Category Archives: Cemeteries

Remembering the WW2 Dead in Lewisham, Lee & Blackheath

As Remembrance Sunday 70 years on from the end of the Second World War approaches this week, it is perhaps worth reflecting on some of the local people who lost their lives during the conflict.  I did a similar piece last year in relation to WW1 combatant deaths, but for WW2, I wanted to focus more on those who lost their lives on the ‘Home Front.’

One of the main differences compared with the WW1 is the number of women who died in the conflict.  While there were deaths in WW1 – such as those I have covered in the blog in relation to the Gotha bombing of Sydenham Road and the Zeppelin attack on Hither Green – they were a very small minority. The extent of aerial attacks by both German and Allied sides in WW2 changed this, as did the changing role of women in the armed forces.  A memorial in Whitehall commemorates both the changes in roles of women during the War and their deaths.

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Albion Way Shelter

At about 4 pm on 11 September 1940, a brick street shelter suffered a direct hit, as a German bomber discharged his remaining bombs as he returned to Germany.  Unsurprisingly there were a large number of casualties, with 41 dying inside the shelter and nearby.  Those who died included

  • William Abbott (56) a shop assistant of 8 Murillo Road;
  • Marjorie Wickens of 7 Taunton Road (19), who was an air raid warden; and
  • Elizabeth Grant of 19 Brightfield Road (19)

All three were buried and commemorated at Hither Green Cemetery.

Deptford Central Methodist Hall

The Central Hall was also hit on 11 September 1940, probably in the same raid as Albion Way, 50 were buried in the rubble whilst sheltering in the basement.  There were 26 deaths – including

  • Phoebe Turner of 60 Harvard Road (45); and
  • Lillian Allum of 47 Effingham Road (40).

Lee Park

There were at least seven who died in the bombing on Lee Park on 17 September in 1940 –  which would have been roughly to the left of the picture below, towards the Lee High Road end of the street.  The church was Christ Church which was bombed at around the same time and has been covered in the blog before.  Those who died were:

  • Emily Collins (62) of 35;
  • Ethel (66) & George Crawford (70) of 31a;
  • Ethel Pollard (39), daughter of the Crawfords also of 31a;
  • Emma Green (90) from 40 Dacre Park who was visiting 35 Lee Park and died of her injuries later in the year; along with
  • Maud (30) & Samuel (32) Nuttal at 31 Lee Park

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Boone Street

George Loader of 34 Boone Street died aged 85 in the Blitz on 21 September 1940. This probably became one of the sites for prefab bungalows after the war.

Sandhurst Road School

A large bomb was dropped during the day of 20 January 1943 killing 45 children and teachers, the casualties included:

  • Anne & Judith Biddle, 5 year old twins from 22 Muirkirk Road;
  • Pauline and Eunice Davies – Sisters of 9 and 7 from 57 Killearn Road;
  • Dennis and Ronald Barnard 10 and 9 from 120 Further Green Road;
  • Mary Jukes (38) from 3a Newstead Road; and
  • Harriet Langdon (40) from 65 Manor Park

There is a poignant memorial to those who died in Hither Green Cemetery.

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Hither Green Railway Station

There was a V-1 attack on the station on 29 July 1944 – the day after the Lewisham High Street V-1 explosion, which was covered on the blog a year or so ago.  There were four deaths including a mother and daughter from Walworth, Emily (25) and Jean (1) Champion, Violet Kyle of 11 Morley Road, who died in the Miller Hospital in Greenwich, and William Pontin (38) of Weybridge.

Blackheath Village

There was considerable damage to Blackheath Village on 8 March following a V-2 rocket hitting the Methodist chapel in what is now called Blackheath Grove –  there will be a specific post on this in a few weeks, 134 were injured and there were five deaths including Daisy Denny, Alice Drain and Eve Taylor who all lived in and around Blackheath, and Eve Leibe lived a little further away in St Mildred’s Road.

Note

Unless linked otherwise, the source for all the casualty information is the  Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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Alfred Figes – (Probably) The Oldest World War 1 Soldier

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

The Ode for Remembrance, taken from a Lawrence Binyon poem, ‘For the Fallen’ paints the generally accepted picture of young combatants, echoed in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth.’ So one of the stranger inscriptions on the WW1 memorial on the ‘Lewisham side’ of the Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery is that of Alfred Figes who died in 1916 at the age of 79.  While Kitchener had been keen to get former soldiers back into the army, the theoretical age limit was 42.  So Alfred Figes signed up as ‘William Word’ and, unless he was phenomenally young looking, the recruiting officers turned a blind eye to his advanced years, presumably in the same way as they ignored the youth of others, like Catford’s Herbert Burden  The posters are both from Wikimedia Commons, more details left and right.

