Category Archives: East Surrey

George William Waylen Honeyball (23 July 1883 – 16 August 1917†)

When this post goes live, the regular Wednesday Eucharist at St Mary’s, Putney, will just be starting. On this occasion the service will include a commemoration of George Honeyball, and will be followed by a brief talk about the rolls of honour of the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers and a peal. There is also a display at the foot of the tower which will remain in place until the end of August. Work on all this has meant that the centenaries of two men on the Surrey roll of honour, George Basil Edser (9 August) and Charles Herbert Varo (13 August) have so far gone unmarked on this blog, this will be rectified as soon as possible

George William Waylen Honeyball (See also Lives profile) was the first child of William Honeyball and Emma Harriet (nee Waylen – her middle name sometimes appears as Harriett, and her maiden name in various forms such as Wayland and even Wallen). According to a marginal note in the baptism register of St Agnes Kennington Park he was born on 23 July 1883 and his birth was registered in the St Saviour Registration District (Southwark) in the July-September quarter 1883. He does not appear on the Surrey Association Roll of Honour, despite the Putney band having been “in Union” with the association for many years. However Putney is the home tower of the author.

His parents were from the neighbouring Essex villages of Aldham and Copford, not far from Colchester. Their families were already connected as Emma’s aunt, Sarah Springett (or Springate), had married William’s uncle, Barnabas Honeyball. By 1881 Emma’s parents had moved to Ilford and were living at Mount Pleasant, Barking Lane (now Ilford Lane). Emma herself was in service (along with her elder sister, Eliza) at 2 Harcourt Road, Penge, Croydon, Surrey, England, working for Mrs Sarah B Rainier. Similarly William had already made the move to London, in 1881 he is recorded as a lodger at 77 Farmers Road, Newington with William Courtneidge and his wife Eliza. Courtneidge was a park constable/keeper. William’s brother George would also work for the London County Council Parks’ Department.

William and Emma married at St Mary’s, Great Ilford on 12 September 1882. Both gave their residence as Great Ilford at the time. William was a gardener, son of William Honeyball, labourer. Emma gave no occupation, she was the daughter of George Waylen, labourer. William signed his name, but Emma only made her mark.  The witnesses were William James and Emma’s sister, Eliza. George was baptised on 30 December 1883 when the family’s address was given as 63 Farmers Road, presumably just a few doors from where William was living in 1881.

1891 census

By 1891 the family were living in Putney, at 10 Upper Park Fields (the road has since been renamed and renumbered leaving this as 24 Coalecroft Road). William (36) is described as a gardener/domestic servant; Emma (34) has no occupation listed, neither does George (7, presumably he was at school). The household also contains Edward T I Honeyball (21), described as lodger, born Cheltenham, but presumably some sort of relation (although possibly there was an error by the enumerator as he’s not been traced in other records); and Peter Thomson (19), born Duddingston, Midlothian, Scotland, also a lodger. Both the lodgers are described as being gardeners at a nursery. The house was one of a group of workers’ cottages dating from the mid-19th century. At this time only the houses on the west of the road had been built, and the road itself was still amid fields and orchards, with Howard’s Lane marking the main boundary of development as shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1893-1895 (digitised by the National Library of Scotland).  A general description of the properties on the road from the Valuation Office Survey field books from about 1911-1915 states: “old-fashioned stock brick cottage. Slated roof. 2 Storey, brickwork and pointing poor. Repair poor. Gd [floor]: 1 room, kitchen, scullery, WC, bathroom. 1st: 2 bedrooms”.

George may well have attended St Mary’s School, located in the nearby Charlwood Road. Unfortunately, the admission and discharge registers for the relevant period do not seem to have survived nor do the logbooks seem to mention him by name.

12 Coalecroft Road in 2017

12 Coalecroft Road, originally 4 Upper Park Fields, in 2017. The family home of the Honeyballs from about 1893 to 1914.


Electoral registers suggest that the family had moved just up the road to 4 Upper Park Fields by the time Ellen Elsie Waylen Honeyball was born on 3 August 1894.  The field books note that 4, 5 and 6 have no bathroom. It was owned by their neighbour at 3 Upper Park Fields (later 10 Upper Park Fields), J Dulley, a builder. The final page of the Valuation Office field book indicates that the house was sold on 4 July 1920 for £150. Land Registry data shows that the house last sold in late 2015 for just under £1.5 million (the estate agent’s details show it does now have a bathroom!).

1901 census

In 1901 the family were still at 4 Upper Park Fields (now 12 Coalecroft Road). William (46) is still a domestic gardener, Emma (44) has no occupation listed, George (17) is a coal order clerk and Ellen (6) is presumably at school. Also in the household is their lodger, Leon Jaquet (20) a market gardener from Switzerland.

The character of Putney was now rapidly changing. The fields around Upper Park Fields were now disappearing under houses. The houses on the eastern side of the street seem to have been completed by around 1904, at which point the numbering was changed to the usual odds and evens, with 4 becoming 12 (there were a couple of previously unnumbered houses toward the junction with Howard’s Lane).

1911 census, ringing, and marriage

In 1911, the family were still at what was now number 12 Upper Park Fields. William was still a gardener. George is described as a coal merchant’s clerk, and Ellen as a domestic nurse. It seems that with both children earning there was no longer any need to take in lodgers. It’s not clear who George was working for, but postal directories show two coal merchants based in small offices at Putney Station, Edwin A Cornwall, and Stratton, Gentry & Co Ltd.

