Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Two Chailey Sailors Drowned

Ninety years ago today on 31st May 1916, two Chailey men, Sidney Bristow and Cecil Langridge, lost their lives when HMS Invincible was sunk during the Battle of Jutland.

Sidney George Augustus Bristow enlisted with the Royal Navy on 12th May 1915, two weeks before his twentieth birthday. He gave his place of birth as Lewes and his occupation as blacksmith. He was five feet, five and a half inches tall, had brown hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. It was noted that he had a mark on his right leg caused by the removal of a varicose vein. Sidney enlisted for the duration of the war; his number was M13255 and his rating was Blacksmith’s Mate.

He was stationed at Portsmouth (HMS Victory II) between 12th May and 5th June 1915 and then at HMS Fisgard between 6th June and 12th November. On 13th November he joined HMS Invincible.

Cecil Langridge enlisted with the Royal Navy on 24th July 1915. He obviously indicated that he wished to serve for a period of twelve years because on his record it indicates “15 August 1917 - 12 years”. The date would have been Cecil Langridge’s 18th birthday. Sadly, he had already been dead for over a year by then.

On joining it was noted that Cecil was five feet, six and a half inches tall, had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. He gave his occupation as assistant gardener. He was given the number J42643 and posted to HMS Ganges, a shore-based boys’ training establishment at Shotley. His rating was boy, 2nd class. On 21st January 1916, still at Shotley, he was promoted to the rating of boy, 1st class and then, on 29th January, spent three days at Portsmouth before being transferred to HMS Invincible.

Above, Cecil's brother Albert, sister Ethel and father George, circa 1915

HMS Invincible was built by Sir W G Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd. She was laid down at Elswick, Newcastle on Tyne in April 1906 and completed in March 1909 at a cost of £1,767,515. Before Bristow joined her she had already taken part in the Battle of The Falkland Islands on 8th December 1914 where the British Fleet had sunk the German armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Although hit twenty two times during the engagement she suffered no fatalities and returned to Gibraltar where she was re-fitted in January and February of the following year. At Jutland on 31st May, she was hit by a shell at 6.33pm which scored a direct hit on Q Turret and there was an almost instantaneous explosion that blew Invincible in half. She sank within a few minutes.

There were only six survivors, Sidney Bristow and Cecil Langridge were numbered amongst the 1,021 crew members who lost their lives on Invincible that day. The newspaper cutting above, notes that Cecil was the second son of Mr and Mrs G Langridge and that Cecil had worked at the Post Office for a year. Ironically, as the newspaper reports, he was to have served aboard HMS Indefatigable but chose instead to serve aboard HMS Invincible to be with his chum, Stephen Curd. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that Stephen was also 16 years of age and was the son of Frederick and Charlotte Curd, of 2, De Montfort Rd., Brighton. (Incidentally, his birth was registered as STEPHEN rather than STEVEN).

Today, ninety years later, we remember Sidney Bristow, Cecil Langridge, Stephen Curd and all of their comrades aboard HMS Invincible.

My thanks to Hazel Dean and Roger Langridge for permission to reproduce the two images on this blog post.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Remembering William Stevens

William Stevens was killed in action eighty eight years ago today.

He was born at Chailey and living at nearby Scaynes Hill when he enlisted at Hayward’s Heath. He was given the number 11275 and posted to the Royal Fusiliers.

Chailey Parish Magazine first notes him in November 1916 as Pte W Stevens, serving with the 104th Training Reserve Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in Scotland. This battalion had its origins in the 28th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

The following information regarding training reserve battalions is taken from Chris Baker's website, The Long, Long Trail:

On 1 September 1916, a considerable reorganisation of the reserve infantry battalions took place. Before this date, most of the infantry regiments contained one or more reserve battalions. Recruits would be posted to these battalions for basic training, before they were posted to an active service unit.

With the introduction of conscription, the regimental system simply could not cope with numbers, hence this development. Thus, in combination with conscription, the local nature of recruitment for infantry regiments was abandoned.

