Felbridge Remembers their World War I Heroes, Pt I
The illustrated version of this handout includes photographs of the men, contact us to purchase a copy.
2014 saw the centenary of the start of World War I and to commemorate the event the Felbridge History Group produced Felbridge Remembers World War I [for further information see Felbridge Remembers World War I, SP. SJC07/14]. So much information was donated it was decided to produce a series of Handouts that will culminate with the centenary of Armistice Day in 2018. The following, and succeeding Handouts in the series, will document the information received into the Felbridge archive in response to the centenary, some of which may also appear in the commemorative publication Felbridge Remembers World War I, but where additional information has since be received this has been incorporated under the relevant sections.
This, and all the following Handouts in the series, set out to tell the stories of some of the local heroes with Felbridge connections who fought in World War I and how their families were impacted during this tumultuous time. Much of the information has come from descendants and family members who keep their memories alive, supplemented with information about their service from war records (where they survive) and details about some of the campaigns they fought in.
This Handout covers the Arnold, Roberts and Sargent families, Sidney Godley, the first Private to receive the Victoria Cross in World War I, Frank Wells whose war memoires (in his own words) survive and Christopher Wren of the Tank Corps, all of whom have descendants that still live in Felbridge and the surrounding area.
The impact of World War I on the people of the Felbridge community has to be viewed as two parts, those who sadly lost their lives, which can be measured in facts and figures, and those who returned as very different men after fighting in the war.
For the facts and figures, eighteen men are recorded as having lost their lives in World War I in Felbridge. Of these eighteen, only fifteen appear on the official Memorial Plaque in St John’s church, with a further two remembered on memorials erected in the churchyard, and one who has no memorial [for further information see Handout, War Memorials of St Jon the Divine, SJC 07/02v]. Of the eighteen men, there are four pairs of brothers who died and at least one brother-in-law. The average age of the Felbridge men who died was thirty, with 53% being single, 29% being married and the remaining 18% widowed or unknown. Although the men served with a variety of regiments, the largest percentage, 41%, served with the Royal Sussex Regiment, which lost a total of 6,800 men, and of this figure 0.1% came from Felbridge. The highest loss of Felbridge lives occurred in 1915 and 1916, both years being 29% with 24% lost in 1917 and 18% lost in 1918, the majority of lives being lost in France.
The impact on the community of Felbridge also has to be considered in relation to the population figure of Felbridge at that time. Felbridge, although no longer a manorial estate due to its break up and sale in 1911 [for further information see Handout, 1911 Sale of the Felbridge Estate, SJC 01/11], did not grow during the intervening war years. This meant that the population figure was about the same as it had been during the time of being a manorial estate, which in 1913 was listed as 293. On this basis, Felbridge lost 6% of its total population during World War I and presuming that about half of the population were males, Felbridge lost 12% of its male population. Considering the average life expectancy in Felbridge in the early 1900’s was 60 (from burial data) and the age for conscripted service was 18 to 50 by the end of the War, Felbridge lost 2 in every 9 males who were eligible for war service.
General Information on World War I
Set against a back drop of manoeuvres for European supremacy, World War I began on 4th August 1914, triggered by the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand whilst on a visit to Sarajevo in Bosnia. The War drew in all the World’s big powers divided between two main camps, the Allies consisting of Britain, France and Russia, later joined by countries from the British Commonwealth and America, and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
It was the first war that involved the majority of the world and saw the introduction of a very different form of warfare to that previously experienced. Men no longer fought hand to hand combat but saw the introduction of indiscriminate mechanical warfare at close range. Originally believed to be ‘over by Christmas’ it soon became apparent that this war would not be so easily won and would end up having a huge impact upon all the countries involved.
By the end of the war in Europe, on 11th November 1918, many millions of lives had been lost on all sides and the four major European imperial powers; German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman, ceased to exist after 1919. Germany lost substantial territory, whilst the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman states were dismantled. This saw the re-drawing of the map of Europe with several independent nations restored or created. To try and prevent the repetition of such an appalling conflict again the League of Nations was formed, thus World War I was billed as the ‘War to end all Wars’ but sadly the weakened states renewed European nationalism and the German feeling of humiliation contributed to a rise of fascism and the conditions for World War II, just twenty years later.
Stories behind some of those who served in World War I
The Arnold/Sargent/Roberts families
These three families came together with the marriage of Jean Sargent and Brian Roberts in 1958, and both Jean and her sister-in-law Pam still live in Felbridge. The Arnold/Sargent families, from which Jean descends, were living in the Felbridge area before World War I whereas Brian and Pam’s family moved into the area shortly after the war.
Jean’s maternal great grandparents Frederick Arnold and his wife Ann née Simmonds, originated from the Snow Hill/Copthorne area and East Grinstead, moving to the Lowlands area of Newchapel on their marriage in 1863 where they settled until sometime around 1891 when they moved to Golds Farm Cottage, Blindley Heath. Frederick and Ann married in 1863 and their children included: Sarah Ann born about 1866, Thomas born about 1867, James Henry born about 1869, Ellen born in 1871, Isaac born about 1873, Frederick born about 1875, Rosina born about 1877, Alfred born about 1880, John (also known as Jack) born in 1881, Sophie born in 1883, and George born in 1885. Sadly Thomas died aged three in 1870, and James, Isaac, Rosina and Alfred all died in 1881. Jean descends from John (also known as Jack).
When WWI broke out John (Jean’s grandfather) was thirty-three and his only surviving brother, George, was twenty-nine. At the beginning of WWI, enlistment age was eighteen to thirty-eight which meant that John and George fell within the age band to enlist but George, and probably John, did not volunteer at the beginning of the war but enlisted during the war under the terms of conscription.
PTE. John Arnold
In 1898, John (Jean’s grandfather) married Sarah Jane Mitchell and they had at least ten children; Frederick born in 1900, Bertha (Jean’s mother) born in 1901, William Moses born in 1903, Charles Edward born in 1907, Jack born in 1908, Horace Oliver born in 1909, Beatrice A born in 1912, Ellen E (known as Nell) born in 1913, Dorothy Rose (known as Rose or Rosie) born in 1915 and Lillian born in 1918. From a family photograph John appears to have served with the Royal Field Artillery and, on the birth certificate for his daughter Lillian in 1918, he was listed as a Private in the RA-F (Royal Artillery – Field). Like his only surviving brother George (see below), John was unlikely to have enlisted until conscription was brought in as he was thirty-three years at the outbreak of the war and had a large, young family to provide for by working as a general labourer.
Unfortunately there are no obvious surviving war records for John; however, from a second family photograph of him and his brother George with three other unidentified soldiers serving during WWI, John is pictured with one chevron stripe on his sleeve, which would imply that he had risen to the rank of Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. A Bombardier held a full non-commissioned rank and was not an acting appointment but it was a junior position to that of Corporal. After 1920 the rank of Bombardier became equivalent to the rank of Corporal in the Royal Artillery, being denoted by two chevron stripes on the sleeve.
DVR. George Arnold
In 1906, George married Lillian Laura Page and by 1911 they were living at Horne Park Cottages, Blindley Heath, with their four-year old son Horace George Arnold. Sadly Lillian died in 1916 leaving George a widower and sole parent of at least one young child. George enlisted at the age of ‘thirty-two years and six months’ on 5th February 1917 at Horsham. At the time of his enlistment he was living at Chantlers Hill, Crawley Down, where he was working as a carter.
Between 1917 and 1919 George, Regt. no. 198229, served as a driver with the Royal Artillery (Royal Artillery and Field Artillery), a sub unit of the Royal Field Artillery, being discharged on 15th April 1919. Although the surviving war records list George as a driver, both he and his brother John were photographed wearing spurs and a bandolier (a broad belt worn over the shoulder by soldiers and having a number of small loops or pockets, for holding a cartridge or cartridges), this would indicate that they worked with horses. George is also photographed holding a long riding crop. The second family photograph of George with his brother John and the three other unidentified soldiers serving during WWI, shows George with two chevron stripes on his sleeve, which would imply that he had risen to the rank of Corporal in the Royal Artillery.
In 1914, the Royal Regiment of Artillery comprised of three parts, the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA), the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), in which George served, and the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). The Royal Horse Artillery was armed with light, mobile, horse-drawn guns that in theory provided firepower in support of the cavalry and in practice supplemented the Royal Field Artillery. The Royal Field Artillery was the most numerous section of the artillery, the horse-drawn RFA was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line, were reasonably mobile and organised into brigades. Finally, there was the Royal Garrison Artillery that had developed out of the fortress-based artillery located along the British coast. In 1914 the Royal Garrison Artillery had very little heavy artillery but as the war progressed it grew into a very large component of the British forces, being armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front line and had immense destructive power.
