Monthly Archives: Dec 2014

On 19th December 1914, the 1st Bn. East Surrey Regiment were about to spend their second day in billets at St.Jans Cappell.  They had just completed eight days in the trenches at Wulverghem where the sniper’s bullet and bursting shell were a deadly and ever present threat.  The wet and cold had reduced the trenches to squalor, and increasing numbers of men fell sick.  Enteric fever had made its first appearance, and as senior officers inspected the men, the MO was busy organising everyone’s inoculation, there were 250 still to be done.


Wulverghem – Trench Map 1915

(Neither the war diary or regimental history give a precise location of the East Surreys at Wulverghem)

Lt. W.H. Simpson, a young 21 year old officer from the Special Reserve , had joined the 1st East Surreys at the front just over three weeks ago, but he was not with them now.  Lt. W.H. Simpson lay in an officer’s ward of a hospital in Boulogne, transported there after being mortally wounded four days ago.  He clings to life by the slenderest of threads …

William Herbert Mostyn Simpson was born in Mitcham on 21st June 1893, the second child and first son of William Francis Joseph and Mary (nee Herbert ) Simpson.  Herbert had been born into a privileged and affluent family in the class conscious world of late Victorian society. William’s father was a “Lord of the Manor”, and together with Montague Waldo Sibthorp, one of Mitcham’s principal land owners.

The title, properties and lands had first come to the Simpson family via Hebert’s Great-Grandparents, when William Simpson of Litchfield had married Emily Cranmer at the beginning of the 19th century.  Hebert’s father had inherited the bulk of his estate in 1888 and 1890, as the records of the Cranmer-Simpson Estate show:

(1) The manor of Mitcham alias Canons with rectory, advowson, etc which James Cranmer (d.1801) left to his daughter Esther Maria Dixon and her children in tail, on condition that they changed their name to Cranmer. Her son, the Rev Richard Cranmer, having no son, the property passed to his sister Emily and her husband William Simpson, grandparents of W F J Simpson.

(2) The estate of Mrs Elizabeth Mary Simpson, daughter of the Rev Richard Cranmer, consisting of lands bought by them and by Esther Maria Cranmer (Dixon). She left it to her nephew W F J Simpson.”

(3) Property acquired by William Simpson.”

The Rev. Richard Cranmer, claimed to be a descendent of the famous historical figure Thomas Cranmer.


The Canons – a rear view

William and Emily Simpson resided at “The Canons” with their four children: William, Richard, Robert and Emily.  William Simpson had studied at Trinity College Cambridge, and his brothers at Oxford.  The four siblings converted to Catholicism, and Robert Simpson was ordained as a priest in 1849, and Emily became a Franciscan Nun.

William Herbert Mostyn’s grandfather, would become the second William Simpson to be “Lord of the Manor”.  He married Winifred Mostyn in July 1851 and they would have nine children. Their second child was William Francis Joseph Simpson.  William and Winifred Simpson were instrumental in re-establishing a Catholic Church in Mitcham, for the first since the Reformation.  By 1862 a small brick chapel and a wooden school-room were erected at William Simpson’s expense on land owned by him and facing the Cricket Green.  The first resident priest of the parish was his brother, Robert.  The present church was opened on 2nd July 1889 on land given by Winifred Simpson amid great celebrations, and was a major event in the history of the Parish.

 SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church Mitcham - Copyright  Peter Trimming

SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church Mitcham – Photo Copyright Peter Trimming

William Herbert Mostyn’s parents had married in the spring of 1891 in London, and by the turn of the century Herbert was one of four siblings: Lucy Mary, William Herbert Mostyn, Philip Witham and Mary Winifred.  Park Place was their home, but they were not always in residence as shown by this notice, which appeared in the Surrey Press in 1905 :


Herbert’s father took his civic responsibilities seriously and served on the “Croydon Board of Governors” and had been listed as a Borough Magistrate, along with his brother Francis Simpson, in Dartmouth where the family had connections.  Priest, Robert Simpson, and other family members, had ended their days in Dartmouth.

William Herbert Mostyn had no problem obtaining a commission, and was on probation as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Bn. (Special Reserve) of the East Surrey Regiment by February 1913.

At the outbreak of war, 2nd Lt. W.H. Simpson remains with the 3rd Bn. East Surreys, who are mobilized on August 8th, and move to the Shaft Barracks at Dover within 24 hours. On the 25th August the first draft of men left for France to reinforce the 1st Battalion who had been at Mons, and another draft leaves on 30th of August.

Around this time the Surrey press report the reaction to “Kitchner’s Call to Arms”.  Among the many committees set up throughout the county are those overseeing the Territorial Force recruiting stations.  Herbert’s father becomes chairman of the “Mitcham District Committee”, recruiting for the 5th East Surreys centred at the Drill Hall in St.George’s Road Wimbledon.


By 10th September in Dover the 3rd Battalion was reorganised into companies “A” to “H” as its numbers grew beyond a 1,000 men.  Companies “A” to “D” were regarded as consisting of trained men, while the rest were in training.  Major Hay has initial command of company “A” , with 2nd Lt. Simpson, Luffman and Evanson as subaltern officers.  More drafts leave for France during September, and William Herbert Simpson is promoted to Lieutenant.

As events unfold at the front, it would have been clear to the Simpson family that it was simply a matter of time before their son was sent to the Front.  Lt. W.H. Simpson embarks for France on 8/11/1914.

Lt. W.H. Simpson joins the 1st East Surreys, together with 2nd Lt. B. L. Luffman, and 83 other ranks, on the 26th November 1914 when the battalion had just come out of trenches east of Lindenhoek and were billeted at Darnoutre.  While 200 men were able to get a bath at Bailleul, the usual inspections of rifles and other kit took place. The Battalion had received orders from staff at 14th Brigade HQ for 7 unfortunate men to parade in marching order in various combinations of winter clothing.  Could it all be carried?


On 28th November, the battalion prepared to move to trenches at Wulverghem.  This move was completed at night in a storm of wind and heavy rain. Battalion HQ was based in a farm cottage hidden from enemy view.


