A tree in the village of Tylers Green dedicated to Felix Fryer
Long Reads

Doorstep History: Memorial Trees In The Village Of Tylers Green

How one village in Buckinghamshire remembers those who died in the First World War

A tree in the village of Tylers Green dedicated to Felix Fryer

Personally, I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in the village of Tylers Green.

Located a few miles outside High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, and therefore fairly close to London, it is not only conveniently situated, but also surrounded by picturesque countryside, being on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. 

It also has real character. St Margaret’s Church, Tylers Green First School, the village hall and the large pond that make up its historic heart are all clustered in and around two grass commons. These commons in turn feature rows of houses and woodland, and so the old village centre is a varied patchwork that interlaces people with nature, official public with private life, and history with present-day life and activities. 

Even though I later moved away and lived and worked elsewhere, I have always retained a very strong personal connection with the village, and not just because I grew up nearby. Some of the trees within the old village centre are dedicated to local people who have died, and one of these trees was planted in memory of someone I once knew. Even though he has passed away, it is nice to think that he is now, in a sense, a permanent part of the village landscape.

The track opposite the village hall (embed: Google)
Google map
Tylers Green as it appears on Google Maps (image: Google)

As it turns out, the idea of memorial trees dates back quite some way in Tylers Green, and a walk down the gravel track opposite the Village Hall leads to the first of several lines of them. The backstory behind these trees, and the plaques beside them, is explained on a display board partway down the track. It reads:

“In 2007, volunteers began looking into the history of the stately row of mature lime trees on the Back Common. On the evidence of two half-buried plaques the trees were thought to have been planted around 1920, to commemorate the local men who were killed in the First World War.

“There were eight trees and two obvious gaps in a very even-spaced line. This suggested that there had been ten trees, each representing three of the 30 men listed on the war memorial in St Margaret’s churchyard.”

It goes on to explain that each of the 30 men who died in the war out of a wartime village population of around 1,000 did, in fact, get their own tree, making them a part of the village just like those memorialised by more recently planted trees. 

The First World War trees were originally planted in 1937, to remember the war dead as well as to celebrate the Coronation year of King George VI. 

First World War memorial trees
The map of the line of trees as it appears on the information board (image: writer’s collection)

Every man of course had his own rich life story, the basic facts of which are outlined on the various plaques, and the details of which can be found in ‘Penn and Tylers Green In the Great War and the Men Who Did Not Return’ by Ronald Saunders.

It was because of Saunders’ book that I was able to learn more about the stories behind each of the trees, which helped make them as individually meaningful for me as the tree planted later for the villager I knew personally. 

The first tree, which stands just in front of and to the right of the information board, is dedicated to Captain Philip Rose. His tree had interested me for some years, largely because of the age he was when he died in 1917: 48 years old.

There were men of that age who served during the conflict, even if the bulk of those who did so were younger. Rose seemed interesting for having apparently been close enough to danger to get killed, even at his comparatively advanced age. In actual fact, Saunders reveals that Rose received the injuries that would go on to kill him in 1915, at the Battle of Loos

Officially serving with 7 Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, Rose was actually a staff officer with 63 Infantry Brigade during the battle. When I contacted Ronald Saunders, he added an a further detail to the story, telling me that Rose was apparently caught in the open on September 26, 1915. This is how he ended up being shot in the leg. He lay on the battlefield where he was later shot in the arm as well by a German sniper 

He then became a POW and lost his arm while in captivity. He was sent home in December 1916 and died during an operation on his misshapen feet in April the following year.

First World War soldier from Tylers Green
Captain Philip Vivian Rose (image: Chepping Wycombe Parish Council)

Like many in the First World War, Rose was not the only member of his family to perish during, or just after, the conflict. Saunders explains that his father, Sir Philip Rose, passed away in 1919, that he had been “75 and had lost a son, grandson and son-in-law in the Great War”, and that “following his internment in the family vault in St. Margaret’s (the village church), little was ever the same in Tylers Green … “

One drastic change was what happened to the Rose house and grounds, known as the Rayners Estate. 

This was just up the road from St Margaret’s, within the adjacent village of Penn. The estate passed down to a grandson of Sir Philip, who was advised to sell it. And so, at the beginning of 1920, the contents of the estate were auctioned off. 

Then, in 1922, London County Council took over the estate and turned it into a school for the deaf. The school ran into some difficulties in recent years and was placed into administration in 2015, but it is still marked out as the school it became. 

Rayners Estate and Penn school for the deaf
Rayners Estate today, in more recent years a school for the deaf (image: writer’s collection)

Having never really looked much into the history of the village, I was surprised to learn just how much the Rose family had dominated local life. Both the local newspaper, Bucks Free Press, and local historian Miles Green’s book ‘Mansions and Mud Houses: The Story of the Penn and Tylers Green Conservation Area’ help paint a picture of what it must have been like when the Rose dynasty was still around. 

