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Frank Hanlon

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: F. Hanlon
Born: 9 April 1890
Date of Death: 31 March 1918
Age at death: 27
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: West Yorkshire Regiment
Unit, Ship, etc: 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds Pals Battalion) which later merged with 17th Battalion to become the 15th/17th Battalion
Enlisted: Leeds
Rank: Private (Service No. 15/425)
Decorations: WW1 Campaign Medals – Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914-15 Star
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders) and WW1 (Egypt)
Manner of Death: Died of Wounds (whilst in German military field hospital)
Family Details: Son of James and Annie Hanlon of 19 Brudenall Road, Hyde Park, Leeds
Residence:
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Department (Yorkshire and East Midlands Division)
Civilian Rank: 
Cemetery or Memorial: Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, Pas de Calai (XX.E.14); Breary Banks Memorial to Leeds Pals; Memorial to the Staff of the Ministry of Labour, now hanging in Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1; and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London);

Biography:

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Frank’s mother and 4 sisters (Copyright: Cathy Ready)

Frank Hanlon was born on 8 April 1890, the oldest son and child of James Hanlon (1860-1931), a machinist an his wife Annie Shackleton (1867 – 1953) who came from Burley in Leeds. The growing family can be found in successive censuses, first in 1891, and then 1901 and 1911. In 1891 the Frank is living aged just 11 months together with his parents at 13 Carberry Place, Burley. By 1901,  the Hanlon family have moved to 180 Burley Road. Frank (aged 10) now has 4 younger sisters –  Shirley (1892 – 1970), Jeannette (1894 – 1993), Edith (1896 – 1979) and lastly Mildred (1898 – 1990). In 1911, the whole family are all living at 10 Beechwood Crescent, Burley. In this census, Frank is now aged 20 and working as a clerk for Leeds County Council in the Education Department.

At some point between 1911 and 1914, Frank joined the Yorkshire and East Midlands Division of the Labour Department (which at the time formed part of the Board of Trade).

In his private life, we know that Frank and his family had a life long connection with St Andrew’s Church located on Burley Street, Leeds, just a stone’s throw from their home in Burley Street. Sadly the church no longer exists, since it closed in 1958, as a result of a reorganisation of church boundaries. What was previously St Andrew’s parish now falls under St George’s parish.

However, we still know that Frank was baptised at St Andrew’s in May 1890. We also know that his father, James Hanlon was a choirmaster there as, according to family records, the church wrote to him in 1909 thanking him for his service in this role and asking him to continue. Frank was also active in church life and was one of the sidesmen (also known as ushers or assistant churchwardens). In this capacity he would have been well known to the congregation and local community, as he was responsible for greeting churchgoers, overseeing seating and taking the collection. As is common practice, he would most likely have been appointed by the church’s Annual Parochial Church Meeting.

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“The Leeds Pals” book

Motivated by his faith and strong personal and moral upbringing, Frank enlisted as a Private in the 15th (Service) Battalion of the Prince of Wales’ Own (West Yorkshire Regiment). This  was one of the so-called “Pals Battalions” formed by local authorities or private organisations who provided the necessary clothing, accommodation and food alongside the army providing weapons and training. The young men of Leeds (as in other places across the UK) heeded the call of Lord Kitchener to enlist (and bolster the small standing professional army of 120,000 men). The connection between the volunteers and the city was intrinsically linked – for instance, as the authors of the Leeds Pals Researchers say “the city was part of them and they were part of the city”.

According to details of the regiment published on “The Long Long Trail” the battalion was formed in Leeds in September 1914 by Lord Edward Brotherton, the Lord Mayor and the City. Frank (alongside his friends and work colleagues) would undoubtedly have seen a recruitment poster similar to the one published here.

He enlisted alongside hundreds of other clerks, engineers, schoolteachers and other men from the city and so it is likely he knew a highly educated Leeds University graduate originally from Bengal in India, Jogendra Sen (1887 – 1916) who was also one of the first men to enlist in the Leeds Pals.

The regiment initially trained locally before moving to Silkstone (near Barnsley in South Yorkshire) in December 1914. In June 1915, the battalion came order of the 93rd Brigade, 31st Division. In December 1915 the battalion saw its first service overseas when it was sent to Alexandria in Egypt to defend the Suez Canal (according to Frank’s medal card he landed on 22 December 1915 which would have made for an unusual Christmas away from home). It would very likely have been Frank’s first time far from home and first time on a long sea journey.  The memories of the voyage to Egypt are remembered on the Remembering the Leeds Pals Battalions website by a fellow Leeds Pal who survived the war, Private Arthur Pearson. He recalls that the food served on board was ‘most unappetising and most of it uneatable. Boiled mutton day after day. We swore we got the same piece of mutton day after day too, as we couldn’t touch the stuff.’

Then in March 1916, the battalion was subsequently reassigned to serve in France.

Frank would undoubtedly have fought  alongside his friends on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916). During this action, the Leeds Pals were stationed near the village of Serre, where they were ordered to attack the Germany positions. This was a deadly day and the Pals were decimated by the German artillery and machine guns. By the end of 1 July 1916, 248 members of the Leeds Pals were either killed or fatally injured. Only 72 members of the Battalion were uninjured. As Private Pearson, again remembered: “The name of Serre and the date of 1st July is engraved deep in our hearts, along with the faces of our ‘Pals’, a grand crowd of chaps. We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

Frank at this time was one of the ‘lucky’ ones and he went on to fight in the Battle of Arras (9 April to 16 May 1917) with the Leeds Pals. He was subsequently part of the remaining Leeds Pals who merged with the 17th Battalion or Leeds Bantams to form the 15th/17th Battalion on 7 December 1917.

By 1918, the surviving Leeds men spent the start of the year training and in reserve, in preparation to provide reinforcements to the front line. We also know (thanks to a Leeds Live online newspaper report from 11 November 1918 the circumstances which most likely led to Frank’s ultimate death). The 15th/17th Battalion that Frank served in was sent back to the front in March 1918 and so he would have have faced the German Spring Offensive, code-named Operation Michael. This German military operation consisted of an intensive bombardment on the British trenches across a 50 mile front line (stretching from Arras to La Ferre). On 26 March 1918, the Leeds Pals were isolated whilst fighting on the outskirts of Moyenneville. The Leeds Pals launched a counter attack to drive off the Germans but they continued to hit back and were able to hold out. The battalion was ordered to withdraw and hit by another attack on 27 March 1918. Subsequently, with the German’s looking to be gaining advantage, a Sergeant Alfred Mountain volunteered to take charge of 10 men and a Lewis gun to protect the battalion’s flank, killing up to 100 German soldiers. This action successfully repelled the German attack. For this action Sergeant Mountain (who ultimately survived) was awarded the Victoria Cross. The Germans however continued to advance and the Pals were were again outflanked and whilst 44 were able to retreat, the rest were captured. In all, during this whole 9 day battle, 74 soldiers in the West Yorkshire Regiment were lost and more than 1,070 men serving in the 93rd Brigade were either, dead, wounded or missing.

This reason for focusing in on this particular time period, is that we know that at some point during this military action, Frank Hanlon was captured by the Germans, after being injured. Frank was one of 10 million people, servicemen or civilians who were captured and sent to detention camps or treated in military hospitals.

Thanks to surviving Prisoner of War historical archives from the International  Committee of the Red Cross, we know that Frank was reported missing since 24 March 1918. An index card (Reference no A. 40491) also details that Frank died, aged 27, at a field hospital at Aniche on 31 March 1918 having been shot in the lung.

