Major Hugh Forster: The Banstead War Memorial Project

Today’s post is an epic piece of research which was undertaken by James Crouch as part of the Banstead War Memorial Project. As well as researching names on the Memorial, the project aims to commemorate the individuals who lost their lives in WW1 by ringing the church bells on the date they fell. Hugh Forster is commemorated on the War Memorial in Manor Park. Representatives from his church (Christ Church, Sutton) and some of the clubs he belonged to (Sutton & Epsom Rugby Club, Sutton Cricket Club, Banstead Cricket Club and Banstead Downs Golf Club) tolled the bell for him as part of the centennial commemorations and his great-nephew was in attendance. We are very thankful to James for sharing his research into Major Forster with us on the blog and are pleased that we have been able to locate additional photos of Major Forster and the school he attended in the Knights-Whittome glass plate collection.  It was suggested that we may want to post a shorter version of this research here on the blog, but the research and the story telling is so compelling that we thought it deserved publishing the work in its entirety.  This is the kind of research that we can only dream of having the time to complete. Huge thanks to James for sharing this with us.

You can also find this and other research completed as part of the Banstead War Memorial project made available by James on the Surrey in the Great War website, with whom we hope to collaborate in making more of our own research available in due course.

dkw_34093_forster_lMajor Hugh Forster – Died of Wounds 28th September 1915
Hugh was commemorated on the 101st anniversary of his death as his connection to Banstead has only recently been discovered.

Hugh Murray Forster was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 8th September 1883. He was the second of four children born to Ralph and Elizabeth Forster. He had an elder brother, Stanley, and two younger sisters, Mary and Eva. Hugh’s childhood home was a large house that was part of Fenham Terrace in Jesmond, a well-to-do suburb in Newcastle.

Ralph was a partner in Bessler, Waechter & Co., a firm of chemical, metal and general merchants based in Fenchurch Street, London, and Dean Street, Newcastle.

Their Newcastle office, 10 Dean Street, was one of many new buildings built during a commercial redevelopment of the street in the late 19th century and it still stands today. It was commissioned by John Burnip, a master draper, in 1888. John and Eleanor Burnip were blessed with 13 children, most of whom followed them into the family business. However, one of their eldest daughters, Elizabeth, did not join the family firm: she married Ralph Collingwood Forster in 1880. Ralph was already doing nicely enough as a merchant to have bought a good house in Gladstone Terrace, Gateshead, by 1881. His octogenarian grandparents lived with them, cared for by a nurse. Ralph’s grandparents had been farm servants but he would end up a long way from those humble roots. Father-in-law John’s money paid for the new building in Dean Street and Bessler, Waechter & Co. moved in. As well as his daughter being set up in fine style, at least one other member of John’s family would later go on to work for the company.

The focus of the business may have shifted to London as it grew and Ralph stayed at the Richmond home of his business partner, the forward-thinking European federalist Anglo-German Max Waechter, in 1891, the family moving down south to join him soon afterwards. They made their new home at The Grange, a mansion which stood where Cadogan Close is today, and whose grounds stretched between Worcester Road and Grange Road. From there it would be just a 5-minute stroll to the station to catch the train to the office.

The move heralded an expansion of the business; the old partnership between Ralph, Max Waechter and Fritz Berns was dissolved in 1893 and the firm was reconstituted as a limited company with Waechter as chairman and Ralph as a director. This would allow for more investment and financing (and remove personal financial liability for Ralph in the event of contractual disputes). In the future they would open offices in Liverpool and Glasgow and expand into ship-owning and shipping, exporting coke, coal and firebricks, manufacturing metal alloy parts for early aeroplanes, cars and farm machinery and acting as agents for petroleum companies.

Ralph was on his way to becoming a very rich man indeed and soon became very influential in Sutton society and a stalwart of the magistrate’s bench as a Justice of the Peace. He was also a very generous man and a great philanthropist. Among his many gifts to Sutton were a new pavilion for Sutton Cricket Club in 1906, a new Parish Hall at Christ Church in 1920 and, one year, a tonne of coal and a Christmas pudding to every unemployed married man in Sutton. Ralph was made High Sheriff of Surrey in 1906 and was later Deputy-Lieutenant of the county. In 1911 he endowed a new organic chemistry laboratory at University College, London, and in 1912’s New Years Honours, he was created 1st Baronet Forster of The Grange, Sutton, in recognition of his “promotion of the study of chemistry.

