Morgan Phillips, one of Hammersmith & Fulham’s regular researchers at our archives, writes:
St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, has a Roll of Honour comprising 230 men who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914-18. Without this Roll only four young men from the conflict would be commemorated in the church: Anthony Greenwell Lax (brass plate), George Malcolm (altar lamp), Leonard Moller (engraving) and Edmund Spicer (stained glass window of St George). There are sporadic references to casualties in the Parish Magazine and the local papers, but many brave men might have gone unremembered.
At the end of the War it was proposed to place outside the church a stone cross inscribed with the names of the fallen. For some reason this did not happen, so in 1922 Dr William Greenwell Lax, a leading member of the congregation who had lost his only son in the War, formed a fund-raising committee. Just one year later a brass memorial was installed inside the church. The names on the memorial have initials rather than forenames, and ranks are not stated. Possibly this was to stay within budget, as well as showing a welcome egalitarianism.
This year St Andrew’s, like many other communities, is keen to commemorate the sacrifice made a century before. Having written the complete history of the church I offered to research the 230 names on the Roll. Initially I used Ancestry, with which I was familiar, and was able to locate some of the less common names like Quickenden W. He was born in North Kensington (on the 29th March 1895) but the family later moved into the parish (50 Archel Road). Sgt William Frederick Quickenden of the London Regiment died on the 23rd March 1918 just before his 23rd birthday.
A few were found just by using Google. The wonderfully named Major Bertie Wilmot Mainprise in East Africa was the luckless subordinate of what the Masonic Great War Project termed ‘a particularly nasty and incompetent Brigadier Commander, having spent much of his service on rear echelon duties’. When the battle was going against him, this Commander reported sick, leaving Bertie to lead a heroic but doomed charge against German machine guns.
As I uncovered more names, I thought of their families and decided to identify the widows and the bereaved parents. Inevitably this revealed some very moving stories. Joseph Rust, a blind widower lost two sons, Thomas in 1916 and James two years later. The Denyers of Chesson Road were similarly bereaved, Edward and William dying in the last weeks of the War. Lilian O’Connell married Charles Downs at St Andrew’s in July 1915. He was killed a year later. Lilian had already lost her brother Maurice, and another brother Arthur fell in 1917.
My researches were progressing well but a substantial minority of the fallen remained unidentified. At the Hammersmith & Fulham Archive I sought the help of Keith Whitehouse. Keith put me in touch with John Ingham, who had been researching the Fulham Borough Roll of Honour. As well as giving me specific information about St Andrew’s, John emailed to me the Fulham Roll and I was delighted to see that most people were identified by first names rather than initials. This together with a month’s subscription to Forces War Records made my task much easier.
As the mystery men were unveiled I became aware that the St Andrew’s Roll consisted of four distinct groups. Naturally the largest was the men from the parish, many of them baptised at St Andrew’s. Then came those whose relatives lived in the parish and wanted them to be commemorated. For example Bertie Mainprise’s brother Cecil, also a professional soldier, lived at 61 Guntertone Road.
The third category had no obvious link to St Andrew’s or indeed to Fulham. The archivist of Maidstone Grammar School contacted me for information about Lewis Blunden, who is on our Roll. Sadly I knew less than she did and after conferring she warned me, ‘I would be surprised if it were “my” Lewis Blunden’. It is certainly hard to see how someone who spent his short life in Kent before joining the army is named by St Andrew’s. He is by no means the only puzzling inclusion.
The final group consists of men who came from overseas to fight. The Canadian connection was particularly strong. George Malcolm and Edmund Spicer, mentioned above, were Canadian born but their families were based in London. Henry Curtis had emigrated from Fulham to Toronto but returned with the Canadian Infantry. Others had never been to Britain before the War. Wilmot Emmerson Turner from Manitoba died on the 15th September 1915. The Canada at War website records that over 130 members of the Manitoba Regiment died the same day. Such men certainly deserve a place on the church’s Roll of Honour.
We had gathered more than enough material for an exhibition, and the Vicar (Canon Guy Wilkinson) and his wife Tessa set up the display in time for the WW1 Vigil Service on the 3rd August. In subsequent weeks parishioners were urged to share their family stories and souvenirs regardless of where their ancestors lived. Apart from some splendid photographs and medals we were offered such unusual items as a photocopy and transcript of a Machine Gun Battalion’s official war diary and a brass matchbox holder given to the soldiers by the Women’s Branch of the Bombay War and Relief Fund.
Despite the melancholy nature of the subject I have enjoyed my research, especially when it has brought me in contact with present day descendants. Some live far away, like Veronica Valentino of Tucson Arizona who sent me a lovely essay My Cousin John, about a distant relative of hers, Capt John Rathbone of 20 Tennyson Mansions Queens Club Gardens. John deferred his legal training to serve at the front and died on the 4th June 1918.He was the younger brother of one of my favourite Hollywood stars, Basil Rathbone.
The Parish Magazine of July 1918 announced the ‘death in action of Capt John Rathbone, whose brilliant career at so early an age is like so many others alas cut short’.
Like so many others alas….
The exhibition of WWI memorabilia at St Andrew’s Church, Fulham, is due to end in the next week