When Western Front member, Malcolm Doolin, researched his book, The Boys of Blackhorse Road. The Story of an Elementary School War Memorial, he learned that 8 of the 52 “Boys” commemorated on the memorial, now housed in its successor school, Willowfield Humanities College, lost their lives between 11 November 1914 and 10 February 1918 in the Ypres Area. He also discovered that three brothers of ‘Blackhorse Boys’ had died in the area.
Blackhorse Road pupils would have left school by 14 and most went to work. When the War started in August 1914, over 80 ex-pupils joined the army and many others did so as the War progressed. Forty nine ex-pupils and three teachers lost their lives between 1914-1918 and are commemorated on the school War Memorial. Over time, Blackhorse Road School became Willowfield and the memorial is now housed in the entrance foyer at Willowfield Humanities College in Walthamstow.
With his partner, ex-Willowfield Headteacher, Eve Wilson, they were among the many visitors at Tyne Cot Cemetery for the Passchendaele Centenary Commemoration and attended the international event on Monday 31 July.
They laid memorial crosses to the two ‘Boys’ and one brother commemorated there. One of the ‘Boys’ is James Vickery who won the DCM at Loos in1915 for rallying the troops by playing his mouth organ on the trench parapet in the face of the German attack.
On Wednesday, 3 August, they laid a wreath at the Menin Gate where three ‘Boys’ are commemorated, as part of the nightly ceremony.
Whilst in the Ypres area they found the graves and memorials to the other three "Boys" and two brothers who lost their lives in the region. At each grave or memorial they left a personalised wooden memorial cross.
The “Boys” who were killed in this area now lie, or are commemorated, in five cemeteries and memorials, Tyne Cot, the Menin Gate, Lijssenthoek, Voormezeele Enclosure and the Huts Cemetery.
All of the "Boys" have their own stories, many of them poignant. This is a summary of those commemorated in The Salient.
- Private George Beck, aged 19, 1st Liverpool Battalion, a greengrocer’s assistant before he enlisted as a regular solider. He attended Blackhorse Road School from 1906-1908. He died on 11 November 1914 of wounds received during the First Battle of Ypres. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. His younger brother William was killed during the Battle of the Somme and also has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
- Private William Johnson, aged 20, 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, another regular soldier, attended the school from 1903-1908. He was killed on 25 April 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres and also has no known grave. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. His older brother, Alfred, had been killed less than two months earlier at Neuve Chappelle.
- Sergeant Henry Parrott, aged 20, was an early volunteer in 1914. He attended the school from 1908-1909 and won a scholarship to continue his education. Described as the ‘Top boy on Walthamstow’, family circumstances prevented him taking up his scholarship, Working as an office boy in a watch and clock importers when he enlisted, Henry served in the 8th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment where he gained promotions to Sergeant. He was killed on 17 December 1915 when Forward Trench, north of Ypres was shelled. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
- Private Harry Wilson, aged 27, attended the school from 1901-1903 and was working as a carpenter when he enlisted on 13 October 1916 in the London Regiment (7th City of London). He was killed on 9 June 1917 near Messines and is buried in Voormezeele Enclosure No. 3 south of Ypres.
- Gunner Arthur Wiles, aged 25, served in the 107th Brigade, The Royal Field Artillery. He attended the school from 1901-1906 and was working as a French Polisher when he enlisted. Wounded near Messines, he was taken to the Casualty Clearing Statin at Remy Sidings where he died on 15 June 1917. He is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.
- Corporal James Vickery, DCM, aged 19, was posted missing, presumed killed on 13 September 1917, but there is a mystery surrounding his death his regiment, The 7th Seaforth Highlanders, were out of the line at this time, having fought at the Menin Road, and there is no reference to casualties in the War Diaries. James attended the school from 1905-1911 and worked for the Post Office in Whitechapel. He and a colleague were awarded the DCM for rallying the troops in the face of German attacks at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 by playing their mouth organs on the trench parapet. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
- Private Henry Lowings, aged 27, is also commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial. He was killed on 12 October 1917 during the First Battle of Passchendaele, serving in the 8th Battalion, The Surrey Regiment. He had attended the school from 1901-1904 and was working as a butcher.
- Sergeant Alfred Smith, MM, aged 25, was serving in the 11th Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own), when he was killed near Ypres on 10 February 1918. He had attended the school from 1901-1906. Although he gained a scholarship to Higher Education, family circumstances prevented him taking his place, and he was working as a Clerk when he enlisted in the Autumn of 1914. He is buried in The Huts Cemetery, south west of Ypres.
The three brothers who did not attend the school and who are commemorated in the Ypres area we visited are
- Sergeant John Staines, killed in action 21 October1914, aged 27, serving in the 1st Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish rifles), brother of James who is mistakenly on the school memorial, commemorated at Ploegstreet.
- Private Sydney Hooper, aged 25, serving in The 1st Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment, when he was killed on 4 October 1917 during the Battle of Broodseinde. He is buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery. Sydney was a cinematograph operator and the older brother of Richard Hooper, who died in hospital in Malta, on 5 November 1915, having been wounded at Gallipoli.
- Private John Dunford, aged 39, serving in the 2nd/8th Battalion, The London Regiment (Post Office Rifles), is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. He was killed on 30 October 1917. A year earlier, his younger brother Arthur, had been killed at High Wood and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
If you would like to learn more about "The Boys of Blackhorse Road", copies of The Boys of Blackhorse Road are available, price £10.00 including p&p, from Malcolm Doolin who can be contacted by emailing him on firstname.lastname@example.org.