Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An interesting attestation

I came across an interesting attestation form today whilst engaged on some non-Chailey research and I thought I'd share it here.

William Baldwin was born in November 1868 in Heathfield, Sussex and like thousands of men throughout the British Empire, when his country called, he answered.

His attestation form is dated 16th November 1914 and it would appear that he presented himself at Eastbourne intending to join the Special Reserve for one year. However, when it became clear that he was a time expired soldier who had already served 12 years with the regular 1st Sussex Regiment, I'm guessing that the powers that be persuaded him to join the newly formed 12th Sussex Regiment (also known as the 2nd South Down Battalion). On the top right of the document is written, "for immediate promotion to the rank sergeant". "Sergeant" has then been crossed out and "corporal" written instead. Men like William, who had significant soldiering under their belts, even if it was a while back (he had enlisted in 1890 and been discharged in 1902), were worth their weight in gold, particularly to newly forming battalions where officers and experienced NCOs were often in short supply.

On 12th January 1915, William was promoted to sergeant and on 1st July 1916, to acting Company Sergeant Major. He relinquished this appointment the following month, but was re-appointed CSM in November 1916. He was posted back to the regimental depot at Shoreham in March 1917 and in July that year was transferred to the Royal Defence Corps. The number on the top left of his attestation form - 45711 - is his RDC number.

William served with the RDC for the remainder of the war and was finally transferred to class Z Reserve (ie effectively discharged from the army) in November 1919. By this time he would have notched up seventeen years serving his country.

William's documents are held at The National Archives and can be accessed on-line through Ancestry.

Monday, March 26, 2007

James Sweeney - patched up then killed

James Sweeney had no connections with Chailey other than that he was sent to Hickwells to recuperate after being wounded on the second day of the Battle of Loos.

James's entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

Pte J Sweeney 18406
13 Batt Royal Scots
wounded at Hill 70 26/9/15
during the Battle of Loos

He shares this page with entries from fellow Scotsmen 7567 Private John Currie of the 10th Gordon Highlanders and S/7793 Private Andrew Geddes of the 1/7th Gordon Highlanders.

James was born at Newbattle, Midlothian.  He arrived in France on 9th July 1915 with the 13th Royal Scots which formed part of the 45th Brigade in the 15th (Scottish) Division.  He was wounded at Hill 70 on the second day of the battle of Loos, 26th September 1915, the day that 18274 Private Robert Dunsire of the same battalion, won the Victoria Cross.  The following two paragraphs are adapted from my narrative, The Hospital Way. 

James Sweeney may have been wounded by British artillery fire dropping short onto the trenches that the 45th Brigade was holding.  The morning was misty and the artillery had been told that the trenches would be temporarily evacuated.  But nobody had told the Scotsmen and the 13th Royal Scots in particular had suffered casualties.  With classic understatement, The Official Historian would write many years later, that the men upon whom the British shells fell “… were therefore somewhat shaken and not perhaps able to take such a vigorous part in the assault as they might otherwise have done.”

By the time the attack was finally pressed at 9am, the mist had lifted and although parties of the attacking battalions succeeded in breaking through into the German lines where desperate hand-to-hand fighting ensued, they were simply overwhelmed.  The attack failed not due to lack of determination on the Scotsmens’ part but because of heavy machine gun cross-fire from both sides and artillery fire which either killed them as they ran or forced their surviving colleagues to retire.  The few remaining men of the Fifteenth Division could not, on their own, re-take Hill 70.  More help would be needed.

James probably arrived back in England at the beginning of October and after travelling first to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital at Brighton, would have transferred shortly afterwards to Hickwells.  He obviously recovered from his wound and was transferred to the 12th Royal Scots Regiment in the 27th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division.  It was while serving with this battalion that he was killed in action on 26th March 1918; one of four Royal Scots fatalities on that day.  James Sweeney has no known grave and is commemorated on panel 4 of the Pozieres memorial in France.
My thanks to Ken and Pam Linge for taking the photograph of James' name on the Pozieres memorial (above). Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"A weak and wasted man"

William Butters, born in Lewisham, south London in 1885, joined the Territorial Force in June 1913. At the time, he was living in Brigade Street, Blackheath and for him, The 20th (County of London) Battalion (Blackheath and Woolwich) must have been the obvious choice. Married for over six years, he and his wife Clara already had five children including twin sons born the previous September, and in time they would have two more children; a second daughter born in November 1913 and a fifth son born in 1916.

