The Upton Brothers: Percy William (1882–1915) and Thomas Anthony (1886–1918)

G/4874 Private Percy William Upton,
2/Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment),
Killed in Action, date of death presumed as 25 September 1915, in Flanders,
Commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

L/7327 Lance Serjeant Thomas Anthony Upton,
7/Battalion, The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment),
Killed in Action, 26 June 1918, in France.
Buried at Montigny Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme.

The parents of the Upton brothers were William Upton, and his wife Jane Littlechild. William Upton was, like his parents before him, a native of Sussex, and although Jane was also born there, her father had moved there from his birthplace, Dartford. William and Jane were married in Brighton in 1881, and it was that there that the first three of their sons were born.  They had four sons in all: Percy William, Ernest George, and Thomas Anthony were followed, after a longish gap, by William Henry, who was born in the Halling district, in Kent, in 1896.

William Henry, is likely to have been named, not after his father, but after his maternal grandfather, William Henry Fairhall Littlechild.  Jane’s father was a Coach Painter at the Terminus in Brighton and Jane was the fifth of the six children of William Littlechild’s first marriage to Rachel Avey. Her mother died in 1865, not long after Jane’s seventh birthday, and four years later, her father married Mary Ann Brown, by whom he had several more children.  Before her marriage to William Upton, Jane had been working locally as a live-in domestic servant.

By 1891 William and Jane Upton had moved, with their sons, to Cutridge Hill in Luddesdown, Kent.  There William was employed as a groom, with the three boys attending a local school.  The 1901 census has the family near Orpington, where William was working as a farm foreman. All four of his sons would start off their working lives with a stint in agriculture. Percy was recorded in that census as a “horseman on a farm” while both Ernest and Thomas were employed as agricultural labourers.

2 Evelyn Terrace—where the Uptons lived

2 Evelyn Terrace—where the Uptons lived

At some point in the next five years, William and Jane made their second, but final move, from Kent to Ham, together with, as far as we can tell, only the two youngest sons, Thomas and William.  There is no record of their eldest sons, Percy and Ernest, having lived in Ham: it is likely that Percy remained in Kent. Ernest may have moved from Orpington at the same time as his parents, and we know that he found work in Fulham, where he was living in 1911. He would have been able to maintain close contact with his parents and younger brothers in Ham.

Percy William Upton married Ellen Patterson in Orpington on Christmas Day 1907, the 25th of December being one of the few days in the year that a farm labourer might be allowed to take time off. Percy and his wife were recorded in 1911 in the hamlet of Well Hill, which is near Chelsfield, and on the outskirts of Orpington.   He continued to work with horses, as a waggoner, living at Well Hill until his enlistment in “The Queen’s” (the Royal West Surrey Regiment) on 22 February 1915. It is important to record that Percy enlisted as a volunteer—it was to be another year before conscription was introduced.  At the time his younger brothers, Thomas and William were serving in the Regular Army, which had suffered terrible losses in the early months of the war.  This may indeed have been what triggered Percy’s decision to enlist. He was the last of the Upton boys to sign up, just weeks after Ernest..

Initially Percy received his military training in the 3rd Battalion of The Queen’s, before being posted to the 2nd Battalion on 29 June 1915.   Less than three months later, on 25 September 1915, he was reported missing in action in the Battle of Loos.

Only two scorched fragments of Percy’s service records survive.  His medal index card does not indicate to which company of the 7th Battalion he was attached so we cannot reconstruct his movements on the day he lost his life.

We can, however, get an indication of the events surrounding his death from the War Diary of his battalion.  We know, for example, that on the eve of battle, the battalion consisted of 29 officers, and 991 men of other ranks, with a further 4 in hospital, and that the soldiers’ greatcoats were collected from the men at 10 p.m. that evening; that they moved forward to the trenches at 11.15, and were all in position at LANCASTER LINES by 3.a.m.

Following forty minutes’ of bombardment of the enemy’s position, the battalion moved forward at 6.30 a.m.  C Company, alone of all the companies, was fairly successful in crossing over the enemy’s first and second lines of trenches “without much opposition.”  The other three companies, however, met with “considerable” opposition from the German first line, and, “while outflanking and bombing” the trenches, suffered many casualties, but managed, by 11 a.m., to establish themselves in some German trenches towards CITE ST ELIE.  The diary notes that the battalion had sustained “many casualties” including several officers.

