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Life of a Soldier in World War I

LewisExcerpts from original letters sent to his mother:

Arthur Lewis, born 14th May 1895 and died 20th August 1916 at the battle of the Somme.  He was a stretcher bearer in the RAMC and was training to be a language teacher at Borough  Road College, Isleworth, after gaining a county scholarship (second in the county).

He wrote to his mother in July 1915 mentioning that he had put forward his name to join the Army.  He had gained a provisional certificate from College and reimbursed half of the money – £12.10.  He had thought long and hard about joining up and, as he said, ‘We are not doing at all well.’   He knew his mother was not happy about this as she wanted him to finish his education.

His next letter as Private Lloyd 61048, R.A.M.C Aldershot, to his mother said ‘we now have our kit and today had a breakfast of steak and onions.  We are billeted at the local Y.M.C.A, sleeping in tents on boards with 3 blankets – no mattress, no pillow.  I think we are going to France soon.  That is where all the fighting is.’

August 8th France…’I am quite well, living under canvass.  One of my  Seniors has been killed, and if I pull through, I shall get leave in winter. Your affectionate son, Lewis.’

December 1st 1915   ‘Yesterday we came up the line.  We are living in a barn with straw – it is cold but gives shelter. We are about 200yds away from the nearest shells.  I am practically free from vermin – I borrowed some “Keatings” ( Lice Killer?)

I get my clothes washed by French people.  They have been driven out of their homes, further up the line.

There are rumors of a party on Christmas day.  It will cost us 21/4 Francs.  Can you send me a parcel early?  We got some of our pay – 50 Francs.  This month I shall not spend all of this, but if I send it home, you will be able to change it at the post office?’

December 4th  ‘I am on night police tonight and am in good health.  The weather is changeable – some days rain, others frost.  They have issued us with more vests and new boots as the mud and rain soon rot them.  The mackintosh is also very useful – they are good ones and cost 30 shillings so must be good.’

December13th ‘I wish you a very happy Christmas and a happy New Year.  I received your parcel yesterday.  We are near the line now and can see Loos. The Germans shell nearly every day.  This is the dressing station where patients are sent down to the Hospital.  We live in the cellar of an old ruined Brewery, so we have shelter.  We lie on stretchers for beds and very comfortable they are.  The weather here is wet and the trenches are very muddy making the great coats very heavy.’

December18th ‘I have received your parcel.  The weather is better than what you are having . There are three other fellows from Cosham in this ambulance team.  These cellars are the best we have had.  The officers are friendly and it makes working here better.’

December 27th  ‘We had a very good time on Christmas Day – started off with ham and eggs, then turkey, ham and all the trimmings.  And Christmas pudding plus fruit, cigarettes, beer and sweets.  Boxing Day, much the same.  But was no different to any other regarding the injured and sick.’

December 30th  ‘I received your letter.  I have plenty of money – we are well fed so no need to spend any. Reading matter is about the only thing I need.  Have found another man from Wolverton.  He was married in the Wesleyan Church.  His brother lives in Green Lane – his name is Morgan and works in Wolverton Works.’

To be continued……..

January 17th  ‘Sorry I have not written  but I was thrown off the lorry and skinned my hands. But am fine now. We are now at rest in Ouchel.   A fairly large place. Could you please include some candles in your next parcel as I am getting low?’

January 22nd  ‘I received Dad’s letter yesterday.   We are at rest now, though doing drill as usual.  This place is very muddy and rambling. There are mines in this part of the country. There are many estaminets (pubs) about the same size as Stony but about 50 more. Being in the fresh air, I am feeling well.  I received the papers but could you send some cake!?  I am sending some more money, either in this letter, or by registered envelope.’

Wednesday  It snowed yesterday so is now cold and slushy.  I now have enough socks and cakes, but could do with books and candles.  There is a band here – it is very good and reminds me of Sunday afternoons at home.’

Monday May 15th   ‘Dear Aunt, I received your letter yesterday. I am back at the ambulance but free from the immediate thoughts of bullets and shells.  I am quite well although the weather is colder. I hope you are all keeping well and that the War will soon be over.’

‘Dear Mother, I received your letter and one from Percy.  I hope the war is over before he is eighteen.’

Monday May 22nd ‘I received your letter yesterday.  I am up the line and we have been bombarded heavily yesterday and today. Yesterday we had tear gas over.  It makes one’s eyes smart. I’ll answer Percy’s letter as soon as possible.’