During WWI most of the transport consisted of horse power and as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery George would have been responsible for the care of the horses, the harness and the wagons, including keeping them stocked with ammunition. It was also common practice for drivers to assist with the normal "housekeeping" tasks of the battery. If you were a mounted driver you were mounted on a horse and controlled an adjacent horse, thus a heavy load would have been pulled by six horses in three pairs, each pair with a mounted driver on the left hand horse with two men seated on the load behind.
Fortunately both Arnold brothers survived the war and George received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, as would John although no obvious records survive to confirm this. The British War Medal (nicknamed Squeak) was a campaign medal of the British Empire for service in World War I between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918, being approved in 1919 for issue to all officers and men of the British and Imperial forces. The Victory Medal (nicknamed Wilfred) was issued to all those who received the 1914 Star or the 1914-15 Star (nicknamed Pip) and to most of those who were awarded the British War Medal, but this medal was never awarded on its own.
Both Arnold’s returned to their families and in 1937, George by then aged fifty-two, married Florence E King, and they had two daughters, Pamela and Daphne.
The Sargent Brothers
Jean’s paternal grandparents, Benjamin Sargent and his wife Thirza Ellen née Watkins, originated from Worth before moving to West Hoathly and then settling in Snow Hill where the majority of their family were born at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Benjamin and Thirza had eleven children that included; Rose Priscilla born in 1880, Frederick born in 1882, Albert born in 1885, Thomas born in 1887, Esther born in 1890 (married Christopher Lewis Wren [see below]), Ellen born in 1893, William Henry born on 4th July 1895, John born in 1899, Robert born in 1902, Edith May (married George Wells from whom Frank Wells descends [see below]) born in 1904, and James born in 1906. Jean descends from William Henry.
When WWI broke out Frederick was thirty-two, Albert was twenty-nine, Thomas was twenty-seven, William (Jean’s father) was nineteen, Robert was twelve and James was eight. This means that Benjamin and Thirza had four sons old enough to enlist, one son who would be old enough to enlist before the end of the war and a further two sons who would not reach the age of enlistment before the war ended. This is the story of Sargent brothers who fought in WWI, typical of many families both in Felbridge and the wider population of Britain between 1914 and 1918.
PTE. Frederick Stanley Sargent
Frederick, the oldest son, sailed to Quebec, Canada, on the Empress of Britain in July 1909, the passenger list recording that he was a musician seeking farming work in Canada. Family information states that whilst in Canada, he married, settled down and had a son. Two years after the outbreak of WWI, Frederick enlisted with the Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment) in April 1916, part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. As the war progressed and casualties began to mount, it became necessary to replace losses in the field with more troops. New Battalions were now being trained and sent to England as fast as possible. Upon arrival in England most of the new Battalions were absorbed into reserve Battalions. From there troops were sent where they were needed and Frederick’s unit was sent to take over from the British Forces on the Western Front in October 1916. Sadly Frederick did not last long at the Front as a newspaper clipping from the Toronto Star dated 4th January 1917 stated:
PTE. F SARGENT MISSING
Pte. Frederick Sargent is officially reported missing. He enlisted in April 1916, with the 35th Battalion and went overseas with the reinforcing draft sent by that unit. He was wounded in September. Pte. Sargent was born in England 34 years ago and had been in the city about four years when he enlisted. His wife lives in Birchcliffe.
The Canadian war records report that PTE. Frederick Sargent A/4193, part of the 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, was killed in action on 9th December 1916 being remembered at the VimyMemorialCemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
PTE. Albert Sargent
In 1911 Albert, the second son of Benjamin and Thirza, was working as a gardener, still living with his parents at Snow Hill. When WWI broke out, Albert enlisted with the Royal Sussex Regiment on the 9th September 1914, aged thirty. Albert’s enlistment papers record that he was 5ft 7½ins, weighed 126 lbs (9 stone), and had a chest of 35½ins. He had a fair complexion, grey eyes and sandy hair. A distinguishing feature was a scar just above his left wrist. He was single and lived at Snow Hill. Albert’s war service records show that he originally enlisted in the 8th Battalion Royal Sussex but was transferred to the 3rd Battalion on 24th July 1915. On 13th December 1915 he was transferred to the Bedford Regiment and on 8th March 1917 he was with the 1st Reserve Suffolk Regiment. Between 26th February 1916 and 9th March 1917 Albert served in India, being discharged from the army on 28th May 1917 being deemed physically unfit for duty, the ailment ‘originating in 1912 and not the result of, but aggravated by, ordinary military service’. Albert survived the war and married Dora Tribe in 1922.
PTE. Thomas William Sargent
In 1911 Thomas, like his older brother Albert, was working as a gardener and still living at home with his parents. When WWI broke out Thomas was aged twenty-four but sadly no service records survive, although he is listed in the Royal Sussex Regiment Forces War Records as having served with the Royal Sussex Regiment. Thomas survived the war and married Violet Millicent Nickells [Nickolls] in 1922.
LNC.CPL. William Henry Sargent
William (Jean’s father), was the fourth son of Benjamin and Thirza, and in 1911 was working as a garden boy, living at home with his family. In 1915, William enlisted in the 1/4th Foreign Service Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment (C Company) No.12 Platoon. A potted history of this Battalion by the Royal Sussex Regiment states that on 24th April 1915 it moved to Cambridge and transferred to the 160th Brigade of the 53rd Division and then moved to Bedford. The family photograph of William and his company is stamped Bedford. In July 1915 they moved to the Mediterranean via Mudros, landing at SuvlaBay on 9th August 1915 and engaging in various actions as part of the Gallipoli campaign. In December 1915 they evacuated to Egypt due to heavy casualties from combat, disease and severe weather conditions. The Division then engaged in various actions as part of the Palestine Campaign including: the Battle of Romani in 1916; the Second and Third Battles of Gaza, the Capture of Jerusalem and the Defence of Jerusalem in 1917; and the battle of Tell'Asur in early 1918. In May 1918 they moved to France via Alexandria leaving the 53rd Division. However, by 26th April 1918, William, by then having risen through the ranks to Lance Corporal, had been captured by the Germans and remained a Prisoner of War until 26th November 1918 when he was repatriated and arrived back in England. William survived the war and in 1925 married Bertha Arnold, daughter of John and Sarah Arnold (see above).
Younger brother John, the fifth son of Benjamin and Thirza, would have had to enlist at some point during WWI as he would have reached the age of nineteen by the end of the war in 1918, but sadly his service records have not survived so it is not known with whom he enlisted or where he saw action. However, John survived the war and married Doris Matthews in 1928.
As a consequence of WWI, Albert, Thomas and William were all over thirty when they married. There was also a minimum of a four year gap between the end of the war and when they eventually married suggesting it may have taken some time to adjust back to civilian life again, either emotionally or financially.
SGT. Douglas Roberts
Douglas Roberts (Brian and Pam’s father) was born on 15th January 1898 in Charleston, Oxfordshire, the son of John Maurice Roberts and his wife Mary Anne [Marian] née Jones. Douglas’ siblings included; Daisy born 1880, Margaret born 1881, Isabel born 1882, Ernest E born 1884, Llewellyn Porter born 1885, Claude born 1886, Gladys born 1890, Gwen born 1894 and Marion born 1899. The first five children were born in Wales before the family moved to Scotland where at least the next two children were born before moving to Oxfordshire where the last two children were born. Whilst in Scotland the family surname became McRoberts before reverting back to Roberts on leaving and returning to England. Like the Sargent brothers, Douglas was nearly thirty when he married Beatrice Fairhead in 1927, moving to Littlecote, Crawley Down Road, Felbridge, where he remained until his death in 1961.
All four Roberts brothers served in WWI but they are particularly difficult to identify except for Llewellyn Porter and the family hearsay and military badges of Douglas.
Douglas served with two Regiments, the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) and the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) a British Armyinfantry regiment, originally raised in North America as the Royal Americans, and recruited from North American colonists. Later ranked as the 60th Regiment of Foot, the regiment served for more than 200 years throughout the British Empire. In World War I the KRRC was expanded to twenty-two Battalions and saw much action on the Western Front, Macedonia and Italy.
The Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was a corps of the British Army formed in October 1915 in response to the need for a more effective use of machine guns on the Western Front. At the outbreak of World War I the tactical potential of machine guns was not appreciated by the British Military [for further information see Handout, Downfall of Henry Willis Rudd, SJC 11/02]. Initially each infantryBattalion and cavalryRegiment contained a machine gun section of just two guns that was supplemented in November 1914 by the formation of the Motor Machine Gun Service (MMGS), administered by the Royal Artillery, consisting of motor-cycle mounted machine gun batteries. However, after a year of warfare on the Western Front it was proved that, to be fully effective, machine guns had to be used in larger units and crewed by specially trained men. To achieve this, the Machine Gun Corps was formed in October 1915 with Infantry, Cavalry and Motor branches, followed in 1916 by the Heavy Branch, the Tank Corps (later the Royal Tank Regiment). A depot and training centre was established at Belton Park in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and a base depot at Camiers in France. The MGC served in France, Flanders, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Solonica, India, Afghanistan and East Africa.
Unlike Douglas, his older brother SGT. Llewellyn Porter Roberts, began his working life as a compositor but became a professional soldier, enlisting with the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Guards on 31st August 1903. At enlistment he is recorded as single, 18 years and 2 months of age, 5ft 7⅛ins, 121 lbs (8 stone 9lbs), with a 32½ins chest, fresh complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. A distinguishing features listed was ‘scar left angle of jaw’.
When WWI broke out Llewellyn had already been promoted as Sergeant and was part of the Expeditionary Force sent to France on 10th August 1914. Sadly it was just seven months before SGT. Llewellyn Porter Roberts, 8552, died of his wounds inflicted at Veldstraat, Belgium, on 26th March 1915. His personal effects consisting of letters, postcards, a pocket book, whistle, disc, pouch and pipe lighters were returned to his next of kin, his sister Isabel, with instructions that they should be returned to his father, ‘should he re-appear’ as Isabel had not seen him for eighteen years, and presumed that he was dead. Llewellyn was awarded the British War & Victory Medals, which together with his Memorial Plaque (known as the Dead Man’s or Widow’s Penny) eventually found a home with his brother Douglas.
Little can be found on Douglas’s two other brothers, Ernest and Claude, except that in 1915 Ernest was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps and Claude was listed as living in Canada, possibly the thirteen–year old boy found in the Canadian Passenger List who had sailed on the Parisian to Quebec heading for Sherbrooke in August 1900.
Sidney Godley, Frank Wells and Christopher Wren,
Besides Jean’s immediate Arnold, Sargent and Roberts family members involved with WWI, she is related to the sons of several other Felbridge families that fought in the war. Here then are the stories of three more of Jean’s relations.
PTE. Sidney Frank Godley
Jean and Sidney Frank Godley share the same great, great grandfather; Jean’s great grandfather Frederick Arnold (see above) was the brother of Samuel Arnold from whom Sidney descends.
Sidney Frank Godley was born on 14th August 1889 at North End, East Grinstead, the son of Frank Godly and Avis née Newton. Frank and Avis had at least two other children: Kate Avis born in 1887 and Percival (known as Percy) Henry born in 1892. The Godly family, for several generations, had come from the East Grinstead and Felbridge areas and can be traced back to George Godley in 1770 [for further information see Handout, Pte. Sidney Godley VC, SJC03/00], with Sidney’s paternal grandmother coming from the large Pattenden family of the Felbridge and Horne areas [for further information see Handout, Pattenden Family of Felbridge, SJC 07/01].
In 1891 Frank Godly and his family were living in Imberhorne Lane, Frank working as a plumber. Sadly Sidney’s mother Avis died aged just thirty-five, in 1896. After her death Sidney was sent to live with local relatives, including the Wren family (see below) living at The Tower House, Snow Hill Lane, Snow Hill, before moving to Willesden, North London, to live with an uncle and aunt. Here he attended the HenryStreetSchool in St John’s Wood, and when his uncle and aunt moved to Sidcup, Sidney attended the SidcupNationalSchool in Birkbeck Road. After leaving school Sidney went to work at an ironmonger’s store in Kilburn High Road and then on 13th December 1909, Sidney aged 20, joined the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. In 1911, Sidney Godley, Regt. no. 13814, was living at Corunna Barracks, Stanhopes Lines, Aldershot.
In the army he was a noted sportsman, being a good cross-country runner, footballer and cricketer and relations described him as stubborn and determined. When war was declared in August 1914 his Battalion was one of the first to embark for France and then Belgium. Sidney arrived at Mons along with the rest of the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers on 22nd August 1914 and by the time they reached Nimy the French were having great difficulty holding the German advance. Early on the morning of 23rd August 1914 the British Expeditionary Force made its final moves into its defensive positions along the Mons-Condé canal. I Corps, under General Douglas Haig, moving to the east of Mons, and II Corps, under General Smith-Dorrien, covered Mons to Condé. Sidney formed part of the machine gun section under the command of Lt. Dease, defending NimyRailwayBridge at the town of Mons in Belgium.
During the ensuing battle Sidney was stationed on the bridge helping to supply ammunition to the guns. After severe losses the orders came through for the Battalion to withdraw. It was decided to try and retreat to the River Marne where they hoped they would be able to stop the German advance towards Paris. Sidney was asked to take over one of the machine guns to cover the retreat. This he did, knowing full well that ‘if’ he survived the next few hours he would be taken prisoner by the Germans.
LT. Dease, the Battalion machine gun officer, was killed so Sidney, despite his own serious wounds, took over the machine gun and somehow, single-handedly, managed to hold the bridge for two hours giving the Royal Fusiliers the chance to complete their withdrawal. When Sidney finally ran out of ammunition he broke up his gun and threw the pieces into the CondéCanal. His actions had inflicted an enormous number of injuries on the German infantry. Sidney, his back badly damaged and with a bullet lodged in his head, crawled back from the bridge to the main road and was helped to a first aid post by two Belgium civilians. As his wounds were being dressed the Germans captured the post and he was taken prisoner. Despite rigorous questioning, he gave no answers except his name, rank and number.
Sidney was sent to Berlin where surgeons removed bullets from his head and back and he had surgery for skin grafts, his back alone requiring 150 stitches. When he was fit enough he was transferred to a POW camp at Doberitz. It was here that the American Ambassador first told Sidney that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour available to a British soldier. America had not joined the war at this point and was therefore a neutral country. Sidney Godley was the first Private to receive the VC in World War I, which was awarded as joint first with LT. M J Dease who received the VC posthumously. The citation for Sidney written by LT. Steele reads:
In defence of the railway bridge at Nimy, 23rd August 1914.
This afternoon PTE. Godley showed particular heroism in his management of the machines guns. Lt. Dease having been severely wounded and each machine gunner in turn shot. Under extremely heavy fire he had to remove three dead bodies to get to the gun.
Sidney remained a POW until 1918 when he was able to walk out of the camp as the guards deserted their posts. He made his way to Denmark and from there returned to England in December 1918. His VC was presented to him by King George V in the ballroom of BuckinghamPalace on 15th February 1919.
Between the wars Sidney worked hard on behalf of service charities and on occasions would dress up as ‘Old Bill’, a character created by the artist Bruce Bairnsfather who always maintained that the character was not based on one individual soldier but rather an amalgamation of characters and individuals that symbolised the typical ‘British Tommy’ during the First World War. However, Sidney Godley did bear a striking resemblance to the character and used it to good effect. He had the walrus style moustache, wore his hat at a rakish angle and sported a pipe; on occasions he would wear a helmet with the design of a Union Jack covering it. His likeness was so accurate that he acquired the nickname of ‘Old Bill’.
During his life Sidney never ceased to attend ceremonies commemorating the war or special functions arranged for the ‘Old Contemptibles’ [the nickname of the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF)]. In 1931 he took part in the Armistice Service at the Cenotaph in London. In 1938 the people of Mons presented Sidney with a special medal. In 1939 a party of fifty men from the Royal Fusiliers attended the unveiling of a new bridge at Nimy and during the service a plaque commemorating the heroism of LT. Dease and PTE. Godley was unveiled. In 1940 the plaque was taken down from the NimyBridge for safekeeping and hidden for the duration of the Second World War but in 1961 was re-instated [for further details see Handout, PTE. Sidney Godley VC, SJC03/00].
Sidney died on 29th June 1957 and was buried at Loughton Cemetery, Essex, with full military honours and did not live to witness the reinstatement of the plaque at Nimy, nor the several other plaques that have been raised to commemorate his actions during WWI that include: a blue plaque at East Court, East Grinstead, in 1998 and a blue plaque at Loughton, in 2000, where he spent much of his married life. In 2013 the town of East Grinstead was also presented with a specially commissioned paving stone to commemorate the birthplace of Sidney Godley VC.
