Page 5




Written By; Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: February 15,2017



Joseph Gundry Alexander (1848-1918) was a Quaker who spent all of his life in missionary work and other causes consistent with his beliefs and desire to work in the aid of mankind.  He was a pacifist who devoted much of his efforts promoting international peace, particularly during WW 1. He worked to see the end of the opium trade between India and China. As a career he became a barrister and a JP. Born in Bath,Somerset he  was the youngest son and fifth child of Samuel Alexander(1809-1884), who was the proprietor of an ironmongers business, and Sarah Alexander, nee Gundry (1809-1860).

In 1855 Joseph and his family moved from Bath to Leominster in Herefordshire where his father had his ironmongers business. Four years later Joseph was sent to a small private “Friends” school in Brighton kept by Frederick Taylor and his wife. When Joseph left Brighton he was sent to another private “Friends” school under Till Adam Smith, at Weston-super-Mare, but in 1863, when he was fifteen, he left school and returned to Leominster to work in his father’s business.

He began his legal studies in London in 1870 and in July 1872 he went to Paris and undertook legal studies at the Sorbonne and became fluent in speaking French. Joseph felt he had been “born to the law” and his letters showed a keen interest in law reform. In his early years he wrote law reports for the Law Times and other papers. In 1874 he made a tour of French Y.M.C.A’s and visited Belgium. On his return to England he took first class honours in his first L.L.B. examination in January 1875. In the spring of the 1875 he undertook another missionary journey to France. In 1879 he took first class honours in his final examination for the L.L. B and for a good many years he continued to practice at the Bar.

In the 2nd qtr of 1881,at Reigate, Joseph married Josephine Crosfield (1851-1940, a Quaker, one of five children born to Joseph Crosfield (1821-1880), a tea merchant,and Elizabeth Crosfield, nee Blackhouse (1823-1852). Joseph and his wife settled in Croydon, Surrey where they raised a family. They had four children, all sons namely (1) Gilbert Crosfield Alexander (1882-1954) (2) Wilfred Backhouse Alexander (1885-1965) (3) Christopher James Alexander (1887-1917) (4) Horace Gundrey Alexander (1889-1989) .

Gilbert served in WW 1 as an orderly with the Red Cross and became a market gardener and then the owner of the Holly Nursery in Blackness,Crowborough, Sussex where he grew fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Wilfred became a noted biologist and ornithologist and his brother Horace became a noted ornithologist and university lecturer. The last brother Christopher was also an ornithologist but was killed in France in WW 1 while serving with The Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment. Although the family were Quakers and opposed to war Joseph Gundry Alexander, according to his son Horace who wrote a book about his father and family stated “ It was a grief to Joseph that Christopher should see this as the path of duty but he loved him all the more for doing what he did and thought right, even if it clashed with the conviction of his parents”.

In 1896 Joseph gave up his practice at the Bar and left Croydon with his family and settled in Tunbridge Wells. While in the town his sons observed and recorded, the birds they saw about the town , an experience which led to their careers as ornithologists. At the time of the 1901 census, Joseph and his wife and two servants were living at 8 Grove Hill Road, Tunbridge Wells. Their sons were absent from the family hone at times while they attended a private school but always returned home whenever their studies would permit. By 1911 Joseph and his family took up residence in the town at 3 Mayfield Road. They were still living in this home at the time of Josephs death there in 1918.

While in Tunbridge Wells Joseph continued to travel extensively promoting the causes he supported. His son Horace wrote “ For the last few years of his life Joseph was a useful member of the Tunbridge Wells Higher Education Sub-Committee , and he was on the Committee of the Homeopathic Hospital. In February 1915 he was appointed a County Magistrate (J.P.). The home interest that was nearest his heart after the Friend’s Meeting itself, was the Men’s Adult School held at the Meeting House. Whenever he was at home he attended it before Sunday morning meeting and for the last few years was its president. Another school, more in the centre of the working population, at High Brooms, was begun before the war, and Joseph often visited it on Sunday afternoons, although this involved a two mile walk each way, and he made great efforts to raise funds to pay off the debt on the Adult School Hall. On the third anniversary of the outbreak of war Joseph attended a meeting arranged by the Tunbridge Wells Free Church Council who said “it felt good to unite with the Christians”. So passed his last autumn, the strain of all his activities evidently telling on his strength.  While in London he was suddenly prostrated by severe pain and returned to Tunbridge Wells. After two or three days of great suffering, an operation was performed at the Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital where he remained for several weeks, apparently slowly mending. On February 14,1918 he was moved home but his strength did not increase and it soon became plain that his life could not last long. Joseph said he had no wish to live if he could not work. For the last twelve days of his life he was under the care of his wife and two nurses and the doctor came to see him on his last day. His eldest son Gilbert was with him when in the early morning of February 26th  the beating of Joseph’s  heart ceased”. He died at his home at 3 Mayfield Road. After his death some of his fellow members of the Tunbridge Wells Friends had much to say in praise of the man

Josephine remained in the town for a time but she eventually went to live in Reigate where she died in 1940.

This article reports on the lives of Joseph Gundry Alexander, his wife,  and his four sons ,with a particular emphasis on the years they lived in Tunbridge Wells.


Joseph Gundry Alexander was born in Bath, Somerset on April 20,1848. He was the youngest son and fifth child of six of Samuel Alexander(1809-1884), who was the proprietor of an ironmongers business, and Sarah Alexander, nee Gundry (1809-1860). Through his parents Joseph was descended from families who for some generations had been members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). His mother Sarah was a daughter of Joseph Gundry of Calne in Wiltshire.

As a small boy Joseph was of a remarkably studious and thoughtful disposition, so  that his companions nicknamed him “the Philosopher” so wrote his son Haratio Gundry Alexander in the 1920 book entitled “Joseph Gundrey Alexander” (image opposite) which book I have quoted from in various parts of this article.

 In 1855, when Joseph was seven years old, his father moved the family from Bath to Leominster in Herefordshire, where Samuel Alexander took an ironmongery business, and four years later (1859) Joseph was sent to  a small private Friends school in Brighton, kept by Frederick Taylor and his wife.

The 1861 census, taken at Buckingham Place in Brighton gave Joseph as a pupil at a small boys school run by Frederick Taylor, age 32, schoolmaster. Frederick at that time was a widow and living with him was two of his children, an assistant school master, one domestic and eleven other pupils.

When Joseph left the school in Brighton he was sent to another private Friends school under Till Adam Smith, at Weston-super-Mare. In 1863 Joseph left school at the age of fifteen and returned to Leonminster to work behind the counter in his father’ ironmongers business.

By the early 1870’s Joseph had decided to persue a career in the legal profession. The 1871 census, taken at London Road in Reigate,Surrey gave Joseph as a student of law. The head of the household was Mary B. Alexander, age 67, a spinster, and with her were her spinster sisters Elizabeth, age 57 and Sarah age 54, all of whom were annuitants. Joseph was given as their nephew. Also there were two domestic servants.

Joseph regularly attended the meetings of The Friends thoughout his life from the time he was a boy until his death and would often speak at the meetings. Although the was some reluctance on the part of the elders to let the younger members speak he and the others were supported by his mother Sarah who would not be silenced in her support.Before her death Sarah was recorded as a “Minister” of the Society, and she undertook some religious visits to other meetings and to the families of Friends.

After Joseph left school the time soon came when he felt that he must consecrate his life more fully than hitherto to the work of the Friends. His spare time was spent in study and in helping any good work in which others invited him to share; these included the Adult School and Band of Hope. On his own initiative he also invited the workmen of his father’s business to meet him a few minutes before beginning work at 6 a.m. to listen to a short reading from the Bible followed by prayer. He expanded his activities by taking a part in political life, speaking in the Leonminster Corn Exchange at Liberal meetings during the 1868 election.

In 1870 Joseph left business to study law, reading with the late Joseph Bevan Braithwaite in Lincoln’s Inn. Four years later he was called to the Bar and though he never had much practice, his legal knowledge served him well.

In November 1871, as Joseph sat in a meeting in Reigate he “experienced something of the fulfilment of words” and felt a conviction to go to China and at the close of the year to go to France. Resistence in Paris was to be of great use to him in his legal studies, particularly in view of his specialization in International Law. In July 1872 he went to Paris and undertook legal studies at the Sorbonne. He became conversant in the French language, something which would be of great use to him on subsequent visits to France.

Joseph felt he had been “ born to the law” and his letters showed a keen interest in law reform . During his early years he earned some money writing law reports for the Law Times and other papers. Some years later he wrote a “tract” on “Lawyers and Christianity”.

In 1874 Joseph and a friend made a tour of French Y.M.C.A’s and visited Belgium together. Then Joseph returned to England and took first class honours in his first LL.B. examination in January 1875. In the spring of the 1875 he undertook another missionary journey through the west of France, visiting a good many scattered and isolated churches and in the summer he revisited his friends in Paris.

When he was in England he continued to take an active share in Friend’s meetings and other activities both in London and the West country. In 1879 he took high honours in his final examination for the LL. B. and for a good many years he continued to  practice at the Bar.  His practice was never large. It was contrary to his nature to set as much store by professional advantage as is normally required for a successful barrister. He also refused to accept briefs for cases which he believed to be unjust.

As early as 1872 Joseph he visited Reigate and enjoyed the friendship and companionship in religious activities of the sons of Joseph Crosfield (1821-1880), a member of the Society of Friends, who had undertaken various important services on behalf of his faith. It was while there that Joseph came to know Josephine Crosfield (1851-1940), who was the eldest daughter of Joseph Crosfield and Elizabeth Crosfield, nee Backhouse (1823-1852), and he had a desire and conviction to marry her, which he did June 2,1881 at Reigate. Josephine had been born January 20,1851.