After 1 September 1916, these regimental distinctions disappeared, and the reserve battalions were re-designated as battalions of the Training Reserve. They were organised into new Brigades of the Training Reserve. No Guards, Irish or TF Battalions converted to TR, and this change did not affect the Special Reserve or Extra Reserve battalions of the regular army (normally the 3rd and 4th Battalions of a regiment).

The official complement of the Training Reserve was a little over 208,500 soldiers.
Men who attended the TR battalions were not allocated to any particular regiment when the time came for them to be posted. Thus, in combination with conscription, the local nature of recruitment for infantry regiments was abandoned.

Later, from May 1917, this arrangement was itself altered when the units of the TR became Graduated and Young Soldier battalions.

It seems likely that William Stevens was conscripted into the army and by April 1917, according to the parish magazine, he had been transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. In December 1917, the magazine notes that he is serving with the 27th MGC.

64128 Private William Stevens of the 8th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps, was killed in action on Monday 27th May 1918 aged 25. Chailey Parish Magazine noted him as missing between August 1918 and July 1919. In fact William's body was never found and he is commemorated on the Soissons memorial in France.

The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission Debt of Honour Register notes that Stevens was the son of John Stevens of Tunis House, The Green, Newick.

William Stevens is commemorated in two Sussex locations. His name is on the war memorial on the village green at Chailey and also on a stone tablet and wooden shrine inside St Augustine's Church, Scaynes Hill. The information contained at Scaynes Hill notes that he was a corporal (which is incorrect) and that he was killed on the Chemin des Dames.

His inclusion on the Chailey war memorial appears to have been an afterthought. His name appears at the bottom of the list of names as W Stevens and is out of alphabetical sequence. It seems probable that, like Frederick Albert Jon Wood, his name was added at a later date.

It is possible – although the ages do not quite tally - that William Stevens is the same William Stevens who appears on the 1901 census of England as the six year old son of John and Sarah Stevens of Wapsbourne Farm Cottage, Sheffield Park, Chailey. If this is the case, his brothers Albert and George and his cousins William H, Frank and James Stevens also served during the First World War.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hickwells, Cinder Hill, Chailey

Hickwells, situated in Chailey, East Sussex, was used by Sussex 54 VAD as a convalescent home and hospital between March 1915 and June 1916. Dating from the seventeenth century and set in four and a half acres, Hickwells was, and still is, an impressive property.

By the time Britain went to war in August 1914, Hickwells was owned by Joseph Robert Wright and formed part of the Ades estate. In March 1915, he gave Hickwells, rent-free for a year, to the ladies of Sussex/54 Voluntary Aid Detachment who had been looking for a property to operate as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. As reported in The Sussex Express that month, there would also be “sufficient money… to carry it on for that period.”

In 1915, Hickwells, located on Cinder Hill, was surrounded by park-like enclosures and bounded on the West by Row Heath Common. The Ades mansion lay to the East, on the other side of Cinder Hill, and a few minutes walk away was Chailey Green and the main East Grinstead to Lewes Road. The accommodation was spacious. A large entrance hall gave way to the main drawing room, with windows to the south and west and an open fireplace with a carved wooden over mantel. The morning room, faced south and boasted an oak beamed ceiling and a further fireplace with a tiled mantelpiece. To the rear lay the dining room.

Set away from the main living accommodation in a self-contained area was a long, narrow butler’s pantry, a kitchen (with door to the tradesman’s entrance), a larder, scullery, servants’ room and a back staircase hall. A door from the scullery led down to extensive cellarage beneath the house.

On the first floor there were five large bedrooms each complete with a fire or stove. There was also a dressing room fitted with a wash hand basin. The back staircase landing gave access to a housemaid’s closet with a range of linen cupboards, two further servants’ bedrooms and a box room.