The Kentish Times  (quoted in the Lewisham War Memorial wiki) reported his as having been given a military funeral following his death at home in late 1916 at 79 Bradgate Street (now Road) in Catford.  

It is unclear when Figes signed up, but he may well have seen action at The Bluff on the Ypres Salient where his regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade fought in the first part of 1916.

WW1 wasn’t Figes only period in the army, he had fought in the Indian Mutiny in 1857.  His period in the army may have followed a spell in prison; in 1854, someone of the same unusual name was found guilty of dog stealing and was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour – the newspaper report described Figes and his co-defendant Charles Smeyd as ‘flash looking fellows’. By the 1881 census he was a booksellers assistant living in St James, Westminster and was married Elizabeth Harvey in 1870 and had two children.

It was clearly a family tradition in continue first names – his first son (a postman living in Lewisham in the 1901 census) and grandson were both called Alfred.  The then 63 year old Alfred was a publishers assistant living at 32 Foxberry Road in Brockley in 1901.

But why a man in his late 70s thought the need to volunteer for service is anyone’s guess?  It could have been a wish to revisit days of his youth, it could have been a response to the recruitment campaigns, or it could have been a desire to serve with his sons who seem to have volunteered. While he died as a soldier, it is also unclear is whether he actually died as a result of war wounds or old age, that he is commemorated on the memorial at Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery would suggest that he might have been the former.  If it was as a result of he is probably the oldest combatant victim of the war – the oldest British volunteer currently seems to be accepted as being Harry Webber who was 67, the same age as the oldest German combatant.

By a strange co-incidence, Alfred Figes daughter, Clara, married Alfred, the older brother of Herbert Burden who is depicted in the ‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial at the National Memorial Arboretem.  Herbert was one of the youngest soldiers shot for ‘cowardice and desertion’ during WW1.

The Clouson Memorial and the Eltham Murder

There is a memorial in Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery with a tall column and an almost cherubic figure on top; whilst the rest of the cemetery is fairly cramped in terms of space the memorial stands alone in grassed area, often with flowers at its base brought by Women Against Violence Expressing Solidarity (WAVES)

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On reading its inscription, one begins to understand why this is different to most of the other graves and memorials.

A motherless girl who was murdered in Kidbrooke Lane, Eltham age 17 in 1871. Her last words were, “Oh, let me die.”

The ‘girl’ was Jane Maria Clouson and she had been found by a police officer, patrolling what is now Rochester Way, in the early hours of 25 April 1871, somewhere around what is now its junction with Brenley Gardens – as a witness at the subsequent trial noted that it was around 300 yards from a ‘rivulet’ (Lower Kid Brook). She had been severely beaten with a hammer and died of her injuries five days later in Guy’s Hospital.

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Jane Clouson was identified on 1 May by relatives and the police arrested Edmund Pook, the son of her former employer, the same day. She had been dismissed from the household at 3 London Street (now Greenwich High Road) – the Pooks suggested that this was because of her laziness and unkempt appearance; although Jane Clouson’s family suggested that this was because Edmund had got her pregnant and had no intention of marrying her.

There were several hearings in relation to the case – the main one being at the Old Bailey where after 5 days of evidence, the jury took just 20 minutes to acquit Pook; two earlier hearings at Coroners and Police Courts, where Pook had offered little evidence, had found him guilty; and a libel case a month after the criminal case found in Pook’s favour.

There is a very detailed summary of the evidence presented at the fantastic resource of the Old Bailey online. It is clear from there that the police and prosecution struggled to prove the case against Edmund Pook ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’ The case still provokes extremely partisan interest, so I’ll summarise the case from each viewpoint.

The case for the prosecution (presented by a relative of the Jane Clouson) was that a witness had seen someone looking like Pook around Kidbrooke Lane just before the time of the murder; a bloodied hammer had been found close to Morden College; Pook had been seen buying a hammer; blood was found on his clothes; Pook had been having affair with Jane Clouson, had made her pregnant and they were still seeing each other after her dismissal.