It’s not clear exactly when George learnt to ring, the first report in the ringing newspapers that mentions him is of a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples rung on 24 September 1911 for Sunday service, and to mark the birthday of two of the band, T Bolton (the tower captain) and C F W Hunt (the conductor). Hunt and Skevington (also ringing) are more frequently associated with Hammersmith, and it seems they may have been teaching the band. This quarter peal is not marked as George’s first, so there is probably an earlier one that is proving elusive.

Next both George and his father William rang in another quarter peal of Grandsire Triples to mark the wedding of the Revd Laurence Rawdon Levett (the curate of Putney) to Mary E Patchett on 7 November 1911. This was the first quarter peal to be rung entirely by regular ringers at St Mary’s. Then, on Christmas Eve, George himself conducted a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples before a service, this was also the first quarter peal for S Jones.

1912 started in similar vein with quarter peals of Grandsire on Wednesday 7 February (only William was in this one rather than George) and Sunday 11 February (with both father and son). Then, on Monday 8 April, the band rang the first peal by Putney ringers (other peals had been rung at the church previously by visiting ringers). The method was again Grandsire Triples, this was the first peal for both George and William.

After that there was a bit of a lull until September when the local band rang another quarter peal of Grandsire for the wedding of the vicar’s (the Revd Canon Thurston Rivington) son, Reginald Thurston Rivington, to Nora Sedgwick. The wedding actually took place in Sherborn, Warwickshire, where Nora’s father was vicar. Canon Rivington had previously been vicar in two parishes in Warwick. Then for Harvest Festival on 22 September they branched out with a quarter peal of Plain Bob Major, a first for George and William and several others in the band. They finished 1912 with service touches of Stedman (with George ringing) and Bob Major (with William) on 22 December for evening service.

1913’s ringing really got going in March with another quarter of Bob Major on the evening of Easter Day (23 March), and again on 5 April (for a wedding). On 3 June George conducted another quarter peal of Grandsire, followed by another for service on 20 July which marked his birthday and that of his father. The dedication for this quarter also shows that William was secretary for the band. On Wednesday 30 July both were again in the band for a quarter of Bob Major for a wedding. On 12 October George again conducted Grandsire Triples with his father in the band. Then on 26 October both rang Bob Major again. On 9 November George rang the treble to a quarter peal of Stedman Triples, this is marked as the first in method for C Collis jun and H Whanslaw, but not for George, so again it seems at least one quarter peal is proving elusive.

Sadly Emma Harriett Honeyball died in early 1914, and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery on 21 January 1914. Cemetery records show she was buried in Plot D2, Grave 215. It is listed as a “Class H” burial, not in “general ground” but a cemetery visit in 2017 showed no sign of headstone or other marker. She died (at home) at 12 Upper Parkfields.

Several rows of graves set among grass, with a variety of styles of headstones and other grave markers. In the background are a variety of trees.

Emma Harriett Honeyball (nee Waylen) was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery on 21 January 1914. There is no grave marker, the grave is in the second row of graves visible in the photo, to the right of the grave with a cross on three steps, directly in line with the granite topped grave in the foreground.

The first reported ringing in 1914 was a second peal on 13 April, this time conducted by Alfred Jones on his first attempt at conducting a peal. It was this peal that was marked by a peal board in the ringing room, sadly destroyed by the fire in the church in 1973. On 6 May both George and William rang in a quarter peal of Bob Major. This appears to be the last time father and son rang together. On 26 July George rang a quarter peal of Kent Treble Bob, his first in the method (and also that of 3 others in the band).

Black and white photo showing the interior of a church ringing room, two bell ropes are visible in the middle of the photo. The wall behind is part panelled, and above the panelling are two boards marking peals rung in the tower.

Photo of peal boards in the ringing chamber at St Mary’s Putney prior to the fire in 1973. The board on the left bears the names of George Honeyball and his father William and marks the 1914 peal rung by the local band.

The last known ringing by George was on 11 April 1915 when he rang two courses of Double Norwich Major for Sunday service. The influence of the war is perhaps visible in the very mixed group of ringers, F I Hairs usually associated with Clapham, though he was stationed at Roehampton with the Royal Naval Air Service, Elsie Bennett (who would later become Mrs Hairs – they would be the first couple to ring a peal on their wedding day), Sedley Collins of Fulham, and C J Matthews of St Martin in the Fields (though resident in Southfields and later reported as a Putney ringer when he joined up underage later in 1915).


On 5 July 1915 George married Bessie Julia Naylor in the magnificent parish church at Walpole St Peter (registered in the Wisbech Registration District). Parish records show that the banns were called at St Mary’s Putney on 13, 20 and 27 June, and show that the bride was from the parish of Walpole, Norfolk. The only Bessie Naylor recorded in the Wisbech district in the 1911 census was already 61. However, following the family back to the 1901 census shows a Julia Naylor in this household in Lynn Road, Walpole Highway, Norfolk, part of the parish of Walpole St Peter. In 1901 the family consisted of William (55), a carpenter, born Methwold, Norfolk; Bessie (50), born Exeter; and their daughters Julia (19); and Victoria (13), both born Walpole St Peter. Presumably Julia’s first name was also Bessie, but as her mother was called the same she used her middle name. By 1911, the younger daughter is recorded as Mildred, rather than Victoria, again presumably a case of using a middle name. Searching for Julia Naylor finds her working as a housemaid at 11 Briar Walk, Putney – just a few roads away from the Honeyballs in Upper Park Fields. Head of the household is Mary Blanche Alton (59), a widow with private means, born Norwich; also present are her daughter, Kathleen Mary Leonore Alton (30), single, born Putney; Mary’s half-sister Hannah Atkins (74), born Barnham Broom, Norwich; and Agnes Broomer (age unknown), cook, born Westcott, Surrey. The Valuation Office records show that the houses in Briar Walk were on a rather different scale to Upper Park Fields.
A substantial red brick house with carved stone around the windows