Sadly in 2012 Sidney’s medals left the Godley family being sold to a private collector for the sum of £276,000. However, in 2014 Sidney’s story was one of a series of BBC television drama documentaries screened to commemorate the 100 years since the beginning the war. The story of Private Sidney Godley VC, written by Joe Barton, drew on the first-hand testimonies of men involved in the events at the Bridge of Nimy in 1914 bringing his name and actions to the attention of a new and wider audience.
PTE. Frank Wells
Jean and Frank Wells share the same grandfather, Benjamin Sargent, Frank descending from Edith May Sargent, the sister of Jean’s father William Henry Sargent.
Frances (known as Frank) Edward Wells was born on 3rd November 1897, the son of Edward Wells and his wife Amy Ellen née Woods. Edward and Amy had at least six other children including; Wilfred George born in 1899, Mary Ethel born in 1902, Agnes Cecilia born in 1905, Amy Helen born in 1907, Gladys Genevieve born in 1910 and Bernard Edward born in 1912. In 1897 Edward Wells was working as a gamekeeper on the Blount estate of Imberhorne and began his married life in one room of Tilkhurst Farmhouse whilst waiting for a new cottage to be built for him, his wife and their first child Frank [for further information see Handout, The Wells Family of Imberhorne, SJC01/10]. Of the Wells children only Frank and Wilfred were old enough to have served in WWI, Frank from 1916 and Wilfred in 1918.
Unfortunately there are no conclusive surviving war records for Wilfred except the possible entry in the WWI Service Medal and Awards Rolls stating that PTE. Wilfred G Wells (acting CPL.) Regt. no. 026112, serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal in 1920.
However, from the war records Frank enlisted on 31st August 1915. He is pictured to the left, but it is not known which regimental uniform he’s wearing. However, it is known that Frank signed up at the age of sixteen (lying about his age), joining the Royal Sussex Regiment, Regt. no. 3296, later serving with the Military Foot Police (MFP), Regt. no. P.16497. From the WWI Medal Rolls Index it is known that Frank received the Victory Medal, British War Medal and Star, the complete set of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. In later life he wrote his memoires and the following is an extract (in his own words) that details his life during the war years:
My brother had just left school and was working, bringing in a little money and making it a little easier for my mother, except the cooking, which increased with age. I went through the rearing field season without any major incidents and they were all in the wood and fairly safe and I was now attending to my own beat, near enough my own boss. Rumours were getting around about a war with Germany, but I wasn’t interested. Germany was a million miles away to me, but there seemed to be no use in ignoring the fact that a war now, was nearly a cert. I carried on, until it happened and then Lord Kitchener started to shout for men to enlist, I was only sixteen and didn’t dream of enlisting until out of mere curiosity I went to a meeting at the Whitehall in East Grinstead and listened to the things that would happen if Germany ever got into this country. That did it; I would go and stop them ever getting here and into my woods. I joined the army, but to do it, of course, I had to tell a lie and say I was eighteen, but I was in and when I told my father I thought he'd have a fit, but he took it very quietly.
Within a week I was at Shoreham-by-Sea up to my neck in mud on the Downs, erecting tents, digging latrines and generally wondering if I should have my brains tested. There were no knives, forks, spoons or plates and our first meal we had on a piece of paper. There was also no uniform and we remained in civvies, but eventually we sorted ourselves out. There was no use telling us to come on parade with clean boots or clothes, it was a sea of mud. We drilled on the Downs, we marched, we killed sacks of straw with bayonets, we attacked Devils Dyke in the middle of the night and wiped the enemy out, we had a glorious time. As the weather worsened we were put into billets at Portslade, it had become impossible to get in or out of the camp without swimming in the mud. But the billets were like home and St Andrews Rd. a perfect drilling ground and we were proper armchair soldiers. Our Captain was an anti-smoker and would not allow anyone in his company to smoke a cigarette and would take it out of anyone’s mouth, on or off duty, and at a lecture one day said if any of you want to smoke there are some pipes and tobacco at the door, take one of each. The next day we were on a route march along the Brighton Front when the order came to march at ease, immediately out came 200 pipes; the pipes were filled and up went a cloud of smoke. The captain looked round and gave the order to march to attention and we had to slope arms with our pipes in our hands as they could not be put in our pockets, so we soon gave up smoking on a march. We now had a blue uniform and a funny little cap, but I thought we all looked very smart, at least we were not now covered with mud and took a pride in our appearance and people weren’t afraid to sit by us in the Hippodrome
But all good things come to an end and so did our armchair soldiering, for at the end of March we went back to our bell tents and mud. Once or twice a week we had long route marches with full pack and empty water bottles as well as your rifle, but one day we were all lined up ready to do our usual route march when the Captain gave orders for us to remove the cork from our water bottles and turn them upside down. Those who had filled theirs with beer could have cried to pour it at their feet, and they got 7 days C.B. into the bargain. Also very often the Provost Sergeant required three or four men to help in the camp on some kind of fatigue and came and asked for so many volunteers, so once again I stepped forward with three others and we went with the Sergeant. He took a good look at us and said, ‘You look a fine lot of strong men just what I want. Go up to the top of the hill and carry those latrine buckets down to the cesspool, empty them, wash and disinfect them, and take them back to there place. There are 500 of them, you should be finished by tea time if you’re sharp’. We finished at half past seven; that was the last time I volunteered. Our Saturday route march was more interesting along the Front, from Shoreham to Brighton, and back along Western Road, with a drum and fife band playing all the way. In the evening, if we had any money, we would go to the Hippodrome and hear Vesta Tilley sing ‘I joined the army yesterday, so the army of to-day’s alright’, but my shilling a day, of which I allowed my mother half, didn’t let you go mad.
Once a week we went to the Salvation Hall for lectures on how not to stop a bullet and how to behave when you came face to face with a German. The lectures were usually given by Capt. McIvor who strongly objected to cigarette smoking and would take it out of your mouth if he saw you smoking, and he gave everybody who wanted it a pipe and an ounce of tobacco. At one of the lectures he asked to look at everybody’s pay book to see they had made out their last will and testament right, when he looked at mine he said, ‘You haven’t made your will out’. I said, ‘I haven’t got anything to leave’. He said, ‘You must make a will, who do you want to leave your belongings to?’ I said, ‘My mother’. ‘Have you got anything at all?’ I said, ‘I’ve got a bike’”, and he said, ‘And you want to leave that to your mother? She will be pleased!’ We continued our training at Shoreham, and in July, we packed our kit and marched through to Inkerman Barracks, Woking. From there we went each day to the rifle range at Pirbright. Shooting was right in my line and in two days I was sent in the butts, marking for the rest of our course. At the end of August we were given two days leave before leaving for France. Our departure was from Brookwood Station to Southampton Docks and then a wait until dusk, before our paddle steamer, ‘The Margarita’, drew quietly away, guarded by two submarines, to dock and away out of sight before daylight. We marched all day to end in a field full of pitched tents where we made ourselves comfortable for an unknown period. When it came it did so with a rush, force-marched by night, pouring with rain for six nights, to land at Bethune in the early hours of the morning and still raining. We marched on to a big field at the back of the main street, gunfire helped to light it up. In the centre of the field the Chaplain stood on a platform and informed us that we would be in the front line trenches this night and as many may not be on this earth tomorrow, we will pray together, which we did and to end we sang ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, and every time I hear it, that field full of men and flashing gun fire looms up in front of me.
With no time to rest we were marched up to Vermiels [Vermelles] arriving just as dawn was breaking and there I got my first sight of War. Dead men, dead horses and wounded men returning from the front lines as best that they could, some on their hands and knees, some being carried by stretcher bearers, avoiding treading on dead men was difficult in the semi darkness. We were very soon in a trench full of mud and water and bodies. That was my first insight of war but not my last. Shellfire was keeping us awake together with hunger. We extended along the trench, tied together with ammunition boxes, rifle, and full pack, and covered in mud. When we were halted, the order came along the line for us to make ourselves comfortable and snatch a meal of bully beef and biscuit, as we would be advancing at dusk. There wasn’t any room to sit, even if the trench had been devoid of mud and water, so we leaned up against the trench and ate our bully and mud, it was delicious. In spite of the gunfire we slept standing up, with our head on the top of the trench.
Dusk must have been a bit late that night for it was midnight before they came along the line for us to advance in extended order, keeping our right hand man in sight and drop to the ground at any lights in the sky, and there were many. If they lasted above a minute I was asleep, but we finally reached some coal slag heaps and following my right hand man, circled them and dropped into a shallow trench where looking over the top were two or three kilted Seaforth Highlanders. They greeted us with ‘Oh Jock, am I pleased to see you’, and ‘Jerry sounds as though he's coming over’. I heard a lot of shouting but I didn’t know what they had to shout about, not at that minute, but I did at the next. Hell let loose, concussion bombs by the gross, coming from the slag heaps behind us, and from that moment I remember nothing until I heard voices and a language I had not heard before. My first thought was we had captured a lot of prisoners but it was just the opposite, they had captured us. I wanted to go to sleep again.