As a wounded prisoner, Frank Hanlon’s fate would have fallen under the 1864 Geneva Convention which stated in Article 6 that “Wounded or sick combatants, to whatever nation they may belong, shall be collected and cared for”.

The ICRC, an independent, neutral organisation, was founded in 1863 to “protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and violence and to provide them with assistance”. Their work continues to this day and you can find out more about supporting and donating to their ongoing work.

From records, we also know that Frank left a will and and probate (dated 10 September 1918) totalling £47 1 shilling 6 pence. Also touchingly his next of kin is named as his fiancee, Lucy Markinson.

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Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, France (Copyright: www.cwgc.org.uk)

Frank was initially buried at Auberchicourt Cemetery, in what was then German territory. However, in 1924 his body was re-interred in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, France where it remains to this day. Frank’s reburial is not unusual during the period after WW1 as the battlefields were cleared of ammunition and debris and known burial sites were examined and moved to larger cemeteries. As a result, alongside over 3000 fellow British and Commonwealth soldiers, Frank has a uniform gravestone which bears a simple inscription chosen by his family – it says: “HE IS RISEN” MARK XVI. 6″.

As their eldest son and as a brother, Frank’s loss must have been deeply felt by the rest of the Hanlon family, and his death was rarely spoken of according to living descendants. His nephew Frank Hanlon Pollard was named after him.

The then vicar of St Andrew’s wrote beautifully and movingly of Frank in his Annual Report in 1918 as follows:

“There are other and sadder losses…Mr Frank Hanlon, one of our sidesmen, and all his life connected with St Andrew’s Church, has lost his life in battle. He was one of the best and we mourn his loss. He gave his life for his country and he could do no more.” 

Frank is remembered at the Commonwealth War Grave cemetery of Cabarat-Rouge in France. He is also remembered on two Civil Service War Memorials in London – the Ministry of Labour War Memorial located in Tothill Street and the Board of Trade War Memorial located at 3 Whitehall Place. A stone cairn memorial also stands in honour of the 15th Battalion (The Leeds Pals) which is located on Breary Banks. The memorial was unveiled on 25 September 1935 on the site of the first training camp of around 1,275 men who formed the Leeds Pals battalion.

The memorial in St Andrew’s Church, Burley has sadly been lost in the years since the church closed in 1958, however a photo of it still survives. It would be amazing to see if the memorial could be found or alternatively replaced. This happened as recently as 2017 when Leeds City Council rededicated the war memorial from the former  St Columba Church which also previously located in Burley, Leeds. As reported in the Yorkshire Post the restoration of war memorials is deeply symbolic, hence the ongoing work of the Department for International Trade‘s War Memorial Research Group, which cuts across all faiths, beliefs and places of origin (and other national organisations such as the War Memorial Trust). 

Chris Page, local Leeds branch secretary of the Western Front Association, who campaigned for the restoration of the St Colomba memorial, said in 2017: “It’s not really about us – it’s about them and their sacrifice which was really important.”

StAndrewsChurchWarMemorialLeeds

War Memorial from former St Andrews Church, Burley Street, Leeds

With massive thanks to the relatives (Cathy and Neil Ready) of Frank Hanlon for very kindly sharing surviving photos of Frank and his family.

(Note: Many more details of the history of the Leeds Pals can be found in books by Laurie Mills or the Leeds Pals Researchers).

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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: T. H. Maynard
Born: 6 September 1895
Date of Death: 19 August 1918
Age at death: 23
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Middlesex Regiment
Unit, Ship, etc: 1/9th Battalion
Enlisted: Willesden
Rank: Sergeant (Service No. 265180)
Decorations: WW1 Campaign Medals – Victory Medal, British War Medal, Territorial Force War Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (Mesopotamia)
Manner of Death: Accidental
Family Details: Son of T H and A Maynard, 120 Mason Avenue, Wealdstone, Harrow
Residence: Wealdstone
Home Department: Board of Trade – Office of the Umpire
Civilian Rank: 
Cemetery or Memorial: Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery, Iraq (XIX.D.2); Wealdstone War Memorial; Maynard family grave plot and headstone located at Wealdstone cemetery, London; Haberdashers Askes Hatcham College Memorial; Memorial to the Staff of the Ministry of Labour, now hanging in Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1; and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London);

Biography:

Looking into the life of Thomas Henry Maynard, I started looking initially at his unique story, but this quickly extended to his wider family who were touched by tragedy with not just one death in wartime and in its aftermath, but four deaths! How families remained resilient and stoic in such circumstances is thought provoking.

Thomas Henry Maynard was born on 6 September 1895 in Bermondsey, South London. He was baptised aged 2 months at St Katherine’s, Southwark, Rotherhithe on 26 November 1895. His parents were his father also called Thomas Henry Maynard (1865 – 1949) and mother, Ada Alice Maynard (nee Purbrick) (1866 – 1943). He was the eldest son and child in a family of seven siblings. The family also consisted of Ethel Ada Maynard (1897 – 1918), Albert Bertram Maynard (1899 – 1918), Henry William Maynard (1901 – 1971), Richard Charles Maynard (1902 – 1903), Violet Mary Maynard (1905 – 1994), Elsie Rosie Maynard (1910 – 1911). Two of the Maynard children – Richard and Elsie – both died in childhood in 1903 and 1911 respectively.

The family were fairly poor. For instance, Thomas Henry Maynard senior’s occupation in 1901 is the unskilled labouring position of “potman and cellarman” which is unlikely to have brought in much money to the family. By 1911, however, Thomas Henry (senior) is working as a ‘colour printer machine minder’, which was likely to be a more skilled role but still might have brought in much money.

According to the 1901 census, the Maynard family are living at 52 Grange Road, Bermondsey. By the 1911 census, Thomas’s parents and younger siblings are living in the Harrow and Wealdstone area of north London at 14 Redcliffe Terrace, Cecil Road, Wealdstone, Middlesex, England. Thomas Henry (junior) is not living with the family since he is listed aged 15 as a boarder living at 8 Hoopwick Street, Deptford Park, Kent with the Mall family. At this time he is listed as being on a school scholarship.

We are also lucky to have a record of Thomas’s schooling and know that he attended the Rotherhithe New Road School (now called Rotherhithe Primary School) where he started aged 6 on 7 October 1901. We also know that Thomas attended Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham Boys School (now College), located near New Cross.

HaberdashersAskesHatcham

Haberdashers Askes Hatcham College

This school has a long history. It was named after its benefactor, Robert Aske (1619 – 1689) who was a haberdasher (or merchant dealing in raw silk). When Aske died, he left £20,000 in his will to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, with the aim of buying land within a mile of London on which to build almshouses (hospital) and a school for 20 poor boys and 20 poor men. He also left £12,000 to benefit the Foundation, or Charity, of which the Haberdashers became trustees. Initially, land was purchased in Hoxton in 1690 to build the original hospital and school – which were subsequently demolished in 1824 and then the school was enlarged (and the almshouses closed) in 1874. Further change came in 1898 when the Hoxton school site become un-usable and the school moved to Hampstead and Acton (and ultimately to their current location in Elstree).

Alongside the Hoxton developments dating back to the 1870s, the Haberdashers Foundation had surplus money and land was also bought at Hatcham, near New Cross, South London at the top of what is now Telegraph Hill and plans were made to build both a boys and girls grammar school. This was quite a challenge since at that time there were no nearby roads and bad weather made journeying up the hill difficult by horse and carriage. Nevertheless, by October 1875, the two Hatcham grammar schools were established. By 1889 the Foundation had purchased further land in Jerningham Road (which became a girls school) and the initial Hatcham school (located at Pepys Road) became a school for 300 boys.