Ralph’s brother, James, and his family moved to Sutton at about the same time as Ralph and Elizabeth. By the mid-1890s they were living at Ravensworth, in Christchurch Park, Sutton, and both local branches of the Forster family were heavily involved in Christ Church. They had a family chapel to the right of the altar (built in 1902) and Hugh would have worshipped at the church whenever he was in Sutton. He was baptised at Christ Church at the unusually late age of 17.

That was all in the future when the young Hugh first came to Sutton. He went to school in Banstead, attending Banstead Hall preparatory school, probably between the years 1892-1897.


Banstead Hall School, photographed around 1906 – after Hugh had left. This image shows pupils and staff on the front steps of the school. Mrs (Mary) Ethel Maitland, owner of the school following her husbands death is the younger woman pictured in the centre left of the group.

The school used to stand where Dunnymans Road is now and the grounds stretched between the Brighton Road and Bolters Lane. South Lodge in Dunnymans Road, once the lodge that guarded one end of the house’s U-shaped driveway, is the last surviving remnant of the school. The school was owned and run by Edward Maitland (later by his widow) and about 40 boys were taught there. Hugh probably attended as a day boy rather than as a boarder. He showed quite a gift for languages and was fluent in Spanish, German and French at a young age.

Shortly after Hugh started at Banstead Hall, tragedy struck the family: his elder brother, Stanley, died aged 12. Hugh was now Ralph Forster’s only male heir. When he went to Charterhouse (near Godalming) between 1897 and 1902, he studied on the modern side of the school, focusing on Maths, Science and Modern Languages rather than Classics. It was a course that would be ideal preparation for his expected entry into the world of business, when he would take his place by his father’s side.

He wasn’t the most academically gifted boy at the school but he was certainly one of its most talented sportsmen: Hugh played cricket for his boarding house (Girdlestonites) and helped win the House Cup in 1902; he also represented them in football and played rackets too. A batting all-rounder, he played for the school’s First XI and had their 4th highest average (34.72) in 1901 and 7th highest (13.25) in 1902. Hugh seems to have also enjoyed clubs and societies immensely and the first documented instances of his enthusiasms are the Choir and the School Fire Brigade (!). The school was some distance away from the nearest fire station and so the boys were trained to fight fires. The school’s finest athletes were elected by their peers to serve in the Fire Brigade and they were sometimes called into action to fight fires in nearby Godalming and, at least twice, a blaze at the school (1918 and 1919).

Hugh first played for the First XIs of both Banstead and Sutton Cricket Clubs in the school summer holidays of 1901. His earliest recorded score is 4 runs for Banstead against Kenley in August of that year. He played for Banstead in the summer after he left Charterhouse at the end of Cricket Quarter (Summer Term) 1902, scoring 84 of Banstead’s 357 runs against Whitgift Wanderers.

Hugh did not attend university but he applied for a passport and left to study abroad before returning to England and taking up a job with his father’s firm. Either after completing his studies or during a trip home, Hugh represented the invitational Surrey Club & Ground team in a match against Leatherhead in August 1903. Batting at 6, he scored 31 runs and was one of several mentioned in a newspaper report as giving a “splendid display of batting” on a beautiful summer’s day in front of a “capital attendance.

Hugh either took a trip to the USA or went back to complete his studies. He returned in 1906 and was granted a commission as a supernumerary 2nd lieutenant in the Surrey Yeomanry (The Princess of Wales’s). When the reserve forces were reorganized as part of the Haldane Reforms, the yeomanry was abolished and Hugh resigned his commission and joined the yeomanry’s successor, the Territorial Force. It was not for long: granted a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the 5th (Territorial) East Surrey Regiment in February 1909, he gave it up within weeks due to his work and frequent overseas trips (the new, more active, organization probably required more commitment from its members than the old yeomanry did).

At about this time, Hugh gained two sisters as Ralph and Elizabeth adopted two girls, Hilda and Ruth. They were baptised at Christ Church by the Reverend Gale in January 1908.

