I’d previously read about the cache described in a recent newspaper article on the Cuckfield Museum’s website, but wasn’t absolutely sure previously that it was the same Attwater family that crop up as ringers at St Leonard’s and Immanuel churches in Streatham. The newspaper article leaves no doubt though, as it mentions the death of Ernest during the war.
On 10 September 1914 Ernest Attwater’s attestation papers were formally approved by a major in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He had been medically examined at Haywards Heath (where he had been a member of the local Territorial Force company for three years prior to his move to London from Cuckfield) as early as 5 September, and had then completed the attestation papers at Chichester on 9 September. He was posted to 9th Battalion, one of the newly raised battalions of Kitchener’s New Army. He became Private 3305, but with his prior TF experience it’s no great surprise that he was promoted lance corporal as early as 12 October (NCOs were in short supply). He stated his age as 25 years, 220 days, and gave his occupation as carpenter and pro cricketer (he was on Surrey’s ground staff at the Oval).
It’s possible his brother Frank Norman joined up at the same time, but as he ended up in 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, it’s not absolutely clear (and his papers do not survive). Certainly both brothers were serving by 30 October when The Ringing World reported that Frank Norman was at Dover with 3rd Battalion, and Ernest was at Shoreham with 9th Battalion.
Five men are listed on the roll as having been ringers at Streatham, Immanuel. The most complete information so far researched relates to the man who did not return, Ernest Attwater. He was the youngest of six brothers, all ringers, originally from the town of Cuckfield in Sussex. Two of his brother, Isaac James and Frank Norman, also served in the war and are listed on the roll as ringers at Streatham’s original parish church, St Leonard’s – it is not clear why they were divided in this way as records show they all divided their ringing between the two churches. A fourth brother, Louis, had also moved to London and rang at both churches too – he later became tower captain at St Leonard’s.
Louis and Isaac James had moved to London in the 1890s, Frank Norman and Ernest around 1912. Ernest was a carpenter, but also a keen cricketer. After moving to London he joined the ground staff at Surrey County Cricket Club, playing first as an amateur and then for the young professionals’ side. Just before war broke out he played in a ringers’ cricket match at Mitcham, he was on the team of the Ancient Society of College Youths, their opponents (the winners) the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths. A photo of the two teams was published in The Ringing World, Ernest appears the most relaxed in his whites, he took two wicket for 19 runs.
Ernest joined up on 9 September 1914, he opted to enlist in a New Army Battalion, 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He stated that he had previously served in a Territorial Force battalion of the regiment until leaving the county. He gave his occupation as foreman carpenter and pro cricketer. With his previous military experience, and work experience supervising others, it is no surprise that he received rapid promotion to serjeant. It probably also helped that the battalion CO was also a sportsman, albeit of the big game hunting type, in India.
In February 1916 he became a qualified machine gunner, and serjeant of the machine gun section. In March 1916 he spent just over a fortnight in hospital, although the reason is not given. Then, exactly two years after joining up, he was posted to an officer cadet course. On 25 January 1917 he was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps. His marriage to Alice Ethel Hulls was registered in the first quarter of 1917. He was posted to France with the newly formed 245 Machine Gun Company in July 1917. He was granted two weeks’ home leave in November 1917 – by this time Alice was several months pregnant. Their son, Mervyn Richard Attwater was born early in 1918. Sadly, in March 1918 the German’s launched their great Spring Offensive, and soon the British Army was falling back in some disarray. 245 Machine Gun Company was part of 50th Division. On 23 March 1918 the company was defending the crossings over the Somme at Brie, at around 7pmthe Officer Commanding was informed that Attwater had been killed during heavy shelling. He was subsequently buried in the town cemetery of Foucaucourt-en-Santerre by the Germans who held the town from 26 March. It is not clear how his body came to be laid there, a few kilometres to the west of where he was killed. His company was based here for a short time just before the town fell to the Germans, but whether they had taken his body that far, and had to leave it, or whether it was recovered by the Germans from where he had fallen is unclear.
After the war, his widow took up the option to add a personal inscription to the standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. It reads, “Until we meet, your little son Mervyn”. That meeting would not take place until 1996 when Wing Commander Mervyn Richard Attwater DSO DFC died in Arundel – he had a distinguished record as an RAF Bomber Command pilot during and after the Second World War. Like so many of the young widows made by the war, Alice soon remarried, and had six more children with her new husband.
In addition to the Surrey Association roll of honour, Ernest is commemorated on the Surrey CCC memorial at the Oval, three memorials in his home town of Cuckfield and the main memorial in his wife’s home town of Arundel – her father was a local butcher and town councillor, some old photos of the memorial suggest it was located outside his shop.