11 Briar Walk is the house in which Bessie Julia Naylor was working as a maid in 1911

War Service

Although George’s service record did not survive the Blitz in the Second World War (like so many), it turns out that in the case of the 31st Regimental District which included the East Surrey Regiment, and covered Putney, the recruitment registers still survive. Honeyball is listed, and the register shows that he attested on 7 December 1916 at Wandsworth. He was then 32 Years and 6 months old, weighed 120 lbs, was 5 foot 4 inches tall, with a 35 inch chest, which expanded by 3 inches. He was in call-up category 38 (this was determined by age and marital status), and medically he was rated A2 (fully fit, but untrained). The remarks column contains the address 148 Putney Bridge Road, presumably where he was living at the time he attested. He was initially posted to 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, this functioned as a training battalion and was based in Dover. The recruitment book does not show the regimental number, only a recruitment reference.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show that his number with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was 41167 which allows us to identify his medal index card, which shows he was Private 31333, East Surrey Regiment, and Private 41167 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; and the associated medal rolls detailed by the index card as “B/102 B27 page 11462”, now in WO 329/1133. These show he served with 9th (Service) Battalion, East Surreys and 7 Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, unfortunately no further details are given on the index card or in the roll as to his dates of service or transfer between units. The war diaries of the 9th East Surreys are quite detailed, often giving complete summaries of men killed and wounded each month, but Honeyball does not seem to be mentioned by name. Nor is there any mention of men being transferred to the Inniskillings.

However, further examination of the medal roll shows a number of men with similar Inniskillings service numbers with prior service in the East Surreys, suggesting that a number of men were transferred at the same time. Service records of some of these men do survive, and suggest that Honeyball probably completed his training in mid-March and he was posted to 9th East Surreys, but after arrival at a Base Depot in France he was transferred to the Inniskilling, being posted to 7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers around 26 March 1917, and probably actually joining the battalion on 9 April. Their war diary shows drafts joining on 11 and 16 April.

The first few weeks with the battalion were spent largely in training behind the lines. Then in early May George received his first taste of front line service. On 9 May the battalion was due to be relieved but the German’s opened a heavy bombardment at the time the relief was due to take place. They were eventually able to extricate themselves by 2 am.

At 2 am on 29 May there was a gas alarm, but fortunately it proved to be false.

From 6-14 June the battalion took part in the highly successful Battle of Messines, 16th (Irish) Division (of which the battalion was part) captured Wytschaete. The remainder of June, and most of July was spent refitting and training. They moved back towards the front at the start of August, taking up positions at Square Farm on 6 August. On 8 August they suffered a heavy German bombardment. They moved out of the line on the night of 10/11 August, before returning to Square Farm on 14 August, ready to attack as part of the Battle of Langemarck on 16 August.


It was during that attack that George Honeyball was killed, somewhere in the area between Square Farm where they started, and Hill 37, or a little further east, which was the furthest point reached. They were forced to retire as the divisions either side had not progressed as well, leaving their flanks exposed.

After the war George Honeyball was remembered on a variety of memorials. In Putney itself he is on the roll of honour in St Mary’s Church which accompanies the cross outside. A memorial was also erected on an extension to Wimbledon Common that was bought by public subscription after the war. It was presumably due to his wife, and perhaps the ringers, that he was included on these memorials.


His father and sister also ensured he was on the Aldham War Memorial. On that memorial there are also two of his cousins, a second cousin, and a son of Elsie Honeyball’s first husband (who was much older than her) by his first marriage.

The Central Council for Church Bell Ringers also set up its own roll of honour, now held in the bell tower at St Paul’s Cathedral, and in 1919 there was a series of services around the country on 22 February to commemorate the ringers killed. The service for London was held at St Clement Danes and George Honeyball was among the list of 80 ringers read during the service who had been killed in the war.

He was also included on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing opened in 1927. This lists those killed on or after 16 August 1917 in the Ypres area who have no known grave. He may also be commemorated in 1914-18 Book of Remembrance held in the East Surrey Regimental Chapel (Holy Trinity Chapel) in All Saints’ Kingston.

Aftermath

Bessie Honeyball continued to live in London, by 1939 she was living in Effie Place, Fulham, and her occupation is given as “Unpaid Domestic Duties” (she was presumably living on her widow’s pension). The 1939 Register (prepared as the Second World War started to assist in the distribution of ration cards etc) also shows her surname crossed through, and replaced with that of Rule. Marriage indices record the marriage of Alfred Stephen Rule and Bessie J Honeyball in the first quarter of 1945 in the Chelsea registration district. Stephen was a recent widow himself, in the 1939 Register he and his wife Laura were living on Trott Street, Battersea. Stephen (who was born in Australia) had served in the RFC and RAF during the First World War, his skills as a tailor and sailmaker probably having been put to use preparing the fabric used to cover the wings of early aircraft.

Elsie continued to the Queen’s Head in Aldham for many years. She married twice and had two children.

Centenary

The centenary was marked with a peal, and a display at the base of the tower. The display will remain in place until the end of August.
img_0507The display relating to George Honeyball and life in Putney before the war

Details of the peal of 5056 Yorkshire Surprise Major are on BellBoard.

A group of seven men and one woman standing in front of glass doors leading into St Mary's Putney Church. Some of the stained glass windows of the church are visible in the background.