Hugh, “affable, unostentatious and invariably courteous” and “who won the hearts of all who were associated with him in any way”, rose to become managing director of Bessler, Waechter & Co Ltd. He seems to have wanted to settle down as he got engaged to his cousin, Winnie Forster of Sefton Park, Liverpool, in September 1910, but the wedding never took place, perhaps his frequent trips away from home causing the end of the engagement. The four years before the war saw at least three voyages to Argentina, one of those with his father who held directorships of several companies with interests in South America, and a 6-month trip to Mexico shortly after his engagement.

Sir Ralph seems to have loved socializing as much as his son did, being involved with many local committees and societies. He and Hugh’s uncle, James, were both Freemasons and Hugh joined the Mid-Surrey Lodge, which met in Sutton, in October 1911. He was raised to the Degree of a Master Mason in November 1912.

Hugh was also secretary of Sutton & Cheam District Scouts at a time of rapid expansion for the Scouting movement and gave his time, energy, enthusiasm – and money – to the local district for several years. In reward for his “able administration, coupled with his generosity” which was said to have set the District in good stead for years to come, he was granted the title of Honorary Secretary.

Hugh’s last season for Sutton CC was in 1912, and he finished his playing career with them having racked up 56 innings in eleven seasons with an average of 19.69 and a top score of 156. One of his final games was a match against a touring American side, Philadelphia Cricket Club, on 21st August. Hugh was in at number 5 and batting at number 6 was the grand old man of English cricket, Dr W.G. Grace, who was nearing the end of both his playing career and his life. Hugh was out for a duck and must have been mortified but the Doctor soon joined him the pavilion as he only managed 2 himself.

Hugh missed most of the 1913 season while in Argentina and was absent for all of the shortened 1914 season. He also played rugby for Sutton & Epsom RFC and golf at Banstead Downs Golf Club (his adopted sister, Hilda, would later meet her future husband on the course) and these too probably had to take a back seat to business but he must have found time to get a few rounds in as he remained a member of the Golf Club.

When war broke out, Hugh was returning from a business trip to South Africa. Sir Ralph threw himself into recruiting activities. On 19th August at Sutton’s Drill Hall, a crowded recruiting meeting was held, the men summoned by leaflets delivered by the local Scouts. Banstead’s Justice of the Peace, Ralph Neville, was due to speak but he was unable to attend due to illness so Sir Ralph presided and spoke to the crowd, reading Mr Neville’s letter, which concluded:

Depend upon it, that in this Titanic struggle, in which we are engaged, every man will be wanted. There is no place for shirkers; every man must do his work, or God help us.

Ralph Neville presciently realised that it was to be “the greatest war the world had ever seen”, referring to it as “Armageddon.” The Reverends Turner (Rector of Sutton) and Gale (who was chaplain to the 5th East Surreys as well as Vicar of Christ Church) were on hand to provide spiritual justification and various aldermen and councilors and retired officers exhorted the men to enlist. Colonel Hyde-Edwards called for men to join the Colours and Rev. Gale called for men for the Territorials. It was a lively meeting and there was much applause and cheering during the speeches but at the closing call by Sir Ralph for the men of Sutton to “come and show us your metal, come and show us your grit, as Englishmen, and give Sergeant Tutt your names”, the first volunteer was a long time coming forward. When the first man did step up, he received a tremendous cheer and other soon followed.

Hugh had only docked at London the previous day and so may not have been at the meeting. If he had been there then he probably would have been one of the first men to step forward. He applied for a commission in the cavalry of Kitchener’s New Army on 24th August, less than week after arriving back in England.

The pace of recruitment was slower than popularly believed and by 3rd September, only 183 Sutton men had volunteered to join the Armed Forces (by contrast, over 300 had joined the Special Constabulary), and efforts needed to be stepped up, not just in Sutton but all over the country. By the first week of September, the recruiting machine was in full swing as the government impressed the need for action upon local civic leaders and news reached home from the British Expeditionary Force in France. A committee was established to manage the 5th East Surrey Regiment’s recruitment district (Leatherhead, Epsom, Mitcham, Merton, Carshalton, and Sutton), with Sir Ralph in the chair and James Forster as secretary. The Lord Lieutenant’s Fund was established to provide support for wives and families struggling at home alone. Hugh did his bit too, addressing a recruiting meeting at the Public Hall in September, giving a “straightforward, manly” speech. Soon, hundreds of Sutton men would be in uniform and serving with Kitchener’s New Army.

