Denham Remembers World War 1
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
As summer time ends and the longer nights close in, we look forward to our winter celebrations and festivities. But first there are the more sombre events of Remembrance Sunday when the focus is on those who fought in several wars. For this month’s posts we are sharing the experiences of villagers and their older family members who played their part in fighting for peace, supporting the community at home and coping with the effects of war. Our first post recalls World War I
How it all began
On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The assassination caused Austria-Hungary to issue an ultimatum demanding that the Serbian government suppress all anti Austrian activities in Serbia. The Serbian reply failed to satisfy the Austrians. The two countries moved to a war footing. Then tragically a network of interlocking alliances enlarged the crisis. The German government grabbed eagerly at what it saw as an opportunity to increase the country's territory and achieve domination in Europe. Within weeks the continent was ablaze and the war was spreading to the far flung outposts of the European imperial powers turning into a World War.
“My father , Leonard Feasey, was in the first world war. That surprises most people. He was honourably discharged, disabled, in July 1919 after nearly dying from serious injury with pneumonia when shrapnel entered his lung from the bullet that had killed his best school friend. He had signed up without revealing his correct age. Needless to say, my father would not ever mention his time in the war.”
Leonard Feasey was a Private soldier in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and subsequently in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He first signed up in 1915 when, according to the census records, he was only 16 rather than 18, then the minimum age for army service. Leonard served in the bitterest and most protracted theatre of war in France and Flanders. The photo here dated 14th July 1919 shows the discharge certificate of Leonard Feasey, Royal Army Medical Corp, signed by King George V. His army record shows that at the date of his discharge, nine months after the war ended, he was considered no longer fit for military service. The war continued to take its toll long after the end of hostilities.
Iris and Gwen Horney
Iris' and Gwen's father, Alfred Charles Horney, was just 20, a former office boy from Rotherhithe when, in November 1914, he enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry and became a railway man with responsibility for assisting the delivery of arms, ammunition and supplies to the battle fronts. He fought through all four years of the war until 1918.
Alf was wounded in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 as the allied forces attempted to drive the war to an end. Their parents married in 1921 at St Mary’s Church, Denham with just two guests, the best man and his sister. Their only gifts were two bags of potatoes and a tablecloth. They lived in a two-bedroom cottage in Southlands, one of the small holdings in Denham that had been built for ex-servicemen, later moving to the cottage ‘Rose Bank’ on Willett’s Lane which had three quarters of an acre of land attached. Alfred bought it and subsequently built a four-bedroom house next door which he named ‘Cambrai’ after the battle in which he fought.
The Battle of Cambrai
Cambrai is situated in the Nord department and in the Hauts-de-France region of France which, in 1917, was the site of an attack by the British forces followed by a massive German counterattack. Cambrai was part of the Western Front of the First World War and was an important centre for the Germans as a supply centre. Capturing the town and the nearby Bourlon Ridge would have threatened the rear of the German line to the north. This was a long way from the village of Denham where Iris and Gwen’s father locally known as “Old Horney” would be walking the village streets after his service in the war, selling fruit and vegetables from his horse and cart.
The first day of battle was so successful it is understood that the allied press made much of this first day’s success. To celebrate the progress, church bells were rung throughout the country. It is highly likely that bells would have been rung at St Mary’s Church in Denham. The advances made by the British was largely to do with deploying many tanks to cut through the barbed wire trenches thereby pushing back the enemy forces. The German counterattack was largely effective and by the end the British had retained just some of the ground taken in the north and the Germans a smaller amount in the south. For this the casualties were great. In the period of this battle the British forces lost 10,042 who were either killed or died of their wounds. A further 48,702 were wounded and 16,987 were missing or prisoners of war. Around 180 tanks were destroyed in the process. Of the German forces 8,817 were killed or died of their wounds, 22,931 were wounded plus 22,972 missing or made prisoners of war. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Alfred Charles Horney never spoke of his experiences.
The Village School Logbook entries:
1914 September 21st – Telegram received postponing medical inspection – Children sent up the sum of one guinea towards the Prince of Wales Fund. Girls busy knitting socks for the soldiers, in their own time, very enthusiastically.
1917 November 13th - The County Nurse visited the school. Several children again excluded for verminous heads. Nineteen children in the Infant class excluded by the Medical Officer on account of measles. November 27th - All the infants sent home for the same reason.