Monday May 29th    ‘I am stretcher bearing with the ambulance now.  We have not had a rest lately.  The places we have been in have been nice pleasant places in the summer.’

 Thursday   ‘I received the paper yesterday.  I have found out where Mr Dean is and hope to see him when I get back to base.  I am quite well.  We found a stray dog ratting so we joined in – we wanted to keep it but the sergeant said no!’

Sunday July 16th  ‘I received your letter yesterday.  I am well I hope you are all well.’

Monday  ‘Thank you for the parcel . I am with the Trench Maintenance, now the weather is wet.  I met one of the men from Cosham who was accepted by the army but who had had two abdominal operations and was found to be unfit and discharged.’

Friday  ‘I have just done eight days up the line.  Bullets came near once or twice.  I slept in the dug out.  I am hoping to see a Wolverton man one of these days. It is snowing again.’

‘There are preparations being made for heavy fighting. I see that German aircraft have again visited England.’


The battle of the Somme. 61048 Pte A.L Lewis died in action, aged 21 yrs, in his first year of action.

 Dear Mr Lloyd.   It is with deepest regret I have to inform you of the death in action of your son.  He had been sent to escort another ambulance. A shell came into the dug out where he was and injured him so severely  that he died within minutes of being rendered unconscious.

HeadstoneHe was buried in the Quarry cemetery about 500yds due south of Bazentin-Le-Grand.  It is not possible to do much with the grave as we are under heavy fire.  But, rest assured, that it will be marked with his name and will be made up by the Graves registration Commission.

He was one of the best Bearers and had volunteered repeatedly for especially dangerous duties.

Please accept, from myself and every officer and man of 141 Field Ambulance, our deepest sympathy for you and your family in you great loss.

When I found these letters written to his mother, what started as an interesting story, developed  into a strong interest in WWI,  finding the horrific numbers of our brave soldiers some of them only serving for 1 year in active service. Let us never forget…..


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The History of The Fegan’s Home

J W C FeganMr. J. W. C. Fegan, Born April 27th 1852. This is a record of a ‘Knight Errant of the Gospel’.  ‘Mr Fegan’s Homes’ are his enduring legacy.  He was born to a very religious family and it is this belief which steered his path to the founding of his homes.

Walking through town, he befriended a group of urchins and started a ‘ragged school on a Sunday’. But he became convinced he should be doing more, to which end he rented a cottage.  Here the boys were given shelter every evening, and were taught, continuing their street occupations during the day.

It soon became evident that this was not enough and, with small donations from friends, it was decided to open an Industrial Home, in the heart of the neediest district in Bradford. The house had been previously used for wandering wax works exhibitions.  The date being May Day 1872 – he was just 20yrs old.

It soon became so popular, that further Homes were opened.

On coming of age, he knew he had to follow his conviction to help the boys. He became an evangelical priest, well known for his open air sermons.  But he never lost touch with his boys, still spending evenings searching for homeless boys and forming a friendly rivalry with Barnado.

In the early days, Mr Fegan would bring in, sometimes, between 12-15 boys.  But as he had never been in the best of health, he again became ill , and it became clear he could not continue with the nightly excursions.  But his fame had spread, and soon, the local police would recommend boys to his care .

For thirty years his work continued, but now, boys came to him .

A new home in Westminster was set up for one hundred and fifty boys.   Here, they remained, taught trades which fitted them for life as adults.

Mr Fegan lived then in Southwark.  Here he met and married Miss Mary Pope on August 23rd 1889.  She became his loyal wife and helper for 23yrs.  Their thoughts were only of “the boys” – giving them love and support.

Owing to the success of his venture, several more homes were opened.  It became evident that a home in the country would be beneficial to the health of the boys and a search began. A member of the council brought forward plans for some buildings in Stony Stratford. Designed as a school for the sons of gentlemen, the buildings were almost luxurious and of the highest quality, but the high cost of £40,000 was not viable.   However, the premises were derelict – “why not offer a tenth of the cost?”  An offer of £4,500 was made and instantly accepted, the purchase being completed on 25th June 1900.

The problem of trying to get the money seemed almost impossible, and prayer meetings and letters asking for donations were sent.

Mr Fegan said “at first our faith was tried very several.  After making our cause the matter of a special prayer, responses began to filter in and after a week, by Monday, we were just short of £9.00.  At a meeting of the local poor people, I explained our plight and one of the congregation – a poor man living in an alms house – gave us the £9.00. What a marvelous thing.”