HQ Wulverghem – sketched in 1915

Lt. W.H. Simpson’s first two days in the trenches are relatively quiet, with few casualties:


The next of kin of both Lt. W.H. Simpson and 2nd Lt. B. L. Luffman are put on record, and their names added to the “Nominal Roll of Officers”:



The battalion is relieved on 1st December by the Dorsets at around 6pm, the men get a ration of soup to ward of the cold when assembled at Neuve Eglise and finally get to billets at St.Jans Cappell around 1.30am.  The following day the entire Battalion parades at 10am for an inspection and address by the C in C, Field Marshall Sir John French, who praises the 1st East Surreys for everything they’ve done and endured in the last four months.  Reactions are not on record, but it would serve to remind newcomers exactly what the men around them had been through.

On 3rd of December, the Battalion is on parade again as King George V is visiting the troops in Flanders.  One company parades in a field near Brigade HQ and the rest line the road from St. Jans Cappell toward Meterin.  The King’s visit ends with a traditional “hats off” and three cheers.

The battalion is allowed to remain in reserve while the rest of the 14th Brigade move back into the line.  They move to Neuve Eglise on the 5th where they stay for five days.  Presents of warm clothing and tobacco from home are distributed on the 6th December.  The Battalion moves back to the trenches near Wulverghem on the 10th of December on a very dark and wet night. The 11th is a quiet day which is spent improving the conditions of the trenches as best as possible.  The war dairy describes the events leading up to the 16th :


Herbert’s father receives a telegram on 17/12/1914 which reads:

Regret to inform you that Lieut W.H.M. Simpson 1st East Surrey Regt was wounded on 15th December – degree not stated –

A second telegram from the War Office is received three days later on 20/12/1914:

beg to inform you that Lieut W.H. Simpson 1st East Surrey has been admitted to no.7 Stationary Hospital Boulogne with gunshot wound spine dangerously ill

The Simpson family receives a final telegram on the 21/12/1914:

Deeply Regret to inform you that Lieut W.H.M. Simpson 1st East Surrey Regt is now reported to have died of wounds on 19th December Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy

 A notice appears in the London Times on 22nd December:


Christmas 1914 will be a very sober affair for the Simpsons.  The family comes to terms with their loss knowing their second son, Philip Witham Simpson, contemplates seeking a commission.  In March 1915, they finally receive some of their son’s effects, and his father makes polite enquiries as to the whereabouts of his son’s sword, field glasses and wrist watch.

By 8th April 1915, 2nd Lt. Philip Witham Simpson has joined the 3rd Bn. East Surreys, along with fellow probationer William Stanley Mansell.  Almost a year after Hebert’s death, his brother Philip Witham Simpson is sent to Gallipoli in November 1915.  He will be promoted Captain before the war’s end and will serve with the Northamptons and Warwicks.

On April 21, 1915, Herbert’s father writes to acknowledge receipt of notice that his son’s grave number is 962 in the Boulogne Cemetery.  He continues to use personalised black edged mourning stationary for correspondence.

When the IWGC create the Boulogne Eastern cemetery we know today, W.F.J. Simpon Esq., who gives an address in Reigate, requests the following inscription for his son’s headstone:












It was only natural that the Simpson family should wish to erect a similar memorial in the Roman Catholic Church of SS Peter and Paul Mitcham. ( This was in the form of a Portland stone pulpit with an inscription around it on a projecting frieze at about the height of its inner floor.  It is believed to have read “Pray for the soul of Lt W H M Simpson, died of wounds at Wolferghem, 19th December 1914.”. The memorial was lost as a result of later alterations within the Church )

Their son’s name appears on the Mitcham War Memorial as “SIMPSON H.”


In 1922 , Park Place is sold to the News of the World and the estate is developed and maintained as a sports ground for the next 32 years.  It is now a “Carvery”.  Mary Simpson passes away in 1930.  In May 1931, Herbert’s father writes a final letter to the War Office requesting a “Death Certificate” for his son, in order that he can finalise his own affairs.  William Francis Joseph Simpson passes away in 1932.

The Canons was occupied as a private house until shortly before outbreak of war in 1939 when it was purchased by the then Corporation of the Borough of Mitcham.  It is still owned by the London Borough of Merton.

Footnote 1: At the time Lt. W.H.M. Simpson was wounded, the artillery bombardment of the East Surreys positions at Wulverghem was, in part, a response to a British attack made by the 3rd Division to their left by the 2nd Royal Scots and 1st Gordon Highlanders, against Petit Bois and Maedelstede Farm near Wytschaete.  The attack was a tragic disaster with heavy losses.

VC winner Billy Congreve was on the staff of the 3rd Division at the time and wrote an highly critical comment on the 15th December 1914:

Yesterday we made an attack and, as we only put two battalions into it, the attack naturally failed. We had about 400 casualties. It is very depressing. I should have thought that we had learnt our lesson at Neuve Chapelle [in October 1914] about unsupported attacks, but it seems not. The truth of the matter is this I believe: Sir John French wanted to see the Army on the offensive, so an attack on the Petit Bois was arranged. Then later, for some reason or other, it was decided to also attack Maedelstede Farm. Sir John, Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, HRH the Prince of Wales and many other lights of the Gilded Staff sat about on the Scherpenberg, and watched the preliminary bombardment by ours and the 5th Division’s artillery – and then saw these two unfortunate battalions go to more or less certain failure. The reason why? Because it was considered time to be able to report some form of victory. It failed and the reason is obvious“.

More can be read here:

Footnote 2: The Vicar’s son, Brooke. Laud Luffman, who served with William Herbert Simpson in both the Special Reserve and 1st Battalion in Flanders, remained with the East Surreys until retiring from “ill health” in the Spring of 1916. He later worked for the War Office. B.L. Luffman died at the relatively young age of 48, in 1938.

Footnote 3: The text of Sir John French’s address of the 2nd December 1914 was reprinted in full in both the 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion War Diaries.


Footnote 4: My thanks to Tony Scott for providing information about the memorial to W.H.M Simpson which was erected in the Roman Catholic Church of SS Peter and Paul Mitcham.  My thanks also to David Underdown for providing information from Lt. W.H.M. Simpson’s file at the National Archive, Kew.

