The Alkham Heroes

 

 

This section of the village website is dedicated to the men whose lives were lost in the First and Second World Wars and whose names are inscribed on the village war memorial. It is a small token to honour the memories of those who were born and who worked, walked, lived and loved in the lanes of the valley. The title of this section is taken from the memorial’s inscription which reads:

 

“In loving and proud memory of the Alkham Heroes who fell in the Great War 1914 -1918”

 

Thirteen Alkham families were shattered by deaths in the Great War with the Collards, Daniels and Ryes each losing two sons. The hope in 1919, when the memorial was unveiled, of a ‘war to end all wars’ was to be proven unfounded when the Second World War broke out 20 years later. Six more Alkham families were to be devastated by this conflict.

 

 

1914 - 1918

 

On 4th   August 1914 Britain and Germany went to war, beginning over four years of conflict that resulted in 16.5 million deaths (military and civilian). Very few places escaped the war either through direct involvement or through loss of inhabitant and Alkham was no exception.

When Germany entered Belgium on 4th August, they were confident that Britain would not invoke the Treaty of London of 1839 in which Britain assured Belgium of support in case of invasion. Kaiser Wilhelm did not think that Britain would go to war over this ‘scrap of paper’. The treaty did not bind Britain to going to war and there is suggestion that there was as much interest in giving Germany a bloody nose and to protect the British Empire, which German expansionism was threatening, as there was in defending Belgium. The Germans gambled on swift progress through Belgium, suppression of the French armies and securing of the ports before the British could muster forces to mount an offensive campaign. Russia was deemed to be so disorganised that it would not be able to muster its troops in time to pose a threat in the east. Swift victory in the west would allow the Germans to then confront the Russians in the east and so avoid the dreaded war on two fronts.

However, the initial rapid German advance, in danger of outrunning its own supply system, was halted by the Belgian and French forces and within days of the British declaration of war the first troops were being landed in France including Charlie Grainger of Alkham.

 

Charlie Grainger

Charlie was the son of Richard and Sarah Grainger of Pimlico, South Alkham. One of 10 children born in Kent, India and the East Indies. The 1901 census shows the family living in St Mary Northgate, Canterbury which formed part of a barracks so presumably Richard was a serving soldier; which would explain the various places of birth of his children. By the 1911 census Richard is an Insurance Agent and Charlie is in the army in the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. When the First World War was declared the Loyals were in Aldershot. They embarked for France and landed at Le Havre on 13th August 1914 as part of the ‘Old Contemptible’ force.

Marching through Le Havre the troops get a rousing reception from the French. The Battalion War Diary, capturing the sense of euphoria that prevailed, notes: “all the French damsels want to shake hands with us, and many are pulled into the ranks by the excited men. The men sing all the way to the camp”.

There is no indication, and apparently no sense, of what is about to unfold. The French are getting the last of the harvest in and spirits are high. The Loyals’ war diary, not yet concerned with battle reports, records this interaction between the British and French when a British soldier attempts to buy some potatoes using his tobacco as trade: “After a great deal of talking in pigeon (sic) English he got the good lady to understand him; she replied “n’ai pas” (I don’t have any), and the soldier, understanding her to say the French for potatoes, promptly replied, “Aye, that’s ‘em, give me some of those ‘n’ai pas”!

I haven’t come across the recording of such light moments in Battalion Diaries written later in the war.

After 10 days the troops have marched into Belgium and although they have seen some Germans they have not been in action. However, the long march and warm weather is taking its toll as the Battalion War Diary records:

“One of the difficulties of the march was that the men, when they got tired, on halting simply throw down their rifles on the road and fall down to seize what rest they can; this is liable to damage the rifles. They also carry the day’s ration with them, in addition to their iron ration and 150 rounds of ammunition per man, while if a fight was expected an extra 50 or 100 rounds were dished out”.

The naivety of the troops was revealed in this account of seeing the guns in action for the first time on the 23rd August:

“Towards dusk the guns begin to fire just behind our village and we all go out to see the fun; it is a very pretty sight”.

There is also some frank honesty as, when approaching Mons, he is told that some “bloody action” is likely, the officer writing the diary recorded:

“I think that my only wish was that I should not turn about and run – I felt very like it just about then”.