In addition to the main accommodation afforded by Hickwells, there was also a two-bed roomed Tudor cottage situated a short distance from the house which could also be used. Outside, a well-sheltered vegetable garden and glass house could provide the owners with home grown produce, and the remainder of the grounds was well established and attractively laid out with ornamental and flowering shrubs, beech trees, yew hedges and evergreens. For the sports minded there were tennis and croquet lawns. Two small paddocks adjoined the garden with stabling for three horses.

Large enough to accommodate between 12 and 16 men (although somehow, Sussex 54 VAD managed to squeeze in 20), Hickwells officially opened its doors on Saturday 13th March 1915. Less than two weeks later, on Friday, March 26th 1915 the first six convalescent soldiers arrived from the 1st London General Hospital.

For the next seven months, Hickwells operated as a convalescent home, receiving sick and wounded soldiers from the 1st London General Hospital in Camberwell, The Soldiers and Sailors' Family Association, The Soldiers and Sailors' Help Association and the VAD hospital at Tunbridge Wells.

In October 1915, with wounded soldiers by now streaming back from Gallipoli and the Western Front, Sussex 54 VAD was mobilised and Hickwells became attached to the Second Eastern General Hospital in Brighton. From now on, until the end of the war, Sussex 54 VAD would deal with wounded soldiers fresh from the battlefields and would act, effectively, as an annexe to the military hospital in Brighton.

In June 1916, their rent-free lease period exhausted and in need of a property that could accommodate more than twenty wounded soldiers, Sussex 54 VAD said a fond farewell to Joseph Wright and Hickwells and moved their operation to Beechland House in nearby Newick.

Today, Hickwells is a private residence; still impressive and still surrounded by greenery.

Friday, May 19, 2006

9457 Corporal Horace Frank Wood, 8th RWK

9457 Corporal Horace Frank Wood was a patient at Hickwells, probably arriving there shortly after returning to England on 4th October 1915 after being wounded at the Battle of Loos.  His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

Cpl H. F. Wood. No 9457
8th R.W.K. Regt
May you live as long as you want
And never want as long as you live
Wounded at Loos on the 26th Sept 1915
Returned to England on the 4th October

He shares this page in the album with 16534 Private William Chadwick of the 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 5365 Private George Robert Alfred Lucas, also of the 8th Royal West Kent Regiment.

Horace was born at Westerham, Kent on 24th August 1891.  His birth was registered at Sevenoaks, Kent in the September quarter of that year.  He appears on the 1901 census as a nine year old living with his family at French Street, Westerham, Kent.  The household comprised: George Wood (head, married, aged 46, working as a carter), his wife Mary Ann Wood (nee Heath, aged 46) and seven children: Caroline Edith Wood (aged 18), Florence Ann Wood (aged 14), Walter Wallace Wood (aged 12), Horace, Percy Frederick Wood (aged seven), Albert Henry Wood (aged five) and Alfred Ernest Wood (aged two).  With the exception of Mary and Caroline Wood who were born in Oxted, Surrey, all of the other family members were born in Westerham.  Three older children: Mary Emma Wood (born 1876), William George Wood (born 1878) and Charles Wood (born 1880), had obviously moved away from the family home by the time the census was taken.  Another child, also named Walter Wood, had been born in February 1884 and had died the same month.  A twelfth child, Dorothy Blanche Wood, was born on 9th March 1901.

Horace  enlisted with the Royal West Kent Regiment around May 1910.  His number indicates an enlistment at around this time and it seems logical that he would have enlisted on his eighteenth birthday.  He would have enlisted for a period of seven years with the regular army and five years on the reserve. 

When war broke out, the battalion was stationed at Dublin and landed at Havre on 15th August 1914.  Horace though, arrived in France on 7th December that year.  He must have been sent to the battalion as part of a draft and conditions on the Western Front would have been a harsh awakening for him.  During one relief, men of the battalion, waist deep in freezing mud, had to be pulled out of the trenches with ropes.

Horace must have transferred to the 8th Royal West Kent Regiment before the Battle of Loos.  It is possible that he was a casualty due to either sickness or wounds and was transferred from the 1st Battalion to the New Army's 8th Battalion after recuperating. He was wounded during the second day of fighting at Loos.  The following extract is adapted from my narrative, The Hospital Way.