L/Cpl. 931 W.T. Bentley 1st Bn. Royal Warwickshire Regt. – 9/12/1914

On the morning of 9th December 1914, L/Cpl. 931 Walter Thomas Bentley of the 1st Bn, Royal Warwickshire Regiment is in trenches near the tiny hamlet of St.Yves.  They look out over flat farmland toward the German positions.  To their rear, some thousand yards away, is Ploegsteert Wood, “Plug Street” to the British.  Walter’s battalion had relieved the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers the night before, and as expected the constant heavy rain had turned the trenches into a morass.  Attempts to drain the water proved useless, and the morning is still cold and wet, the worst of conditions.  Walter Bentley is 28 years old, unmarried, and has been in the Warwicks since 1907.  There may have been heat, dust, flies, the threat of malaria, and angry tribesmen in India, but it was a “cushy” number compared to this.  It promises to be another miserable day ….


St. Yves on 1915 Trench Map

(The multi-talented individual Bruce Bairnsfather, famous for his wartime cartoons, was serving as a machine gun officer in the 1st Bn, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1914.  He sketched the position of his dugout just behind the front line trenches at St.Yves in the winter of 1914.


Bairnsfather Sketch Map



Walter Thomas Bentley was born on 7th August 1886 in Battersea.  His father, Mitcham born Thomas Bentley, married Susannah Mills at the imposing church of St.Anns, Wandsworth, on Christmas Day 1881.  StAnnsWandsworth

Walter was their third child, and was baptised on the same day as his younger brother George, in May 1889 at the old church of St.Marys, Summerstown.  The family were then living at 19 Burtop Road, a turning just off Garratt Lane, not far from the old Leather Bottle public house and close to where Water’s mother had been born.  The bustling centre of Earlsfield was nearby, an area which had seen rapid growth when the above ground railway station was built in 1884 by the London and South Western Railway.


Summerstown Map circa 1915

The family moved to Tooting around the time the nation was celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and by 1901 were living at Trevelyan Road, Tooting Graveney.  The family had grown, and Walter was now one of seven siblings, with four brothers and two sisters. He was aged 14 and already working as a “shop boy”.  It was not long before the family had moved to Mitcham. Walter’s father was now employed as a “City Corporation Watchman”.

In 1903 Walter enlisted in the Militia, the 3rd Battalion of the The Queen’s, joining at Croydon on the 5th of May.  Walter gave his home address as 25 Graham Road Mitcham, a road opposite Figgs Marsh and close to an area dominated by the market gardens, nurseries and glass houses of the Mizen famliy, and with the Pains firework factory on the other side of the railway.


Fernlea Road Mitcham – Click to Enlarge

On enlistment, Walter gave his occupation as “baker’s assistant” and was working for a bakery based at Wandsworth Common.  When he is medically examined at Guildford a day later, his age is recorded as 18 years and 8 months.  In time honoured tradition, Walter added over a year to his age. At 5ft 7 inches tall and 119 lbs, no one objects and the seventeen year old with a dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair is passed fit. Walter has just committed himself to six years service.

The next few years are a blank, but at some stage Walter Thomas Bentley transfers to a regular battalion of the Army and becomes Private 931 W. Bentley of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His service number is consistent with those recruited early in 1907 (907 Henry Carter joined on 5th June 1906 and 978 Thomas Patrick Vincent Smith joined on 13th December 1907).  The regimental depot of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was at the Budbrooke Barracks, about 2 miles to the west of Warwick and close to Budbrooke village.  With prior military experience, Walter could be posted to the 1st Battalion, rather than staying at Budbrooke.  His ear would have to quickly adjust to the accents of the many men from Birmingham, Coventry and Nuneaton who were in the Warwicks’ ranks. While his own accent, no doubt with a smattering of Cockney, would immediately mark him out as a Londoner.

Walter is soon onboard ship bound for India, taking the established route via Gibraltar, Suez and Aden.  The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and been in India since 1901 at Belguam.  They had moved to Quetta in 1904, and to Peshawar in 1908.

At Peshawar, the Warwicks were close to the North West Frontier with Afghanistan, a regional trouble spot for the British since the 1850s, and where they had learnt some harsh military lessons in the past.  In the autumn of 1907 there had been numerous daring raids in British Territory, with even armed robbery in Peshawar City itself. The Zakka Khel Afridis tribesmen of the Bazar Valley were the origin of the trouble and at the beginning of February 1908 a military expedition was sanctioned.  Its purpose was:

limited strictly to punishment of Zakka Khel, and not occupation or annexation of tribal territory.”

A mixed force of British and Indian troops, under the command of Major-General Sir James Willcocks, entered the Khaibar Pass on the 14th February, advancing toward the Bazar Valley. Private 931 Walter Bentley, was with the Warwicks in the first brigade, along with Indian units. The satirical magazine Punch referred to the expedition as “Willcocks’ Weekend War” due to its brevity, but without necessarily appreciating the part played by men like Walter Bentley who were in close combat with the tribesman, nor the casualties sustained.  The submission of the Zakka Khel tribesman within two weeks brought the conflict to an end. But any peace was short lived as disturbances caused by the Mohmand Lashkars made the Mohmand Expedition necessary in April 1908.


For his part in the Zakka Khel Expedition, Walter Bentley was awarded the “INDIAN GENERAL SERVICE MEDAL, 1908” with clasp inscribed “NORTH WEST FRONTIER, 1908”, under the provision of special Army Order, dated 11th December 1908.

By 1911 Walter was with the 1st Battalion at Bombay, the year in which the visit to India of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary culminated in the great coronation Durbar held at Delhi on 12th December 1911.  But it might have been football that was of greater interest to Walter, as this was the year that the team of the 1st Bn, Royal Warwickshire Regiment won the “Rovers Cup Final”, the second oldest of India’s main tournaments, beating the 2nd Bn, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1-0.

Back in Mitcham, the Bentley family had moved the short distance from Graham Road to Fernlea Road by 1911.  It would remain the home of Walter’s parents into the 1930s.  Walter’s older brother Charles Thomas Bentley had married Daisy Greenacre in 1903 and by 1911 was living in Love Lane. Mitcham.