There were about 20 Scottish and 6 of our Regiment, and a couple of hundred Germans. I looked for the Keiser, but couldn’t see him. I thought perhaps he was having his breakfast. We were marched down a field towards a wood and halted. I was still very wobbly and disinterested until the fellow next to me said. ‘They are going to knock us off’. I took a look round and saw two Germans on our left with a couple of machine guns pointing at us, but at the same time I heard someone shouting and saw a German Officer coming out of the wood waving his arms and gesticulating, and the guns were silent but not the Officer. He went off at a tangent ordered about a dozen men to take us off and took the others back to the line. We crossed a few fields towards what we knew afterwards to be Lille. We were met at the top of the street by about a dozen Uhlans on horseback who lined up either side of us and showed us off to the few people who were peeping out of their windows.
We were taken to large French Barracks and into a large drill hall, and in turn each one questioned. Age, regiment and how long had we been over. As soon as that was over we fell asleep, as we could keep awake no longer. In the evening we were given a slice of black looking bread and a mug of weak un-sugared, un-milked coffee and told to sleep on the floor. The following day we had to remain in the drill hall, given a slice of black bread again, until late evening when told to form up and marched to a railway station, loaded up into a cattle truck and away. In the early hours of the morning we drew into a station named Munster, unloaded and marched to a Prisoner of War Camp. It was in four blocks divided by a wide central roadway, with overhead sentry boxes, with a machine gun’s nose sticking out of each. There were four of these, one at the entrance to each block and an electric fence surrounding the four. The hut we were taken to had hammocks, five stories high, one blanket, and we were left to sort ourselves out, and what a sort out, tired, hungry and browned off, time to think things out. First, lucky to be alive as there were very few of the Regiment left, it was just hell let loose for a few minutes, but those few minutes were plenty. My clothes were torn and filthy, I had forgotten when I last shaved, there was no water that I could see anywhere. I wondered how I had been taken prisoner, I just didn’t know, and I still don't know, I just think a concussion bomb had concussed me.
Later in the day we were given a printed card to send home with just, ‘I am well,’ applicable. At evening we were given another slice of bread and told it was for our breakfast, go to bed and be up in the morning at six o'clock ready for work. At six the doors were flung open and two or three sentries came in with their rifles and very quickly everybody was out of bed, if you could call it bed, a flea bed. We were marched off to a farm picking up potatoes, pulling swedes and all the other jobs that a farm holds. At mid-day we were given a mug of' boiled swede, more water than swede. We were guarded by sentries with rifles and at five o'clock marched back to camp where an officer stood waiting to inspect us and count us in, back to our block. We were given our slice of bread for tomorrow’s breakfast and left to regret ever joining the army, and eat our tomorrow's breakfast, too hungry to save it for the morning or safe guard it all night against thieves. The days never varied much, the food, one basin of boiled vegetable, swede or potatoes, or even chestnuts, once a week there was a bit of horseflesh in the soup.
Our farm duties varied, grooming wounded horses from the front and taking them out for exercise, or cleaning army blankets covered in mud and blood, and one day when we were cleaning them, one of the men undid his tunic in a corner where he could not be seen, and wrapped a blanket round him and buttoned his tunic. He looked a little fatter, but no sign of the blanket, and one by one, others got in the corner and did the same, for there were hundreds of them and when five o'clock came we were marched back and no remarks passed. But, when we got to camp and the officer came round to count us, he stepped back a bit and stood looking at us and suddenly went up to one man and unfastened his tunic, he then ordered everyone to unfasten their tunics and that was it, those with blankets no food for three days. After three weeks I had a letter from home, they were not allowed to write any war news; we had been warned that if we received any letters containing war information they would be destroyed. We were allowed to write one letter a week. As the day's got shorter and the nights colder, we began to feel it very much, with little food and one blanket and dozens of fleas, it was a job to sleep at all and as there were no chairs the only place to rest was on your hammock along with the fleas. Quarrels and fighting was going on all the time among the various nationalities and fresh prisoners were coming in every day, the fights were usually over potato rind from the pig tubs.
Christmas was drawing near and what a Christmas it would be, we would without doubt have the snow but little else. But a week before Christmas a sentry came round and asked if any of us would like to go and live and work on a farm. I put my name down to go, I thought it could not be worse than what we were doing living in the camp. He wanted a hundred men and soon got them, we were told we would be going the next day. It was evening before we were marched off to the railway station and boarded a waiting train; it was snowing and bitter cold, too cold to sleep. It was just breaking dawn when the train came to a halt, and when the shuttered doors were opened it was to expose a row of troops with fixed bayonets lined up. We were to get out, put into lines and with bayonets touching our backs, pushed straight into the cage to land at the bottom of the shaft with men waiting to grab each one of us and take us to where a shovel stood waiting. This was for us to start shoveling the mountains of coal into a jogger, taking the coal to wagons waiting to receive it. If I stopped shoveling a lump of coal would hit me in the back. I don’t know how long we worked, but when we arrived at the top again it just breaking daylight and snowing hard. I saw the name of the station as we were led back to some huts, Dinslaken.
Inside the hut a large fire was burning, there was a smell of roast pork, tables laid and girls filling plates. We were told to sit down and eat our meal. It was unbelievable, we ate and plenty, when we had finished an officer came in and asked us if our meal was all right. He then said this is how you will be fed every day. An N.C.O. got up and told him we were not going down the mine any more, it was not allowed for us to do that sort of work. The Officer pointed out the alternative, he said, ‘If you refuse, you will go and stand in the snow until you will be pleased to go down the mine’. We all refused and he lost his temper and told the guards to take us out in the snow until we consented. I never remember how long we stood there but I know they changed sentries several times, and one at a time, men began dropping to the ground and were made to get up, but couldn’t. We must have stood there all day for it was beginning to get dark. At last an Officer came out and ordered us back into the hut but no one could move, when we tried we fell down and then could not get up. The officer raged but it was no use, after a long time we all managed to get there. He shouted and told us if we didn’t go down we would be sent straight to Russia to dig trenches for the troops, but we still refused, and foaming at the mouth he ordered us back on to the train, shouting. ‘Go to Russia’. Our train towed cattle trucks, standing room only, and that ride was a nightmare. Sitting down was impossible; we were crushed against one another, wet, cold, hungry and tired. The thought of Russian trenches did nothing to cheer us up. The rolling of the train lulled me to sleep standing up; at least I couldn’t fall down. Daylight was coming through the truck, and also it was slowing up, I thought we can't be in Russia yet, when the side of the truck was let down there in front of us Munster, we were back to our old camp.
We got back to camp with difficulty, stiff with standing, but we got back home again. I went to my old place in the hut, top hammock, five up, fell on the matting, and was asleep before my head reached the mat. How long I slept I don't know, I'd lost count of days or time, I remember being woken up by a lot of shouting ‘All those from Dinslaken, there's a Christmas pudding from the Red Cross for you’. I woke up with a start, jumped up from the hammock, caught my foot in the ring, which supported them, and fell to the floor. I knew I had broken something, I tried to get up but the pain was too much. I crawled under the bottom hammock out of the way of being trodden on and gave up. No one seemed to take any notice of me and I suppose I just fell asleep again, for how long I don't know, may have been a day or two, for I had a shocking cold and trouble breathing, all I remember is being dragged out from under the hammock and that was all.
I woke up to find myself in a proper bed, in a not very large room, filled with beds and people. After a while a Red Cross orderly came and felt my pulse and left me, to return with a doctor, a lot of' fussing went on and at last he told me that I had been very ill with pneumonia, which didn’t convey a thing to me, I'd never seemed to have heard of it. I was brought food and my leg attended to, the orderly telling me I had ‘Casse le Jambe’, in other words ‘Broken my leg’. He said Christmas had come and gone, it was 1916. He brought me some letters and a parcel from home, which cheered me up, and I managed to write to them. With the orderly’s help I got out of bed, and with crutches walked round the room, and every day afterwards was made to walk about. My leg seemed to be getting better, so I asked the orderly if he would get me a pass to go over and get some things I had left over where I fell, this he did, and I walked with my crutches towards the sentry to give him my pass to go through to the next block but, when I went to hand it to him, the crutch slipped and I quickly threw it to him. He lifted his rifle and hit me with it thinking I had purposely flung it at him, and of course I fell on my broken leg and I was in trouble again. They brought a stretcher and carried me back to bed, and later put my leg in splints again.
