ID: DJG_WWB / Douglas J. Gurton

TitleTollesbury sends its sons to war
AbstractSunday 4th August 1914, as I remember it was a pleasantly warm sunny day. It was a time of full employaent within the village, and found the inhabitants going quietly about their daily tasks although it was the day following the Bank Holiday. During the week-end newspapers had carried headlines of Germany's invasion of French territory, and the annoucement that England would stand by France defending the neutrality of Belgium. War seamed far removed from these shores. Tha only inkling of war being iminent was a previous week-end visit of the Essex Cyclists Battalion for "sham fight" on the marshes. The words military manoeuvres were not known in those days. The tradesmen going from door to door as was their custom, were of the opinion, the same as most other adults that the "trouble would be over within a fortnight." For after all were not a number of the men from the village and Colneside serving the German Kaiser in his racing schooner "Meteor". The Kaiser was regarded as a good enployer, kind and considerate, although, somewhat arrogant and jealous of Britain's position in world affairs at that time.

Most of the younger men were away yachting. Cowes week had opened spectacularly under the patronage of Royalty. At the same time Kiel regatta was being held at which a number of British yachts were present. German yachts were conspicuous by their absence from Cowes. However, the days of rumour and speculation were finally nailed with the banner headline on one ha'penny daily "Great Britain declares War. All eyes on the north Sea".

Like other towns and villages, Tollesbury had its quota of young men enrolled in the Territorials, and they were called out in the very early hours to report to their T.A. Hq at Maldon. Transport by Messrs Osborne's and Collins's wagonettes. Meanwhile down in the Solent, sleek steam pinnaces with brass bell mouthed funnels, sped around the moored yachts calling on all Naval reservists to report at once. Charlie Potter, now aged 72 years, and a reservist at that time, found himself in company with many other Essex yachtsmen at the R.N. Barracks, Portsmouth, being prepared for war time service. Others were more fortunate, and permitted to return home in oraer to report. The 15 metre "Pamela" skippered by Capt. Wm. Rice, was out in the North Sea bound from Kiel to Harwich. She owner, Mr. Glenholme Bradley (later to be awarded the D.S.O., and M.C.), was concerned at news reports he received in Kiel, and had decided to cut short his visit and return home. On arrival at Harwich they were told that war had bwen declared, and arrangements were made to lay up the yacht without delay. On arrival home, one crew member, George Leavett, then 10 years of ago, with ether young men in similar circumstances to hiaeelf, went post haste to the Coastguard Station to volunteer for the Royal Navy. They were told that the Navy had as many volunteers as could be readily absorbed for training, and it was suggested that the youngr men should try the Army, The Coastguard officer told them that Sir Laming Worthington Evans, M.P. for Colchester, who had an appointmen in the War Office, was at that very time staying as a guest of Mr and Mrs T.E. Binney at Guisnes Court, and he could arrange an interview if so desired. This was done, and twenty-three young men, aged between 17 and 19 years of age, duly reported to Guisnes Court where they were welcomed by Sir Laming and entertained to luncheon. Sir Laming ouch appreciated their loyalty and eagerness to serve. He told them he would be pleased to nominate them for the South Staffordshire Regiment in which he was particularly interested. The wheels for enrolment were set in motion.

On Monday 7th September 1914, at mid-morning break the children at the three schools in Tollesbury, were formed up and marched to the Square, where it seemed the whole village had assembled to bid God speed to these gallant young men. Present were Sir Laming, accompanied by the Vicar, Rev. Wm. Carter, and other notable local personalities. With flags and bunting in plentiful array it had the appearance of a gala day. Little could be envisaged of ultimate events at that time, or that within a quarter of a century, some of the children present would be volunteering for a similar cause.

Amongst the spectators that day was the local headmaster, Mr. Hore, who was later called-up and made the supreme sacrifice. One young man present in the uniform of the Mercantile Marine, was Nelson Rice, whose brother Fred was one of the volunteers. Captain Nelson Rice in World War II whilst in command on the Malta Convoy run was to be awarded successively the O.B.E., C.B.E., and Lloyd's War Medal, for outstanding service, superb navigation and seamanship, and steadfastness in spite of repeated aerial and submarine attacks in getting his vessel through the blockade. In the same war, four of the boys present that day were to lose their lives in the "Rawalpindi" and "Jervis Bay". Not one of those young sen present would have given one thought that they were doing anything at all spectacular or the sacrifice they would be called to meet.

The party was over, and the children were marched back to school, although some considered they were entitled to a half day holiday, but were called to account the next day.