Soon the Greenwich boys were moved to Stratford. Visitors were escorted through the large airy dormitories, where 150 bright boys were housed.  The kitchens and bathrooms were very fine and a play area was constructed in the grounds, with kitchen gardens where the boys could grow vegetables. The beautiful Chapel was used for prayer meetings, and the fine Coronation hall was used for Sunday School and Mothers Meetings and other such. Several homes were opened after the one at Stony Stratford and Mr. Fegan’s life’s work continued, even after his death in 1925. And although the homes have closed, his work has continued and has changed from helping the boys into help for the families – giving aid and support.

The photograph below shows The Stony Stratford Orphanage, showing the high regard given to the detail of the buildings.  Visitors were escorted through the dormitories, where 150 boys were housed.  The kitchens and bathrooms were very fine, the play area for the boys, and the gardens where the boys were able to grow vegetables, were met with approval.

Fegans Home Stony Stratford

The boys were later integrated into the local schools.  I attended New Bradwell school in the 40;s and 50s and met, and became friend with, several of the boys.  Some I remember – there were Raymond and David Smith. David?Felthan who sometimes came for tea. David Kay who returned to Chatham when he left here and hoped to join the Merchant Navy.  My memories of The Home are of attending services on Sunday’s and the annual bonfire night with hot chocolate and baked potatoes.

All the “Boys “would be in their 70’s now, but any memories would be appreciated.

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My Dad

Mr. John (Jack) Robinson. He was born in Wolverton at No 1 Young Street on 11th November 1919. He went to school in Wolverton and he went as an apprentice at Wolverton Works.


After the War he went to play tennis at Wolverton Sports Club in Osbourne Street.  He played in the North Bucks Team and captained them to win North Bucks Shield in 1952. He also won with his tennis partner Mr. Stan Norman the All England Railway Cup. He worked in Wolverton Railway Works as an apprentice, and after going to Night School at the Science and Arts Institute in Wolverton.

Winners of Bucks County Mens Team Shield 1952In 1954 he went on to be a Lecturer at Wolverton College of further education ending up as a Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering & Technical Drawing.  He retired from the college in 1984.

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Mr Jack Rowledge


He was born and lived in Thompson Street until 1916. Very happy community in Bradwell.  When they moved to Wolverton they went into a different atmosphere – People leaving New Bradwell and buying new homes in Wolverton.  Writer in “Daily Herald” said that “if you went to a club in Wolverton without a collar, they wouldn’t look at you and nobody would speak to you.  But in New Bradwell, everybody would accept you.  It came about with people trying to live above themselves”.  The neighbours were never the same in Wolverton.  We rented a house.   Nobody was neighbourly because they were property owners – they thought themselves superior.

He went to school in Wolverton and fitted in fairly well.  He got a job as a milk boy for Mr. Beasley.  Took milk to all the “personalities” in Wolverton district – Rev. Harnett, Dr. Penny etc.  He was often late for school.  Mr. Hippsley, the head, gave him a rap one or two times.  So some mornings, he didn’t get any breakfast milk – then got another rap!  Boss went with him and had a good go at him – then he didn’t get into trouble for being late.  He went with a pony and float and collected milk from Beasley’s farm at Hanslope.  He went early to do blackberrying there and then took them into class – got pat on head for that.

Day he was 13, he went to school at 9.00am.  Had to see the headmaster, left school and started work at the Print at 10am (1918).  Rather than go another year, his father got a job for him.  He knew nothing about it, just told by his father to take the job.  This was parental control.  Had to have the money with eight children.

Got up at 6.50am and never drew a penny.  Another boy had his “wages” in milk, butter and cheese.  In 1920, after men came back from the War, he lost job and went back to the milk – a few more months there before going back to the Print again.

Mr. Beasley’s farm was at Hanslope, but his brother had a depot in Church Street, next door to Kings’ the Bakers.  They had ponies kept beyond their home in Western Road.  They took milk and bakers ponies down before 7.00am and then had to carry 2 x 5 gallon cans carried around the streets with them.  This was from the age of eleven or twelve.  The milk was collected the night before in order to deliver in the morning.  Pony and trap went off in the morning, to collect the rest of the day’s supply.  Milk was served out with scoops into jugs, filled up and covered with a lace doily to keep the dust out. Some houses wanted second delivery later in the day.

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Hawtin Mundy



My dear old Dad.  On my thirteenth birthday he brought me a brand new bike – that was a three-wheel bike.  That was like, today, anybody’s Dad buying them a Rolls Royce!