It turns out that Captain Philip Rose’s father, the owner of the estate who died in 1919, was himself the son of an important local figure, another Sir Philip Rose, who was born in 1816. 

This Philip Rose became wealthy by working as a solicitor when the railways were expanded and he went on to found his Rayners Estate in 1847. He was a friend of the Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and he himself became High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1878. The rooftop of one of the buildings in Penn still bears a strange model which is meant to be a deprecatory caricature of Disraeli’s long-time political opponent, the Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Rose had two thirds of the adults in Penn as workers and/or tenants on his estate, the vast grounds of which were acquired when he purchased two local farms. In total, it encompassed 550 acres. 

He also used his fortune to fund the building of St Margaret’s church in Tylers Green, thus turning that village into an official parish. Again, as Saunders points out in his book, it is incredible to think just how radically the character of Penn and neighbouring Tylers Green must have altered when the Rose family were gone. 

Sir Philip Rose's Rayners Estate
The Lodge House on the London Road down in High Wycombe was once part of Rose’s Rayners Estate and marked both the beginning of the line to Maidenhead and the private road up the hill back into his grounds (image: writer’s collection)
Tylers Green and Penn Buckinghamshire
The caricature of Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, still visible on the rooftop of one of the buildings in Penn (image: Eddie Morton)

The next tree down from Philip Rose’s is, like his, a smaller one. These younger trees now make up seven of those in the line of 30 memorial trees and were planted in 2009 to replace some of the original ones that were later taken down. 

This tree was planted in memory of Private Maurice Perfect, the son of Frederick Perfect and Lucy Beal. Frederick was a game keeper on Rayners, the Rose estate. 

Saunders says it is believed that while Maurice’s three brothers were all in hospital during the war, Sir Philip Rose the elder, father of the man memorialised by the first tree, paid for their mother to go and visit them. Apparently, she had, until that point, never been outside of Tylers Green.

Maurice Perfect was apparently an excellent shot and, like many of the fallen from Tylers Green, served with the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. 

He was killed on September 20, 1917, during the Battle for the Menin Road Ridge, an action involving 65,000 British (and British Empire) troops. He was 19 years old, and one of over 3,000 British troops who died during this six-day phase of the larger campaign known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle became infamous for its muddy conditions, which were atrocious even by the standards of the Western Front.

First World War soldier from Tylers Green
Maurice Perfect can be seen here along with his comrades in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry – he is the one in the centre with a cigarette (image: Mrs Janet Garrett)

The third tree, which is the first of the original ones planted in 1937, is dedicated to 28-year-old Private Frederick Eustace

Eustace is unique amongst the war dead of the village for having both a memorial tree and a grave in Tylers Green. The reason for this is that he was not killed by enemy action, but instead fell ill from the effects of epilepsy. This saw him first removed from his unit in France in 1916 and sent back to the UK. He then died of the illness in June the following year. 

This is why his war grave is not amongst the vast multitudes of others in a Commonwealth military cemetery in France or Belgium but is instead outside St Margeret’s Church. A picture of it appears below.

As it happens, the house Eustace lived in, Hope Cottage, is also just visible over a hedge from his tree. According to Miles Green, it had a cherry orchard on its grounds at the time and was considerably different than it is today.

Eustace was also a friend and colleague of another one of the war dead from Tylers Green, Private William Crabbe, who is remembered by the twentieth tree. Both men worked for a local butcher named Richard Moreton, whose shop is a Jackson Howes estate agents today.

First World War English village
The Jackson Howes today, formerly a local butchers where William Crabbe and Frederick Eustace worked (image: writer’s collection)

The fourth tree represents 21-year-old Corporal Ernest Henry Johnson, of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry’s 5 (Service) Battalion. 

Johnson was a gardener before the war, and was killed on March 23, 1918, after being swept into the maelstrom that was Kaiserschlacht. This essentially meant ‘Kaiser’s Battle’ and was named after the German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II. (Kaiser means king, and Wilhelm II was the king of the German state of Prussia and the Emperor of Germany, the various German states having been unified after the 1870 – 71 Franco-Prussian War). 

Kaiserschlacht, or ‘Operation Michael’, was an all-out effort by the Germans to try and win the war while they still could, in the spring of 1918. The collapse of Russia the previous year had given them a temporary edge in manpower by freeing up German units that had been on the Eastern Front for use in France. This meant there was a closing window of opportunity to deploy these extra troops before the Americans finished building up their forces on the Western Front, since they had entered the war in 1917 after the Zimmerman telegram fiasco

Ernest Johnson helps put a name and a face to just one of the many British soldiers who were completely overrun in the early stages of this offensive. It would eventually peter out and Allied forces swept back the other way later that year. 

By that point, though, many thousands of British soldiers had been killed, Ernest Johnson, and some others from Tylers Green, amongst them.