As dawn broke on the morning of the 26th September, Horace Wood and George Lucas found themselves shivering in a communication trench east of Lone Tree on the northern part of the front.  The 8th Royal West Kents was part of the leading Brigade (the 72nd) of the 24th Division and in a few hours time they would attack.

At 11am, Lucas and Wood and the rest of the 8th West Kents moved off down the slope from Lone Tree Ridge into the Loos Valley.  At their side, to the right, were men of the other leading battalion of the 72nd Brigade, the 9th East Surrey Regiment, all of them moving in immaculate order as if taking part in a Military Tattoo rather than walking towards the heavily fortified German second line. 

As the Royal West Kents, crossed the Lens-La Bassee Road they came under heavy enfilade fire from Hulluch on their left, Bois Hugo on their right and the German second line trenches straight ahead of them.  “To add to their discomfiture,” the Official Historian later commented in typical measured tone, “the enemy brought up two half-batteries of field guns into a concealed position in Hulluch and opened fire at point blank range with shrapnel and occasional gas shell, enfilading the whole length of the advancing lines.” 
Fired upon from all sides; gassed, shelled and shot at, Kitchener’s men from the Home Counties still pressed forward, a few who reached the uncut barbed wire even trying to cut a way through themselves.  But it was a hopeless task.  With the German defenders standing head and shoulders above their second line trenches and taking pot shots at the few survivors who had managed to get that far, the attack of the 72nd Brigade, like so many other efforts at Loos, withered and died.
The 8th Royal West Kents suffered most heavily of all, losing nearly 600 officers and men.  Divisional casualties, at 4,178 were slightly higher than those sustained by the 21st Division which, like the 24th, had been hurriedly rushed up to take part in the battle.

Horace notes that he arrived back in England on 4th October which indicates that he almost certainly spent time in a hospital in France before being packed onto a hospital ship for Brighton.  Once back in England he may have been sent directly to Hickwells from the 2nd Eastern General Hospital at Brighton or had an operation at Brighton and then transferred to Chailey.  He was certainly in the village at the beginning of November because he is mentioned in a Sussex Express newspaper article published on 5th November:
CONCERT - A highly successful concert was held at the Parish Room the other evening.  The proceeds were in aid of the building fund and the performers included several wounded soldiers… duets: Corporal Wood and Private Allan; … song “The Sunshine of Your Smile”, Corporal Wood … recitation, “Wreck of the Hesperus”, Private Goldborough… The soldiers were cheered immediately they reached the platform.
I am uncertain how long Horace Wood spent at Hickwells but he appears to have made a full recovery.  His medal index card held at The National Archives indicates that he transferred to the RFC (date unknown although this must have been before 1st April 1918 when the RFC became the RAF) and he served with the RFC (and latterly RAF) until transferred to the G Reserve on 30th March 1919.  His service number with the RFC/RAF was 301960.
Horace's brothers all served during the First World War.  Walter died in October 1918, a victim of the flu pandemic.  He must have been discharged from the army by this time as he is not classified by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a war casualty.  Alfred was killed in action on 15th April 1918 at Zonnebeke.

Horace Wood died on 2nd April 1967 and was survived for four months by his wife, Ellen Elizabeth.  The couple had two daughters: Edna Wood, born in 1918 and Evelyn Wood, born in 1920.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chailey 1914-1918 - an introduction

Chailey is a village in East Sussex, England. It is also a parish that embraces surrounding hamlets and villages in this beautiful part of southern Britain.
The website tells the story of the Chailey Parish's response during the First World War. It focuses on the men who joined up, the local women who donned nurses' uniforms to care for the sick and wounded and finally, it focuses on soldier patients who left their names in two of the nurses' albums.
I encourage you to contribute to this blog by asking questions and volunteering information. I have many years of research under my belt and if I can help anyone who is conducting a similar WW1 remembrance exercise, I will gladly do so.

Paul Nixon