I came peddling away, back home from Northampton, all by myself, down the Old Haversham Road.  All up the side of the road there were hedges and bushes. As I came along, I got my old oil lamp on the bike, and just as I got to the Old Wolverton turn, a policeman stepped out, and said “Hey, boy, get off that bike, your lamps out!”  I thought “ooh ‘ell,” so instead of me stopping to get off, I pedaled like Hell – hard as I could go – up the hill towards the Stations.

The old copper went up the corner of the Old Wolverton Road, and blew his whistle.  I tore up the hill, and I had to pause when I got to the top of the hill, to turn down to Bradwell, and another policeman stepped out, pushed me off me bike on the road.  And, course, I knew what had happened.  He knew I was on my way up the hill, and he had me.  He says, “Now what’s your name?”  With no hesitation about it, I tried to think of somebody’s name, but I couldn’t.  But any rate, it didn’t take him long.  “All right” he says.  If you won’t tell me your name, I’ll come home with you”.  I thought “oh that’s buggered it”, so I told him me name and address, and so on.

A few days later, I had a summons come, to appear at Stony Stratford Court.  ‘Ooo, Hell!’  I turned up at Stratford Court, and I stood in the dock.  I could hardly see over the top!  The policeman gave his evidence – you know, riding the bike without a light.  I said to this policeman, I said, “my lamp’s all right!”  “Out” he says.  “Oh no it isn’t. It just blew out then.”  He put his hand on the top, and he said, “It’s as cold as ice”.  I knew it was.  Anyway, the copper at Stratford told them what happened – that I wouldn’t stop and went straight on.

Sitting on the bench in those days – there were no working class people – the magistrate then was the old Duke of Grafton, from Potterspury.  Anybody in those days, who lived at Potterspury, it was said, ‘Oh, he grew up on the old Dukes dripping’.  There was a tale then – I don’t know whether its true or not – but the Earldom of the old Duke of Grafton was caused years ago, because the old king, when he was having a run round with Nell Gwynn, it happened at the palace that Nell was there with her old King.  And some of other kids were running about.  So Nell said to this kid, “Come over here and be quiet, you little bastard!””  So the old King said “Ooh don’t call him that!  We’ll make him the Duke of Grafton”.  I don’t know if that’s right – that always has been the tale, but I bet you won’t find it in history!

I was stood in the Dock.  I never said a word, and the old Duke, he was there – magistrate. Along each side of him were these ‘ere local people.  They was all top notches, shopkeepers, and so on.  But the one that sat next to him was Purslow – Dick Purslow – and he was manager of Wolverton Works.  He sat next to the old Duke – was deaf as a post!  He used to have one of these ear-trumpets.  He used to put that in his ear and they used to have to talk to him.  When he heard what I’d done – riding a bike without a light – he never hesitated!  He said, “Ten shillings.”  Purlow shouted down the Duke’s trumpet and he said, “He’s only a boy – six shilling!”  And I am blowed if I didn’t have to pay six shillings – or my Dad did.   That was nearly two weeks wages!

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The Rev. Alan Newman Guest

The Rev. Alan ‘Joey’ Newman Guest M.A. was an eccentric Irish priest who was appointed Vicar of St. James, New Bradwell on 25th September 1908. He discovered in 1909 that his church had not been licensed for marriages for the past 50 years – approximately 1000 during that period – and announced that all marriages at St. James were illegal, and couples in New Bradwell were living in sin.  This created headlines in the local press “1000 marriages ILLEGAL Startling Disclosure at Bucks Church”.

He discovered that the marriage register being used at the church was actually the one for St. Peter`s Church, at Stanton Low and, as such, St. James Church was not licensed for the solemnisation of marriages.  An Act of Parliament was hurriedly passed on June 4th 1909, declaring all marriages at the church were now valid, and confirmed, in the House of Lords on July 16th that year. This incident was turned into a play by J.P. Priestly.

Alan Newman Guest was born in County Kerry, Ireland in 1862 – a family of French origin. He took a BA. degree in divinity at Trinity College, Dublin in 1889, and MA in 1893, before coming to England in 1894.  He had friendships whilst in Ireland with renowned Protestant Loyalists and left because he believed he was on an IRA hit list. Previous to moving to New Bradwell, he held two curacies in Ireland, four in London, and one in Brighton, before becoming Curate of St. Johns at Stanford Hill.  The first parish he was offered was Piddlehinton, in Dorset, but he declined because he took objection to the name. He was finally appointed vicar of Stantonbury in 1908 on £350 per annum.