1918 “May – rather serious outbreak of mumps – now about fifty cases.
Prince of Wales Fund
Many charities were formed during the First World War to support servicemen and their families, one of which was the Prince of Wales Fund. It was set up with Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) acting as its treasurer. He launched the fund with an impassioned message to the national press, “At such a moment we all stand by one another, and it is to the heart of the British people that I confidently make this earnest appeal.”
After just one week the fund had collected £1m, something over £121,000,000 in today's values.
16th Battalion Church Lads’ Brigade
One of the earliest responses to Lord Kitchener’s request for men to join up at the outbreak of war in 1914 was from Field-Marshall Lord Grenfell, Governor of the Church Lads’ Brigade. He urged past and current Church Brigade members to help form the 16th Battalion to be raised in Denham.
The response was swift and within days, nearly 2,000 young men had come forward from several parts of the country. Many arrived from Lancashire where the Church Lads’ Brigade was a flourishing organisation. Most of these young men had come from factories, workshops, warehouses, offices as well as from coal mines. They had given all these up to respond to the call to serve King and country and would not have imagined where it was to lead them. Through their involvement in the Brigade, they were used to taking orders and many already had uniforms.
Shortly after its formation, the Battalion was inspected on the golf course in Higher Denham by Lord Grenfell, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lt Col Kindersley-Porcher, the founder and chief staff officer Walter Gee and the Brigade Chaplain Edgar Rogers. The men were ill prepared for such an early inspection and without the issue of guns, many simply used broom handles for the drill.
The accommodation, firstly in tents and later in huts was sited in what we now know as Higher Denham, often referred to as "the Barracks". Officers’ quarters, stables, shower and toilet facilities were included. However, as they were not completed in time, many local farm barns and buildings such as those in Court Farm were used. The Brigade’s historical group reports that these young men were treated very well by the residents of Denham and Uxbridge and that the Battalion’s reputation was ‘impeccable’.
The West Middlesex Gazette of October 23rd 1914 describes the provision of hearty meals with sausages and bread for breakfast, meat and veg and currant pudding for lunch with bread, jam and tea for tea. The contractors for the food supply were none other than Messrs Fortnum and Mason.
At first, water was accessed from a spring which fed the famous Denham watercress beds. A more efficient supply was subsequently developed with twelve taps. The camp’s Quartermaster was rewarded for his efforts to feed and care for the troops with a special ceremony at the Swan Inn during which three pipes were presented to him by some of those first to arrive at the camp. A temporary hospital for minor cases was available with more serious cases being transported to Bowyer House in the village.
In their spare time the young men from the Barracks would amuse themselves by visiting the Empire Electric Cinema in Vine Street, Uxbridge, wandering the village streets singing, no doubt with mouthorgans as an accompaniment, frequenting the pubs and spending time in the Denham Reading Room set up specially for them in Bowyer House, which was then often in use to accommodate village meetings and events.
On 15th November 1915 the Battalion was sent to France where the men were largely held in reserve, occupying trench positions only for relatively short stretches. However, in July 1916 they were moved into the front line of the Somme where they suffered huge losses. By September, more than half the number of 550 members of the brigade were casualties including 220 fatalities.
In 1918 many more young men of the brigade were injured or killed in the fourth battle of Ypres. For many years after the war, veterans paraded through Denham and attended a memorial service for their fallen comrades at St Mary’s. Although this tradition petered out in the 1970s, a commemoration service was held on July 13th, 2019 for the 100th anniversary of the return of the 16th Battalion.
The Battle of the Somme
The Battle of the Somme lasted five months from July 1st to November 18th 1916.There had been deadlock in the trenches on the Western Front in northern France for some eighteen months and the Allies were desperate for a decisive victory. The first day of battle is particularly noted for the huge loss of life. There had been an expectation that German defences had been destroyed but this proved to be wrong. By the end of the first day there were over a million casualties from both sides. British forces had suffered 57,470 casualties, of whom 19,240 were killed.
This was the first involvement in battle for those volunteers, made up of men such as those from the 16th Battalion. Men, who were largely civilians, with a small amount of training in camps such as the one in Denham, found themselves amid the horrors of blood and mud. They were a long way from the welcoming village streets of Denham. Though for many of those young men the conditions of rural life were still quite harsh by modern standards, Denham offered cosy accommodation and substantial meals.