The 1881 census, taken before the marriage at 26 Eardley Crescent, Kensington, London gave Joseph as a barrister in practice LL. B. With him was his nephew George W. Alexander, age 14 who had just left school and one lodger, namely Alfred Tollotson, age 25, a barrister in practice.

After the marriage Joseph and Josephine settled in Croydon where their four children, all boys, were born. Their children were (1) Gilbert Crosfield Alexander (1887-1954) (2) Wilfred Backhouse Alexander (1885-1965) (3) Christopher James Alexander (1887-1917) (4) Horace Gundrey Alexander (1889-1989). Details about each of the sons are given in later sections of this article, but at this time I will state that Gilbert became a market gardener and later the proprietor of a nursery, while his three brothers became ornithologists, some also biologists and one, namely Horace became an ornithologist and a university lecturer. Despite Quaker beliefs Josephs son Gilbert served in WW 1 with the Red Cross and his son Christopher was killed in the war while serving with the Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment. Regarding his son Christopher, Joseph, according to his son Horace stated “ It was a grief to Joseph that Christopher should see this as the path of duty but he loved him all the more for doing what he did and thought right, even if it clashed with the conviction of his parents”.

While living in Croydon Joseph continued to practise as a barrister and devoted much time and energy to several philanthropic labours. He became honorary secretary of the International Law Association in 1885. At the same time Joseph worked for the anti-slavery cause, partly in connection with this Association and partly with the Anti-Slavery Society.

The 1891 census, taken at 6 South Park Hill Road in Croydon gave Joseph as a barrister in practice and the secretary of a charitable society. With him was his wife Josephine; his son Wilfred, age 6, a scholar; his son Christopher, age 4, a scholar and his son Horace ,age 1. Also there was a nephew Herbert Alexander, age 19, an ironmonger’s assistant, and four domestic servants.

In 1896, having given up his practice at the Bar, he and his family left Croydon and took up residence in Tunbridge Wells, which story continues in the next section


As noted above in the book ‘Joseph Grundry Alexander’ by his son Horace Gundry Alexander, published in 1920, a book of some 223 pages, much information is given about Joseph’s life and career. Parts of the book provide information about the time the family resided in Tunbridge Wells and within this section I have provided quotations from the book pertaining to Tunbridge Wells. This book is an excellent source of information about Joseph and his family and can be read in its entirety online and for that reason and have not provided the whole story. The book, however, is short on information about Josephs’s sons, with only a passing reference to some of them. Shown opposite right is a CDV of Joseph taken at a portrait studio in Tunbridge Wells and to the left  is a CDV of his wife Josephine.

From this book it was stated that Joseph Gundry Alexander and his wife and sons left Croyden in 1896 and took up residence in Tunbridge Wells and it is from this point that I report on the results of my research. In 1897 Joseph was acknowledged as a Minister and was a diligent attender of meetings both for Worship and Discipline, and a useful member of the F.F.M.A. Board, and of the Field Committees of China, Madagascar and Pemba.

The 1901 census, taken at 8 Grove Hill Road gave Joseph G. Alexander as living on own means. With him was his wife Josephine who was born in Liverpool. Their sons were away at school but lived with their parents whenever their studies permitted them to do so. While in the town Josephs sons Christopher, Horace and Wilfred took an active interest in ornithology and walked about the town watching, studying and recording information about the birds they saw, and there was no shortage of lovely birds for them to see. It was during their time in Tunbridge Wells that a good foundation was built for what would turn out to be a career in ornithology for which they became well noted. Shown opposite is a postcard view of Grove Hill Road by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn. No 8 Grove Hill Road was one of the homes as you go eastward up the hill from the intersection of Grove Hill Road and Mount Pleasant Road. The area has been much changed over the years and for that reason no photo of the house itself has been given here.

The 1911 census, taken at 3 Mayfield Road, Tunbridge Wells, gave Joseph G. Alexander as a retired barrister. With him was his wife Josephine and their sons Gilbert, age 19, single, market gardener; and Wilfred, age 26, single, an “assistant naturalist H.M. Board of Agriculture and Fisheries”. Also in the home were two domestic servants. The census recorded that their premises consisted of eleven rooms; that the couple had been married 29 years and that they had four children, all of whom were still living. Mayfield Road is located on the Boyne Park residential development. A 1907 os map given here shows its location. Also shown is a modern view of 3 Mayfield Road.  A recent listing of this home by estate agents Rightmove described it as a 5 Br home with two bathrooms; two reception rooms, a period detached home with a garage and lovely rear garden. This 2,782 sf residence had a ground floor, first floor and second floor and is a residence dating from around the turn of the last century. Ten years ago a conservatory was added to the house creating a spacious family area incorporating a kitchen, breakfast room and family room. Full details of this listing can be seen online and certainly describes it in glowing terms as a fine home with many features and although upgraded to modern living standards looks, at least on the  outside, much as it did when the Alexander family lived there.

While in Tunbridge Wells Joseph continued to travel extensively promoting the causes he supported. His son Horace wrote “ For the last few years of his life Joseph was a useful member of the Tunbridge Wells Higher Education Sub-Committee , and he was on the Committee of the Homeopathic Hospital. In February 1915 he was appointed a County Magistrate (J.P.). The home interest that was nearest his heart after the Friend’s Meeting itself, was the Men’s Adult School held at the Meeting House. Whenever he was at home he attended it before Sunday morning meeting and for the last few years was its president. Another school, more in the centre of the working population, at High Brooms, was begun before the war, and Joseph often visited it on Sunday afternoons, although this involved a two mile walk each way, and he made great efforts to raise funds to pay off the debt on the Adult School Hall. On the third anniversary of the outbreak of war Joseph attended a meeting arranged by the Tunbridge Wells Free Church Council who said “it felt good to unite with the Christians”. So passed his last autumn, the strain of all his activities evidently telling on his strength.”

Shown above is a photograph of the Homeopathic Hospital. Details about it can be found in my article ‘The Homeopathic Hospital and Silwood House’ dated June 21, 2014 in which the following ‘Overview’ was given. “Homeopathic medicine is an old form of medical care, advocated by some, but considered unscientific, or unproven.or even quackery, by its critics. Throughout time it has operated side by side with conventional medical care. Since the 1850’s there have been several Homeopathic Dispensaries in Tunbridge Wells.In 1887 the dispensary took over two semi-detached private homes at 2 & 4 Upper Grosvenor Road and by 1890 the building had become a small hospital. By 1903 the four dispensaries came together under one roof. Some say that In 1903,Francis Gray smart, on behalf of  the hospital ,took a freehold interest in Silwood House on Church Road, but it appears from information I give later that he made a financial contribution to the purchase of the land instead. Silwood House was, before its purchase, a private school on Church Road, which had begun as a private residence and later a lodging house.This large red brick building had been built in the latter part of the Georgian Era  (1714-1830) and was a grand building of the Georgian Architectural style. As a private home and lodging house it was the home of many distinguished people, such as the wealthy merchant Baron John Frederick Andrew Huth (1777-1864); Captain John Moore Clarke Travers (1834-1873) and the Misses Roberts, two wealthy spinsters. Throughout the period of about 1870 to 1902 Silwood House was a private boys school, run by William and George Cove. One of its best known students was Sammy Woods(1867-1931), a skilled cricketer, who represented England 5 times as captain. He and his brother had attended the Silwood Boys School when they were teenagers. In 1903 local architect Charles Hilbert Strange prepared drawings  from which Silwood House was enlarged and altered to suit its new use as a hospital  and it became known at that time onwards as the Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital. In 1924 a new wing was added to the hospital, named as a memorial to Francis Gray Smart, with further extensions added in 1930. In the 21st century the NHS decided that it could no longer afford to continue the hospital and despite opposition to the decision , the hospital closed April 1,2009. Since its closure proposals have been made to redevelope the site for residential use.”

Horace Alexander continues in the chapter of the book entitled ‘War Time” , which chapter applies entirely to the time Joseph lived in Tunbridge Wells, that “At this time none of Josephs four sons had been under obligation, or had felt it right, to enlist for the war. The eldest son, gilbert, who was in Canada, and the youngest Horace ,who alone was in England, shared this conviction that it would be wrong to do so. The second son , Wilfred, was in Australia,engaged during most of the war on government work for science and industry; the third, Christopher, offered himself for the Italian army, but was rejected on health grounds, but in February,1916, he returned home and enlisted as a private. It was a grief to his father that he should see this as the path of duty; but he lived him all the more for doing what he did thought right,even when it clashed with the convictions of his parents”…..” During the summer his son Christopher, who had been invalided home from France with a broken leg, was in camp at Shoreham and Joseph and his wife spent some time at Worthing”…..”After the beginning of October no further news came from his son Christopher, now again in France, and as the silent weeks passed and hope grew less, the anxiety told more on his health. In the middle of December news came of Christopher’s death more than two months before. A few days later Joseph was again at Maidstone, meeting the men in prison; he soon realised that they had heard of his loss and that they were now trying to minister to his need; and the beauty of their thought for him broke through his self-control. Christmas-time was made more cheerful amidst the sorrow by a visit from Olive Graham, to whom Horace had become engaged in September, and who brought comfort and happiness to Joseph and all the family..” As you will read later Christopher was not the only son of Joseph to see service in the war for his son Gilbert served with the Red Cross as an orderly. More about him and his brothers in later sections of this article.