His experience in that parish was not a happy one, for he could not tolerate other churches – all others he considered to be interlopers. He particularly disliked the Salvation Army, kicking a hole in their drum one Sunday.  In 1915 he was summoned to court for striking a 14 year old girl for attending the local Methodist Chapel, instead of his church and fined £3 plus costs.  This was followed in 1918, with a second appearance at the courts, for insulting behaviour in the public streets.  For which he was fined one pound or, in default, fourteen days imprisonment.

His sermons at times were more political than religious and he condemned the Labour Party for being pacifist – upsetting Stantonbury and Wolverton, which were Labour strongholds.  For some years, there were differences between himself and the lay officials of his church.  Stormy vestry meetings followed, which gradually developed into an attitude of antagonism to the vicar and, which ultimately, resulted in the withdrawal of Mr Guest’s warden, the organist, and the whole choir.  The Sunday School teachers with their scholars also left.  The church which, under the guidance of former vicars, was filled on Sundays with worshippers, slowly became deserted. This was not because there was a lack of loyalty to their church by residents in the parish, but because they could not see eye to eye with their vicar, his method of conducting services and his failure to co-operate with his flock.

Following a petition, the Bishop of Oxford attended a service to meet the parishioners. Over 1,000 are reported to have attended the meeting in the evening, at the local school, where the Bishop called for “give and take”, and sided with the vicar.  There were reports of uproar when the Bishop and Rev. Guest left the building and police were called from Newport Pagnell.  The result was that, eventually alone, he went through the offices of the church and played the organ with only himself forming the congregation.

As early as Sept 1916, letters between the Bishop of Buckingham and the Archbishop, suggested that the Rev. Guest be allowed to go free with an income and be replaced by the, then, Bishop Powell – Vicar of St. Saviour`s, Poplar in the London diocese. But the Reverend Guest declined the invitation. When World War I started, he volunteered to be a chaplain in the Royal Navy, but the Eccelastrial Commissioners told him, if he went, he would forfeit his living.  So he stayed in Stantonbury.

He married in 1916 to Miss Dorothy “Dolly” Cook from Eastbourne – much younger than himself and described as “a smart, well-spoken woman, quite a lady”.  They had three children – two boys and a girl – Castell-Franc, Betty and Newman.  They made frequent visits to his disgruntled mother-in-law in Bournemouth, where it is reputed that he made a nuisance of himself there, by playing the piano into the early hours of the morning – police being called to stop him.  Mrs Guest eventually could stand no more leaving him in 1926, taking the oldest son, aged 9, to return to her mother in Bournemouth.  The Reverend claimed custody of the other two children, as he believed was his right.  He employed a local housekeeper to help bring up their children, until, eventually being sent to private school. After college, their son Newman, worked in Barclays Bank, Bedford, before serving in the Royal Navy during WWI.   The Elder daughter worked as a nurse in Bedford hospital.

Rev. Guest was considered an eccentric, renowned for his “ sit-up and beg”  bike.  It had a large motorbike saddle and wide handles which he rode down the steep canal hill into New Bradwell with his feet on the handlebars and cassock flapping behind.  On one occasion, the handlebars came adrift and he crashed, hurting himself badly.  A friendly parishioner called for Doctor Penny and he was laid up for a fortnight.  He was a fine athlete, often jogging around the fields bare footed and vaulting five bar gates to save time opening and closing them.  He was also a swimmer, challenging others for a race in the river and a boxer, challenging one person to a match.  This fight was stopped by the Bishop, having discovered that betting was on the outcome.

The Rev. Guest was a fine musician and composer and writer.  His two main compositions being a book of hymn tunes and a book called Stantonbury Tales – both printed by George Withers and Sons in London. There are copies of both of these in the British Museum.

He suffered several bouts of illness, from 1928 to 1930 – pernicious anemia.  And the church almost closed during the 2nd World War due to his illness and people being away. After 38 years, the Rev. Newman Guest resigned as Vicar of Stantonbury and New Bradwell, on 3rd October 1946, and died at a Bedford nursing home at the age of 79 in the same year.   His body was cremated at Golders Green.  In remembrance of this eccentric vicar, a street “Guest Gardens” was created in New Bradwell, approved by the Council in 1908 and after his death the local public house was named ‘The Jovial Priest’. It would appear that the name Jovial Priest was a complete misnomer, for it was reputed that he had very little sense of humour.  And being a teetotaller he would not have approved of this.   His nick-name of “Joey” has never been explained.

Ref.  Streetwise. Street Names box 2{108}.  Hawtin Mundy, Mr William May, interview with son Alan Newman Guest.

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