Croydon Parish Church, as it was once known, contains memorials to service personnel who died serving their country. DAVID MORGAN guides you on a short tour of some of them
As you walk into the Minster, you do so through a decorative wooden screen which itself is a memorial to the officers and men of the 4th Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment who gave their lives during the First World War.
On either side of the screen are carved wooden figures. One is of a private, on guard, eternally vigilant for his comrades.
The other is of an officer, forever checking his maps and instructions, trying to do the best for all under his care. The full Roll of Honour for the regiment, which recruited many of its men from in and around Croydon for the Great War of 1914 to 1918 is posted on the Minster’s porch wall by the South Door.
The battle honours tablet can be found near the main entrance, together with the standards which have been laid up above it.
Look left immediately upon entering the church and you can see the parish roll of honour hanging on the wall behind glass in a wooden frame. If you browse through the handwritten entries you will find the name of Rev Cecil Herbert Schooling. The name does not stand out from any of the others, but Schooling’s story is a significant one.
This is a man who, when he volunteered to become a forces chaplain, was a curate of this very church. He served St John’s, the Parish Church of Croydon, as it was called then, from 1910 to 1916.
Cecil was the third and youngest son of Rev Fred Schooling and his wife Rose. Records show him being born in Wandsworth Common and the address given when he was a curate here was 2 Courtney Road, Croydon.
Cecil was educated in Tonbridge School from September 1897 until 1901, he then studied in Germany for two years before receiving both a BA and an MA from Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Following training in Wells Theological College, he was made a deacon in the Church of England in 1906 and priested in 1907, serving his time at Wakefield Cathedral until 1910, when he came to Croydon. Although he does not appear on the bell ringers’ list for the tower here, he must have enjoyed that aspect of church life because he was part of the Cambridge University Guild of Bellringers.
We know that he had a medical examination on November 17, 1916, to see if he was fit for the chaplaincy role for which he had volunteered. On the examination form, it states that he was 32 years old, was 72 inches tall (6ft) and weighed 183lb (13st 1lb). In the last box, it says that he was “fit for Military service, generally.”
On the contract drawn up on November 20, it states that he was signing up for a year’s service at a rate of pay of 10 shillings a day. This would be issued through Army Agents who were situated in Panton Street, Haymarket.
Rev Schooling took part in the Battle of Messines from June 7 to 14, 1917. He must have been a brave man in this ferocious battle as he was mentioned in despatches, a form of report by a superior officer for particularly outstanding conduct, with the citation being printed in The London Gazette on December 7, 1917. At this time he was attached to the 122 Infantry Brigade.
He was severely wounded by a shell at Dickebusch on June 20, 1917, and died from his wounds the next day. He is buried in grave 13, Row A 21 in the military cemetery at Lijssenthoek, Poperinghe in Belgium. A memorial service was held for Rev Schooling, his brother and another officer, in the Croydon Parish Church on Monday, July 2, 1917.
A further look at the list of men will reveal that there is a surname very familiar to Croydon: Ashcroft.
This refers to Major William Worsley Ashcroft of the Royal Irish Rifles, attached to the Machine Gun Corps, and the father of Peggy Ashcroft, the Croydon-born actress, and Oscar-winner, after whom the Ashcroft Theatre takes its name.
The records show that Major William Ashcroft was born in 1879 and was the eldest son of the Ashcroft family who lived at 13, The Waldrons, in South Croydon. He was a partner of Fuller, Moon, and he was the honorary secretary of the East Surrey Agricultural Association. He was married to Violet, whose address at the time of the Major’s death was given as 3, The Fairway, Anthony’s Road, Bournemouth.
Fuller, Moon and Fuller were a firm of estate agents, and subsequent company evolution and mergers have resulted in Stuart Edwards Fullermoon, a firm of chartered accountants, still operating in Croydon today.
Major Ashcroft was gazetted to the Irish Rifles in June 1915 before sailing for France in the October of the same year. No details are given about his death other than it was on April 11, 1918. His daughter, Peggy, will have been just 10 at the time.
He is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial, in Belgium, on Panel 11. It is explained that the majority of the 11,000 soldiers named in this cemetery did not die in major battles but were more likely to be the victims of the horrors of day-to-day trench warfare. During his time with the Machine Gun Corps, Ashcroft was mentioned in despatches.
Looking through other names on the roll you can soldiers who fought in the Canadian Army. One such entry is Private Jesse Henry Wills. He is also the only person I have discovered so far who stated his religion on his attestation papers as being Wesleyan, or Methodist as we call it today.
