Among the varied plates in the David Knights-Whittome collection are a large number of military portraits. In the process of scanning and cataloguing these glass plates we have noticed a disproportionately large contingent of Royal Fusiliers – recognisable by their distinctive cap badge. Not all of these have yet been researched but from those which have, it seems apparent that many do not necessarily have an obvious link to the local area. As more information is being added to our database we are also noticing patterns in the dates attached to these plates which seem to suggest that a number of soldiers seemingly from the same battalion may have been photographed on the same day. One explanation behind this is that Knights-Whittome may have batch-photographed a number of battalions stationed locally before they were shipped out to their postings. The discovery by one of our volunteers of a book in which Knights-Whittome’s advertising campaign targeting these soldiers is documented backs this theory up. Today, project volunteer Kathy Nichols explores this theory in a little more detail with specific reference to two plates from the collection.
“There are thousands of hundred year old portraits in the process of being brought back into the light by the Knights-Whittome Photographic Project. Today we’re considering some which show proud, fresh faced young soldiers; perhaps with a hint of trepidation in their eyes. Each one is wearing the uniform of the Royal Fusiliers, most of them wearing a cap with the regiment’s badge. It features a flaming grenade with a crown at the base of the flames and on the grenade a Tudor Rose surrounded by the motto of the Royal Order of the Garter, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (“shame on him who thinks evil of it”).
A little digging around on the internet unearths the fact that there were four battalions of the Royal Fusiliers based at Woodcote Park near Epsom between February 1915 and May 1915. They were battalions from the University and Public Schools Brigade. This brigade was formed at Epsom in September 1914. They weren’t just Surrey or London men; the brigade recruited volunteer University and Public School men from towns all over England and also Aberystwyth and Edinburgh. In fact volunteers were sought from all the universities and public schools of the Empire. They had to be between the ages of 19 and 35 (or 45 if they had previous experience as a soldier).
Roughly 8,250 of them arrived at Epsom on 18th September 1914. At first they were billeted in Epsom, Ashtead and Leatherhead but when the army camp was ready at Woodcote Park they moved there and became the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st service battalions of the Royal Fusiliers. The Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website documents the establishment of the park in detail.
After undergoing basic training many of these men received commissions as officers in other regiments or parts of the armed services because it was believed at the time that the best type of person to provide leadership was a well-educated gentleman.”
Editors note: A publication entitled ‘Wartime in a Surrey Town’ by Trevor White describes just how local businesses in Epsom benefited from the influx of the UPS brigade.
in April (1914) it was announced that one hundred and seventy thousand pounds had been spent – by the War Office – in billeting the U.P.S. Brigade. Each ‘billetrix’ or landlady received twenty-four shillings a week for each man billeted in her home. There was a brief time of prosperity in parts of the town not previously noted for prosperity… Advertisements sparse in newspapers before 1914 suddenly became more numerous… In seven different typefaces Mr. D. Knights-Whittome trumpeted DO IT NOW! for a photographic appointment under the same conditions he had used at Windsor Castle. (Mr. Whittome was open until 9pm, 20% discount to those in uniform).
“The process of identifying the Royal Fusiliers in our glass plates could potentially prove difficult as the individuals came to Woodcote Park from many different places across the Empire and were dispersed again after a relatively short time. But this is where ‘the old school tie’ might prove useful. Luckily for us, many schools are taking part in World War One projects and are making their Rolls of Honour available online. Some have even digitised magazines from the war years which list the boys who signed up to serve their country. Manchester Grammar School for example had a large contingent joining the UPS Brigade, so if you have a Royal Fusilier to research their website is well worth a look.
Here’s what we know so far about two of our young soldiers:
Lancing College, Sussex has a memorial website which includes the name of Edgar Beale He is also listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
Edgar Beale was born in Frensham, Surrey in 1892, the son of miller and farmer Edgar Beale and his wife Katherine Ann. After attending Lancing College he went on to Peterhouse College, Cambridge where he gained an Officer Training Corps (OTC) certificate. He enlisted with the Royal Fusiliers, 19th Public Schools Battalion as a corporal, service number PS/3442. Lancing College’s memorial website includes a photograph taken by David Knights-Whittome for which we have the glass plate negative dated 7th May 1915, and this shows him in a corporal’s uniform. He landed in France on 12th November 1915 and joined 16 Platoon, D Company and served as a sergeant. Just over seven weeks later he was killed in action on the La Bassée Road. He was twenty-three years old. He is buried at the Cambrin Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Alfred Courtney Bender
Dulwich College rolls of attendance include the name of Alfred Courtney Bender. He is also mentioned in a memorial at St Stephens Church, Dulwich. Information gleaned from the Crystal Palace Foundation web page, the 1901 Census and FreeBMD shows that he was born in Sydenham in 1893, the son of Charles Balthazar Bender a retired civil engineer (born in Germany but a naturalised American subject) and his Scottish born wife Nancy Eliza (née Lancefield). The Bender family lived at Rosendale Road, London SE21.
His medal card held at The National Archives tells us that that he enlisted with the Royal Fusiliers, 19th Public Schools Battalion and that he received a commission with the 16th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers in May 1915. Knights-Whittome photographed him on 18th January 1915.
The London Gazette of 5th November 1915 announced that he was transferred to the Hampshire Regiment as a temporary 2nd lieutenant with effect from 3rd August 1915. In 1917 he was a lieutenant with the 15th Battalion (2nd Pompey Pals), the Hampshire Regiment. On 20th September 1917 they were at the battle of the Menin Road Ridge. A short description of the battalion’s part in the battle is given on the Pompey Pals web site. Alfred Courtney Bender died on that day and is listed on the Tyne Cot Memorial along with nearly 35,000 other UK and New Zealand soldiers who fought in the Ypres Salient from 16th August 1917 and whose bodies were never found.
We can only hope that these photographs provided some comfort to the families in the years that lay ahead.”