Archive for March, 2019

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)


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.


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,
Your obedient Servant,
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.


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.


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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
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
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)



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.’ ” 


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.


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.


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.)


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. 





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