Category Archives: People

Mustachioed man in military uniform, a sash running right to left over a metal breastplate.

William Frank Smith (1889-6 May 1917†)

William Frank Smith (Lives profile) was born in 1889 in Reigate. He was the second child of Frank Smith and Clementina (nee Trumble). They had married at St George in the East on 20 November 1886, probably Clementina’s home parish as censuses describe her as being born in Wapping. Frank was Reigate born and bred (some censuses record his birthplace as Leigh, a small village south west of Reigate), so it’s not clear how they met, though perhaps Clementina had been working in Reigate. In 1881 she was a house maid in Kensington. The marriage record shows that Frank could only make his mark, not sign, in the register. The later correspondence with the army after William’s death also seems to have been carried out only by Clementina. Frank was the son of John Smith, they were both farm labourers, Frank’s address is given only as Reigate. Clementina was the daughter of John Thomas Trumble, Inspector of Nuisances (the final word is unclear), and living at 227 Cable Street.

Their first child, Dorothy Clementina, was born in in 1887, her birth was registered in the third quarter in the Reigate registration district, and she was baptised at St Mark’s, Reigate on 3 July 1887. The family were then living on Nutley Lane, Reigate. William followed in 1889, the brith was registered in the third quarter, again in Reigate registration district. He was baptised at St Mark’s on 1 September 1889, the family were still living on Nutley Lane. Frank’s occupation is now given as carter. The family were still in Nutley Lane, at No 44, at the 1891 census on 5 April. The family also had a lodger, William Comben (36, no occupation stated).

Arthur Christian Smith was born later in 1891, registered in the 4th quarter in the Reigate registration district. He was baptised at St Mark’s on 13 December, the family were still living at 44 Nutley Lane. Frank is now recorded as a labourer. Sadly Arthur died aged just 2, and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard on 21 February 1894. The family’s address was still Nutley Lane. Later that year Charles Henry was born on 28 August 1894, registered in the 4th quarter 1894 in the Reigate registration district. He was baptised in the parish of “Nutley Lane, St Mark’s” on 18 November 1894. This indicates that Charles at least was baptised in what’s now called St Philip’s, Reigate, then a proprietary chapel within the parish of St Mark’s (it is still not a full parish in its own right). It’s possible that the other children were also actually baptised there as St Philip’s had opened in 1863. William’s obituary also tells us that sang in the choir there as boy. The family’s address was then given as 30 York Road (now Yorke Road).

By the 1901 census (31 March) the family were at 42 Yorke Road. Frank is now recorded as a bricklayer’s labourer. Dorothy (13) has been apprenticed to a tailor; William and Charles are presumably still at school. There are two visitors with the family: Ada Walker (17), a housemaid born in Headington, Oxfordshire, and Doris M Hind (6), born in Norwood.

Aged 13, so in late 1902 or early 1903, William went to work as gardener for Philip Woolley at Broke House in Reigate Hill. Over the next few years William also joined the local men’s British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment. William’s obituary tells us he passed the certificate of proficiency seven times. He also joined the local miniature rifle club, apparently becoming a crack shot, and of course he also became a bellringer at the old parish church of St Mary’s.

It perhaps came as a bit of a surprise to the family when in early 1907 Clementina found she was pregnant again, 13 years after Charles Henry was born. Arnold John Victor was born on 26 September 1907, and baptised at St Mary’s on 10 November. The family were now living back on Nutley Lane, Frank is now recorded as a bricklayer.

The first definite record of William as a ringer is his first peal on 21 March 1908, when he rang the seventh to a peal of Grandsire Caters at St Mary’s. It is probable that he’d been ringing for some time before that. The following day he also rang in touches of Grandsire Triples and Caters for Sunday service. He also rang a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples on 16 November 1911, and another peal of Caters on 27 November 1909. The last of those was rung for the Sussex Association, he being one of three of the band proposed as members beforehand. He also went on the ringing outing to Hughenden and High Wycombe in July 1911. His obituary indicates he rang a total of four peals, but the other two have not yet been traced.

By the 1911 census on 2 April 1911 the family were living at 77 Nutley Lane. Frank (48) was a bricklayer’s labourer, Clementina (47) has no occupation given, so was presumably a housewife looking after Harold (3), Dorothy (23) was a ladies’ tailor, William (21) a gardener, Charles (16) was an errand boy for an ironmonger. They also had Sarah Mocock (11), a niece of the head of the household staying with them. As she was born in Wapping it seems likely she was the daughter of one of Clementina’s sisters.

On 2 July 1912 Dorothy Clementina married local policeman William Robert Prangnell at St Mary’s. Both were 25-years-old. Dorothy’s address was recorded as Holly Cottage, Nutley Lane, William’s as 14 South Albert Road, Reigate. William was the son of William Henry Prangnell (deceased), a maltster and brewer. A month later the newly-weds boarded the SS Corinthic in London, bound for Tasmania. William is recorded as a constable, so presumably he was going to join the force in Tasmania.

