Posts Tagged ‘Board of Trade’

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: E. L. Winterhalder
Born: October 1896
Date of Death: 1 July 1916
Age at death: 19
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Middlesex Regiment
Unit, Ship, etc: “B” Company, 16th Battalion
Enlisted: Woldingham, Surrey
Rank: Lance Corporal (Service No: PS/1793)
Decorations: British War Medal and Victory Medal (Service Medals)
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in Action
Family Details: Son of Leo and Josephine A Winterhalder, 9 Station Road West, Canterbury, Kent
Residence: Croydon
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Department (Central Office)
Civilian Rank:
Cemetery or Memorial: Thiepval Memorial, Pier & Face 12D, 13B; and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London); Ministry of Labour War Memorial (located at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London); Old Langtonian WW1 War Memorial; Canterbury War Memorial located in Butter Market;



Edward Leo Winterhalder 

Edward Winterhalder was one of 52 Board of Trade men killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  He and John Sutehall, an abstractor in the Labour Department’s Central Office, served in the same regiment and have almost consecutive regimental numbers which suggests that these work colleagues enlisted on the same day, perhaps together.  They also died together, both listed as missing on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.


Old Langtonians WW1 War Memorial (Source: https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/184731)

Thanks to his family, and to a previous research project carried out at the Simon Langton Grammar School, Canterbury, the War Memorial Research Group published a fairly detailed account of Edward Winterhalder’s life which was originally published prior to 2007 and is now again published in full here (with some short additions in places):

Ted, as he was known in his family, was the eldest of three children, born and brought up in Canterbury. where his father, Leo Winterhalder (1865 -1949), was a well-respected jeweller.  His siblings were Frederick Albert Winterhalder (1898 – 1976), Winifred Mary Winterhalder (1901 – 1905) and Donald Edwin Winterhalder (1909 – 1994). His mother was Amalie Josephine Haas (1873 – 1966). As the surname suggests, the family were originally from Germany, Ted’s grandfather, a watchmaker, having come to London towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Simon Langton School_SM

Photo of Simon Langton Grammar School at White Friars, Canterbury above courtesy of Paul Crampton www.paulcramptonbooks.co.uk/ (Source: http://www.machadoink.com/

Ted and his younger brother attended local schools in Canterbury: first the Payne-Smith Primary School and then the Simon Langton Grammar School. Ted and all his contemporaries at the grammar school between 1900 and 1914 served in WW1, which has been heavily scarred by war over the centuries. Amongst former Old Langtonian pupils, 10% died on the battlefields. Amongst these fellow pupils were also William Burgess, Cyril MacKenzie (1892 – 1917), Eric Sharp (1895 – 1917)  and Archie Hardman – whose names were chosen in 2008 when the school chose to re-introduce the school House system (and also later Philip Mortlock Young). More stories about the school and its students in WW1 and WW2, can be found in the school magazine – “The Langton at War” (Langton News, Issue No 140, November 2008).

On leaving school, Ted took and passed the University of Oxford local exams in July 1911 and left school in 1912.  In 1913 he joined the Civil Service in Tunbridge Wells as a boy clerk.

By the time Ted and John Sutehall enlisted in the Army in February 1915 at Woldingham, both were working in London in the Board of Trade’s Labour Department.  They joined the 16th Middlesex Regiment (whose familiar name was the Public Schools Battalion), which was one of several pals battalions formed exclusively from public school boys. Ted became a Lance Corporal (non-commissioned officer rank).  The battalion initially trained at Kempton Park Racecourse and then Woldingham.  By 12 November 1915 Ted had been posted to the Western Front.  Little is known of his movements in early 1916 but by June his regiment had made their way to the Somme, as part of the 86th Brigade in the 29th Division.


“The Public Schools Battalion in the Great War” – by Steve Hurst (2007)

Although the precise story of Ted Winterhalder’s death in action cannot be told, there are very many accounts of what happened to the Public Schools Battalion that day (including even some brief film footage in The Battle of the Somme, released in British cinemas in 1916).

