Remembering The Great War

Peabody Buildings, Westminster

A recent trip to London and the City of Westminster Archives Centre provided this old Londoner with a wonderful day of nostalgia. Their collection of books, photographs and documents being an essential experience for anyone born in and around the Paddington area. Especially if, like me, you now live far away from the capital. Having never visited the Archives before, I arranged to meet up with Alan Seymour. An old friend who knew the ropes and whose help throughout the day was invaluable. The joy of the day, however, would begin whilst en route from Victoria Station to the Archives building in St. Ann's Street.

From Victoria Station we walked a short distance, first along Victoria Street in the direction of Westminster Bridge, then right into Strutton Ground. Turning first left into Old Pye Street you then see to the right the first of four groups of building that make up the Peabody Trust Westminster Estate. One of several assemblages of Victorian dwelling built for London's poor as a direct result of the trust set up in 1862 by the American philanthropist George Peabody.

Old Pye Street entrance. Memorial to left of doorway.
(Photo courtesy of Alan Seymour).

Look now through the narrow entrance, "C" Block to the left, "B" to the right, and into a small courtyard. There directly ahead and on the wall of "E" Block, is the memorial commemorating those from the estate that were killed in the First World War.

Peabody Estate, Westminster memorial.
(Photo courtesy Alan Seymour)

A stone plaque surmounted by a cross, the memorial records the names, ranks and regiments of fifteen men. These set out one below the other according to rank.

Appendix I of Dudley Ward's history of the Welsh Guards records that Sergeant Thomas Callaghan came from the Monmouthshire town of Cwmcarn. Indeed, his name appears on the memorial there - unveiled in the square at the bottom of Ivor Street in March, 1922. Turning now to the War Office publication, Soldiers Died In The Great War, we learn that Thomas was in fact born in Cinderford, Gloucestershire and having enlisted into the Grenadier Guards at Newport, Mon. was later transferred to the Welsh Guards. His low regimental number, 42, suggesting that he was one of the original members of that regiment. Created as it was under Royal Warrant of 26 February, 1915 and manned from volunteers provided by existing Guards regiments.

Having left for France on 17 August, 1915, 1st Welsh Guards later fought at Loos and around Ypres before moving south, just under a year later on 27 July, to the Somme. The Battalion reached Halloy on the 30th and trenches between Beaumont-Hamel and Serre on 10 August. It would be during the 10 September operations at Ginchy, further to the south-east, however, that Sergeant Callaghan would be killed. Heavily attacked from through the early morning mist, the Guardsmen stood their ground and after hand-to-hand fighting cleared the enemy from in and around the village. This, and further attacks during the afternoon, bringing great loss to both sides. Thomas Callaghan has no known grave.

The relationship between Private James William Fifield and Private John Peter Fifield has not yet been established. James, who served with the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, has his place of residence noted in Soldiers Died In The Great War as Old Pye Street, while John, of the 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, is shown in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records as being from 8c Peabody Estate, Pear Street, Westminster. This being also the case with several other names from the memorial. But, neither modern or contemporary maps of London show a Pear Street in the Westminster area. Could it be perhaps, that Old Pye Street was misread at sometime and recorded as "Pear?"

At the time of James Fifield's death, 18 April, 1917, his battalion was heavily engaged at the First Battle of the Scarpe. Four months later, on 16 August, John would be killed as the 36th (Ulster) Division began its attack on the village of Langemark in Belgium.

Killed on 2 July, 1917 and buried in Orchard Dump Cemetery at Arleux-en-Gohelle is twenty-nine year old Private William Littlefield of the 1st East Surrey Regiment. The Battalion having relieved the 1st Devonshire in the left sub-sector at Arleux, north-east of Arras on 30 June.

Headquarters of 2nd (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers). Tufton Street, Westminster close to the Peabody Estate.

Private Joseph Charles Marshall served with the London Regiment and not the Royal Fusiliers as stated on the memorial. It would be during the evening of 18 September, 1916, that the 1/2nd Londons, full title 1/2nd (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) and with Headquarters in Tufton Street, a short distance from the Peabody Estate, relieved the Queen's Westminster Rifles in the Combles and Luezenake trenches on the Somme.