Walter’s time in India was coming to an end, and by 1913 his battalion had returned to Britain and was stationed at Shorncliffe Camp, Folkstone.  News of their arrival appeared in the “Dover Express and East Kent News” on Friday 3rd January 1913


Walter settles into garrison duties and adjusts to the old climate.  News of the battalion’s activities appears in the local press, the “Folkestine, Hythe Sandgate and Cheriton Herald”, throughout 1913.  Boxing, football and cricket always attracts attention, as do the concerts given by the regimental band during the summer season at both Folkstone and Dover.  A military parade in May 1913 brings out the crowds as the troops march down the Sandgate Road toward the Town Hall, with the Warwicks at the head of the parade accompanied by the regimental mascot, their Indian Black Buck antelope.


Life will change for everyone when the war comes.

As the European crisis heightened, officers and men were recalled from leave on 30th July 1914, as were any men pending transfer to the Army Reserve.  This would include Walter Bentley who had served 7 years with the colours.  There would be a lot of route marches in the following days as the 1st Battalion moved from Shorncliffe to York, then back south before embarking for France on 22nd August 1914.  They sailed from Southampton at 10.30am on the SS Caledonia, arriving at Boulogne by 8pm.

The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment formed part of the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division, along with the 2nd Bn, the Seaforth Highlanders, 1st Bn, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 2nd Bn, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.  As Private R. G. Hill of the Warwicks would recall:

we were a really fine body of men, hard as nails, average age about twenty-five, and every man with the idea that he was equal to three Germans! Splendid men, enthusiastic, and brave, going to fight, they thought, for a righteous cause”.

Within 48hrs, Walter had detrained with the Battalion just outside Le Cateau station, a town in a state of confusion after the events at Mons.  From here they advanced toward Haucourt were the 1st Warwicks join the of the Battle of Cateau on the 26th August 1914.  Walter will need all his training, experience and instincts to survive.  By the 27th, the splintered groups of the Warwicks were already retiring back to St.Quentin, and so began the long and weary retreat.

When the tide finally turns, like everyone else, Walter’s spirits lift as they advance again in early September.  As Private R. G. Hill puts it:

One day we turned about; other parties joined us, and we were told we were now advancing. We hardly believed it until we came upon dead Germans. That put new life in us. Advancing! Hurrah!

They cross the Marne without a scrap and dig in on top of the ridge beyond the river, a 1,000 yards from the enemy.  September 1914 was relatively quiet for the Warwicks who suffered less shelling than other nearby battalions.  But fetching water and rations is always a risky business.  In common with other BEF units, the 1st Warwicks begin to move north in early October.  Private R. G. Hill takes up the story:

By forced marches and a train journey, we reached St. Omer. One night there, and we boarded French motorvans. We soon found ourselves scrapping after we had disembarked at a small village.

The enemy had dashed down and seized the next village, Meteren, and our first task was to drive them out. The place was held by a rearguard of machine-gunners, and could have been encircled and captured, but we were ordered to take it by bayonet.

We took it at a terrible cost, but found no enemy to bayonet. What few machine-gunners were there had done their work well and fled in time. Then through Bailleul and Armentieres, which the enemy abandoned without a fight.”

It was at Meteren that the young officer Lieutenant B.L.Montgomery was badly wounded and not expected to survive.  The appearance of Highlanders in Armentieres caused much amusement:

with the female part of the population shrieking with laughter at the dress of the Mademoiselle Soldats”.

The 1st Warwicks move into the firing line at Houplines on October 19th.  By the 21st the sound of battle rages all around them, and for the next ten days the shelling and sniping takes a steady toll of officers and men.  On November 1st they can hear sounds of a big battle raging to their north.  All the while the men suffer miserable conditions in flooded and filthy trenches as the weather deteriorates.

Finally on 17th of November, after being in trenches for 28 days at one stretch, part of the 1st Warwicks are relieved, and the remainder on the following day.  The men are dirty, unshaven and lousy.  As Private Hill recalled:

We were at last relieved and proceeded to a large brewery at Nieppe, where four days’ rest, a bath, and clean underclothing made new men of us. This was our first good wash since leaving England.”

On 22nd November, the Battalion relieves the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers in trenches at St Yves between 5-30 & 8.30 pm.  The Dubliners rotate with the Warwicks, four days later, by which time the Warwicks have lost two more men killed and a further 13 wounded.  The Warwicks relieve “The Dubs” again at St.Yves on 30th November.

December 1914 begins at St.Yves with five days of heavy rain, the trenches are in an awful state and the sniping continues.  There is some escape for a small section of men who are chosen to parade under Captain Freeman at Nieppe in front of King George on 3rd December.  The following day, the Warwicks are relieved at night by “The Dubs” and move to billets in Nieppe to clean up and rest.  There is no break in the weather until the morning of the 8th December.  The Warwicks rotate once more with the Dublin Fusliers in the St.Yves trenches, but it’s another foul wet night and any attempt to drain the trenches proves useless.

On the 9th December, the war diary simply states:

Rain in the morning. Fine in the afternoon. Trenches in a very bad state. Work all night – trying to make them habitable. 2, killed. 8, wounded

The war has come to end for L/Cpl. 931 Walter Thomas Bentley and Private 9689 George Henry Childs from Birmingham.  The two men are buried in separate locations behind the lines in Plogesteert Wood.


As the war drags on, the Bentley family come to terms with their loss and fear for the fate of Walter’s brothers Charles and William, who also serve in the Great War.  When the war ends Walter will be awarded the 1914 star with clasp, and both the British and Victory medals.


The same medals as awarded to Pte. Watkins of the Warwicks

In January 1920, those tasked with locating remains within Ploegsteert Wood fail to locate Walter Bentley, despite knowing the site of his burial was Sheet 28 U20 b 9.5, nor did they find Private Childs.


Original burial site of L/Cpl. 931 W. Bentley

Walter Thomas Bentley’s name was added to the Ploegsteert Memorial, along with George Henry Childs and some 11,000 other names of those who died in this sector during Great War and have no known grave.



In Mitcham, the Bentley family ensures Walter’s name is added to the main Memorial and the “Roll of Honour” in St.Mark’s Church, close to where they live.