Briefly, the 29th Division was to attack at 7.30am towards Beaumont Hamel and the Hawthorn Ridge but all along its front could be observed directly by the enemy positioned on the high ground opposite.  The troops were further disadvantaged by the 10 minutes warning and preparation time effectively given to the Germans by the blowing of a huge mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt at 7.20am.  The Public Schools Battalion was one of the main units leading the attack along this section of the front.  The regimental history (The 16th (Public Schools) Service Battalion (The Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Middlesex Regiment and the Great War 1914-18 by H W Wallis Grain, London 1935) describes how Ted’s unit, part of “B” Company, was ordered to advance along about 100 yards of the front line but almost immediately came under terrific machine gun fire, causing enormous casualties.  The Public Schools Battalion lost 522 officers and men that day.  Well over 200 of these had been killed, probably in the first ten minutes of the attack.

In addition to Grain’s vivid account, there are various more modern histories of the Somme battles which draw on additional material, particularly personal recollections of those who took part.  See in particular The first day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook (Allen Lane 1971, Penguin Books 1984), Beaumont Hamel by Nigel Cave (1994, reprinted by Leo Cooper 1997), The Imperial War Museum book of the Somme by Malcolm Brown (Sidgwick & Jackson 1996, Pan Books 1997), and One day on the Somme by Barry Cuttell (GMS Enterprises, 1998).  Nigel Cave quotes an account by a German regiment on Hawthorn Ridge which, alerted by the mine explosion to an imminent British attack, rushed to their positions and observed “wave after wave of British troops crawling out of their trenches and coming towards us at a walk, their bayonets glistening in the sun”.


Soldiers of the 16th Battalion (Public Schools), Middlesex Regiment are taken back down the slope after having reached the crater on Hawthorn Ridge, which is on the centre of the horizon. The photograph was taken at 7.45 am, 1st July 1916. © Imperial War Museum (Q 755)

Ted Winterhalder was probably killed on the sunken road which led into the village of Beaumont Hamel.  When the Royal Naval Division finally captured the village in November 1916, they found the remains of some 180 Middlesex men here and most of these are buried in Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No.1.  Ted Winterhalder and John Sutehall, however, have no known graves and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, which is the largest Commonwealth War Grave War Memorial in the world.


The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a war memorial to 72,246 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918, with no known grave (Copyright: Anne Barrett)

When Ted was reported missing, his parents heard from his sergeant:

“It is with great regret that I have to inform you that your son is missing.  Nothing has been seen or heard of him since July 1st.  There is, however, a chance that he may have been taken prisoner.  I have carefully questioned all the fellows, who were in his section on that day, but no information of any use has resulted.  We his comrades out here, are very anxious about him, as he was always brave and courageous, and popular fellow, and we expend our heartfelt sympathy in your troubles.”

war memorial buttermarket_SM

Unveiling of Canterbury war memorial  – Erected in honour and glory of Canterbury men who fell in the Great War”. The Memorial, designed by Professor Beresford Pite, M.A., F.R.I.B.A., was unveiled on October 10th, 1921, by the late Field-Marshal Earl Haig, O.M., K.T., etc. (Source: http://www.machadoink.com/)

Edward Winterhalder was just 19 years old when he died.

As well as at Thiepval and the Board of Trade War Memorial, Ted is also commemorated on memorials at his former school, the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, and on the local town War Memorial located in the Butter Market, Canterbury as well as on the Memorial to the Staff of the Ministry of Labour, now hanging in Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1.

In memory of Ted and all those who died at the Somme, listen to the author Michael Morpurgo  reflect on the battle and our memory of those who died on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme back on 1 July 2016. In Michael Morpurgo’s words:

“We remember what they did for us. We sing the anthem. We tell the story. We pass it on.”


