Leatherhead War Memorials
WWI SOLDIER IN PARISH CHURCH MYSTERY
The Cross in the Tower
Hanging on a wall of the tower of St Mary & St Nicholas Leatherhead is a simple rough wooden cross, blackened with age.
The editor, Frank Haslam, had been wondering about that cross for some time but never managed to get close enough to read the inscriptions.
Could it be one of the people being researched for the Leatherhead War Memorial Research project?
One day the light was just right for Frank to see that indeed the inscriptions appeared to be military, just making out Private FCB Coward, and noting most of the digits of his service number.
If the light is right you can see that there are metal tags pinned to it, like the tags you used to be able to stamp out your name on at railway stations.
A quick check on the Commonwealth War Graves database revealed: -
510102 Private Francis Charles
Brockett Coward, A Coy. 1st/14th Bn., London Regt. (London Scottish),
who died on Thursday 29th August 1918, age 26.
[The cross in the Tower says his unit was 1/4 Londons.]
Private Coward is buried in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) Cemetery at Ecoust St Mein, in the Pas de Calais, grave reference V.K.21.
He was the "son of Agnes Brockett Coward of 1 Pembury Grove, Lower Clapton, London and of the late Samson Coward, native of Renfrewshire" (that is, Pte Coward was a native of Renfrewshire).
He was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and (posthumously) the 1914 Star Medal:
"Francis’s war medal roll shows he had seen active service overseas between 15 September 1914 and 19 January 1915 and between 3 November 1917 and the date of his death in action in August 1918. He was the bugler of the l/14th County of London Battalion (London Scottish). These service dates suggest that he had been wounded or taken ill between the end of January 1915 and November 1917.
Francis was posthumously awarded the 1914 Star Medal when it was established in 1917. Also known as ‘Pip’ or the Mons Star, this bronze medal was authorized by King George V in April 1917 for those who had served in France or Belgium during 5 August 1914 to midnight on 22 November 1914 inclusive. The award was open to officers and men of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces, doctors and nurses as well as Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who served ashore with the Royal Naval Division in France or Belgium. A narrow horizontal bronze clasp sewn onto the ribbon, bearing the dates ‘5th AUG. - 22nd NOV. 1914’ shows that the recipient had actually served under fire by the enemy during that period. For every seven medals issued without a clasp there were approximately five issued with the clasp.
Initially Francis’s war medals were issued without the clasp but on 20 June 1920 Agnes applied for her son’s medals to be issued with a clasp and the application was accepted and posted to her address, now 1 Pembury Grove, Lower Clapton, London." (Leatherhead in the Great War, Lorraine Spindler (Pen & Sword, 2016)
But what was his connection with Leatherhead?
- Private Coward was not mentioned on any of the other memorials in Leatherhead.
- On the Parish Church memorial he was not listed among those who served.
- His mother's address was not Leatherhead.
So what was his marker doing in Leatherhead's parish church tower? That was the mystery.
Frank was able to inspect and photograph the cross. There was no note attached at the back to explain why it was in the Tower.
The foot of the cross was discoloured, presumably from the soil of the grave. These wooden crosses were used as temporary markers until the Imperial War Graves Commission provided the now familiar headstones in the post-WW1 cemetery program.
Ecoust St Mein is a village between Arras, Cambrai and Bapaume - the Honourable Artillery Company Cemetery is about 800 metres south of the village on the west side of the D956 road to Beugenatre. It commemorates nearly 2,000 WWI casualties, about half of whom are unidentified.
It is a sobering thought that Private Coward was just one of 1.7 million men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth who gave their lives in two World Wars.
grave V.K.21, HAC Cemetery Ecoust St Mein, Pas de Calais:
THEY NEVER DIE
WHO LIVE IN THE HEARTS
OF THOSE WHO LOVE THEM
with thanks to Jon Miller, N Devon, 2002
What do we know about about Private Francis Charles Brockett Coward?
The starting point was the detail provided in the CWGC record given above.
Francis Charles Brockett Coward was born on 21 March 1892 in Houston, Renfrewshire. He was baptised on 21 September 1892 at Holy Trinity & St Peter, Wimbledon.The Baptism Register entry (no.970) says his name was Francis Charles (Brockett not mentioned) and the Abode is given as Kingston Road, Leatherhead. His father Samson is described as a Coachman.
