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.

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