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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: F. G. Coker
Born: 12 March 1893
Date of Death: 7 June 1917
Age at death: 23
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: London Regiment
Unit, Ship, etc: 1/15th Battalion (Civil Service Rifles)
Enlisted: Haggerston, 5 August 1914
Rank: Private (Service no. 1295 and 530039)
Decorations: Campaign medals –
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of Elizabeth Coker of Leyton. Husband of Maude A Coker, 2 Montrose Villa, Shrubland Road, Leyton, London
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Statistics Department
Civilian Rank: Personal Clerk
Cemetery or Memorial: Menin Gate (Panel 54); Civil Service Rifles Memorial, Somerset House, London; Memorial to Staff of the Ministry of Labour (located at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London); Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)


When we research at the WW1 generation, we step back into a world that is both different and also mirrors our own. It is moving to think that many of the places which existed then are still around today but also many have disappeared. The lifestory of Frederick George Coker is one of both loss and survival.

Frederick George Coker was one of seven children born to Frederick George Coker (1864 – 1931) and his wife Elizabeth Sarah Morgan (1866 – 1941) from the East End of London. Frederick junior was the eldest son, born on 12 March 1893 and it was natural that he was named in honour of his father.

His siblings included an older sister – Florence Elizabeth Coker (1883 – 1972) and a much younger sister – Winifred Georgina Coker (1910 – 1963). He also had two surviving younger brothers – William Horace Augustus Coker (1897 – 1976) and Leslie Roderick John Coker (1898 – 1972). Two other siblings died in infancy – Winifred Georgina Coker (born/died in 1890) and Arthur Henry Edward Coker (born/died in about 1900).

Frederick’s father worked as a tailor and french polisher.

The family lived in the Haggerston area of London, which is both an area that is the same but also very different today. Many of the places which Frederick and his family would have known no longer exist. For instance his former school (Pritchard Road School) and the church where he got married and probably worshipped at (St Stephen’s, Goldsmith Row, Haggerston) – both no longer exist. The school closed in WW2 and the church was demolished in the 1950s.

According to school admission records, Frederick joined Pritchard Road School, aged 8, on 26 August 1901. In the same year, he appears in the 1901 census records living with his parents nearby at 106 Goldsmith Row and then again at the same address in the 1911 census.

By 1911, Frederick is recorded aged 17 to be “studying for the Civil Service” which we know he achieved. He later joined the Labour Statistics Department of the Board of Trade.

FG_COKER_(on right)_Photo

Frederick George Coker (on right) – Copyright: Keith Marshall

Frederick’s world was thrown upside down when war with Germany was declared on 4 August 1914. We know from surviving records that Frederick enlisted into the army only a day later on 5 August 1914. He was one of thousands of patriotic young men who heeded the call to arms alongside their friends, with over 30,000 men signing up each day by the end of August 1914. Many of the men enlisted into “pals” battalions alongside their friends and colleagues and the Prince of Wales’s Own Civil Service Rifles was one of these types of volunteer battalions.

Upon enlisting we know from military records that the Civil Service Rifles was mobilised and moved to Bedmond and then in November to billet in Watford. The battalion which formed part of the 4th London Brigade, 2nd London Division first landed in Le Havre on 18 March 1915. The unit was then reformed on 11 May 1915 into the 140th Brigade in the 47th (2nd London) Division.

As part of the battalion, Frederick would have seen service at several key WW1 battles including Festubert (1915), Loos (25 September – 8 October 1918), the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916), Flers-Courcelette (15 – 22 September 1916), Le Transloy (1 – 18 October 1916) and Messines (7 – 14 June 1917).

In the middle of the war and destruction, love still found a way and during one of his leave periods, on 1 June 1916, he married his sweetheart, Maud Annie Knopff at St Stephen’s Church in Haggerston. The young couple were married only just over a year before Frederick died on 7 June 1917 in France.

This date is the first day of the Battle of Messines attack, whose objective was to re-capture the strategically important Wytschaete-Messines Ridge, south of Ypres which had previously been captured by the German army in November 1914. The ridge was a crucial vantage point and therefore the Battle was hugely important for the Allies overall wartime objective. The battle is hugely important in terms of the overall context of WW1. Ultimately the Battle was a success, but this came at a huge price, with 17,000 British casualties and 26,000 German casualties.