Ernest Johnson British World War 1 soldier picture and memorial tree in Tylers Green
Ernest Johnson’s tree today (image: writer’s collection) and a period picture of Ernest Johnson (image: Mr and Mrs E Jennings)

Another Ernest is represented by the fifth tree. In fact, Private Ernest Bovingdon’s tree is unique in that it is now the only one that still has its original 1937 plaque, which has been almost hidden as the tree has grown up next to and around it.

Ernest moved to Tylers Green as a child and was the son of a chair maker. High Wycombe has historically been a major furniture-making centre, the woodlands of the Chiltern Hills providing the raw materials for this industry. 

Ernest himself became a local farm worker and was an active church goer. 

Like Earnest Johnson just next to him, Earnest Bovingdon ended up in the Oxford and Bucks’ 5 (Service) Battalion, though he was killed the previous year, on April 27, 1917, at the age of 32. 

He died taking part in the Battle of Arras and is listed on the Arras Memorial. Like many in the First World War, and a number from Tylers Green, Ernest Bovingdon has no known grave.

First World War memorial trees
The original 1937 plaque (which has Bovingdon's name misspelt) just visible in Ernest Bovingdon’s tree (image: writer’s collection)

Private (Felix) Hugh Fryer died considerably further afield, in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), on June 28, 1916, and the sixth tree is dedicated to him. 

Felix Fryer had been a brick layer and then a professional soldier before the war. Having joined 1 Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry in 1908, he did pre-war service in India. From there, he went to Mesopotamia at the end of 1914. At that point in history, Iraq (or Mesopotamia) lay within the Ottoman Empire, which was a multi-national empire that had spread out of Turkey and was, at the time of the First World War, fighting on the side of the Germans. 

Fryer was one of those besieged by the Ottoman troops at the town of Kut, in Iraq, from December 1915 to April 1916, before the British side surrendered and was then sent on an 800-mile march through the desert.

Fryer died in captivity, one of 46,000 who did not survive the Mesopotamia campaign.

First World War memorial trees
Fryer’s tree, another one that has been replanted in more recent years (image: writer’s collection)

The seventh and eighth trees, which are behind an earth bank at the bottom of the gravel track, represent two brothers, Privates Frank and Sidney Rogers. They were 22 and 19 years old, respectively, and they both died at the same place and on the same day. 

That day was May 16, 1915. By the end of 1914, the German advance, after being resisted by the British at Mons and checked by General Joseph Joffre at the Marne, had settled into a trench line that ran across north-eastern France and Belgium. This trench line had a salient, which is to say a bulge, north of Paris (see the map below.) 

The Western Front in the First World War
A map of the Western Front in 1915 and 16, showing the German salient above Paris (image: Public Domain)

Imposing as they look on a map, it made sense to attack a salient in two places, from the northern and southern-most points right where the bulge began to protrude from the rest of the trench line.

The reason for this, at least in theory, was that any successful northern and southern advances on the part of the British and the French could have met in the middle. This would have ‘pinched out’ the German defenders still in the bulge, cutting them off without supply lines and leaving them isolated within a pocket, where their resistance would soon collapse. 

Of course, it often did not work out this way in practice, since a success on the part of the French and/or British might become a salient itself. This in turn could then be attacked from three sides and either pinched out or flung back.

battle of festubert
The same map with a close up on the German salient (image: Public Domain)

It was the rail link between Arras (top left on the map just above) and Rheims (bottom right on the map) that the British and French were seeking to disrupt in May 1915. Rail lines could be used to move supplies and reinforcements rapidly to and between contested areas of the line.

The overall effort by both the British and French was called the Second Battle of Artois (Artois being the region of France in which the fighting was taking place.) The British side of this effort took the form of the Battle of Aubers Ridge, on May 9 that year, and the Battle of Festubert, between May 15 and 25, 1915. Festubert can just be made out on the northern portion of the map above, close to Arras.

British infantry would have begun their advance after a 400-artillery-gun bombardment started off the British side of the attack on May 9. The British drenched the German lines over a section of front that was 5,000 yards wide, though, as Saunders notes, a good number of the 100,000 shells that fell from the sky that day were duds and did not explode. 

The infantry attack still went ahead on May 16, and one of the four battalions going over the top that morning was 2 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. Saunders describes the action from the point of view of the Rogers brothers and their comrades in 2 Oxford and Bucks:

“In the darkness they left their trenches as the second line of the 5th Brigade in support of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. German machine guns, unaffected by the earlier bombardment, took a terrible toll in that black hell and, although some gains were made, the Ox and Bucks lost nearly 400 soldiers and men, two of whom were Frank and Sidney.”

Often, the vast casualty rosters of First World War campaigns seem to wipe out much sense of the individual men who fell in them. However, seeing and having two village trees dedicated to two brothers who died in the same battle certainly gives a sense of the huge impact these faraway campaigns often had on particular places in the UK.