A week or so later a sentry came and told me to go with him. I took my crutches and we walked out of the camp and down to Munster. As we neared the street he asked me if I liked beer, I said I did, and when we came to a public house we went in and he bought two half pints of beer. I thought I would be drunk but we got to a hospital and they did something to my leg, anyway when they had finished with me my leg felt a lot more secure. We then walked back to camp; it had taken us all day. The food at the hospital room was much better than a slice of bread, but I was very, very thin and weak. I passed my time away sleeping mostly; there was no news of the war, no papers, even if we could have read them. I seemed to get weaker, if that was possible. The orderly gave a lot of attention to me and was very kind; he told me he was going to put my name down for exchange of prisoners to Switzerland. It didn't mean anything to me, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but as time went on I found I was getting more and more attention everyday, and one day, a doctor came and spent a long time examining me, asked a lot of questions and did a lot of writing. I began to wonder what it was all about. I asked the orderly, he said it was the first doctor’s inspection for Switzerland. Many more doctors came, and many more inspections. My leg was certainly getting better but I could not walk without crutches. The doctors ceased coming and we were back to square one.
I had ceased to ask what day or date it was, or even month, for each day was alike, although the evenings seemed to be getting longer; it made me think of hatching time, so it must be March or even April. One day, when Emile Cochon, that was the French orderly’s name, came in, I asked him the date and he told me it was the end of March. A few days later he came running into the ward with a pile of clothes on his arm, looked at me saying, ‘Voila mon amie j’ai trouve’. It was my tunic, hat, boots and change of underwear, I was delighted. He took them away saying, ‘I will wash them’, which he did and said, ‘You cannot go to Switzerland dirty’. About a fortnight went by, and Emile came in and said, ‘I am going to lose you my friend, for tomorrow you go for final inspections somewhere, I do not know where and I hope very, very much that you go to Switzerland’. He gave me his photograph, which I still have, he said, ‘Good-bye, you will write to me, mon amie?’ I suddenly realised how much he had done for me, and but for him, I would have still been in Germany, under the turf.
Quite early the next morning I was told to get dressed and was escorted to an ambulance with several others and taken to a waiting train, which contained many more English troops. We moved out of Munster and ran non-stop for several hours along beside the Rhine, through Cologne and eventually drew up by Lake Constance. We entered a very large barracks, which was packed with British soldiers. We were shown a mattress to lie on for final inspections. I had little hope of passing among so many. The doctors began to come, scan a paper in their hand, ask a few questions and fill in a paper and pin over our heads, and a V.I.P came along and placed the papers in a bag, and so it went on and on.
At last an order came, everybody outside. Taking my crutches, I walked out in the square, and it was packed, sentries everywhere, and a platform in the centre with German Officers and a table loaded with labels. One Officer picked up a label, handed it to another Officer who shouted a Regimental number, rank and name, and from among the huge crowd, a man would walk up and have a label tied to his tunic, and he was led through a doorway, and the procedure continued. The mountain of' labels was going down and down, and I could see none left when, 3296, Private, Francis Edward Wells, Royal Sussex Regiment. I nearly fell down in my haste to get to the platform and have a label tied to my tunic and be hurried out of the door where an open carriage door was in front of me and I was quickly pushed in. Shots were being fired from the barracks, and a German Officer, standing on the platform of the station with a flag in his hand, suddenly waved the flag, and amid the noise of rifle fire the train drew away and on to the bridge over Lake Constance, and over the zeppelins anchored in the lake.
The train was slowing up, I thought it isn’t true, but I soon learnt it was, as the train drew to a standstill the doors were flung open and crowds of people jumped into the carriage and showered cigarettes, chocolates and bottles of Vin Blanc, handkerchiefs and many other things. They hugged us and asked all sorts of questions, after a long time a guard came along and locked all doors and told the crowd to stand clear, and we slowly moved away from a very friendly, kind lot of people, and again I realised how much Emile had done for me. It was growing dark as the train raced through the night, on either side of us I could see mountains, every body was laughing and singing, and some of them were drunk on Vin Blanc, it was a long time ago, but I shall never forget it. The train came to a halt, the doors flung open, and Lucerne, in big letters, was in front of us. A crowd of people showered all sorts of things on to us and asked questions, laughing and dancing. I don't know why they regarded us as heroes, it was usually the reverse. I felt quite clean and tidy compared to some of the others, for Emile had cut my fluffy beard the day before and shaved me. We walked down a red carpet from the Station on to the street and into a large hall with tables set and crammed with food and wine and people. It lasted about an hour, and then we boarded the train again, fed as we had never been fed before. Dawn was breaking as we drew into Montreux and Chillon. There were people, Red Cross nurses, stretchers and every kind of assistance. Out of the station and up a slope to the Grand Hotel, where on the large frontage, were tables laden with food again, and dozens of people to wait on us. We sat overlooking Lac Leman, and above us the Gummfluh and the Jung Frau, and far beyond the Eigor.
A lady serving us suddenly said to me, ‘What part of Sussex do you come from?’ I told her East Grinstead, she said. ‘I’m from Turners Hill’, and she knew all my relations who lived at Turners Hill. She came back after a while and invited me to stay at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel at Lausanne, saying she was lady's maid to a Russian Princess. After a glorious meal we returned to the Station and boarded a small train, which took us winding up the mountainside, through the tunnel, to land us at Chateau D'Oex. On the label fastened to our tunic, was the Hotel we were to go to. We marched with our crutches down the one street, all decorated with flowers, in our caps, carrying our tattered rags and bits and pieces. The people helped us carry our worldly goods and made us very welcome. Reaching our Hotels we were greeted at the door by the owner and shown to our rooms, lovely rooms and beds, and the view a picture, the Jung Frau. Again we were made very welcome and quickly settled in. The things we wanted to do and see, the letters we wanted to write, the news of the war we wanted to read about. We were told straightaway that writing material was free to us at the Y.M.C.A. who had been improvised for us with teas etc. and a billiard table; we were treated as V.I.P's. I wrote to Emile and told him how grateful I was for all he had done for me. I wrote home to my mother, and for the first time since being captured I was able to tell her all about it.
The notice board informed us that teachers from England would shortly arrive and anyone wishing to learn any of the listed occupations should put their name down on attached sheets. I selected Pitmans Shorthand and French. I thought it would pass my time away as we were limited to how far we could walk. After breakfast we each had our beds to make and room to clean, and at ten in the morning an Officer would inspect all rooms, so we were not allowed out until after ten. We then usually walked to the Y.M.C.A. and played billiards, cards or tried to read a French paper until mid-day when we returned for lunch. In the afternoon we would walk as far as we were allowed. But within a week, six Teachers arrived, four ladies and two men. They told us the lessons would start the next week. Ten thirty the following week we took our seats at the appropriate tables and thus began a term of full employment, for as the teacher explained, it was of no use to us unless we learnt type-writing and bookkeeping with it. So from ten thirty to one o’clock we had shorthand and from two until four, typing and bookkeeping, and in the evening, practice it. It was a very interesting subject and gave no time for boredom. I had no time to learn French my days were fully occupied. Our teacher Miss Dyball informed us that the first examination papers would come from Pitmans, sealed, in one month’s time, and we would have to study hard to make it. The classes were taken very seriously and good results expected; the teachers were government paid. In the evening we got together and practiced together, which helped very much when testing for speed.
While under the care of Emile, I had picked up quite a bit of French and was able to translate a fair amount of French and I was able to type at a moderate speed, so I typed the main headlines of the French newspaper in English and pined on the news board each morning, when practicing the typewriter. The month soon passed and the papers arrived from Pitmans, sealed. Everyone was very excited, as passing meant you received a Pitmans Certificate. We were given a specified time to take down in shorthand, read at 50 words a minute, and translate it on the typewriter. The seal was broken in our presence and the speed witnessed by another teacher. When the bell rang, everyone stopped and the papers were collected, packed and resealed, and posted back to Pitmans. They were returned a week later with certificates from Pitmans, which I have still got. The teachers were very pleased with the results and gave them the incentive to continue. My French was improving rapidly with the aid of a French dictionary and translating the morning’s paper, and I had little difficulty in translating. My typing improved at the same time.