As the weather worsened in the trenches, major operations finally ceased on November 18th. In those five months, British forces had gained territory of just 6 miles deep and 20 miles wide.
Loved ones at home anxious for news were able to see an official documentary film, “The Battle of the Somme”. It was available from August 21st 1916 in cinemas such as the Empire Electric Cinema, Uxbridge, often frequented by the Church Lads’ Brigade. Around 20 million watched this film during the first few months of its release.
Oscar John Morgan came to Denham from West Ealing. He married Dorothy Hannah Dean in St. Mary's Church in 1918. They lived in The Cottage on The Fisheries estate where the Denham Film Studios properties are now and where the land is being laid bare for the High Speed Railway. Like Alfred Horney, Oscar responded to the call to enlist as early as November 1914 and he became a Sergeant in the Royal Horse and Field Artillery. His role took him to France where he served close to the front line from September 1915 to March 1917 through some of the most arduous battles in military history.
In 1918, as the war was coming to an end in western Europe Oscar volunteered to serve in the little known North Russia campaign designed to prevent a German revival on the eastern front in the chaos following the collapse of the Russian Empire in the revolution of 1917. He served there from August to December 1918 many months before the work in Russia was completed.
The harsh conditions badly affected his health. Like so many others, despite his survival, Oscar was discharged in April 1919 certified no longer fit for service. He returned to Dorothy at The Fisheries. Their son Peter was born in 1920 but sadly Oscar's health did not recover. He sadly died on September 7th 1945, aged just 35. He lies buried in St Mary’s Churchyard.
Take a stroll in and around St Mary’s churchyard and you can’t fail to miss the various commemorations of those who lost their lives in both wars. A memorial to Denham’s fallen dominates the front of the churchyard with the names of 42 fatal casualties of war. Among the names are those of three members of the Tillard family, for whom the Way and Tillard recreation ground is named. This memorial was sculpted by the Denham architect, Francis Bacon. It was unveiled and dedicated on October 5th 1919.
Turn left past the church and there are a series of white stones in a row standing apart from other graves. These were specially ordered by the War Commission each bearing the name of a member of the various armed forces lost in the two world wars.
Amongst them is the memorial to Albert Edward Hine, a Private in the 95th Training Reserve Battalion. He died on 25th April 1917 aged just 18. Albert Hine had tried to join up in July 1916, but his application was deferred because of his “poor physique”. Determined to do his bit he tried again in March 1917. With an appalling number of fatalities and injuries on the Somme and with new offensives against the German army then being planned, Albert was this time accepted and he was sent for training to Chiseldon Camp near Swindon. The strain proved too great. He died just a month later. His medical record attributed his death to heart disease.
The census record of 1901 poignantly recalls Albert’s parents as George, a gardener, and Louisa. He had a sister, Hilda and a brother, William. Albert was then just two years old. They lived at what we now know as Melgan Cottage.
Arthur George Tillard
Arthur George Tillard was born on 10th November 1874. It was a Tuesday, the day when, according to the nursery rhyme he should have been full of grace, meaning very lucky. Sadly his luck ran out too soon.
Arthur was a career soldier. He trained at Sandhurst and fought in the South African War of 1899-1902. By 1908 he had retired on half-pay and set up home with his wife Emily and his three children at Maltmas Green off Blacksmith's Lane. In January 1913 Arthur was retired from the "Active List" and joined the Manchester Regiment’s 3rd (Reserve) Battalion. His retirement did not last long. He was restored to active service as a captain in the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the outbreak of war in 1914. As an experienced soldier he was immediately thrust into battle. Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August. Ten days later Arthur Tillard was in France. By 20th October 1914, having already seen fighting at Le Cateau, he was at the village of Les Trois Maisons south east of Calais with orders to hold back a German advance.
Arthur did not survive the ensuing battle. He led several bayonet charges but was hit by machine gun fire at the last. The Uxbridge and West Drayton Gazette eulogised his deeds in terms of soaring rhetoric: "Surely such fine deeds as these should appeal to all eligible young men, without the aid of any recruiting meeting. Such deeds too must not be hid but brought to the light so that British manhood shall not be "asked" to do their duty, but will be found "waiting" at the first scent of danger." It is an epitaph that rather absurdly describes World War I in terms of 19th century heroism without acknowledging the terrible tragedy of 20th century mechanisation of arms which condemned so many young men of his generation.
The heroism of Arthur George Tillard is now more moderately remembered in the name of the Way and Tillard recreation ground behind Denham Village School.