The gravel track ends at this point, but the memorial trees do not. Continuing ahead, up the sloped wooded path that comes off the gravel track, reveals another 10 trees with more plaques beside them. 

First World War memorial trees
View down the gravel track – the Rogers’ brothers trees are at the bottom of the track (image: writer’s collection)

The first tree one comes across on the sloped path belongs to Lance Corporal Arthur Dover. His name struck a note of familiarity with me, sounding like the Andrew Dover I knew in first school. For most, though, the thing that would probably be eye catching about his plaque is the age recorded at the time of death: just 17 when he fell, like Hugh Fryer, in faraway Iraq.

Arthur was the youngest son of Kate Perfect and Henry Dover, a chair maker, and was, even at his young age, active in local life. He was a cornet player in both the Penn and Tylers Green Brass Band and the Penn Orchestra as well as being very active in the Wesleyan Reform Church.

Although Arthur was below the official recruitment age of 19, he was not that unusual in having  obviously lied about his age. In his case, doing so led to him becoming the youngest person from the village to die in the war. He evidently felt so strongly about the British cause that he was prepared to enlist despite his youth. Saunders quotes him as having written in one letter:

“I am a fighting soldier but I am also a Britisher if all were ready to do their duty the same as I am the war would have been over long ago, I want to go.”

His death occurred on April 6, 1916, as a result of wounds sustained during the attempted relief of Kut (where Hugh Fryer was being besieged by Ottoman forces.)

Arthur was part of a force from 1 Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, that had broken away and avoided capture at Kut (i.e. unlike Fryer.) Dover was one of 279 (13 officers and 266 men) that went into battle on April 6, 1916 - 245 of them, including Dover, became casualties. 

As for the wider Mesopotamian campaign, Wikipedia lists 256,000 total British casualties, of whom 5,281 died of wounds, like Arthur. Once again, a tree in an English village dedicated to one of them can help to personalise and individualise the huge number who died in this way.

Tylers Green Memorial Trees 1
View down the slope from just behind the eleventh tree (which is dedicated to Harry Dutton) – Arthur Dover’s tree is the ninth one, the large tree visible at the bottom of the slope (image: writer’s collection)

The tenth tree, just a little up the sloped path from Arthur Dover’s, was planted in memory of 28-year-old Ernest David Long. He had fought on the Western Front but died on October 29, 1918, on the Italian Front, during a night raid meant to capture prisoners from opposing trenches. 

Italy had entered the First World War in 1915 on the side of Britain and so British forces ended up supporting the Italians in their struggle against Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary. 

By this point, Long was a Sergeant in 1/1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, a Territorial battalion within the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry regiment. He had been a gardener by profession and lived in one of five cottages built in a row known as “Woodbine Cottages”. Two of his neighbours in other Woodbine Cottages were Bert Lewis, represented by the twenty-fifth tree, and the aforementioned Earnest Bovingdon, whose tree is the fifth in line from the information board.

Woodbine Cottages in Tylers Green bucks
The Woodbine cottages in Tylers Green today, three of which exist now since four of the original five were combined to make two larger cottages (image: writer’s collection)

Another gardener from the village who was killed in the conflict was Private Harry James Dutton, who also served in 1/1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. In fact, serving in the war from the beginning meant that Harry had to get married to Elsie Rogers during his leave, in December 1915. They later had a daughter who was born in 1916. Harry was killed at the Somme the following year, on March 10, 1917. He was 25. 

The major British offensive on the Somme had of course occurred the previous year, and Harry’s death is very much typical of the day-to-day hostilities that took place on the Western Front between the large offensives. Harry’s unit was in the line between Barleux and Maisonette, in freezing conditions. Thus, even without enemy action, holding the trench itself would have been highly arduous in such weather. 

Unfortunately, for some of the men of 1/1 Ox and Bucks, the weather was not the only thing they had to contend with. An enemy mortar lobbed over a gas shell and it crashed into the headquarters of A Company. 18 men on the British side died, Harry Dutton amongst them.

Saunders notes that, by the standards of the First World War, this was not an unusual level of enemy activity. It appears to have been so ordinary, in fact, that the war diary for the battalion (i.e. the unit’s official record of day-to-day affairs) recorded it as having been a “quiet day”. 

One thinks of the title of the famous Erich Maria Remarque novel, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, in which the protagonist is shot dead at the end on an otherwise ‘quiet’ day. 

Quiet, once again, by Western Front standards.

British soldier Harry Dutton and war grave
Private Harry Dutton and his grave in Hem Monacu, the Somme, France which shows he was in the “Buckinghamshire Battn”, or 1/1 Bucks Battalion, part of the OBLI (images: John Harvey)

Before proceeding to the twelfth tree, it is worth taking a moment to explain the numbering system behind the unit Ernest Long and Harry Dutton were a part of, the 1/1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. 

The Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, or Oxford and Bucks, or OBLI, was of course the name of the regiment for the surrounding area, Tylers Green being in south Bucks. 1/1 battalion, which was known as both 1/1 Bucks Battalion (because it recruited from within Bucks) and as 1/1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, was one of 18 or 19 OBLI battalions in existence during the First World War. 

The British were somewhat unusual in that their infantry regiments like the OBLI were not really battlefield formations, but rather bodies for recruiting local troops. They would produce a certain number of battalions, which were effectively modular units of around 1,000 men that would then be placed within brigades (four, or later three, battalions), divisions (three brigades), corps (two or more divisions) and armies (at least two corps.) Each battalion was numbered and bore the name of its parent regiment, such as 1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry (the first battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry regiment), 2 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry (the second battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry regiment), etc. 

According to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, there were five battalions within the OBLI regiment before the war. As well as 1 and 2 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, which were regular Army battalions of fulltime professional soldiers, these were: 3 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, which was a special reserve battalion (men who had completed basic training but were not fulltime soldiers); 4 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, a Territorial Force unit; and Harry Dutton and Ernest Long’s unit, 1/1 Bucks Battalion, which was also a pre-war Territorial unit made up of part-time reservists from Buckinghamshire. (For more on the differences between regular battalions, Army Reserve and Special Reserve battalions, Territorial Force troops and the overall composition of the pre-war British Army, click here).

Over the course of the war, both the OBLI and the British Army in general grew exponentially, adding more and more new battalions, as well as replenishing existing ones with fresh troops. Some of the new OBLI battalions were 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. These were all service battalions, which is to say New Army units – those created specifically for wartime service. Most were standard infantry units, though 8 Battalion took on a specialist role as a pioneer battalion and was hence used for engineering and building roles.

There were also six additional Territorial Force battalions added: 10 Battalion; 2/1 and 3/1 Bucks Battalions (both of which followed on from the already existing 1/1 Bucks Battalion); and 1/4, 2/4 and 3/4 Battalions (all of which followed on from the pre-war 4 Battalion.) 

Territorial battalions were a kind of reserve force that came out of reforms made after the 1899 – 1902 Boer War. Like the regular Army, they were composed entirely of volunteers and trained mostly at weekends and in the evenings. They had existed for defence of the United Kingdom itself, so their members were not required to fight in the war and had to agree to go overseas, though virtually all of them did so. This is why Territorial Force battalions often had two numbers. For example, 1/1 Bucks Battalion was the first-line Territorial unit of 1 Bucks Battalion. When this was sent overseas, it was replaced by the newer 2/1 Bucks Battalion, a second-line Territorial unit. 3/1 Bucks was the third-line battalion that then followed on from 2/1 Bucks Battalion. Harry and Ernest, then, were part of the first-line Territorial unit 1/1 Bucks. 

There were also 1 and 2 Garrison Battalions, which consisted of men unfit for combat roles (due to age or poor health) who took on garrison duties to free up younger, fitter men to fight. The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum also informed me that there are records of a final nineteenth Oxford and Bucks unit, a provisional battalion assembled while 1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry was in Mesopotamia in 1915. This was created by combining the remnants of other battalions that had sustained heavy casualties in the campaign.

Apart from the garrison battalions, there should not have been any real difference in the physical size and state of men between the different types of units. Regular British Army battalions in the pre-war era were trained to a high standard, though Territorial Force units could also be quite selective and were also well trained. Though as Martin Middlebrook explains in ‘The First Day of the Somme’, the rush of excited volunteers early on in the war (i.e. before conscription came into effect later on) meant that the more popular units got filled out with replacements and new troops first. Regular Army battalions had a certain prestige, since the pre-war British Army was, as noted, of a high quality; and New Army (service) battalions attracted those excited by the prospect to getting involved in the war, particularly and often with their chums who joined up alongside them. 

This meant the under- or overaged, those who did not have the expanded-chest requirement of 36 inches, or who did not meet the height requirement of first 5’3” or, for a while, 5’6” (the average male height at the time), tended to end up in Territorial battalions. 

It is interesting to think that Harry and Ernest may have seen some of these differences in age and size when new men came into their ranks as the war went on.

World War 1 memorial trees
Harry Dutton’s plaque by his Tylers Green memorial tree (image: writer’s collection)

The man represented by the next tree up the path, 34-year-old Private Robert Scott, is a bit of a mystery. In fact, he may not have even been Robert Scott at all. 

He was, according to one interpretation, born in Great Marlow, between High Wycombe and Marlow, and was the son of a wheelwright named Alfred Scott. Robert Scott himself is said to have been the postman for Tylers Green.

Yet, according to Ron Saunders, records for ‘Robert Scott’ consistently overlap with a man named Alfred H Willis, who also seems to have been born in Great Marlow in 1882 in Robert Scott’s place. In another example, Willis is recorded as having been married to a woman named Alice. Robert Scott again has a woman by this named listed as his wife on his army record. 