Alongside his main Red Cross work William also served as ambulance instructor to the Reigate Borough Fire Brigade (his father had been a fireman for some years). Over Whitsun 1914 (Whit Sunday – Pentecost was 31 May 1914) he travelled with a detachment from the brigade to Ivry-sur-Seine in France, and with his ambulance section took first place among the various fire brigades represented there following a display by the brigade under the command of Captain Rouse and Superintendent F Legg.

Just under a month later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and Europe spiralled into war. To start with William continued to work as a gardener, but later in 1914 The Ward Hospital opened as an auxiliary hospital on Reigate Hill and he took up a post as ward orderly. The hospital was named after Lt-Col John Ward, an MP and trade union leader (who had been a private soldier in his younger days), and run by his wife. Some sources suggest it had been a convalescent home for children before the war. Lt-Col Ward raised the 18th and 19th Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment (1st and 2nd Public Works Battalions) during the First World War.

Charles Henry, who was a motor driver, enlisted in the Army Service Corps in London on 10 February 1915, and arrived in France on 31 May 1915. The same day Charles enlisted William was presented with a clock by the members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment to mark his service with them. William carried on at the hospital, but the manpower situation was becoming acute and by the latter part of 1915 it was becoming increasingly clear that conscription would be introduced. William attested under the terms of the Derby Scheme in Reigate on 11 December 1915, and went onto Army Reserve B the following day, carrying on at the hospital for the time being. Meanwhile Charles was appointed acting lance corporal (unpaid) on 28 December 1915.

William was called up in February 1916 and reported to Regent’s Park Barracks on 9 February. After medicals and so on he was posted to the Royal Horse Guards on 11 February, becoming 2602 Trooper William Frank Smith. The ringers marked his departure (in absentia) by dedicating the service ringing on 17 February to himHe would then have trained at Windsor (where the depot of the Household Cavalry still is) and Knightsbridge Barracks. It was probably at some time during this phase of his training that the photo of him in uniform was taken.

Mustachioed man in military uniform, a sash running right to left over a metal breastplate.

Corpl W F Smith is pictured in the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards, complete with cuirass (breastplate), so this picture was probably taken on completion of his initial training, before he was transferred to the newly raised Household Battalion, an infantry unit formed from the reserves of the Household Cavalry not required for mounted duty in France

It was on 1 September 1916 that he was transferred to the newly raised Household Battalion, receiving the new regimental number 107. It was infantry that was needed on the Western Front, not heavy cavalry. The Household Cavalry had more than enough reserves, so some of the men were transferred to the infantry role, although by raising a new battalion, they maintained the traditions of the Household Cavalry (and the higher rate of pay that the cavalry received). This higher rate of pay seems to have been a bit of a bone of contention with the Foot Guards NCOs brought in to give them instruction in the finer points of infantry tactics, who gave the new battalion a bit of a rough time as they trained for their new role in Richmond Park.

The battalion was inspected by the King (who had had to approve all the details of the raising of the battalion) in Hyde Park on 2 November. This was preparation for their imminent departure for France. Members of the battalion attended a service at Brompton Parish Church on Sunday 5 November, then a route march in London on the Monday, photos in the barrack square on Tuesday, then to Southampton from Waterloo on 8 November, and thence overnight to Le Havre arriving early on 9 November. This first part of the battalion travelled on SS Mona’s Queen, while the remainder followed on SS Australind the following day. Once in France the battalion joined 10th Infantry Brigade in 4th Division. Initially they were some distance behind the lines in Abbeville, but in December they moved to the now quiet area of the Somme. Initially they were at the very southern end of the British Front, but in March moved a little further north. On 22 February 1917 Smith was promoted to Corporal. Given his leadership experience in the Red Cross, this is not surprising.

Although they had been in-and-out of the trenches throughout this time it was only in April 1917 when the battalion was committed to the Battle of Arras that received their real baptism of fire in large-scale actions. On 11 April 10th Brigade were tasked with taking Greenland Hill and Plouvain. Unfortunately they were spotted by German reconnaissance planes while forming up and heavily shelled. Nevertheless, the attack continued, but with little success, and heavy casualties. By the time they were pulled out of the line on 13 April the total casualties were 170. They had only a short respite before returning to the trenches on 16 April until relieved late on 20 April. For this period they were merely holding the line, rather than engaging in an attack, but still suffered further casualties. Then a slightly longer period out the line, but training for the next operation, before heading back to the trenches again on 30 April. The next attack came early on 3 May, with the German line between Roeux and the River Scarpe as their objective. Again there was little progress. A smaller scale operation was ordered for 6 May, which in the end was little more than a reconnaissance patrol, followed up by a grenade attack.

It was during this operation that Smith was killed in the early hours of 6 May 1917.