We know that he joined up on September 23, 1914, in Valcartier, Quebec. This was the primary training base for the first Canadian contingency to enter World War I: 32,000 servicemen answered the call to serve and most were housed here.
Wills was 39 years old when he signed up with a service number of 19459. He was 5ft 7in tall, of fair complexion, blue-eyed and with hair described as “light brown”. Born on September 1 1875, he gave his trade as “a miner”. He also stated that he was a widower. In the distinguishing marks section, Wills is described as having a scar under his right ear.
His examiner wrote that he was of good physical condition. His medical card has an initial date of August 12, 1914, with the place name filled in as Edmonton – the Alberta version, rather than north London. This helps to understand where Wills’s first army payments were sent. Unusually, no current address was ever included in his military papers.
Wills informed the authorities when completing his attestation papers that he was born in Sutton, Surrey. His Croydon link appeared when he gave the address of his stepmother, at 123, Church Street. Only her two initials are included on the form, CA Jesse. His next of kin was given as David Wills, his brother, living at 59, Church Street, Harwich, England.
The only other mention of Mrs C A Willis comes at the end of his army papers. The person in charge of the company payroll wrote to her asking for a refund as Jesse had been overpaid. Wills died of his wounds in the 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance on April 28, 1915. His monthly payments of $15 was not stopped at the correct date after his death. His grieving stepmother received a demand which asked for a return of $60 dollars.
Wills’ military papers do not reveal if the money was ever paid back.
Before his death, his pay was sent by cheque to JF Coombs c/o Acme Company, Edmonton. This company was part of the British Columbia Sugar refining industry, and it seems likely that this was his place of employment at the time of joining the army, since Alberta is better known for its wide plains and agriculture, rather than any mining.
Private Jesse Wills was initially posted into the 101st Regiment, Edmonton Fusiliers, sailing for England on October 3 1914. His military record gives no other detail of his service. He had no punishments against his name. He had no medical entry other than the fact he died of wounds. It is not even recorded exactly what his wounds were. He is buried in the Military Cemetery at Hinges in the Pas de Calais, France, along with 25 other comrades from the Canadian infantry.
As well as collective memorials, the church contains several individual commemorative plaques.
Behind the font, on the south side of the building, there is a small black tablet. This commemorates Stanley Cecil Paice, who was born in Croydon on April 7 1888. His father was called George and his mother was Eunice Mary. They lived at 4 Warrington Road.
Stanley attended the Parish Church Schools before he transferred to Whitgift Middle School, as it was called in those days. He emigrated to live in Las Vegas, New Mexico, as a motor mechanic.
He joined up on November 11, 1915, in Kingston, Ontario (“C” Battery Royal Canadian Horse Artillery number: 348564).
When we take up the story again we see his name in the London Gazette, in the supplement dated June 25 1918. It states that Stanley had been given a temporary commission, on probation, as an officer in what in April 1918 had become the RAF.
His story of wartime service comes to a tragic end when he was killed while with the Central Flying School at RAF Upavon, a grass airfield in Wiltshire. His aircraft collided with another during air fighting practice.
He was flying a SE5a, number D3557, a biplane. Lt Frederick Henry Choate, piloting a Sopwith Camel B9288, was killed in the same incident. Like Stanley Paice, Lt Choate had served in France with Canadian forces – he was from Ontario – before transferring to the RAF.
Stanley Paice was 30 years old when he was killed. He is buried, along with Choate, in Upavon churchyard on Salisbury Plain together with several other airmen who died in training and flying accidents during the World War I.
As well as his memorial in the Minster, Paice is remembered in one of the chapels at RAF Duxford where there is a large wooden aeroplane propeller suspended as a cross with his name engraved on a brass plate at the centre.
These names are but a small number of the many that are found on Croydon Minster memorials. November 11 this year will mark 101 years since the Armistice Day that ended the terrible slaughter of World War I, while 2019 is also 80 years since the outbreak of World War II, with many poignant anniversaries of that war to come. A visit to Croydon Minster to find some of the memorials mentioned her, and others, offers a good opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice of generations long gone.
Croydon Minster is open every day, except Thursdays. If you would like a group tour or want to book a school visit, then ring the office on 020 8688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page.
- David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers bespoke tours for groups or to provide illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups
- For David Morgan’s previous columns on the history of Croydon Minster, and its connections to the American Revolution through to the Boer War, click here
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