Hugh received a knock when he was told that he was ineligible for a commission as a cavalry officer in the New Army, so he instead requested a temporary commission in the regular Army on 27th September 1914. As he hadn’t attended university, a referee was needed to vouch for his educational attainment and the Reverend Courtenay Gale, Vicar of Christ Church and the man who baptised Hugh in 1901 (and who happened to also be a Cambridge lecturer) obliged. One of his father’s colleagues, a local Justice of the Peace, testified to Hugh’s good character.

dkw_34093b_forster_lHe was made a temporary lieutenant with effect from 6th October and joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. This seems like an unusual choice for a Newcastle man who lived in Surrey but Hugh’s great-grandparents were Scottish and Epsom’s MP, Mr Henry Keswick, had just rejoined his old regiment, the K.O.S.B., and the Forsters almost certainly knew the Keswicks.

Hugh was posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion, who had recently been formed in Berwick-on-Tweed. He was made a captain at Bordon in December. They moved to billets in Winchester in February 1915 and then to Chiseldon Camp on Salisbury Plain for their final training prior to deployment to France. Shortly before they left, Hugh was promoted to temporary major and given command of ‘C’ Company.

The Borderers disembarked at Boulogne on 10th July 1915 and trod what had become a well-worn path up the steep hill to Ostrahove Rest Camp. They moved on a couple of days later. Their first week in France was spent in transit, firstly by train and then by daily marches of 10 or 15 miles or so. They had arrived in the height of summer and the marches were hot and dusty and extremely trying for most of the men who were marching in new boots.

They reached Allouagne, a mining district in Artois about 15 miles from the front, on the afternoon of 17th July. A week was spent here with the men doing physical training, route marching, familiarising themselves their new smoke helmets (gas masks) and on the lookout for spies in cars. There was a persistent paranoia that the BEF were being spied upon that seems to have had little basis in reality and other units of the New Army who arrived in France at this time were similarly jumpy. Strange characters were frequently reported and stray officers of unfamiliar units or with unusual accents could expect a hard grilling. The specialists, such as snipers, had extra training and a party of officers and NCOs went up to visit the frontline for instruction in trench warfare and to familiarise themselves with the sector that they would be holding.

Hugh’s ‘C’ Company went into the line near Mazingarbe, facing the German-held town of Loos, on 24th July and were attached to the 1/17th London Regiment (Poplar and Stepney Rifles) for two nights to learn about life in the trenches from the (only slightly) more experienced unit.

Another week’s training and resting at Allouagne followed. It was difficult to keep discipline while nothing was happening and there were several cases of drunkenness to be dealt with, before they marched off through the mud and rain to Mazingarbe, where the Royal Engineers found work for idle hands with nighttime digging fatigues.

On 10th August, a month to the day after they had arrived in France, they were in the trenches on their own for the first time. The 8th K.O.S.B. took over the line in sector W2 at Maroc (southeast of Mazingarbe, on the eastern outskirts of Grenay) and Hugh’s Company held the centre of the line. It was an uneventful first week and they were relieved by their twins, the 7th K.O.S.B. (the 7th and 8th K.O.S.B. had been formed at the same time and had gone everywhere together and in 1916 they would be merged), and retired to rest billets.

Two more spells in the line followed in a nearby sector. It was a quiet time after a hectic opening to 1915 and in their first two months the K.O.S.B. seem to have been almost at more risk of shooting themselves (or each other) through carelessness than being wounded by the Germans. That would change soon enough.

Early September saw the 8th K.O.S.B. out of the line and training, with particular emphasis being given to bombing (grenade) instruction. Bombing was the most effective form of in-trench close quarters fighting and an ample supply of bombs and skilled bombers would be needed for the imminent “Big Push”.