According to a letter written by a lieutenant of his company to Smith’s fiancée (who sadly is not named in the newspaper obituary which quotes the letter) he had been taking a message to the CO when he was shot by a sniper. The letter states:

He was a magnificent man, never flinching or wavering from any task, however difficult, and always performing it with willingness and patience.[…]He died as he would have wished, right up in the front line, and I can but offer my own sympathy and tell you how the regiment from the Colonel downwards feel his loss as a loss to the regiment and to himself. He was buried behind the lines and a cross put up over the grave, which is being tended with all possible care.

That grave is now II. C. 4. in Crump Trench British Cemetery, Fampoux. The battlefield cross has been replaced with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, bearing the family inscription “Peace, Perfect Peace”.

Following Smith’s death the Town Council sent their sympathies to the family following a council meeting on 25 June 1917, this was due to his work with the Fire Brigade. His was also one of the first set of 56 names inscribed on the war memorial erected at St Mark’s Reigate in November 1917. Sadly there would be several more to add before the war was actually over. This was the first permanent memorial in Reigate, and one of the earliest in the country.

The war had not finished with the Smith family. William Prangnell enlisted in the Australian Field Artillery on 7 September 1916. He was killed in action in Belgium on 12 September 1917. By the time he joined up he and Dorothy and moved from Tasmania to Melbourne. He had left the police and was working for Victoria Railways. They do not seem to have had any children. After the war Dorothy took the offer of a free passage back to the UK from the Australian government and returned to Reigate. Charles Henry Smith developed valvular heart disease and a goitre during his service in the ASC, and was discharged as no longer fit for war service on 21 March 1918.

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Half length photo of a young man in army uniform (no hat)

Henry John Dewey (29 December 1896 – 10 February 1917†)

Henry John Dewey (Lives profile) was the second son of Edward Dewey, himself a ringer at Reigate (and also steeplekeeper at Redhill), and Sarah Ann Sully. In some ringing reports Henry is recorded as Harry, so that may have been how he was generally known.

Edward and Sarah Ann had married at Reigate parish church on 15 October 1892. The Reigate ringers made an attempt to ring a peal to mark the occasion, but it failed, so they had to content themselves with a quarter peal instead. Edward is shown on the wedding certificate as a 35-year-old labourer, residing New Park, Reigate, the son of John Dewey, also a labourer. Sarah Ann was 34 (born Taunton, Somerset), no rank or profession is shown, residing Nutfield. Her father was Henry Sully, who is recorded as having been a gentleman. In 1891 Edward was living with his parents, John and Harriett, and brother James. All the men were brickmaker’s labourers, and the family were living in Brickyard Cottage, Earlswood, all had been born in Reigate. Sarah Ann, despite the claim of her father’s gentility, is recorded as a domestic servant living above stables in Meadvale, Reigate. Reviewing censuses suggests he may have been the Henry Sully born abt 1818 in Taunton who by 1891 was giving his occupation as “retired deputy governor, Taunton Gaol”, in 1861 he is listed as “Chief Turnkey, Taunton Gaol”.

Their first child Edward Frechville Dewey (the middle name appears a few different ways, Frechville, Frecheville, Freschville) was born on 28 September 1893 and baptised at Reigate parish church on 3 November 1893 (there doesn’t seem to have been any particular ringing on that occasion). Henry John was born on 29 December 1896 and baptised at St John’s Redhill on 7 February 1897. It was later that year that, sadly, Edward Frechville Dewey died. He was buried in Reigate churchyard on 3 June, I’ve not established the exact date of death, probably in late May. The burial record seems to be the first time the family were recorded living on Earlswood Road.
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Streeter brothers: Albert (1896-8 October 1916) and William (1893-?)

William (Lives profile) and Albert (Lives profile) were the first and third sons respectively of William and Eliza (née Bradford). They married at Horne on 29 October 1892. William followed shortly afterwards—his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1893 in Reigate. Later census returns indicate that he was born in Outwood, near Burstow. 

William was followed by Ellen Jane in 1894, Robert in 1896, Albert in 1897 (also at Outwood), Rhoda Emma in 1899 and George on 4 September 1900. George is the first child for whom a baptismal record has been found, at Redhill on 18 November 1900. The family were then living at Earlswood Common.  However, by the 1901 census on 31 March, the family’s address is given as Dove Cottage, Lonesome Lane, Redhill. The older William is recorded as a sewerage farm worker. 

Over the next few years the family grew with the addition of Sydney on 28 April 1904 (baptised 3 July 1904), and Percy on 12 July 1908 (baptised 4 October 1908).

In 1911 the family were living at 2 Sewerage Cottages, Redhill. The older William seems to have now become the foreman of the sewage farm. The younger William had moved out, and was living and working at a Temperance Hostel at 106 Brighton Road, Redhill.

It seems the older William began ringing when bells were hung at Redhill in the later 1890s. Other Streeters were ringing at Worth and other nearby Sussex villages, but I’ve not managed to connect them definitely. 