I am unsure why William, a labourer by trade, joined the army. Ultimately however, his decision to enlist would benefit his family in a way he probably could not have imagined.

When war was declared he volunteered for service overseas but whilst the battalion travelled across to the Western Front in March 1915, William remained behind, posted to the second line 2/20th Battalion. A Medical Board, convened three months later, diagnosed tuberculosis and noted:

"Originated Nov 1914 at Hatfield. He states that he was quite well Nov 1914, when he developed a cough. The cough became worse and he brought up much purulent sputum. Sleep sweats from March 1915 to April 1915. Lost some weight. Present condition a weak and wasted man. Signs of active tuberculosis in both lungs, particularly the right lung which is affected in its entirety. Sputum contains enormous numbers of tubercle Bacilli.”

At some point, William spent time as a convalescent patient at Hickwells, possibly after he was discharged from the army in June 1915. Perhaps the authorities felt that the fresh Sussex air and a spell in the countryside would benefit him more than the environment in which he was living in Blackheath. In all honesty though, they must have realised that his was a hopeless case.

When he was discharged he was awarded a pension of four shillings and eight pence a week and received an additional two shillings and sixpence a week for each of his six children. The Board noted that his condition was, "not caused by, but rendered active, by ordinary military service. Permanent. Total incapacity."

William's file at The National Archives contains details of six further Medical Boards convened between September 1915 and October 1918. In August 1915 he had requested an increase in his pension and by October 1918 he was receiving 27 shillings and sixpence a week plus an allowance of 28 shillings and fourpence for six children (which presumably indicates that one of them at least, possibly his last son, had died in infancy).

I first came across William's file at the National Archives three or four years ago and always wondered what became of him after 1918. Now, thanks to some of the files in the WO 364 series being made available on Ancestry, I have uncovered more paperwork.

William died on 25th January 1920 and was buried at Ladywell cemetery, Lewisham. Although the Medical Board of April 1917 had noted (and underlined), "TB not found", I am assuming that it was TB, or at the very least, severely damaged lungs, which killed him. An award form from the Ministry of Pensions, held in William's file at the National Archives and dated 19th May 1920, reveals that from 28th January 1920, Clara received a weekly award of twenty six shillings and eightpence whilst the weekly allowance for the children amounted to forty seven shillings and sixpence; a fairly considerable sum.

For me, discovering William's fate has at least closed the chapter on this particular man. I would have preferred to discover that he had fully recovered and gone on to see his family grow up. Sadly, that was not to be.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Killed by a shell burst - James Brazier

William James Brazier was killed in action this day in 1918. The Kaiser's offensive, launched on a misty morning two days earlier, saw advances all along the front as land that had been fought over for nearly four years, was swallowed up by the advancing German armies.

Soldiers Died in The Great War notes that William James Brazier was born at Arundel in Sussex, enlisted at Newhaven and was living at Sheffield Park Station, north of Chailey.  I think he probably used his middle name, James, instead of William however, as this is how Chailey parish magazine refers to him. He was serving with the 81st Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery which formed part of the 48th Heavy Artillery Group.

On the day he was killed, the battery was situated west of Sapignies and William, working on number 3 gun, fell victim to a direct hit on the gun which exploded a fuzed shell. He was buried the same evening although his grave must have been lost in subsequent fighting. Today he is commemorated on the Arras memorial as W J Brazier.

I have been unable to find a convincing match for either James or William James Brazier on census returns.  There is only one Brazier (that I could find), born at Arundel listed on the 1901 census of England and Wales and that is 53 year old James Brazier, boarding at Headbourn Worthy, Hampshire.  There is a 30 year old William J Brazier born at Brighton and living at Brighton noted on the 1901 census but this does not solve the Arundel part of the jigsaw.  No ‘Brazier’ appears on the Arundel war memorial.