Walter’s parents remain in Mitcham until the end of their days.  Thomas Bentley passes away aged 66 in the winter of 1926, and was buried at the Church Road Cemetery on 13 December 1926, just over 12 years after Walter was killed.  Walter’s mother Susannah Bentley passes way aged 79 in the spring of 1938, and was buried on 24 March 1938 at the Church Road Cemetery.

Footnote 1: If Walter Bentley had lived, he would almost certainly have experienced the Christmas Truce of 1914 that took place in the turnip field between the British and German lines at St.Yves.

Regimental Sergeant-Major George Beck, of 1st Bn, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, diary entry for Christmas Day 1914 notes:

Not one shot was fired. English and German soldiers intermingled and exchanged souvenirs. Germans very eager to exchange almost anything for our bully beef and jam. Majority of them know French fluently“.  He also describes how the sworn enemies played football, shared cigars and how a German band played God Save the King, which made the British troops think of home.

Bairnsfather wrote about the Christmas Truce:

It all felt most curious: here were these sausage-eating wretches, who had elected to start this infernal European fracas, and in so doing had brought us all into the same muddy pickle as themselves. There was not an atom of hate on either side that day; and yet, on our side, not for a moment was the will to war and the will to beat them relaxed.”


German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment meet in no man’s land, December 26

Footnote 2: Private R. G. Hill went to France on August 22nd, 1914, with the 1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regtiment. On April 11th, 1917, he was wounded in the face, and was discharged medically unfit in March 1918. His recollections were first published in Everyman at War (1930), edited by C. B. Purdom, and can be read here.

At the outbreak of the Great War, George Beck was a Quarter-Master Sergeant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and he started to keep a diary of his time in the trenches. They are being published here.

The many cemeteries and Great War landmarks around Ploegsteert, including the site Bairnsfather’s dugout, feature in this detailed tour of the area.


226977 Leading Stoker G.T.C Usher – 26th November 1914

On the morning of 26th November 1914 226977 Leading Stoker George Usher is about to resume his duties on board the battleship HMS bulwark which is moored within the Kethole Reach on the river Medway, upstream from the town of Sheerness.  Some of the crew had been on leave the previous day, returning by 7am.  The full compliment of officers and men were breakfasting below decks, the band was practising above deck and others were engaged in drills.  George Thomas Goldsmith Usher was 27 years old, married and had been in the Navy since 1905.   After years of dedicated hard work, George Usher had been made a “Leading Stoker” just a week ago.  Like the rest of the crew, George Usher would have had no warning of the catastrophe that was about to strike …


HMS Bulwark


George Usher was born on 14th April 1887 and baptised in 1890 when his parents George and Adelaide Emma (nee Swainn or Swan) where living at 66 Ascalon Street Battersea.  A poor area of industrialised Victorian London, hemmed in by the Nine Elms railway viaducts, the Gas works, and the filter beds of Southwark and Vauxhall waterworks, close to the Thames (This would become the site for Battersea Power Station) .


Location of Battersea home in 1890s

George was the second child , and only son, of George and Adelaide Usher. They would have just three children: Cecilia, George and Lucy.  At the age of five, George was sent to the school in Sleaford Street which had opened in 1874.  By this time the family were living in nearby Tweed Street.

In 1901, now aged 13, George Usher was living in East London.  His parents had returned to the area where they had been married in 1879 and his sister Cecilia had been born in 1882.  The young George User was working as a “van guard”.  His father described his work as “engineer’s handyman” and his mother worked as a “dry-scrubber” in a laundry.  Just two years later George Usher had decided he could make a better life for himself by joining the Navy as a boy sailor.

George Usher enters his new world when he is posted to the school ship HMS Impregnable on 27th July 1903 as 226977 Boy 2nd Class.  George continued his training on HMS Lion and HMS Boscawen II, a training ship at Portland.  When he is eighteen, George Usher signs on for 12 years, and his first adult posting as an ordinary seaman is HMS Jupiter in 1905, a pre-dreadnought battleship seeing service in the home Channel Fleet.  Over the next seven years George Usher will serve on a succession of home fleet ships as a stoker. ( HMS Prince George from Dec 08 to March 09, HMS King Edward VII March 09 to Aug 10 and HMS Revenge Sept. 10 to April 12 ).

In 1911 George Usher takes a new turn and marries Katherine Hines during shore leave. They first live close to the Portsmouth Naval Base in Arundel Street in the busy commerical Landport district of Portsmouth.  Arundel Street has shops, the obligatory pubs and even a brand new Electric Cinema in 1911.

About a year early, George’s parents and sisters had settled in Mitcham, living in Grove Terrace London Road, close to the Kings Arms in the centre of Mitcham.  His younger sister Lucy had married French born Gaston Ginard in 1910.

in April 1913 George is posted to HMS Black Prince.  He is now acting leading stoke and has passed educationally for Petty Officer.   When  the Royal Naval is put on a war footing George Usher joins the crew of HMS Bulwark on 2nd August 1914,  and he is made a leading stoker on 19th November 1914.

A few days before , on the 14th November, HMS Bulwark, as part of the 5th Battle Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Bernard Currey in H.M.S. Prince of Wales and Rear Admiral C.F. Thursby (2nd Flag) in H.M.S. Queen transferred to Sheerness, to guard against a possible German invasion of England.  After completing exercises in the North Sea the 5th Battle Squadron returned to their anchorages off Sheerness in the estuary of the River Medway. HMS Bulwark was moored at buoy no. 17, other ships moored in line included HMS Implacable, HMS Formidable, HMS Queen, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Agamemnon.

Disaster struck at around 7.50am when a devastating internal explosion tore HMS Bulwark apart. Witnesses on the battleship Implacable, the next ship in line at the mooring, reported that:

“a huge pillar of black cloud belched upwards… From the depths of this writhing column flames appeared running down to sea level. The appearance of this dreadful phenomenon was followed by a thunderous roar. Then came a series of lesser detonations, and finally one vast explosion that shook the Implacable from mastheads to keel.”

The destruction of Bulwark was also witnessed on board HMS Formidable:

“when the dust and wreckage had finally settled a limp object was seen hanging from the wireless aerials upon which it had fallen. With difficulty the object was retrieved and found to be an officer’s uniform jacket with three gold bands on the sleeves and between them the purple cloth of an engineer officer. The garment’s former owner had been blasted into fragments.”

