process of researching Robert Greenwood, I needed to go back to his great grandfather, the founding father of the Greenwoods in Ham, a man whose many descendants have long been ‘part and parcel’ of Ham. The research I had done on the Greenwood family in 2015, was to save considerable time when I discovered there was yet another Greenwood to research—a casualty in the First World War whose name is not recorded on  the WW1 face of Ham’s Parish War Memorial.

Ham’s informal Roll of Honour, headed ‘The European War’.

The discovery of a Richard Greenwood as a casualty of the Great War was made known to me in October 2018 when I was sent news of an unexpected find in St Andrew’s Church, something that seemed to be a temporary, handwritten Roll of Honour. This list included the name Richard Greenwood. but that name does not appear on the World War One face.  I felt fairly confident that this man must be related to the Greenwoods of Ham and that Richard could well be another to add to my list of those Missing from The Memorial.  

Like Robert, Richard was a great grandson of the legendary Cornelius Greenwood. Richard’s father, Charles Greenwood, was the son of another Richard Greenwood (1843–1882), the youngest son of Cornelius’s first marriage. 

We start Richard’s story with his great grandparents, Cornelius Greenwood (1806–1899) and his first wife, Susan Stocker (1817–1844).

Record of the baptism of Cornelius Greenwood Polden

Richard’s great grandfather was born Cornelius Greenwood POLDEN in about 1806 in Ewelne, near Benson in Oxfordshire where he was baptised on 29 December 1806, and identified as the natural son of Maria Polden. The insertion of Greenwood into the baptismal record may have been intended as a pointer to the child’s natural father, though it could also be to a relative on his mother’s side or to a benefactor.

The first record found for him as Cornelius Greenwood is the entry for his marriage to Susan Stocker in Isleworth in 1835. The couple lived in Molesey, moving later to Ham, where Cornelius found work as an agricultural labourer. He moved rapidly up the ranks to Bailiff and Market Gardener, ultimately achieving wider fame as one of the ‘agitators’ who took on the Earl of Dysart in the case known as The Defence of Ham Common.

Susan, Cornelius’s first wife, was the eldest daughter of Samuel Stocker, and his wife, Sarah Knight.  Samuel’s working life, as a Bargeman and Barge Carter, seems to have been spent along and on the River Thames.  After the birth of their daughters, Susan and Sarah, the family moved from East Molesey to Petersham in about 1820, where they joined the community of boat builders and watermen based there.  The Stockers lived first in a cottage in the Sandpits area and later in nearby Sudbrook Lane. Five sons were added to the Stocker family after their move to Petersham and all were baptised at St Peter’s.

Susan died about the time of Richard’s first birthday, and just days after the birth of her youngest child, Ann, who died the following year aged 9 months. With Susan’s death, Cornelius was left a widower, with six children under the age of eight. 

On 20 October 1845, eighteen months after the death of his wife, Cornelius Greenwood was married in St Andrew’s Church to a Ham lass, Louisa Brown (1821–1880).  The entry in the Marriage Register has him down as a bachelor, rather than as a widower!   

It would have been difficult for Cornelius at the time, and later for his second wife, Louisa, to cope with so many very young children, and that on top of the children likely to be born of that second marriage.  This means it was quite possible that the children’s maternal grandparents were called on to help with their care.  Certainly the youngest, Richard, was recorded in 1851 in Sudbrook Lane, Petersham, with his maternal grandmother, Sarah Stocker,  This child was the grandfather of our Richard Charles Greenwood.

Researching Richard Charles Greenwood
While Alec Willows, whose name is recorded on the same temporary Roll of Honour, was also not commemorated on the Parish War Memorial, Richard had a right to be there, as he fulfilled one of the criteria for commemoration—he had been born in the parish. 

A search for Richard Greenwood on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database generated seven Greenwoods with the first name Richard and another nine Greenwoods identified by an initial R (i.e. including R with or without another initial). It was R C Greenwood who turned out to be a match.  The information for Richard Charles Greenwood hinted at a connection with the Richmond and Kingston area, since this soldier was recorded as born in Richmond, and a Private in the East Surrey Regiment. It was not unusual for residents of Kingston and Richmond to regard the East Surreys as their preferred ‘local’ regiment and to choose to enlist in that regiment rather than in one of the many London Regiments.