Chailey Parish Magazine notes in October 1914 that James Brazier is serving his King and Country and the following October, this is updated to include the information that he is a trumpeter with the Royal Garrison Artillery in France.  In December 1917, Chailey Parish Magazine notes that he is now a bombardier and this information is repeated up to and including the final entry in April 1918.

Both Soldiers Died in the Great War and The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s Debt of Honour register note James Brazier’s rank at the time of his death, as corporal and this is confirmed on his medal index card held at The National Archives in London.  The card also notes that James arrived in France on 6th March 1915.  He served with the 81st Siege Battery, RGA and must have arrived in France as part of a small follow-up party to the Battery which had disembarked the previous day. 

The Battery formed part of the 48th Heavy Artillery Group and according to the latter's war diary, the day on which James was killed, 23rd March 1918, was a fine day which saw the Battery situated west of Sapignies. The history of the 81st Siege Battery gives further details:

“During the afternoon of Mar 23rd No 3 gun received a direct hit. This exploded a fuzed shell which killed Cpl. Brazier. He was buried the same evening and the funeral party was bombed by enemy aircraft at the graveside, but no casualties occurred”.

James Brazier's grave must have been lost in subsequent fighting as today he has no known grave and is commemorated on Bay 1 of the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais under the name W J Brazier (above).  His army service number was 37224 (below, courtesy of Ancestry).
In May 1918, Chailey Parish Magazine added Corporal Brazier’s name to its roll of honour, albeit incorrectly noting his date of death as 24th March 1918.

It is possible that James Brazier was a pre-war regular soldier.  When war was declared, the 81st Siege Battery was stationed in India and arrived back in England on 23rd December 1914.  The photo included on this page is of a trumpeter with the 81st when the Battery was stationed at Roorkee, India in 1911.  It is possible that this is James Brazier although this needs to be confirmed. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lt Lionel Henry Yorke Pownall, 1st Royal West Kent Regiment

The period 27th February - 20th March was a good one for Chailey Parish. When the war ended in 1918, parishioners would notice that in fact it was the single longest stretch throughout the war years without a fatality. That run though, came to an end on March 21st, for it was on this day in 1915 that 19 year old Lieutenant Lionel Henry Yorke Pownall of the 1st Royal West Kent Regiment was killed by a German sniper near Ypres.

Lionel Henry Yorke Pownall was born on 23rd August 1895.  He was the youngest child of Henry Harrison and Blanch Pownall and he appears on the 1901 census, living with his parents and siblings at Ades, Chailey.  Today, Ades still stands but has been divided into a number of individual flats.  At the time Lionel was living there though, it was a sizeable estate comprising the main house, Hickwells house on the opposite side of Cinder Hill and acres of rolling Sussex countryside. 

Henry Harrison Pownall had bought the estate in 1899 after its previous owner, James Croft Ingram had been declared bankrupt as the result of some unwise investments by his business partner.  Henry practiced the law and in 1901 he was a successful 47 year old barrister living at Ades with his wife Blanch (aged 46) and their children Kathleen (12), John (10), Percy (8) and Lionel (5).  Henry had been born in Bloomsbury, London, his wife in Richmond, Surrey.  With the exception of Lionel who was born in Reigate, Surrey, all the other children had been born in Kensington, London.

Henry also employed a sizeable contingent of domestics.  Appearing on the 1901 census are Katherine Murdock (governess, aged 42), Margaret Towan (cook, aged 27), Emma Daniels (house maid, aged 42), Jane Popple (house maid, aged 22), Laura Turner (house maid, aged 24), Constance Hobden (kitchen maid, aged 21), Agnes Hobden (Maid, aged 15), Eva Kempton (trade unknown, aged 46), Frederick Game (butler, aged 34), Jane Game (his wife, aged 30), Evelyn Game (daughter of Frederick and Jane, age 6), George Wheeler (footman, aged 23), James Izzard (groom, aged 22) and Albert Leeson, (groom, aged 21).

