During our Remembrance Sunday service in 2014, marking the centenary of the start of WW1, we remembered the men who served in the war, and who came from the churches that later joined together to eventually become Christ Church. Ken Pearce shared the stories of three of the men who died in WW1. These are the stories he shared:
Reginald Collier lived in Walford Road with his father Charles, a policeman, his mother Ellen and his sister Daisy. On leaving the school in The Greenway, he studied at East London College where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours.
He was spending the year as a student teacher when the war came. He enlisted first in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was sent to France. Reg Collier later obtained a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was sent to Egypt and Salonika before returning to France. His sister Daisy, who some of us knew as Daisy Baskin, told me that on Armistice Day the family rejoiced. “Thank goodness Reg came through it all,” they said, “and will soon be home.” Six days later, Reg died from influenza and double pneumonia in France. He was twenty-five years old.
He was courting a talented young lady called Doris Cox and, although some years later, Doris married someone else, I don’t think she ever really got over Reg’s death.
Herbert Williams lived in Press Road, and when war broke out he was working in a grocery shop in Uxbridge High Street run by Mr Gumbrell. In January 1915 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was attached to the 76th Field Ambulance Unit. After training, the unit was sent to France in September 1915 and just one month later Herbert Williams was dead.
A shell exploded near him in a trench. He was hit on the head by flying debris and died instantly. He had been in the army for only ten months and yet eventually a brass plaque in his memory was placed in Old Meeting Church paid for by his colleagues and testifying to his warm personality and outstanding courage. In such a short time – ten months – Herbert Williams had made a profound impression on those with whom he served. When Old Meeting closed, the plaque was handed over to the Local Studies section at Uxbridge Library and was on display there in their WW1 exhibition.
I turn finally to the family of our good friend Syd Wilson, and in particular to his uncle Walter. Walter’s parents Henry and Annie were living in Lancaster Road when war broke out. Henry was in business as a builder and monumental mason and he also served on the Uxbridge Urban District Council.
Young Walter had been working in his father’s business but he joined the Royal Engineers and was in France by 1915 where he suffered a bout of illness. So he volunteered for service on the front as a motorcycle dispatch rider. In early 1917 he had delivered a message and was returning along a heavily-shelled road but had lost his respirator. Travelling at speed over a shell hole he fell into another hole and was knocked unconscious and the hole filled with gas. The noise of his motorcycle still running attracted some nearby soldiers who got him out of the hole and took him to a field hospital. Walter was eventually brought back to this country and finally to a hospital on the Isle of Man where he died in May 1917 at the age of twenty-eight.
Walter’s brother Frank, Syd’s father, was in the Middlesex Regiment and endured a dose of gas. His health was permanently affected and there were periods when he was unable to go to work or earn his living. Another of Syd’s uncles, this time on his mother’s side, was in the Royal Navy. Ernest Bowyer was on HMS Arethusa when it struck a mine off Felixstowe in February 1916. The cruiser sank but everyone got off safely.
So that’s how three families were affected by the war. Let me finally read some lines written by the Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, an Army chaplain known to the troops as Woodbine Willie:
“Waste of muscle, waste of brain,
Waste of patience, waste of pain,
Waste of manhood, waste of health,
Waste of goodness, waste of wealth.
Waste of blood and waste of tears,
Waste of youth’s most precious years – War!”