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The case for the defence (presented by a relative of the Pooks) was that Edmund Pook had been positively seen in Lewisham at around the time of the murder; that the specs of blood on his clothes related to him biting his tongue with epileptic fits; the police witnesses were unreliable; there was no positive identification of him having bought the hammer from the shop’s owners; no evidence was produced of anyone having seen them together and a locket which was suggested to have been given to Jane by Edmund was in fact a present from another former Pook employee named Humphries.

There was a large amount of public interest in the case and the funeral on 8 May seems to have been a major local event. The road between the relative’s house in Deptford, where the cortege started from and the cemetery was lined with thousands of people, with police controlling the crowds. The pall bearers were all woman dressed in maids uniforms. The listed memorial was erected soon following a public subscription.

While there appears to have been some hostility towards Pook after the verdict, however, this was not sufficient to prevent the family business continuing at the same address in the 1881 census.  Edmund married Alice soon after and they remained in Greenwich – the business had moved to Church Street by the 1908 Kelly’s Directory.  Edmund and Alice were living in St Peter Port in Guernsey when the census enumerators called in 1911; he was still working as a printer.  Alice died in the Channel Islands around 1916, Edmund returned to England and died in Croydon in 1920.

The way in which the police pursued the case was criticised by both the judge and in the House of Commons at the time. However, they seemed uninterested in pursuing anyone else; in early 1888 the Australian police detained Michael Carroll who confessed to the murder. The Sydney Police offered to detain him but Scotland Yard Authorities did not want to even question him.

Whoever the murderer was, Jane Clouson was the victim of a terrible, vicious attack and died far, far too young.

Running with W. G. Sebald

Today’s run was on a gloomy, miserable afternoon with little bits of drizzle in a slight breeze, but that didn’t matter as it was mainly through two of my favourite places in South East London, Nunhead and Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries.

Had there been some sun, the last of the autumn colours would have been fantastic, but, without that, my focus was more on the gravestones and memorials.

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It brought to my mind a quote from W G Sebald’s fantastic ‘Austerlitz’ wandering through another of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries, Tower Hamlets in the East End:

In the twilight slowly falling over London we walked along the paths of the cemetery, past monuments erected by the Victorians to commemorate their dead, past mausoleums, marble crosses, stelae and obelisks, bulbous urns and statues of angels many of them wingless or otherwise mutilated, turned to stone, so it seemed to me at the very moment when they were about to take off… Some of the graves themselves had risen from the ground or sunk into it, so that you might think that an earthquake had shaken this abode of the departed.

As for the rest of the week’s running I ought to start with an apology to Veterans AC. That I was able to run a decent interval session on Monday rather suggests that I should have run a somewhat faster cross country race last week at Epsom, I doubt the places that I would have gained will make much difference come the end of the season in the club’s promotion challenge though (we are currently next to bottom of the league….) I also managed a tempo run on Friday in addition to around 9 midweek miles.

The Scottish Political Martyrs Memorial

With the Scottish Independence Referendum happening tomorrow, it is perhaps worth reflecting on a group of men who are commemorated at Nunhead Cemetery, not by gravestones but by a large memorial – the Scottish Political Martyrs.

It is a large granite obelisk is unlike anything else in the cemetery and acts as a memorial to five political radicals from the late 18th century – Thomas Muir, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot, and Joseph Gerrald who were all transported to Australia.

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The backdrop to their protests was the French Revolution, which led to universal male suffrage in France in 1792, abolishing all property requirements as a prerequisite for allowing men to register and vote. It is not surprising that events on the other side of the English Channel inspired British radicals wanting similar rights and Societies for Political Reform were set up in many places in the country.

Muir was a Glasgow lawyer who had set up the Scottish Association of the Friends of the People with William Skirving, a Midlothian farmer, in July 1792, and seems to have been attempting to bring together the disparate groups across England and Scotland. The “new Tory” Government of Pitt the Younger was determined to stamp out these views, infiltrated the groups and arrested the leaders. In a series of trials with hand picked, unsympathetic juries Muir, Fyshe Palmer and Skirving were all sentenced to transportation, along with Margarot and Gerrard who were delegates from The London Corresponding Society.

Of the five, Muir escaped from Australia but was wounded on his tortuous trip back to Europe and died in France in 1799; Margarot returned to Britain but died in poverty; Fyshe Palmer died of dysentery on his return voyage; Skirving died in Australia of yellow fever; and Gerrard died of tuberculosis soon after his arrival in New South Wales.