One year older than Lionel, the butler’s daughter had, like Lionel’s brothers and sister, been born in Kensington.  Her father and mother were from Essex and Devon respectively and the only obvious connection with Kensington is through the Pownall family.  It seems probable that Frederick Game had worked for Henry Harrison Pownall prior to the family’s move to Chailey in 1899 and that Henry had lived in the Kensington area before moving to the Reigate area, probably before 1894.

It seems likely that Lionel spent the majority of his childhood at Ades but by the time the First World War was declared, the family had moved to Petersfield, Hampshire. 
Henry Harrison Pownall JP, Barrister at Law, had died suddenly after a short illness on 26th June 1913.  Two days later The Times reported his death, noting that he was 52 years old, the elder son of the late John Fish Pownall, resident at 63 Russell Square.  The funeral would be held at Chailey Parish Church at 2.45pm on the 30th.

Five months later, on the 8th November (repeated on the 15th), The Times ran an advert advertising the sale of the Ades Estate:

SALES BY AUCTION.  MR JOSEPH STOWER by direction of the Executors of H H Pownall, Esq, deceased. SUSSEX, in the picturesque Parish of Chailey, six and a half miles from Lewes and within about a mile of Newick and Chailey Station on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.  A charmingly situated FREEHOLD RESIDENTIAL ESTATE known as “ADES”, including a commodious MANSION IN FINELY TIMBERED PARK. Ornamental lake, and beautiful gardens and grounds. Extensive home farm premises, model dairy, TWO SUPERIOR COTTAGE RESIDENCES, TWO FARMS, SMALL HOLDINGS and COTTAGES. PRODUCTIVE PASTURE, ARABLE and WOODLANDS comprising altogether about 567 ACRES in practically a ring fence surrounded by good roads. To be sold by AUCTION by JOSEPH STOWER in association with Messrs POWELL and Co at the Auction Mart in London on Wednesday 25th November 1913 at 2pm.

On the 26th November 1913, a further advertisement was placed in The Times, this time giving notice of the sale of contents from the Ades estate:

SALES BY AUCTION. HENRY HARRISON POWNALL, Esq, deceased. “ADES”, Chailey, Sussex – The remaining portion of the valuable FURNITURE, inlaid ebony wardrobe, mahogany, birch and other bed room suites, range of Spanish mahogany bookcases, billiard table by Burroughes and Watts and accessories, coin cabinet, collection of 2,500 coins and medals, silver and electro plate, oil paintings, engravings, and Arundel Society Prints, rare old books, five carriages, harness and many miscellaneous effects.

MESSRS BRACKETT and SONS will SELL the foregoing by public AUCTION, upon the premises on Wednesday and Thursday, December 3 and 4, 1913 at 12 o’clock each day. Catalogues ready. Auctioneers, offices: Tunbridge Wells and 34 Craven Street, WC.
The estate was sold for the princely sum of £24,500 (about £1.5 million in 2006) as reported in The Times on 29th November 1913.
The Times does not give details of who bought the estate but the next information I have is that it was sold in June 1914 to Joseph Wright.  It would be Joseph who would later loan Hickwells House to the ladies of Sussex 54 VAD so that they could operate a convalescent hospital there. 
But back to Lionel Pownall.  According to his obituary published later in The Bond of Sacrifice, he was educated at Rottingdean School, Clifton College and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.  At Clifton, where he studied from 1909 to 1913, he was in the rugby XI and at Sandhurst in the 2nd XI.