Albert began ringing around 1913, ringing his first quarter peal on 27 March 1913 at Redhill. He rang the treble to Grandsire Triples, his father was ringing the second, and his uncle (William’s younger brother), Amos Thomas Streeter (also his first quarter peal). This was the first quarter peal by a band entirely from Redhill. Ringing the Tenor was E Dennis, father of Harold Dennis who would die just a few weeks after Albert. They repeated the quarter peal a month later, with much the same band. 

On 26 December 1913, Albert rang his first peal, trebling to plain bob major. This was with a mixed band at St Michael’s, Betchworth. It was conducted by George F Hoad, his brother Henry A Hoad also rang, as did Henry F Ewins, all of whom also appear on the roll of honour. 

He rang another peal, this time at Reigate, on 4 May 1914, trebling to grandsire triples. 

Albert doesn’t seem to have managed any further peals or quarter peals before the outbreak of war. He and the younger William seem to have joined up quickly, along with a third brother, with The Ringing World of 11 September 1914 reporting:

Three sons for the country

The members of the St John’s Society, Redhill, met at St. John’s Church on Sunday week for a quarter-peal of Grandsire Triples, and for the purpose of congratulating one of its members, Mr W Streeter, whose three sons had during the previous week, responded to their country’s call, and had signed on for either home or foreign service. One of the sons was also a member of the St John’s Society; and was a very promising ringer. The following ringers constituted the band: H. Dennis 1, W Streeter 2, E Harman 3, A Gear 4, T Streeter 5, H Edwards 6, H Card (conductor) 7, E Dennis 8

Albert is presumably the one referred to as a promising ringer, with the other two probably being William and Robert. While a W Streeter is listed on the roll of honour and I think it’s the younger William (though there are no definite reports of him ringing), Robert never seems to have become a ringer. 

By 4 October 1914 Albert was stationed at Gravesend with 9th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). He joined the local band there to ring a quarter peal for their harvest festival, ringing the second to grandsire triples. Also joining the locals was W Denyer of Ewhurst (not listed on the roll of honour) who was also with The Queen’s. 

By July 1915 the battalion had moved to Colchester and Albert had been promoted to Corporal. Meanwhile William had gone to France with the 6th Battalion on 1 June 1915. At some point he would be transferred to 7th Battalion. 

Albert was presumably training as a machine gunner as by the time he went overseas he was with 53 Machine Gun Company. This was part of 53 Infantry Brigade in 18 (Eastern) Division. The division went to France in 1915, but Albert did not receive the 1915 Star, so presumably joined later.

Albert died of wounds in one of the British hospitals based in Boulogne on 8 October 1916. It seems most likely that he was wounded in the period 26-30 September 1916 when the division was taking part in the attacks on Thiepval ridge and the Schwaben Redoubt. 

The Ringers at Redhill attempted a muffled peal in his memory, but unfortunately without success. However it was reported in both The Ringing World and the local press. The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser report is shown as the featured image for this post, and also includes a photo of Albert (thanks to Andy Arnold for spotting this and sending the image to me). It also mentions an earlier report of his death, which might give more details as to the circumstances, but I’ve not yet obtained a copy. 

William’s 1915 Star medal roll entry indicates that he re-enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers on 18 January 1919. This may explain why it’s been difficult to find him in later records—I’ve not found any definite record of his death, or a marriage record, nor an obvious entry in the 1939 Register. 

A final note on the family, the youngest brother Percy had a son Alan who also became a ringer at Redhill. He married a fellow ringer, Freda M Stanley, and they moved to Nutfield where Alan was tower captain for many years. He died in early 2015. 

Thomas James Coppard (1871 – September 1925)

Thomas James Coppard (see also his page on Lives of the First World War) was the second child of Edward Coppard and Est[h]er Elizabeth nee Botting (the spelling of her name varies between sources as to whether the h appeared in Esther).

His parents had married at St Mary’s, Bletchingley on 30 May 1868, both were Bletchingley born and bred. At the time of their marriage, Edward was a general labourer, he could only make his mark, rather than sign, in the register. His father, Thomas, was also a labourer. Ester was the daughter of James Botting, a blacksmith, she could sign her name, but the rather scratchy and blotted signature doesn’t suggest a great deal of comfort in using a pen. Their ages are not given in the register, just that they were of “full age” (ie over 21). Their first child, Alice Hannah, arrived in early 1869, she was baptised in St Mary’s on 25 April 1869. The 1871 census was taken on 2 April, it was some time after that that Thomas was born, he was baptised at St Mary’s on 27 August.

The family was enlarged over the next few years with the arrival of Albert Edward (baptised 31 May 1874), Ellen Elizabeth (baptised 26 November 1876) and Kate Isabel (baptised 27 April 1879). At the 1881 census the family were living at Tilgate Cottages, Bletchingley. Edward was 36 and a general labourer, Esther, 38. More children followed over the next ten years, Minnie Gertrude (baptised 26 February 1882), Edwin George (baptised March 1885) and finally Charles Botting Coppard, born 24 November 1888 and baptised on 30 December.

At the 1891 census the family were still at Tilgate Cottages, Barfields, Bletchingley. Thomas was now 19 and working as a domestic groom. Alice Hannah, Albert Edward and Ellen Elizabeth weren’t in the family home, the rest of the children were still too young to work.

