Postman Frederick Hatchwell

1940 Postman’s uniform badge.
Imagery reproduced by kind permission of Royal Mail Group plc.

Frederick Hatchwell, a postman, was one of the first civilian casualties of enemy action in Leatherhead.

On 30th August 1940, during the Battle of Britain, it is understood that an enemy aircraft for some reason - possibly it had been hit and wanted to lighten the aircraft - let go some of its bombs. Unfortunately one of these landed in Reigate Road, Leatherhead. Frederick Hatchwell (57), and John Simms (14) who may have been a butcher's delivery boy, were killed.¹

Frederick Hatchwell was an Old Contemptible - those who served in France 5 Aug 1914 to Nov 22 1914 with the BEF - serving with the 1st Royal Dragoons.

He is among the men serving in HM Forces listed by the Vicar in the May 1915 issue ³ of the Leatherhead Parish Magazine - Hatchwell, F., A[rmy].V[eterinary].C[orps]., lst Dragoons

He was a member of the Dorking Branch of the Old Contemptibles' Association.

Frederick's widow, Gladys, was for many years the Electoral Roll Officer for Leatherhead Parish Church - she died in 1989 and is buried with him. They were married at the parish church, St Mary and St Nicholas, Leatherhead on 15th July 1936 when he was 53 and his bride, Gladys Olive Jenner, was 33. This was apparently not his first marriage.

In the 1891 Census, he was 8 year old schoolboy living with his parents - Henry Uriah Hatchwell, a jobbing gardener, and Elizabeth Hatchwell - and an uncle, a brother George and sister Ellen, in St Mary's Road, Walton on Thames. It was recorded that the Hatchwells, including Frederick, came from Oatlands Park.

In 1900 on his Short Service Attestation at the age of 18y 3m for 1st Dragoons, a cavalry regiment, he gave his birth place as Wills or Wells, Berkshire and his occupation as Carman [today that would be a van driver, then the vehicle would have been a horse drawn cart]. He stated that he was already in the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, East Surrey Regiment.

In June 1908 his appointment as an Assistant Postman at Leatherhead was recorded in the British Post Office appointment book, nomination record 263737.

In the 1911 Census the 28 year old Frederick gave his birth place as Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. He was now married and living at 1 Hope Cottages, Epsom Road, Leatherhead. He was employed as a 'Post Man, Civil Service'. His [first] wife, Blanchie Hatchwell, was aged 27. The record of their marriage and what happened to her is still sought.

As a civilian casualty, Frederick Hatchwell was not listed on the Town War Memorial.

Born in 1882, 4754 Private Frederick Hatchwell attested for the Dragoons of the Line at London on 11 April 1900. At the time of his enlistment he was working as barman. He was posted to the 1st (Royal) Dragoons three days later and was drafted to South Africa on 7 December 1900.

While on active service Hatchwell was awarded a Good Conduct Badge on 11 April 1902, and later received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.

He returned from South Africa with the regiment in October 1902 and continued to serve with the Royals at Shorncliffe and in India until he was sent home to England in January 1908 Hatchwell was transferred to the Reserve on 10 April 1908. He was appointed as a postman in Leatherhead on 8 March 1909 and enlisted for the Section D Army Reserve on 18 April 1912, ten days after his original period of engagement had expired.

Private Hatchwell was mobilised at the outbreak of WWI and was posted to No. 6 (Scottish) Cavalry Depot at Dunbar. As his regiment was stationed in South Africa and not deployed with the initial British Expeditionary Force, Hatchwell and nearly sixty reservists of the Royals were posted to 5th Veterinary Section, Army Veterinary Corps, and he landed in France on 16 August 1914.

Hatchwell was later transferred to the Army Veterinary Corps and was issued with the service number R/644. He was also appointed an Acting Sergeant and by the end of the war held the rank of Staff Sergeant. On being demobilised, Frederick returned to Leatherhead and his postal round.

