Great Uncle William Churcher killed during the Bombing of West Hartlepool

William Churcher was believed to be the first Customs Officer to be killed in World War One.

William Churcher was believed to be the first Customs Officer to be killed in World War One.

In 1989, I began my own journey of tracing the Churcher family tree. I was eventually to be introduced to Minnie Maryan who was approaching her 100th birthday. Minnie’s life had been overwhelmed by two world wars. She lost her second husband in the Second World War and two of her daughters lost their husbands too. This wasn’t her first trauma; she was left with four children after her first husband was killed during the bombardment of Hartlepool on the 16th December; ie, 100 years ago today.

William Churcher (my Grandfather’s brother) was the second of four brothers. The eldest, Laurence died in 1907, whilst way on service with the navy. He was 19 years old. William’s two younger brothers survived the war, but not without the effects of TB and gas poisoning.

Henry Ashwell Churcher, Contracted TB and survived the war (my Grandfather)

William’s brother Henry Ashwell Churcher, Contracted TB and survived the war (my Grandfather)

It was William’s death though, which had the most impact on the family. Minnie was a native of Teeside and with four young children under the age of five, needed support. William’s mother and father offered the support she needed and she moved to Dovercourt in Essex, village located just next to Harwich. The problem with this move was that William’s parents had struggles of their own. The father had been a local councillor and held a steady job on the railways, but this had come to an end when he ‘blackballed’ by local employers for attempting to start a local union. He had been left to picking up odd jobs at Harwich docks. However, support for Minnie and the four babies was forthcoming from the extended family.

So what do we know of William’s loss during the bombing of Hartlepool? Here we obtain a mix of newspaper coverage and family memories. It seems William had a letter to post and was walking along the sea front starting a new shift and having just replaced one of his fellow customs officers.

A letter written in 1990 to a local newspaper. William's loss was badly felt by his colleagues.

A letter written in 1990 to a local newspaper. William’s loss was badly felt by his colleagues.

Once the bombing started William ran to take shelter under a pier which sadly was hit and the concrete debris landed on William breaking his back. He was eventually taken into hospital where he died a few days later. He was 26 years old.

His widow Minnie as said, moved to Essex and there she met William Maryan and had a further four children. He was a merchant seaman and was killed during the second war. Minnie was left with another four young children to care for. Her eldest daughter from the Churcher marriage married Leslie Warman RN who was killed during the North Atlantic runs. Her brother Harold Churcher died on the football field and he left behind two young children. Harold’s death was an accident (he choked) but what this exemplifies is that amongst all the deaths from war, there were still the losses which came from illness and mishap. My Grandfather lost four brothers through infant mortality, service and war and saw his sister lose both sons killed in WW2.

Minnie Churcher with three of her children who lost their father from the bombing.

Minnie Churcher with three of her children who lost their father from the bombing. Minnie lost her second husband in WW2.

I know just how hard my family was hit by war and feel unspeakably privileged to be able to live a life which has been unaffected in the ways my ancestors were during the twentieth century. If there is one message here; find out about your family and what happened to them these past 100 years, do not let them be forgotten.

Mike Churcher

Laurence was William's elder brother. He was killed during service for the Royal Navy in 1907. He was 19 years old.

Laurence was William’s elder brother. He was killed during service for the Royal Navy in 1907. He was 19 years old.

Berite was William's youngest brother. He survived the war, but not without the debilitating effects of gas poisoning.

Bertie was William’s youngest brother. He survived the war, but not without the debilitating effects of gas poisoning.

Elsie was William's sister. She lost both her sons in World War Two.

Elsie was William’s sister. She lost both her sons in World War Two.

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BBC Radio Berkshire 2nd interview with Wokingham Remembers.

In this second interview, Sarah Huxford and Mike Churcher talks to BBC’s Mike Read about the emergence of the symbols of Remembrance and visiting the war graves on the Western Front. Also discussed is the recent publication of Richard Van Emden’s ‘The Quick and The Dead’ with Mike reading from some passages originally written by Sir Harry Lauder.

Mike Read describes this very sad photograph during the interview

Mike Read describes the origin of this photograph during the interview

Also told is the story of the local Hills Nicholson family who lost all four sons over the two world wars. It is anticipated that Victor Nicholson who is the grandson of Lt Col Edward Hills Nicholson (killed 1918) will be visiting Wokingham early next year.

Historian Jim Bell presents the story of the Hills Nicholson family: Click here.

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Remembrance Day – The Incredible Story

BBC coverage of Remembrance Day 2012. Photo of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

This year’s Remembrance Day will have a special significance as it is the centenary year of the start of the Great War. Wokingham Remembers will be discussing the changing attitudes to remembrance on BBC Radio Berkshire, on the 3rd November 2014 at 2pm. We will also attend a special remembrance programme at St Paul’s Church (9th November at 9.30am) which will hear the first rendition of the composer Anna Matthews choral piece ‘From Flanders’, which will commemorate the loss of her ancestors during the Great War. Her Uncles were also parishioners of S Paul’s. This article now tells the incredible story of how Remembrance Day was first conceived.

We stand for the two minute’s silence at 11 am on every November 11th. In the first of those two minutes we try to contemplate those who fought and fell during all wars in all circumstances. The second minute is spent thinking about the lives of those the fallen have left behind.

It is an enormous undertaking and to help me focus on the task, I try to think of my 22 year old Uncle Basil who died in the second war and then his mother who lost both of her sons. Just placing myself in her house in Norfolk when she first heard the news helps me  with the enormity of the task of collecting my thoughts.

But how did this all take place; the silence, the Cenotaph, the Unknown Warrior or even Poppy Day? The history of Remembrance is a schizophrenic story, its symbols of peace have their origins steeped in the mist of the Great War; remembrance didn’t just occur, it was fought for, argued over and its general shape hammered out in the years even before the carnage of the Somme in 1916. Before the rituals of remembrance could be enacted, the Army was required to completely overhaul its administration of the dead.

Kitchener’s recruits were from all walks of life and the families expected respect for their dead.