Thomas James Coppard and Mary Ann Jones married at St Mary’s on 30 December 1894. He was 23, and now a labourer, she was 19. Her father, William Henry Jones had been a labourer, but was deceased. The witnesses were Charles Overy and Alice Hannah Overy – Thomas’s brother-in-law and sister who had married just over a year previously on 26 December 1893. Thomas and Mary’s first child arrived just four months later, on 28 April 1895. He was hastily baptised (privately) on 29 April, but died the following day. He was buried in the churchyard on 4 May.

The following year, Louisa Annie Coppard was born to the couple on 3 June 1896, and baptised on 28 June. From the following year, Thomas begins to appear in the electoral registers, showing that they were living in Tilgate Cottages still (probably a different cottage to his parents though). A third child, Albert Henry, arrived on 6 February 1898, and was baptised on 24 April, he was followed by Francis James on 2 September 1899 (baptised 26 November). It was just over a week before Francis’s baptism that we have the first evidence so far found of Thomas as a ringer, when he is listed as ringing the third to a peal of Grandsire Triples at Bletchingley on 18 November 1899. He had presumably started ringing a little while before this, but no earlier reports have yet been found.

1900 brought more sorrow, with the death of a second child in infancy, with Albert Henry dying early in the year, he was buried in the churchyard on 1 February 1900. Their second daughter, Elsie Elizabeth, arrived on 18 February 1901. The 1901 census was taken on 31 March, the family are shown at 3 Tilgate Cottages. Thomas (now 29) is shown as a bricklayer’s labourer. No occupation is given for Mary, unsurprisingly given the recent birth of Elsie. Florence Gertrude (or May – Gertrude in his army record, May in the baptismal record) was born on 3 October 1903, and baptised on 29 October. She was followed the next year by Edward George on 30 October (baptised 29 January 1905), then Arthur William on 23 February 1907 (baptised 31 March) and Leonard Charles on 1 September 1908 (baptised 25 October). On the occasion of this last baptism, Thomas’s occupation is for the first time given as painter.

At the 1911 census the family were still at Tilgate Cottages, Thomas is listed as a house painter, no occupation is given for Mary, and the children were all still of school age except Lousia Annie who was working as a general servant for the Legg family at Newlands, Bletchingley. Archie Legg (28) is described as a grocer and draper, with him are his wife Ethel Kate, their son William Gregory (1) and Ethel’s younger brother William Geoffrey (15). They’d been married for 2 years, and had had another child who had died before the census. Later that year Thomas and James had another son, Richard Frederick, on 11 October 1911. In 1913 the family moved to Bank Cottages, Bletchingley. On 5 July 1914, their last child, Jack Stanley, was born – just under a month before the outbreak of war.

Thomas joined up at Reigate on 7 November 1914. He joined the 7th Supernumerary Company of the 2/5th Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). Supernumerary companies were raised by several Territorial Force battalions, initially for those registered as part of the Territorial Force Reserve or National Reserve, little more than lists of men held by the county territorial associations of those who had previous military experience. Thomas states he had 8 years’ service with the Volunteers. No other evidence of this has yet been found, and the use of the term Volunteers implies it was prior to 1908 when the Territorial Force was created. The surviving portions of his record are rather sketchy, so it’s difficult to work out exactly what his service entailed especially for the first couple of years. The supernumerary companies were mostly employed on the defence of strategic points (such as railway bridges), and in guarding POWs. In late 1916 he was posted to 41 Protection Company as the supernumerary companies were brought together to form the Royal Defence Corps, his duties would have remained much the same. From a subsequent medical report it seems he has based at Barking around February 1917 and this was when he began to develop myalgia and rheumatism. A further reorganisation saw him posted to 6th Battalion RDC on 11 August 1917. On 24 August he was examined by No 4 Travelling Medical Board at Dovercourt (on the coast of north Essex) and placed in the medical category CIII (the lowest) – presumably he was based somewhere in that area at the time. On 27 February 1918 he again went before a medical board, this time an invaliding board at Felixstowe. This recommended his discharge on the basis of the rheumatism and myalgia he had developed back in February 1917. The board originally rated him at under 20% disabled, when his discharge was finalised this was set at 10%. As a result, rather than an ongoing pension, he was paid a lump sum of £37 15 shillings (this accounted for his disability and dependent children Florence, Edward, Arthur, Leonard, Richard and Jack). He left the army in London on 20 March 1918 after 3 years, 134 days service.

The marriage of his daughter Louisa Annie to another of the Bletchingley ringers, Horace Gordon Kirby, was registered in the 3rd quarter 1920.