Without much action, on 24th August, the Loyals are ordered to begin the “famous retreat” from Mons and, until 5th September when they cross the Marne (about 150 miles), they are marching, fighting rear-guard action and snatching food and rest as and when they can. The men are so tired that when they stop marching some fall asleep standing up.

After a few skirmishes and glimpses of the enemy and dead and wounded, the Loyals get into action proper on 13th September in heavy rain. On the 14th the Loyals are ordered to seize and hold a sugar factory. Shells and bullets whizz all around the various regiments and order is lost resulting in men teaming up as and where they find themselves.

The Battalion War Diary records: “The shells emitted a tall cloud of black dust and smoke. Truly terrible missiles. We go on forward, but as yet I can see nothing. At last we reach the firing line. How anyone reached it is beyond comprehending. And such a line. All manner of regiments are there, and the dead and wounded are lying around in scores. We carry the factory and hold on like grim death”.

Unfortunately, and probably due to the inexperience in this type of warfare, reinforcements and supplies are not forthcoming and, faced with a strong German counter-attack, the Loyals are forced to abandon the factory and beat a retreat. Of Charlie’s Company, 3 of the 5 officers and 175 of the 220 men were killed or injured; Charlie was one of those killed, his death being recorded as being on Monday 14th September. His body was not recovered and he is remembered on the memorial at Ferte Sous-Jarre on the banks of the Marne.

 

 

           

                   Charlie Grainger                                        Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial

 

After this activity and movement, the war on the Western Front settled down into the trench warfare that came to characterise the First World War. The trench system ran from the Swiss border to the Channel and neither side moved more than 10 miles until Spring 1918.

 

Ernest Tupper

In the 1901 census, Ernest Tupper was a ‘boarder’ at Encliffe Farm (at the Folkestone end of the Alkham Valley) where he worked as an agricultural labourer aged 17. By the 1911 census he is married to Minnie Beatrice Whittingstall and they have two children, Arthur and Vera.

Just as the army was having to learn and devise new tactics for warfare on land so the Royal Navy was on the seas. Sadly, this would be too late for Ernest. Ernest had been a regular in the Royal Navy since June 1902 when he exchanged farm labouring and signed up for 12 years. In June 1914 Ernest became part of the Royal Fleet Reserve and joined HMS. Aboukir on 2nd August 914. On 22nd September, HMS Aboukir was patrolling in the North Sea with two other cruisers, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy. The ships were considered old, were light on armaments and senior naval officers were uncomfortable in their use in this area. So vulnerable were these cruisers thought to be that in some quarters they were known as the ‘live bait squad’. The German naval threat in this area was considered to be negligible and the threat of submarine warfare was pretty much discounted. Indeed, the threat of an attack was regarded to be so unlikely that the ships did not follow the procedure of adopting a zig-zag course and keeping at 12 – 13 knots, rather they proceeded in a straight course at 10 knots.

At 6.25 a.m. the German submarine, U9, fired a torpedo at HMS Aboukir which sank 30 minutes after the attack. Because of damage, or the way in which the ship listed, only one lifeboat could be launched and an estimated 527 crew of HMS Aboukir died as a result of the attack. Ernest was one of these men. HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue were also sunk by U9 with a total of 1397 men lost. Ernest’s death is recorded as “Killed or died as a direct result of enemy action” on Tuesday 22nd September 1914. Ernest’s “Body (was) not recovered for burial”. Ernest is remembered on the Naval Memorial at Chatham.

 

     

            HMS Aboukir                                     Drawing of HMS Aboukir after attack

 

Princess Street showing site of Minnie’s home

 

Ernest’s wife, Minnie, seems to have spent the majority of her life in Princess Street, Folkestone and she died in 1974. Searching through the records of people’s lives one uncovers information sometimes interesting, sometimes sad. Minnie’s life feels very tragic. Her father died when she was 6 years old, her husband died when she was 23 leaving her to cope with that loss and to comfort two children aged 6 and 4. Her son, Arthur, died in 1950 aged 43 and, when Minnie died a widow in 1974, she was buried in the same plot as Arthur at Hawkinge cemetery.