We know that Thomas was a scholarship pupil at Haberdashers. Unfortunately the school records from the time have not survived, so we don’t know what he excelled in or how long he attended the school. We do know that at some point after leaving, Thomas joined the Board of Trade and worked in a division called the ‘Office of the Umpire’.

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Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham “In Memorium” (Copyright: Wendy Blackburne)

The motto of Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham is to “Serve and Obey” and that is what Thomas did alongside so many thousands of his generation. We know that Thomas enlisted in Willesden and he served in the 1/9th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

From various military history sources, we know that the Regiment (along with other units which formed the larger Home Counties Division) was ordered to serve in India in October 1914, arriving in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 2 December 1914. From military records, we know that Thomas would have travelled on either the “Dilwara” or “Dongola” ships. The 1/9th Middlesex were assigned to the Presidency Brigade in 8th (Lucknow) Division near Calcutta. In January 1916 the Battalion was transferred to the 5th (Jhelum Brigade), 2nd (Rawalpindi) Division and served on the North West Frontier. During this time the Battalion continuously moved around in locations in what is now the border area between modern day India and Pakistan (such as Nowshera, Murree and Lahore).

An insight into what life serving in India must have been like for Thomas can be found on the website King-Emperor.com – The Indian Army on Campaign 1900 – 1939 which features a fascinating collection of photographs taken by Captain Maurice Mendes who served in the 1/9th Middlesex Regiment (and then received a temporary commission as an officer in the 1st Battalion, 103rd Mahratta Light Infantry) and who served on the North West Frontier.

Then in October 1917, the 9th Battalion was selected to be the British battalion in a new 53rd Indian Brigade and was sent to Mesopotamia (in modern day Iraq). The Battalion was supplemented with men from the 1/10th Middlesex and the 1/25th London Regiment and sailed from Karachi on the troop transport ship “Egra” on 19 November 1917, landing in Basra on 23 November 1917. The battalion became the 18th Indian Division at Baghdad on 24 December 1917. The division subsequently moved north up the Tigris River in March 1918. From 21 March to 19 May, Baghdad was blockaded and the 9th Middlesex were involved in several incidents. Then during the summer of 1918 until October 1918, the division was involved in roadbuilding rather than campaigning, since the summer heat was too intense of military campaigning.

It was during this period that Thomas died on active service whilst serving in Baghdad, Iraq on 19 August 1918. According to the records his death was accidental and was as a result of an oil gas lamp explosion.

Further tragedy struck the Maynard family when just a month later, Thomas’s younger brother Albert Bertram Maynard (known as Bert) died in France, aged just 19 years old, on 3 September 1918. Bert was a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Service No 44463).

We know from the British WW1 Medal Card records that both the Maynard boys were awarded WW1 campaign medals, which were given to the family.  Both were awarded the Victory Medal and the British Medal. Additionally Thomas was awarded the Territorial Force War Medal (which his father posthumously applied to to have him awarded in 1923). This last medal is particularly rare and was only awarded to members of the Territorial Force on or prior to 30 September 1914, and to those who had served in an operational theatre of war outside of the United Kingdom between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. Receipt of the medals would have been a poor replacement for the death of both boys.

William McCormick

William McCormick (Copyright: Kendell Cummings

The family’s devastating sense of loss was also compounded by the death of one of Thomas’ sisters, Ethel Ada Maynard, aged 21 and her husband William Gordon MacCormick (1893 – 1918), aged only 19, both of whom died on 29 November 1918 in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. The couple had only recently married on 24 September 1918 at St John the Baptist Church in Greenhill, London. William also served in WW1 in the Mercantile Marine Reserve on HMS Revenger.  

The lives of Thomas, Bert, Ethel and Will are all remembered on the family grave in Wealdstone. Here also, both Thomas and Bert are remembered on the local Wealdstone town memorial which was originally unveiled on 11 November 1923 by Field Marshal the Lord W E Ironside (and dedicated the following day by the Archdeacon of Hampstead). The Wealdstone memorial is in the form of a Grade 2 listed clocktower which lists over 249 names by initial, rank and decoration (Source: Roll of Honour website).

Haberdashers Askes Hatcham Grammar School WW1 memorial

Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham Roll of Honour Board

The sacrifice of Thomas and his fellow Old Askeans who died during WW1 is remembered on a beautiful wooden Roll of Honour board mounted on the wall of the main school hall, located at Pepys Road, New Cross, London.

The school still maintains a strong connection to its past. According to the school website “We believe that history is not just the study of the past but an essential subject in helping us to understand what is happening in the world today, and how our future will develop.“. In November 2018, 42 boys and five staff took part in a WW1 Battlefield Trip to remember those former Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham school pupils who died in France.

Thomas obviously died much further from home and he is among 4480 men buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery in Iraq. Due to military conflict and political instability in the region, staff from CWGC were not able to visit Iraq for 12 years between 2006 and 2018. However in May 2018, a team led by Richard Hills, CWGC’s Director of Asia, Africa and Pacific Area visited Iraq and made an an initial assessment of the work required towards maintaining the memorials and cemeteries into the future. The ongoing work of Richard Hills and his CGWC team, is highlighted in a blog about the CWGC in Iraq – our history and the future.

The goal of the CGWC remains to honour and never forget the sacrifice of men like Thomas and his brother Bert and to maintain in perpetuity the graves and memorials to over 1.7 million men and women from the Commonwealth forces of the First and Second World Wars. The CGWC was created thanks to the vision of its founder Sir Fabian Ware who during WW1 was too old to fight (aged 45) but served as a commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross. Saddened by the huge numbers of casualties, his unit began to find ways to ensure permanent memorials and resting places for the men of WW1 in France and Flanders. By 1915 his work was officially recognised as part of the Graves Registration Commission (as part of the British Army). The Commission was subsequently established as the Imperial War Graves Commission (now CGWC) in 1917 by Royal Charter with the same basic mission to honour all those who died.

Ultimately the CGWC’s work extended beyond Europe and there are CGWC memorials and graves in 23,000 locations in 150 countries worldwide. Those memorials and graves to men in Iraq (including to Thomas) comprise memorials to more than 54,000 Commonwealth war casualties (in both World Wars) in 19 locations. This represents almost 3% of the CGWC’s worldwide commitment (with only France, the UK, Belgium and India having more casualties and memorial sites).  Whether in Iraq or elsewhere the CGWC commitment is the same – to ensure that all CGWC sites are secured, monitored and properly maintained through landscaping and appropriate care. A fascinating insight into the work of the CGWC is provided in a short video about the CGWC by Dan Cruickshank. He also presented a fascinating programme “Monuments of Remembrance” shown on BBC4 in November 2018.  

The memorial grave to Thomas in Baghdad bears the inscription “Until the day breaks“. His brother Bert, who is buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension in Rouen, France (Section R. Plot II. Row J. Grave 8). His inscription says “Only a few more trials, only a few more tears, until we meet again“.

It should be remembered that both of these very moving and personal epitaphs would have been chosen by the Maynard family themselves. According to a Daily Telegraph article about WW1 gravestone inscriptions, families like the Maynard’s would have been sent a “final verification form” which were sent by the War Graves Commission to the individual’s last known address, with final details such as name, age and choice of presentation (such as the inclusion of a cross or other religious symbol), as well as a personal quote. At first there was a fee payable of  31/2d per letter up to a maximum fee of £1 for each inscription, but this was later removed. Both epitaphs chosen by the Maynard family remind us of the many millions of individual lives that were cut short.

