Mitcham, St Peter and St Paul – including the black sheep of the association?

St Peter and St Paul, Mitcham, sent seven ringers to war. Three of them did not return. Douglas Walter Drewett in particular was a major loss, the fourth-generation Drewett to have rung in the tower. He was the tower secretary at the time of his death, and his father, James Douglas Drewett, was the tower captain (and from 1913 the Master of the Surrey Association, also a local councillor, magistrate, churchwarden, governor of Mitcham School and owner of a large local building firm). James had also been one of the major supporters of the original formation of the Surrey Association. Although Douglas had a number of siblings, he seems to have been the only one of his generation who took up ringing, so when James died in 1928 in ended the family’s long association with ringing at Mitcham. Stanley Smith’s family did not have that length of association with the tower, his father William Shipp Smith was originally from Northamptonshire, but before the First World War was the steeplekeeper at Mitcham (responsible for the maintenance of the bells and their fittings). The family lived in Wimbledon, but as William was a carpenter, it seems possible that he worked for the Drewett’s building firm. It’s not known if the father of Benjamin Arthur Morris (the third casualty) was a ringer.

Moving away form the casualties, I refer to the possibility of the Mitcham ringers including the black sheep of the association. Most of the surviving records show, if any black marks at all, very minor military offences against military discipline. The case of Sydney Amos Foster is rather different! He was one of seven siblings, two of whom died in infancy (sadly common still at the time). His father was a house painter. From the census records it seems that the Sydney and his siblings often lived with their aunt and uncle, James and Edith Emma Currell. In the 1911 census Sydney is shown as a 19-year-old labourer living with his aunt and uncle. By the time joined up on 31 August 1914 he was working as a bus conductor (perhaps helped by the fact that one of the ringers at Streatham was a very senior manager in the London General Omnibus Company). Though he appears to have initially signed up for the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, his training was with 8th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade. In March 1915 he transferred to the Army Ordnance Corps with whom his older brother, Albert Edward, was already serving (there seems to have been an Army Order allowing this sort of transfer to be with a relative). Even his initial Rifle Brigade service had been marred by a couple of disciplinary issues: he was AWOL 27-28 September 1914 for which he received 10 days confined to barracks, and on 5 March 1915 he was summarily convicted of refusing to obey an order for which he was demoted from acting corporal back to private. However, his offence with the Army Ordnance Corps was rather more grave. He was dishonourably discharged in July 1915 having been convicted at Winchester Police Court on a charge of the theft of government stores (31 blankets), and sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour. His record contains correspondence between senior officers complaining that it hardly seemed right that such a man should simply be discharged, when good men were fighting and dying in France. So possibly there was some official connivance when, shortly after being released from prison, he attested once again, on 9 November 1915. This time he went to a central London recruiting office, rather than a local office (where presumably he might have been recognised). He gave his parents’ address on this occasion, rather than his aunt and uncle’s, and his occupation as labourer (a criminal conviction would almost certainly have barred him from returning to work as a bus conductor anyway). He obviously realised that it would soon become obvious that he had previous military experience, so he stated that he had served with a Reserve Cavalry Regiment, and had been discharged as being “unlikely to become an efficient soldier”. I suspect that he would have claimed that his discharge was a result of failing riding training, which could still lead to discharge from a cavalry unit at this stage (later in the war such men would simply have been transferred to an infantry unit). He joined 11th Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). He was transferred to a reserve battalion, the 12th, on 10 March 1916. This was converted to 97th Battalion, Training Reserve on 1 September 1916. He was transferred to 18th Battalion on 9 December 1916 which was a Labour Battalion, these units were soon reorganised and he became a member of 3rd Infantry Labour Company, the Queen’s on 23 December, thence to 111th Labour Company, Labour Corps on 9 May 1918. His record during this period of service seems to have been clean. This might have something to do with the fact he married late in 1915 (presumably after re-enlisting as his next-of-kin was given as his father), and had a son in late 1916. It appears he died in early 1986, having been living in a nursing home in Hampton Hill.

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