This photograph was taken from HMS Queen.

HMS_Bulwark_explodes (1)

HMS Bulwark Explodes

A shower of lighter debris fell on the streets of Sheerness, the explosion was said to rock the pier in Southend and was heard twenty miles away in Whitstable. Of the nearly 750 officers and men on board only 14 initial survivors were rescued, not all would live.

In the afternoon of 26th November Mr. Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, made the following grave statement in the house of commons:

“I regret to say that I have some bad news for the House. The Bulwark battleship, which was lying in Sheerness this morning blew up at 7.53 a.m. The Vice and Rear Admirals who were present have reported their conviction it was an internal magazine explosion, which rent the ship asunder. There was apparently no upheaval of water. The ship had entirely disappeared when the smoke cleared away. An enquiry will be held tomorrow, which may possibly throw more light on this occurrence. The loss of the ship does not sensibly affect the military position, but I regret to say that the loss of life in very severe. Only twelve men were saved, and all the officers and rest of the crew, which, I suppose amounted to between 700 and 800 persons have perished. I think the House would wish me to express on its behalf the deep sympathy and sorrow with which the House had heard the news, and the sympathy it feels with those who have lost their relatives and friends.”

News of the disaster was widely reported in the evening press across Great Britain.  Many men onboard were from Porstmouth and when headlines appeared in the Portsmouth Evening News on 26th November 1914, distressed relatives gathered at the naval base seeking information, and in the vain hope that their loved ones had survived.  George Usher’s wife, Kate would be among the grieving relatives.


From the Portsmouth Evening News – 26th Nov. 1914

His parents and sisters in Mitcham would soon learn of George’s fate as the London papers carried further news on the following day.


Kate Usher re-marries halfway through 1915 , and starts a new life.   At the war’s end George’s name would be added to the Portsmouth Naval Memorial and his parents ensured his name appeared on both the main Mitcham memorial and on the “Roll of Honour “ in St.Marks Church.  His parents, and sister Cecilia ,would remain in Mitcham until the end of their lives.



Footnote 1: Two days after the Bulwark was destroyed an Inquest was held on thirty of the victims at the Royal Naval Hospital, Chatham by the County Coroner Mr. C.B. Harris. He told the jury that they were to investigate the appalling disaster which occurred on H.M.S. Bulwark. Amonsg those giving evidence were Lieutenant B.G. Carroll, assistant coaling officer at Sheerness, and Rear Admiral Gaunt, who had been appointed president of the Admiralty Court of Enquiry into the loss of H.M.S Bulwark.

Lieutenant B.G. Carroll stated that on the 26th November he was proceeding down river in the steamer Eagle and passed H.M.S. Bulwark at about 0750 hours. There were four battleships at their moorings and he noticed that there no barges alongside the Bulwark. He saw the signal she had raised indicating the number of tons of coal she had on board, and then suddenly a large flame leapt up from behind the after barbette. Then the flame appeared to run from the after-turret forward and the whole ship rose in the air aflame followed by a terrific explosion. Lieutenant Carroll turned his vessel around to render assistance and from amongst the debris his crew picked up six of the crew – all dead. It was Lieutenant Carroll opinion that one of her eleven magazines had blown up.

When questioned by the Coroner, Rear Admiral Gaunt stated that no ammunition was being loaded that morning and those eye witnesses who had told the press that three barges were alongside the ship were mistaken. He found no evidence to suggest that the explosion was external and nor was it caused by an act of treachery. It had been established that it was common practice to store ammunition for the ships 6-inch guns in the cross-passageways which connected with her eleven magazines and the Bulwark had been on exercises in the North Sea prior to arriving at Sheerness. Contrary to regulation 275 6-inch shells may have been left in the passageways after the exercise and placed together most touching each other and some touching the bulkhead of the magazine. One or more of those shells could have been damaged and weakened the fusing mechanism causing it to become ‘live’. A blow to the shell through being dropped point down could have set off a chain reaction of explosions amongst the other shells in the cross-passageways sufficient to detonate the ships magazines. Many of the sailors on board were reservists and perhaps the strict rules concerning movements of ammunition had not been fully observed.

After hearing this, and other evidence, the jury returned a verdict of “accidental death”.

Footnote 261 victims from HMS Bulwark, whose bodies were located, and could be identified, are buried in Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery (photograph below).


Woodlands Memorial – copyright Chris Drakes


HMS Princess Irene, which is mentioned on the memorial in Gillingham Cemetery, was a converted mine layer that exploded just five months after the Bulwark disaster.

Footnote 3 :  The War Memorial opposite Sheerness Railway Station mentions the 1070 Officers and Men who died in the wrecks of HMS Bulwark & HMS Princess Irene, but does not name them.


copyright Chris Drakes


copyright Chris Drakes


Private 8767 Charles Bone 2nd Bn.The Queen’s (RWS) – 2nd December 1914

On the 2nd of December 1914, Private 8767 Charles Bone of the 2nd Bn. Royal West Surrey Regiment , known to one and all as “The Queen’s”, is preparing to return to trenches just east of La Boutillerie, the battalion was about to relieve the 2nd Royal Warwicks.


Area on 1915 Trench Map – see Private L/11668 J. Flint post

The 2nd Queens had just had two days out of the front line in local reserve with the men getting their first chance to clean up in a “bath house” since arriving at these trenches at night eighteen days ago.  They were fighting the elements as much as the Germans dug in opposite. Despite precautions taken against frost-bite, the oiling of feet and issue of winter clothing etc., the men were suffering in the bitter cold, especially with bad feet.  The Germans had not been overly active, but occasional shelling and sniping had taken a steady toll of casualties, while others were reporting sick and being sent to the rear.  Private Bone is a reservist, he had served in both the first and second battalions of the Queens before the war.  He is 29 years old, married, and his son, another Charles, is just six months old.  Did he take the chance to scribble a few lines home before going back into the trenches again ?

