In early 2014 research began to explore the impact of the First World War on the Borough of Richmond. A team of volunteers working with the Museum of Richmond set about uncovering the stories of local families and men who sacrificed their lives for their country.
Museum volunteer and local historian Valerie Boyes undertook extensive research into the neighbourhood now known as The Alberts, a tightly-packed network of linked streets off Sheen Road, Richmond. Valerie traced the names of those who died from the Richmond Roll of Honour and names on the Richmond war memorial.
Now popular with professionals and young families, one hundred years ago the 400 or so two-up-two-down cottages were a close-knit working class neighbourhood, home to at least 36 of the men from Richmond who died during the war.
The men of The Alberts
While the men who bravely served and survived are often harder to trace, those who died are recorded on memorials both in Richmond and as far afield as France and Palestine, and can be traced through Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.
These men served in 22 regiments, from the local East Surrey to the Manchester Regiment and the Australia Infantry (ANZAC corps). Most were infantrymen but there was also an Able Seaman (Arthur Raffe, serving in an infantry division of the navy), a reconnaissance cyclist (Arthur Burt, in the London Cycle Battalion), and a cavalry Hussar (William Burt, in the Indian Cavalry division).
The men had left their families, homes, and jobs including grocery assistant, railway van lad, butcher, bus conductor, and postman. The three youngest, Leslie John Orsborn, George Turner, and Roy Woodhams were just 18 when they died. The eldest, Sydney Jackson, was a 44 year-old married father of two.
Amongst the sad stories to emerge are those of John Burt, who lost all three of his sons; Arthur in July 1917, William in September 1917, and George in March 1918. And Edward and Eliza Orsborn lost two sons, Leslie in 1917 and Alfred in 1918. Arthur and Emma Raffe lost sons Joseph in 1916 and Arthur in 1917. And young widows were left with young children. When Percy Christopher Martin died in 1919, aged 32, as a result of his wounds he left a young widow and three very young daughters aged between five and one year old.
Of the 24 men killed in action many were buried close to where they fell, in cemeteries in France and Belgium. Others with no known grave are commemorated on memorials including the Menine Gate Passchendaele and Loos memorials. Of the men who died of wounds, 5 were buried close to where they died, including Ramleh War Cemetery, Palestine-Israel, and Ypres Town Cemetery. The 6 men who died at home of their wounds or illnesses caused during the conflict are buried in Richmond and East Sheen cemetery.
Two Richmond churches feature strongly in the records of baptisms, marriages and burials of the men of The Alberts, and many of them are commemorated inside the churches. Holy Trinity in Sheen Park became the Parish Church for The Alberts and 23 of its men feature on the memorial inside the west doorway. The Church of St Mary Magdalene is the ancient Parish Church of Richmond and 6 men from The Alberts are commemorated on its memorial board. Joseph Raffe was one of the men who died at home of its wounds, having been discharged from the army and his funeral in 1916 was held at St Mary’s.
When Valerie presented her research to The Alberts Community Association in October 2014, an idea formed on how the sacrifice of these men could be marked during the centenary. With the enthusiastic support of Margaret Walsh and David Shaw, chair of the residents’ association, Valerie produced large commemorative poppies naming each of the men, to be displayed in the windows of the houses they once lived in. The poppies also included the date each man had died.
The neighbourhood has embraced the Remembrance idea, with over 30 poppies already displayed and more planned. Local resident Margaret Walsh commented “[The residents] have been amazing, have really embraced it. Everyone I’ve spoken to has thought it is such a good idea. Since the poppies have gone up, one resident told me about a woman who used to live in The Alberts who walked up the road with tears in her eyes.”
Many of the men from The Alberts attended the Holy Trinity School on Princes Road, now site of the King’s House School. The school is also participating in the Remembrance project, displaying poppies on its doors, and pupils have been visiting houses nearby, as David Shaw discovered:
“Yesterday morning, 4th November, when I came down for my breakfast, I walked into my front room and to my amazement I looked through my window and there was a teacher from King’s House Primary School. She was speaking to 12 very smart ten-year old school children who were in rapt attention as the teacher explained to them the significance of the poppies in my front window.”
The museum will be following the story of The Alberts on this blog as part of the ‘100 Years Ago’ series. The articles will run throughout the four years of the centenary and explore the local and international events that happened on key dates 100 years ago.
If you can add anything to the stories of the men of The Alberts who died, or know of any who our research has not identified, please get in touch.