Richard was born on 17 August 1897 in New Road, Ham and was privately baptised a week later, on 25 August 1897, the parish register describing the infant as the “son of Charles and Edith Greenwood”.  Perhaps the loss of their first child, made the couple keen to have Richard baptised as early as possible.  The GRO index entry for his birth records SLADE as the maiden name of his mother and with this information, a search was made for the marriage of his parents, revealing that Richard’s father, Charles, had married Edith Sarah Slade at St Andrew’s on 14 April 1895.  The baptismal register seems to make clear that Richard was a native of Ham, and therefore could indeed have had his name included on its War Memorial.

Charles and Edith’s first child, John, died in 1895 soon after his birth.  He was followed by Richard Charles, born also in Ham in 1897, and then by William, born in Richmond, in 1900.  The family was living in Canbury Park Road in 1901, but had moved to Southfields, Wandsworth, where Edith Ada (1903), Alice Lilian (1905), Frederick (1908) and James (1911) were born. 

Richard enlisted in the 13th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment—the Wandsworth battalion—a Pals’ battalion, but also a Service battalion which had been raised by the Mayor of Wandsworth in June 1915 and adopted by the War Office two months later. He attested as Charles Greenwood which could suggest that he was known as Charles to his family and friends; his name was, however, recorded officially as Richard in the two censuses in which he was enumerated.  He enlisted on 5 November 1915, giving his age as 19 years 1 month, though he had only relatively recently celebrated his 18th birthday.  Following training at Witley, at Aldershot and at Blackdown, his battalion arrived in France in the first week of June 1916, one month before the Battle of the Somme began. Richard would have seen some action in the Battle of the Somme, which he survived. 

For a Service Battalion, the 13th seems to have been involved in as much fighting action on the Front line as some fighting battalions and a large number of casualties.  Working Parties were in reality more exposed to shelling than were men in the trenches, and often came under fire intended to disrupt the essential work they were carrying out. Even during otherwise quiet periods, these battalions could experience the loss of some lives. 

To give a taste of a Richard’s war, on a “quiet day” in September 1916, the battalion provided “large working parties” for the Royal Engineers with the remaining soldiers deployed to improve the battalion’s billets at Maroc, not far from where the Battle of Loos had been waged a year earlier.  The 13th battalion had been billeted in cellars which needed to be cleaned, whitewashed and strengthened. With the return of the working parties, work to improve the cellars continued for several days “with a view to the approach of winter”.  This included laying sandbags on the ‘roofs’ of the cellars, to provide further cover in the ruins under which they had been billeted. While at Maroc, they cannot have slept easily in their “three tier beds” given the accounts of shrapnel shells and rifle grenades being fired towards their billets. The War Diary shows they were also under fire when on duty in their support and front trenches.  Even in that week of relative “quiet”, there were casualties and far too soon after, came intensive action.  Lighter moments  were sometimes recorded; one night members of the battalion managed to place announcements in German on the enemy’s wire, letting them know that Romania had declared war on Germany and Austria. The diary also records their sending the same messages into the enemy trenches by means of rifle grenades.

While Richard’s Medal Roll index card does not even record the fact of his death, the record of his effects confirms that he died “of wounds” on 25 April 1917.  

The puzzle behind the “died of wounds”
Because so many records have been damaged or destroyed, when a soldier is recorded as dying of wounds, it is difficult to work out just when he was wounded.  He may have been stabilised, at least enough to be moved further away from the action for treatment, and could thus have survived for an unspecified time thereafter.

Here’s how it worked.  The Army operated a casualty evacuation chain with the first stages being the Dressing Stations—the Aid Posts and Field Ambulances close to the front line, where the men were stabilised before being moved to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS).  The tasks of the medics at a CCS was (1) to treat men who were sufficiently fit to go straight back on duty and (2) to stabilise and treat those who needed to be evacuated to a major Base Hospital.   If a man were to be buried some distance from his unit’s action and its location at the time of his death, there is a possibility that he lived long enough to have been stabilised at a Dressing Station near the battlefield, and then to have been moved to a Casualty Clearing Station and, possibly, subsequently even further away to a General Hospital. 

In Richard’s case, I viewed the War Diary for his battalion at The National Archives, and noted that in the first fortnight of April, the 13/Battalion had been working under the supervision of the Royal Engineers on the Maricourt–Péronne railway line.  It was back-breaking work for up to ten hours at a time, but essential because the line provided vital supplies (food, medicines, weapons, equipment) for the troops.  These men were then tasked with a march spread over three days (the second being a break for rest) to Gouzeaucourt Wood, ahead of a planned attack on Villers-Plouich. Richard was on that march.

