To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 an exhibition was held in St Augustine’s Church with particular emphasis on the men from the parish who died during that conflict. As an aid to researching the lives of the men listed on the memorial board in the Lady Chapel we utilised a WW1 Forum website to discover more about the battles in which they were killed. As a consequence the names of the men remain on line. We had considerable response at the time from other researchers and then surprisingly we were contacted recently by Leif Balthzersen from Denmark who has very kindly written the following article for our magazine.
Brian and Sandie
TWO BROTHERS ON THE ST AUGUSTINE'S WW1 MEMORIAL
by Leif V.S. Balthzersen, Aarhus, Denmark
Book collecting can lead you many different ways. During a visit to our capital, Copenhagen, I as usual went to some antiquarian bookshops and came upon some English books with inscriptions related to another interest of mine, WW1 poetry. Why the books had ended up here in Denmark, I do not know, and the bookseller could unfortunately not remember whom he had bought them from.
Three books by Francis Thompson in a very commonly seen series (clothbound and gilded) had large inscriptions including a poem of remembrance. I'm not a particular fan of Thompson's works, but despite our overloaded bookshelves, I bought one of them, "New Poems". At the top of the front endpapers it says in capitals: "Ex Libris: - Philip ∙ Lawrence ∙ Catchpole ∙ 1912 ∙ dum ∙ vivo ∙ disco" (this can be translated as "while I live I learn"). Right below someone has added: "Francis Thompson was a favourite of Philip's." And then follows a rather moving poem.
I wondered, of course, who Philip Catchpole might have been, and this is where St Augustine's comes in, because apart from finding some newspaper notices etc. on the internet, I read a message from Mr. Brian Stocks of your parish in a WW1-forum and replied to it, which made Ms Melissa Reeve from Norfolk contact me. She is a genealogist who among other families studies the Catchpole family (with no relation to it). She also told me about the book "The Public Schools Battalion in the Great War" (2007). Mr Stocks has generously supplied me with the relevant pages of his book about the St Augustine's War Memorial.
There are still a lot of mysteries and contradictions, but the story might be summed up like this: There are two Catchpoles on your War Memorial in St Augustine's, Edmund and Philip, born in 1887 and 1893. They were brothers, enlisted together, trained together, died together and are buried together.
Edmund and Philip were the sons of Edward and Fanny Catchpole, who lived in the house "Ravensdeane" on Baring Road in Grove Park. There were eight children: Daisy, Albert, Mabel, Edmund, Mildred, Philip, Gertrude and lastly Fanny, at whose birth their mother died in 1898. Their father married a much younger woman, Selina Harvey, in 1903, and they had a daughter, Joan, in 1904, but there was subsequently a problematic divorce the same year.
The eldest brother, Albert, followed in their father's footsteps. They had a prosperous business, manufacturing tar and varnish in the London docks. The relations between the two younger brothers and their father seem unfortunately to have been strained, and at a young age Edmund left for Canada, where he lived and worked until he was 25. He then inherited some money, came back to England and chose the very un-businesslike profession as an actor, performing in the UK and abroad. His talent for acting had already been evident during his days at Cranleigh School, but one can imagine that this was definitely not a choice his father and elder brother could or would approve of.
Strangely enough, he changed his name from Catchpole to Tennant by deed poll in May 1915, which might be interpreted as an act of detaching himself from the family. Or it may simply be choosing an stage name? Speaking against the latter theory is the fact that his six-year-younger brother, Philip, whose books enkindled my interest in the family, also changed his name to Tennant at the same time.
Philip had been educated at Eltham College and was – probably through his father's contacts – employed as a trainee in the Foreign Exchange Office at the London and South Western Bank. He appears to have been skilled in arts and linguistics.
During the First World War the brothers chose to enlist in January 1915 in one of the so-called Public School Battalions, the 16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools), Middlesex Regiment. Allegedly they were attracted by the battalion's name.
At the beginning of January 1916 the brothers, Edmund a Corporal and Philip a Lance Corporal, were in the notorious, muddy trenches in Northern France. According to the battalion's war diary, the reserves were at the bridge Pont Fixe near Cuinchy, a village midway between Béthune and La Bassée. On 10th January they were shelled and a 2nd Lieutenant Bowman plus six – as it was customary – unnamed soldiers of other ranks were killed and 14 of other ranks were wounded. The two Catchpole brothers, who had specifically stayed in the ranks instead of training as officers (to get the sooner to France), were among those killed on this particular, in no way particular day. They were killed by the same shell, apparently as a shell hit a barn, where their section were waiting. They were 28 and 22 years old.
Their Captain wrote to their father: "It is very sad, and their loss is regretted by the whole company. They were the life of the platoon, and I shall never replace them. It may be some comfort to know that they were doing their duty in every sense of the word."
Notwithstanding the strained family relations, their father, who had been unwell, broke down after the loss of the two sons, handed the factory over to Albert and died only three months later on 24 April 1916 (as I said before, their mother already died many years earlier). The father was buried in Hither Green Cemetery, where there also is a gravestone commemorating the two brothers. Their real graves, though, are in the military cemetery in Cambrin in Northern France. There would first have been the usual wooden crosses, and after the war came the ordinary, beautiful and simple Commonwealth War Graves Commission stones. However, what is not so ordinarily seen, is that their stones are placed immediately next to each other, a joint grave with two stones.
Edmund, being an actor, is also commemorated on the memorial at the Drury Lane Theatre (as Tennant), and both of the brothers are commemorated on your War Memorial in your church (with their original family name, Catchpole), as they also were on the memorial in Burnt Ash Congregational Church (bombed in WW2) in Lee.
In addition to these official memorials, there is a more private commemoration of the brothers, or of Philip at least, namely the poem that his younger sister, Gertrude, wrote in the books he left behind, of which I am lucky to have one. It is very poignant poem, not only to a book lover, I think. Gertrude wrote it herself, as the inscription in one of the books said: "Gertrude's own poem written in almost all the Boys' books". – It must have been hard work to write it in so many books, a task probably undertaken to cope with the grief. The last lines of the second stanza is perhaps inspired by Laurence Binyon's famous "For the fallen", where it says: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: / Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn."
The full poem reads:
You were too dear to go, too brave to die!
Among the thoughts that crowded through your mind
The day you went, 'twas with a passing sigh
You left your books behind.
"Those whom the gods love" – ah, we know the rhyme.
What if that saying hold some word of truth?
Though we grow old & sad, mere wrecks of time
You have eternal youth.
No page from Memory's book of smiles & tears –
Bright crowned hours – can bring you to our view
More clearly than, through empty lonely years
These pages turned by you.
Many had died before Philip and Edmund, and many died after them. The end of the Great War, Armistice Day, whose centenary is marked this year, only came after another 34 months of fighting and futile blood-shedding. Millions died or were wounded in the First World War. Each of them had their own story, and the Catchpole story is only one of them.