The fervour of recruitment during the end of 1914 was making way for the grim reality of 1915. The British Army had already been virtually destroyed and the rest of the war was to depend on the civilians from Kitchener’s recruitment drive. These weren’t the grizzled warriors who had toured the continents, but the workers from farm and factory, whose parents had carved out what they hoped would be a different future. And when their boys were killed, the family did not want their bodies discarded, they wanted them home again. A small industry began to emerge, investigating the missing and searching for the bodies of dead sons, digging them up in the most perilous of circumstance and bringing them back home to loved ones. The experience of the famous Gladstone family however, would have a long term impact upon the repatriation of the rest of the dead. The 29 year old Lt William Gladstone was killed on the 13th April 1915; he was not just another statistic of war, but the grandson of one of 19th century’s most revered Prime Ministers. The bodies of some two dozen officers had already been sent back to England prior to Gladstone and it was money and patronage that had ensured their safe return. Lt Gladstone’s body was also returned and with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. During the whole of the war however, not one body was returned who had been from the rank and file; as a result there arose disquiet mutterings of abuse of power and wealth. If Britain was to win this war it would be up to the rank and file to deliver it and the Government were fully aware of the need to keep the people ‘onside’. There were many practical problems with repatriation, exhuming the bodies was a dangerous activity, soldiers could be killed.  Other questions started to emerge, if everyone had the right to have the body returned just who would receive it, the mother or the wife? Ownership of the body lay with the Army, not so once it had been returned. And what if only parts of a body were returned? It was bad enough that an officer’s blood stained uniform was returned to the family, but body parts would have been too awful. The decision was made that no bodies would be repatriated and they would be buried in the place where they fell. In past times, soldiers came from the poorest classes, from families seeking relief from the destitution of their existence, one less mouth to feed and whilst their love was no less great there was some acceptance of those never returning. Even had they objected, the poor had no voice to represent their appeals.

Bodies of the dead from the Battle of Waterloo were treated appallingly. Here is a set of teeth which were taken from the dead and rebuilt as dentures.

In the past the bodies were in fact treated appallingly. During the Battle of Waterloo, 50,000 soldiers were buried and their bodies plundered for the new young teeth which would be used for the production of dentures. Ladies of the 19th century who could afford to buy these replacements, would be complimented for their ‘Waterloo smile’. Even as late as the 1860’s these practices were still popular, with teeth supplied by the barrel load from the fields of America’s Civil War. If the removal of the teeth from the dead was not bad enough, the bones would also become useful, being ground down and used for feeding the soil. Exactly 100 years later, there was emerging a different world; the bodies were sacred, people wanted them returned, they wanted them remembered.  Organisations grew in the Great War and lobbied for their return, but whilst they were never successful, the Government knew something had to be done. A great debt is owed to Fabian Ware, a soldier with experience of the South African war and a witness to the degradation of the local military cemeteries. He was to become the driving force for the emergence of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission and responsible for the respectful burial of the war dead. However, before the CWGC could go to work on carrying out the wishes of the families, the Army would need to reform its treatment of the bodies and much work had to be done in just identifying who was who.

Caring for the graves at Abbeyville, just after the end of the war

Although officers were given the respectful burial they deserved in past conflicts, not so the rank and file whose bodies were just ploughed into mass graves. At first the soldiers wore red identity discs (dog tags) which were removed on death and this started the process of taking their name from the payment register. However, once the tag had been removed, how would the body be identified ? The mass graves ensured this was not important, but changes were now required to be made. It was not until September 1916 however, that two discs were provided; the red, as before for administrative purposes and a new irregular shaped green one to stay with the body for correct identification. The Battle of the Somme, which had started before this directive, (the infamous 1st July 1916) had approximately 100,000 men missing without bodies and 50,000 bodies without names.  If you tour the cemeteries on the Somme, you will find walls of names of the missing surrounding unknown graves headed only ‘Known unto God’. As the war proceeded, the soldiers themselves took some control in having their bodies identified should they be killed and it is a particularly poignant thought. Many of the bodies that lay in no-man’s land had started to decay and even the newly made cemeteries themselves were being bombed, thereby disturbing those ‘at rest’. The identity discs, being made of leather fibre would possibly rot and therefore the equally decaying body would lose its identity.

Henry Allingham’s identity bracelet. Metal bracelets and neck tags were purchased by soldiers to ensure their bodies could be identified if left for years unfound.

Many of the soldiers, knowing they too could be left to decay in no-man’s land decided to produce identity discs made of metal, which potentially gave them a better chance of retaining their own body’s identity. It is harrowing to think that these man would be worrying about their bodies after their death, believing that they too would be left un-found and forgotten. Possibly even more upsetting is that these identity bracelets were requested of and supplied by the soldier’s own parents.

The story of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is strangely uplifting and its existence became a source of comfort to the parents and even the soldiers themselves. Haig was a great advocate of the idea, knowing that his men’s morale was of the utmost importance in view of the human carnage they were witnessing on a daily basis. As the instruments of state started to wield some control over the care of the dead, the next challenge would be how to mark their passing once hostilities had drawn to a close.

Over a million British and Commonwealth servicemen had died during the course of the war and only those buried in home soil were as a result of returning as either sick or injured. By 1919 the CWGC was now assisting in clearing the battlefields and preparing the bodies for a decent burial in the mass cemeteries we see today. Thousands of mourners and tourists were visiting the sites and local communities were planning their own ways of remembering the dead. Some were building hospitals, memorial halls and monuments, but what was the national government to do ? How could such an enormous cataclysmic event be encapsulated in a simple, single, brilliant idea? It didn’t come easily, but eventually three icons of remembrance were to emerge; the Cenotaph, the two minute silence and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

Although we recognise November 11th as the date of remembrance, it was in fact an armistice, a time when fighting was halted. The end of the war was only declared after the signing on the Treaty of Versailles on the 28th June 1919 (the exact date when Archduke Ferdinand was murdered five years earlier).

Sketch of the Cenotaph by Lutyens.