“The Big Push” at Loos was part of the northern pincer of an attempt to pinch out a huge, broad salient that the Germans held, which centred on Noyons, and trap three German armies. The French would be responsible for the bulk of the effort and the British attack, to the immediate north of one of the two main French attacks, would support them. They would try to capture Lens and push on to cut the German communications that ran through the Plain of Douai. This could be a war-winning attack if a significant breakthrough could be made and exploited.

The British commanders viewed the plans with markedly less enthusiasm than the French did. The British attack would be over open ground, “a barren prairie of rank grass, intersected by trenches whose white chalk parapets defied concealment”, against strong German entrenched positions, fortified villages and machine-gun nests lurking in every ruined building, railway embankment or slagheap that sat on the cluttered mining landscape. The timing was not in accordance with the long-term British plan either: Kitchener was assembling a huge army, armies really, which he wanted to spring on the Germans in the spring of 1916. There were not enough heavy guns for an attack across such a broad front and shells were in short supply. Men were tied up at Gallipoli and the British would outnumber the Germans in their sector by only 6 or 7 to 1, barely a quarter of the men that Sir John French thought necessary for a decisive blow – he already knew well that a small number of defenders could hold off a much larger force. What swung the pendulum in favour of pressing ahead with the attack was the imminent collapse of the Russians and, for the first time, the availability of large quantities of poison gas. Lord Kitchener ordered Sir John to “take the offensive and act vigorously.

The Germans had adopted a defensive strategy on the Western Front and they were concentrating their resources on the Eastern Front. Once they had knocked out Russia they would turn all their attention to defeating the other Allies. With defence in mind, they had developed a second line of defences 1-2 miles behind their front lines. Great care was taken to situate these where they would be difficult to take and where they could be kept well supplied. The Germans’ second line of defences in the British First Army’s sector followed the Route Nationale from Lens to La Basée. The villages along the road were turned into mini fortresses and permanent blockhouses and outposts were constructed. The wiring on the second line was of a formidable depth and the trenches were often sited on a reverse slope so as to make the cutting of wire by artillery, always a tricky business, a near-impossibility. Construction of a third line of defences was already underway.

The men of Kitchener’s New Army were arriving in northern France in their thousands, ready for the attack. Many of them sat idle under canvas for almost a month and their first action of the war would be to march on to the battlefield. Not so the men of the 8th K.O.S.B. 300 men every day and 200 each night were employed by the Royal Engineers in improving communications and water supply, extending communications trenches, digging support lines, improving trenches, making advanced ammunition stores, cutting gun emplacements and laying a trolley line (a wooden railway) from Philosophe in Mazingarbe to Quality Street, a trench near the electric power station and pithead of Fosse No.7, 1500 yards north of Maroc. They were highly praised by the Engineers for the standard of their work. They were working and living close to the frontline and suffered 17 casualties due to shellfire.

Moving into the line in front of Loos form 8th-12th September, they had a hotter time of it than their last turn in the trenches and their trench was blown in in places by the German artillery. The K.O.S.B. had been issued with a catapult for firing grenades and they seem to have annoyed the Germans enough that they moved field guns up near to their frontline and opened a point blank barrage on the British trenches. Luckily for the K.O.S.B., they had already left, but the unit that relieved them caught the full force of it.

At Labeuvriere, they practised the attack on the German trenches that was soon to come. Instruction was given in bombing and the men practised their night firing and skirmished through a local wood.

The bombardment of the German lines began on 21st September and, next day, the K.O.S.B. marched back to Mazingarbe, moving in half-companies with orders to avoid observation where possible. ‘C’ Company were billeted in the village. On the 23rd, the Battalion bombers were inspected and bombs were drawn. It was now anticipated that the attack would begin on the 25th and the day was spent in preparation. On the eve of battle, the 24th, their kit and packs were put in storage and equipment was issued: one grenade rifle and 2 yellow flags (for signaling their position to artillery) per platoon; 11 billhooks, 27 wire-cutters and 28 pairs of hedging gloves per company; and 2 empty sandbags per man. 2 platoons of ‘C’ and 2 of ‘D’ Company were issued with 1 pick or shovel per man for digging communications trenches between the British line and the German trenches once captured. They began moving up towards the Grenay-Vermelles frontline facing Loos in the evening, following the roads where possible to avoid a slog through communications trenches in poor condition following heavy rain, with ‘C” Company moving off at about 11pm and arriving at midnight.