The band who rang the commemorative peal at Putney on 16 August 2017.

Advertisements
An off-white headstone with a slightly curved top, a regimental badge above the details of Sydney Smith, with a cross below, and the inscription chosen by his family

Stanley Smith (14 January 1896 – 18 March 1917†), Mitcham

Stanley Smith (Lives profile) was the youngest child of William Shipp Smith and Ellen, nee Dench. His father was also a ringer, and quite a prolific conductor for the Surrey Association in its relatively early days, and was also a composer.

William and Ellen married at Stephen’s, Twickenham, on 15 September 1889. William was then 22 and a carpenter, Ellen was the same age. They were both living at 6 Sandycoombe Road, just a short distance from the church. Ellen must already have been heavily pregnant as their first child, William Thomas Smith, was born less than a month later, on 8 October 1889. By the time he was baptised at St Mary’s Twickenham (the original parish church) on the family were living at the Mission House. The 1891 census tells us that this was on Church Lane, right next to St Mary’s. As the next property listed on the census returns was the Queen’s Head (now the Barmy Arms), this suggests the Mission House was perhaps on the site now occupied by the Mary Wallace Theatre. Shortly before the census Ellen Ethel Smith had arrived on 1 February 1891, she was baptised on census day, 5 April 1891, both the baptismal record and census entry agreeing on the Mission House as the family’s residence. The census lists Ellen’s mother, Mary A Dench as head of the household. She was a 65-year-old widow and a laundress. Her son (Ellen’s brother), Henry, a 40-year-old painter was also living in the household, along with William (still a carpenter), Ellen, and the two children. Based on later censuses, the birthplaces of Henry and William appear to have been accidentally switched, this census indicates that Henry was born in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire, and William in Twickenham, it seems far more likely that William was born in Paulerspury and Henry in Twickenham like his mother and sister and the two children. There’s at least one report of William ringing while in Twickenham (Bell News, 9 August 1890, p241 reports W Smith of Twickenham joining various visiting Surrey ringers on 19 July). The very common surname makes an exhaustive search extremely time consuming. There were also bells in Paulerspury, so he could have learnt to ring there.

Some time in the next five years the family moved to Wimbledon. Stanley was born there on 14 January 1896, and baptised at Holy Trinity, South Wimbledon, on 22 February, the family’s address is recorded in the register as 121 Russell Road. Bell News suggests the move could have been as early as 1893 with reports then and in 1894 of W S Smith ringing at Wimbledon (18 July 1893, p201 reports ringing on 28 April 1893 and 14 May 1894, p113 reports ringing on various dates in April). Despite these early connections with the tower at Wimbledon, William seems to have been mostly associated with Mitcham, which had a strong band at this time, eventually becoming steeplekeeper. Since he was a carpenter he may also have been working for the ringing master there, J D Drewett, who ran a local building firm (he was also a local councillor and Master of the Surrey Association).

By 1901 the family seem to have moved just next door, to 123 Russell Road (or there may have been some renumbering). William was still a carpenter, no occupation is given for any of the other family members, they still have Ellen’s mother living with them too. There also seems to be a second family (the Robins) living in the same house (and the same can be seen for all the nearby houses), so 9 people in total in the property.

Sadly William Thomas Smith died in the first half of 1909, aged 19. I’ve not managed to find any details beyond the index entry for the death registration in the 2nd quarter of 1909 in the Kingston registration district. The 1911 census indicates that William and Ellen had had 3 children, one of whom had died, which was the first indication I found of the death of William Thomas. The family were then still at 123 Russell Road, now just the four of them (though there was still another household recorded at the same address too). William was still a carpenter, Ethel Ellen had become a female sorter in the Civil Service, possibly in the Saving Bank Department (“S Bank Dept” appears to be what’s recorded against her entry), Stanley was an assistant in a warehouse.

Stanley did not rush to the colours at the outbreak of war. He enlisted, or rather was conscripted, on 30 August 1916. He made his attestation at Wimbledon, he was now a timekeeper, 5’6″ tall, weighed 122 pounds, and had a 36″ chest (with 3″ of expansion). He joined 4th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment. It seems likely that he had some time on Army Reserve B awaiting his call-up proper. He managed to ring his first (and only) quarter peal at Mitcham on 17 September 1917. After his training with 4th Battalion, he joined 9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment in France, probably in early 1917. This was the battalion in which the playwright, R C Sherriff, was an officer. Transcripts of his letters home, which provide some insight into what the battalion faced can be found on Roland Wales’ website under R C Sherriff’s Letters from France. It was a cold winter, with a lot of snow. By March though the battalion were based in Cité Colonne, near Loos, where the front line went through small villages, so the men could find shelter in what was left of the houses.

An off-white headstone with a slightly curved top, a regimental badge above the details of Sydney Smith, with a cross below, and the inscription chosen by his family

Stanley Smith’s grave in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery British Extension, courtesy of Alan Regin ©

Early 1917 is also described in the book The Journey’s End battalion, the 9th East Surrey in the Great War. Stanley seems to have been rather unlucky, the battalion suffered only 5 deaths in March 1917, 3 of them were on 18 March, Herbert Lewis Reynolds and William John Woodall being killed with him on that day and Fred Cyril Benham died of wounds the following day. No particular mention is made in the war diary, except that the four men are listed as casualties of the 18 March in the appendix for the month. The brief obituary published in The Ringing World on 13 April 1917 states that he was killed instantly by a shell (though such reports have to be taken with a pinch of salt, those writing home often wishing to spare the families full details). Stanley was buried in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension with Reynolds and Woodall either side of him. After the war the family had the inscription “Thou gav’st thyself for me, give myself to thee” added to his headstone, the last two lines of the hymn “Thy Life was giv’n for me”, words by Frances Ridley Havergal.