A week after the examination, I received a letter and return railway ticket from Miss Baker, the lady’s maid to the Russian Princess, asking me to go down to Montreux, where she would meet me and take me to the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel, where I would remain for a week at the expense of the Princess. I saw the O.C. and he granted me a Pass. I was duly met and escorted to the Hotel. It was a very large place with waiters everywhere; I was left in a room while Harriet informed Her Royal Highness I had arrived. They both returned within minutes and I was duly introduced to an insignificant elderly lady, rather aloof, she, as usual, asked many questions, hoped I would enjoy my stay at the Hotel and hoped to see me again during my stay and went. Harriet then showed me to a lounge full of people and left me to find my way around. I quickly found people waiting to be given all the answers. A waiter provided me with what he called ‘An aperitif’, and I didn’t know if it was to drink or wash my fingers in, but seeing the others sipping, arrogantly I did the same. One old lady bagged me and showed me around until lunchtime when Harriet arrived to take over. I was grateful for a table on our own for I would not have known which of the many implements in front of me to use, as it was I waited to see which one Harriet used and I did the same. It was all very nice and I spent some pleasant hours by the lake in which the Hotel almost stood. At the end of the week I said goodbye and thanked the Princess, and was escorted back to Montreux, put on puffing Billy for Chateau D'Oex and home.
I was immediately informed of a pending examination of 70 words a minute. When it came, we were all strung up for the job, and history repeated itself, sealed envelope and referees. The bell rung when time to stop, papers collected, sealed and taken away. They were again returned with certificates for all. In all, we were eleven strong, but everybody was pleased at the result, and again I still have the certificate. Time passed and the evenings began to draw in, the information board had a notice informing us that debates between Officers and N.C.O.’s would be held every Wednesday evening, partly for entertainment and partly instructive. If any shorthand typists would care to take down in shorthand and type it up, consideration would be given to our speed ability. This was a very great help indeed, for all of us. The typewritten results were pinned to the Notice Board, as proof, in the case of any arguments and everybody enjoyed them. The weather was turning very cold, bitter winds. The people were getting ready for their usual celebrations on the 29th September, the day the cows were brought down from the mountains. Their bells could be heard all around as they ding-donged home in the warm and in the evening there would be drinks and yodeling and dancing.
It continued very cold into early October, the bitter winds cutting through the mountains. The local people said it would be ‘warmer when the snow had fallen’, and they were quite right, for it snowed for a week without stopping and walking was almost impossible. We were advised to use skis, which we did, and soon got used to them. As the snow hardened we put skates on and what the locals called luges, lying on them and guiding with our feet. All during October it snowed and it became brick hard on the street. No one attempted to clear any; bread was drawn on sleighs by St. Bernard dogs that knew just when to stop and where to go. We began to take a great interest in skiing and skating when we had the time. Now the snow had stopped it was pleasantly warm. We continued our shorthand and were ready for our next examination. It came during January, and this time it was for theory pages, full of questions. The same procedure, unsealed and time limits, and sealed and returned again. The results were not the same though, as you lost a point for any mistake and failed if you had more than five points, which three of them did, and there was no one without a single mistake. The certificates were returned, and again, I have mine still.
During March the teacher asked me if I would like to go down to Vevey and work in an office where the engineers were being taught. It involved shorthand, typing and a little bookkeeping, I said I would, and the following week was in the office. The work was quite easy, the shorthand was chiefly letters to businessmen, as the apprentice engineers were taking in various engineering repairs. I had the office to myself most of the time, as the officer in charge would dictate all his correspondence in one go, and I had all the rest of the day to translate and type up, and place out for his signature. That done, stamp and post them, and at five o’clock, close the office and go to my hotel in Lausanne. But a few days later I was called on at the office by a young lady asking me if I would go to an address, which she gave me, to see an authoress. Apparently, the clerk, whose place I had taken, used to work for her in the evening. I went to see her that evening, was served with tea and scones upon my arrival and then taken in to meet Marian Meredith, an American. She would lie on her settee and talk, and if I would take it down in shorthand and when she fell asleep go into the next room, where there was a type-writer, and type my notes out, and leave for her to read over the next day, when she would cross out her dislikes and replace with others. This suited me fine, it was the best practice I could have and be paid for too. So every evening at five o’clock, I would walk to her house where tea would be waiting for me and into her study with my notebook and pencil, and off we would go again. It was usually ten o’clock before I left, and on my way to the hotel I would call in a cafe and have a rum in hot water and sugar, which warmed me for the night and was not very dear.
Each morning to get to my office, I would walk down to Ouchy, where the Paddle Steamer picked up passengers for Vevey, Montreux and Chillon; to Vevey was one penny on the lake. I was now doing two jobs, and although I got no pay at the Office, everything at the hotel was free and I wasn’t grumbling. The work at the Office increased as trade expanded and everything was done by letter. I never remember a telephone, even if they were invented then. The evenings were beginning to draw out, avalanches appearing up the mountainsides, the walking a little softer. There was no time to look for any form of entertainment; there was neither time nor inclination. Most pleasures were obtained in the cafes, where men played cards all the evening with one little bottle of Vin Blanc to sip. Marian plodded away with her book, a whole pile of manuscripts, which she treasured. The summer passed pleasantly without incident, I was told an examination for a hundred words a minute had been held and had been successful. I now found it no trouble to do 120 words a minute. Christmas drawing near, I was told by the C.O. that I was going up to Chateau D'Oex for Christmas as they were closing the works for a fortnight. I looked forward to seeing the boys again. I was allotted a different hotel when returning to Chateau D'Oex, but still very close to the Victoria, so I was able to meet all my old friends again and learn all the news. The first news was a troupe from E.N.S.A. had arrived from England and was entertaining us all during the Christmas. The snow was glorious up among the mountains and I got on my skis again in the daytime and went to the concerts at the Y.M.C.A. in the evenings.
The time went all too quickly and in spite of my fondness of my work, I still enjoyed the Gummfluh and Jung Frau and the boys, but return I must so I said ‘Cheerio’ and went back to Vevey. Marian was pleased to start again with her book, which she said was drawing to a close, and would I then re-type it all over again, leaving a large margin, and without a single mistake, and she would pay me 3 pence a sheet. I thought this was wonderful for leaving a large margin and double spacing, as I could do a sheet in ten minutes. The Yost typewriter was visibly different to the Remington I had been used to, which you had to lift up to see if you had made any mistakes. I was getting near the end of the manuscript when the C.O. told me I was to return to Chateau D'Oex the following day, as we were to return to England. When I told Marian she said, ‘You will come back when you leave the army?’ I said I would. She paid me what she owed me and 20 pounds for a present. I left the next morning, happy to be returning to England and yet sorry to leave such a kind, friendly lot of people.
I was given my old room at the Victoria and issued with a new uniform and boots, and the following day we gave the hotel a real spring cleaning, said, ‘Good bye’ to our many friends and boarded puffing Billy. Down to Montreux, changed trains and changed again at Geneva. I did not feel very well on the train from Geneva and did not feel like joining in the conversation. It was a long journey and my feelings did not improve, and was glad when I saw the docks. Boarding the ship I felt really ill and fell on to a cabin bed. Someone asked me if I felt ill, I said ‘Yes’. He went away and in a few minutes a ship’s doctor came. He asked a question or two, used his thermometer, looked at my throat and told me to stay where I was. He was back in a short while with two or three people. They took a swab from my throat and left me almost immediately, and a nurse arrived with tablets etc. I closed my eyes and was soon sleeping. I woke, the nurse was shaking me, I looked and two orderlies were holding a stretcher, they lifted me and I was put in a carriage on my own. The nurse returned and she stayed with me while the train drew out of the docks. I was again put on a stretcher and carried into a hospital, taken into a room where several people were waiting for me. I felt too ill to notice what they talked about or what they did, I must have passed out for I remembered no more.
How long I was out for I don’t know, but when I woke up it was to see a ward full of patients all looking very sorry for themselves. A nurse seeing me awake, came over to me and felt my pulse, she told me I had been very ill. I asked what was the matter and what are all these people in here for. My answer was brief; ‘You brought the Spanish Flu over here’. I still felt pretty ill and weak, she said it was now all over the country and many people had died and were dying. I told her I was sorry and went to sleep. A week later I was allowed up and made to help in the hospital, as so many nurses had gone down with it. A letter from my mother said they had been notified of my illness. I was discharged a few days later, given a month’s furlough and a train warrant for East Grinstead. I arrived home to find the whole family in bed with the Flu. My medical education had been sadly neglected. I found in the medicine cupboard a packet of Epsom salts, a tin of Brimstone, a bottle of Castor Oil, Owbridge’s Lung tonic and Beecham Pills, but none of these appropriate. I did what I could for them and as they began to show signs of getting better, my brother, now able to get up, between us we roasted a joint of pork with all the things that go with it and took it up to their rooms. After a while I heard someone vomiting and rushing upstairs and found it was my mother. She said it was the gravy, too rich, I told her I didn’t do anything to it. She said ‘Didn’t you strain the fat off?’ I told her I hadn't, she said, ‘No wonder I was sick!’ But by degrees they recovered and we could talk. I had a lot to tell them and a lot of questions to ask.