Documents held by the CWGC record that Richard was buried at a British Military Cemetery near Bray-sur-Somme, 33 km away as the crow flies.  (Seven others from Wandsworth’s Pals are buried there.)  This cemetery was used during April 1917 by the 5th and 48th Casualty Clearing Stations, which suggests that Richard died at one of these, and therefore before he could be transferred to a Field Hospital or a Military Hospital.  

It is rare that the name of a casualty from the lower ranks is recorded in the War Diary of a battalion.  As some records for the the East Surreys survive in the Burnt Records, I located a few legible pages from Richard’s service records, but none relating to events for him as a casualty of war.  Here’s what I think happened.  Because of the distance between Gouzeaucourt Wood where Richard was wounded and Bray-sur-Somme which is near the Casualty Clearing Station to which he was sent, and the delays in finding transport for the injured, during similarly intense periods of fighting, I think it is more likely that Richard was wounded on the 22 or 23 April than in the heavier, more brutal action on 24 April.

Richard was buried in the Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme, alongside an East Surrey officer, Lieutenant Forster Crampton Johnston, whose death was recorded on 23 April, two days earlier than Richard’s.  Might the two men perhaps have been moved to Bray at the same time?  I searched the Battalion’s War Diary, and found the action in which Lieut. Johnston had been wounded.  This occurred on 21 April 1917 at Gouzeaucourt Wood where the battalion was in action for several days.

Here is the account as recorded in the battalion’s War Diary:

The battalion was ordered to move forward in conjunction with the 119th Brigade on the right and the 11th Bn KORL Regt on a line from FIFTEEN RAVINE exclusive to Q17 d 8.7.

12.30am  Patrols reconnoîtred our objective but found no signs of the enemy.  Strong posts were thereupon dug along the line.

4.20am Under cover of our artillery barrage, parties from D Coy advanced and occupied posts from FIFTEEN RAVINE to Q18 c 9.4; and from C Coy Q18 c 9.4 to Q17 d 8.7. One platoon from A Coy was attached to each of C and D Coys.
A Coy (less 2 platoons) occupied the line of resistance along the North Eastern edge of GOUZEAUCOURT WOOD.B Coy were in reserve at Q23 c 8.4.
A small trench running from the sunken roads Q23 c 5.4 to Q 23 a 8.6 was deepened and occupied by the remainder of C and D Companies.
Casualties: 3 o[ther]r[anks] wounded.

Except for the occasional interchange of shells, the situation was quiet. With a view to an attack on Villers-Poulich, it was proposed to capture the enemy strong point about Q18 d 5.8.  The 14th Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders attempted to bomb down the enemy’s trenches in Q18 a [r?b?] but was unsuccessful.  The operations on the enemy post at Q18 d 5.8 were therefore postponed. During the night a continuous trench about 4 – 5 feet deep was dug fro FIFTEEN RAVINE to Q17 d 8.7. Enemy snipers were very busy, causing several casualties.

Casualties: 2nd Lt F C JOHNSTON, Lieut L A SEELEY, 2nd Lt F L WARLAND and 4 o[ther]r[anks] wounded.

The enemy artillery were much more active shelling the sunken roads at Q23 c 5.4. the track from there to QUEENS CROSS and GOUZEAUCOURT WOOD.
Casualties: 1 o[ther]r[anks] killed; 9 o[ther]r[anks] wounded.
2nd Lt F C JOHNSTON died of wounds.

Although there were to be even more casualties on the 24th, I think it is likely that Richard was one of those 4 foot soldiers who were wounded on the 22nd.

We know what items Richard had with him when on the front line, as these are listed under his Personal Effects. The list describes them as follows—explanations in italics are mine:

Disc  Identification Disc
Pkt Diary Pocket Diary—keeping a diary was forbidden, lest it fall into enemy hands.
Relig Bk  Religious Book
big Case
PC s  Post Cards
Xmas Card Christmas Card

This list tells us what might have been returned to his next of kin:  Richard’s identification disc, letters he’d received from friends and family, photographs, a pocket diary, some sort of religious material perhaps as little as a tract of a book from the New Testament, a case, postcards and a Christmas Card. 

Richard was still in his teens when he died, a few months short of his twentieth birthday. We can only imagine the grief of his parents at their loss of their son and for Richard’s five siblings, their “big brother”.  Only William among them would have been old enough to enlist, and that not until January 1918.  But even then, with three months’ training, he would at least have missed the colossal sacrifice during the Kaiserschlacht in March.