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Family locket featuring photo of either Thomas or Bert Maynard (Copyright: Wendy Blackburne)

Both Thomas and Bert were very cherished individuals and their memory lives on through the very moving words of their gravestone inscriptions and also in the memories of both men’s direct relatives. Their mother, Ada, had a small locket with the photos of both her sons kept close to her heart. The locket survives but only one photo. Unfortunately it is not yet known if the photo is of Thomas or Bert.

With much thanks to Wendy Blackburne, who is related to the Maynard family, for her added insight and information and for very kindly providing the family photos. 

 

 

 

 

 

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: B. R. U. Brannon
Born: 1 February 1885
Date of Death: 8 November 1918
Age at death: 33
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Royal Navy
Unit, Ship, etc: HMS Plover
Enlisted: 15 December 1915
Rank: Engineer Lieutenant
Decorations:
War (and theatre): WW1
Manner of Death: Died of influenza and bronchial pneumonia
Family Details: Son of Mrs Brannon, Gatcombe House, Forest Gate, Essex and the late Robert H Brannon. Husband of Gertrude M Brannon, Bella Vista, Shanklin, Isle of Wight
Residence:
Home Department: Board of Trade – Mercantile Marine Survey
Civilian Rank:
Cemetery or Memorial: Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery (War Memorial, Panel M.88);  St Olave’s Church, Isle of Wight (on roll of honour and on parents memorial in church); Freemasons Hall War Memorial, Great Queen Street, London; and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)

Biography:

Bertram Robert Urry Brannon’s name stands out as a distinctive name and so I was hopeful that he would be relatively easy to trace in a variety of records. This is certainly the case as its possible to trace his lifestory and that of his family through the years.

He was born on 1 February 1885 in Forest Gate, Essex to Robert Henry Brannon (9 October 1854 – 25 November 1899) and Mary Brannon nee Scott (1861 – 1945) of Gatcombe House, Forest Gate. He was the middle son of three brothers. His elder brother was Arthur Douglas Brannon (1881 – 1958) and his younger brother Allan Cuthbert Brannon (1890 – 1981) (who also served in the military and was also a civil servant).

The Brannon’s were solidly and comfortably middle class and were a distinguished local Isle of Wight family whose connection is remembered by Brannon House in Newport and the continuing existence of the Isle of Wight County Press (founded by Bertram’s grandfather, Alfred Brannon in 1884).

Bertram’s great-grandfather was George Brannon (1784 – 1860) a leading self taught artist and engraver of his age, best known for his enterprising book, “Vectis Scenery” (published in 1821). This contained 28 of George Brannon’s distinctive views of the Isle of Wight, printed from copper plates. You can find out more about George Brannon and the Brannon family at http://www.islandeye.co.uk/history/brannon/ryde-east-of-the-pier-june-1847.html and http://www.brannoncollection.co.uk/brannon-history.php.  The Brannon archive of engravings and other artwork is now stored at Carisbrooke Castle Museum, and remains an inspiration for modern day artists and his work has been recreated online by historiographer and digital technologist Andrew Taylor at http://www.renlyon.org/vectis-scenery.html.

As gleaned from census records and also the Brannon family gravestone in St Olave’s Churchyard in Gatcombe on the Isle of Wight, Bertram’s own father, Robert was a shipping agent and manager of the Clyde Shipping Company which operated in Southampton and London and was one of the earliest steam shipping companies.

Bertram is listed in the 1891 census alongside his parents and one younger brother, Allan (aged 7 months). The family are living at 59 Hampton Road, West Ham, Essex. In the 1901 census he is recorded as visiting relatives – Robert and Marianna Urry – at Gatcombe Mill on the Isle of Wight. Gatcombe Mill is a Grade II listed watermill mentioned in the Domesday Book, which stands to this day on the Medina River and is now used for storage. It was originally used as a corn mill but stopped working in the 1960s.

We don’t have any details of Bertram’s school days but we do know from previous research conducted by historians behind the Memorials and Monuments on the Isle of Wight and from London Gazette records that he joined the Board of Trade in May 1915 as an engineer surveyor. A year after the start this new job, he married a Gertrude Mabel Browne (1889 – 1975) in 1916.

We also know from the records that Bertram became a Freemason in 1912, like his father Robert Henry Brannon and his brothers, Allan Cuthbert and Arthur Douglas. According to the Masonic Great War Project his local lodge was Albany No 151 E.C. (on the Isle of Wight) which he joined or was initiated into on 8 July 1912. He passed on 26 Feb 1912 and raised on 15 September 1913.

The history of the lodge is published by the Province of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Via the local lodge history we know that Bertram’s death is recorded in the Albany Lodge minutes of 11 November. In 1918 the Lodge had 109 members (including 16 on war service).

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Recruitment advert in “The Freemason” (1914) (Copyright: Library and Museum of Freemasonry)

Freemasonry is a non-political and internationalist organisation and at first discussion of war was forbidden at Lodge meetings. However, Freemasons had to make choices as men and individuals and many thousands joined the call to join the military.  Perhaps it is not so surprising that many Freemasons like Bertram signed up for the military, given shared values of camaraderie and service.

During World War One, Bertram enlisted for temporary service on 15 December 1915. He served in the Royal Navy on HMS Plover. A total of 11 Royal Navy ships have been this name but in Bertram’s time he served on an Admiralty M-class destroyer which was launched in 1916. This ship survived the war and was sold afterwards for salvage in May 1921.

 

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War Memorial, Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery

He died of influenza and bronchial pneumonia on 8 November 1918, aged 33, at Seafield Naval Hospital in Edinburgh and is named on the War Memorial at Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery. His death took place only 3 days before the Armistice was declared and during the 1918 influenza pandemic (commonly known as Spanish flu pandemic) which was the largest and deadliest worldwide health outbreak. It is estimated that between 3 and 5% of the total world population died. Across the world the number of deaths were three times more than those killed during WW1 itself. To understand more about the 1918 flu pandemic which killed more between 20 and 50 million people worldwide, you can read more on Wikipedia, on the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, and in many online articles like this one written by the author, Juliet Nicolson in The Telegraph or watch this YouTube video published by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you are interested about this time in history, you might also enjoy reading Juliet Nicolson’s book “The Great Silence” (2010) which tells the story of the trauma Britain suffered after WW1 via 35 portraits of people impacted and through anecdotes, diaries and letters.

As well as the Edinburgh (Seafield) Cemetery, Bertram’s name is also remembered in a number of other places including in Gatcombe, on the St Olave Church Roll of Honour and on his parents memorial within the church, and also on the Board of Trade War Memorial itself.

Freemasons'_Hall,_London

Freemasons Hall, London

As a Freemason, Bertram is one of 3,225 men whose lives are remembered by the imposing Freemasons Grand Lodge located on Great Queen Street in London. This grandiose art deco building, home to the United Grand Lodge of England, was built in 1927-33 by H. V. Ashley and Winton Newman as a memorial to the Freemasons who lost their lives on active service in WW1.

To find out more about freemasonry during WW1 you can read English Freemasonry and the First World War” (2014) which is a beautifully illustrated book published to accompany an exhibition produced by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. The book covers details of how lodges coped with members like Bertram being called up to fight and what it was like to fight as a Freemason and the steps that individual lodges and the Grand Lodge took to remember fallen Freemason.