Another clue Saunders mentions is the 1901 census, which shows an Alfred Scott (the man said to have been Robert Scott’s father) living near Tylers Green in Penn with his son Robert, and what seems to be his first wife Eliza Scott, formerly Eliza Butcher.

Thus, one is left wondering why Robert Scott appears to have had two names? It will likely always remain a mystery, particularly since Scott (or Alfred H Willis) did not come home from the war to generate any more information about himself. The last record of him, whoever he really was, indicates how he died. 

In this, his story overlaps with that of Corporal Ernest Johnson, who is represented by the fourth tree. Both men were in 5 (Service) Battalion of the OBLI, and both were swept up in the the 1918 German Spring Offensive – the aforementioned Kaiserschlacht, or ‘Operation Michael’. Scott (or Willis) died on March 23, 1918, as his unit fought to check the rapid and enormous German advance at the Crozat Canal. Like Johnson, his body was never recovered and both men are remembered on the Pozieres Memorial, along with 14,655 other British and South African soldiers with no known graves who died during the Kaiser’s Battle that spring.

The fighting in this period was surely some of the most desperate of the entire war for the British and French, with the Germans actually breaking through the Allied trench lines at one point. This portion of an order issued to all ranks on April 11, 1918, by the British commander on the Western Front, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, gives us a glimpse into just how bad things got:

“There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.”

Even if it was issued 19 days after their deaths, it seems clear Scott and Johnson certainly must have done what Haig’s order asked and fought to the end.

The Pozieres Memorial and cemetery (image: Wernervc)
The Pozieres Cemetery with the Memorial in the back, where Johnson and Scott are listed along with over 14,000 other British soldiers from the 1918 German Spring Offensive who have no known grave (image: Wernervc)

The thirteenth tree was planted in memory of Private Joseph John (“Jack”) James, who was killed in February, 1916. 

Like Harry Dutton and Ernest Long, John James also served in 1/1 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. In fact, Ron Saunders points out that 1/1 OBLI ended up being a little bit like a Pals battalion, the New Army (service) battalions that consisted of large networks of friends and colleagues and were often organised around certain workplaces, professions or social groups like sports teams. The 1/1 Bucks Battalion certainly seems to have had a lot of men from Tylers Green.

Like his fellow villager Ernest Long, John James died not in a large battle but while manning the British line, shelled in a dugout while he was on sentry duty. He was 28 years old. 

He was buried where he died, at Hebuterne on the Somme, though Saunders notes it is not clear if James’ mother or wife ever managed to visit the grave site. What is known is that a comrade wrote to James’ sister and wife after his death, and the letter gives a sense of the good soldier he must have been:

“Dear Rose and Mrs. James,

“It is with great and sorrowing regret I write this short note to you. I guess by now you have heard of the bad news of poor Jack, who was killed by shell fire yesterday afternoon in the reserve trenches. We all grieve with you in your terrible loss as Jack was one of the best soldiers, willing to do anything for all. We buried him to-day in your little cemetery. It was a sad sight, and many a tear was shed by his comrades. Well, we must hope and pray that he is now at rest in a better land. Give my sympathy to Fanny (his wife) and all who will mourn her loss we shall miss him more than words can tell.”

World War 1 memorial trees
The line of memorial trees that advance up the slope towards Church Road (on the left, off the picture) – John James’ tree is one of the newer ones and is just off the picture to the right (image: writer’s collection)

19-year-old Private John Henry Ricketts is memorialised by the fourteenth tree. Saunders notes that he was typical of many of those from the village in that he attended the Penn Adult Bible class and in that he worked as an upholsterer for Randalls in nearby High Wycombe, and he too had come from a family home on Front Common.

Many who think of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 imagine the bloody first day, on July 1, 1916, in which the British sustained almost 60,000 casualties. Yet, the campaign continued into November, leading to the deaths of many more men. John Henry Ricketts was killed in early September, during an attack on the village of Guillemont, which had been fortified by the Germans.  

He had joined 5 (Service) Battalion of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and first arrived in France in the summer of 1915, giving him a little over a year on the Western Front before his death.

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Private John Henry Ricketts’ plaque - he served in 5 (Service) Battalion of the OBLI, the same unit as Ernest Johnson and Robert Scott (image: writer’s collection)

Although many of those from Tylers Green served in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, not all did so. One of the exceptions was Rifleman Daniel Hazell, whose rank is itself a reminder of this.

Hazell was 36 years old when he died, and a professional soldier already in the pre-war British Army, an “Old Contemptible”, as they were known. His rank, rifleman, was the equivalent of a private for his unit, the Rifle Brigade. This was first formed in 1800 to pull together soldiers specifically for skirmishing, scouting and sharp shooting.

Hazell was in 4 Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, and died fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.