The Mitcham ringers rang a half-muffled quarter peal of Stedman Triples in his memory on 1 April 1917, the band was A J Lambert 1, J D Drewett 2, C Dean 3, C W R Grimwood 4, A Calver 5, T Steers 6, W H Joiner (conductor) 7, J Currell 8. Calver and Joiner would also serve.

In 1919 Stanley was among the ringers commemorated at the National Ringers’ Memorial Service at St Clement Danes on 22 February. Then on Easter Day (20 April) the Mitcham ringers unveiled a memorial to the three Mitcham ringers killed in the ringing chamber at Mitcham. This was reported in The Ringing World:

WAR MEMORIAL AT MITCHAM.
TABLET UNVEILED IN THE BELFRY.
On Easter Day, before the evening service at the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Mitcham, the Rev C Aubrey Finch (Vicar), Alderman R M Chart, Dr T Cato Worsfold (churchwardens), Mr J D Drewett, Master, Surrey Association and Mitcham Society, and members of the Mitcham Society, together with relatiyes and friends, assembled in the church tower for the purpose of unveiliug and dedicating a marble tablet erected in the belfry to the sacred memory of those members of the society who fell in action during the war. The tablet which is the gift of Mr J D Drewett, whose son is among the fallen, is of an appropriate design and noble character, inscribed as follows –

“Sacred to the memory of members of the Mitcham Society and Surrey
Association of Change Ringers who fell in action in the Great War,
1914-1918
Douglas Walter Drewett, 1st Cameron Highlanders, killed in action, October 31st, 1918
Benjamin Arthur Morris, 4th Coldstream Guards, killed in action, November 28th, 1917
Stanley Smith, 9th East Surreys, killed in action, March 18th 1917
They died that we might live.
Rest in Peace.”

It is proposed to establish a fund in connection with the memorial, the money to be invested, and any interest that may accrue therefrom is to be used for the purpose of assisting any member of the Mitcham Society who may be in need of help.

Unfortunately this does not seem to have survived, on a visit a few years ago I noticed that there are still large brackets on the wall that could have supported a marble tablet. On 6 September Ethel Ellen married Richard Pethybridge, a widower with children and 13 years her senior. He is probably the same as the R Pethybridge ringing with her father in the earliest reports of William ringing at Wimbledon. Ethel does not seem to have had any children of her own.

The centenary of Stanley’s death was marked with a quarter peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major at Mitcham on 17 March 2017.

The Rayner brothers, Sidney Frank (1884-1918†) and George Thomas (1880-1957), Benhilton

George Thomas Rayner and Sidney Frank Rayner were the first and third sons of Thomas and Rhoda Rayner (nee Miller). Despite research in a variety of sources, details of their military service remain sketchy. The fact that Sidney sadly died while serving in the UK with an Agricultural Company of the Labour Corps allows some more defiinite understanding of his service to be derived. For George, we have little more than the details given in the association roll of honour to go on, which states that he served with the Royal Fusiliers. There is only medal index card for a George Rayner in the Royal Fusiliers, but there is no means of definitively tying that card to this George Rayner.

Thomas and Rhoda married in Godstone, Surrey on 7 June 1880. Godstone was Rhoda’s home town, but Thomas was living in the Parish of St Saviour (possibly Southwark, but it’s not readable on the image of the register, and the second letter looks more like an h) and was originally from Sutton. Thomas was a cab driver, and his father a coachman. Rhoda’s father was a labourer. Rhoda was 32 and Thomas just 25. George Thomas Rayner was born just six months later on 12 December 1880 in Sutton. He was baptised at Benhilton on 3 April 1881, which was also the day the 1881 census was taken. The family were then living at 4 Claremont Terrace, Lind Road, Sutton. The census shows that there was another family, the Townsends (husband, wife and three children) living at the same address, though a separate household.

A second son, Henry William, was born on 30 August 1882 and baptised on 3 December 1882. Sidney Frank followed in late 1884 – no precise date has been found. By 1891 the family were living at 6 Elm Grove, Sutton. Thomas was then working as general labourer; the three boys, now 10, 8 and 6, were at school. The family were still at the same house in 1901. Thomas had now returned to cab driving, while the older two boys were working as grocer’s porters and Sidney as a stationer’s porter.

William Henry Rayner married Beatrice Shiner in 1907 in the Steyning Registration District, Sussex. It seems to have been after this that the other two brothers learnt to ring. The first reports of their ringing are form late 1909 when Sidney rang the treble to a peal of Grandsire Triples at Benhilton on 10 November. It is not noted as being his first peal, so he may previously have rung one elsewhere which has not yet been identified. Both rang in a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples at Benhilton on 29 May 1910, Sidney on the third, and George on the fifth. Sidney rang his first peal inside (on the second) at Benhilton on 9 November 1910, again of Grandsire Triples.

At the 1911 census on 2 April 1911 both Sidney and George are listed as grocer’s porters, their father, Thomas had returned to cab driving. This census also confirms that Thomas and Rhoda had had just the three children. Henry William was in service with his wife Beatrice at the home of the Hoskyns-Abrahmall family, Rubers Law in West Byfleet, Surrey.

Throughout 1911 and up to 1914 Sidney and George continue to be reported in a variety of ringing at Benhilton. The last time Sidney is known to have rung is on 24 May 1914 when he rang the trble to a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples for Empire Day. George rang a quarter on 2 November 1914 – this was dedicated to all those who had already died in the war (of course at this time there was no special meaning to 11 November, but much memorial ringing took place around the beginning of November as that is when the ancient feast of All Saints and All Souls fall, and the church at Benhilton is also dedicated to All Saints).