The War Memorial research group hope, one day, to put a face to Bertram’s name. In the meantime we remember his sacrifice as we remember these words of Rudyard Kipling (a fellow Freemason):

“ One service more we dare to ask–
Pray for us, heroes, pray,
That when Fate lays on us our task
We do not shame the Day!”
‘ The Veterans’
Rudyard Kipling
Hope and Perseverance Lodge №782, Lahore

(Written for the gathering of survivors of the Indian Mutiny, Albert Hall, 1907)

IN HONOUR OF FREEMASONS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS DURING THE GREAT WAR
1914 – 1918

 

 

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: C. Carruthers
Born: 19 February 1890
Date of Death: 31 March 1918
Age at death: 28
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Durham Light Infantry
Unit, Ship, etc: 15th Battalion (64th Brigade, 21st Division) and previously 10th Battalion
Enlisted: South Shields
Rank: Private 39971
Decorations: British War Medal, Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of John Thomas and Annie Marie Carruthers. Wife was Sophia Carruthers (nee Dennis)
Residence: South Shields
Home Department: Board of Trade – Mercantile Marine Department
Civilian Rank: Messenger and Outdoor Officer
Cemetery or Memorial: Pozieres Memorial (Panel 68-72); and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London);

Biography:

CuthbertCarruthers

Cuthbert Carruthers (copyright: N J Fordham)

Cuthbert Carruthers was born and raised in South Shields, Durham. From baptism records we know that he was born on 19 February 1890 and baptised a month later on 9 March 1890 at St Hilda’s Church in South Shields. His parents were John Thomas Carruthers (1858 – 1939) and Annie Maria Carruthers (nee Meredith) (1867 – 1936) and he had one surviving sister named after her mother and also called Annie Maria Carruthers (1892 – 1972). His father was a ship sea steward and subsquently a river policeman presumably in the River Tyne Police which was formed in 1845 and became a police force with full police powers under the Police Act 1919.

The family are traceable in the 1891 census living at 29 Thomas Street, South Shields, then in the 1901 census living at 40 Derby Terrace, South Shields and in 1911 living at 14 Mowbray Road, South Shields. By 1911, Cuthbert is aged 21 and working as a Butchers Shop Assistant. His connection to the Board of Trade comes via his appointment after an open competition  on 10 January 1910 as a Messenger and Outdoor Officer at the local  Mercantile Marine Office which formed part of the Board of Trade. The South Shields office was only a short distance from where he grew up in the town.

Cuthbert enlisted in South Shields as a Private (Regimental No 39971) in the 10th Battalion and subsequently the 15th Battalion (64th Brigade, 21st Division) of the Durham Light Infantry. Presumably he would have enlisted alongside many of his local friends and colleagues.

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Durham Light Infantry Cap Badge

According to the history of the Durham Light Infantry Battalions published on the Long Long Trail website, both Battalions were formed in Newcastle in August/September 1914 and landed in Boulogne in the autumn of 1915.

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Map of Operation Michael region showing locations of Commonwealth Grave War Memorial locations (Copyright: Tutbury Book of Remembrance)

We know that Cuthbert was killed in action during “Operation Michael”. This was a major German military offensive that began during the German Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. The British knew of the planned offensive since the Germans positioned 65 divisions and more than 6600 pieces of artillery along their front line stretching 46 miles from Arras to Le Fere.

The goal of the German offensive to break through Allied lines and advance and seize the Channel ports, thus driving the British Expeditionary Force back. Two days later, the plan was adjusted by the Chief of the German General Staff to push the offensive westwards along the whole of the British front north of the Somme. The offensive lasted until 5 April but ultimately failed and turned to German disappointment and loss of morale, ultimately leading to the beginning of the end WW1. Germany lost 239,000 men, many of them specialist shock-troops.

21 March 1918, the first day of the offensive, was the second worst day in terms of casualties in British military history (with only the Battle of the Somme having more casualties). To give some understanding of the scale of the event, the German attack began with a 5 hour artillery barrage in which 3,500,000 shells were fired (and over 190 shells per second). By the end of 21 March, the British suffered 7,512 dead and 10,000 wounded and almost 21,000 taken prisoner. 

Cuthbert was reported missing on 21 March 1918 (although his military record states he died on 31 March 1918) and was named in the Shields Gazette on 24 March 1918.  His body was not recovered and so he is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial (Panel 68-72).

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Sophia Dennis (Copyright: N J Fordham)

By the time of his death, Cuthbert was a married man of 28 years old with one child. He had married in October 1914 to a Sophia Dennis (1889 – 1932). His daughter Vera Carruthers (1915 – 1988) was only three when her father died. We also know that his wife, Sophia, was pregnant at the time that Cuthbert died and she gave birth to a little girl Bertha Carruthers (1918 – 2017) who was born posthumously on 21 April 1918, sadly to never know her father. She was not alone as over 500,000 children had a father who was killed in WW1.

Because his daughters basically never knew their father, we don’t know much more about what Cuthbert was like in personality or character, but we can imagine he was a typical South Shields man of his generation – loyal to his friends, family and local area – and making his way in the world.

A letter kindly shared with us by a relative of Cuthbert’s dated 14 November 1917 sent from No 3, Rest Camp, Shorncliffe at 4.30am and addressed to his wife, hints at the love and tenderness between them both as he writes “P.S. tell my dad I know where Finsbury Park + Ludgate Hill + Circus is. We stopped at both places had a look at Big Ben but that was all we saw. Heaps of love, keep your heart up. Think of the song: ‘I’ll be back some day and kiss those tears away when the war is over mother’.”

These lines are undoubtedly from the popular song “When the War is Over, Mother Dear” which was originally sung by a number of popular singers of the WW1 generation such as Ernest George Pike (under one of his pseudonyms of Herbert Payne) and George Baker (also known as Walter Jeffries). Both Baker (1885 – 1976) and Pike (1871 – 1936) had long careers and were hugely popular singers of their era with varied repertoires including opera, light opera, ballards and many other popular WW1 songs. Pike was the house tenor for HMV  and according to Wikipedia was “England’s most recorded tenor”.  The song was composed by popular music composers of the time, Arthur J Mills (1872 – 1919) and Bennett Scott (1875 – 1930).

Listen to the very poignant words of the song here:

When the War is Over, Mother Dear – lyrics

Soldier laddie, somewhere in France
In the trenches at the close of day
Writes a letter to someone he loves
In the home town, far away
Cheer up, mother, you needn’t sigh
There’s a good time coming bye and bye
When the war is over, mother dear

When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town <
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

Soldier laddie, dreaming of home
Sees the light in mother’s dear eyes shine
All in fancy he’ll list to her prayer
‘God protect you, son of mine’
How he longs for dear England’s shore
And to clasp her in his arms once more
When the war is over, mother dear

When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

With these song lyrics in our hearts we give thanks to Cuthbert for his sacrifice in WW1.

Cuthbert Carruthers is also remembered on the Board of Trade War Memorial located at 3 Whitehall Place as well as in South Tyneside where he grew up and lived.

NOTE: With deepest thanks to the great grand-daughter of Cuthbert Carruthers, N J Fordham who has contributed to this blog and kindly shared the family photos of Cuthbert and his wife and the family letter. 