His father was Samson Coward born 1861 in Stourpaine, Dorset. In the 1881 Census Samson was a Kennel-man, lodging in the stable of the Master of the Hunt in Leintwardine, Shropshire. In 1888 he was living at Cobham Court, at the time the home of the Surrey Union Hunt, where he was a Kennel Keeper.
He married Agnes Brockett on 11 October 1888 at St Mary's, Wimbledon. Agnes, aged 20, was a Spinster, residing in Worple Road, Wimbledon. Her father, Francis Henry Brockett, was a musician.
In the 1891 Census the family were in Houston and Killela, Renfrewshire. The Lanarkshire & Renfrewshire Foxhounds had their kennels at Houston. There was a daughter, Agnes Sarah Dorothy Coward born 1889, and a son - our soldier - Francis Charles Brockett Coward who were both born there.
From Francis's baptism record the family were evidently in Leatherhead by 1892 but so far where they lived in Kingston Road has not yet been established. The Rate Books for that very long road are to be investigated [February 2018].
Their next child, Vera Rowson Coward, was born in Leatherhead on September 19 1893, but baptised at Holy Trinity & St Peter, South Wimbledon. Rowson was Agnes's mother's maiden name. Vera was followed by Ivy Ethel Coward, born in Leatherhead on October 7th 1895, baptised at Holy Trinity & St Peter, South Wimbledon.
Samson was recorded as a Keeper when Vera was baptised in 1894 and as an Ostler in when Ivy was baptised in 1895. In each case the Abode was Church Street, Leatherhead. Samson was the householder in a not-well-detailed 1895 Directory.
Samson died aged 35 in 1896 and his burial in the churchyard of St Mary & St Nicholas, Leatherhead on April 2nd 1896, taken by the Vicar, was recorded in the Burial Register, entry no.1680. As far as is known, there is no record of his name on a marker or headstone.
The 1901 Census records that Agnes was 32 years old, now a widow, born in Kingston, Surrey, resident Church Street, Leatherhead. With her were her three daughters and Francis CB Coward, listed as a scholar aged 9, which fits his age when killed. Life cannot have been easy - her occupation is 'Charwoman' - but when she died in 1934 she left a tidy sum for those days.
Alun Roberts deduced from the order of enumeration of the Coward household in the 1901 Census that they were at the High Street end of Church Street. His research on the Rate Books showed that the Cowards were living in a small cottage (£10 annual rent) situated off Church Street in an alley which ran next to what used to be Clears, the electrical retailers and is now a Queen Elizabeth's Foundation charity shop. It probably had two or three bedrooms. The adjacent shop was James Batten’s tobacconists. The cottage was demolished in 1913 when the existing National Westminster Bank was built and the Swan Corner widened.
At one time their landlord was Albion Ockenden, also the owner Hampton Cottage where the family drilling company, Duke & Ockenden had an office, as shown in an 1895 Francis Frith photograph of Church Street. Today it houses Leatherhead Museum.[For a time the story was confused by a 1911 street directory for Leatherhead showing an F Coward (initial only) shown as resident at a house in The Withies (no. 3, 1 & 2 are just by the present day Catholic Church). Ian Whitlock was told that they may have been brickmakers’ homes. The lower part of Copthorne Road had not yet been built. F Coward's landlord was the eccentric James (‘Jimmy’) Edwards with whom he apparently shared the house in 1911. James usually preferred to sleep in hedgerows, however! He was the son of a wealthy Bridge Street butcher, in whose shop his three brothers worked. He did not himself, having always been a little peculiar. However, as shown below, our soldier was living in NE London.]
The 1911 Census had a Francis Charles Coward aged 19 born in Houston, Scotland and nephew of Arthur James Barnett or his spouse Daisy Barnett née Woodberry. A Mary Coward married a Frank Woodberry, in West Bromwich, registered in the September quarter of 1907. Francis was recorded living with the Barnetts at 46 Castlewood Road, Upper Clapton, Stamford Hill N.E. London. He was working in a limited company’s office as a transfer clerk. Arthur Barnett was a Law Clerk in a firm of Solicitors.
In the 1907 Electoral Rolls Agnes was no longer in Leatherhead but at The Street, Ashtead where she remained registered until 1912.
The 1911 Census records Agnes as a Dairy Manageress, living in 'High St', Ashtead, in lodgings with daughter Ivy [in the Electoral Roll she is at The Street, Ashtead in 1911; even today evidence can be found of local use of 'High Street', Ashtead for properties and businesses in The Street, Ashtead].