“While in London he was suddenly prostrated by severe pain and returned to Tunbridge Wells. After two or three days of great suffering, an operation was performed at the Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital (image opposite) where he remained for several weeks, apparently slowly mending. On February 14,1918 he was moved home(3 Mayfield Road) but his strength did not increase and it soon became plain that his life could not last long. Joseph said he had no wish to live if he could not work. For the last twelve days of his life he was under the care of his wife and two nurses and the doctor came to see him on his last day. His eldest son Gilbert was with him when in the early morning of February 26th  the beating of Joseph’s  heart ceased”. After his death some of his fellow members of the Tunbridge Wells Friends had much to say in praise of the man.

Probate records gave Joseph Gundry Alexander of 3 Mayfield Road, Tunbridge Wells, died February 26,1918. The executors of his 7,388 pound estate were James Backhouse Corfield, retired tea merchant, and Horace Gundry Alexander, son, schoolmaster. Joseph was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on March 2,1918.

Josephine remained in the town for a time but she eventually went to live in Reigate where she died in 1940.

Further reading about Joseph Gundry Alexander can be found online in the form of an obituary by the Quakers in their publication ‘Memoirs’, portions of which were incorporated into my accout.


Gilbert was the eldest son in the family. He had been born March 2,1882 in Croydon. His year of birth is sometimes given in error in records as 1887 but his death record of 1954 gave it as 1882, as did the 1891 census. His birth was registered at Croydon in the 2nd qtr of 1882.

At the time of the 1891 census he was not living with his parents and siblings in Croydon but instead is found in the census as a boarder with the George Wilkie family. Gilbert was given as a pupil and there were three other boys there as pupils also. This was a ‘Friends’s school with George Wilkie as the schoolmaster. Also there were two assistant schoolmasters. The address of the school was given as 7 Lodwyne Road.

In 1896 Gilbert and his parents and siblings took up residence in Tunbridge Wells and by 1901 the family resided at 8 Grove Hill Road. At the time of the 1901 census, all four sons of Joseph were away at a ‘Friends’ school.

In the book by his brother Horace about their father Joseph, Horace stated “In the spring of 1906 he (Joseph) and his eldest son (Gilbert) travelled extensively in France” while Joseph was engaged in his ‘Friend’s missionary work. After this this trip Gilbert and his father returned to Tunbridge Wells. Gilbert at this time (1906) was single and age 24.

Unlike his three brothers, who had a fascination with ornithology,  Gilbert decided to make horticulture his career. The book ‘Ghandi’s Interpreter; A Life of Horace Alexander’ stated in part “ Only Gilbert, the eldest brother, made friends outside the family circle-the other three found bird life more congenial”.

A 1909 Kelly directory for example gave the listing “ Gilbert C. Alexander, tomato, strawberry and chrysanthemum grower at Holly Nursery,Blackness, Crowborough, Sussex”.

The 1911 census, taken at 3 Mayfied Road, Tunbridge Wells gave Gilbert as born 1882, single, age 29, with the occupation of market gardener and  living with his parents and brother Wilfred. No records were found indicating that Gilbert ever got married.

In the section of the aforementioned book in the chapter entitled ‘War Years 1914-1918’ Horace had the following to say about Gilbert. “At this time none of Josephs four sons had been under any obligation, or had felt it right, to enlist for the war. The eldest, Gilbert, who was in Canada, and the youngest (Horace), who alone was in England, shared this conviction that it would be wrong (as Quakers) to do so.

Shown at the top of this section is Canadian Immigration poster. The Canadian Government were keen on having young men from England immigrating to the Canada, particularly if they would take up farming and it may have been because of this that Gilbert decided to leave England. Many steamship lines in Canada offered significantly reduced passage fees to these men and the lure of free farmland in Canada brought many young men to Canada.

An investigation was taken to find any records pertaining to Gilbert in Canada to confirm the information in the book and to establish a timeline. A Canadian Immigration record gave Gilbert Crosfield Alexander as born 1882 in England; that he had departed from Liverpool and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on March 16,1912 on the steamship CORSICAN (image opposite) of the Allan Line. He was given as age 30, single and that his destination was Norwich, Ontario. The occupation he gave while in England was “Gardener” and that his intended occupation in Canada was “Farmer”. His religion was given as “Quaker” and he stated that he had previously been a gardener in England for eleven years. He indicated that he intended to reach his destination in Canada by travelling from Halifax of Norwich on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). His occupation as a farmer in Canada is also recorded in the publication “The Decendents of George Crosfield”. Incoming passengers lists of England gave Gilbert Crosfield Alexander age 33, born 1882, single, who departed from St John’s New Brunswick, Canada and arrived at Liverpool December 14,1915 on the steamship CORSICAN of the Allan Line. The record gave his intended address at 3 Mayfield Road, Tunbridge Wells and his occupation was given as “Tourist”. He gave his last country of residence as “Canada” and that his country of future residence was “England”.  From these records is can be seen that Gilbert was working in Canada as a farmer in Norwich, Ontario from March 1912 until December 1915. ”.  Norwich was settled by Quakers in 1809 and since that time it has become one of the most successful Quaker communities in Upper Canada. Gilbert’s decision to take up farming there rather than anywhere else was no doubt largely due to the Quaker settlement there.

The Township of Norwich is a municipality located in Oxford County in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Its name has its origins in the city of Norwich, England although some believe it is more likely Norwich in Upper New York State, the area from which the pioneering families emigrated in the early 19th century, where the community was known as Norwichville. The local economy is largely agricultural, based on corn, soybean, and wheat production with dairy farming in the north part of the township and tobacco, vegetable, and ginseng farming to the south. Slowly, ginseng and traditional cash crops are replacing the former cash crop - tobacco, as demand shrinks. An old postcard view of Main Street in the town of Norwich is shown above and no doubt Gilbert visited it often to do his shopping.

Gilbert must have been called up for service in WW 1 upon his return to England for he is listed in a Conscientious Objectors report of 1915.

War records show however that Gilbert did participate in the war effort, but in a non-combative way by offering his services to the British Red Cross. A Red Cross certificate No. 8361 gave “Gilbert Crosfield Alexander born March 2,1882; died December 28,1954;Rank-Orderly”. A medal index card for Gilbert Crosfield Alexander gave him of the British Red Cross Society ,The Order of St John of Jerusalem”. Serving with the Red Cross of course involved saving lives and this was in keeping with Quaker beliefs. This information was found in the record “ British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918’.

Horace, in the aforementioned book stated, regarding the death of his father that for the last twelve days of Josephs life he was in the care of two nurses, his wife Josephine and ‘their dear helper and companion, Lilias Clark. These two and his eldest son ,Gilbert, were with him when early in the morning of 16th February, 1918, the beating of his heart ceased”.

A directory of 1946 gave the listing “ Gilbert C. Alexander, strawberry grower at Holly Nursery, Blackness, Jarvis Brook, Sussex”.

Probate records gave Gilbert Crosfield Alexander of Bernhard Baron Cottage Homes Polegate, Sussex, died December 28,1954 at The Southfields Nursing Home, Southfields Road, Eastbourne, Sussex. The executor of his 424 pound estate was Redford Crosfield Harris, chartered accountant.(who was also a relative of the family).


The following information is largely from the Wikipedia website but has been supplemented by my own research.

Wilfred Backhouse Alexander (4 February 1885 – 8 December 1965) was an English ornithologist and entomologist. He never married.

Wilfred was born at Croydon in Surrey  on February 4,1885. Wilfred is found living with his parents and siblings in Croydon at the time of the 1891 census and attending school. At the time of the 1901 census he was living as a boarder in York, Yorkshire as a pupil. He studied Natural Science at Cambridge University.

He was Assistant Superintendent at Cambridge Museum of Zoology from 1910 to 1911.

At the time of the 1911 census he was living with his parents and brother Gilbert in Tunbridge Wells at 3 Mayfield Road where Wilfred’s occupation was given as “ assistant naturalist H.M. Board of Agriculture and fisheries”.

In 1912 he went to Australia and worked at the Western Australian Museum in Perth. In 1915 he was made Keeper of Biology there and remained there until 1920, when he moved to the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board in Brisbane as a biologist and later became Officer in Charge.  The search for a biological control for the prickly pear involved a number of voyages to South America, and Alexander used his time aboard to observe the seabirds. This resulted in his book Birds of the Ocean, a forerunner of later field guides. In 1925/1926 he left Australia and went to work at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1939 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Alexander returned to England in 1929.  However passenger records show that he made at least two trips back and forth between Australia and England, one in 1920 and another in 1926. In 1929 he was living at 120 Croydon Road in Reigate,Surrey and was working for the Marine Biological Association.

In 1930 he became director of the newly-formed Oxford Bird Census (later Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology). In 1945 he retired as director and became the Institute's librarian, remaining so until 1955. The donation of his personal collection of bird books had provided the original nucleus of the library, and it was named after him in 1947.

In 1955 he was awarded the Tucker Medal of the British Trust for Ornitghology and in 1959 was awarded the Union Medal of the British Ornithologists Union. It is said that all three of the Alexander brothers began their interest in Ornithology from their uncle Herbert Crosfield, who was a devoted birdwatcher in spite of having to work long hours in his London office and devoting his Sundays to strictly religious activity.

Wilfred passed away December 18,1965 at the Moundsmere Nursing Home in Dorset.


The following is largely from Wikipedia but has been supplemented by my own research. Shown opposite and below are two photos of Horace

Horace Gundry Alexander (18 April 1889 – 30 September 1989) was a British Quaker teacher and writer, pacifist and ornithologist. He was the youngest of four sons of Joseph Gundry Alexander (1848–1918), and one of three sons who became Ornithologists. In later life he became a friend of Mahatma Gandhi.

Horace was born April 18,1889 at Croydon, England. His father Joseph Gundry Alexander was an eminent lawyer, who had worked to suppress the opium trade between India and China. His mother was Josephine Crosfield Alexander.