 

With the war not over by Christmas and with stalemate developing, thoughts turned to strategies to create a breakthrough. One such idea was a naval action in southern Europe, in the Dardanelles. Attributed to Churchill, the plan was sound on paper. A successful attack in the Dardanelles would draw German forces away from the Western Front which would allow the allies to push through, link up with Russia in the east and so create a war on two fronts which would weaken German defences and bring the war to an end.

 

Stephen Maple

And so, on 25th April 1915, Stephen Maple found himself at Anzac Cove as part of the Gallipoli landings.

Stephen was born in Alkham in 1879. He joined his first Royal Navy ship in April 1897. The 1901 census reveals that Stephen was still in the Royal Navy serving on HMS. Pembroke, aged 21. On 11th November 1901, he married Mary Andrews from Sunderland with whom he had two children, Arthur and Edith, who by the 1911 census were aged 5 years and under 3 months respectively. In the 1911 census, Stephen was a Hotel Hall Porter and the family were living in Dover. As an ex-Royal Navy man, Stephen joined the Royal Fleet Reserve when he finished his service in December 1909 and, in this capacity as a reservist, he was recalled in August 1914.

Stephen was not landed at Gallipoli but HMS. Bacchante sailed close to the shore to provide covering fire to the troops who were attempting to land and those pinned down on the beaches. Stephen was “Killed or died as a direct result of enemy action” on Sunday 25th April and was buried at sea. One account says he was killed by “shore fire”. At the time of his death his wife, Mary, was living in Brighton.

 

  Photo of HMS Bacchante taken on the day that Stephen Maple was killed

 

 

The house in Clarendon Road, Dover where Stephen lived with his family

 

 

Within seven months of war being declared, three men associated with the village were dead. In such a small community, everyone must have been touched in some way and for those with sons, brothers and husbands serving it must have been a very tense time. After Stephen Maple’s death, it was another fourteen months until another villager was killed.

Edwin Daniels was born in Whitfield about 1886.The 1891 census shows the family living in Whitfield at Guilford Nursery which was a market garden enterprise.  By the

 

1901 census, the family are living in South Alkham and Edwin is an ‘agricultural work boy’. He does not appear in the 1911 census so I presume he is in the army. This is supported by the fact that his regiment, the 1st Battalion The Buffs, comprised regular soldiers. At the outbreak of war, the 1st Battalion was in Fermoy in the Republic of Ireland. On 12th August 1914 they moved to Cambridge before landing in St Nazaire in France on 8th September 1914. The Buffs marched to the Aisne to reinforce the hard-pressed BEF and were involved in fighting in the Aisne Heights where Charlie Grainger was also in action – who’s to know if the two men met up in the confusion that surrounded these battles.

Later, The Buffs moved north to Flanders and they saw action at Hooge in July 1915 where the Germans introduced the latest in military technology, the flamethrower.

In late 1915, Edwin was back home as he married Lilian Annie Dunford on 18th November 1915. Lilian’s family were also in the horticulture business (her father was a florist) and she is registered as living at Crabble Farm Nursery in River in the 1911 census though she is a teacher rather than a land worker.

Edwin was in Belgium in 1916 when he was killed on Thursday 8th June by a shell. His death is recorded dryly in the Battalion War Diary which has none of the poetry of the Loyals’ diary, no doubt reflecting the growing impact of the grinding nature of the war. Edwin is one of “4 O.R. (other ranks (i.e. not an officer) so he is not named) killed in action”. He is buried at Essex Farm Cemetery which we visited in 2009 to place a wreath on his grave and where the Canadian surgeon John McCrae wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. At the time of his death, Edwin is reported to be living at Malmains Cottage, Alkham. He left his widow £96. 5s. Lilian died in 1957, still a widow and living at 124, Lewisham Road, River.

 

           

             Edwin Daniels                            Edwin’s grave – Essex Farm, Belgium

 

 

 

John Rye

In 1901, John Rye is living with his parents, William and Ann, and four siblings in South Alkham. His father is a shepherd. John is 8 years old. His older brother, George, who we will hear about later, is aged 10.

At the time of the 1911 census, John is recorded as being 19 years, a servant in the Hambrook family at Little Cauldham Farm, Capel Le Ferne where he works as a ‘pigman’. John was single.