Victory celebrations in London needed to have a focal point and Lloyd George called upon Edwin Lutyens to offer some advice. He came up with an idea  during lunch. There was to be a Cenotaph, a temporary structure, erected in Whitehall, London. The word Cenotaph comes from kenos, one meaning being “empty”, and taphos, “tomb”. It became an instant success; a million visitors paid their respects and laid wreaths around this empty tomb. The uncorking of such human emotion did not go un-noticed across the road in Parliament and MP’s soon called upon the structure, then made of wood and plaster, to become permanent and rebuilt in stone.

Victory Day was an enormous success, but what to do with November 11th 1919? There was now the Cenotaph to act as a focal point, but what event could take place which would symbolise the act of remembrance and have national coverage? One observer of the war noticed that when coffins of the dead passed by a crowd, a hush would descend upon it, so why not a moment of silence? A letter appeared in the Times. In spite of the protestations of King George V who thought it unworkable, a two minute silence was called for on the 11th November 1919.

Trains, boats and vehicles would all stop and the people stilled and silenced into contemplation; the first minute for the dead and the second for the families still living. It worked to a point, but there was still something missing; there was no grave for the mourners to visit and even if one existed, it was faraway on the continent. Back in 1916, Reverend David Railton had seen a grave marked as containing an ‘Unknown Soldier’ and it gave him an idea which he retained for the rest of the war. An unknown soldier should be brought home who would represent all soldiers unknown and buried miles from home. Not until June 1920 did his idea finally connect, following a copious amount of correspondence with politicians and fellow clergymen. Four unknown British soldiers from the battles of Ypres, Somme, Aisne and Arras were exhumed and presented to Brigadier General L J Wyatt, who was blindfolded and taken to the coffins where he laid a hand upon one of them. The chosen soldier was taken through France, passing by thousands of French mourners and led by a line of one thousand school children. The carriage was the same one which brought both home both Edith Cavell and Charles Fryatt and its roof painted white for easy identification during its journey. The heavily laden symbolism continued as it was placed aboard HMS Verdun, named after the battle which was brought to an end by the British attack at the Somme. The cortège continued throughout the 7th November, attracting thousands of mourners en route to Westminster Abbey where he was laid to rest on Remembrance Day, 11thNovember 1920.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, so called to cover all the services not just that of the soldier.

One hundred winners of the Victoria Cross, one hundred wounded nurses and one  thousand mothers and wives of those fallen attended the service. His body was laid amongst the kings and queens of Great Britain, beneath a black slab of Belgian Marble and the only tomb upon which visitors to the Abbey are not allowed to stand. The impact of his arrival was immediate. He symbolised the return of the men to all mothers and wives throughout the country, many even believing that it was their own loved one placed in this tomb.

Remembrance Day was complete except for one final story, the Red Poppy. It seems shocking to us now, but on their return from war, the ex-servicemen were not treated as heroes, but shunned and seen as competition for jobs. The war had ensured that Britain’s markets had collapsed when its global customer’s sought alternative suppliers. The result was a scrabble for jobs to feed the mouths at home and the unions responded badly to the returning heroes. Many were left to wander from town to town in search of work and became resentful that women had also stolen ‘their jobs’ – it was not the land fit for heroes as had been promised and the men were angry. Historically, such rejection was not uncommon, the British sailors who fought off the Spanish Armada were held back from port and died off shore from starvation and disease. The grateful nation did not possess the funds to pay them and some of the ships’ Commanders made the payments themselves to the few who were left. British soldiers were also the subject of fear, they were hardened warriors now and the times were unsteady with revolution becoming pandemic across Europe. Money needed to be raised to support the servicemen if tragedy was to be averted and the newly formed British Legion, with Douglas (now Earl) Haig at its helm was to become instrumental in providing some of the relief required. As we now know, the seeds of Remembrance often came from experiences of the early part of war and the poppy is of that ilk.

John McCrae ‘In Flanders Fields’. We are the Dead

A Canadian officer, John McCrae had observed the poppies during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. Wild flowers often emerged from the mud, but poppy seeds in particular can lie under ground for years and will not germinate until the earth is disturbed. McCrae, sickened by death and yet inspired by the glorious colours of the poppies, then wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’. The poem was at first published anonymously, but by the time of his death in January 1918 he was famous enough to receive accolades and wreaths, one of which was made from poppies. A remarkable sequence of events then took place. The idea of poppies sold to raise money came from a Moina Michael who ensured the poppy emblem was taken up by the American Legion. A French woman, Anne Guerin observed this and used the idea to raise money to help rebuild the areas of France devastated by war. By 1920 the idea had been presented to the British Legion’s Earl Haig who quickly declared that all members should

Ex servicemen making poppies. Severely disabled, it was often the only job they could find.

wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. He was held in such high esteem that his words were to spread like wild fire across the nation. The Legion, unsure of its success initially ordered 1.5 million artificial poppies, but such was its popularity that shortages took places and prices were soon fetching £5 a piece. A total of 9 million poppies were eventually supplied across the country. It was a staggering response raising in 1921, £106,000 (£4 million today). In 1922, the Legion employed 41 severely disabled war veterans to produce the poppies at a rate of 1,000 pieces a day. The appeal for 1922 however, required not the 350,000 they could make but 30 million! By 1930, the Poppy Appeal was raising £600,000 (£30 million) a year, using local labour to produce them and 90% of the net income going straight to the Benevolent Fund. What makes this enterprise so outstanding was that this was achieved during one of the lowest points in our economic history.

The making of Remembrance Day is a very human story of people from all walks of life trying to find ways to help the families of then and now, come to terms with the shocking experience of war. Local memorials continued to be built throughout the 1920’s laying down the names of those who never returned and this website attempts to tell of their life’s experience from Wokingham’s perspective. War memorials are so omnipresent throughout our towns and villages it is easy for them to become anonymous, but not so with Remembrance Day. Although it is difficult to encapsulate in two minutes the enormity of remembrance, the 11th of November remains a day close to the hearts of millions.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


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Andrew Radgick’s books on Bracknell’s Fallen of the Great War.