The 8th K.O.S.B. were 46th Brigade reserve, to be used as needed with the exception of the two half-companies of ‘C’ and ‘D’ men were kept back to dig communications trenches. 46th Brigade were in the centre of the British First Army sector and part of 15th (Scottish) Division, whose ultimate objective was Cite St Auguste, a small town north of Lens that formed part of the German second line of defences. It was on the far side of Hill 70, a 70-foot high rise that commanded the low-lying battlefield. However, they would first have to capture the German-held village of Loos. Thousands of yards to the south, including a 4000-yard stretch where no fighting would take place, was the French Tenth Army, with an attacking force three times larger than the British one.

A favourable weather forecast was received at Army Headquarters and in the early hours of the morning, the news came to the units in the frontline that the main attack would start at 6:30am. The Battalion’s cooks were busy all night and brought the men a hot breakfast at 3:30am.

At 5:50am, an intense bombardment of the enemy’s front line trench heralded the imminent attack and the gas cylinder valves were opened. At about 6am, a diversionary attack was launched in the northern sector of the battlefield, and at 6:02am, smoke candles were lit.

At 6:28am, the first wave of attackers climbed out of their trenches, and at 6:30am, the artillery barrage lifted. The wind in the centre sector was not as favourable as hoped and the gas and smoke hung about close to the British trenches and caused casualties without affecting the Germans. Nonetheless, the troops of 15th (Scottish) Division emerged from their Russian saps that had been dug to narrow the width of No Man’s Land to just 200 yards and into machine-gun fire that swept the flat, open ground. Despite suffering heavy losses to the machine-guns and the artillery that now joined in, the Scottish were soon in the village of Loos and had captured it by 8am. They moved quickly on, the left-hand battalions reaching the road to the north of Hill by 9:15am. Reserves were ordered forward in support. Supposed to round the Hill on the left before advancing to Cite St Auguste, they lost direction when they lost their officers and headed straight for the only landmark nearby: the top of Hill 70.

key-8th-kosb-locationsKey 8th K.O.S.B. locations during the first day of the Battle of Loos. Trenches have been simplified.

The 8th K.O.S.B. were one of the reserve forces ordered forward. The two remaining half-companies of ‘C’ and ‘D’ of the K.O.S.B. were to follow on the tail of two companies of the 12th Highland Light Infantry. ‘C’ Company was on the right (1), ‘D’ on the left (2). ‘A’ (right) and ‘B’ (left) Companies were to follow them. There was some confusion and ‘D’ Company were held up near the Loos Road to await orders. Fresh instructions were sent to the right column (Hugh’s ‘C’ Company and ‘A’ Company) but the new orders didn’t reach them and ‘C’ and ‘A’ began their advance early, as soon as the Highland Light Infantry crossed the frontline, rather than hanging back so that they could be deployed as a reserve to effectively support the H.L.I. The Battalion’s left column left their trenches 15 minutes later with neither the H.L.I. or the Battalion’s right column in sight any longer.

Leading his two platoons hot on the heels of the Highlanders in the direction of Hill 70, Hugh had not long left the shelter of the British trenches when he was wounded and fell. His men carried on, commanded by two 2nd lieutenants, and disappeared with the Highlanders over the top of the Hill. The Germans were on the run and the enthusiastic Scots advanced down the open slope of the hill (3) and into murderous crossfire from the German second line. The remnants of ‘C’ Company ended up scattered in amongst a motley collection of units.

‘A’ Company, who had had to take the wrong communications trench to avoid struggling through the wounded that jammed their original route, eventually went “over the top” from behind their own frontline in order to avoid the congestion. Leaving from the wrong place and losing their commanding officer early on, they went through the outskirts of Loos, probably to the south rather than passing it to the north, and ended up south of Hill 70. They then lost their second in command and were eventually forced back to the north of the Hill (4), probably by a German attack from the south which was intended to drive the men off the Hill and towards the German second line.