John enlisted as Private TF/6498 in the 1st/7th Battalion Middlesex Regiment at Purfleet, Essex. He was ‘killed in action’ on Saturday, 16th September 1916 at which time his regiment was involved in the third and final general offensive of the Battle of the Somme in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15th – 22nd September) where he would have witnessed the first use of tanks in warfare. The Battalion War Diary records that on 15th September “The 1/1st Londons went over the top at 06.20 and took the first objectives before becoming pinned down. A runner was sent back requesting reinforcements and at 08.20 the 1/7th Middlesex were committed. Passing through the Londons they got no further than 10 yards more before enfilade fire decimated the battalion”. It may be that John was killed in this action as dates of death during periods of such intense fighting could be inaccurate or he may have been killed in some of the counter attacks which followed on the 16th.

John was 24 years old when he was killed and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme, along with 73,000 others.

 

                 

         Thiepval Memorial                                             Present day Little Cauldham Farm

 

 

Arthur Daniels

Arthur Henry Daniels was born in March 1895 at South Alkham.  In 1911, the Census records that Arthur was 16 years old and a ‘Farm Labourer’ living in Alkham. Arthur enlisted in Dover as one of Kitchener’s New Army and joined the 7th Battalion, The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment). After training, the 7th landed in Boulogne in July 1915. Arthur saw action in and around Thiepval and between 8th - 16th November 1916 he was “out of the line” his time filled with cleaning, inspections, some football and rest and relaxation in Amiens. On 17th November, the 7th Battalion went back into action taking over from the Cheshire Regiment. The Battalion war diary records that there was “intermittent enemy shelling, otherwise quiet”. The night of the 17th/18th November was cold. Sleet, snow and mist reduced visibility to zero in many areas along the line. The Germans had known since 9th October of an offensive plan and were so well concealed that an aerial reconnaissance on the 18th October reported no German presence in the area. To gather further intelligence, troops were sent out towards the enemy lines but several were killed or wounded, many lost their way and little information was gathered. Fighting, when it occurred, was fierce but confused. The battalion war diary records that “The men going ‘over the top’ were told to expect little opposition”.

So ended Arthur Daniel’s life, and the Battle of the Somme. By the time of his death, Arthur was a Lance Corporal. He was ‘killed in action’ aged 21, on Saturday, 18th November 1916 - just 22 weeks after his brother, Edwin.

 

                    

       Arthur Daniels                              Arthur’s grave – Regina Trench Cemetery, France

 

Sidney Marsh

The 1901 census records Sidney Marsh as a three-year-old living at Common Hill, Alkham. The 1911 Census reveals him to be aged 13 and a school pupil. Still living at Common Hill with his four brothers and sisters and his parents, Sarah and Alfred Marsh.

Sidney’s death was a mystery to me for a long time because he is buried in St. Anthony’s churchyard and is recorded as having “died at home”. It transpires that Sidney enlisted at Canterbury and was a Private in the 3rd Battalion, Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment. The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion was a Depot/Training unit used to enlist and train recruits and provide drafts for frontline battalions. Though stationed at home, they suffered casualties. 57 Officers and 31 Other Ranks’ (ORs) lost their lives between 1914-19; the Officers with various battalions on active service, the ORs mostly with the Battalion at home. Possibly Sidney was one of those killed during training exercises. Sidney died on Thursday, 15th February 1917 aged 19 and was buried on 20th February 1917 at St Anthony, Alkham.

Sidney’s grave – St Anthony’s, Alkham

 

George Rye

George Rye was the son of William and Ann Rye of Chilton Farm. George emigrated to Australia and became a farm labourer at Hillview Farm, Wagin, Western Australia. He enlisted on 11th January 1916 as a Private in the 44th Battalion, Australian Infantry. Georges unit embarked from Fremantle, Western Australia, on board HMAT A9 Shropshire on 31st March 1916. At the time of enlisting George was single but by the time of his death (just over a year later) he was married to Lucy Louisa Rye from 3 Burrow Road, Folkestone. George was killed in action on Wednesday, 14th March 1917 aged 26. The Digger History website records: The 44th spent the bleak winter of 1916/17 alternating between service in the front line, and training and labouring in the rear areas. This routine was broken by only one major raid, an ill-fated effort involving almost half the battalion on 13 March 1917”. Of this action, known as the big raid, it is recorded that:

"The force, 6 officers and 400 men, assembled in No-Man's Land in spite of a German searchlight playing on the area, and at midnight when the barrage fell, the troops advanced. Progress was difficult in the mud and the borrow-pit in front of the German breastwork was so deep in water that part of the troops had to move through it holding their Lewis guns and rifles above their heads. Though bombed by the Germans, that particular party and one other entered the German trench. But the bulk of the force was still struggling in the wire and the mud and seeing that all arrangements had broken down and confusion must ensue, Lieutenant Taylor, commanding the assault, came to the bitter decision to order the troops back".

It seems probable that it was this action that resulted in Georges death. George is buried at the Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres. George is brother to John who was killed six months earlier on the Somme.

Intriguingly, George left Australia a bachelor, was married to Lucy within the year but, in the Australian Archives, is a poignant letter from a woman seeking any information on George sent in April 1917.

 

                                                

           George’s Grave                                       George & Lucy’s home, Folkestone

 

 

Letter from Miss E.E. Wheal, from Fremantle, seeking any information on George, from the Australian Archives: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ListingReports/ItemsListing.aspx

 

Edward Collard

Edward was born about 1880 at Wolverton to Ambrose and Elizabeth Collard. In February 1901 Edward enlisted in the East Kent Yeomanry. On 25th December 1901 he was seriously wounded in the 2nd Boer War at Tweefontein (South Africa) and was discharged in September 1902.  The 1911 census shows that he was single, aged 31 and a General Labourer.

By 1917 Edward was a Private in the 2nd Battalion, The Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment. He was killed in action’ on Sunday, 13th May 1917 aged 37. The regiment was, at this time, involved in an attack on the Hindenburg Line. This included the action of Bullecourt where there were casualties with 6 officers and 164 men killed, wounded and missing. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website states that Edward is remembered on the Arras memorial but the inscription on the family gravestone in St Anthonys churchyard says that he is interred at Bullecourt’. I was unable to find any evidence of burial at Bullecourt but it could be that Edward was buried there originally and his grave disturbed or lost in subsequent action, hence the inscription on the Arras memorial. It would seem likely that Bullecourt is where Edward was killed.

 

 

Edward (r) with his brother, George, at the pond in Hogbrook Hill Lane, by the present-day Village Hall, Alkham

 

 

The Arras Memorial, France, where Edward’s name is inscribed

 

Percy William Frank Parker

Percy William Frank Parker was born in June 1896 at Ewell Minnis. The 1911 Census reveals Percy to be 14 years old and his employment: All Works. I have not been able to shed any light on what all works’ means, nor have the Census advisers, but I assume that Percy was a general labourer.

Percy died on Saturday, 23rd June 1917 in Flanders. He was aged 21 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial. Percy was a Private in the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. The 9th was involved in heavy fighting in the Battles of Arras (Vimy Ridge) in April 1917 and the Battles of Messines Ridge, June 1917. During the Battle of Messines Ridge the Battalion was heavily shelled and gassed but took all their objectives. Between the 19th and 23rd June the Battalion war Diary recorded that: “Work of consolidation was carried on steadily but under considerable difficulties. Casualties for the 8 days include 1 officer wounded and 19 ORs killed. Presumably Percy was one of these. Later, on the day that Percy was killed, his battalion were relieved and moved out of the line back to their camp.

 

    

              The Menin Gate Memorial to over 53,000 missing in the Ypres salient, Belgium

 

 

Ralph Drake-Brockman

Ralph Drake-Brockman was the son of Alfred and Catherine Drake-Brockman and born on 17th March 1888 at 78 Cheriton Road, Folkestone. The Brockman family lived at Chalksole from 1913 - 1919. Between 1902 - 1906 Ralph attended Dover College and was a Prefect, Head of House and Captain of the Running Team. The 1911 Census shows that Ralph was single and a 23 year old Law Student. By 1913, Ralph was working as a solicitor in Folkestone. Ralph, serving as Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, was awarded the Military Cross on 18th June 1917. He was killed in action, aged 29, at Messines, Belgium on Saturday 29th September 1917 when a shell exploded as he, his brother and their Colonel, were reconnoitering for an observation post. Ralph is buried at Kandahar Farm Cemetery, Belgium.