Further details of Frederick’s death can be gleaned from letters that survive addressed to his wife, Maud, sent by the Chaplain and Sergeant in his unit. From these letters, we know the precise circumstances of his death, which occurred whilst “he formed part of an ammunition carrying party, a duty which is the usual lot of the pioneers in an attack. The party was compelled to halt and take refuge in a shell hole, while crossing ground only recently won from the enemy. Whilst in the hole, a heavy shrapnel shell burst immediately over it, and a piece struck Fred on the head, penetrating his helmet and killing him instantaneously“.

WW1 was the first war in which the steel helmet was put into widespread use. Prior to this time, military headwear was not standardised and initially military headwear was only made of cloth which obviously was inadequate in face of barrage of gunfire and explosive devices. Frederick, like all British soldiers regardless of rank, would undoubtedly have been wearing a standard issue steel Brodie Helmet which had been designed and patented in 1915 by Leonard John Brodie (1873–1945). According to Wikipedia, over 7.5 million helmets were produced during WW1. After an initial batch of helmets, the design was modified to narrow the brim and make a more domed crown. It was also altered to comprise steel with 12% manganese content (known as “Hadfield steel” after the suggestion by Sir Robert Hadfield. This type of steel increased protection for soldiers by 10% since it could better withstand the impact of shrapnel. The helmet was also designed to withstand a .45 caliber pistol bullet travelling at 600 feet (180 m) per second fired at a distance of 10 feet (3.0 m). The Brodie is now considered to be an iconic design but during WW1 it was essential in the face of the increased risks of head injuries which was one of most common forms of injury.


Frederick George Coker – Memorial Card (Copyright: Keith Marshall) 

Frederick’s death was deeply felt by his fellow soldiers writing to Maud who describe him warmly as follows:

Lieutenant O E Burden wrote “talking from a military point of view, he was always a thorough good solider, willing and reliable and trustworthy. He was loved and respected by all who came in contact with him, and we all have quite a tender spot for him now, I can assure you”.

The Sergeant of his battalion, Stanley Frank Haycock, describes him as “a loyal friend and a brave man right through. I have never known him shirk a task, however dangerous or distasteful it may have been. His example and encouragement to the younger members of the squad did a lot towards maintaining the high standing and good name of the pioneers in the battalion.”

The Chaplain of the 140th Brigade, wrote “to tell you that I have lost a personal friend in your good husband. I buried him on the battlefield near the place he fell right up at the front of the attack where he was doing his duty as always. May he rest in peace. He was a gallant soldier and a good Christian Churchman. He served for me at one celebration and helped me by giving out books at the last celebration before the attack on Trinity Sunday. There were over 200 Communicants and he himself received the Blessed Sacrament and went into Battle with the grace of Christ in his heart.”

Three of the letters addressed to Maud are sent by the Brigade Chaplain, Ernest Haldane Beattie. The role of army chaplain is one that is not widely known in our general knowledge of WW1. At the start of the war there were only some 100 chaplains in France but the end of the war there were 3000. Britain in 1914 was more overtly religious then today with almost 25% of the population attending church regularly and 90% of children attending Sunday School. Having a chaplain on or close to the battlefield has happened since the early days of warfare and continues to this day through the work of the Royal Army Chaplains Department. You can read more about the role of army chaplains in WW1 in blog by Sarah Reay and in the blog ‘They gave their today’

The letters also make reference to Frederick being buried on the battlefield, although the exact location was not allowed to be shared and “the exact position of his grave will be notified you by the Graves Registration Committee“. This committee was the fore runner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We know, with hindsight that Frederick is one of 3,570 men who died in June 1917 and whose names are commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial for those with no known grave.

After the passage of over 100 years it is fitting that we continue to remember Frederick George Coker.  Whilst the physical places associated with Frederick’s life might have largely disappeared as London has developed, his spirit survives and memory of him survive.

In the words of his Sergeant, Stanley Frank Haycock, “The memory of his fine personality will remain with us long after this conflict has ceased”.



Pioneer Sergeant Stanley Frank Haycock (1891 – ) survived the war and ultimately moved to New Zealand. He was awarded a CBE in 1952 Birthday Honours and worked for the National Assistance Board – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1952_Birthday_Honours. He served in the Civil Service Rifles under Service No. 530220.