 

 

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: F. I. Coburn
Born: 14 October 1890
Date of Death: 4 October 1917
Age at death: 26
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Royal Army Service Corps and Norfolk Yeomanry Army Service Corps
Unit, Ship, etc: Supply company
Enlisted: 1914
Rank: Lieutenant
Decorations:  Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914-1915 Star and Mentioned in Dispatches – London Gazette – 21 December 1917
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Died on Active Service
Family Details: Son of Isaac William and Emily Osborn Coburn, Grosvenor House, Grosvenor Road, Great Yarmouth
Residence: Grosvenor House, Grosvenor Road, Great Yarmouth
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Department (London and South East Division)
Civilian Rank: Labour Exchange Clerk
Cemetery or Memorial: Ste Marie Cemetery, Le Havre (Div.62, I.1.11); Great Yarmouth WW1 War Memorial; Ministry of Labour War Memorial (located at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London) and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)

Biography:

Frederick Isaac Coburn was born on 14 October 1890 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. His parents were Isaac William Coburn (1850 – 1921) and Emily Osborn Coburn (1856 – 1940).

He is recorded as living at 4 Gordon Terrace, Great Yarmouth in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census. In 1901, Frederick is aged just 5 months old and he is living with his parents and an older sister, Emily Elizabeth Coburn, aged 6. His father is listed as a carpenter.

Unfortunately we don’t know anything about his schooling or other family background. We do know from one of the Yarmouth newspapers in 1910 that he was Secretary of the local YMCA gymnasium, so he must have been a fit and energetic young man. We also know that by 1911, Frederick is a young man of 20, working as a surveyors clerk. He subsequently worked as a Labour Exchange Clerk in the Board of Trade’s Labour Exchanges and Unemployment Insurance Branch.

According to his medal index card Frederick served initially as a Private in the Royal Field Artillery and then as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Norfolk Yeomanry Army Service Corps (ASC). The index card also lists him as serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps attached to the Deputy Assistant Director Labour. This army unit was responsible for provisions and supply chains. The Supplement to the London Gazette published on 14 July 1915 records his appointment to the rank of (Temporary) Second Lieutenant.

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Sketch of No 2 General Hospital, Le Havre by VAD nurse Molly Evans (Copyright: Morgan Fourman)

Frederick sadly died of appendicitis, a painful abdominal condition caused by either an infection or blockage of the appendix and fatal if not treated quickly. Despite receiving medical attention he died, aged only 26, at the No 2 General Base Hospital, Le Havre in France whilst serving on active service on 4 October 1917 and left a will and probate (dated 12 January 1917) with his personal effects amounting to £179 3s 9d.

Like other Base Hospitals, the one in Le Havre was further back from the main frontline of the trenches and near the coast (for ease of evacuation, if necessary, for longer term treatment in the UK) in a grand seaside palais.  Quite a lot of information is known about the hospital because it is one of the few medical bases where the admission and discharge registers have survived.

Frederick was posthumously awarded the standard service medals – the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914-1915 Star. This set of campaign medals were popularly called the Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. He was also posthumously Mentioned In Dispatches alongside other servicemen from the Army Service Corps in a special Supplement to the London Gazette of 21 December 1917. This supplement followed on from Douglas Haig’s dispatch of 7 November which submit names deserving special mention. The full text of the mention is as follows:

War Office,
11th December, 1917.
The following Despatch has been received by the Secretary of State for War from Field Marshal
Sir Douglas Haig, K.T., G.C.B., G.C.V.O., K.C.I.E., Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France:—
General Headquarters,
7th November, 1917.
SIR, I have the honour to submit a list* of names of those officers, ladies, non-commissioned officers and men serving, or who have served, under my command during the period February 26th to midnight, September 20/21st, 1917, whose distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty I consider deserving of special mention.
I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
D. HAIG,
Field-Marshal,
Commander-in-Chief,
The British Armies in France 

Being Mentioned in Dispatches was a service recognition whereby individual servicemen were named in an official written report by a senior officer or commander-in-chief. In acknowledgement, Frederick, in common with other servicemen serving in the British Armed Forces,  would have his name mentioned in the London Gazette and the individual (or posthumously his relatives) would receive a certificate and be entitled to war an oak leaf device on the appropriate campaign medal or on directly on the coat. A full list of all WW1 despatches is published on the London Gazette website.

Frederick is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery (CWGC) at Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime, France (Div 62, Plot 1, Row I, Grave 11). He is also remembered amongst a total of 1,472 men named on the Great Yarmouth WW1 War Memorial, located in St George’s Park in his hometown. This memorial was originally unveiled on 7 January 1922 by the Bishop of Norwich after over £4000 was raised by a local public campaign. He is also remembered on both the Ministry of Labour and Board of Trade War Memorials.

NorfolkYeomanryASCmen

Maybe Frederick I Coburn is amongst this photo of men serving in the Norfolk Yeomanry ASC pictured resting after a meal (Source: Ebay seller Bugeye40)

Sadly Frederick’s family line seems to have died out since his sister died without descendants. It has therefore not yet been possible to identify a photo of Frederick, but maybe a photo will emerge of him in the future and maybe he is one of the young unidentified men included in a group photo of the Norfolk Yeomanry ASC, a unit in which Frederick previously served. Who knows?

(According to information from Ebay the card was sent by someone called Albert to his aunt, a Mrs R Wilkin of Felboys Hall, Felboys, Cromer, Norfolk and was posted from Woodbridge on 31 Oct (year unknown)).

Photo or no photo, I hope that in his final days and hours, Frederick would have received comfort from the nurses stationed at the No 2 General Base Hospital. Rest in peace, Frederick.

 

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: S. N. Levitt
Born: 6 November 1898
Date of Death: 29 September 1918
Age at death: 19
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Unit, Ship, etc: 16th Battalion
Enlisted:
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Decorations:  British War Medal and Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in Action
Family Details: Son of Ernest W and Francs M Levitt, Winslow Villa, Mulgrave, Sutton, Surrey
Residence:
Home Department: Board of Trade – Establishments Department
Civilian Rank:
Cemetery or Memorial: Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile (III.D.4); Sutton War Memorial in Morden Park, Sutton; Sutton Grammar School; Sutton Spiritualist Church (stained glass window memorial); Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)

Biography:

SydneyNevilleLevitt1914-swimmingteam

Sutton County Schools (Source: Flickr)

“…the premature snuffing out of life’s brief candle is particularly tragic when the flame seemed likely to have burned with special brilliance”. 

Such are the concluding words of a Mr A.E. Jones reflecting on the brief life of Sydney Levitt, whilst writing about the history of Sutton Grammar School during WW1. Sydney Levitt’s story is a tragic one of an immensely talented young man full of promise who went virtually straight from school to the trenches.

Sydney was born in October 1898 in Gravesend, Kent. His parents were Ernest W Levitt (1866 – ?) and France M Levitt (nee Broad) (1875 – 1936). He had one surviving brother Edgar Frank Levitt (1900 – 1981).

In the 1901 census, Sydney is recorded with his family at 8 High Street South, Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Sydney’s father is working as a Tobacconist, running his own business. The family are also living with Sydney’s grandfather John Levitt, a retired carpenter. By the 1911 census, the Levitt family, including Sydney are living in Sutton, Surrey and they are recorded as visitors to the family of Arthur William Cross (a gardener). By this time, Sydney’s father is now working as a butler in domestic service.

Despite his father’s change of job, Sydney was able to attend the selective local all-boys school, Sutton County Grammar School which when the school initially opened in 1899 charged fees of £2 10s per term. Sydney was talented enough to win a scholarship to the school. Approximately a quarter of boys attending the school had their fees paid by Surrey County Scholarships.