Andrew Radgick is Chairman of the Bracknell Forest Society

Andrew Radgick is Chairman of the Bracknell Forest Society

‘Bracknell’s Great War’

By Andrew Radgick

Andrew Radgick, History Officer of The Bracknell Forest Society, has spent four years researching the local men listed on the War Memorials across Bracknell Forest Borough. He is giving a series of talks to recount some of the stories and experiences of these men, including extracts of personal letters and eye-witness accounts.

Forthcoming talks:

· 7:30pm, Wednesday 29th October, at Brownlow Hall, Newell Green Warfield, RG42 6AB.

· 2pm, Friday 31st October, at St. Peters Church, Hatchet Lane, Cranbourne, SL5 8RR.

· 8pm, Monday 3rd November, at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Ringmead, Bracknell, RG12 7PA.

One of Andrew's series of three books which tells the stories of Bracknell's WW1 Fallen.

One of Andrew’s series of three books which tells the stories of Bracknell’s WW1 Fallen.

· 8pm, Thursday 6th November, at The Morgan Centre, Wellington Road, Crowthorne, Berkshire, RG45 7LD.

· 8pm, Friday 14th November, at Sandhurst Community Centre, Yorktown Road, Sandhurst, GU47 9BJ.

Copies of Andrew’s Book, Bracknell’s Great War Fallen, price £20, will be available to purchase at the talks.

Contact: Andrew Radgick, Tel: 01344 862683.

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Visiting Germany’s WW1 Centenary events

Andrew Radgick is Chairman of the Bracknell Forest Society

Andrew Radgick is Chairman of the Bracknell Forest Society

Andrew Radgick is Chairman of Bracknell Forest Society and a great friend to the Wokingham Remembers project. I thought it would be interesting to hear at first hand the Centenary Commemoration from a German perspective. Andrew provides a very amusing account of the realities of travelling not only to a different country, but also a different culture Here is Andrew’s adventure to Leverkusen in Germany.

“Over the recent Heritage Weekend of September 13-14th, I travelled to Bracknell’s win Town of Leverkusen in Germany in my role as Chairman of The Bracknell Forest Society. The Leverkusen Historical Society had mounted a large exhibition on the war, with contributions from several towns across Europe. This highlighted the effect of the conflict on these communities, with life before, during, and after the fighting being recorded.

Leverkusen as seen from our hotel

Leverkusen as seen from our hotel

There were also artefacts on display, many having been donated or lent especially for the exhibition. Unfortunately, everything was in German, and as I do not speak the language, I had to gather the gist of the display from the pictures.

As well as the UK, there were two visitors from Poland in attendance, but sadly the language barrier limited our chances to talk.

View of part of the WWI exhibition.

View of part of the WWI exhibition.

After travelling via Brussels on Eurostar, we were met at Cologne station for the brief drive to Leverkusen. However, with the main bridge over the River Rhine closed for repairs, the traffic congestion resembled the worst seen in east Berkshire! Eventually, we arrived at the headquarters of the Historical Society for a meal where we were able to meet our hosts and the Poles for a sociable evening, before being taken to our hotel.
At 8:30 the following morning, we were collected and returned to the Historical Society to look at the exhibition before it was officially opened to the public. This included a press conference at which I was expected to speak (with no warning!), but I managed to express my admiration for the exhibition and gratitude to our hosts, albeit in English. There then followed the official opening ceremony, lasting an hour and a half, entirely in German, interspersed with music from a clarinet quartet from a local School of Music. In the afternoon, there was a coach tour of areas of interest in and around the city of Leverkusen.

Headquarters of the Leverkusen History Society.

Headquarters of the Leverkusen History Society.

A student was delegated to translate what our guide was telling everyone, but as the guide spoke very quickly without pausing for breath, the student struggled to keep up, but I was grateful for the attempt to keep me informed. A late afternoon stop for traditional coffee and cakes was very welcome for all concerned. We made our excuses, and were dropped off back at the hotel for a meal and early night.

After spending our time looking around Leverkusen (an industrial town and not somewhere you would normally visit), we attempted to get a meal, only to find everywhere in Germany shuts on a Sunday – the only place selling food was a McDonalds.

Royal Marine Light Infantry uniform, lent by a member of the Bracknell Twinning Association

Royal Marine Light Infantry uniform, lent by a member of the Bracknell Twinning Association

We paid another visit to the Historical Society in the evening, where beer and live jazz music had been laid on, before catching the early train back to Cologne and back home on Monday. Despite the language difficulties, it was a pleasant trip, and the WWI exhibition was very thorough and should provide a good insight into how the Great War affected people right across the continent. I just wish I could have understood more of it”.

Andrew has produced three superb books on the War Memorials around the Bracknell Forest area. If you would like to know more information or how to order a copy, click on this link.
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BBC Radio Berkshire interview with Wokingham Remembers

The Wokingham Remembers project will be discussed on Mike Read's programme on BBC Radio Berkshire on Monday 13th October after 2pm.

The Wokingham Remembers project will be discussed on Mike Read’s programme on BBC Radio Berkshire on Monday 13th October after 2pm.

On the 13th September 2014, Wokingham Remembers was invited to discuss its findings since its launch in 2011.

The stories of three men were told with the perspective of ‘what happened next'; i.e. how their descendants or existing Battalions were affected by the commemorations. One story is told whereby a young lancer was killed helping a comrade who was wounded and how 100 years later that incident was commemorated by his graveside and included Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son. Another story tells of a son who contacted Wokingham Remembers and discovered a sister he never knew he had. An finally there is the story of a Great Grand Niece who composed a piece of music which will be presented at the church of her lost uncles. (it’s on the 9th November at St Pauls Church Wokingham 9.30am). The main point of the interview is to make the point that remembrance today can be inspiring as we are able to discover the lives of our ancestors and mark the annual occasion with a special sense of pride. The following video is a record of the radio interview and the overlays of the local men who were injured or killed run on for a further 20 minutes. The images are chosen to also emphasise just how enormous the losses were to our small forest town of 100 years passed.