Charles Bone was born in 1885 in Carshalton, Surrey, the fourth child of George William and Emily Bone (nee Clark).  Charles was one of eight surviving siblings, and had three brothers.  Both his parents were from Banstead, and the family had moved to Mitcham around 1890 when Charles was five years old.  Like his father, Charles worked on the land, and described himself as a farm labourer.  Several years of hard physical outdoor work in all weathers had given Charles a hardy constitution.  Now aged twenty,  Charles Bone had decided to leave Mitcham and seek a bit of adventure.  In some ways, the army life might have seemed a softer option than his current existence, and he was just the kind of rugged individual the army would welcome as a recruit.

On 8th December 1905, Charles Bone made his way to the Croydon recruiting centre of the Royal West Surrey Regiment, and enlisted, becoming Private 8767 of the Queens.  He passes his medical at the Stoughton Barracks, Guildford a day later, where his height, weight, etc. are recorded for later comparison.  Charles stands 5ft 51/2 ins. tall, weighs 122 lbs, and has a ruddy complexion, blue eyes and sandy hair.  Like any new recruit, he is inducted into army life – issued with kit and pay book, learns the rule and regulations, and is subject to strictly enforced discipline.  He learns about the regimental traditions and marches to the regimental band. Hours of drill and exercises follow, with instruction in musketry and practice on the ranges.  Off duty, he no doubt sampled the local watering holes and other delights of Guildford. Charles Bone remained at the Regimental Depot during the winter of 1905.


Stoughton Barracks Keep, Guildford – circa 1910 ?

His phase as a raw recruit ends on 29th March 1906 when he is posted to the 2nd Battalion who are stationed at Shorncliffe camp, Sandgate, overlooking Folkstone and the Channel.


Troops on Parade at Shorncliffe Camp – date circa 1907

Charles moves to Colchester before the year is out, where he learns he is to go to India with a 1st Battalion draft.  Departing in early February 1907, the sea passage via Gibraltar, Suez and Aden takes about three weeks on board the HM Troopship Plassy, in fairly cramped conditions. Charles would spend as much time as possible above deck in the fresh air.  He lands in India on 27th February 1907.


HMT Plassy

Over the next three years, Charles Bone is stationed at Sialkot, Barian, Dehli and finally Agra. Like so many others stationed in India, he suffers from repeated attacks of malaria.  At the end of 1908 all but two companies of the 1st Queens had gone to Aden.  Charles was one of those who remained at Agra, finally leaving India early in 1910.  The separate parts of the 1st Battalion both make for home and on reaching Gibraltar in February 1910 met up with the 2nd Battalion for the first time since Malta in 1894.  At this point, the regimental history records that “One officer and 206 other ranks were handed over to the 2nd Battalion”.  Charles rejoins the 2nd Battalion and remains in Gibraltar on garrison duty for nearly two years, where his malaria returns.  Charles departs with the 2nd Queens for Bermuda on 3/1/1912, arriving on 16/1/1912.

Charles Bone’s 7 year term of engagement expires while he is in Bermuda and on his return to Britain in January 1913, he is officially transferred to the Army reserve on 16th January 1913. Apart from the obligations of being on reserve for the next five years, Charles probably thought his army days had, for the most part, come to an end.


Charles Bone – date unknown


At this time, the Bone family home was at 58 Sibthorp Road Mitcham, and his relationship with Margaret Mary Sallis, who lived in nearby Fountain Road, led to their marriage by Reverend Roberts at St.Marks Church on 20th October 1913.  Their son, given the name Charles, was born in April 1914.  Charles was now 28 years old, and with the new responsibilities of everyday life probably gave little thought to the European situation.  The war will change everything.


Roads overlooked by Workhouse and Gas Works


Sibthorp Road circa 1960s – now gone

At the outbreak of war the 1st Queens were at Bordon Camp, Hampshire.  Brought up to strength with the arrival of reservists, there were a few days of non-stop musketry practice, route marching and open order drill.  The 1st Queens set sail for France from Southampton on the SS Braemar Castle, leaving harbour at 8.15pm on 12th August 1914 with a destroyer escort for destination “unknown” ….


1st Battalion, The Queen’s, on parade at Bordon, August 1914

The 2nd Queens were in Pretoria, South Africa.  They did not return to England until the 19th of September 1914.  They joined 22nd Brigade, 7th Division who were concentrating in the New Forest, Hampshire.  The 2nd Queens landed at Zeebrugge on the 6th of October 1914, supposedly to assist in the defence of Antwerp, but they were soon drawn into the First Battle of Ypres.

The fragments of surviving service papers show that after Charles Bone received notice of mobilisation within days of the 4th of August 1914, and that he was posted to the 3rd (reserve) Battalion, based initially at Guildford.


Extract from Pte. 8767 Bone’s Service Papers

Over the next weeks, news in the press on the Army’s progress would be of less importance to Charles than the Army rumour mill, as he kept abreast of events in France.  The 1st Queens were at Mons, on the long retreat, and had fought on the Marne and Aisne, before moving North to Flanders, where they were in action by 21st October.  The 2nd Queens had already reached Ypres on the 14th October.

All this time, Charles Bone must have wondered when he would actually go to France, and would have been perfectly aware of the losses already sustained by the Queens.  Something any soldier would downplay with their wife and family.  Finally, on 31st October Charles Bone embarks for France, landing on 1st November 1914 with a large draft of over a hundred men drawn mostly from the original members of the 3rd Battalion but with some old hands like Charles and recruits from 1913.  Charles Bone was to join the 2nd Queens at Ypres.

The date of his arrival in France corresponds to fierce fighting at Gheluvelt, just east of Ypres on the Menin road. It was a disaster for the 1st Queens, the battalion had been reduced to just two officers and 32 men.  It had lost nine officers, and 624 NCOs and men were killed, wounded or missing in a little over 24 hours.  Their CO, Lieutenant-Colonel B.T. Pell, DSO, with a broken leg, had been taken prisoner, and would die in captivity.


Survivors of the 1st Battalion, 9 November 1914

The 2nd Queens had already suffered heavy losses – 178 casualties on 21st of October, 25 casualties on 24th of October, 12 casualties on 27th of October, 13 casualties on 28th of October , 92 casualties on 29th of October, 90 casualties on 30th of October, 99 casualties on 31st of October and 1 on the 1st of November.