The 140th Infantry Brigade Chaplain was Reverend Prebendary Ernest Haldane Beattie (born 27 September 1876 in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland and died 17 October 1960 in Hereford). He was awarded the Military Cross whilst serving in the Civil Service Rifles. He had three children including his eldest son Stephen Haldane Beattie who was awarded the Victoria Cross in WW2 (http://vconline.org.uk/stephen-h-beattie-vc/4585965512).

Lieutenant Oscar Edward Burden served in the Civil Service Rifles, London Regiment as Service No 3558.

With deepest thanks to Keith Marshall for kindly sharing the photos and further information including letters relating to Frederick George Coker. 


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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: S. T. A. Ali
Born: About 1889
Date of Death: 1 October 1917
Age at death: 28
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Royal Engineers
Unit, Ship, etc: Depot Special Brigade
Rank: Pioneer (Service No. 209658)
Decorations: British War Medal and Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed by enemy aircraft while in hospital
Family Details: Son of Muhammad Hyder Abdul-Ali of England and husband of Daisy Marion Abdul-Ali (nee Payne) of 123 Brecknock Road, Tufnell Park, London
Home Department: Board of Trade – Establishments Department (Registry and Copying Division)
Civilian Rank: Second Division Clerk
Cemetery or Memorial: Longunesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery; Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)


The second name listed at the top of the Board of Trade War Memorial is a distinctive one – S. T. A. Ali –  that stands out ahead of its time amongst the likes of Andrews, Bell, Black, Hook, Smith, Williams and others. In my mind his name conjures flavours of the east and is mysterious and investigating Sijil’s life is certainly curious. He must have been an inspiring and intriguing colleague and friend.

So who was he?

His name was Sijil Theodore Arthur Abdul-Ali and as his name suggests he was of Anglo-Indian descent. Sijil was born in Bermondsey, London in about July 1899. His father was a book publisher and accountant (according to his wedding certificate) called Muhammad Hyder Abdul-Ali (1864 – 1941) who was originally from Bombay (now Mumbai), India. His mother was Beatrice Mary Bragg (1861 – 1914) and he also had a sister Leila Dorothy Grace Abdul-Ali (1888 – 1972)

Multi-racial families in Britain are not new, although now more than 1 in 10 people are in an mixed relationship which is something to celebrate for cultural, social and human reasons, but in pre-WW1 Britain, Sijil must have been more distinctive.

Sijil and his family are traceable in the census records and this gives us some insight into his life and background. In 1891, the family are living together at 6 Bedford Square, Brighton with Sijil aged only 3. In both 1901 and 1911 he is recorded living away from home as a ‘boarder’ along with his sister Leila. In 1911 he  is living at 30 Saltram Crescent, Maida Hill near Paddington, London. We also know that he married in December 1916 to a Daisy Marion Payne.

He joined the Board of Trade as a Second Division Clerk working in the Establishments Department (Registry and Copying Division).

The other fascinating aspect about Sijil, apart from his family background, is his expertise and interest in chemistry and in particular alchemy, which is an  ancient philosophy and study of how basic substances (such as metals) are changed into other substances and how such substances were related to magic, astrology. Alchemists believed that substances, the mind, philosophy, religion, magic and astrology were all related to each other and tried to find connections between them.

Prior to the war, we also know that outside of work he was actively involved in The Alchemical Society, serving as its Honorary Secretary. The Society was founded in London in November 1912 with the aim of studying “the works and theories of the alchemists in all their aspects, philosophical, historical and scientific, and all matters relating thereto”. The Society was short-lived, folding sometime in autumn 1915 and was not revived after the end of WW1.


Journal of the Alchemical Society – Sijil Theodore Arthur Abdul Ali was Honorary Secretary

As a member of the society, Sijil was the author of at least three papers published in the Journal of the Alchemical Society:

  • “Some notes on the doctrine of the first matter, with special reference to the works of Thomas Vaughan”
  • “An interpretation of Alchemy in relation to modern scientific thought” 1:3 (March 1913)
  • “A general view of magic in respect to certain primary modes of thought”

The journal was edited by the British chemist, Herbert Stanley Redgrove (1887 – 1943), who was a Fellow of the Institute of Chemists and author of books, “Alchemy: ancient and modern” (1911) and “Bygone beliefs being a series of excursions in the byways of thought” (1920).