                                           

Ralph Drake-Brockman                                             Ralph’s grave – Belgium

Account of Ralph’s death

© - The copyright of this document is vested with the current owner - Alan Jackson

 

                                                                   

George Bailey

 

George Bailey was the dearly beloved only son of Robert and Sarah Bailey. The 1911 Census shows that George was aged 21, single and a Railway Clerk.

George enlisted as a Gunner in the 2nd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery on 11th January 1916 at Shorncliffe. By the account of his great nephew, George was something of a ‘character’ not averse to going awol and doing what he wanted to do rather then what the army might want him to do. The Canadian Field Artillery and the Canadian Archives reveal that he was 6ft and ½ inch tall, had fair complexion, grey eyes and light hair. George’s Service Records, and the note from his commanding officer to his parents, states that George was killed instantaneously serving his King and Country but this was not the case. Georges Units War Diary records that: “A sad incident occurred about 11p.m. tonight, one of our gunners, Gnr George Bailey, was shot and killed by a French civilian”. George is recorded as dying on Wednesday 26th December 1917 which was also the birthday of his twin sisters. He was 26 years old. George is buried at Villers-au-Bois Cemetery, Pas de Calais.

At the time of his death Georges parents ran the Carpenters Arms at South Alkham.

                             

           George Bailey                                                     George’s grave

 

Present-day Carpenter’s Arms

 

Albert Francis

Albert Francis, the son of James (a Poultry Keeper) and Rose Francis, was born about 1898 in South Alkham at Yew Cottage. In 1911, the Census reveals he was a 12-year-old school boy. Albert was a Private (42281) in the 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment which, between April 14th and 16th, was in the support area of the front line or on outpost duty. Clearly they were still in harm’s way as 11 ORs were wounded during this time. On the date of Albert’s death, Thursday 18th April 1918, the Battalion War Diary records that: “Hostile attack barrage commenced at 1a.m. Actual attack materialised at 3a.m. not heavy losses.” ‘Not heavy losses’ is so vague, though clearly the family might contest this almost dismissive comment, that I cannot say if Albert died of wounds from previous actions or if he died as a result of the attack on 18th April. Albert was aged 23 when he was killed and he is buried at Chocques Military Cemetery.

At the time of Albert’s death, his parents were living at 292 Cheriton Rd, Morehall, Folkestone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                       Original Yew Tree Cottage

 

           

                        Present-day site of Yew Cottage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              

             Albert’s grave                                              

 

Cecil  Allen

Private Cecil G Allen of C Company, 11th Battalion, Border Regiment was the son of Mrs. E. Allen of Chalksole Green. The 1911 Census reveals he was a 13 year old schoolboy. Cecil enlisted at Woolwich. He died, aged 20, on Tuesday 30th April 1918. The Battalion War Diary states that the 11th was In the Line’ (i.e. at the Front) until 25th April but not involved in any heavy fighting. From the 25th to 30th April, the 11th Battalion took part in military training, church parades and a football competition. It is reported that Cecil died of wounds, which he presumably received whilst at the Front. Cecil is buried at the Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt.

 

Cecil’s grave

 

 

George Collard

George Collard, was born in Alkham in 1892 (I suspect Wolverton where the family was recorded as living in the 1901 Census) to Ambrose and Elizabeth. The 1911 Census reveals that George was single, aged 18 and a "General Labourer". George emigrated to Australia in 1912 (the year his mother died) when he was 20 years old. He embarked on the P&O ship, Ballarat, sailing from London on 7th September 1912 for Sydney and, recorded on the Outward Passenger List, as a ‘farmer’. George settled in New South Wales, where he worked as an agricultural labourer. It was here that he enlisted on 3rd July 1916. Following basic training George sailed from Sydney on 17th October 1916 on the requisitioned P&O steamship HMAT Borda as a Gunner in the 34th Battalion, Australian Infantry.