Despite is discharge on the grounds of ill-health he seems to have subsequently become a more active ringer than he had been previously. He rang a quarter peal on 14 May 1921 for the wedding of another Bletchingley ringer, C V Risbridger, seven of the eight ringers are listed on the roll of honour: G Kirby treble, S J Coppard [sic – but no ringer known with those initials, so presumably Thomas J] on 3rd, L F Goodwin 2nd, A Wood 4th, A Cheesman 5th, W Cheesman 6th, W J Wilson. Over the next three years he rang three more recorded pieces of ringing (each of Grandsire Triples), a quarter peal on 20 November 1921 (with G Kirby Treble, L F Goodwin 2nd, W J Wilson 3rd, A Wood 4th, T J Coppard 5th, F Balcombe 6th from the roll of honour), another quarter peal for Easter Day 1922 (Treble G Kirby, 2 L F Goodwin, 3 A Wood, 4 W Mayne junr, 5 T J Coppard, 6 F Balcombe (conductor), 7 W J Wilson, 8 J Balcombe) a peal on 12 May 1922 (with Gordon H Kirby Treble (1st peal), George F Hoad 4th, Albert E Wood 5th, Thomas J Coppard 6th all on the roll of honour) and a quarter peal on 28 October 1923 (with L Goodwin 2nd, W T Beeson junr 3rd, W Wilson 5th, T Coppard 6th from the roll of honour).

Thomas died aged 54 in September 1925 at Redhill Hospital and was buried in “Centre Old Cemetery”, grave reference D3, on 22 September 1922. Mary survived him and continued living at Bank Cottages, she died on 22 January 1933 and was interred in the same plot on 26 January.

Walter Eric Markey (1895-31 October 1914†)

Walter Eric Markey was born in early 1895, or possible very late in 1894 at Bexhill-on-Sea. His birth was registered in the Battle registration district in the 1st quarter 1895. His parents, Alfred Eric Markey and Emma Elizabeth (nee Snook) were both originally from Somerset, Penselwood and Wincanton respectively. Their marriage was registered in the 4th quarter 1891 in the Wincanton registration district. Their first child, Cicely Emma, was born in Wincanton in 1893.

Walter followed in 1895, then Samuel Robert in Sidley, a small village on the outskirts of Bexhill. In 1900, Beatrice Mary was born back in Bexhill itself. By the time of the 1901 census the family were living at Keepers Corner, Burstow, Surrey. Alfred is listed as a coachman. In 1902 (Bessie) Minnie was born in Copthorne, and (Jessie) Margaret there in 1905. Elsie Gwendoline was born in Burstow on 20 November 1907, followed by Ethel Winifred in early 1911. By the time of the 1911 census the family were living at Shipley Bridge, Burstow, Surrey. Alfred was still working as a coachman, and Walter was now following in his footsteps, working as a groom.

Sometime, probably in the second half of 1913 (based on the number issued to him) Walter joined The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), enlisting at the regimental depot in Guildford. By the outbreak of war he would have been a fully trained soldier, and went with the 1st battalion to France on 12 August 1914. They were heavily involved in the retreat from Mons and subsequent fighting. By 31 October 1914 the First Battle of Ypres was underway and the battalion was involved in the defence of Gheluvelt. The battalion was all but destroyed, with little more than a handful of men coming out of the line in early November. Walter was among those killed, his body was never recovered, and so he is commemorated on the Menin Gate. He was the first member of the Surrey Association to die in service.

The extent of his ringing career remains unclear, no reports of any ringing have yet been found. He presumably began ringing at Burstow in the years immediately before he joined the army. His death was not reported in the ringing press at the time, and does not appear to have been marked by the Burstow ringers. The only time his name does appear is in a report of a memorial service held at St Clement Danes on the Strand in London on 22 February 1919 for all the ringers killed in the war. As part of the service a roll of honour of ringers from “London and District” was read and he is listed as W Markey. Other services were held around the country on the same day, at Great St Mary’s in Cambridge, Sheffield Cathedral, Chester Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and SS Philip and Jude in Bristol. Sadly, after this his name seems to have undergone a process of chinese whispers in drawing up the Surrey Association roll of honour, and this then fed into the Central Council roll of honour. Names were listed surname, followed by initial. Markey W seems to have been misheard at some point and transformed into Mark E W, which led to considerable problems in confirming his identity. Walter Markey seemed to be the only plausible candidate, but until the report of the memorial service was found this could not be shown beyond doubt, particularly as his unit is also incorrectly recorded as Royal Garrison Artillery on the Surrey Roll.

Red Cross POW records and a mystery solved

One of the many digitisation projects sparked by the centenary has been carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross. They have digitised the Prisoner of War records from their archives which were released (80% complete) on 4 August. The site can be found at http://grandeguerre.icrc.org/.

The release of these records has allowed me to clear up one of the outstanding identifications from the roll. Listed under Dorking was a W Hills, recorded as being a Private in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). From census records the only plausible candidate seemed to be the William James Hills living at Chalkpit Cottages in 1911, but I had not been able to find any military information. The roll also indicates he had been a prisoner, so the Red Cross records were an obvious avenue to explore.