He was gazetted to the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) on 15th August 1914 and, according to his Army Form B. 103 Casualty Form Active Service (CFAS), embarked for France on 13th September 1914, arriving there the same day.  On 23rd September he joined the 1st Battalion in the Field.
Although the war was less than two months old, by the time Lionel joined his battalion, it had already been involved in heavy fighting at Mons, Le Cateau, The Aisne and Missy.  Approximate casualties for the first two months of the war were nine officers killed, two wounded and taken prisoner and four wounded.  Amongst Other Ranks, the total casualties were closer to 400 with well over a quarter of these sustained in the trenches at Missy.
On 2nd October, the battalion was relieved, but towards the end of October was back in the front line north-east of Neuve Chapelle.  By the 24th, The Queen’s Own held a line between the La Bassee and Largies Roads and was under constant shell, machine gun and rifle fire.  On the 26th, the enemy attacked, D Company on the right of the battalion’s line, taking the main force of the attack.  The Queen’s Own remained firm, firing steadily into the advancing enemy and bayoneting the few Germans who reached their wire.  During the action, Captain Beeman and Second Lieutenant J M Harding were killed and Captain Keenlyside mortally wounded.  Second Lieutenant Pownall sustained a wound to his left elbow and moved to the rear to be treated.  Over 50 other ranks were also killed or wounded in the action.
On the 28th October, Pownall was at Boulogne, boarding the hospital ship St Patrick.  The following day he arrived back in England, disembarking at Southampton.  According to his CFAS, Pownall “re-joined battalion” on 30th October.  This must be incorrect as he was already in England by this time.  It is possible however, that he reported to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion at Chatham before travelling the following day, to Queen Alexandra’s in Cosham London.  There, it was found that Pownall was “suffering from a wound of the left elbow by a shell fragment which struck the point of the elbow removing the skin and periosteum.  Wound clean and healing.”  The Board estimated that he would be fit for general service in two weeks.

Lionel Pownall does not appear to have gone immediately back to Chailey, if at all.  On 2nd November, a letter from the War Office asking him to complete some paperwork, was sent to him at 20 Charles Street.   Six days later, the War Office wrote again, this time to the officer commanding the 3rd Battalion at Chatham.  It stated simply that Pownall had returned to the UK and been granted sick leave by a Medical Board from 31st October to 14th November and that  “This officer will be dealt with by the War Office, until he is reported fit for general service, for service at home, or fit for light duty at home, and you will be notified when he is next examined by a medical board.”
That medical board was duly held on 14th November, Lionel being advised of it four days earlier.  The board duly recorded the details:  2nd Lieutenant L H Y Pownall, aged 19 and three months; disability: wound (splinter shell).  This time the Board reported that “He is suffering from stiffness and pain in the left elbow, sub-acute periostitis [inflammation of the membrane around the elbow bone] of the olecranon [elbow] and some effusion of fluid into the joint”.  They estimated that he would not be fit for General Service for a further two months.
On 7th January 1915, Lionel wrote to the Secretary at the War Office advising him that his leave was up on 9th January and asking when and where he was to attend his next board.  His leave was extended until 13th January, the date of the next medical board at Alexandra Hospital which, this time, found that “he has now recovered from his injury”.
Lionel Pownall rejoined his battalion on 16th February 1915 which, three days later, moved to Vlamertinghe.  On 20th February, the battalion took over trenches in front of Zillebeke, the war diary recording that the trenches were closer together than the Wulverghem sector where they had been previously, and the Prussians facing them, more aggressive.  On 22nd February, four officers and 18 other ranks were killed by enemy mortar fire and the battalion withdrew to the support line.  Casualties for January and February are reported in the war diary as 46 killed and 64 wounded.
The battalion remained in the Ypres area in March, moving to the Zillebeke sector on 1st March 1915 and then to Vlamertinghe on the 10th.  On the 14th, according to the war diary, 2nd Lieutenant L S White was accidentally killed whilst preparing jam tin bombs and on the same day, the battalion supported an attack on some lost trenches.  Two days later, the battalion again moved to trenches about two miles south of Ypres before returning to the trenches on the 20th.  The following day, Lionel Pownall was killed by a sniper.  He was buried in the field, according to his CFAS, east of the lunatic asylum on the Ypres-Poperinghe road.