My month’s leave soon came to an end and I took off to Tunbridge Wells. Arriving at Bayhall Camp I was shown to the Orderly’s room, where I met the Officer on duty and told him I was to report here. He left me to return later with instructions for me to report at Stockwell House, opposite the General Post Office. At Stockwell House I was issued with a Red hat and told I now belonged to the Military Foot Police, and I would find the duty role posted in the Hall. I found I was for duty the following morning from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with Corporal Holman. When I met the Corporal, I recognised him as the man who used to be a keeper under my father and our 8-hour duty was very pleasant. The 9 to 5 duty lasted for a week and is considered the easy duty, troops being on parade for the day. The 6 to 2 p.m., not many incidents but an early, morning rise. It was the 2 to 10 p.m., which had a busy and sometimes dangerous duty. An evening in the pub, and feeling full of beer and fun, which needed tact, but an even temper and not too much of the Sergeant Major style usually got you through peacefully, or with no major incidents.
I remained at Tunbridge Wells until after Christmas when I was moved to Tonbridge, which was a very peaceful town, as there were very few troops stationed there and more railway station duty than street checking passes. We were billeted in Avesbury Avenue, next to the Telephone Exchange and I often spoke to the girls employed there. In the beginning of June, on Derby day, one of them asked me if I would, put her half-a-crown on ‘Grand Parade’ to win. I went along to a Public House called The Angel, and saw a man with one leg and asked him if a Bookmaker would come in, he said in about an hour. I asked him if he would put my half-a-crown on ‘Grand Parade’. I told him the girl on the exchange had heard Lord Derby say his horse would win the Derby. He replied, ‘I have just had over 200 pounds gratuity money, I’ve a good mind to put it on him and if it won, buy that paper shop over the road that’s up for sale’. He promised to see me that evening and pay me the money if it won. I heard it had won that afternoon, and went along to see him. He was there and drunk, and when he saw me he said, ‘I put it all on and it won at 100 to 8, I’m going to buy that shop’. It was the near end of Avesbury Avenue, which I believe he did.
A month after, I was again moved, this time to Maidstone in the West Kent barracks opposite the Prison and Court. My first duty there was at the Courts, where the assizes were being held and where a murder case was in progress. The next day I saw Justice Darling put the black cap on, with the famous words ‘and you shall be hung by the neck until you are dead and may the Lord have mercy on your soul’. I was at Maidstone for the 11th November, and took part in the celebrations commencing at 7 a.m. behind the Jail, where the Landlord had invited us for a drink. On opening the door, on the bar stood 12 one-gallon pails full of beer, one pail each, as we were 12 strong. At ten o'clock Isherwood, Stacey and Fosters drew up outside and we got in and joined the procession through the town and spent the rest of the day joining in the fun. At eleven o’clock that night the Dray picked us up and took us back to barracks. The Sergeant told me to go to the cookhouse and bring up a ‘Dixie of Shackles’ or in other words ‘stew’. I found it locked when I got there, I tried a window and it opened, putting my foot over the sill in the dark I jumped, and straight into a cauldron of hot stew up to my neck. I got out and returned to the hut and walked in, dripping in fat. I looked at the Sergeant and said, ‘I’ve brought the Shackles’.
I remained at Maidstone until May the next year and from there I was demobbed. I was given a civvy suit and shoes, a railway warrant and I went home, fini. Without delay I began looking for a job. I did not look at keepering any more, for a while, but before I could travel around looking for one, the farm bailiff begged me to return to my old job, the rabbits were eating everything. So with my father, we set about reducing their numbers. It was a long and strenuous job, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, but by degrees we won. My next job was to catch the poachers, and that again was a long job there were so many, but it was done with many a rough up, but they were tamed. Then followed a combination of vermin elimination and ride trimming, coupled with some assistance with the hay and harvest, and the rest of the time was my own. I became secretary of our Working Men’s Club, the only entertainment in the area. I had learnt to play the violin fairly well, and with my brother, a very good pianist, we ran dancing classes one night a week at the Club, which met with great success. In the winter months this induced me to form a band of three and a pianist, and run proper dances, which again were attended by quite a lot of people. When the dance was over at mid-night, I would give my violin to my brother to take home, while I took a walk through the woods to see there were no night poachers. With the decrease of vermin, game began to increase. Mr. Blount, the owner of the estate, was able to enjoy a little shoot of both pheasants and partridge.
[for further information see The Life of Frank Wells (in his own words), Sp. 01/10].
Frank obviously survived the war and returned to working on the Imberhorne estate. He married Lucy Freeman in 1926 and they had one daughter in 1933 [for further information see Handout, The Wells Family of Imberhorne, SJC01/10].
CPL. Christopher Lewis Wren
Christopher Lewis Wren was Jean’s uncle through his marriage to Esther Sargent, Jean’s father’s sister.
Christopher was born in 1886, the only son of Charles Henry Wren and his wife, widow Rebecca Joslin née Knight. Charles Henry Wren was the last in the line of the blacksmithing Wren family that can trace their roots back to William Wren born in 1729 who operated Woodcock Forge, with Charles Henry taking over the Felbridge Forge until the early 20th century [for further information see Handout, Golards Farmhouse, SJC 11/07]. Christopher also began his working life as an apprentice blacksmith but by 1911 he had become a farm worker.
Christopher married Esther Sargent (Jean’s aunt [see above]) in 1908, and by 1911 they were living with his elderly parents at Tower House, Snowhill Lane, Snowhill. Christopher and Esther had at least two children, Edith Rebecca born in 1910 and Rose E born in 1914.
When WWI broke out Christopher was twenty-eight years old and, like the Arnold brother, probably did not want to volunteer in 1914 as he had a very young family to support, but he had to enlist after the introduction of conscription. From the WWI Medal Rolls Index it is known that Christopher Lewis Wren, Regt. no. 110477, served in Tank Corps/101 B8 and received the Victory Medal and British War Medal in 1920.
The Tank Corps developed out of the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) and when the first tanks were produced in 1916 they were manned by members of the Machine Gun Corps, formed into six companies that were collectively known as the Heavy Branch. Men of this branch crewed the first tanks in action at Flers, during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916 and the arrival of the tanks on the battlefield signalled the end of trench warfare. In July 1917 the Heavy Branch separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps, later re-named the Royal Tank Regiment. By December 1918 there were 26 battalions and, as well as serving in France, a detachment from the Corps served under Allenby at Gaza, Palestine, in 1917. The Corps saw almost continuous action and suffered extremely high casualties during WWI earning the nickname ‘The Suicide Club’.
Fortunately Christopher survived the war and returned to family and civilian life.
The next Handout in the series will cover Henry Willis Rudd and the Lewis gun, the formation of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and the work of Lady Blount, together with some of the Auxiliary/
Convalescent Hospitals that were set up in the Felbridge area including the stories of LT. COL. J B Pym and CAPT. R H Freeman who were sent for convalescence at The Lodge, Greater Frenches Park, and L. STO. Reginald William Morgan who convalesced at FelbridgePark. The Handout will also cover some of the wartime entries found in the FelbridgeSchool log and memories of pupils from NorthEndSchool.
There are probably many more men and possibly women who served in World War I from the Felbridge area but with the expansion of Felbridge as a village and the demise of old Felbridge residents their names have become a distant or lost memory. Also without surviving military records their service to King and Country have faded into irretrievable history, so apologies for those who have not been included in this series of Handouts.
Lest We Forget
Felbridge Remembers World War I, SP. SJC 07/14, FHWS
Handout, War Memorials of St Jon the Divine, SJC 07/02v, FHWS
Burial Records of St John the Divine, Felbridge, FHA
Handout, 1911 Sale of the Felbridge Estate, SJC 01/11, FHWS
Documented memories of J Roberts née Sargent and Pamela Coleman née Roberts, FHA
Handout, Downfall of Henry Willis Rudd, SJC 11/02, FHWS
Handout, Pte. Sidney Godley VC, SJC03/00, FHWS
Pte. Sidney Godley VC, BBC drama documentary, 2014, FHA
Handout, Pattenden Family of Felbridge, SJC 07/01, FHWS
Handout, The Wells Family of Imberhorne, SJC01/10, FHWS
The Life of Frank Wells (in his own words), SP. 01/10, FHA [available by contacting the history group]
Handout, Golards Farmhouse, SJC 11/07, FHWS
Texts of all Handouts referred to in this document can be found on FHG website: www.felbridge.org.uk