A little experimentation showed that the records tend to be grouped under a single variant, so Hills appeared with those named Hill. At first it seemed I would continue to draw a blank. None of the records for the Queen’s matched, but I noticed that some men were actually in Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), so eventually I looked at the section for those too, reasoning that the confusion might work both ways.

There I found a record card for William Hills. Using the reference numbers recorded on the original card, this links to 3 other records. These confirmed he was William J Hills, and giving a home address matching the 1911 census, the birthplace of Burpham, Arundel also matched. But he is shown as belonging to West Kents rather than West Surreys

So in fact it was the roll of honour which was incorrect and had muddled the West Surreys and West Kents. With his regimental number from the card (initially wrongly recorded as 14619, but an amendment on the card indicated it should be 17619) I also found a matching medal index card, but sadly (but unsurprisingly) no service record. However this is quite enough to be sure of the identification.

Serjeant Major John Webb (1883-1918†), “leading light of the Benhilton ringers”

John Webb was born in Sutton in 1883, he was the fourth child of John and Susan Webb, although their first child died only a few months old. He was tower captain at Benhilton from about 1903, and his death seems to have dealt a major blow to ringing there.

John Webb (sr) married Susan Lusher at St Leonard’s, Streatham on 25 February 1871. They were both living in Balham, John was 28 and a gardener, Susan 32. By the time of the 1871 census a month later, they were living together at 6 Albert Terrace, Kate Street, Balham. Four other people in a separate household were living at the same address. William Sharman Webb was born on 24 July 1872, but was buried at West Norwood Cemetery on 25 October, aged just three months. Elizabeth Mary Webb was born on 6 February 1874, and Thomas Sharman Webb on 30 December 1876. All the first three children were baptised at St Mary’s, Balham. By the 1881 census on 3 April the family were living at 16 Kate Street, Balham. Susan’s sister-in-law, Sarah (45, a widow), was visiting, and they had a lodger, Walter Watts (25) – like John Webb he was a gardener. Elizabeth (7) and Thomas (4) are both listed as scholars.

The family must have moved soon after, as by the time of John Webb’s own birth in 1883 they were in Sutton. Two John Webb’s were registered in the Epsom Registration District that year, in the 3rd and 4th quarters – it is not clear which is the correct one, and no baptismal entry has yet been found. By 1891, the family were living at 2 Elm Grove Cottages, Sutton. John Webb sr (47) was still a gardener, and Susan was now 52. Elizabeth was now 17, but has no occupation listed; Thomas was 14 and already working as a gardener’s boy, perhaps with his father. John jr was seven and still at school.

The first record of any member of the family ringing is the report of a T S Webb, presumably Thomas Sharman Webb, ringing the third to a 720 of Plain Bob Minor at Benhilton on 12 February 1893, though this seems to be the only time he’s reported as a ringer. It’s not clear how quickly John jr followed in his footsteps.

In 1900 Elizabeth married William Thomas Thurley, by 1901 they were living at 2 East Terrace, Crayford Road, Erith, Kent, and William (25) was a stationary engine driver on a coal wharf. Thomas Webb had also moved away, he was working at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield Lock (manufacturer of the Lee-Enfield rifle which equipped the British Army throughout the First World War), and lodging with the Dudley family at 34 Hanby Terrace. In 1901 to the John Webb’s, father now 56 and still a gardener, son 17 and working for a corn merchant. Susan was now 62. All three were living at 2 Ingleside Villas, Brandon Road, Sutton.

John Webb jr had certainly learnt to ring before 1903, as sometime around then he was appointed tower captain and steeple keeper. Presumably he was ringing regularly for Sunday service at Benhilton, but much of his early serious ringing seems to have actually taken place at neighbouring Carshalton. The earliest peal he rang so far identified (it is not marked as his first peal) was at Carshalton on 9 December 1903 when he rang the fifth to a peal of Grandsire Triples. This was followed by a peal of Oxford Bob triples on 24 August 1904 (on the fourth), again at Carshalton. On 7 February 1906 he conducted his first peal, at Carshalton again, ringing the second to Grandsire Triples. This was also the first peal of the two Rayner brothers, Sidney and George (and possibly also the middle brother, Henry), I failed to identify this peal when researching the two brothers, but it has now been added to their respective pages.

1907 also saw a single peal, again at Carshalton. Webb does not seem to have rung any peals in 1908 (or at least not at Carshalton or Benhilton), but 1909 saw four. The first two, on 19 January and 10 February were at Carshalton, but the second pair, on 10 November and 14 December were on home turf at Benhilton.

On 2 April 1911 the family of the two John Webbs, and Susan were still living at 2 Ingleside Villas. John Webb sr is still a jobbing gardener, though his age is now given as 71 – this is inconsistent with earlier censuses, it would be expected to see him listed as 66 or 67. Susan was now 72. John Webb jr (27) is described as a manager and corn merchant in a corn merchant’s firm.

The succeeding years saw a variety of further ringing, mostly at Benhilton itself now. There are also signs of an increasing connection with the Mitcham ringers with the names of Albert Carver, William Joiner and Benjamin Morris, all listed on the original roll as Mitcham men appearing along with Benhilton locals such as the Rayner brothers.