Sijil was a key thinker in the society and was interested in finding ways in which alchemical concepts could be translated into modern science and in reinterpreting conversations about alchemy as science. His key position in the society is referenced in several academic books such as “The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900 -1939 by Egil Asprem (SUNY Press, 31 May 2018) and “Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory” by Mark Morrisson, Associate Professor of English (Oxford University Press, 19 April 2007).

It is also possible, given his close connections with men like Herbert Redgrove and his beliefs that he was a member of either the Golden Dawn (also known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) which was a secret society which was focused on the study of the occult, the paranormal and metaphysics or one of its offshoot organisations such the ‘Stella Matutina’ or the ‘Alpha et Omega’ which were occult or magical orders which continued to spread the the teachings of the Golden Dawn.

Given his skills, experience and interest, it is no surprise that he enlisted to serve in the Royal Engineers as a Pioneer (Service No. 209658) in a “Depot Special Brigade”. This probably means that he worked with chemical weapons.


Chemical Warfare in WW1

According to The Long Long Trail website Royal Engineers’ special companies did not exist in the British army before 1914 but were established exclusively to develop a British response to German use of chemical weapons.

The first ever use of poison gas (chlorine) was recorded on 22 April 1915 on defenceless French troops in the Ypres Salient by German forces. The Germans released 180 tonnes of chlorine gas in 5 minutes. Chlorine is a powerful gas that irritates the lungs and mucous membranes. Prolonged exposure to chlorine is fatal. The use of the gas was unexpected, despite indications of German preparations, and was banned under the Hague Convention (1907).

In response, the British prepared defensive and retaliatory measures. Under the Royal Engineers, special companies of technically skilled men were formed to handle chemical weapons and the British themselves used chlorine gas as a weapon at the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915.

The War Office set up an expanded force of special companies which included

  • four special battalions to handle gas discharge from cylinder and smoke from candles
  • four special Companies to handle gas shells fired from 4-inch Stokes mortars. Each Company had 48 such weapons.
  • four Special Sections to handle flame projectors (throwers)
  • a Headquarters and Depot

It is in this last depot unit that Sijil Abdul-Ali is most likely to have served.

The Special Brigade forces of the Royal Engineers regiment were commanded by Colonel C. Foulkes who was designated Assistant Director of Gas Services. He reported to Brigadier-General Thuillier, Director of Gas Services and Lieutenant-Colonel S. Cummins, RAMC was Director of Anti-Gas Measures.


“Gas! The Story of the Special Brigade” by Colonel Foulkes

Colonel Foulkes survived the war and later in  1934, he wrote a book “Gas! The story of the Special Brigade“.

Foulkes was a complete novice in the use of gas in war and didn’t have the benefit of time to create and train new units. Volunteers with chemical knowledge were sought from universities and colleges as well as from ranks in the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) with immediate promotion to the rank of Chemist Corporal. The headquarters and depot of the unit was at Helfaut, a village about five miles south of St Omer.

St Omer itself was the General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from November 1914 to March 1916. It also housed a large number of military hospitals, being the base for the 4th, 10th, 7th Canadian, 9th Canadian and New Zealand Stationary Hospitals, the 7th, 58th (Scottish) and 59th (Northern) General Hospitals, and the 17th, 18th and 1st and 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Stations all stationed there at some time during the war. The town also suffered a series of air raids from late autumn 1917 until May 1918 including one specific air raid incident which took place on the night of 30 September 1917/1 October 1917 which resulted in Sijil’s death aged only 28. At this time Sijil was recuperating in the 58th Scottish General Hospital in St Omer.