Within a fortnight the tragedy of war was brought forcibly home to the village when it wae announced that three warships "Aboukir", "Hogue" and "Cressy" had been sunk on the 22nd September in an engagement off the Hook of Holland. Two brothers, Walter and Fred Ingate, had perished in the last named two ships, which were recovering survivors from "Aboukir" at the time. Of all the families in the village, the Ingate family was to be hurt the hardest. Joseph, one of the South Staffordshire volunteerrs, was killed later on the Western front. The cruelest stroke of all was that their father, William Ingate, was to be knocked overboard from his smack on the Armistice Day anniversary and drowned. All villagers could feel very keenly for Mrs. Ingate and her surviving family in their great grief. Another family hard hit by the Great War was the Service family, Harry, George and Arthur, all giving their lives.

From then on a week did not pass without some tragic loss being reported. As fast as the yachts were returning to lay-up, so the men were volunteering for the forces. Mr. J. Phillips, the yacht painter and signwriter, provided a large glass covered board, insccribed with over l50 names of men serving, which was erected in Mr David Brand's yard at the corner of the Square. The board rapidly became out of date, but served as a reminder to everyone of the sacrifice being made in the cause of freedom.

The Tollesbury Sea Scouts assisted the Coastguards in patrolling the sea wall, as landings were suspected. Two alleged spies were arrested early in the war by the Coastguards, Ostensibly they were a man and woman sketching the rive scene, but, were found to be both men. They were both taken under armed escort to Witham Police Station.

On November 18th at 10 a.m. a biplane made a forced landing at Mell Farm. This was the first aeroplane to have landed in the village, and the children were allowed to leave school to view. The plane piloted by a young Naval Lieutenant was soon supplied with the necessary petrol from the garage in the village by Mr George Fisher's "De Dion Bouton". A number of yacht skippers and others linked hands to swing the propeller, and held on to the wings until the pilot had revved up. The take-off was far more spectacular than the observation balloon which landed later at Carrington's Farm. Descending like a huge sun late afternoon, the envelope was soon deflated by its Naval crew. The orange coloured fabric was folded up, placed inside the observation basket, bundled unceremoniously into a farm wagon and taken off to the railway station.

Before the end of the year, Army units were established in the village and manned the vulnerable points. Some of the Sea Scouts joined the Royal Naval Air Service together with a number of yacht skippers and mates, some of whom became internationally known between the two wars, but that is another story.

The young volunteers presented a problem to the South Staffs regimental authorities, as they did not have the occupations of "fisherman" or "yachtsman" listed so had to record them as volunteers. However the young men soon proved that they were something out of the ordinary. The N.C.O.s were particularly impressed by their adaptability, camaradie and esprit-de-corps. They were referred to as the "Winkle Brigade", and a number were commandeered for regimental messes.

After intensive training, they were drafted to France, where strange enough, they came into contact with the Vth Essex "The Pompadours", and found old friends, some former shipmates, in the ranks. In the fighting that ensued in and around Hill 60, a number of the men were killed. Gaorge Leavett lay wounded in a shell hole for two days, with his left arm shattered. Fortunately he survived. Bob Ottley was wounded no fewer than five tines. Many were maimed for life, and others subsequently succumbed from privations and conditions under which they served. Of the twenty-three original volunteers, only four survive to-day. In all forty-eight young men from this village laid down their lives in that ghastly conflict of 1914-1918.

We, who are left behind are proud to have known them. Included in the number, was a young man who had become a professional soldier prior to the outbreak of war and had gained a commission. A fine figure of a man he was held in high esteem and regard in the village. On a brief visit to the village we were proud of the fact that he was asked by the officer commanding the Army units church parade to take the salute at the march past. He was Major William Charles Maskell, who was awarded the D.S.O., and M.C., and later died of wounds in France on 15th December 1917. He was only 28 years of age.

In this day and age we often wonder whether the sacrifices these young men made were really is vain. We fervently pray and hope not, and trust there will never be any lack of volunteers for a just cause.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton
Related Images:
 The first Tollesbury volunteers. Postcard.
 This photograph, taken outside the King's Head at Tollesbury, shows the first men from that village to volunteer for the army and navy. Seated on the car is Sir Laming Worthington Evans, M.P. for Colchester and with him, in a straw boater, is the Rev. William Carter. 
Photograph <a href=mmphoto.php?typ=ID&hit=1&tot=1&ba=cke&bid=CG2_048>CG2_048 </a> is a similar but different photograph.
Photograph used in The Salty Shore page 116. 
Used in Tollesbury Past by Keith Lovell, plate 55.
</p>  CG10_613
ImageID:   CG10_613
Title: The first Tollesbury volunteers. Postcard.
This photograph, taken outside the King's Head at Tollesbury, shows the first men from that village to volunteer for the army and navy. Seated on the car is Sir Laming Worthington Evans, M.P. for Colchester and with him, in a straw boater, is the Rev. William Carter.

Photograph CG2_048 is a similar but different photograph.

Photograph used in The Salty Shore page 116. Used in Tollesbury Past by Keith Lovell, plate 55.

Date:7 September 1914
Source:Mersea Museum / Cedric Gurton Tollesbury