At the time of the 1891 census Horace was living with his parents and siblings in Croydon. At the time of the 1901 census was in school and living in Dover. Kent as a boarder. At the time of the 1911 census he was living as a boarder at Danehill,Sussex.

His early schooling was at Bootham School in York, after which he studied at King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in history in 1912. In 1914 the First World War broke out, and he served as secretary on various anti-war committees. In 1916, as a conscientious objector, he was initially exempted only from combatant military service, but after two levels of appeal he was exempted on condition of teaching, which he took up via General Service with the Friends' Ambulance Unit, holding posts at Sibford School, Warwick School and Cranbrook School, Kent.

He married Olive Graham (1892–1942) on  July 30,1918  at St Albans,Hertfordshire. Horace, in his book about his father referred to his engagement to Olive and that when his father was near the end of his life she “brought comfort and happiness to his father and all his family. Olive was the daughter of John William Graham (1861-1932), a Quaker, and professor of mathematics and Margaret Graham,nee Brockbank (1863-1945). Olive was one of five children in the family and had been born in Lancashire. Surprisingly Olive was not baptised until August 31,1902 at St Mary’s Carlisle, Cumberland.

After the marriage Horace joined the staff of Woodbrooke, a Quaker college in Birmingham, teaching international relations, especially in relation to the League of Nations, from 1919 to 1944. He is found in directories in Birmingham, Warwickshire in 1927. Whilst teaching at Woodbroke in Birmigham he travelled to India and met Ghandi and became convinced of the need for independence. He was listed in Birmingham in the 1930 directory.

In 1939 Horace joined a section of the World War II Friends Ambulance Unit and went to parts of India threatened by Japan. His wife Olive died in 1942, having been confined to a wheelchair for several years. A 1950 directory listed Horace living in Birmingham.

In 1958 he married Rebecca Bradbeer (née Biddle, 1901–1991), an American Quaker. After ten years they moved to Pennsylvania, United States, where he spent the remaining twenty years of his life. He was also, for its first ten years, a governor of Leighton Park School, a leading Quaker school in England. He died of a gastrointestinal illness at Crosslands, a Quaker retirement community in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Horace was a lifelong dedicated and gifted birdwatcher, keenly involved in the twentieth century movements for the protection and observation of birds. Along with two of his older brothers, Wilfred and Christopher, he took a keen interest in nature. Growing up in a Quaker home devoid of any other forms of entertainment, he found an interest in birds from the age of eight, when his older brother Gilbert gave him a book on natural history. In his autobiography he traced the precise origin of his interest in birds to 8.45 am on 25 March 1897, when an uncle pointed out a singing chiffchaff in their garden. It was not until he was 20 that he obtained his first pair of binoculars. He was one of a small group of amateur birdwatchers who developed the skills and set new standards for combining the pleasures of birdwatching with the satisfaction of contributing to ornithological science. He made many significant observations, mainly in Britain but also in India and the United States.

Horace spent most of his time in India and became interested in its birds in 1927. Ornithology at that time was not popular among Indians in India, and when Horace informed Gandhi of an expedition, Gandhi commented, "That is a good hobby, provided you don't shoot them." Horace demonstrated the use of binoculars as an acceptable alternative to the gun and carried them at most times. Horace Alexander joined Sidney Dillon Ripley on an expedition to the Naga hills in 1950. Ripley named a subspecies of the aberrant bush warbler after Alexander, although this is no longer recognised. In the same year he founded the Delhi Birdwatching Society along with Lt. Gen. Harold Williams. One of the early members of this organisation was the young Indira Gandhi, and the group encouraged Indian ornithologists such as Usha Ganguli. Many of his notes were mislaid when one of his suitcases was lost in India in 1946. Through his influence on Jawaharlal Nehru he was instrumental in the designation of the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary near Delhi.

He was also a founder member, in 1929, of the West Midland Bird Club (then the Birmingham Bird Club), and its president,during his long residence in Birmingham, England.

Alexander's father-in-law, John William Graham, believed that Gandhi was a subversive and that the Indians were unprepared for self-government. At the Quaker yearly meeting in 1930 the Nobel prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore attacked British rule in India. The Quakers were disturbed by the address and John Graham was particularly outraged. Afterwards it was agreed that a representative would be sent to India to attempt a reconciliation between the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, and Gandhi. This task was assigned to Horace Alexander, who first met Gandhi in March 1928. He made it possible for Gandhi to attend the 1931 round-table conference in London. After the conference he founded the India Conciliation Group along with Agatha Harrison and Carl Heath. Becoming a close friend of Gandhi (who, in 1942, described Alexander as "one of the best English friends India has"), he wrote extensively about his philosophy. In 1947 he attempted to intervene to control the violence between Muslims and Hindus and was beside Gandhi in Calcutta on 15 August 1947. A photo of Horace with Ghandi  is shown above.Shown below is a photo of Horace (on the left) taken in 1970.

He was consulted by Richard Attenborough in the making of the film Gandhi, but felt that the scripts did not do justice to the people around Gandhi.

In 1984 he was awarded the Padma Bhushan medal, the highest honour given to a non-Indian civilian.

Horace made several appearances on BBC Radio, as a presenter:namely

27 April 1933: Adventures in Bird Watching, BBC Regional Programme Midland

14 June 1948: Personalities and Possibilities in Kashmir, Third Programme

He also appeared as a guest on several programmes about Gandhi, in the 1950s and 1960s.

The books and articles written by Horace include:

——.(1920) Joseph Gundry Alexander

—— (1927). Justice Among Nations. Leonard & Virginia Woolf At The Hogarth Press.

—— (1929). The Indian Ferment.

—— (1941). India Since Cripps. Penguin.

—— (1951). New Citizens of India.

—— (1961). Consider India: An Essay in Values.

—— (1969). Gandhi Through Western Eyes. reissued (1984).

—— (1974). 70 Years of Birdwatching. T & A D Poyser.

Horace also wrote over  27 papers on Ornithology between 1929 and 1974, a complete list of which can be found on the Wikipedia website.


The following information is largely from Wikipedia which I have supplemented with my own research. Shown opposite is a photo of him taken in his military uniform.

Christopher James Alexander (24 March 1887 - 5 October 1917) was an English ornithologist. He was the son of Joseph Gundry Alexander and the brother of ornithologists Wilfred Backhouse Alexander and Horace Gundry Alexander.

Alexander was born March 24,1887 in Croydon, England. The 1891 census, taken at 6 South Park Hill Road in Croydon gave Christopher as a scholar living with his parents and two brothers Wilfred and Horace. The 1901 census, taken at Mount Pleasant, Windmill Hill, Sussex gave Christopher as a visitor along with his brother Gilbert, at the boarding house of Sarah E. Penrose. Christopher had no occupation listed but his brother Gilbert was an apprentice of a market gardener.

The 1911 census, taken at The Plough, Suckley, Worcestershire, gave Christopher as age 24, single living as a boarder with the family of Thomas Perkins, a carpenter. Christopher was given as an “Economic Mycologist, fruit growing” and living in premises of five rooms.

Christopher was educated at Bootham School,York and the South-Eastern Agricultural College, Wye. He gained a BSc in Agriculture in 1908 from the college and remained there as staff for the next year. In 1909, after devoting some time to mycological work in England, Alexander left for Rome to take up a post as redacteur at the International Institute of Agriculture, where he stayed until 1916.

From an early age, Alexander showed a love of natural history which continued up until his death. Whilst he was at school he kept detailed notes of observations on birds, plants, and insects. He continued these daily notes after he left school and indeed for the rest of his life. He observed the song of birds, the first blossoming of flowers, appearance of certain insects, and appearance, increase, decrease, departure and passage of migrants - until the day of his death.

Alexander made very detailed observations of bird-distribution and migration, first in Kent and other parts of England, and then in Rome. Even at war in Flanders, he still made detailed records; observing the birds throughout autumn and winter and in The Somme in July.

In 1916, Alexander came back to England from Rome so that he could serve in the army. He enlisted as a Private and joined the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) on February 29,1916 before transferring to The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment) after the Battle of the Somme. A photo of the badge of the Royal West Surrey Regiment is shown opposite. During his training he was based mainly in Dover, but in June of that year, he was sent to France. There, fighting at the Somme, Alexander was able to alleviate his grim surroundings somewhat by looking and listening to birds. He was often rewarded by the sight of a green sandpiper in a flooded trench or a great grey shrike on the battlefield.

One night in 1917, while on sentry duty, Alexander broke his leg. The injury was assumed to be just a sprain and was not properly treated for more than two weeks. He was then sent back to Britain, and spent his convalescence in Monmouthshire, Wales. After more training until his leg was fully healed, Alexander was sent back to France. It was near Passchendaele on 4 October 1917, that he was seriously wounded in battle. It is almost certain that he was killed or died later that same day, after being put into an ambulance. Probate records recorded that Christopher was of 3 Mayfield Road, Tunbridge Wells and a private with the 2nd Btn Royal West Surrey Regiment when he died on October 5,1917 in France. The executors of his 1,949 pound estate was James Backhouse Crosfield, a retired tea merchant, and Horace Gundry Alexander, brother, a schoolmaster.  As I have noted in other sections of this article Horace wrote about the feelings his father had about Christopher serving in WW1 and that although such involvement in the war went against general Quaker beliefs and that of his father, his “father loved him all the more” and understood that Christopher felt he was doing the right thing. The loss of Christopher was a terrible blow to his family. The death of Christopher was announced in the Quaker publication ‘The Misson’ but no details about him were given that I have not already presented. There is some confusion over exactly what date Christopher died for apart from the probate record that gave October 5,1917, ‘The Annual Minister’ of the Quakers gave him as passing away on October 4th and even Wikipedia suggests one of these two dates as being correct.