Like many who fought at Ypres, and in the First World War more generally, Hazell’s body was never found and he is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres

Fortunately, Hazell’s two brothers at least made it back from the war. His parents had a shoemaker’s business on the road right next to the village church, St Margaret’s, and the churchyard there now contains the graves to his parents. His mother’s gravestone bears the following:

“Some Day we’ll Understand.”

Saunders says this was probably their way of trying to reconcile the enormous loss they must have felt at Daniel’s loss with their Christian faith, and the phrase is used as the subtitle of his book.

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The Menin Gate (image: Johan Bakker)

The sixteenth tree bears the name Frank Deadman, who was also a rifleman, though in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. Like the previous rifleman, Daniel Hazell, Frank Deadman died as a result of fighting around Yypres, though in the Third Battle of Ypres rather than the Second. 

This of course made him another casualty of the battle’s more common name, Passchendaele. Recall that the crack shot Maurice Perfect died in this battle, and Sidney Fountain, whose life will be discussed below, died in the run up to it.

Deadman was 23 when he was killed in September 1917. He had been a gardener and joined the newly formed 16 Royal Rifle Corps from nearby High Wycombe, along with other friends from the Church Lads Organisation.

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Frank Deadman’s memorial tree, seen with Church Road up the slope in the distance (image: writer’s collection)

The walk up the slope now brings any visitor to Tylers Green to the last in the first line of memorial trees before coming to Church Road. This tree, the seventeenth, is dedicated to 20-year-old Corporal Alfred William Trendell of 1 Kings Royal Rifle Corps. 

Alfred Trendell had been an apprentice of JT Bateman in High Wycombe, an engineering company owned by his uncle. He joined up as soon as the war started, in August 1914, and arrived on the Western Front by November. 

Ron Saunders notes that, by having taken part in a number of battles over the course of 1914 and 1915, he had had a number of close calls, including one in which he was buried alive. (Shell fire and mining, in which underground explosions might throw up earth, could lead to this sort of thing). 

Unfortunately, his luck eventually ran out, and he was killed when a German shell fell on his trench in March, 1916. 

He is buried in Aix Le Nouvette Cemetery, near Bethune, France.

Continuing up the path now brings one to the pavement running along Church Road and a left turn is required to see the next set of memorial trees, of which there are six.

The next line of trees along Church Road is visible on the left, just past the end of the path coming out of the Back Common - continuing on down the hill and up the other side leads to St Margaret’s church on the right (embed: Google)

The first in this next line of memorial trees, the eighteenth thus far in all, is dedicated to the brother of Alfred Trendall, 18-year-old Lance Corporal Ernest Albert Trendell

Both men were killed in the same year, though there is a considerable contrast in the circumstances surrounding their deaths. While Alfred Trendell died on what was, by Western Front standards, a relatively quiet day, his younger brother Ernest died participating not only in an enormous battle, but on a day that would become the British Army’s worst ever.

July 1, 1916, is the date with this dubious distinction and it was the opening day for the British (and French) infantry attack in the Battle of the Somme. 

It began with some of the aforementioned mine warfare, with the British detonating a series of mines underneath the German trenches, including an enormous one at the village of Beaumont Hamel, the site of a German strongpoint. 

Unfortunately for the men about to attack, a messy compromise high up in the chain of command had resulted in the decision to wait 10 minutes after this mine was blown before troops in the sector were sent forward. Neither the mine, nor the week-long artillery bombardment that had preceded it, had killed or incapacitated the German defenders to anywhere near the extent that was expected or hoped for. This meant that when the attack commenced that morning, fierce German resistance swelled to meet it.

This was not the situation along the whole of the British, and French, line. Elsewhere, mines were blown at 7:28 am and the attack commenced two minutes later. Major General Ivor Maxse, commander of 18 (Eastern) Division, had his men crawl out into and lie down in no man’s land while the British artillery bombardment was still going on. This way, they were able to rapidly advance upon the enemy the moment it stopped.

Yet at the area around Beaumont Hamel, the only rushing that went on was at 7:20 am. This was done by men from 2 Royal Fusiliers as they dashed to take the Beaumont Hamel mine crater, and failed in the attempt. 10 minutes later, massed waves came on against German defenders who had, in the intervening time, prepared themselves to meet them. They did so with rifle, machine gun and artillery fire, and the results were of course catastrophic for the British.

Ernest Trendell’s unit, 1 Hampshire Battalion, was in the second wave that set off near Beaumont Hamel at 7:30, and so he and his comrades witnessed the first line of British soldiers walk into the German fire right before them. Ron Saunders describes the 1 Hampshires’ commander, Lieutenant Colonel Palk, as leading his men into battle with white gloves and a walking stick. He would be amongst those killed that day.

Martin Middlebrook, meanwhile, draws attention to the war diary of 1 Hampshires. Ordinarily, this would have had a reliable record of events, but on July 1 so many men were killed that no one was left to give an accurate description of what had happened. The entry for the day’s action reads:

“Our casualties in officers amounted to 100% and was also heavy in other ranks.”