He married Gladys Olive Genner in 1936 and was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 19 October 1938. [5]

The bombs which killed him were part of a bomb trail which ran from Reigate Road across Headley Road (where Four Acres, the home of the eminent local GP Dr Carl von Bergen was badly damaged) to Ashtead where two women were killed at Warren Road.

His death and funeral were reported locally:

Surrey Advertiser  7 September 1940:

“Keen sympathy with the relatives was shown at the funeral at Leatherhead Parish Churchyard on Tuesday of Mr Fredk. Hatchwell, of Corner Cot, Copthorne-road, Leatherhead, whose death occurred on Friday, at the age of 57.

Mr Hatchwell had been a postman at Leatherhead since 1909. He served in the South African War with the Royal Dragoons, and again with the same regiment in the last war, subsequently being transferred to the R.A.V.C., in which he was a sergeant farrier. In this war he was a member of the Home Guard. Mr Hatchwell was a member of the Dorking Old Contemptibles’ Association and the Leatherhead British Legion.

The Vicar (the Rev. G. H. B. Coleridge) conducted the funeral, and the chief mourners were Mrs Hatchwell (widow), Mr G. Hatchwell (brother), Mesdames Manton, Smith and Alvey (sisters) Messrs. T. Manton and H. B. Smith (brothers-in-law), Mrs H. G. Briar and Mrs F. Thomsett (nieces), Mr and Mrs H. Horne, and Mr D. Dew. There were also representatives of the Old Contemptibles, British Legion, and Post Office, all of which also sent wreaths; there was also one from Capt. Burke and members of the Home Guard.”

On 22 August 1979, Mrs Edwina Vardey of the Leatherhead & District Local History Society conducted interviews with two eye-witnesses, Mr & Mrs Browning, who were still living at 26 Reigate Road:

Mrs Lilly Browning:

"I was in the house, expecting my mother, who was out with my small son, to be coming up the road when the siren went. So I rushed out and helped her in with my son. I noticed two elderly ladies standing there and I said: ‘Would you like to come in?’ They said they would.
The Sainsbury's boy, who was going to deliver to me, and the postman [Mr Hatchwell] were both opposite the house. I asked them if they would like to come in. They said no, they wanted to see the fun. So we all came in here, that is three elderly ladies, myself and two young children.

I decided that perhaps the ladies were rather nervous so I said: ‘I don't think anything will happen around here but I had better pull these curtains.’ I went and pulled the velvet curtains. As I did so I noticed that the Canadian dental clinic people who were living in a house on the left of us jumped into a slip [sic] trench they had made and put their gas mask cases over their faces.

I looked up and saw a plane whizzing across the sky and then the bombs started crashing down in one gigantic row. I went on pulling the curtains but a piece of shrapnel came through and went between myself and my arm and lodged itself between the gramophone and a magazine that was on top. Another piece went across my head and a small piece cut my daughter's forehead. My small son just turned round and said: ‘Naughty man made a mess.’ But my daughter who was older was obviously distressed. I thought I had better get her a drink and the little girl’s throat seemed to close up completely. I suppose it was shock.

In the process of drawing the curtains with the piece that whizzed over my head, I hadn't taken very much notice but I kept smelling burning. I thought something must be on fire and that worried me more than anything else. So I rushed round the house looking for burning but I couldn't find anything. As was natural in the circumstances, I put my hand to my head and found my hair had come away. I had been shaved across the front of my head and then had a fringe for a few months.

The captain of the Canadians came round and said: ‘Are you all right?’ I said: ‘Yes but there's a bit of a mess.’ So he said well come here. I climbed over the doors which had been broken down and the Sainsbury's boy and the postman were lying on the ground. He whispered to me: ‘I'm afraid they're dead.’

The fact that the boy, whom I had got to know quite well, had died worried me. I thought it was so dreadful that a young boy of, I suppose, about 16 had been killed. He had been so keen to go into the army. I had said to him once, you are too young. He had said: ‘Yes, I'm afraid it will all be over before I'm old enough to join in.’ I didn't know his name. [see above, John Simms, age 14]

We all assembled again and put our heads together. I decided I had better phone my husband and let him know what had happened and he decided to come home. We packed up our things as a lady in Ashtead had said she would take us in for the time being. The army lorry turned them all over and I stopped behind to write down the name and address for anybody that wanted to know where we had gone. I rushed out, only to find that the lorry had gone without me.