A review of his military records gave him as a resident of Tunbridge Wells when he enlisted for service in the town. He was given as 2nd Btn G/24732 Queens West Surrey Regiment, killed in action formerly 9435 East Kent Regiment. The army enlistment list gave him being killed October 5,1917 in France with the rank of gunner in the Tank Corp. regiment with the same service numbers given above . The record of his effects noted they were sent to his administrator-James Backhouse Crosfield January 1921.  Shown opposite is a photo of Christopher’s headstone in the Hooge Crater Cemetery, Ypres, plot I.A.13. Christopher’s name is not among those listed on the Tunbridge Wells War Memorial.

Although somewhat out of sequence I continue here with the end of the account in Wikipedia. “ Alexander was a kind, shy, unassuming man, for whom "social intercourse with any but very simple, unassuming, frank people, or to those who shared his interests, was a torment to him." It was typical of him that it was only after he died that his family learnt that in one of the battles in which he took part he had captured a German prisoner and shared his last biscuit and water with him.Alexander showed a love of natural history from an early age which continued up until his death. As a schoolboy he kept detailed notes of observations on birds, plants, and insects. He continued these daily notes after he left school for the rest of his life. He observed the song of birds, the first blossoming of flowers, appearance of certain insects, and appearance, increase, decrease, departure and passage of migrants - until the day of his death.He made very detailed observations of bird-distribution and migration, first in Kent and other parts of England, and then in Rome. Whilst at war in Flanders he still made detailed records, observing the birds throughout autumn and winter and in The Somme in July.In 1916, Alexander came back to England from Rome so that he could serve in the army. He enlisted as a Private, and joined the Buffs on 29 February 1916. During his training he was based mainly in Dover, but in June of that year, he was sent to France. There, fighting at the Somme, in Belgium, Alexander was able to alleviate his grim surroundings somewhat by looking and listening to birds. He was often rewarded by the sight of a Green Sandpiper in a flooded trench or a Great Grey Shrike on the battlefield. In 1917, while on sentry duty, Alexander broke his leg. The injury was assumed to be just a sprain and was not properly treated for more than two weeks. He was then sent back to Britain, and spent his convalescence in Monmouthshire, Wales. After more training until his leg was fully healed, Alexander was sent back to France. It was near Passchendaele on 4 October 1917, that he was seriously wounded in battle. It is almost certain that he was killed or died later that same day, after being put into an ambulance.”

The best account about Christopher and his life is given below, which was written by his brother Horace in 1918. Although this account can be found on the internet I have given it here in its entirety as written.

“DEATH OF AN ORNITHOLOGIST IN THE TRENCHES - The Obituary of Pte CJ Alexander (written by his brother), from British Birds, February 1918

Christopher James Alexander was born at Croydon on March 24th, 1887. He was seriously wounded near  Passchendaele on October 4th, 1917, and it seems almost  certain that he was killed, or died after being put on the  ambulance, though the only information of his death yet  received is unofficial and lacking in detail.

Several members of the family in older generations, notably  his great-grandfather, James Backhouse of York, had been distinguished by their interest in natural history ; and the love of birds, which was destined to become one of the ruling  motives of my brother's life, was obtained very early, largely'through the influence of our uncle, Mr. J. B. Crosfield, of Reigate. He won entrance and leaving scholarships at Bootham School, York, and was a distinguished member of its Natural History Society, which is the oldest in any school. During his schooldays he collected butterflies and moths, and gave much of his time both then and later to the study of botany and geology. His interest in science and natural history was, in fact, never narrowly departmental : he could always collate his observations on the avifauna of a district with a full knowledge of the geological and botanical environment and minute observations of meteorological phenomena ;  nor were his studies of these subjects merely subsidiary to the interest in birds : his careful notes on plant distribution both  in England and Italy are of special value, and some of them he sent to Professor Seward at Cambridge.

After leaving school in 1904 my brother gained a scholarship at the South-Eastern Agricultural College at Wye, Kent, and remained there, first as a student and then, after he had taken his B.Sc. in Agriculture, on the staff, until the end of 1909. From Wye he frequently visited Romney Marsh and other parts of Kent. In this way he added  much to the knowledge of Kentish ornithology and natural history already obtained from living at Tunbridge Wells.

Soon after he left school I made the joyful discovery that his ornithological bent was almost exactly like my own ; we had always spent a lot of time watching birds together, often also with my brother, W. B. Alexander, now in Australia ; but somehow the discovery of our identity of ornithological outlook came quite suddenly. We began by making careful observations on the departure of autumn migrants in September, 1905 (though we had a number of records of  arrivals and departures since 1897) ; and when I returned to school we began a regular interchange of bird letters that has lasted twelve years without a break, except when  we were together.

Amongst the thousand joyful memories of this close comradeship that crowd through my mind it is impossible to choose those things most worthy of record, for man}' things that mean a great deal to me might seem trivial to others. Some characteristics of our methods may be noted. We always found our chief interest in observing the habits of birds during those seasons when domestic duties are not uppermost in their minds. The month of June, which to the egger is, I suppose, the most exciting month of the year, was to us the dullest. True, after a time, we found a satisfactory way of occupying that month, by " mapping " the summer migrants in their nesting-areas, but as an important part of this was comprised in the effort to discover just when each pair arrived, the really effective mapping was generally finished by the end of May. Still, we were not slow to appreciate the close relationship between bird distribution and migration ; so that in order to obtain a thorough understanding of migration it was necessary to study carefully the breeding distribution of all the birds of our districts.

We made daily observations on bird song ; and from the beginning of 1906 we kept daily lists of birds seen, in the order in which we saw them, noting those heard singing. The making of lists was always an immense delight ; apart from the daily list there were lists for the month, for the year, for the various countries, counties, districts, and sometimes even parishes, in which we spent our time. Much of this labour was, of course, of no scientific value, but it all tended towards accuracy and fulness of observation, and thus led to a number of interesting discoveries of the movements and partial distribution of birds. The complicated migrations and daily movements in winter of Finches and Buntings ; the formation, wanderings and dispersal of the flocks of Tits and other small birds ; the autumn congregation of Swallows and other species ; the passage in spring and autumn of Chats ; the time of arrival and departure of the individual Warblers and Flycatchers ; the comparative abundance of allied species —all these and other features of bird-life in Kent underwent a far closer scrutiny than would have been the case with less complete note-making. We gained much more pleasure from these species than from birds of prey and other large creatures. Small birds are much easier to watch ; they are far more abundant than large birds in this country ; and there seems to be much more variety in their habits. And in spite of what has sometimes been said, they are usually easy to identify, for both my brother and I seemed to find that even species most notorious for " skulking " would, if given the chance, soon appear and show themselves. When first he was in Flanders, even without binoculars, he had no difficulty in identifying all the Long-tailed Tits he saw as JE. c. roseus. This is not to say that we were cold to the excitement of seeing large birds.

One April day, after a long and uneventful walk over Romney Marsh, from Appledore to Dungeness, we sat down on the point, tired out, while our tea was being got ready, glad to have no more walking to do. Suddenly twelve big birds came flying right towards us, and passed within a hundred yards — Brent Geese— the first we had ever seen. A couple of minutes later we were consulting as to the possibility of walking the five miles (half of it shingle) to catch the train at Littlestone : such is the magical effect of an exciting bird on the tired ornithologist ! But this I compare in my mind with the far greater rapture of coming upon a part}' of Alpine Accentors and a Wall-Creeper on a great slab of rock above Torre Pellice, in the Cottian Alps, in December, 1915, one of  our last bird adventures together. And better still was the sight and sound of half-a-dozen Snowfinches singing and soaring, their white wings flashing in the sunlight, near the top of M. Viglio in the Roman Apennines, two and a half years before.

Whilst my brother was at Wye we found great pleasure in contributing information to Dr. N. F. Ticehurst's History of the Birds of Kent and the B.O.C. Migration investigation ; these important works and British Birds, which was just then launched, seemed to 23ro\ade the help we needed in our work.

At the end of 1909 my brother left Wye, and for a year he was at Reading, adviser on plant diseases under the University College and Berkshire County Council. During this year he got a very fair knowledge of the ornithology of the county, and mapped a considerable proportion of all the Corn-and Cirl Buntings that were breeding in Berkshire that year. Then he spent a few months at home, where he began to map Thrushes and Robins on a scale of 25 in. to the mile ; the  next three months he was combating plant diseases at Suckley, Worcestershire. After that, in June, 1911, he obtained a post as redacteur in the International Institute of Agriculture at Rome.

This was not his first journey abroad. We spent a winter at Arcachon when he and I were respectively 11 and 9 years old ; and we kept notes of birds seen and heard even then. In August, 1905, he spent some weeks at Champery, Switzerland, whence he brought roots of Alpine plants, several of which, carefully tended by him from time to time, still flourish.

He had a remarkable facility for understanding languages, and, apart from the value of this to him in his work at the International Institute, it helped him to become intimate with Italians, so that by the time the war came he felt  himself almost more Italian than English.

During his years in Italy— first at Rome and then at Albano -my brother spent nearly all his spare time observing the distribution and migrations of the birds of Rome province. The Institute is situated in the magnificent Villa Umberto Primo (Borghese gardens), where all sorts of birds appeared on migration and many species nested. One year he watched a Goldfinch on its nest from his window in the intervals of redaction. When he lived at Albano he bathed daily in summer in the lake after his work, and mapped quantities of Nightingales and Icterine Warblers on the wooded slopes,

His week-ends were often spent at Fiumicino, where he explored the shore, the Isola Sacra, the ancient Porto, and the Tiber mouth. For over two years he added something new to his Fiumicino list on every visit. The rarities seen there included Siberian Chiff chaff and Gannet.