Before burial, the possessions he was carrying were removed and later returned to his mother in Petersfield.  These were a letter case containing 138 francs,  a small pocket book, glasses, wrist watch, pipe, a purse containing 10s 6d 30 cents,  a cigarette holder,  a whistle, a book – The Happy Warrior, a diary, a cigarette case, a tobacco pouch, letters and a pipe lighter.
On March 26th, The East Sussex News carried a report of Lionel Pownall’s death:
Second Lieutenant Lionel Henry Yorke Pownall, Royal West Kent Regiment, who is unofficially reported to have been killed in action, was the youngest son of the late Mr H H Pownall of Ades, Chailey and Mrs Pownall, Dunannie, Petersfield.  He obtained his commission in the 1st Battalion of The Royal West Kent Regiment on August 15th last year.  The deceased was only 19 years of age.
In actual fact, at the time of his death Lionel Pownall was a lieutenant rather than second lieutenant.  On 15th April, the Supplement to The London Gazette (page 3697) recorded promotions for a number of officers.  Amongst them it was noted that “L H Y Pownall (since killed in action)” was to be promoted from Second Lieutenant to temporary Lieutenant.  The promotion was dated 15th November.  Later, on 9th August, a further Supplement to the London Gazette (page 7867) recorded, “The promotion to the rank of Lieutenant of Second Lieutenant L. H. Y. Pownall is antedated to the 11th January 1915.”
An obituary also appeared in Wisden's 1916 Almanack:
LIEUT. LIONEL HENRY YORKE POWNALL (1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment) was killed in action on March 21, aged 19. He was in the Clifton College Eleven of 1913, when he scored 57 runs with an average of 6.33.
On 1st June 1915, the Principal Probate Registry recorded that Lieutenant L H Y Pownall “died intestate, a bachelor without father.  Grantee: Blanche Pownall, widow, the natural and lawful mother and only next of kin of the said intestate.  Gross value £139 16s 9d.”


The Ades mansion, which still exists but which has long since been converted into flats, has an unhappy connection with the First World War. Gerald Sclater Ingram who had also lived at the mansion before the Pownall family bought the estate, had been killed on the Western Front in October 1914. He too is commemorated on Chailey's war memorials.
A number of individuals on the Great War forum (www.1914-1918.net) have assisted with the research into Lionel Pownall.  Thanks go to stephenb for the obituary and photo of Lionel Pownall as it appeared in the Illustrated London News, to Hambo for the obituary that appeared in The Bond of Sacrifice, to Dick Flory for information on Pownall’s time at Clifton College and to Dave Gough, Jonathan Saunders and WestKent78 for information about The Queen’s Own.  Aurel Sercu of Belgium and Colin Roberts of the Shetland Isles both took several photos of Lionel Pownall’s last resting place at Bedford House Cemetery.  Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Len Gordon - Twice wounded

Leonard Preston Gordon was the eldest son of Alfred Preston Gordon and Mary Gordon (nee Goldsmith) who were married in 1883.  He was born at Newhaven, Sussex in 1885, his birth registered in the Lewes district in the June quarter of that year. 

The 1891 census shows the family living at 45 Elphick Road, Newhaven.  It comprised Alfred (head, aged 26, working as a grocer’s assistant), his wife Mary (aged 28) and the couple’s three children: Leonard (aged five), Hilda May Gordon (aged two, born in Newhaven and recorded as Hilda M) and Albert Victor Gordon (aged one, born in Newhaven and recorded as Albert V). 

Ten years later, the 1901 census reveals that the family has grown considerably.  Mary (aged 39) is recorded as the head of the family which was living at 34 St John Street, Lewes.  Leonard, aged 15, is recorded as an assistant postmaster and then come Hilda, aged 12; Albert aged 11; Laura Gordon aged 10, born in Newhaven (her birth registered in 1891 as Gertrude Laura Gordon); Harold Arthur Gordon aged eight (born in Newhaven, recorded as Harrold); Percy Alfred Gordon, aged six (born in Newhaven, recorded as Percy); Harry William Gordon, aged four, (born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent and recorded as Harry) and Cecil Redvers Gordon, aged one (born in Lewes and recorded as Cecil).  The children’s father is noted on a separate census return for 4 Queen’s Terrace, Marylebone where he is recorded as 32 years old and still working as a grocer’s assistant.  