The precise nature of the attack was reported in the hospital’s War Diary as follows:

“During a hostile air raid on the night of 30/9/17 – 1/10/17, three bombs were dropped in the camp at 10.40 pm, ( 2 on Marquees for patients and 1 in the nurses compound). Of the 2 bombs which dropped on the marquees, 1 struck a marquee which was, fortunately unoccupied, the other struck a marquee occupied by patients and 2 nurses, who were on duty. The bomb which fell in the nurses compound struck a bell tent, which was unoccupied as the 2 nurses who sleep in the tent were on night duty. The casualties which have resulted are :- Nurses killed 3, wounded 3 ( 1 dangerously). Other ranks :- killed 16, wounded 60. Total killed 19, wounded 63. Of the other ranks wounded, 14 were transferred to other hospitals and one of these has since died. There has been much damage to canvas and equipment. 54 marquees (hospital, large) have been damaged (2 have been absolutely demolished, while the damage to the others varies from almost complete destruction to mere riddling). 21 bell tents have been damaged ( 1 was completely destroyed by a bomb and 20 have been riddled). Many pieces of iron pierced the new corrugated iron sleeping hut for sisters. 1 piece pierced iron and 3 pieces of asbestos boarding. Numerous panes of glass have been broken in the permanent buildings. One of the ablution houses has been damaged.

Surgeon General MacPherson, the ADMS and the Matron in Chief called today and it was arranged for the transfer of all lying cases to other hospitals so that at night the walking cases left in hospital might go to the cave in the public garden and sleep there. In the evening patients and unit moved to the cave in the public garden and only the police and a few orderlies were left in the camp. The 3 wounded nurses were transferred today to No 10 Stationary Hospital.

2/10/17 The 3 nurses (Sister Climie, Nurse Thompson and Nurse Coles) and the 16 other ranks killed by hostile aircraft on the night of 30/9/17-1/10/17 were buried today at 4:00 pm in the Souvenir Cemetery Longuenesse. Sister Milne, who was dangerously injured in the same air-raid died last night in No 10 Stationary Hospital. 2 other ranks who were wounded have died today, so that the statistics as a result of the raid are, to date :-  Dead, nurses 4, other ranks 18. Wounded :- nurses 2, other ranks 58. Totals Dead 22, Wounded 60.”

Another soldier, Sergeant Alfred Quinton Barton (1889 – 1956) was a registered pharmicist and serving in the Royal Medical Corps at the time and witness to the events of the night of 30 September/1 October 1917. Alfred had  set up the dispensary at the St Omer Hospital and his diaries describe the horror of the bombing which he remembers as “HELL – DANTE’S DEEPEST” and “God curse the brains who invented & put into practice this type of warfare”


Drawing of St Omer Hospital in 1916

Sijil is buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission Longunesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France, where there 2,874 other WW1 Commonwealth burials.

Sijil’s death was a massive loss for thinking in chemical and alchemy circles. The personal inscription chosen by his family to adorn his grave sums up his character, his contribution to society in life and the tragedy of his death aged 28, in the prime of his life. It simply says “He Followed Truth“. That is an aim we can learn from and aspire to in our own modern lives.




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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: S. J. Russell
Born: 11 August 1897
Date of Death: 2 August 1917
Age at death: 19
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Royal Field Artillery
Unit, Ship, etc: 400th Battery (part of 14th Brigade)
Enlisted: London
Rank: Gunner (Service no. 945901)
Decorations: Campaign medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of George T and Amelia A Russell, 17 Park Grove, Bromley, Kent
Home Department: Board of Trade – Seamen’s Registry
Civilian Rank: Boy Clerk
Cemetery or Memorial: Coxyde Military Cemetery, Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen (II.C.17); Beckenham County Boys School (now Langley Park School for Boys) War Memorial, Beckenham, Kent; St John the Evangelist Church, Penge, London; Bromley War Memorial; Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)


We were very moved recently to hear from a relative of Sidney James Russell who contacted the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group to provide us with more detail about Sidney’s lifestory. Thanks to this connection, we are now able to convey a greater sense of who Sidney was, beyond the bald facts presented on a page about him and we can put a face to his name.