The Greenwood on the Parish War Memorial’s WW2 Face
Robert Ernest Greenwood (1920–1942) who is commemorated on the World War Two Face of Ham’s Parish War Memorial, was a grandson of Walter Greenwood, one of the sons from Cornelius’s second marriage to Louisa Brown.  Both Robert and Richard were great grandsons of Cornelius Greenwood—their relationship being half third cousins because they shared only one of their eight great grandparents.

Cornelius Greenwood Polden
For any interested descendants, it was an Ewelne resident, John Greenwood, who stands out in the field of possible fathers of the infant, Cornelius.  John Greenwood and Maria Polden were never to marry each other, although both did eventually marry.

The timing of Richard’s injuries
An account of a commemoration, a few years ago, of three Victoria Cross recipients from Wandsworth (one of whom, Reginald Haine, was a Petersham Scout) includes a description, on 24 April 1917, of the exploits of Corporal Edward Foster V.C., a Wandsworth Council dustman from Tooting who was serving in the 13/East Surrey Regiment. This seemed a significant attack but it occurred the day before Richard’s death, and given the distance from Villers-Poulich to the Clearing Stations at Bray-sur-Somme, and the time it would take for him to be removed there, I thought it unlikely that he was involved in the action on that day. I have downloaded a digital copy of the relevant war diary and hope in due course to have time to transcribe the entries for 24 April and the days preceding 22 April, and add them to the Richard’s story.  For the time being, I am going for the action on 23 April.

An easy way to follow Richard’s war experience is provided on the website of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, offspring of the East Surrey Regiment.  My transcripts are of the images I viewed at The National Archives.  For those unable to travel there, I provide links to both in my list of sources.

The National Archives, WO 95/2612/3, War Diary of 40 Division, 120 Infantry Brigade, 13 Bn East Surrey Regiment, 1 June 1916–31 January 1918, 24 April 1915.
Note: If you download this document at The National Archives, the action of the battalion around the time of Richard’s death of wounds is in the first pdf, namely WO 95-2612-3_1.pdf.  The action for 21 April 1917 commences on image 83 of 123.
13th Battalion Home Page, East Surrey Regiment (“The Queen’s”) War Diaries, http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/war_diaries/local/13Bn_East_Surrey.shtml, accessed 11/8/2019, June 1019––July 1918.
Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, ‘Wandsworth honours three brave VC winners’, https://www.wcit.org.uk/networks/154/master2017_thread.html?threadid=3094, accessed 8/7/2019.



Posted in Army, East Surrey Regiment, Ham War Memorial, Missing from the Memorial | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

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.

Barely six months after the 1891 Census was taken, Ellen Tracey was widowed with the death of George Tracey in the Eastbourne Sanatorium.  The cause of death was given as Typhoid Fever and Cardiac Failure.  Fortunately no other close family members seem to have been infected.

Alec’s story

Alex Willows, at about the time he enlisted as a Bombardier
© Claire Edge

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 and by Emily Spencer’s great niece.

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 Emily Spencer’s great niece, Claire Edge, who recently came across this blog post, and met me to share her research into Alec Willows’s life and his connection with her great aunt.

Further Reading on the 29 RFA Brigade
The Long Long Trail, ‘ CXXXIII, CXXIV, CXXV AND CXXVI (Howitxer Brigades (37th Divisional Artilllery)’ http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-royal-artillery-in-the-first-world-war/batteries-and-brigades-of-the-royal-field-artillery/cxxiii-cxxiv-cxxv-cxxvi-howitzer-brigades-37th-divisional-artillery/, accessed 3/7/2019.
Wartime Memories Project, ‘126 Battery, Royal Field Artillery’, https://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/allied/fartillery.php?pid=11365, 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’, http://woolmerforest.org.uk/page_Louisburg.php, 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’, https://www.cwgc.org/history-and-archives/first-world-war/campaigns/western-front/second-ypres, accessed 3/7/2019.
The Great War 1914–1918, ‘The Prelude to the Second Battle of Ypres’, http://www.greatwar.co.uk/battles/second-ypres-1915/, accessed 3/7/2019.
History Crunch, ‘Second Battle of Ypres’, https://www.historycrunch.com/second-battle-of-ypres.html#/, 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..

Posted in Army, Artillery, Family Members serving, Lock Road, Royal Field Artillery | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Army, Royal Field Artillery | Tagged | Leave a comment

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]



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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 Army, Cavalry, David Archibald James Chapman, David Phelips Chapman, Ham, Ham War Memorial | Leave a comment