The earliest Charles Bone is likely to have joined 2nd Queens is on the arrival of the draft referred to in the battalion war diary on the 4th of November.  As part of the much depleted and exhausted 22nd Brigade, the 2nd Queens were withdrawn about a mile and half from the Gheluvelt area toward Dickebush.  But men of the new draft have a baptism of fire as the 2nd Queens are part of a Brigade attack at Zillebeke at dawn, in heavy mist, on the 7th of November. The two lines of the 2nd Queens took the first German trench at the charge in the face of heavy machine gun fire, and held the line all day until relieved by reinforcements.  But it was a costly action with a further 97 casualties.

On the 9th November, what was left of the 22nd Brigade moved to Bailleul and then marched to Merris on the 10th November.  Reorganisation and the arrival of further drafts bring the 2nd Queens up to strength.  On the 14th November they move from Merris, via Sailly and Fleurbaix to trenches occupied by the Cameronians at La Boutillerie. (Henry May had been awarded the VC for his action here on the 22nd October).

The 2nd Queens set about improving the trenches and dugouts over the next four days, assisted by a working party from the 8th Royal Scots. On the 18th, when they leave the trenches for a rest at Rue de Bataille near Saiily, they do so in small groups. Even so, they lose men to stray bullets. The war diary notes:


It’s around this time that an article appears in the Surrey Advertiser, which is reprinted in the Surrey Comet a little later, detailing the ordeal of the Queens at Gheluvelt.


Anyone seeing the casualty lists printed in the Surrey press before would have guessed at a possible disaster.  Such news would only increase the anxiety of the families of men serving with the Queens.  Like most men, any letters Charles Bone wrote home would have sought to allay these fears and minimise the danger he was in.  He would, no doubt, ask for any comforts they could send him.

The 2nd Queens return to the trenches at La Boutillerie on the 20th November and for three more days they work on improving communications trenches and new dugouts with the help of Royal Engineers.  The war diary comments : “Usual sniping, but nothing unusual happened”.  Yet two more men are wounded ,while others report sick.  They leave the trenches at dusk on the 23rd and return to Rue de Bataille.  The men don’t get a break as close order drill precedes an inspection and speech from the G.O.C. Inspection over, the 2nd Queens return to the trenches late on the 26th.  The chance for a proper relief comes on the 29th when the battalion marches to billets at Rue Biache near Fleurbaix.  The war diary describes the next two days:


A curious incident occurs on the 1st of December:


The 2nd Queens return to trenches at different location at La Boutillerie.  There is always risk of casualties when leaving or entering trenches, and this occasion is no different.  The war diary entry for the 2nd December simply states:


If the entry in “De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour” for Charles bone is correct, he passes down the casualty chain and reaches the no.10 ambulance train bound for Boulogne late at night on the 2nd December.  Severely wounded, Charles dies on the train around midnight and was buried at the Boulogne Military Cemetery, the final resting place of other men from Mitcham.


His wife Margaret will receive notification of his death by letter or telegram within a few days of Charles Bone’s death.  With a young child to support, things must have seemed very bleak. Margaret was close to her younger sister “Louie”, Alice Louisa Sallis.  Louie had married before Margaret in the Spring of 1913.  She married Samuel “George” Burge (one of my Grandfather’s cousins) and their son Reuben George Burge was born on 18th October 1913.  Samuel had volunteered in September 1914, he was training with the East Surreys and still in England.  Now Louie had to comfort her sister, wondering what the future might hold for herself and her own child.

By the spring of 1915 Louie would be widowed too.  The two sisters Margaret and Louie had worked together making fireworks at the Pain’s factory at Eastfields, Mitcham before the war. The Pain’s factory developed and made military pyrotechnics during the war years.  Whether either Margaret or Louie had to, or could with young children, work again at the factory is unknown.  By the end of the war, widows Margaret Bone and Louie Burge are living at 38 Fountain Road, while their parents and younger siblings are at 45 Fountain Road.  Still close to the Bone family in Sibthorp Road.

Charles Bone’s mother Emily had not lived to see the end of the war.  She passed away aged 62 in 1917, and was buried at Church Road cemetery on 23rd May 1917.

The two families ensured Charles Bone’s name appeared on the Mitcham War Memorial when it was unveiled in 1920, and on the “Roll of Honour” in St.Marks Church, where Margaret and Charles were married.


Whether out of necessity, or not, Margaret Bone had re-married in mid-1920 to Harry Edward Groom.  They continued to live at 38 Fountain Road for many years.

Charles Bone’s father passes away aged 73 in 1925 and is buried with his wife at Church Road cemetery on 8th August 1925.  His son stays with Margaret in Fountain Road, and marries Mary Matilda Bates in 1937.  A year later Margaret is widowed again in 1938, when Harry Groom dies aged 47.  Margaret will live until 1967.

Footnote 1: The entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour for Charles Bone states: 

“enlisted on 5th Nov. 1904; served with the BEF in France from 12th Aug. 1914; was wounded during the retreat from Mons and again severely in the back, near Ypres, “ Dec.1914 s ….”

This suggests an alternative narrative for Charles Bone’s war. But while his Medal Index Card records he entered France on 12/8/14, was in the 1st Queens and his name appears in the 1st Battalion’s “1914-Star” Medal Roll, he is recorded as only serving in the 2nd Queens on the British and Victory medal roll. This corresponds to his CWGC entry. With the events at Gheluvelt on 31st October easy to see how this confusion might have arisen in the Battalion’s records. This blog entry has been written on the assumption that the surviving burnt fragments of his service papers represent a true record of his service, here he is clearly recorded as landing in France on 1/11/14.


Extract from Pte. 8767 Bone’s Servcie Papers

Footnote 2: Two officers of the 1st Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who occupied the trenches at La Boutillerie immediately before the 2nd Queens, made a remarkable photographic record of events there in October and November 1914. This is just one example:


The 1st Battalion’s Sergeant Major Malins and Second Lieutenant Nicholl search for snipers with their binoculars from ‘Cabbage Patch Trench’ in the Rouges Bancs-La Boutillerie sector. 5 November 1914.