By reason of the vast differences in altitude in the province, from sea-level to the heights of the Apennines, his task of making a complete study of its ornithology was of special interest. He gave particular attention to the effect of such a natural feature as the Alban Hills, standing over 3,000 feet high in the middle of the low Campagna, on migration, and to the comparison between bird-distribution in the Alban Hills and at similar altitudes in the Apennines. A summary of his observations on bird-distribution and on song in winter- quarters was contributed to British Birds this autumn ; but much valuable material is still unpublished. His observations on Flanders ornithology, contained in his letters, also include much of value.

After Italy joined in the War my brother wished to join the Italian army, but was found medically unfit. In view of much that is said of the conflict of Italian and Slav ambitions on the Adriatic coast it may be worth noting that he felt especially keenly that we had "let down " Serbia badly, and  later he had the same feeling about Roumania. Happily he did not live to hear of the Italian disaster.

It was no easy matter for him to set aside the Quaker principles of many generations of ancestors ; but at an earlier time he had, with courageous honesty felt bound to reject much of the orthodox religious dogma, that had at first meant a great deal to him, when he found it was no longer true for himself. Again he strongly disliked all forms of authoritative and imperialist politics, and counted himself a Socialist in the Continental sense, utterly opposed to the policies of the Italian Catholic party. He was impatient of the voluntary system of recruiting, thinking it better in time of war that the Government should decide who were required for fighting and who ought to stick to their work ; and so, when the British representative on the committee of the Agricultural Institute said that the British Government wanted all the single men, he was read}' to come. He preferred to enlist as a private, and joined the Buffs on February^ 29th, 1916. Most of his training was at Dover, where he had chased Dark Green  Fritillaries and watched Shrikes in his first school-days, eighteen and twenty years before.

In June he went to France, and was in the fighting on the Somme, in Belgium, and near Albert before Christmas, always able to banish something of the gruesome surroundings by looking and listening for the birds — and often rewarded by the sight of good things, such as a Green Sandpiper put up from a flooded trench, a Great Grey Shrike on the cheerless downs at Christmas-time, and a Bustard that flew over the camp one day in February, 1917. Then one night when he was on sentry duty he broke his leg ; it was supposed only to be sprained, and was not properly treated for a fortnight ; so in March he was in England again, and spent his convalescence at a military hospital in Monmouthshire, where he was able to see the coming migrants in April. Then to Shoreham for further training, until his leg was really well   there we had a fine walk by the Adur and over the Downs ; and on July 14th, when he had his draft leave from Sittingbourne, we spent a beautiful evening out in the Forest at Tunbridge Wells, watching half-a-dozen Nightjars dancing in the air, and listening to them, and to a Corncrake, and the gurgling and drumming of a Snipe — peaceful sounds of summer. The next morning we watched a family of Wood-Wrens being fed, at a place where a pair appeared this year after eight years' absence, only a few yards from where we had watched a family at the end of July, 1905, the day on which we " discovered " each other.

Several letters followed from France, ending with one on September 30th, in which he wrote of a Quail they had put up, which, with Pied Flycatcher, Woodchat and Melodious Warbler seen passing a few days before, made 107 species for the year — a wonderful total under such conditions. " The sun is just sinking into the mists," he concluded : " it really looks quite wintry, in spite of the heat." And then they went up the line again. His devotion to natural history had made him shy and

 reserved, so that social intercourse with any but very simple, unassuming, frank people, or those who shared his interests, was a torment to him, but he found a new life when he joined the Army, and made friends with many men in the Buffs and afterwards in the Queen's, to which he was transferred after the battle of the Somme. All his natural sympathy and affection, which had been reserved for the very few, seemed at last to be expended on many ; and it was not thrown away. As son, nephew and brother he had forged bonds that death cannot break ; he had devoted himself without measure to the interest of a few chosen intimates about Rome ; and now he had become the faithful comrade of all in need.

 His work seems hardly to have begun ; and he himself, glad as he was to get the two articles on Roman ornithology completed for British Birds while he was in England this year, did not consider that he had nearly completed his observations even in that region. But, such as it is, all his work is methodical, scientific, accurate, full of insight and judgment, and, above all, the true expression of a life devoted to the study of Nature. H. G. A.:”



Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: December 23,2016


The outbreak of war with Germany was announced at 11am September 3,1939 by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. A flurry of measures were taken to deal with the war, part of which was the provision of air raid shelters,air raid sirens and Air Raid Wardens.  People were urged to build air raid shelters, or at least find places in their houses such as cellars or under stairs where they would be relatively safe in event of structural collapse. Windows were heavily taped to prevent them from being blown inwards by bomb blast. Households were instructed to keep stirrup pumps and buckets of sand handy in order to quench incendiary bombs. The local press devoted a considerable amount of space to air raid precautions, including an exact description of how an air raid warning would sound. Those who experience the war will never forget the sound of the air raid siren with its high pitched wailing noise going up and down. This would be followed in all probability by the blowing of police whistles. If any gas bombs have been dropped, the wardens will warn people with hand rattles. The all-clear for gas will be given by the ringing of hand bells. The general all clear meaning that the raiders have passed, would be given by the sirens, a high steady note without oscillations.

The local press also informed the public  where the air raid shelters were located and what to do upon hearing the siren and Air Raid Wardens were on duty to direct the public to the shelters.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of September 20, 1940 reported on shops in Tunbridge Wells being criticised for turfing out customers during an air raid to fend for themselves, contrary to instructions that they were to have an air raid shelter for customers. The newspaper stated “ If we are to share a real sense with the glorious achievements of your airmen we must not waste a minute of working energy-ways and means should be found of carrying on business while a raid is in progress”.

This article reports on the network of air raid shelters constructed in various parts of Tunbridge Wells. The book ‘Tunbridge Wells In The Second World War And The Years of Austerity 1939-1953’ by Ann Bates for the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, served as a starting point for my research.

Shown above from top to bottom is a photo of a typical air raid siren below which is an image of an air raid warden. The last image is a photo taken in Tunbridge Wells September 1939 which shows men digging an air raid shelter beneath the rock of the Commons.


Between 1938 and 1939 during the Munich and Sudeten Crisis’s, the Home office had begun to prepare for the mass protection of British citizens from sustained air attacks. This initially consisted of open concrete lined trenches dug around public places. It quickly became apparent particularly after the bombing of Guernica in Spain that this wasn’t anywhere near sufficient and designs were drawn up for covered shelters, of which there were two types. These shelters were intended for individual families. Much larger shelters were built at Schools and other parts of the community for use by anyone needing to take shelter during attack. Many of these shelters can still be found, some of them used for the cold storage of vegetables, tool sheds etc. One example was a recent listing of a home on Quarry Road which in part stated “ The garden contains the interesting feature of an air raid shelter that can be used as more storage”. There must be many others like it still in the town.

1)Individual Shelters: for families, placed nearby private homes, basements or in cellars. Cellars tended to be in houses built up to WW1 and either detached or semi -detached in structure. Houses built between the wars did not have underground cellars. This meant that shelters had to be built either inside the house like the Morrison Shelter or in the garden like the Anderson Shelter (photo opposite)

2) Morrison Shelters: Table (Morrison) Indoor Shelter (photo below): A cage like construction of steel below a strong table with four legs. Named after Herbert Morrison Minister for home security. Came in kits to be assembled at home. They were 6ft 6in long 4ft wide and 2ft 6in deep. Had a 1/8in steel top, welded wire mesh sides and a metal lattice mattress type floor. Altogether they had 359 parts and came with three tools for assembly. The shelter was issued free to people earning less than £400 per year.

The intention was for the family to sleep in the shelter at night while using the table top as a useful addition to the homes furniture. 500,000 Morrison shelters were distributed by the end of 1941 with a further 100,000 being added in 1943 in anticipation of the coming Flying Bomb attack.

Anderson Shelters: 9th February 1939; "the home office responsible for air raid precautions announces plans to provide shelters for thousands of homes in vulnerable areas. Families with an income of less than £250 per year will receive them free. Other families must pay £6.14s (£6.70) each for them. They are to be called “Anderson Shelters” after Sir John Anderson the minister for civil defence.

They are steel built (corrugated iron) bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end,the entrance to which was protected by a steel shield and an earthen blast wall. These tunnel shaped shelters measuring 6ft 6in X 4ft x4in and were made in sections that require two people to assemble them. They were  to be semi sunk into earth and have space for four bunk beds. It is hoped that one and a half million Anderson's will have been given out by August 1939".

On 5th April 1939: Minister for health Walter Elliot says that 279,435 Anderson Shelters providing cover for 1,500,000 people have already been delivered and 80,000 are being delivered every week. They were dark and damp an damp and people were reluctant to use them at night. In low lying areas they tended to flood and sleeping was difficult as they did not keep out the sound if the bombings.

The book ‘1940 Britain on the Brink’ stated in part “In Tunbridge Wells the public “behaved stupidly” when the air-raid warning sirens went off. “Despite strongly worded articles in the local press, air- raid wardens attempting to get people to cover were jeered at and parents had told children to come home if a warning was given when they were on the streets,” said a ministry report.


Ann Bates, in her book referred to in the ‘Introduction’ was the daughter of Thomas Bates, a local builder, who conducted business under the name of T. Bates & Son, which company constructed many of the air shelters in the town.

Her book records “ARP shelters were shelters for all the public and were located mainly in large public buildings. Most could hold hundreds of people. They were often underground in basements or cellars and were generally conversions of existing sites, although some were purpose-built. Caves, such as the old abandoned ones in the Commons at St Helens, were used, but often were not really suitable.”

“During the last four months of 1939 The Courier reported every week on what actions should be taken by the people of Tunbridge Wells in case of an air raid.”