Francis Bacon, born in 1882, lived in Ashmead Lane. He was the architect for many of the houses in the village such as Old Ashmead, Ashmead Cottage, Cherry Tree Cottage and the Baconsmead Cottages as well as the war memorial and the original village hall erected in 1921 as a memorial to the fallen in the first world war. His daughter was Madelene Paton.
Francis enlisted on 29th September 1914 just a few weeks after war was declared. He was already a qualified architect. His posting was to the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. Though the corps was closely associated with the legal profession, it welcomed other professionals such as Francis.
The corps, which Francis first joined as a private, performed a function of "supreme public importance" as it was described in a book by Francis Errington published in 1922. Private Bacon was promoted to Corporal in February 1915 and to Sergeant in April that year. However his army service came to an abrupt end in February 2016 when he joined the Ministry of Munitions Trench Warfare Department to use his skills as a planner in the even more vital role of ensuring the supply of stores to the trenches of The Somme.
It was a role which was to lead to a mischievous outcome many years later.
Mac Paton (grandson of Francis Bacon)
As a stores supply officer and later a training officer Francis, like others, would have had access to arms to support the local area, storing them safely in Old Ashmead Cottage. The following story from his grandson, Mac, tells us what happened to some of those items 40 years on, when times were so very different. However as a prelude to his story Mac is determined to impress upon readers that his grandfather, whom he adored, knew nothing of the antics of his grandsons and their cousins. I am sure, says Mac, that my grandfather was horrified that his precautions for the safety and security of his stores could be circumvented by his mischievous young descendants.
“As a small child I spent every day playing with my brother and two cousins. The four of us, all boys, were very close and never left each other’s sides from the moment we got up until bedtime. As children, we believed our grandfather had seen his home as the last bastion against a German invasion as, apart from having an aerial mounted on the roof of his garden summer house which we thought must have been for a secret radio transmitter, he also kept a sizeable stock of rifles, bullets and grenades in his attic. No doubt he had long since forgotten about this stash, having presumably acquired it for army purposes when he was working in the Ministry of Munitions in WW1 but it didn’t take long for four ferreting children to uncover it.
Grandfather also stored elsewhere, the netting and frame for the tennis court which used to be on the lawn when Ashmead Cottage was built. The whole area of Ashmead had originally been an orchard, so the garden we had access to, stretched a long way and most of it was out of the sight of adults. The frame for the netting was made of tubular metal so what we did was secretly cut the tube into miniature cannon lengths and we then took out the lead from the bullets and melted it down on a primus stove.
We poured the lead into the tubular steel lengths and waited for it to set. We then went down to the swimming pool where there was another orchard – hence the name of one of those cottages now standing on that site. This was trench warfare! We mounted our small cannons on the top of the trench that took the waste water from the swimming pool and packed the lead bullets with gunpowder and then set light to the gunpowder, attempting to blast the bullets into the trees. In fact, if any are still standing we should be able to see the bullet holes.
There was one occasion when my cousin almost got blinded. The explosion blew the steel length completely open and into my cousin’s face. He was rushed to hospital. We never told our parents how it happened but they must have worked it out because they got the Bomb Squad down and emptied all our weapons from my grandfather’s attic. It was devastating! I remember watching all the guns being carried out.
When I moved back to Denham as an adult with my family, I was sweeping the leaves out of the old summer house and was astonished to find I had swept up an old WW1 grenade we must have rescued when the Bomb Squad moved in. We kept it in the house for many years and were always bumping into it! Fortunately, we had a massive empty safe in the garage, also fortuitously left by my grandfather, and in the end it was stored there until we managed to dispose of it safely.’’
There will be more of the war efforts of Mac’s parents in the next post when the focus will be on World War II. Should you have anything to add of Denham’s residents during the First World War, do contact us via the website email address.
Denham Village School logbook – transcribed by Margaret Skelton
Third Sector (thirdsector.co.uk)
Church Lads’ & Church Girls’ Brigade Historical Group (website: www.clegb.org.uk)
West Middlesex Gazette Friday, 23 October 1914 (BATTALION. CAMP LIFE AT DENHAM.)
Imperial War Museums (https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-battle-of-the-somme)
The Inns of Court Officer Training Corps by Francis Henry Launcelot Errington
Thanks to those villagers who shared their personally remembered stories or those of their relatives.