It appears that part of the battalion’s diary for 25 September, and any entries on 26 September, and part of the entry for 27 September are missing. An Appendix to the War Diary contains a typed extract of a report written by Captain Philpot of C Company.  This provides additional information about the action on 25 September but is too lengthy to be included here. As a General was hit during this action, and was presumably missing, Captain Philpot may have been required to compile a full report on what he had observed.  It would be interesting to know what else the original report revealed.

The Roll Call figures for the 7th Battalion, recorded on 27 September, note 19 officers and 750 men of ‘other ranks’.  Three days’ later, three men who had also been presumed missing, managed to make their way back to the battalion. Percy was not among them.

It was not until 4 November 1916 that Percy was presumed to have been killed in action on the date of his being reported missing.   Percy’s widow, Ellen, became the wife of William Burt in 1918.

The 1911 census reveals that Thomas Anthony Upton was living with this parents at 2 Evelyn Terrace, and working as a ‘cowman’. Early in 1913, he married Hilda Elizabeth Strange, whom he had probably met in Kingston.  Hilda had been born in Manchester, but her family had moved to Hampton Wick, and Hilda had found work in Norbiton.  While Thomas’s service record has not survived, his marriage to Hilda in Sevenoaks could suggest that, by the time of his marriage, he had already enlisted in “The Queen’s Own” (Royal West Kent Regiment).  Their only child, Ernest Thomas, was born in Sevenoaks on 6 April 1914.

When war was declared on 4 August that year, Thomas was serving as a private in his regiment’s 1st Battalion, which was then stationed in Dublin.  It was amongst the first to be mobilised for France, and just eleven days later, on 15 August, his battalion disembarked at Le Havre. By dint of this, Thomas qualified for the 1914 Star medal as well as the full suite awarded to those who enlisted after 1914.  The regimental honours roll records his subsequent service in the 11th Battalion, before his posting to the 7th Battalion. I have not been able to establish the dates on which he was posted to the 11th and 7th Battalions, but both the 1st and 11th saw service in Italy between November 1917 and March or April 1918, so it is possible that Thomas also served in Italy.

There are some clues, however, as to when he may have been transferred to the 7th Battalion. The history of the regiment notes that, in April 1918, “the hastily replenished 7th Battalion was going back into the fighting line south of the Somme” (p.387). This replenishment is likely to have been the transfer of soldiers from other battalions of The Queen’s Own, following the Kaiserschlacht of March 1918, also known as the 1918 Spring Offensive, when the British Army suffered grievous losses.   The 7th Battalion had been involved in heavy fighting in April 1918, but over the next three months, had suffered relatively few casualties, which had provided an opportunity to bring together the newly drafted men and the Old Timers into a “homogeneous unit ready for hard fighting”.  According to Atkinson, the battalion had had tours “in and out of the Line” without either “striking incidents or heavy casualties” right through to early August.

By the time of his death, Thomas had been appointed Lance-Serjeant and is recorded as such on the few Army records for him which survived.   A Lance-Serjeant is not a rank, but those appointed to this position, would have attained the rank of corporal.  Thomas would have worn a sergeant’s stripes, carried out the typical duties of a sergeant, and had a sergeant’s responsibilities but would have been paid as a corporal; this appointment, however, was often a step towards promotion.

The battalion’s War Diary is of little help in establishing what action might have occurred on 26 June 1918 to cause his death.  The pages from about mid-May right through June and beyond are missing.  There is however a typed day by day list for June, but that is not helpful either.  It tells us that the 7th Battalion was in the LINE on 25 June, when working parties under the supervision of the Royal Engineers had been making improvements to the JAKES Trench.  The following day, the day on which Thomas died, they had been continuing with work on the JAKES Trench and had then relieved the 8th Battalion on the Front Line.  In connection with 26 June, there is a note of an Appendix (APP 115) but all the Appendices between APP 93 (15 May) and APP 123 (6 August) turn out to be missing from the diary. Were they deliverately weeded out?

Since Thomas’s death, on 26 June 1918, was classified as ‘killed in action’, it probably involved some contact with the enemy.  He was the first Allied soldier to be buried in the new Extension to the Montigny Communal Cemetery.  His widow, Hilda, appears not have remarried and is possibly the Hilda E Upton, whose death was registered in Staines in 1940.  The death of their son, Ernest Thomas, was registered in Wandsworth in 1985.