In April 1914 Webb was presented with gifts from the vicar and churchwardens and the ringers in appreciation of his services as tower captain and steeple keeper over the past eleven years, and to mark his impending wedding. The gifts made up a complete set of fireplace tools, so were obviously intended to help set up a cosy new married life.

It was on 18 April 1914 that John Webb (30) married Jane Eliza Bullen (33) at St Matthew’s, Surbiton. Webb’s address is given as 2 Ingleside Villas once more, and his occupation is given as corn merchant. No occupation is listed for Jane, at the time of the wedding her address is given as 1 Woodside Villas, Dennan Road, Surbiton. Her father, Daniel, was a carpenter. In 1911 she appears to have been working as a cook for the Colegate sisters at Earlywood, Albion Road, Carshalton.

Just over a month later, on 24 May 1914, the Benhilton ringers rang another quarter peal. John Webb conducted from the seventh. The peal was for Empire Day, but also marked the birthday of Jane, and the wife of F Ford, another of the ringers.

Even after the outbreak of war ringing carried on with a peal of Grandsire Triples. Webb rang the sixth, George Rayner the fifth, and J Howard R Freeborn the seventh. Freeborn is not listed among the Benhilton ringers on the roll, but my current research shows he did indeed serve.

Then on 31 October 1915 was a quarter peal of Stedman Triples at Benhilton. This also included Alfred Winch of Leatherhead and W H Joiner of Mitcham. They had been intending to ring London Surprise Major, but something went wrong in the arrangements and they didn’t have enough who knew the method. On 10 November he did get his quarter peal of London, though it was rung at Mitcham. The band also included D W Drewett of Mitcham who would also be killed during the war. It was the first quarter peal in the method by seven of the band, the only exception being A J Perkins of Mitcham.

On 26 October 1916 Webb was called up. He had probably gone through the enlistement formalities some time previously at Kingston-on-Thames, but the surviving two pages of his service record do not show the date of that. He was medically inspected at the Army Service Corps depot at Grove Park. He had indicated a preference for service with the forage department of the ASC (which of course fitted with his civilian occupation), forage was still a vital part of the army’s logistic support, with much transport, and many guns, still relying on literal horse power, and of course there was still mounted cavalry. Over the course of the war, the weight of forage shipped to France actually slightly exceeded the weight of munitions. However, the army was increasingly mechanising, and Webb was actually assigned as a motor transport learner, indicated explicitly on his service record, and also implied by the prefix of his service number, DM2/228893.

Unfortunately only two pages of his record survive, and they are quite badly damaged. Of the medical information all that is readable is his height (and even that is unclear), which appears to be 5’8.75″. No information is given on his postings, so all we know is that at the time of his death he was serving with Q Motor Transport Company in Kent. Given that he had managerial experience in civilian life, and had been running the band at Benhilton from about the age of 19, it is perhaps no great surprise that in the just over two years he was in the army he rose from driver to company serjeant major.

Webb seems to have been caught up in the first great wave of Spanish Flu. His obituary in The Ringing World tells us he died of double pneumonia on 28 November 1918 following influenza, and the CWGC cemetery register also records his eath as being due to pneumonia. The funeral was at Benhilton on Wednesday 4 December, and he was interred as close to the tower as could be managed. Before and after the funeral ringers from Benhilton, Mitcham, Beddington and Carshalton (Captain Freeborn, F Ford, A J Perkins, A Boxall, C Dean, C Bance, F Holder and W Joiner) rang touches of Stedman and Grandsire Triples (conducted by Freeborn, Holder and Perkins). Ford (1-2), Freeborn (3-4), Perkins (5-6) and Joiner (7-8) rang a course of Grandsire Triples over the open grave on handbells. In the evening a touch of 500 Grandsire Triples was rung by J Lambert (conductor), E Walker, W Joiner, F Ford, A Calver, W Smith, L Ferridge and A Bundle. The following Monday, 9 December, the bells were rung half-muffled to a 720 of Bob Minor with 7 and 8 being rung behind as covers by A Boxall, W Smith, J A Lambert, A Mason, A Calver, F Ford, Captain Freeborn and W Hodges.

The obituary was written by “A J P”: probably A J Perkins. He describes Webb as the “leading light of the Benhilton (Sutton, Surrey), ringers”, and “an enthusiast”. Perkins explains how he helped Webb to learn the calling for Holt’s Original peal of Grandsire Triples, and that he had no doubt that Webb would have rung a peal of London but for the war, at the time it seems to have been near the pinnacle of ambition for ringers to have called Holt’s Original, and rung a peal of London. As described in the previous post on the Rayner brothers without Webb the band at Benhilton continued for a little while after the war, but then the bells fell virtually silent until they were rehung in 1929. One suspects that Webb would have kept the bells in better ringing order, or would have arranged for rehanging much sooner, given what seems to have been a very energetic character.