Below are pictures and further information of the particular men who are named throughout the interview:

Frederick Bruce de Vere Allfrey was born in 1891 and raised at Ashridgewood House which is situated just between Emmbrook and Winnersh. He was educated at nearby Wellington College in Crowthorne, as was his father and had a sister, Maud. A month after the war started Frederick was already lieutenant in the 9th They had come upon the village of Montcel, east of Paris when they sighted the Prussian 1st Guard Dragoons; Germany’s equivalent lancer regiment. Lances at the ready they charged each other. Arthur Bryer is killed in the charge; but Frederick survives and sees Captain Guy Reynolds lying on the battlefield with a broken lance in his shoulder. Frederick dismounts and on foot re-enters the battlefield to help extract the piece of lance from Guy Reynold’s shoulder. As he was doing so he’s shot dead by a wounded German lancer. Frederick was an only son and his sister Vera an only daughter. Vera as far as I can see, had only two children; a daughter who died in her first year and a son Ian Francis Anderson who joined the RAF. Ian Anderson appears on Wokingham’s WW2 Memorial having been killed in 1941. Mrs Allfrey witnessed the loss of her son and grandson as she was to live until 1949. That line is now at an end.

Sidney Hogburn was born in 1897 to Fanny and Henry Hogburn in Warfield. Henry was a brickyard labourer and by 1911was living with his wife and children in Plough Lane, just off the London Road in Wokingham. A brother, Fred was to survive the war. Sidney enlisted into the 5th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment and died at the Battle of Loos on 5th October 1915. John Chapman, from his research tells us: “Throughout the summer of 1915 they alternated between trench duty and periods in reserve and for most men it was all a great game. However, the day after the Battle of Loos opened on 25th September they began a move south and were brought to grim reality by the sight of casualties and appalling conditions”. They made their attack on the 13th, but Sidney had already died on 5th October, during a period before the main attack. His body was not recovered and as a result, his name was placed on the Loos Memorial.


1916: The Potter family – Frank and Anna

I’m going to tell you about the Potter family in the words of Anna Matthews, their Great Grand Niece:

“In 1914, one hundred years ago, Charles and Fanny Potter, who lived in Wokingham, rural Berkshire, had a family of seven sons and three daughters when the First World War broke out. Over the course of the next two years, Jack, George, Tom, Reginald, Percy and Frank all signed up to fight in the war, just like millions of others, not just in this country but around the world. Only Arthur stayed behind with his sisters because he was too young to fight. Can you imagine how Charles and Fanny must have felt, six of their seven sons heading off to war?”

Well it was pride and a fear which was to prove justified. Frank, although the youngest was the first to die. Lord Kitchener, the Cabinet’s Minister for War was sent to have discussions with the Russians. His ship HMS Hampshire however, was sunk on his way to the Baltic. Down with the ship went a number of Berkshire men, including Frank Potter. He was aged only 16.

Edwin Spencer Web was born in London 1892 and baptised by the local Wesleyan Methodist church. The family moved to a cottage in Carey Road Wokingham. Carey Road is just off the Finchampstead Road at the Wokingham end.  If you look at the 1911 Census on this page, you will see Edwin at 18, a member of an Army Band and his sister, Margaret aged 27, contributing to the family income by teaching music. His father Walter is an agent for the General Assurance Company and aged 61. We can imagine that he would have been pleasantly surprised to be gifted with a son when he had reached the ripe old age of 43.

A report from The Reading Post tells us:

‘DEATH OF BANDSMAN E.S. WEBB. Bandsman E.S. Webb, King’s Liverpool Regiment, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Webb, 5, Carey Road, has been notified as died of wounds at a Base Hospital in France, on 30th May, after injuries received in carrying ammunition to the front. Bandsman Webb was well-known in Wokingham as a scholar, both at the Wesleyan Sunday School and the Wescott Road Council School. He was a musician in the band of the Liverpool Regiment at the commencement of the war, and went to the front as a stretcher-bearer. He went through the battle of Mons, and served until the battle of Ypres, where he was wounded by falling into a German pit and being spiked while leading a stretcher party at night. After some months in England he returned again shortly before Christmas (1916). His age was 24′.

He was buried at the Sunken Road Cemetery in Boisleux St Marc, France, aged 24 and having seen nearly three years of fighting. In late June 1917 a memorial service was held for him at the Wesleyan Chapel in Rose Street, where he had worshipped and been closely connected with the Sunday school.


1918: Edward Hills Nicholson: One of The Four sons

Thanks to Mr James Bell of Wokingham for the following biography:

Having made his fortune in the late 1800’s investing in the new product of linoleum, Edward Nicholson retired and purchased and developed the Matthews Green Estate and what is now known as the Cantley House Hotel on the Twyford Road. Around that time he also purchased Wiltshire Farm and together with the Matthews Green Estate, the family had authority over an area stretching from Rectory Road to Bell Foundry Lane. Edward’s son Alfred then built a house on eight acres calling it Clare Court and another which became known as Glebelands. For those who don’t know the area, that’s a lot of property !

Lieut. Col. Edward Hills Nicholson, D.S.O. was educated at The Towers, Crowthorne and Winchester, received his commission in the Royal Fusiliers in August, 1900 and served in the South African War obtaining the King’s and Queen’s medals with five clasps. He was later ordered home from India where he held the appointment of Adjutant to Volunteers and was posted to France in 1915.

He was posted with his battalion to Salonika where he remained for upwards of two years. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the D.S.O. He was killed in action on the 4th of October 1918 aged 38 years and was interred in Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile, Aisne, France.

Captain Walter Hills Nicholson had a distinguished career in the First World War. He joined the Royal Fusiliers and was awarded the Military Cross. The following report was published in the Supplement to the London Gazette of the 18th July 1918—

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Owing to the rapidity of an enemy attack he and his company headquarters were cut off from the company. Realising this, he at once made a determined effort to reach them, and after a sharp hand-to-hand fight, in which several of the enemy were killed, and he himself wounded, succeeded in doing so. By his gallant action he was able to rally his company’.

He survived the war and married Ethel Francis Baird. They had a daughter, Nan Baird, who married Flying Officer, Frederick Barr of the Royal Australian Air Force at St. Blaise Church, Milton, Berkshire in August 1945.