At some point in late 1914 Sidney married Ethel M West, the marriage being registered in the 4th quarter 1914 in the Kingston registration district. No precise details have been found so far. Similarly, it is has not been possible to find details of his enlistment into the army, but at some point after December 1915 he went overseas as a private in the East Surrey Regiment. At some point subsequently, after the Labour Corps was formed in 1917, he was transferred to it. His number in the Labour Corps (255944) was not in the initial range of numbers assigned to those who joined the Labour Corps on its formation. Such transfers often followed a wound or sickness which led to a medical downgrade, unfortunately his medal records do not show even which East Surrey Battalion he served with, which makes it impossible to know where he served. On 10 November 1918 – the day before the Armistice – Sidney died. At the time he was serving with 437 Agricultural Company, Labour Corps, which was based near Maidstone, Kent. However, his death was registered in the Malling Registration District, Kent: which was does not include Maidstone (the civil parishes which were included are listed here). He was buried in Benhilton churchyard, within easy sound of the bells he had known so well. The cause of death is not known – nothing is given in the original CWGC registers, although for John Webb (the other Benhilton casualty, also buried in the churchyard), the cause of death is given as pneumonia, probably a consequence of Spanish flu. Possibly it was some sort of accident with the agricultural machinery they would have been using.

Meanwhile, George Rayner married Ethel May Galton in Woolwich in late 1916. She was originally from Poole, but in 1911 had been in domestic service in Cheam, not far from Benhilton. The exact place they married has not been found, nor is it clear why the marriage took place in Woolwich, perhaps one of them was working there at the time. He is stated on the original roll to have served with the Royal Fusiliers. There is only one medal index card for a George Rayner serving with the Royal Fusiliers, unfortunately there is nothing to tie it definitively with this George Rayner. Assuming it is the right George Rayner, the associated medal roll entry (shown below), indicates he served with 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in France from 23 October 1918.

Army ledger listing number, rank, surname and forenames and postings, with dates.

This medal roll shows the entitlement of Private George Rayner to the British War Medal and Victory Medal. He was posted to a 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in France on 23 October 1918.


7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers was part of 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. Originally formed of Royal Marines and naval reservists not required for service at sea, the division was formally absorbed by the army in 1916, and a number of army units added to its order of battle. 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers had originally been a reserve battalion, employed on home defence and training recruits for front line units.

The battalion war diary mentions two officers joining on 24 October 1918, but does not mention a draft of men. In fact, a draft is not listed until 21 November, so it is possible George saw no action at all. However, assuming he did actually join the battalion around 23 October, the battalion was then training at Izel-lès-Hameau, France, a short distance west of Arras. On 1 November they moved roughly north west, to Leforest, east of Lens. This village had been left by the Germans three weeks previously. They arrived at 02:00 on 2 November. After resting that day, the following day, 3 November was a Sunday and was marked by church parade. On 4 November a band played for the local residents in a theatre built by the Germans. This was the first time that the locals had heard the Marseillaise since 1914.

5 November saw another move, south west, to Thiant, and then the following day to Saultain, just the other side of Valenciennes, now just a few kilometres from the Belgian border. On 7 November they crossed the border, spending the night in Angres. They were now closing with the Germans. They had crossed one branch of the Honelles river, and over the next few days (until 10 November) took part in a series of actions knwn as the Passage of the Grand Honelles. the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire on several occasions, and also expereinced shelling, including with gas shells. An officer was wounded, and 50 other ranks.

On the 11 November the battalion was at Harvengt (now called Harveng) a little to the south of Mons. At 10:55 they witnessed a cavalry unit capture a German artillery battery, and the final shells it fired were the last to come near them. The Armistice came into effect at 11:00 which was “received with great jubilation by all ranks”.

The battalion remained at Harvengt until 26 November, so it was probably there that George heard of Sidney’s death, which must have punctured the celebratory mood so far as he was concerned. They then moved back west to Athis where they remained until 6 January 1919, when they moved north east to Hornu. On 23 January George was posted out fo the battalion. The medal roll dos not show which unit he went to, so it is not clear if he went home to the UK for demobilisation then, or if he went to some other unit still in France or Belgium (or even into the Army of Occupation in Germany).

He seems to have returned home by around September 1919 at the latest, he is recorded ringing a quarter peal at Benhilton on 21 September 1919. His first child, Sidney George Rayner was born on 9 January 1921. His first name presumably a tribute to George’s brother. A daughter, Gladys J Rayner was born around 4 November 1922 (the exact date is unclear, but a peal rung on 4 November years later was described as being a birthday compliment to her).

Ringing at Benhilton seems to have stopped for a number of years, probably the deaths of Sidney, and also John Webb had some influence, and the physical condition of the bells also seems to have become poor. In 1929 they were rehung, and a new band formed. George does not seem to have returned to the tower immediately, but is reported to have been ringing on 2 November 1930, although there is then a further gap. Several quarter peals and peals are then reported from 1933 onwards. This included ringing to mark the granting of a Borough Charter to Sutton on 12 September 1934. They attempted a peal of surprise, but that failed after about an hour’s ringing, but managed a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples, with George ringing the fourth.

On 31 October 1934 there was another quarter peal (again Grandsire Triples), to mark the dedication of a new altar in the church. George was ringing the fourth once more, and now the 13-year-old Sid Rayner is reported ringing the treble. The last recorded ringing by either at Benhilton is a peal on 6 December 1936, this was rung half-muffled to commemorate the sudden death of the vicar while reading one of the lessons during the morning service!