To have an idea of Sydney’s life at school in the 1910s, an interesting insight is provided in the Brief History of Sutton Grammar School, which records that “Games were not compulsory and only about 50% took part. Detention was held every day from 4.15 until 5:00pm….In 1909 the headmaster issued the advice to the youngest two years that they should go to bed for a few hours in the afternoon of prize giving in order to stay awake until the end.”

Sydney was one of the 50% of pupils who did sports, at which he excelled. A group photo of him survives dating back to 1914 showing members of the Sutton County School swimming team having won the Surrey Secondary Schools Swimming Association Senior Challenge Cup.

We also know from an article in the Retrospect magazine (Issue 11) that Sydney was actively involved in the school Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The magazine includes an article about CCF at Sutton Grammar. Sydney is specifically referred to as one of the leading participants in the unit. For instance, in a November 1916 edition of the school magazine – the “Suttonian” – a description is provided of the Surrey Cadet Battalion’s field day held near Chilworth in July 1916: “Operations were commenced at one o’clock and consisted of an attack on an ammunition convoy broken down at the crossroads…the Sutton Corps, participating in the main attack, advanced slowly under the admirable leadership of Sgt Maj S.N. Levitt, driving the opposition force before them.”

The article continues with a further history of the cadet force, which was founded by the Governors, with Old Boys asked to provide the boys uniform. A pivotal part in the CCF was played by Sydney. As the article continues to explain: “That first cadet leader was Sydney Neville Levitt, a young man whose imprint is found all over the school’s activities in 1915 and 1916, his last two years at the school. He was, it appears the classic all-rounder. A well regarded centre-forward player in the school’s First XI football team (owing his success to his ‘dash and perseverance’), he also captained the cricket team, was a member of the winning school swimming squad, a prefer of course, editor of the ‘Suttonian’ in 1915 and a regular contributor to school debates which then formed a large part of the school’s life”. 

After leaving school in 1916, he joined  the Board of Trade’s Establishments Department and also the Army Training Reserve (Regimental No TR/10/26128) in 1917.  The Training Reserve was set up on 1 September 1916 to cope with the huge numbers of men conscripted into the army.  Reserve forces meant different things depending on the exact location and context. In Sydney’s case he was part of the home force. He was then commissioned as an officer in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and served as a Second Lieutenant. He served in 16th (Service) Battalion (Church Lads Brigade) which was originally formed in Denham, Buckinghamshire with current and former members of the Church Lads Brigade. More details of the history of the brigade can be found in a book by Jean Morris and in this factsheet.

Sydney died on 29 September 1918, as a result of leading a group of soldiers at Ossis who were trying to out-flank a machine-gun. His battalion ware under heavy attack with thick gas separating the soldiers of the company. Sydney tired to find his way through this fog.

His death is reported in the “Suttonian” of the time which reports: “‘He was found next day shot through the heart, far in advance of what was believed to be the furthest point reached in the attack, and quite close to an enemy position’. A fellow officer wrote of him, ‘No matter what the danger of discomfort were, he always had a smile and a joke. The men of his platoon would follow him anywhere, as was proved on several occasions.’ ” 

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Sutton Grammar School War Memorial

Sydney is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at the Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile, France. He is also remembered on the Sutton War Memorial in Manor Park, Carshalton Road, Sutton (which includes the names of 522 young men). His name is also on the Sutton Grammar School Memorial, as well as the Board of Trade War Memorial located at 3 Whitehall Place.

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Frances Levitt (Source: Sutton Spiritualist Church)

Sydney is also remembered on a stained glass window at the Sutton Spiritualist Church, which was dedicated to his  and the memory of two other people by his mother Frances Levitt and some other church families. Frances was one of the founders and first President of the Sutton Spiritualist Church. She was part of a consortium of four people who bought for £350 the land  on which the church was built and where it still stands in St Barnabus Road, Sutton.

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Sutton Spiritualist Church

The window comprises five panels showing St Ethelbert, Mary Magdalene, St Clare and St Francis of Assissi. It also includes a brass plaque on a wooden frame which declares that “The Stained Glass windows are given in loving memory of Muriel Daisy Casperd, Beatrice Irene Fisher and Sydney Neville Levitt”. (NOTE: Sadly, we do not know the story behind why the window was also dedicated to Muriel (who died in 1931) and Beatrice – hopefully the church or other family history historians will be able to investigate their story.)

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Stained Glass Window (Source: Sutton Spiritualist Church)

According to the website of Sutton Spiritualist Church, the window was bought for £25 from a scrap dealer based in Haywards Heath, whilst the church was being built in the 1930s. It was originally thought to have come from a demolished convent and was found to perfectly fit the necessary space. The church website indicates that the church president in 1937, Mr J.A. Baker, was “told by Spirit not to buy a window for the planned space it the wall as “THEY” would find one suitable; so he waited until this one was offered for sale. When it was measured in the dealers yard, it was found to be identical in size to the space reserved for it in the wall”.

Speaking of spiritualism, according to Marq English in his book ‘Paranormal Surrey’ it might be the case that Sydney prophesied his own death. Whether we believe that or not, the lines of this poem found written by Sydney and found after his death are very moving and indicate his talent and thoughtful all rounder whose death was a sad loss to his local community and family.

Abschied Vom Leben, 
The wound burns; my quivering lips are pale; 
My heart is night to burst beneath the strain, 
Now I await the end of Life’s short reign, 
And breathe ‘They Will Be Done’. Nought can avail. 
For now the shadows of Death do e’en assail
Mine eyes, where golden piece had once domain. 
Yet courage, heart” The fond ideals we gain
On earth must live with us beyond Death’s pale,
And what I held as sacred here below
That which set youthful ardour all aglow,
The pride of freedom and the charm of love,
I see their forms seraphic up above, 
And as my body sinks down into Night,
They bear my spirit upwards to the Light. 

 

 

 

 

Full Name: G. K. T. Fisher
Born: 4 August 1879
Date of Death: 3 September 1917
Age at death: 38
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Norfolk Regiment
Unit, Ship, etc: 4th Battalion
Enlisted: 1914
Rank: Captain
Decorations: Mentioned in Dispatches – London Gazette – 28th January 1916, page 1199 and Military Cross awarded 15 March 1916
War (and theatre): WW1 (Egypt and Palestine)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Husband of Janet Fisher, 23 Launceston Place, London
Residence: Burgh House, Norfolk; Ashdown Park, Forest Row, East Sussex
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Department (London and South East Division)
Civilian Rank: Labour Exchange Clerk
Cemetery or Memorial: Gaza War Cemetery (Plot XXIV. Row A. Grave 12); Harrow School Roll of Honour;  Hartford, Colemans Hatch and Holy Trinity Forest Row War Memorials located in Ashdown Forest area of East Sussex; Fleggburgh St Margaret and Billockby War Memorial, Norfolk; Ministry of Labour War Memorial (located at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London) and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)

Biography:

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Captain G K T Fisher (Photo taken from Findagrave website added by laurinlaurin espie)

George Kenneth Thompson Fisher was born on 4 August 1879 in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, England. He came from a prestigious family being the eldest son of the Rt Rev George Carnac Fisher (1844 – 9 April 1921), who held the positions of Bishop of Southampton (1896 – 1898), Bishop of Ipswich (1899 – 1906) and Bishop of Islington and was also previously Hon. Canon of Norwich and his wife Mary Penelope Gwendoline Thompson (the daughter of Thomas Charles Thompson, a former MP for Durham City whose country estate was at Ashdown Park in Sussex).