Walter joined the R.A.F and served in the Second World War as flight lieutenant and was killed in 1943.

If you are inspired by the stories of remembrance on Mike’s show and you can provide your support, there is no better person to look to than David Dunham, Wokingham’s Poppy Appeal Co-Ordinator. He is one of Wokingham’s true modern day legends and would be delighted either with donations or to help as a collector. Here is David’s amazing story and you can contact him on:

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1914 – The 9th Lancers and Europe’s last charge.

Painting of Europe's last 'lance on lance' charge on the 7th September 1914.

Richard Caton Woodville’s painting of Europe’s last ‘lance on lance’ charge on the 7th September 1914.

Frederick Allfrey at the age of 22 was a Lieutenent in the 9th Lancers and killed in the minutes following Europe’s final ‘lance of lance charge’ on the 7th September 1914. The charge has become a famous moment in the history of the Great War, not least because it is a symbol of the way the battles were fought prior to the digging of trenches later that year. It was also a symbol of the fellowship that existed between servicemen because Frederick was killed coming to the aid of another lancer. The story and his history can be read on another page, but here we can provide an update of the events which surrounded Frederick’s death.

Some of the servicemen named on this website have proved virtually untraceable and on others we have found information in microscopic detail and you never know where it will appear next. This update contains information which has been assembled from a round of emails which arrived mid September 2014. It is worth telling the story by repeating the content of the emails below, but I will first provide a little background. We initially knew Lt Allfrey had been killed helping a fellow lancer who had been injured during the charge. Other than a newspaper report telling us he had been shot whilst removing part of a lance from his comrade’s leg, we did not anything more. Then on the 8th September 2014, a comment appears on the Lt Allfrey page from a James Dalglish:

‘I found this link about Allfrey when searching for information about my step grand-father, Guy Reynolds (then a 9th Lancer Captain). Allfrey was killed extracting the lance from Guy Reynold’s leg. Allfrey has always had a very special place in my family history for his selfless act of bravery’.

Here is information on the name of the man Lt Allfrey was helping; a Guy Reynolds. What happened next? We now know his name and we know he survived the war. Other emails soon appear and we wonder why information is suddenly appearing all together. We receive another email on the following day from an Alison Lucas:

Prince Andrew as Commander in Chief of the 9th Lancers attended a service in memory of Europe's last Charge

Prince Andrew as Commander in Chief of the 9th Lancers attended a service in memory of Europe’s last Charge (click on picture to Express article)

‘I have just returned from a remarkable weekend in France where I was accompanying my friend Mary Baker on a walk of remembrance. Mary is retracing her Grandfather, James Baker of the British Expedition Force, who died in Troyon on September 14th.
On Sunday Sept 7th as we were walking 14 miles from Voudoy to Jouy sur Morin, we stopped for a rest at a bar and were told of the ceremony at Montcel of the 9th Royal Lancers last “lance on lance” cavalry charge. We just arrived as the Lancers marched to the memorial stone, and we then witnessed a very moving ceremony standing in a field of maize. The Duke of York, the Battalions Commander in Chief laid a wreath. In the programme we were kindly given a copy of, I found the connection to Wokingham, and hence to this site. Lt F De V Allfrey and Capt Reynolds are mentioned in the programme. There is a very moving letter from Allfrey’s mother to a Private’s mother about the reburial of their sons also featured. ( I have a copy if anyone is interested in seeing the detail, and photo’s of the ceremony)’.

The story is still being remembered 100 years later and it takes place in the tiny cemetary where only three men from the battle are buried. We obviously wonder who is buried alongside Lt Allfrey and as the question leaves our lips another email comes in from a Patsy Bryer:

‘I have just returned from Le Montcel where I was asked by the 9th Lancers Regiment to lay a wreath for my Great Great Uncle Private Arthur Tom Bryer, who is buried alongside Allfrey and shoeingsmith Friend in Fretoy Cemetary. I have been advised by the Regiment that Arthur Tom was the only Lancer to die on the actual field of battle charge. My family also owe the Allfreys a huge thank you letter as they paid for all three graves to be re-dug and the bodies reinterred, owing to the fact that the graves were not dug deep enough at the time of burial. If anyone knows of contact email for them I would be grateful’.

The next day, Patsy sends a photo of the grave of her Great Grand Uncle, Private Arthur Tom Bryer who is buried alongside Lt Allfrey. She also provides more information in the following email:

‘Dear All, I came across the attached blogspot regarding landed gentry/Allfreys in Berkshire, etc, which might be of interest as there are rather a lot of Allfreys in the Wokingham and surrounds in it. At the very bottom of the article is a ‘comment’ by a Charlotte Bezzant on 28th Aug 2014 advising that her husband and his parents are Allfreys, which may be of interest to Anne in her one name study endeavours…
If anyone comes across anything to explain how my ancestor came to be in the Lancers, I would appreciate it ! Arthur Tom Bryer was born in Popham, Hampshire and apparently enlisted in Basingstoke – he had worked away from home since quite young (mother died, father remarried), so I am wondering if he possibly followed an employer into the Lancers – who knows, maybe even Frederick Allfrey ? p.s. gravestone is wrong, he died on 7th September’.

The war continues to forge links: Major Watson with Fancoise Lepetitte  who was responsible for the memorial in the village when it was 19 years ago.

The war continues to forge links: Major Watson at the ceremony with Fancoise Lepetitte who was responsible for the memorial in the village when it was erected 19 years ago. Click on picture for article. Thanks to

What is now fascinating is that via the Wokingham Remembers website and its comments column, relatives are now making contact with each other and sharing information.

Thanks to today’s technology, we are now able to ensure our family members are truly not only ‘not forgotten’, but forge the links between friends and family.

On the 10th September 2014, we receive another email, this time from Major Phil Watson, the organiser of the ceremony:

Major Watson also provides us with a photograph of the very striking Lt Allfrey.

Major Watson also provides us with a photograph of the very striking Lt Allfrey.