“ Orders were placed with local builders for 22 Air Raid Warden’s Posts to be constructed. Air Raid Shelters were established under the new Civic Centre which had opened in 1939.”

“Amongst the subjects which the Council considered at their meetings during October 1939 were the protection of children during air raids, and in particular the ‘trench scheme’ to be dug in the grounds and playgrounds of local schools which was estimated would cost approx.. 5,000 pounds, and the ‘boarding up’ of school windows with sandbags”

“In the first months of the War, daily Air Raid drills were held and gas masks were worn by the children during these drills”. Their school work was often disrupted not so much by any bombing but by the frequent air raid drills.

Above is a table showing the location of the ARP and below it  the location of the town’s air raid shelters. In total there were 53 public ARP shelters in the Borough of varying sizes. Most were in basements or cellars, very few were purpose-built.

The cost of public shelters which were to be provided by the Corporation for 3,779 houses (13,272 occupants) was reported in August 1940 to be 29,862 pounds, of which 4,479 pounds was to be paid for by the Council.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of  Friday September 8,1939 gave the following announcement “AIR RAID SHELTERS IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS. WHERE TO GO IF YOU ARE CAUGHT IN THE STREET. If you are in the street when an air-raid warning is given, hurry towards one of the shelters which have been erected in various parts of the town. But don't panic. If there are a lot of people going into the shelter, wait your turn. There is plenty of room in the shelter, and everyone will get inside more quickly if you move in an orderly fashion. You will, of course, take your gas-mask with you. In Tunbridge Wells there are already shelters at the following places:— THE CALVERLEY GROUNDS, opposite the Central Station. Can accommodate 400 people. THE CIVIC CENTRE, next-door to the Assembly Hall and opposite the Ritz Cinema. 1,000 people. FRIENDLY SOCIETIES' HALL, Camden-road, near the Junction of Monson-road, Calverley-road and Camden-road. 90 people. LONDON-ROAD, the caves opposite the Russell Hotel on the Common. 1,000 people. THE HILBERT RECREATION GROUND, which may be reached from many points in St. Barnabas parish and from Upper Grosvenor-road, 200 people. JOHN TESTER'S STORE: the basement of this store Camden-road has been fitted up as a public air-raid shelter, with accommodation for 70 people.

Below is further information on some of the listed air raid shelters.


Rock Thorpe & Watson were an old established business engaged in manufacturing carriages and motor bodies, with premises at 88 Grosvenor Road. The shelter was located in the basement of this building. A postcard view of the building taken after a devastating fire in 1915 by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn is shown opposite. Details about the history of this company can be found in my article ‘ Rock, Thorpe & Chatfield-Carriage and Motor Car Manufacturers’ dated August 14,2013.


The Great Hall on the east side of Mount Pleasant Road, just north of the SER station, has a long and interesting history, as noted in my article ‘ The Great Hall’ dated February 9,2012. Opened in 1872 it was was a public hall where entertainments were given. The north and south wings of the building served initially as the photographic studio of H.P. Robinson (later taken over by photographer Percy Lankester). The south wing had for many years been a restaurant. The central hall itself saw many uses over the years. Beneath this building was a large basement, which during WW II served as an air raid shelter able to accommodate at least 100 people.


The Culverden Hall was build cira 1924 on St John’s Road and served a number of uses over the years. Shown below are two images of the building taken it is believed on the occasion of its grand opening by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn. Some 200 people were accommodated in the basement shelter of this building during WW II.


Built in 1931 on St John’s Road to the designs of Cecil Burns. An interesting building which employed an exposed concrete frame, an open arcade along the front, and attractive concrete tracery in the two main windows headed by segmental arches. Now the arcade is lost along with the tracery. Having been taken over by the Freight Transport Association, the building was re-opened as Hermes House by the Minister of Transport on November 25,1975, and Sir Patrick Mayhew opened an imposing extension to the building on July 10,1987. The building had been converted from a church to offices in 1959 for Hospital Service Plan (later named Private Patients Plan). The air raid shelter,able to accommodate 150 people was located in the building’s basement.


Ann Bates gave the following. “ It was reported by St Barnabas’s School that in one week alone, the children had spent sixteen and a half hours in the shelters”.

It is not known by the researcher where exactly the air raid shelter was located, but most likely in the basement of the school, or at least in the school grounds. A postcard view of the school is shown opposite


Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the pupils of Colfe's School were evacuated from Lewisham to Tunbridge Wells and shared the Skinners' School premises for three years. Skinners’ boys were taught in the mornings, Colfe’s in the afternoons. The air aid shelters that were dug beneath the school still exist, but remain closed to the boys of the school. A postcard view of Skinners School by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn is shown opposite.

The Kent Underground Research Group (KURG) gave the following information about the shelter along with the four photos below the text. One of these photos is shown below.

“In 2012 Skinners School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent found an underground air raid shelter under the site of a new car park to the east of the school. It was lined with precast concrete panels and had two or three chambers at right angles to one another. The school’s headmaster went inside it and took some photographs but then it was apparently backfilled. Unfortunately KURG was not called in on that one, but the story came to KURG’s attention and the school was contacted. An invitation was given to carry out an exploratory dig to look for the entrance to another of the school’s shelters, under the playground adjacent to the old school building. A photograph in the school’s records showed a shelter entrance on the east side of the playground where there is a natural fall in the land. A small KURG digging crew dug out and located the entrance and dropped into the shelter. The air was checked and was good and the in-situ concrete floor was dry, which allowed a survey to be carried out before it was resealed.


Heritage Open Days tours of this shelter have been going on since about 2011. Apart from seeing the old shelter, a display was set up with information and photos for people to see and has been an interesting and well attended part of the event. Shown opposite is a photo of the shelter at this school taken during the war.

Given here are some comments by a person who took the tour of the shelter in 2016.  “This World War II air raid shelter is located under the playground and was only rediscovered about 10 years ago when the school had some ground works carried out so many people who have lived and grown up in the immediate area were totally unaware of it or that is still existed. The air raid shelter, known as the ‘trenches’ to the children at the school, were in regular use between 1939 until 1945 with up to three air raid warnings a day it meant that some lessons were also taught underground in the tunnels. In 1944 the Battle of Britain was underway and the south east was under constant threat from the German ‘flying bombs’. The school did not totally escape this danger after a bomb landed in Powdermill Lane, within metres of the school buildings, on July 28th but then failed to explode! The schools head teacher recorded an entry in the log book later that day:“At 1.35 this afternoon a flying bomb landed 200 yards away from this school. The children were in the trenches where they had to remain all afternoon. At 3.30 they were dismissed in small parties accompanied by a teacher. All the homes near the bomb had to be evacuated so the children who lived in them joined their mothers at the rest centre in the Parish Hall. Luckily the bomb did not explode and was dismantled by a bomb disposal squad. The people were allowed to return to their houses at about 8pm”. This flying bomb has the distinction of being the first ever unexploded doodlebug in the area and was closely examined by military men to gain more information about them. We were able to go down into the shelter where there is a small display of WWII posters, the children were very excited when the lights were turned off so they could experience the trenches in blackout conditions, although it is thought that there was electric lighting installed during its use. There was also an audio demonstration with the sounds of an air raid siren giving the warning as well as the ‘all clear’ which also signalled our departure from this fascinating place. It is very hard to imagine what life would have been like during this very dark period in our history or to experience what the young school children who grew up through this did, but this event at least let us have a look back into their world.

From Heritage Days 2012 is the following “Step back to World War II by visiting the large air raid shelter under the school playground. When kitted out in March 1940, it had eighteen yards of curtains and forty four benches seating around two hundred and fifty. Facilities also included nine portable closets; four and a half gallons of sanitary fluid; sixteen large dry battery lamps, thirteen small dry battery lamps and - in case of any direct hits - two shovels, two picks, one crowbar and a seven pound hammer. On one notable occasion, the school pupils sheltered as the first unexploded doodlebug in Britain was dealt with.

Once equipped with shovels, picks, a crowbar and a seven pound hammer in case of direct hits, the shelter was used with great frequency from 1940. Steps led down to the shelter from ground level.


The Civic Centre, in which the Town Hall is located, was opened on March 20,1941 by Mayor, Alderman C.E. Westbrook.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of May 13, 1938 reported “At the weekly Tunbridge Wells Rotary Club lunch, Rotarian CH Strange referred to the fact that in Tunbridge Wells a new civic centre was being built, and thought that here was a good opportunity to build an underground air raid shelter. He asked if any thought had been given to the matter.” He was not alone in believing this was a good idea. The Courier announced that the shelter could accommodate 1,000 people.

An article entitled ‘Secrets Hidden Beneath the Tunbridge Wells Town Hall’ in ‘This is Kent’ dated February 9,2009 reported on the activities of members the local Civic Society unearthing items important to an understanding of the history of the town . In part it stated “And just as the contents of the dusty archive reflect the town's history through the centuries, its setting, in a vault designated as the town's main public air raid shelter during the second world war, with a section later sealed off with blast-proof steel doors designed to withstand nuclear attack during the cold war, reflects some of the most significant eras of the 20th century.”


The website of the Tunbridge Wells Commons Conservators gave the following “SAINT HELENA -- Built between 1828 and 1838 on the floor of a small stone quarry and used in early times as a lodging house. It replaced an earlier and much smaller cottage shown on Bowra's map of 1738 and illustrated in a number of eighteenth and nineteenth century illustrations along with a second small structure to the north, on the other side of the rock. At the foot of the rocks a manhole cover marks the entrance to caves excavated for sand and open to the road until its level was raised in a controversial road levelling scheme carried out by the local Turnpike Trust in 1833. Residents complained that the loss of the caves spoiled the picturesque and much illustrated first view of the town which visitors saw as they travelled in from London. The caves were reopened at the outbreak of World War II to serve as air raid shelters. Shown opposite is a drawing of the shelter in the caves by E. Owen Jennings, who was the principal of the Art School. As Ann Bates noted in her book “ The caves beneath the rocks on the Common opposite Dudley Road would be opened if necessary, but these were later closed because of the damp conditions”. The Courier reported that the shelter in the caves could accommodate 1,000 people.