There were also other children. David Roland Gordon, born in 1895 (his birth registered in the Lewes district in the September quarter of that year), does not feature on the Lewes census return and I have been unable to locate him.  Three more sons were also born post 1901: Valentine Gordon, known as Val, Champion Gordon, known as Champy, and Wilfred. 

Chailey Parish Magazine first mentions Private L P Gordon in September 1916, noting that he is serving with the Seaforth Highlanders in France. It seems likely that he enlisted in the summer of 1915 and by January 1916 he had finished his training.   

According to Len’s grandson David, the reason that Len opted for a Scottish regiment was that Emily Chatfield, his fiancĂ©e, was very fond of Scotland and had urged him to join a Scottish regiment. She had worked as a servant for a well to do family in Cuckfield, (the Reed family who lived at Tower House, in London Road) and every year they would go to Scotland for the grouse shooting, taking the servants with them.  It was Emily’s exposure to Scotland that would later decide Len’s choice of regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders. 

Len was sent to Fort George near Inverness for basic training and according to his daughter Muriel, it soon tuned out that this was a very different Scotland from the country that Emily had talked about.  Len’s daughter recalls, “the army training was tough and they were turned into killing machines. The Scots were well known for their fighting skills and dad had a rude awakening.” 

After his training was over, Len returned to Sussex on a few days’ leave and married Emily at Lewes registry office on 6th January 1916.  They enjoyed an all too brief honeymoon at Emily’s sister’s house in Barcombe and then Len departed for the Western Front. 

In January 1917, Chailey Parish Magazine notes that Len has been wounded. Many years after the war, he would tell his family how it happened.  The section he was in was in front line trenches and when night fell, he and another man – Jock McCloud – were ordered to go back and collect rations.  Whilst carrying out this order, German artillery opened up and in the pitch dark, the two men dived towards what they thought was a shell hole.  Unfortunately however, it was not a shell hole but a lump of rock and both men were injured as a result of hitting the rock and from shrapnel from the German shells.  Nevertheless, Len Gordon remembered that the iodine applied to his wounds by medics shortly afterwards was a lot more painful than the shrapnel. 

Returning to England he was in hospitals at King’s Heath (Birmingham) and Clarendon House Kineton where he was visited by Emily. Clarendon House was an auxiliary hospital operated by Warwickshire VADs 3, 8 and 23.  It was opened on 18th November 1914 and was later attached to the 1st Southern General Hospital.  A photo of Len, taken later in the war and reproduced here on the Chailey 1914-1918 blog, clearly shows Len with two wound stripes on his lower left arm.  His daughter, (the young girl sitting on Emily Gordon’s lap), does not recall him being wounded twice, but does remember that the main wound was in his leg; a persistent, slow healing wound which required an operation and flesh grafts to build the  leg up again.  He also had a piece of shrapnel in his foot that the doctors couldn't remove as it was embedded in the small bones. His daughter remembers that every now and again, the shrapnel would re-surface.   

Surviving postcards note that Len was certainly in hospital in July and August 1917.  The first, postmarked 6th July, is addressed to Pvt I.Gordon, 2nd Seaforths, 1st Southern Gen Hospital, G6 Ward, Maryhall Section, Kings Heath, Birmingham.  The second is postmarked 21st August and was addressed to him at Clarendon House. 

Len Gordon was discharged from hospital in late 1917 and posted to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  He spent the rest of the war in Ireland; a place he had little fondness for.  He would later tell his daughter that in France at least, you knew where the Germans were but in Ireland you never knew where the bullets were coming from. 

The National Archives’ medal index card for Leonard Gordon fills in a little more information.  He is first recorded as S/10884 Private Leonard P Gordon of the Seaforth Highlanders and latterly as S/41050 Private Leonard P Gordon of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  It seems probable that after he was wounded with the Seaforths he was posted to the 3rd Battalion and transferred from there to the A&S Highlanders. 