‘It was myself who arranged for Patsy to join the Regiment (us) at the weekend. We published a small booklet on Moncel and would be happy to send copies to any individuals related to the Allfreys and Reynolds family (the booklets are currently in Germany on their way back). It is our intention to publish this booklet as part of a larger publication in the spring – so would welcome any contact with any of the families for any additional information. Regards Phil. Major (Retd) Phil Watson, Assistant Regimental Secretary – 9/12L. Tel 07724 061413′

That same evening of the 10th September 2014, we receive the most surprising of all the pieces of correspondence; an email from the Aidan Reynolds, the son of Guy and the man saved by Lt Allfrey:

‘I heard from James Dalglish about your research into Frederick Allfrey. As you know he was trying to pull out the lance from my father’s shoulder when he was machine gunned and killed. Poignantly he and my father were standing side by side in the photo of the 9th lancers taken just before they left for France in 1914.

See Aidan Reynold's email to gain a full description of this painting

See Aidan Reynold’s email to gain a full description of this painting

You will know well the picture of the charge. In it the 5 officers involved are shown in their exact positions. My father was adjutant and instructed the artist about this. On the far side of the picture the lance is about to pierce my father’s shoulder. behind him is Major Beale-Browne, then my uncle Captain Nairne Reynolds, and then Allfrey immediately behind him.

To read more on the action described by Aidan Reynolds, click on the above picture. Courtesy National Army Museum.

To read more on the action described by Aidan Reynolds, click on the above picture. Courtesy National Army Museum.

You may also know that Allfrey 2 weeks earlier was involved in the famous action known as “Saving the Guns” when dismounted 9th Lancers under Francis Grenfell (who won the VC for this action) manhandled under very heavy enemy fire a RA battery’s guns because the RA men were nearly all killed or wounded. I hope this is of interest. Actually my family knew some members of the Allfrey family very well though I regret I have lost touch. Basil Allfrey was also in the 9th – was he Frederick’s brother? Also Charles Allfrey, a distinguished gunner general. His son Peter is I am sure still alive and was living in Bath when I last saw him. I’d like to know the relationship between them and Frederick Allfrey. Best wishes Aidan Reynolds’.

We start to wonder exactly how Lt Allfrey was killed; did he find Guy Reynolds on his way from battle or did he go back for him. And how did Reynolds make his way from the field if under sniper attack? And how were the other two killed? As is the way with information, once received, there are always more questions. On the following day, the 11th September, Major Phil Watson provides us with more answers:

‘This extract is from Lt Col Campbell’s account – currently un-published (in the Regimental Museum): 

Campbell: It is also interesting to note the very large proportion of officers who took part in an attack carried out by such a small number of troops – the officers concerned being:- Campbell, Beale Browne, G. Reynolds, G. N. Reynolds, Mather Jackson and Allfrey, and in addition there were Regimental Sergt. Major Richardson and Squadron Sergt. Major Durant. Of these three were wounded – Self, Reynolds and Durrant, and Allfrey was shot by a German when, after the charge, he went over to assist Reynolds who had a lance through his shoulder. Allfrey was shot by a wounded German, who also shot SSM Durant through the leg.

I have always been puzzled to understand how I came to be shot from the village of MONCEL after the charge had taken place and I had seen the whole of the Germans whom we charged retire North East, but, having read the German account, I think it is quite clear that when we advanced in the first instance between the village of MONCEL and the Wood to the West of it there was a small detachment of Germans in the village itself, and so far as one can judge I must have been shot by one of these, and it must also have been some of the same lot who went through Reynolds’ pockets when they were retiring from the village.

Click on above report to view and read. Taken from the excellent US Bond of Sacrifice

Click on above report to view and read. Taken from the excellent US Bond of Sacrifice

My current understanding is:

  • Allfrey sighted his Machine Gun with Sgt Turner and Pte Seaton as directed by the CO.
  • Allfrey joined RHQ and 2 Troops of B Sqn and charged.
  • He returned to the village (possibly to see why the MG did not fire!)
  • He saw Reynolds wounded and went to his assistance
  • He shot by wounded Dragoon who was on the battlefield

Some more extracts, this time from Frederic Coleman an American RAC staff car driver:

Coleman: The Germans stopped, and many of them dismounted. One of them went coolly through the pockets of Reynolds, lying with an aluminium lance through his side. A farrier-sergeant lay dead near a pond at the village end. The Germans knocked in his head and tossed his body into the pool……….One of the 9th, running out from the village to pull the lance from Reynolds’s side, was shot dead by a wounded German lying near.’

From Frederick Coleman’s account, it seems the ‘farrier-sargeant’ was Shoeing-Smith Jack Friend who was beaten to death and thrown into the river. It is often forgotten that these men in the midst of battle, were not much more than boys and we are privileged to read one of his final letters; this one to his mother written on the day Britain declared war on Germany:

‘Aug 4th. 1914

My Dearest. Just a few hurried lines in answer to yours after a long time hoping this will find you and all at home in the best of health as it leaves me at present.  Well dear Mother I hardly know what to make of this terrible affair, I know one thing, it makes bags of work, what with travelling the country, fetching horses and working half the night shoeing them. If this is getting ready for war I don’t want it to happen very often as we have not had a minute peace since it started, but there I am happy enough and its no use cribbing. 

Dear Mother don’t worry too much as I heard to-day although England has declared war if they go out fighting the same as they have been doing the British Army will not be wanted.  I hope that will be the case as I am not anxious to go to Germany as most of the fellows are, and regards Tom he won’t leave England as the “Ferries” are our Home Defence which go right around the coast to guard there so you have no need to worry about him it will do him the world of good along the sea front with bags of fresh air.

