As the country remembers the sacrifice of so many during Word War I (1914-18), here in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe we have our own history to remember. In Bermondsey the story of the Holton family is told online on The Great War London. The family – living in Marcia Road, Bermondsey – had a son Reginald George Holton who in the 1911 census is recorded as a 14-year-old errand boy. By 1915, he was working as a warehouseman and went to East Dulwich to enlist in the Royal Field Artillery. He was a 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a tattoo on his right arm. After training, he joined 167 Brigade’s artillery in France as a driver on 12 December 1915 and remained on the Western Front for the next three and a half years.

Men and Women together

Rotherhithe War Memorial

Rotherhithe War Memorial, St Mary’s Rotherhithe churchyard

Meanwhile Sarah Holton (Reg’s mother) and her youngest daughter Ethel went to work for John Bell, Hill and Lucas, Ltd, making gas masks in their factory on Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey. The company were pharmaceutical chemists in peace, so well placed to make gas masks to keep up with the advances in chemicals used in gas warfare in the Great War. Sarah worked in the factory for three years (presumably from 1915 until the end of the war) and was joined there by 17-year-old Ethel from August 1917 until September 1918.

Bermondsey Battalion

Many soldiers were recruited as part of the Bermondsey Pals Battalion. Men were all recruited from the same community and sent to war together in the belief that this would create greater loyalty and perseverance under fire. 12th (Bermondsey) Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment was raised at Bermondsey on 14 May 1915 by the Mayor and Borough. After training, they landed at Le Havre on 2 May 1916 and fought at the Somme. They spent time in Italy before returning to Flanders. They took part in the final advance in Flanders and at the Armistice, they were chosen to join the Army of Occupation, serving in Cologne until demobilisation in March 1919.

Bermondsey and Rotherhithe War Memorial

Bermondsey and Rotherhithe War Memorial, West Lane

Death from the Sky

Of course the War was fought in Rotherhithe as well as on the Continent. Andie Byrnes has provided an excellent introduction to the Airship Raids (Part 1) and Fighter Plane Blitz (Part 2) that brought death from the sky for many in SE16.

The memorials to the fallen and those who gave their lives for this country remain precious reminders of their sacrifice and the extremes of ‘the war to end all wars’. We remember them a century later with gratitude and admiration for their forbearance and strength of character. Men and women fought the Great War at immense cost to themselves and their families and our lives are enriched by remembering them.

Note: The memorial at the head of this post is for the 22nd Battalion The London Regiment (Queen’s) that was located in Old Jamaica Road SE16 erected next to the yard of the Battalion’s drill hall. When the building was sold for redevelopment, the memorial was put in store and is due to be restored by November 2014. If anyone has further information, please let us know in the comments below.