The Australian National archives have a wealth of information so we know that George was 5’ 10’’ tall, of fair complexion with grey eyes and brown hair. We also know that a distinguishing feature was that the end of his left thumb was crushed. Also, in the archives, is the card signed by his father, Ambrose, acknowledging receipt of George’s effects. What a heavy heart there must have been having lost two sons in under a year; George died 51 weeks after his brother, Edward. George’s military career was short but he was in hospital on two occasions for wounds received in action before he was admitted on 31st March 1918 for shrapnel wounds to the head. George finally succumbed to these wounds and it is recorded that he: "died of wounds received in action in France" on Monday 6th May 1918, about 100 miles from his Alkham home. He was aged 25 and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen.

         Card signed by Ambrose Collard acknowledging the receipt of his son’s effects

 

                             

          George Collard.                                                                          George’s grave

 

Joseph Mount

Joseph Edward Mount was born about 1896 in Guston. In 1911, the Census reveals he was a 15 year old, Farm Yard Boy’. Joseph enlisted as Driver T1/1765 in the Army Service Corps and first saw active service in France on 26th October 1914. Later in the war, as a result of gas poisoning, he was discharged as medically unfit for further active service. Medals awarded: Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914 Star, & Silver War Badge. By 1918 he was employed as a War Goods Inspector (Army Pensioner), and worked in Salford near Manchester. He married Edith Bailey (George Baileys sister), on 26th September 1918 at St Anthony, Alkham. Only two weeks after their marriage, on Friday 11th October 1918, Joseph died at 58 Great Cheetham Street, West Broughton, Salford (Lancs) - aged 23. The cause of death was recorded as Enteric Fever (Typhoid) but this was also the time of the second wave of the so called Spanish Flu, an epidemic which killed more people than the First World War and which was often mistakenly reported as Typhoid. Joseph’s new bride, Edith, was with him at his death. His body was brought back to be buried at St. Anthony’s, Alkham on 15th October 1918.

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Joseph’s grave at St Anthony’s, Alkham 

 

 

 

1939 – 1945

 

 

Ernest Dudley Richards

Ernest (Dudley) Richards was an Ordinary Seaman on HMS Gloucester. Ernie was the son of Fred and Elizabeth Gertrude Richards (nee Toulson) and they lived in one of the cottages that now makes up Upton Cottage. Ernie was ‘lost with his ship on Thursday 22nd May 1941, aged 18, and is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

HMS Gloucester was sunk on 22nd May after being dive-bombed during the Battle of Crete with the loss of 722 of the 807 crew members. The Commander-in-Chief at the time, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, observed: "Thus went the gallant Gloucester. She had endured all things, and no ship had worked harder or had had more risky tasks. She had been hit by bombs more times than any other vessel and had always come up smiling”.

Ernest Richards

        

            HMS Gloucester                                                  HMS Gloucester after bombing

 

                                                   

                                            

     Fred Richards – Ernest’s father                                         Elizabeth – Ernest’s mother

 

Henry Frederick Keeler

Henry (Frederick) Keeler was the son of Charles and Louisa Keeler of Ewell Minnis. The 1901 census states that Charles Keeler (aged 18) was a Farm Labourer and that the family lived at Pimlico. By 1911 Charles (aged 28) was a Waggoner on Farm and the family lived at Standen Cottages.

Henry was a Private in the 1/6th Battalion, The Queens Royal Regiment (West Surrey). This was a territorial force set up in response to the Second World War. They were amalgamated into the 131st (Queen's) Infantry Brigade (44th (Home Counties) Division) which fought with the 8th Army in North Africa. Henry died on Saturday 24th October 1942 (the start of the Second Battle of El Alamein) aged 22 years and is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial, Egypt. Henry is also remembered on the family headstone in St Anthonys churchyard which reveals that his father, Charles, had died in 1937 aged 54, his sister, Ruth May, had died when she was 21 years old in August 1938, whilst his mother died in January 1971 aged 84.

 

                                                   

 

Henry Keeler

 

 

 

Louis David Fagg

Louis* David Fagg was born on 15th December 1918 to Ernest and Emily Fagg at the "Butt and Ben", a small dairy farm on Wolverton Hill and later at Sunny Hill Farm, both in Ewell Minnis. Louis and his four brothers and two sisters went to Alkham School until they were 14. At the start of the war Louis joined the 4th Battalion of The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) as a Private. His first assignment was to France as part of the BEF followed by the withdrawal through Dunkirk. Following a period of training, the Battalion sailed to Malta arriving at the Grand Harbour on 10th November 1940. Throughout the siege, The Buffs took a major part in the defence of the island, mostly airfield defence against enemy bombing. As the enemy became hard pressed in North Africa, the bombing decreased and The Buffs were sent to Alexandria, arriving on the 20th September 1943 for rest and recuperation. An urgent need arose for a British presence on the islands of Leros and Samos and the only troops available were the 4th Battalion The Buffs.