The photograph reproduced above was originally published in the Sussex County Herald dated 16th March 1918 and was one of six individual photos of Leonard and five of his brothers who were serving their King and Country.  The photo of him shows him in civilian dress and may have been taken before the war.  His five brothers all appear in army uniform.  They were: 38821 Gunner Harold Arthur Gordon, Royal Garrison Artillery; 2894 Private Percy Alfred Gordon, Sussex Yeomanry; 5/3239 Private Harry William Gordon, 5th Royal Sussex Regiment; G/21752 Alfred Victor Gordon, Royal Sussex Regiment and 19027 Private David Roland Gordon, 8th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. 

In the same edition of the Sussex County Herald, the paper reported on the six brothers (some of this article now unfortunately lost) and in particular on Private David Gordon (below) who had been killed in action in June 1916.  I reproduce the majority of that article here. 


No finer deed of heroism can be recorded than that which culminated in the death of Private D Gordon, King's Own Royal Lancashire [sic - it should read LANCASTER] Regiment, one of the six soldier sons of Mr and Mrs Alfred Gordon of Friars Walk, Lewes. On June 16 of last year this gallant young soldier left the safety of his trench to go to the assistance of a German soldier who was making his way, with difficulty, towards our lines. The danger attending the action was not unknown to the lad, for snipers were very busy and his own officer had tried to dissuade him from leaving the trench. Nevertheless with a cheery smile he rushed forward, and that was the last seen of him by his companions. 

As night drew on and he did not return it was thought that he might have taken shelter in a shell hole, intending to crawl back after dark - some of his comrades crawled over the parapet and searched about in the darkness in the hope of finding him, but to no purpose. There were many bodies lying on the field - for there had been a stiff fight earlier in the day - bu Private Gordon could not be found and he was in consequence posted as missing. 

The parents of the gallant young soldier have this week received an official communication intimating that the Records Office is now regretfully constrained to conclude that he was killed on June 16, the date, by a pathetic coincidence being the 21st birthday of the soldier. With the official intimation was sent the usual message of condolence from the King and Queen.

Private D Gordon who was working at Tunbridge Wells when the war broke out, had been in France since the early days of hostilities and had been twice wounded. He had only just returned to France after a period of convalescence in England when he made his noble sacrifice. 

A Patriotic Family 

Mr and Mrs Gordon have reason to be proud of their children. Of eight sons, six voluntarily enlisted at the beginning of the war. Five of them survive and are stationed in various parts of the world. The seventh son has just attained the age of 18, and, having received his calling up papers, will shortly proceed to the Colours, while the eighth, who is only sixteen years of age is employed in the telegraph office at the Lewes Railway Station and is therefore in Government employ. One of the daughters of Mr and Mrs Gordon is engaged in war work at Lewes and thus are nine members of this Lewes family doing their "bit" in the country's service.  

Photographs of the six soldier sons of Mr Gordon are given on our pictures page…


Soldiers Died in The Great War notes that 19027 Private David Gordon was serving with the 8th Battalion at the time of his death and that he was born in Lewes and enlisted in London. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives the additional information that his middle name was Roland, that he was serving with D Company of the 8th KORL Regiment and that he was the son of Son of Alfred Preston Gordon and Mary Gordon, of 23, Friar's Walk, Lewes, Sussex. He is commemorated on Bay 2 of the Arras Memorial in France.

Len Gordon was probably demobbed in early 1919 and returned to Chailey. He appears to be the only one of the six serving brothers to have had connections with the parish.  Chailey resident Reg Philpott remembers that he used to live next to the post office at North Common, Chailey with Emily and that would tie in with his designation as “assistant postmaster” on the 1901 census.  Reg Philpott also remembers that Len had a French Poilu’s helmet hanging up in his house and this is confirmed by his grandson who recalls that the French helmet was hung next to his own Tommy’s tin hat.

Len Gordon died in 1948 and is buried at St Mary’s Church, North Common, Chailey.

Probably taken in 1917 or 1918, the photo at the top of this post shows Len with his wife and young daughter. He wears the uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and two wound stripes can clearly be seen on his left forearm.

My grateful thanks to David Gordon for the photos and much background information on the Gordon brothers and family.