In the 1881 census he is recorded living at The Vicarage, Salthouse Road, Barrow, where his father was the local vicar. In 1891 he was recorded as staying at The Granville, Ramsgate, Kent. At this time, this was a hotel designed by Edward Welby Pugin (the son of the architect Augustus Pugin). The hotel was famous for its 25 different types of baths.  In 1901 he is living at Burgh House, Burgh St Margaret (also known as Fleggburgh), Norfolk. Then in the 1911 census he was residing at 108 Ebury Street, London, SW1.

His wife was Janet Katherine Mary Anson (a sister of Sir Denis Anson, 4th Baronet, who is remembered for sadly drowning in The Thames in 1914 aged 26 due to high spirits and high jinx with friends). Captain Fisher and Janet were married on 23 August 1914 at St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, London by special licence of his father. They had two sons – Sir Anthony George Fisher (1915 – 1988), an entrepreneur and founder of several thinktanks such as the Atlas Foundation and Basil Mark Fisher (8 October 1914 – 15 August 1940).  Captain Fisher presumably met his wife in social circles in the Forest Row/Ashdown Park area of Sussex, since his father was previously a Vicar at Forest Row in 1874.

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Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, Forest Row, East Sussex

Captain Fisher inherited Ashdown Park in 1908. This was originally the home of his wife’s father (Thomas Charles Thompson MP) who acquired the estate in 1867 located at Forest Row in East Sussex.  Thomas Thompson subsequently had the main mansion house rebuilt. This updated building survives to this day – an impressive neo-Gothic Victorian design The estate (which also incorporates a chapel and side wings built by the Order of the Sister of Notre Dame in the 1920s) is now the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, a four star, luxurious country club. There is a memorial book at Ashdown Park which records the signature of Captain Fisher’s widow, Janet, whose address is given as Burgh House, Fleggburgh, but formerly as Ashdown Park.

Captain Fisher was a former pupil at Cheam School and then subsequently Harrow School from 1893 to 1897. He was a university graduate of New College, Oxford where he studied Art under three famous Royal Academy artists – George Adolphus Storey (1834-1919), Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) and Sir Arnesby Brown (1866-1955). After graduating, he travelled to the Middle East and the Balkans before taking up a position in the Board of Trade’s Labour Department as a Labour Exchange Clerk.

Prior to the war, in 1909 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. In 1912 he also became one of the Sheriffs for the county of Durham. before taking up a position in the Board of Trade’s Labour Department as a Labour Exchange Clerk.

At the start of WW1, he was commissioned as an officer in his existing Regiment and Battalion, which was a natural choice given his connection to Norfolk. He sailed on 29 July 1915 with the Battalion from Liverpool to Gallipoli and was involved in the landing at Suvla Bay (8 to 15 August 1915). The military action as Suvla was intended as a means to break the deadlock at Gallipoli but it ended up being totally mismanaged and the leadership of the British commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford is considered an example of incompetence and indecision.

He was awarded the Military Cross (as published in the London Gazette dated 15th March 1916) and Mentioned in Dispatches in the London Gazette published on 9 September 1916:

“For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led the first line in the attack with great
dash, and, though wounded, stuck to his duty and continued to do fine work until midnight, when he was ordered back with a message. He was then sent to hospital.”

As result he was ultimately invalided home back to the UK due to dysentery. This was a common illness seen in the military in WW1 caused by either dirty contaminated water or due to flies contaminating food and by inadequate hygiene. If left untreated, soldiers were faced with the risk of secondary infections such as liver abcesses and chronic pain and possibly death.

Fortunately Captain Fisher recovered to take up a staff appointment and then a role in the Ministry of Munitions, before rejoining his Regiment and sailing back to Egypt on 18 March 1917.

He died in Gaza on 3 September 1917 as result of his wounds. As detailed in the Battalion War Diary, the circumstances of his death were that he was out on patrol on the night of 2 September. He was ahead of the rest of the patrol and was fatally wounded by a bomb thrown by a Turkish sniper. Despite being taken back to the lines by the patrol, who died shorty afterwards within an hour of being injured. He is buried in the Gaza War Cemetery, which is located four miles south of Gaza.

Those who knew him wrote many fine tributes to him, as follows:

  • His Colonel wrote – “Ever since I took over the command of the Battalion he had been one of my chief supporters. . . . I can’t tell you what a help he was to me. I cannot replace him either as an Officer or companion.”
  • The Chaplain wrote – “We could ill afford to lose such a fine character. He was a great favourite and beloved by all who knew him. He was always the same, cheerful and good-humoured. I may say that I have lost a true friend.”
  • Sir George Barnes, K.C.B., Member of the Indian Council, wrote – “He will be a real loss to the Board of Trade, for, starting at the very bottom, he had steadily won his way upwards by his industry and by his force of character… All the advancement he got he won for himself, and it is no easy thing to win advancement from the bottom in Government employ.”

Captain Fisher is remembered in eight separate locations. He is buried in the Gaza War Cemetery (Plot XXIV. Row A. Grave 12). In the UK, he is remembered on local War Memorials located at Hartfield and Coleman’s Hatch, and Holy Trinity Church, Forest Row, all located in the Ashdown Forest area of East Sussex (and close to Ashdown Park) and also on the Fleggburgh St Margaret and Billockby War Memorial (located in the village near to his Norfolk home of Burgh House, not far from Great Yarmouth). The memorial in Fleggburgh, which is in the form of a memorial cross was unveiled by Captain Fisher’s wife on 10 December 1922. He is also named on the Harrow School Roll of Honour as well as two Civil Service War Memorials – the Ministry of Labour War Memorial and the Board of Trade War Memorial.

The vast majority of the information above is taken directly from the biography of George’s life recorded by Harrow School as published on their WW1 memorial website (which is also referenced as a source by other places associated with Captain Fisher’s life in Norfolk and in East Sussex). The details of Captain Fisher’s connection with Ashdown Park are detailed by the previous research of the Ashdown Forest Research Group who have previously conducted research into the lives of all the men, including Captain Fisher, commemorated on the Forest Row War Memorial located in East Sussex.

As the Greatwarliveslost website explains so eloquently “the uniformity of the many thousands of headstones in cemeteries has something impersonal about it.  All of these identical grave markers in a way make it hard to fully realize that each headstone and memorial represents a unique person, with his or her own personality, history, social and familial background, every story representing a different tragedy.” Behind each name is a personal and family tragedy which is shared by men from all backgrounds and from all corners of the UK and wider corners of the globe – whether from working class backgrounds or from the more privileged upbringing of Captain Fisher.

What is also incredibly poignant is that despite being described as “the war to end all wars”, little more than twenty years later, sadly one of Captain Fisher’s own sons – Basil Mark Fisher –  died during World War Two. Basil Fisher, like his father, was also a civil servant, working for the Board of Customs and Excise. During WW2 he served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and served as Flying Officer (Pilot) 72382 in 111 Squadron based at Croydon. On 15 August 1940 his plane was shot down in flames. Despite baling out he crashed at Greenwoods Farm, Sidlesham. He was only 23. Basil is buried at St John’s Church Cemetery, Eton (near where he went to school). His older brother, Anthony George Fisher, also served in WW2 but survived.

In the words of Captain Fisher’s gravestone inscription “I make all things new” (Revelation XXI Verse 5). With each new day we learn from the mistakes and enmities of the past and trust that new generations will not have their lives cut short like those of Captain Fisher or his son Basil Mark Fisher. That is why we continue to remember men from all backgrounds and nationalities.