At some point after this the family seem to have moved to Poole, the home town of George’s wife, Ethel. Sid seems to have married in the Poole registration district in 1940, and Gladys in 1947. Ethel died in 1947 and George himslef in late 1952. So far no record of any further ringing has been found.

Sidney Francis Rayner is commemorated on the war memorial in Benhilton churchyard, and also on the main Sutton memorial.

Hedley James Wyatt 1893-1964

Hedley James Wyatt was the son of local blacksmith and wagon maker John Wyatt who was also the tower captain at St Giles, Ashtead. As mentioned in the post on Sydney Reddick, the village forge was a gathering point for the local ringers during the course of the working week to chew over the most recent ringing. It’s no great surprise then that John’s son followed him into ringing, although he doesn’t seem to have followed him to the forge.

The various reports in The Ringing World suggest he was known as James rather than Hedley, peal reports list him simply as James, and the report stating that he had joined up actually lists him as James B, but there are errors in the names of Sydney Reddick (listed as Sidney Readick) and George Cook (listed as Cooke) too. James was born in February 1892, probably on the 22nd, as a peal was rung on 22 February 1913 to mark his 21st birthday. His parents John Wyatt and Annie Eliza Batchelor married in the Hemel Hempstead registration district in 1879 – she was originally from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire. Their first child, John Batchelor Wyatt, was born 1880 and a sister, Annie Amelia Wyatt, followed in 1883. James didn’t arrive until 1892 was seems to have been very much the baby of the family. By 1901 John Batchelor Wyatt had already followed his father into the family business and was working as a wheelwright, he married in 1908 and so had moved out of the family home by 1911. Annie Amelia is not shown with any occupation in either 1901 and 1911, and was still (aged 27) at home and single in 1911.

By 1911 James is shown as a clerk in the “Guardians’ Office”, this presumably refers to the Board of Guardians responsible under the Poor Law Act for running the local workhouse. Ashtead was part of the Epsom Poor Law Union, and the workhouse was only just over the parish boundary in Epsom, on the site now occupied by Epsom General Hospital (for more information see the webpages on the workhouse on the Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website and Workhouses website).

James rang at least five peals between 1911 and the early part of 1914, mostly with his father. He didn’t actually ring in the peal for his 21st birthday on 22 February 1913, but it was dedicated to him and George Cook who was a year and a day younger (and had his own 21st birthday peal in 1914). It seems that he, Sydney Reddick and George Cook probably joined up together sometime before 4 December 1914 when they were listed in the roll of honour published that day in The Ringing World, which stated they were all with the 5th (Reserve)) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment at Wimbledon. The medal rolls show that the service of Reddick and Wyatt was basically identical, both staying in the UK until 16 September 1917 when they entered France. After just under a fortnight, which were probably spent at an Infantry Base Depot, they were transferred to 1st (City of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) – but posted to 26th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. The London Regiment was an entirely Territorial Force unit, and each battalion had its own regimental affiliation, while the Royal Fusiliers (traditionally associated with the City of London) had no Territorial Force battalions of its own. Territorial Force men normally had to be kept in Territorial units, but sometimes this was a purely nominal association as in this case. Wyatt and Cook travelled with 26th Royal Fusiliers to Italy in November 1917, and returned with the battalion to France in March 1918, just in time to meet the great German Spring Offensive launched on 21 March. In the actions that followed, 26th Royal Fusiliers were forced to join the general British retreat. Sydney Reddick was fatally wounded, but it seems Wyatt came through without major injury.

The medal rolls show that Wyatt left 26th Royal Fusiliers on 3 September 1918, no new unit is shown, implying he was posted home and finally actually joined 1st Londons for the first time, albeit only the battalion depot. This may well have been the result of being wounded or falling sick, the battalion had been taken part in a major advance in Flanders around this time.

Wyatt’s marriage to May Perry was registered in the Epsom registration district during the third quarter of 1918, presumably taking place sometime after 3 September 1918 (unless he had had some leave beforehand). There doesn’t seem to have been any ringing to mark the occasion, which may mean it didn’t take place at St Giles’. So far no children of the marriage have been traced. It seems Wyatt may have dropped out of ringing to a large extent, he did ring another peal on 29 December 1923 (to mark the 50th anniversary of the bells), but he had to be re-elected to the Surrey Association before that.

George Albert Cook 1893-1963

George Albert Cook was born on 23 February 1893 and died, just short of his 70th birthday, on 9 February 1963. Sadly his last dozen years had been marked by a series of strokes which had physically incapicitated him, though he remained mentally alert – he continued to run through complicated pieces of ringing in his head even when he could no longer physically handle a bell. His father, William Cook was also a ringer at Ashtead, as was his grandfather.

George learnt to ring around 1903, at the same time as his older brother, John William (Jack). Sadly Jack died aged just 15 in 1905. I’ve not yet traced the date of George’s first peal, but it seems to have been before 1911 as neither of the two peals he rang that year are marked as his first. In 1912 he was elected to the Ancient Society of College Youths, ringing his first peal for them on 17 August that year at Ashtead. He rang four more peals over the rest of 1912, 1913 and 1914.

