Our archive research is uncovering the stories behind the names on the church plaques…
Bank clerks and City clerks; railway workers; a doctor; a fly finisher’s assistant at a pianoforte makers; an electric tram driver; a milk boy at Aylesbury Dairy; a coach and motor trimmer, a hairdresser’s lather boy. The youngest only 16; the oldest 46. Most unmarried, but some family men leaving wives and young children behind. Nearly all volunteers, often enlisting very early in the war.
Most of the men on the plaques were in the British Army, with many in the London and Middlesex Regiments, but they were also in the Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force. One, Alfred Alford, was in the Australian Imperial Force, having emigrated in 1914, and George Trebilcock, a naturalised American citizen, was briefly in the United States Army.
A few were officers, and some were non-commissioned officers, but the majority were ‘Tommies’ – privates, or their equivalent ranks, including riflemen and gunners. Many served all their war in France and Flanders, but others served in Gallipoli, Salonika, Italy, Austria, Egypt, East Africa, and India. Some stayed in Britain, defending London and the coast, or training recruits.
Of the 221 men who went to war, 46 did not come back. Thirty were killed in action, all but two on the Western Front. They are buried and/or commemorated at well-known sites including Thiepval, Tynecot, and the Menin Gate, and in UK cemeteries if they died of their wounds once back in Britain like Arthur Norton. James Ashman and Cecil Ashcroft fought alongside each other in 19th Battalion, London Regiment and died on the same day.
Of those who returned, two – George Pocock and Daniel Brown – had been prisoners of war; Stanley Weeden had been interned in neutral Holland; and two men had served in peace-keeping forces after the Armistice: Cyril McNeill in Austria and Frank Stokes in Germany as part of the Rhine flotilla. A number had suffered severe injuries and were entitled to a pension on account of their disabilities.
Some of our men came from families closely associated with New Court Chapel, but others were not church-going and had just attended the Mission or the Boys Club. Harry Creighton was the son of New Court’s Sunday School Superintendent; Leonard Endersby was the caretaker at the Mission, who enlisted at 43 and fought alongside his sons Albert and William. Some had standing in the community like Horace Burgess, a policeman, and George Heiron, a doctor who served as a Surgeon Commander in the Royal Navy.
Others, like Ambrose Gillot, lived on Campbell Road, which was a slum with the unenviable reputation as the ‘worst street in North London’. Leonard Poplett, who drowned aboard the troopship HMT Aragon in 1917 at the age of 19, had spent much of his childhood in an orphanage.
As with most First World War memorials, the plaques have multiple surnames: three Godfrey brothers fought and died, but five McNeill brothers all came home. Two Hart brothers died, and two returned. A number of families like the Dartons, the Heavens and the Reeves, saw two sons depart and only one return.
In the extended Edwards family, Herbert Edwards was killed in action in 1915, but nine cousins returned safely, among them two soldiers decorated for gallantry: Lieutenant Leslie Edwards, awarded the Military Cross; and Sergeant Percy Hocking, awarded not only the Military Medal, but also the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second highest honour for other ranks.
At the end of the war, there were peace celebrations in local streets and most of the men returned to their homes and families. Some lived here for the rest of their lives; others moved away. All are remembered today in St Mellitus Church.