‘D’ Company’s two platoons advanced on the left of 46th Brigade’s sector, as planned. The Brigade’s advance skewed round to the right and ‘D’ Company followed, ending up on top of the Hill. The Germans rushed the Hill and the left were pushed back off the summit, one platoon of ‘D’ ending up on the north shoulder of the Hill (5) and the other platoon pushed forward along the road in the direction of Cite St Auguste (6).

‘B’ Company was to have followed ‘D’ closely but it was found that a gap existed between 15th Division and 1st Division (on the left) and so ‘B’ were ordered to dig trenches and place two houses in a state of defence to protect against a counterattack at that vulnerable point (7). However, they got split up and only some of the men made it to their assigned spot, the others got mixed up with various other units in the firing line on the Hill and north of it, some skirmishers making it into Bois Hugo (8).

As he advanced in the morning, Captain Horne, second-in-command of ‘B’ Company, saw Hugh lying wounded. He stopped to see if he could help but Hugh would not hear of it. He told Horne that he knew he was dying and insisted that Horne collect all the stragglers that he could and push on to the Hill as quickly as possible. Horne did so and was later wounded on the Hill.

Hugh was in a bad way but he was still alive. He was evacuated to the 6th (London) Field Ambulance, which had “heaps of wounded coming in”, and stabilised there as best they could. He was too seriously wounded to be moved further down the evacuation chain, where he would have a much better chance of survival, and he died three days later. He was 32 years old.

He was one of 414 casualties of the 8th K.O.S.B. in the attack. Every officer of the Battalion who went over the top that day was wounded, gassed or killed.

Hugh is buried in Noueux-les-Mines Cemetery and is commemorated on the Sutton War Memorial in Manor Park, on the Sutton & Epsom RFC Memorial Stand, on the Banstead Cricket Club Roll of Honour board, the memorial panels in Christ Church, Sutton, and on a plaque in the Forster family chapel at Christ Church.

Hugh’s epitaph on his memorial plaque at Christ Church reads:




Hugh was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914-15 Star.

Hugh’s effects were: a silver wristwatch, a gold signet ring, a silver cigarette case, a tobacco pouch, a wallet containing photographs, a pipe, a fountain pen, a whistle and a purse.

He is also commemorated in the Godolphin School’s Roll of Honour whch was printed in the school gazette during the war. It may seem unusual given that Godolphin is one of our premier girls’ schools but the Roll was for male relatives of the students and Hugh’s cousins Helen and Dorothy had been at the school.

Hugh’s cousin, Eric, was also killed in the war in 1917. He is commemorated on the Roll of Honour at Christ Church, Sutton.

The office of High Sheriff of Surrey was also held by Sir Ralph Forster’s partners Max Waechter (1902) and Max’s son, Sir Harry Waechter (1910). Notable holders with Banstead connections include Sir Jeremiah Colman (1893), Sir Richard Garton (1913), Frederick Colman (1922) and Uvedale Lambert (1961).

There is some dispute about whether Hugh’s date of death is 26th or 28th September. The original notification from 6th (London) Field Ambulance gave the date as 2nd October, amended by a follow-up letter to the 28th September. This is also the date recorded in the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects and is supported by his pay calculations in his service records. The 26th appears only once in his army paperwork, struck through and replaced with 28th, but appears in correspondence from Hugh’s solicitor, as his date of death in the Probate Calendar and on his memorial plaque at Christ Church.


Hugh is the most photographed individual yet commemorated as part of Banstead’s WW1 remembrance project. There are photographs from Charterhouse Cricket First XI (1902), Girdlestonite Cricket Team (1899 and 1902), Girdlestonite Football Team (1899), Charterhouse Fire Brigade (1902) and various Girdlestonite House group photos, Banstead Cricket Club First XI (1902), Sutton Cricket Club First XI (1907, 1910, 1911 and 1912) and his obituary in the Sutton & Epsom Advertiser (October 1915). There are almost certainly photographs of him in the Banstead Hall collections held by the Surrey History Centre and the Sutton Local Studies Centre at Sutton Library and it’s likely that he would appear in Sutton & Epsom RFC team photographs (enquiry pending). The 8th K.O.S.B. war diary records the arrival of a Battalion camera (personal cameras were banned but many found their way into the trenches anyway) in September 1915 and so perhaps there are some photographs of Hugh in the field.

