The war memorials in the London Borough of Sutton have recently benefited from a deep clean in preparation for the centenary. Sutton’s memorial in particular was in dire need of attention, its location overlooking the busy A232 making it a magnet for pollution. I must say, the results are fantastic, and full credit to Sutton Council for organising it and the contractors Stonewest for doing a great job. With the start of the centenary years it seems a timely opportunity to write a little about the memorial and some of the people named on it.
The memorial sits in Manor Park, towards the top of Sutton High Street, and was unveiled in June 1921. It takes the form of a cross of sacrifice atop a large plinth. The four corners of the plinth are adorned with carved angels; three of the sides of the plinth display symbols representing the army, navy, and air force. The inscription on the memorial reads ‘This sign of the great sacrifice is raised in honour of our heroic dead who gave their lives for England in the Great War. Their Name Liveth For Evermore.’ A further plaque records that ‘The people of Sutton erected this monument and dedicated the four acres of ground surrounding it to the use of the public for ever’.
527 names are inscribed on the memorial’s 12 plaques; over double the number on Carshalton’s memorial. Although I have not gone into anywhere near the depth of research I have with Carshalton’s memorial, I have so far managed to positively identify 489 of those named. The rank of each man is inscribed on the memorial, which in some cases has made it easier to identify the correct individual.
I have covered the story of William Barnett, one of Sutton’s first casualties of the war, in a previous blog post here.
The highest ranking name on the memorial is that of Colonel Robert Burns-Begg. Related to the poet Robert Burns, Burns-Begg was a member of the Scottish Bar and had seen service during the South African war in Kitchener’s Horse, after which he acted as legal adviser to the Transvaal government. In the First World War he was the town commandant of Folkestone. He died whilst on leave in Edinburgh on 9th January 1918 aged 45 and is also commemorated on a plaque in the parish church in Kinross.
No less than 17 of those commemorated were awarded medals for gallantry or were mentioned in despatches. Captain John Charles Mann served as Adjutant with the 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers. He had joined up on 7th August 1914 and went to France in November. He was awarded the Military Cross in January 1917 and was posthumously mentioned in despatches in December 1917, having been killed at ‘Black Watch Corner’ near Ypres on 26th September 1917 during Third Ypres. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Tyne Cot memorial. The 2nd Battalion RWF are notable as being the battalion that the writers Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves served with, and Mann features in both of their wartime memoirs.
Whilst the majority of Sutton’s casualties were incurred on the western front, a handful died elsewhere. Captain Wallace Hillbrook died of meningitis in July 1916 whilst serving with the Uganda Medical Service, and is buried in Nairobi South cemetery, a reminder that the war spread far beyond the France and Flanders.
Seven of the names on the memorial do not have a rank inscribed next to them, and I believe they are civilians who were killed whilst carrying out war work. There is at least one woman commemorated on the memorial – Eliza Bailey, who was killed in an explosion at Brocks munitions factory on Gander Green Lane, around late 1916. She was 22. It is possible the other six names were killed in the same incident.
Several other memorials exist in Sutton, including one at the Royal Mail sorting office, a memorial to the old boys of Sutton Grammar School, and naturally several in the local churches. Thirty six of the men are also commemorated on Carshalton war memorial.
I will write more about those named on Sutton war memorial in future blog posts.