Dear Mother do not worry about me as you can trust your humble to dodge anything if he has half a chance.  However I don’t think it will last very long I should say about three month’s at the most.  Dear Mother up to now our orders are we leave here on Sunday morning early for Southampton where we embark on Monday for Belgium where we stop for a day or so, we have everything ready and our will made, Dear Mother I have never been sorry that even I enlisted only time I ever regretted was the first six months that I joined the Army even at this terrible time I am glad it has happened as I shall see what others have had to go through and managed to get through quite safe and by God’s help I hope I shall do the same in any case I shall go out with a good heart knowing that I am fighting for my King and country although it is very hard to leave behind those whom I love dearly.  Dear Mother, Father, Brothers and sisters a dear sweetheart with whom I love with all my heart, but we soldiers must not look the dark side of it, we must look forward to the return journey with flying colours and then you will be proud of your soldier son.  Dearest Mother I pray and hope by the time I come back Dear old Dad will be himself again and working.  I hope Alf found him much better when he saw him.  Well Darling Mother do not think too much about it just think of the day I return wearing a metal for fighting for King and country.  Roll on when its over.  Dear Mother I must close now I will write again before Sunday if possible.  Good-bye for the time being with love.  I remain, Your Loving Son Jack xxxxxxxxxxxxx

 Remember me to Will and Flo and the Hayball’s.  Excuse pencil it quicker.’

 Lt Allfrey’s mother Maud, it seems was a delightful person and even in the middle of her grief was able to send a personal letter to Jack Friends ‘Dear Mother’ (as in his letter to her):

“Ashridgewood”, Wokingham, Berks. 28th October, 1914.

Dear Mrs Friend,

I am afraid from what I have heard that it is your son who was killed on September 7th and buried next my son at Fretory, in France, and I send you my deep sympathy.

The clergyman of Fretory has written to me telling me about the funeral of my son, and added that next to him had been buried a 9th Lancer called J Friend.  My son was a lieutenant in the 9th.  They were both buried at the little churchyard of Fretory, which is about 70 miles from Paris, by the regiment, and an old woman from the village brought some flowers to put on their graves.  I thought you might care to know about it.

The clergyman has written again to say that the Mayor of the little town finds that they were not buried deep enough, and as this is against the law of France they would have to be re-interred in the little churchyard.  So we have given him instructions to have this properly done, and to lay them side by side again in the same quiet corner.  My husband has paid for this, and would like it done at his expense.  We hope that you may approve of his instructions about it, as it seemed the only thing to do.

After the war we hope to go over there ourselves, and if we can take a photograph of the grave we shall be pleased to send you a copy, – Yours truly,  M H ALLFREY’

Maud Allfrey had only one son and one daughter and one grandson, by the name of Ian Anderson. He was killed in World War Two and is named on Wokingham’s War Memorial along with his Uncle Frederick.

An interesting article on this famous charge can be found on The Dehli Spearman website.

There is also an interesting thread on the Great War Forum  which emphasises the complexities of battle formations and questions the age old assumptions that the early part of the war was awash with poor leadership.

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The importance of newspapers as source material

To find out more, click on this picture.

To find out more, click on this picture.

Newspapers provide invaluable sources of information for historians seeking to present the Great War from varying positions. They also help place the reader into the story of the war rather than through the words of a historian. You can gain access to these newspapers by such organisations as Historic Newspapers.

The information provided by the newspapers are not necessarily historically accurate, not least because they were heavily censored by the government who were anxious to keep the people’s support throughout the war. It was the people after all, who were providing the means by which to fight it.  The function newspapers provide the scholar with the contemporary environment and context; they were there ‘on the spot’ and the imagination is fired up in the same way as reading regimental and private daily diaries.

Click on the above screen print to read more. Our thanks to Historic Newspapers.

Click on the above screen print to read more. Our thanks to Historic Newspapers.

Newspaper reports can provide additional importance to a story or article which is being presented on a particular subject. On this website we provide a biography of a family’s loss of their 16 year old son Frank Potter, who was lost on HMS Hampshire. On the same ship was Lord Kitchener and the front pages of a newspaper remind us of the enormity of the event. The relationship between the two stories are symbiotic; they are able to show the comparisons of national and private grief.

It is not only the front pages of newspapers which provide us with an insight into the Great War. Very often adverts appear on the same pages which show how commercial life carried on in a ‘business as usual’ format.

'War Illustrated' supplied a market which was rapacious in its thirst for information on the war.

‘War Illustrated’ supplied a market which was rapacious in its thirst for information on the war.

The use war itself is also a subject for which businesses were able to make money as this advert shows on selling pictures of the war. Making money from the war was certainly an opportunity. Richard Van Emden provides a harrowing story of the men who charged families vast sums of money to search for missing men who were clearly dead.

It is also in the classifieds, that we can find the very terrible side effects of the war. Many men found themselves unemployed when returning from the war and they describe their disabilities to potential employers in their attempts to use the classifieds to find work. They describe not only on the physical damage to their bodies, but also the mental scarring which has taken place. The words they use are simple and to the point and their desperation is clearly spelt out in the context of a newspaper advert. You simply cannot obtain such stark reality in anything other than a newspaper report.

work needed 68 - 75 work needed 59 - 67 work needed 76 - 80 work needed 49 - 58

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Where They Lived

Wescott Road, is a small street in the town and was built in the early 1900's. Wescott Infants school was opened in 1906. It is also the location for some of the greatest losses in the Great War.

Wescott Road, is a small street in the town and was built in the early 1900’s. Wescott Infants school was opened in 1906. It is also the location for some of the greatest losses in the Great War.

For me, this is possibly the most fascinating and the saddest part of the research. Once we discovered the stories of the men, we started pinning their addresses to a modern map of Wokingham. Although we suspected that they would be close to each other, I was surprised at the clusters around Havelock and Wescott Roads. Here is where the imagination really fires off. Can you imagine the fear the residents of these roads went through over four years? These are small roads and the agony they must have felt when their children were at war and knowing a neighbour’s son had just been killed; it must have been agony. It is astonishing. I walked my son to school along Wescott Road and it never once occurred to me just how much history is embedded along its paths.

Here is the map; it is at the foot of every page on the website. Click on the text at the bottom of the map to gain access to a larger version and use the zoom facility. 

View Where the Wokingham Fallen lived in a larger map

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Film of the Wokingham men we lost in 1914

What was the impact of World War One on Wokingham in 1914? Here is a short film which shows the losses from August to December 1914. There were far more from around the Borough, but these are taken from Wokingham’s War Memorial in the Town Hall:

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