By the 4 December 1914 he had enlisted, it seems likely he joined up at the same time as Sydney Reddick and Hedley James Wyatt. It seems all three joined 2/5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment at Wimbledon, but at some point their paths diverged. By the time George was posted overseas he had been serving with 21st (Reserve) Battalion (1st Surrey Rifles, the London Regiment (this suggests he went to France after 8 April 1916, as prior to that date it was known as 3/21st Battalion, though it could have been a later clerical slip, so it may be wise not to rely on this detail too much). However, since he did not qualify for either the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star we know he did not go to France before 1916, and since he is shown with a four figure number in the rolls he probably entered France before March 1917. After arrival in France he then served with 1/21st Battalion, the London Regiment – then part of 142 Infantry Brigade in 47th (2nd London) Division. With them, he would have fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Messines in June 1917, various parts of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele), Cambrai and many of the major actions of 1918, from the frantic defence against the German Spring Offensive, through to the final Advance to Victory. Despite the fact he served all this time with 1/21st Londons, he remained on the books of 5th East Surreys, and received his medals via their medal rolls. Unfortunately that leaves us with the problem of trying to date the various aspects of his service as unlike the medal rolls of the London Regiment which gave much useful information about the service of Reddick, those of the East Surrey Regiment do not give much additional information beyond the units with which a man served.

George married Ethel H Banyer on 20 September 1919, so presumably he had been demobbed by then. The wedding was marked by a peal rung by other members of the Surrey Association. They had a son Cyril in May 1921, again marked by a peal on 28 May.

George spent his working life as a gardener, but from the early 1950s a series of strokes brought an end to both that and his ringing, apart from a single occasion when he managed a short time ringing (when neither his wife nor doctor were watching) about five years before his death on 9 February 1963. He was most proud of the effort he had put into training new ringers, particularly those who rang in the 300th peal on the Ashtead bells a few years before his death. He is believed to have rung 76 peals himself.

The first individual page – Sydney Reddick

I’ve just finished adding the first page for an individual man named on the original roll, Sydney Reddick of Ashtead. He is the very first man named on the original roll. His page will be the template for those that follow, though doubtless there’ll be some evolution along the way. Any ideas for how to improve the design gratefully received – it’s perilously close to committing the sin of using HTML tables for layout at the moment. The top of the page gives brief biographical data, when and where born and died etc; this is followed by some information about his ringing career; then occupation; and then outline of his army service (when he enlisted, what regimetns and battalions, and with what regimental number). The remainder gives a brief chronological account of the major events in his life, linked to the relevant sources at the end of the page, this should also explain anything in the “highlights” at the top of the page which may not be immediately obvious.

Sydney Reddick was the middle one of five siblings (four brothers and one sister) of Arthur and Eliza (nee Partridge) who married in 1888. He was born in early 1895, or late 1894, in Ashtead. His older brothers were Stanley (1889/1890) and Percy (1891/1892), his younger brother Ernest Arthur (1903/1904). Sadly, before the birth of his younger sister Eva Mary (March 1911), Stanley had died in 1908 aged 18. Arthur Reddick was a wheelwright, there is a good chance he worked for John Wyatt who owned the village forge and in addition to general blacksmiths work made miller’s wagons (see Ashtead Heritage Trail – Mole Valley District Council). John Wyatt was also captain of the local ringers, and father of Hedley James Wyatt who is also listed on the original roll. It was presumably through this connection that Sydney learnt to ring, the forge was known as the centre of local ringing, with ringing being the main topic of discussion (see Proceedings of the Leatherhead and District Local History Society, Volume 6, No. 9, p6 – thanks to those responsible for the Ashtead War Memorials website for the information). When that happened has not yet been precisely established, but he rang his first peal in December 1913, followed by another on the eve of the outbreak of war, Monday 3 August 1914, in both he rang the treble to Grandsire Triples.

By 4 December 1914 Sydney Reddick, along with George Albert Cook and Hedley James Wyatt, had joined “5th (Reserve) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment” at Wimbledon. This was a battalion of the Territorial Force. The timing suggests this was 2/5th battalion, but it’s not clear if they remained with 2/5th on the formation of 3/5th battalion in July 1915. Nor is it clear why he did not go overseas at this time. Up until 1916 it may simply have been that he did not sign the Imperial Service Obligation (the Territorial Force was designed for home defence), but once conscription came in this distinction ceased. It was not until September 1917 that he was finally posted overseas, initially remaining on the books of 5th Battalion, but after the normal final training period at an Infantry Base Depot he was posted to 26th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. Due to his status as a TF soldier, this led to an administrative transfer to 1st Battalion, the London Regiment, but he never actually served with that unit. Soon after his arrival with the battalion, the CO, who had only just taken command was killed by a German bombing raid, along with some other officers. Sydney’s morale cannot have been improved when word came that his brother Percy had died serving in Mesopotamia. The battalion was transferred to the Italian Front in November 1917, but returned to France at the beginning of March 1918.

The return came as part of the preparations for the half-expected German Spring Offensive. This was launched early on the morning of 21 March 1918. 26th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers were soon thrown into the desperate defence, from late on 22 March fighting in the area just north of the town of Bapaume, and falling back towards Achiet-le-Grand. Sometime before 25 March Sydney received his fatal wounds. His grave is now in Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery – this cemetery was only built after the war, so his original burial place is not yet clear. Within six months the family had lost two sons (and the eldest had died ten years previously). Fortunately the youngest son was not old enough to serve.

On 22 February 1919 a number of large memorial services for ringers killed in the war were held around the country. For London and surrounding districts the service was at St Clement Danes. Sydney Reddick’s name was included in the roll of honour read at the service. Over the next few years he would also be added to the Surrey Association roll of honour, the Central Council memorial book and the Ashtead War Memorials, a plaque inside St Giles’ Church (where he rang) and one in the churchyard at St George’s.