Here, and until the 24th, the Battalion was constantly exposed to gas and heavy shell fire as it worked around the clock digging a new advanced position. Joe Marshall was killed on 20 September and one of many whose body was never found. The next name on the memorial is probably a relative and Private Albert Marshall of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers who was killed 14 September, 1914. Having crossed the river Aisne to Vailly, the Battalion later that day took over support positions near Rouge Maison. New Year's Day 1916 saw the 4th Grenadier Guards in billets at Merville, France. Steady drill, route marching, Lewis gun and bombing practice occupying most of the next thirteen days. Tours in trenches at Laventie followed, then after a time out of the line at Herzeele the Battalion, on 6 March, moved into camp near Poperinghe. On 15 March the Guardsmen travelled by train to Ypres and next day took over a line of trenches just north of the Menin Road. The Battalion's left being on the Roulers Railway and close to Railway Wood. Here, on 17 March, Private Samuel John Mason would be killed. He was twenty-four and buried in Menin Road South Military Cemetery.

Three members of the Rifle Brigade follow. Rifleman Alfred Miller served with "A" Company, 16th Battalion and was killed during an attack north of the River Ancre on the Somme, 3 September, 1916. As part of 117th Brigade, 39th Division, it was the task of 16th Rifle Brigade to secure a few hundred yards of high ground west-north-west of the village of St. Pierre-Divion. This in order to protect the flank of the 49th Division advancing up the Ancre Valley. Despite great gallantry, notes several observers, the whole operation failed at a cost to the Battalion of more than four hundred casualties. Alfred Miller is buried in Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery close to Albert on the D938 road.

John Mooney of the 11th Rifle Brigade is recorded as a Lance-Corporal by the War Office. His date of death being given as 4 April, 1917. Just prior to this, on 30 March, the 2nd, 10th and 11th Rifle Brigade attacked in line towards Dessart Wood near Cambrai. A successful operation that saw among the 11th Battalion just four killed and forty-four wounded. This was also the case on 4 April when the 11th again led the assault. This time on Metzen-Couture and Havrincourt Wood.

At 3.35 pm the leading companies went forward over ground thick with snow. The troops on the right protected by a ridge faired well, but those on the left would be soon cut down by machine gun fire directed from the extreme west corner of Havrincourt Wood. Moving on, however, "B" Company on the right put its machine guns to good use and by 7 pm the wood was reported as having been cleared of the enemy. Casualties among the 11th Rifle Brigade had amounted to thirty-eight killed, eighty-two wounded. Another great success, but this time at a much higher cost. Lance-Corporal John Money is buried at Neuville-Bourjonval British Cemetery.

Serving with the 16th Rifle Brigade, and not the 19th as stated in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, Rifleman Cecil William Pennington died from his wounds on 26 March, 1918 and is buried at St. Pierre Cemetery on the north-east outskirts of Amiens. His battalion in the days leading up to this taking part in the Battles of St. Quentin (22-23 March), the actions at the Somme Crossings (24-25 March) and the Battle of Rosières which commenced 26 March.

Buried at home, in Barnes (East Sheen) Cemetery, Surrey, Private Frederick Charles Smith had originally served with the 2nd County of London Yeomanry (Territorial Force). Also known as the Westminster Dragoons and with Headquarters in Elverton Street. A short walk from the Peabody Estate. The War Office, however, show him at time of death, 15 June, 1918, as being with the Pontefract Depot of the York and Lancaster Regiment. Commonwealth War Graves Commission specifying 4th Battalion.

Charles William Temple, notes the CWGC, was thirty when he died near Ypres on 13 February, 1917. Buried at Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, he had served with 518 Field Company, Royal Engineers. This being part of the Territorial Force 47th (London) Division. Alan H. Maude in his history of the 47th notes that during the early weeks of February, 1917 - "Owing to the heavy demand for R.E. material and Ammunition, Convoys from the Divisional Ammunition Column, Train, and Engineers, as well as from the Field Ambulance and Supply Column, were trekking night after night over shelled roads through Vlamertinghe and Ypres."

The last name on the Peabody memorial for which reliable records can be found is that of Sergeant (not Private as stated on memorial) John Townsend. Formally of the 2nd London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), but serving with the 1/12th Battalion (The Rangers) when he was killed during the Battle of Cambrai on 27 November, 1917.

On this day, at about 8 am, the German artillery became unusually active. Heavy shells raining down on part of the Rangers line known as Tadpole Copse. Even more intense after mid-day, the enemy at 3.10 pm then attempted to rush the bombarded area. But a determined defence by the Rangers would hold the attackers at bay. Eyewitness acounts of the action note much gallantry. One Lewis gunner in particular being seen standing in full view of the enemy firing his weapon from the hip.

Copyright © Ray Westlake, May, 2002

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