I was at a little bit of a loss but I just thought I am sure I can find them. I went down on to the road but the siren went again and I took shelter. An elderly man came in while I was there, the owner of that house, and said he had spent the morning in the ditch as he thought that was the best place to stay. He looked as though he had been in the ditch.

I got a bus to Ashtead and the famous Leg of Mutton pub but they were so full of people they couldn't take me in. So I went down Woodfield Lane and that name struck a chord. I thought this is where they are. The siren went again so I went into a lady's house, told her we had been bombed out and asked if I could stay there. She said yes and we chatted on the stairs.

I came out, walked down the road and met three girls. I said: ‘Have you seen an army lorry delivering children plus contents?’ and they said: ‘Yes, they are at our house.’ It was the most extraordinary thing that I should happen to hit on that one person.

My friend came round and said: ‘The soldiers are in a terrible way. Have you got a bottle of brandy?’ I said yes and gave them a bottle, thinking that I might get it back. Of course I didn't, not a drop. Unfortunately one of the soldiers although he wasn't touched in any way, died of shock three weeks later."

Her husband, Mr Maurice Browning said they had subsequently discovered that a whole cache of 72 bombs had been dropped. He explained:

"We think they were attacked by one of our Hurricanes or Spitfires and that they unloaded their whole load in one spot. It stretched from here to the Warren estate at Ashtead, effectively a straight line. We had five or six bombs within about 50 yards of this house.

The architect of the house said the blast would have caused the house to breathe. In other words just to expand a little bit and then come together again. We still have cracks which have been reappearing every time we have it redecorated. We have had to have them papered over in order to stop them reappearing. Of course we had to have the front door remade, the middle door between the hall and the lounge, and the French windows at the back replaced en- tirely because they were twisted. One or two other windows also had to be replaced.

I was working with the Bank of England down at Winterbourne near Whitchurch in Hampshire and I got a message through that the house had been badly damaged. I wasn't worried because the family was all right. I got the first train I could to Surbiton. I grabbed a taxi and another alert went on. The cabby said: ‘Do you want to go on, guvner? It's all right by me.’ I said yes I did.

I was stopped at the barrier at the top of the road by police and army but allowed to come through as my house was here and I didn't know where my family was. I found the house in a terrible mess but as I came over the brow of the hill two delayed action bombs went off just on the other side of the trees. As there wasn't an alert on at the time the time I wondered what the blazes it was. There was no noise of bombs coming, no alert. I just turned round in astonishment to see part of the trees going up in the air. I examined the place afterwards and there were two holes big enough to put buses in. So they must have been at least 500 pounds." [6]

Rank: Civilian
Age: 57
Date of Death: 30/08/1940
Husband of Gladys Olive Hatchwell, of Corner Cot, St. John's Avenue. Died at Reigate Road.
Civilian Roll of Honour Section URBAN DISTRICT OF LEATHERHEAD

Frederick Hatchwell is buried in LEATHERHEAD (SS. MARY AND NICHOLAS) CHURCHYARD [local grave no. 382] ²

1. A resident of Reigate Road, who was there at the time, the late Mrs Virginia Gillett.
2. St Mary & St Nicholas Leatherhead Graves database, Leatherhead & District Local History Society
3. Parish Magazine of St Mary & St Nicholas, Leatherhead, May 1915, via Liam Sumption who acknowledged the late Mr Lionel Anstee as the source.
4. Census etc - Ancestry.co.uk
5. Facebook: Old Contemptibles
6. L&DLHS Newsletter
September 2017, p28-31


Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry

The Old Contemptibles

the website editor would like to add further information on this casualty
e.g. a photo of him and of any recollections within his family.

last updated 18 Aug 2004: 15 Feb 14: CWGC links updated 7 Nov 17: content update 17 Feb 18: 28 Jan 20