Remembering Wandsworth’s fallen heroes

Published: Thursday 10th August 17

Earlier this year a delegation of Wandsworth councillors, former council officers and local residents travelled to the Somme Valley in northern France to pay their respects to fallen soldiers and to visit the sites of fierce First World War battles involving the Battersea and Wandsworth battalions.

The group’s first calling point was at the Philosophe Cemetery, close to the town of Lens, where a wreath was laid at the grave of Private Reginald Twyford who was aged just 15 years old when he died fighting for his country in the ‘Pals’ battalion, raised by the then Mayor of Wandsworth. He was only 14 when he volunteered, but persuaded recruiting staff that he was 18 and eligible to fight. 
The next stop was at the village of Villers-Plouich which was liberated by Wandsworth’s battalion during the 1917 advance to the Hindenburg Line. The battle for control of the village raged between April and September, and cost the lives of five officers and 87 men from the so-called Wandsworth ‘Pals’ -  the 13th (Service) Battalion (Wandsworth), the East Surrey Regiment. During the battle Corporal Edward Foster, a 31-year-old dustman from Tooting, famously stormed up a ravine firing a Lewis gun and helped to dislodge German machine-gun positions. This heroic act was later rewarded with the Victoria Cross. 

To mark the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Villers-Plouich, the council delegation laid a wreath at the Fifteen Ravine Cemetery on the outskirts of the village where many men from the Wandsworth Battalion are buried. A separate ceremony of remembrance took place at the village’s own war memorial and also at the site of Corporal Foster’s Lewis Gun assault, with three generations of the Foster family in attendance along with the current Mayor of Villers-Plouich, Raymond Machut. The people of Villers-Plouich are currently raising funds, with a target of 5,000 euros, to erect an impressive obelisk to commemorate Corporal Foster’s valour. Speeches by Raymond Machut, Mayor of Villers-Plouich and Cllr Leslie McDonnell, the council’s Armed Forces Champion, were sealed in a time capsule and buried in the recently-laid concrete foundation for the memorial.

After the war the people of Wandsworth raised funds to rebuild the shattered community of Villers-Plouich and the council unofficially ‘adopted’ the village in 1920. In 2001 the village reaffirmed its ties to the borough by renaming a square ‘Place de Wandsworth’.

The Mayor of Villers-Plouich speaking at the foundation for the memorial.

A memorial wreath was also placed at the centre of the small village of Flers, which was liberated in September 1916 by the 10th (Service) Battalion (Battersea), The Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment - another 'Pals’ battalion, made up of men from Battersea.  This was the first battle in history in which tanks were deployed.

Councillors, officers, local groups and borough residents regularly visit Villers-Plouich. The visits are funded privately by those who attend, with zero cost to local taxpayers.

If you would like to contribute towards the commemorative obelisk email mayor@wandsworth.gov.uk

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