On the 22nd October, The Buffs embarked on the Destroyers HMS Eclipse and HMS Petard. Just after midnight on 23rd/24th October, HMS Eclipse struck a mine and sank in 3 minutes along with Louis and 134 other Buffs. Louis’ death is recorded as being on Saturday 23rd October 1943. As well as the memorial at Alkham, Louis is remembered on the Buffs Roll of Honour and the Athens Memorial.

*On the Alkham Memorial his name is spelt "Lewis". In the Register of Births it is spelt "Louis" and that was how he was always known; only Military sources spell it "Lewis".

Louis Fagg

 

 

William Henry Hinds

Corporal William Henry Hinds was in the 5th Battalion The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) and was killed in action’, aged 22, on Wednesday 17th November 1943.  William was the son of Herbert George and Sarah Lily Hinds. This record is based on the sketchy information that can be found on the Keeler family from military and census records. In 1939, the family is recorded as living at Holmlea, close to Standen Terrace. In June 1941, William married Joyce L Cooper (in the Dover district).

William is buried at Sangro River War Cemetery, Italy.  The site of this cemetery was selected by the 5th Corps and into it were brought the graves of men who had died in the fierce fighting on the Adriatic sector of the front in November-December 1943. Presumably this is when William was killed.

 

Sangro River War Cemetery, Italy

 

 

Ronald Couchman

Ronald Couchman was in the 5th Battalion Grenadier Guards and was killed in action in Italy on Tuesday, 25th July 1944. The Grenadiers website reveals that the 5th Battalion was involved in the invasion of North Africa and then Italy at Anzio before fighting their way to Florence. Presumably it was in the heavy fighting around Florence that Ronald was killed. Ronald was 27 years old when he died. He was the son of Ernest James and Olive Blanche Couchman of Alkham. Ronald is buried in the Florence War Cemetery, he is also remembered on his parents’ gravestone in St Anthony’s churchyard.

 

Florence War Cemetery, Italy

 

 

Alan (Gordon) Gavin

Alan Gavin was a Rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He died on Thursday 19th October 1944 aged 23 years. Alan was the son of Gordon and Euphemia Gavin. The 1901 Census states that the Gavin family lived at Maggot Farm in Maggot Lane (apparently the name was changed to Meggett in the 1950s). The family was still at that address for the 1911 census with five sons and two daughters, Alan was not born at this time. The 2nd Battalion took part in the Normandy landings then fought through France, Belgium and Holland into Germany. Presumably Alan was killed as part of this movement. Alan is buried in the Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Limburg, Belgium and was the last of the Alkham Heroes to be killed in war.

                                     

                                                                                                                          

          Alan Gavin, schoolboy.                                                                    Alan Gavin, soldier.

 

 

                      

Alan Gavin’s grave

 

  

The work to honour the memories of the Heroes is ongoing and it would be good to hear from anyone who has any information on any of these men so that we can recreate a life that was cut so short.

 

 

“No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands”.

Harry Patch, 17th June 1898 – 25th July 2009; “the Last Fighting Tommy.”

 

 

 

I would like to acknowledge the following for their support in compiling these accounts: Anthony Barrier (various); Dave Dixon (www.fadedgenes.co.uk) – Joseph Mount; Dover Express – photos of Edwin & Arthur Daniels; John Fagg – Louis Fagg; Dave Grainger (www.afteraction.co.uk George Bailey & Charles Grainger; Eileen West – George and Edward Collard;  Alan Jackson - Ralph Drake-Brockman; Sue Lees (various); John Richards - Ernest Richards.

I would also like to acknowledge the unfailing support of Den and Irene Barnard who encouraged this project and helped organise the trips and talks we have held over the years.

  

If anyone has further information we would be delighted to hear from you. Please email to:brianwimsett@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Robson, April 2020