They were not the only trials relating to campaigns for universal male suffrage – three of the other leading London Corresponding Society members – Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall were tried, unsuccessfully for High Treason in 1794.

The memorial itself came out of the next significant organised demands for political reform – the Chartists – at a meeting at the Crown and Anchor in Clerkenwell in 1837 it was decided to commemorate the Scottish Martyrs with memorials in both Scotland and London, although it took until 1851 for the Nunhead memorial to be completed.

Charles Cox & The Army Cyclist Corps

I first noticed the name of Charles Cox of the Army Cyclist Corps on the WW1 memorial on the Lewisham side of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery several years ago. At the time I was reading John Foot’s excellent history of Italian cycling ‘Pedalare! Pedalare!’. This included sections on cyclists in WW1 – including the amazing tale of the one legged Enrico Toti, and in WW2 where Giro and Tour de France winner Gino Bartalli used his cycle to smuggle false papers allowing Jews to escape from Mussolini’s regime. I was unaware though of their World War 1 British counterparts, and it got me interested.

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The main role of the army cyclists was patrolling the coastline. Some units were sent into active service to provide reconnaissance and communications support. However, they tended to be ineffective in trench warfare and spent much time trench holding duties and manual work. There is a Wikipedia photo below of them in the Somme in 1917.

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There were some very specific recruitment posters for them, the last line of one in Wikipedia makes me smile.

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As for Charles George William Cox, he was born in Bermondsey and later moved with his parents to 78 Alloa Road in Deptford. By the 1911 census, he was a postman living in West London with a manager at the sorting office who was also a Bermondsey boy – perhaps he had helped him get the job which oddly had to be listed in the London Gazette. He married Elizabeth Caroline Brown in December 1911 in Brentford. By the time he enlisted, Cox’s address was given as 2 Benbow Road in Hammersmith.

Which regiment he was in remains unclear – he enlisted in London, so it is likely to have been one of the three Kent Battalions. Their role was, initially at least, one of ‘guarding key points and patrolling the coastline to deter invasion and catch spies’.

Charles Cox was listed as ‘B Company’ which was based at the Training Centre in Tonbridge. How he died is unclear, it is possible that he might have been posted to India and was wounded in action – the First Batallion was stationed there from early 1916 onwards – or it could have related to injury or illness in Britain.

Where he died is also slightly unclear, one of his army records suggests that he died at home in Forest Hill, but ‘home’ would presumably have been either Bembow Road or Alloa Road, although it is possible that his parents had to move during the war. If he died in Forest Hill it could have been that he was at one of the auxillary WW1 hospitals, the Fairlawn, in Honor Oak Road. Wherever, he died, he died young, at the age of 28, and when in the cemetery I always go by the memorial and pause for a moment by the inscription of his name.

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Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

As regular readers will know, cemeteries often feature in my posts – so when in Paris last week it was perhaps no surprise that I visited the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

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It is the largest of the Paris cemeteries and dates from the early 1800s, initially it attracted few burials but this changed when it developed a successful marketing strategy based on getting the rich and famous buried there – with Molière being re-interred there a few years after it’s opening. It’s famous ‘inhabitants’ include Oscar Wilde, pictured below, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison and more recently, the cyclist Laurent Fignon.

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Wilde’s Art Deco monument is very different to the rest of the cemetery which itself is very different from 19th century London cemeteries. Unlike London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’, Père-Lachaise was municipally run – something that didn’t happen in London until cemeteries like Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries in the 1850s.

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The style of the graves is very different – in Brockley and Ladywell, and Nunhead while there are a few more ostentatious memorials, the norm is for relatively simple gravestones. While at Père Lachaise there are some simple, unadorned headstones there are many more large family tombs, with a few very monuments and even small chapels. However, the most noticeable feature are tombs that are about the size and shape of the old police telephone boxes, with space for a single mourner inside and often a stained glass window at the rear.

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Finally, I did find a link to Lewisham at Père-Lachaise, albeit a rather tenuous one, with the grave of an escapee from Britain – Thomas Kemp, who conceived and developed the Regency-style Kemp Town estate in Brighton. The Lewisham link is that his first wife was Frances Baring, the daughter of Sir Francis Baring who lived at the Manor House (now library), Lee. It appears that Kemp had little business capacity as a developer and lived beyond his means and ‘slid into insolvency’ and fled to Paris in 1837. He died in 1844 “in penury and bitterness” having been declared an outlaw in Britain.

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