Sidney James Russell (copyright: Trevor Mathews)

Sidney was born in Peckham on 11 August 1897 and baptised in the former Church of St Mark’s  in Peckham (in the Diocese of Southwark) which was founded in 1885 but subsequently bombed during WW2 and no longer exists. Sidney was the third child of George Thomas Russell (1867 – 1942), a Police Constable and his wife Amelia Ada Morgan (1867 – 1940). He had an older brother called Leslie George Russell (1891 – 1961) and two sisters Dora Agnes Millie Russell (1894 – 149) and Edith Nellie Russell (1903 – 1985).

In 1901, the family (including Sidney aged 4) were living at 19 Lanvanor Road in Camberwell. The family then moved further out into the countryside to 39 Bromley Gardens in Bromley, Kent, presumably for a better quality of life where they are listed in the 1911 census. The family were successful with Leslie, the eldest son working as  a shipping clerk and Dora, working as a Post Office Clerk whilst young Sidney (aged 13) and his youngest sister Edith were still at school.

From a short obituary in the local paper, we know that Sidney attended the Raglan Road School (now called Raglan Primary School) and then won a scholarship to the Technical Institute in Beckenham (now called Langley Park School for Boys).

Following the end of his schooling, Sidney managed to secure a job as a boy clerk in the Civil Service working in the Seaman’s Registry in the Board of Trade office based at 1 Tower Hill.

We know that Sidney enlisted in London on 14 May 1914 (aged only 17 years of age). We also know that he was 6 feet tall and was healthy and fit. According to his military attestation papers (British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-20) which is one of only about a third of the entire WW1 service records to have survived, we know that he enlisted in the Territorial Forces in the 7th Battery, 3rd London Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.


Sidney James Russell’s military attestation papers

His service record details that between 14 May 1914 and 20 January 1917 he served at home in England.

He ultimately embarked for France after he turned 19 years old. He first set off from Southampton on 5 February 1917 arriving in Le Havre, France on 6 February 1917. On arrival in France he served in several different units – firstly on 19 February 1917 he was posted to the 293 Brigade Ammunition Column (BAC) of the Royal Field Artillery.  He was then posted on 2 May 1917 to the 14 AKA Brigade and then from 19 May 1917 he was posted to the 400th Battery (Royal Field Artillery) which formed part of the 14th Brigade of the Royal Horse Artillery. The 14th brigade in essence became an ordinary field artillery unit rater then part of a division. These changes of unit were not unusual with lots changes with batteries moved from one brigade to another throughout the war.

During WW1, the Royal Artillery comprised three parts  – the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). The RFA’s role was to provide firepower and medium artillery cover (such as by howitzers and other powerful guns) to the infantry soldiers on the front line or in the trenches.

As an artillery solider or “Gunner”, Sidney’s job was to fire explosive shells from the big guns which typically weighed several tons and were difficult to manoeuvre but which were also able to fire thousands of shells in a barrage against the opposing army. As family historian Dennis Corbett makes clear, artillery technology developed throughout the war initially starting with 15 pounder field guns followed by larger 18 pounder guns (by 1916). By this time, as well an artillery brigade comprised four batteries of six guns. The first three – A, B and C were field guns and the fourth D battery would have a 4.5 howitzer.

We know that Sidney died on 2 August 1917. He had been serving in France only 6 months and his date of death was only a little more than a week before his 20th birthday on 11 August.

Sidney is buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery, where over 1600 men are buried. He is also named on the Bromley War Memorial, the Beckenham County Boys School (now Langley Park School for Boys), the St John the Evangelist Church in Penge and also the Board of Trade War Memorial.

Below is a beautiful and moving poem that Sidney’s elder brother, Leslie wrote in memory of his younger brother’s death.


Poem “Ready, Aye Ready” by Leslie George Russell (kindly shared by Trevor Mathews)

His gravestone in Coxyde Military Cemetery bears a personal inscription chosen by his family, which simply states “PEACE PERFECT PEACE”. We hope and pray that Sidney James Russell is truly at peace and thank his relative, Trevor Mathews for sharing extra information about him so that we can continue to remember Sidney’s sacrifice.


Sidney James Russell’s gravestone in Coxyde Military Cemetery (copyright: Trevor Mathews)




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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
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
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)


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).

1072444497_Recruitment advert

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.



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

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)

1914 – 1918



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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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