From an article about the ‘Old Boys’ who once attended King Charles the Martyr School,  Tony Whitehorn, the chairman of the ‘Old Boy’s had this to say about the school and his time there. “The school was tiny and dates back to 1698. Whilst not the most senior member I , attended the school at a unique time – 1942-47 – experiencing the latter half of the ­Second World War as a pupil. Much of our time, during the war, was spent in the air raid centre on Cumberland Walk, which was actually located where the car park for the ­hotel is now.The rest of the time, when we weren’t playing sport, we would have over 100 boys crammed into this tiny school.”


This shelter was located in the Friendly Societies Building on Camden Road (photo opposite). This shelter had a capacity of 90 people.  Ann Bates refers to a shelter at the ‘Old Market’ on Camden Road that accommodated 200 people. Details about the history of the Friendly Society building can be found in my article ‘The History of the Friendly Society Hall’ dated August 10,2016 which in part stated “The building ,located at 3-7 Camden Road,had been purpose-built, by George Weeks, James Weeks brother and was first occupied the beginning of 1878. It consisted at that time as a hall and institute with shops below, in which some 25 Building and Friendly Societies held their meetings and conducted their business. The building had been funded by an endowment by well-known local resident Colonel George Molyneux. The steward of the Friendly Society Hall lived on the premises on the top floor but later in the buildings history accommodation was later added to the rear.


The following information about air raid shelters at these locations were given in my article ‘The St John’s Recreation Grounds’ dated October 14,2016.

The Civic Society book by Ann Bates entitled ‘Tunbridge Wells In The Second World War And The Years of Austerity 1939-1953 (2009) reported on page 61  “In September 1938 ,Two hundred men from the local Labour Exchange began digging air raid trenches in open spaces such as Calverley Grounds,St John’s Recreation Ground, the Hilbert Ground…..The trenches were said to have been 7 feet deep and 5 feet wide covered with corrugated iron,with two feet of soil on top,but they were to prove liable to flooding…” After the war these shelters were removed and the site restored. A website on trench shelters gave the following “The Munich Crises of September 1938, when War seemed imminent, led to hectic trench digging in public parks and other open spaces for protection of the population against air raids. These were either unlined or lined with timber.” Shown opposite is a plan of these shelters that appeared in The Courier, giving the dimensions and layout as referred to in the book by Ann Bates. Also shown is a series of three photos of such a shelter under construction. The Courier reported that 400 people could be accommodated in the Calverley Grounds and another 200 at the Hilbert grounds.


The building at 41 York road was built sometime shortly after 1867. It is now a Grade II listed building. The building then came into use as a church around 1890, when it was purchased by William Masters Sibthorpe for the use of some Christians who had been meeting elsewhere in the town. William Sibthorpe was the proprietor of the then well-known Tunbridge Wells haberdashery store W M Sibthorpe & Sons. During the war, an air raid shelter was constructed in the basement for use by the congregation during air-raids. This air-shelter is still accessible (though not in use!) today.


From a 2009 report entitled ‘Kent Compendium of Historic Parks of Tunbridge Wells was the following.

During World War Two, much of The Grove, including the bandstand, was requisitioned by the military and the ornamental iron railings and gates were dismantled for the war effort. The main entrance is from the south, from the west end of Claremont Road at its junction with Buckingham Road. To its west is a garden store, constructed on the site of a 1940s air-raid shelter.


Little is recorded about his shelter but is believed to have been located in the basement of the school, as shown in the photo opposite from the Kent History Forum, which forum I am a member. St Marks School was founded in 1872.  For many years this Victorian era church school was located on Frant Road but later moved to new premises on Ramsley Rd. When the move took place is not known to the researcher.


This article was written by Rob Balkam April 21,2004 and recounts his memories of the time he lived and went to school in Tunbridge Wells during WW II. Similar articles by others with memories of the war can be found in the source of this one on the website of ‘WW 2 Peoples War’.

In July 1939 school broke up for the summer holidays. Within six weeks war was declared and our holidays were extended by ten days to give time for air-raid shelters to be dug. These were like short underground tunnels, two of them underneath the quad at the rear of the school and one beneath the grass at the front.

We Tunbridge Wells’ children had no idea then how lucky we were, for we never had to suffer the ordeal of being sent away from our homes and families as did so many of the young people from London and its outlying districts. We were told that we were to share our school with these refugees, the 'evacuees' who were being sent away from the dangers of the intense London blitz, to take up new lives in the country. When we returned to school we were delighted to find that from now on it would be mornings only for us, so that the boys of Colte's Grammar School, from Lewisham, could attend in the afternoons. Similarly, the girls of Blackheath High School shared with our Tunbridge Wells High School girls. With this influx of fresh youth into our town new friendships were soon made, many destined to become lifelong, and in some cases to be the basis for later marriages.

Everyone was issued with a gas mask, carried in a square cardboard box slung over the shoulder on a length of string. At school we had air-raid practices and gas drills, being made to wear these rubber contraptions on our faces, puffing, snorting and sweating our way through classes, with our masters having to ensure that their lessons did not call for verbal answers. One's voice became very muffled in a gas mask and Milton’s Paradise would have indeed been lost.

It was not until July 1940 that we had to use the school shelters in earnest. Armadas of German bombers thundered overhead, and later the Doodlebugs, on their way to London. When the sirens sounded we disappeared below ground, presenting our schoolmasters with a near impossible task of keeping classes running properly. What with half days, gas drills and hours spent in the shelters, we all suffered in our education. They still managed to provide us with a smattering of the essentials however, and those dedicated teachers, all of them now long in their permanent underground shelters, are to be respected and admired for their efforts on our behalf. In normal times we would have had all of Milton and lots of Shakespeare, too, but we had to make do with just a smidgen of 'Down to bottomless perdition' and only a taste of 'The Merchant of Venice'.

At home most people huddled under the stairs when the air-raid sirens were sounded. It had been found that the stairway was usually the strongest part of a house and often survived a direct hit. Our concrete shelter at the bottom of the garden had proved to be too small and too damp. My poor father's hard work in digging that shelter had been all for nothing; he wasn't to know that the majority of the population, proud and defiant in their adversity, would prefer to take the chance of staying in the comfort of their houses. Our larder, or pantry as we called it, occupied the space under the stairs. Crawling beneath the shelf, underneath yesterday's cold mutton in its wire mesh cover, heightened the strangeness of an already unreal situation. We were all very scared, especially at first, for it was the fear of the unknown, engendered by the unearthly wailing of the sirens. It was a very loud sound, starting with a low growling which rose to a reverberating scream of foreboding, then dying down only to rise in pitch again - up and down, up and down, a shrieking banshee cutting across the town to warn of the approach of the enemy.

Very soon we youngsters took it as a matter of course but our elders suffered agonies of apprehension on our behalf. We were fortunate in Tunbridge Wells in that the Luftwaffe usually had only a few spare bombs which they unloaded on their way back from London, and not many dropped near us. There were anti-aircraft guns not far away though, so there was always the danger of falling shrapnel. We used to search the streets for souvenirs after the All Clear had sounded. Often we went out into the garden to watch the Royal Air Force Spitfires as they engaged in dogfights in the skies over our county of Kent, shooting down or chasing away the German Messerschmitts which had been escorting their bombers. Thirty miles south of London we escaped the real blitz. We listened gravely to the news bulletins on the wireless which told of devastation in the capital and in places like Coventry where the citizens suffered the greatest anguish of bereavement and destruction.

All of England was united in a fervent patriotism, constantly stimulated by Winston Churchill in his broadcasts to the nations "... We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender". No wonder we sang 'There'll Always be an England' and 'Roll Out the Barrel' as we trooped off to dig for victory at the school allotments. Digging for victory was all the rage. No doubt many people grew plenty of vegetables but, funnily enough, I don't remember seeing anything being planted in our school allotments; we just dug - for victory.

As part of the war effort we had to give up our iron fences and garden gates. All over the country anything made of metal that could be moved was taken away to be melted down for munitions. Some of it returned in the shape of angle-iron struts and large, oblong steel plates. Every household who had not already been provided with one of the outdoor Anderson shelters received one of these kits, which when assembled became an indoor air-raid shelter in the form of a large table with woven steel bands across the base to give support for a mattress. These were called Morrison shelters, after Herbert Morrison, the then Home Secretary. We often slept all night in these dreadnoughts of the living room but usually forgot where we were upon waking in the morning, cracking our heads on the table-top only eighteen inches above.


A website devoted to recording people’s memoires of the war is a good source of first -hand accounts by people of Tunbridge Wells who experienced the terror of war.

One lady who signed herself as “ An aged women of Tunbridge Wells” gave an account of her experiences and those of her friends and family. In part she said “Tunbridge Wells did not survive the war unscathed, with notorious bombs dropping on Woolworth's and up by St Peter's Church; but those of us who had been raised in London during the war became almost inured to sleeping in the shelters.” Woolworths at that time was located at 13-17 Calverley Road ,the history of which is given in my article ‘ Woolworths-Tunbridge Wells’ dated February 5,2012.

Many other examples can be found on the internet.



                                                      PLEASE COME BACK AGAIN NEXT MONTH
                                                 FOR ANOTHER NEW SERIES OF ARTICLES






Web Hosting Companies