The head of the household was Thomas Lawrence, married, a plumber in the Building trade who employed others. He will appear again.
According to Soldiers Died in the Great War Francis had enlisted in London. His wartime service has been described above.
On March 13 1917 Agnes's mother Georgina Brockett, 75, was buried at St James, Stamford Hill. Her abode was 46 Castlewood Road, Upper Clapton, Stamford Hill, the same address where her soldier grandson Francis was living in with the Barnetts in 1911.
In 1918 Agnes was living at 1 Pembury Grove, Hackney: Francis was listed as an absent voter. Thomas Lawrence, with whom she had lodged in Ashtead, was also living there.
The Register of Soldiers' Effects shows that in 1919 Agnes received £26 14s 1d and Francis's three sisters £7 19s 11d each.
It would seem likely that Francis's grave marker became available in the 1920s, when marker crosses were replaced by headstones. We know that in 1920 Agnes was in correspondence about his medals. Agnes, or perhaps another member of the family, must have arranged for the cross to given to the church. It was where his father was buried.
At the time of the recording of his headstone by the then Imperial War Graves Commission in the 1920s, Agnes was still at 1 Pembury Grove, Lower Clapton, London, where she remained until her death in 1934. Her Probate record states: COWARD Agnes of 1 Pembury-grove Hackney London widow died 13 May 1934 to Rowson [sic] Vera Coward spinster. Effects £647 0s 5d - a tidy sum in those days.
An Albert Samson Coward is buried in Leatherhead parish churchyard (born 1901, died 1931). He is our soldier’s cousin - Samson Coward's brother Frank also left Stourpaine and came to Leatherhead, as a gardener. He married Edith Cox at St Mary & St Nicholas, Leatherhead on 21 September 1896, address Gravel Hill, Leatherhead. This was in the same year that his brother Samson was buried in Leatherhead. They had five children, all baptised at St Mary & St Nicholas, Leatherhead.
For whatever reason Private Francis Coward’s name is not on the town memorial nor in the Parish Church Chapel of Remembrance. That his WW1 wooden cross hangs in Leatherhead Parish Church among some of the memorials to the great and good of the town, and knowing a little of the hurdles that have to be overcome to put anything on the walls of a church, suggests that there is an as yet unwritten chapter in this story of loss and remembrance.
As Pam Exwood has said "Quite a big connection to the Church after all."
The Marker Cross
In April 2017 Frank Haslam met a couple, the Phillips, from the Edinburgh area who were on holiday in the South of England. They had a special interest in WW1 Grave Markers and had seen this web page. With permission from a churchwarden on-site Frank was able to retrieve Pte Coward's cross from its mounting in order to take more detailed photos than before and to get measurements.
29 April 2017: locations of tags
29 April 2017: details of casualty
29 April 2017: IWGC tag
29 April 2017: faint remains of the soil marking can still be seen
The following information and the photos above have been provided to the Returned From The Front website:
Details on cross (Text content of cross):
Crossbeam: 510102. PTE. F.C.B. COWARD, 1/4. LONDON. [note: CWGC says A Coy. 1st/14th Bn., London Regt. (London Scottish)]
Text type (e.g. hand-written, GRU tags, carved): tags
Cross dimensions (millimetres please)
Shaft Height: 940mm
Cross beam width: 413mm
Width of wood: 22mm
Thickness or depth: 65mm
Mounting to wall: Nail
Detailing: see photos
Evidence of use in field (earth marking, cracking, staining, shrinkage): 70mm (some cut off?)
Surface insertion depth (into ground if apparent): staining – see photo
Finish (varnish, paint, oiled, unfinished etc): unfinished?
Condition (cracked, paint peeling, woodwork, damage etc): good
How you could help
Further work on the parish magazines may reveal more about the placing of the cross but nothing has been found so far (up to the end of 1923), nor has preliminary on-line searching of Surrey newspapers.
Frank Haslam has been much assisted by Pam Exwood.
Lorraine Spindler, Ian Whitlock, John Morris and Alun Roberts have also contributed.
Use has been made of the Ancestry, FreeBMD and findmypast websites.
If you can add to this page, for example with photos or further information, please contact the editor.
London Scottish RegimentReturned From The Front
unless otherwise stated, images Haslam: last updated 31 Aug 2017: 13 Feb 2018