Hugh would not have been able to play for the re-constituted Banstead Cricket Club after the war as they enforced a parish residents-only rule.

Sir Ralph Forster died at home in 1930, with the edges of the estate already starting to sprout houses.  He had been taken ill in Egypt several years previously and never recovered. He left a fortune and gave much away in bequests including £300,000 to build an extension to University Hospital, London, and large gifts to Sutton Hospital. Among his many generous donations while still alive was the gift of the Guildford cricket ground to Surrey County Cricket Club.

A Forster Trophy was competed for at Banstead Downs Golf Club in the post-war years.

Sutton & Epsom RFC played a WW1 memorial match against Streatham & Croydon RFC in 2014. The names of the men on the Rolls of Honour of both clubs were printed on posters advertising the game and in the match programmes. At least one of Hugh’s Sutton Cricket Club teammates, J M Williamson (killed in action 16th May 1915), was also a player at Sutton & Epsom.

Many of Banstead Hall’s pupils must have fallen in the war. The school probably had a Roll of Honour in the chapel, now long lost. The names of nine pupils and one member of staff who died are known at the time of writing.

Many thanks to Catherine Smith (Charterhouse), Neil Clark (Sutton Cricket Club), Robert Knight (Sutton & Epsom RFC), Ray Watson (Banstead Cricket Club), Colin Iddles (Christ Church), Kath Shawcross (Sutton Local Studies Centre), Richard Clarke (Godolphin), Fiona Colbert (St John’s College, Cambridge University) and Mike McCarthy (Masonic Great War Project) for their help, it is much appreciated.

Author: James Crouch


1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 UK Census

WO339 27825 Service Records (Hugh Murray Forster)

WO95 1953-2 8th King’s Own Scottish Borderers War Diary

United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751-1921

National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966

Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects

Medal Index Card (Hugh Murray Forster)

Index to Register of Passport Applications 1851-1903

Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960 Transcription

UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960

New York Passenger Lists & Arrivals Transcription

Baptismal Register of Christ Church, Sutton

Surrey Electoral Register

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Electoral Register

Diss Express 18th June 1920

Essex Newsman 19th May 1917

London Gazette 17th July 1908, 21st December 1906, 5th March 1909, 29th September 1908, 24th April 1909, 24th Feb 1893, 26th Jan 1915

Sutton & Epsom Advertiser 21st August 1914, 4th September 1914, 11th September 1914, 25th September 1914, Obituary in October 1915

Dundee Courier 1st January 1912

London Daily News 27th October 1910, 20th October 1905

Western Daily Press 19th April 1930

Ward’s Directory 1887-1888

Post Office Annual Glasgow Directory 1904-1905

Unknown Sutton Cricket Clipping 28th July 1911

Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game 10th May 1913

Playing on The Green (John Wilcox)

Aristocrats Go To War (Jerry Murland)

Architectural taste and patronage in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1870-1914 (Michael Johnson, 2009)

Who Really Invented the Automobile: Skulduggery at the Crossroads (David Beasley)

Highland Light Infantry Chronicle,_Waechter_and_Co,_1st_baronet

5 thoughts on “Major Hugh Forster: The Banstead War Memorial Project

  1. Hugh Forster was my great uncle and I found your biography extremely detailed and interesting, thank you for taking the time as there is detail my family never knew. Just to let you know; I have come across a metal framed picture with a KOSB cap badge at the top, of a war grave dedicated to Major H M Forster of the KOSBs dated 26th September 1915. The picture was in my aunt’s house which I helped clear before putting it on the market as she sadly has had to go into a nursing home. In the back of the picture is a card from Buckingham Palace saying ‘I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War’ and signed by King George. I have decided to donate the picture to the KOSBs museum as I think there is a danger of it being lost as the family connection to Hugh will only get weaker as time passes. If I can make a copy of the picture and the dedication by the King would you like to have a copy?


    John Godley


    • Dear John – thank you for your comments. Research into your Great Uncle was done by James Crouch of the Banstead War Memorial Project, so credit here must go to him. I’m very glad that you found the piece. We would indeed be very interested to see the picture and dedication. If you could scan or photograph them, I would love to receive the images, and will pass onto James with your permission? You can send to me direct at
      Thanks so much,


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