All four children of William and Jane Upton enlisted, the younger two in the Regular Army, before the outbreak of war, and the older two as volunteers, within six months of the outbreak of war. Their exposure to danger over such a long period must have caused considerable anxiety for their parents.  It seems appropriate to acknowledge here, also, the service of the two brothers who survived.

Ernest George Upton (1884–1950?) enlisted the month before Percy.  By trade, a Motor Lorry Driver, Ernest was still living in Fulham when war broke out.  He ‘took the oath’ on 18 January 1915, and joined up at Grove Park, the Army Service Corps Depot, the following day.  He was immediately given a week’s leave until the 26th, and, somewhat surprisingly, embarked at Avonmouth the following day. On arrival he was sent to the Motor Transport Base at Rouen.  Reclassified as a Storekeeper in 1916, Ernest continued to serve abroad until his demobilisation in June 1919, whereupon he was transferred to the Army Reserve.

The Regimental Roll for the East Surrey Regiment shows that their youngest son, William Henry Upton (1896–1986), enlisted on 3 December 1913. His marriage to Edith Hockley in 1920 is listed on the roll, as is the birth of their eldest child, Edith Jane, born in 1921, but the children born after Edith Jane (Dorothy and Robert) are not recorded on that document.  It is possible that William may have continued in the Army after the War, or have been transferred to the Army Reserve, as many soldiers were.  The roll also notes his re-enlisting in the Territorial Army in 1931 when he would have been in his mid-thirties.

The Upton parents continued to live at 2 Evelyn Terrace in Ham Street until William’s death, aged 74, in January 1938.  He was buried at Ham St Andrew, whose burial register gives the Evelyn Terrace address.  Jane Upton died in March 1939, aged 81, and was also buried at Ham St Andrew.  However, the address given in the register for Jane’s residence at the time of her death, was 69 Hornsey Lane, Highgate, which may have been the address of relatives, or of a nursing home.  (The Victorian building at this address today is rather grand, though the street may have been re-numbered since—as has been the case with Ham.)

Thomas had at least one grandchild. The Upton brothers are also still remembered by the grandchildren of their brother William.

Atkinson, C.T., The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment): 1914–1919, London, 1924. Note that if you are looking for this book in a library, the Dewey Code of 356.10941 may be followed by [50th}.  There are a large number of military histories sharing this code, so the old Foot Regiment number, rather than the author’s surname, is used to sort the books by regiment.
The National Archives, WO 95/1664/1, ‘2 Bn The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment)’ 1 August 1914–31 December 1915.
The National Archives, WO 95/2040/2, ‘7 Bn The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)’, 1 June 1918–30 April 1919.

Christine Williams spoke movingly about our research into the Upton Brothers at the Commemoration on Remembrance Day 2014 at Ham Library; genealogical and military research since then has been done by Margaret Frood.

About Margaret Frood

Margaret Frood is a Family and Local Historian with an insatiable curiosity about the partially told stories of a family's past. Her four war memorial blogs have been created in the hope that they will help to rescue from oblivion the stories of those listed on the war memorials of Petersham, Ham and Tur Langton, as well as Southern Africans commemorated in the UK and in Western Europe.
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2 Responses to The Upton Brothers: Percy William (1882–1915) and Thomas Anthony (1886–1918)

  1. ann ward says:

    Thank you this was very moving & emotional reading this , I knew some details ,but felt it from my great Great grandmother’s Jane’s feeling , having all four sons go to war losing two sons must have been heartbreaking . Thank you this means a lot to me . Sadly have no photos of any of the brothers only Grandad William . not in uniform . I Have been doing our family tree for years on & off not very good at it & as only do the free weekends etc . . but you have confirmed the army details I had . Silly how can I send this to my E-mail address as would love to have if I may ?

    • Thank YOU, Ann. I live in hope that relatives find the blog as very often they know so little of the men because it was so painful for those who survived to talk about them. And at the time, the information the relatives obtained about what had happened was confused & often (sometimes deliberately) incorrect. Ann, you should be able to print each of the stories from the blog page. Use the Print command from the blog, not from the browser so that you don’t also print the side panels or any adverts. DO get in touch again if you need more advice on the printing. PS I do add photos of other family members, particularly when no photo of the person concerned has survived.

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