“Heavy”, in this case, meant 585 casualties. This is of course a huge number, though it is dwarfed by the figure of 57,470, which was the total number sustained by the British that day, of which almost 20,000 died. Ernest Trendall was one of them.

Saunders goes on to explain in his book that there was a third Trendall brother. He did not die in the war but was permanently wounded, being blinded in 1916 and discharged the following year. He came home to Tylers Green, received a war pension to live on and retrained so he could work as a cobbler. His story seems to have ended well at least, since he got married in 1919 and went on to have two children.

It is remarkable to think of the number of times I have walked past Ernest Trendell’s tree and not realised just how much history there is behind it. In his case, this is particularly meaningful, since Earnest’s path and my own have crossed elsewhere too: I once visited the Beaumont Hamel portion of the Somme battlefield.

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British advance at 7:35am on July 1, 1916, though this depicts action around La Boisselle, 5 miles south of Beaumont Hamel (image from ‘Somme July 1 1916’ by Andrew Robertshaw © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing)

The next memorial tree along the line of six that run down Church Road was planted for 42-year-old Private William Wingrove Wheeler of the Army Service Corps. As part of the Remounts Service, Wheeler was helping to train horses and mules for the British war effort.

By having not died in battle, and particularly a battle as iconic as the first day’s fighting on the Somme, Wheeler’s story is a contrast to Ernest Trendell’s, though that of course does not make his sacrifice any less significant. Ron Saunders sums it up well in his book by saying:

“Not every death on active service was caused by enemy action but the sacrifice was just as great and the loss felt just as deeply, as Mr. & Mrs. Wheeler of ‘Holmeleigh’ Tylers Green would have acknowledged when their eldest son … died from typhoid-pneumonia at the No. 3 Canadian Hospital Boulogne on 10th April 1916. He was a married man … and is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery France.”

As it happens, Wheeler’s family was intertwined with the history of village. He himself worked as a bricklayer before the war yet was also the grandson of Zachariah Wheeler, the builder of the village church St Margaret’s, which lies just down the road from William Wheeler’s tree.

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William Wheeler’s plaque in front of his tree next to Church Road (image: writer’s collection)

The twentieth tree, and third in the line of six along Church Road, is dedicated to 20-year-old Private William Crabbe of 20 Battalion, the London Regiment.

Like Private Robert Scott, represented by the twelfth tree, William Crabbe appears to have been a bit of an enigma. Saunders notes that he was born in Enfield and spent some time in the Shoreditch workhouse before being placed with an unknown family in Tylers Green by the charity Bernardo’s. 

In his book, Saunders makes an educated guess that this family was probably that of Frederick Eustace, since he and William Crabbe both knew each other well. They worked together at the village butcher (again, now an estate agents), and when Crabbe was shot in the back and later died at the Ypres Salient (where the British line bulged into the German) on March 4, 1917, notification of this went to Hope Cottage. This was, once again, the Eustace family home.

Though since the publication of his book, Ron Saunders uncovered more information about Crabbe when a descendant of the family who adopted him got in touch. He has informed me that Crabbe was actually adopted by a Tylers Green couple named Jesse Randall and Mary Catherine Adams. He then later developed a close friendship with Frederick Eustace, perhaps as a result of working with him, and visited Hope Cottage while back in Tylers Green on leave. This appears to be why the notification of his death went there.

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Hope Cottage, the Eustace family home, is the white one on the right seen a short distance from the start of the line of memorial trees and just visible over the hedge (image: writer’s collection)

The twenty-first tree is unusual in that it represents the 30th and last man of Tylers Green to die in the conflict. Although, in actual fact, 23-year-old Captain Edmund Sturge died not during the war, but just after it, in February, 1919.

Born in 1896 in Paddington to the surgeon Dr Henry Havelock Sturge, Edmund was privately educated (or, in traditional British parlance, went to a public school) at Merchant Taylors School in Hertfordshire where he started his officer training. Saunders notes that he and his brother spent their summer holidays in Tylers Green and were well known in the village. 

Like Felix Fryer and Arthur Dover, Sturge served further afield than the Western Front during the war, in Iraq, Persia (Iran) and Palestine under General Allenby. His unit was 10 Middlesex and he had apparently learnt Hindustani fluently by the age of 20.

His cause of death was said to have been simple exhaustion, since he had fought through the entire four-and-a-half years of the conflict. He died in Italy, while returning home from the Middle East.

Private George Smith, who had lived his whole life with his grandmother in Tylers Green, also served further afield with his unit, 3 Royal Fusiliers, before returning to the European theatre to fight on the Western Front.

Here, he and the rest of 50 Division, of which 3 Royal Fusiliers were a part, were involved in the Hundred Days Offensive, the last Allied assault against the Germans.

Although it saw a return of movement to the Western Front and was a break from the stagnation of three years of trench warfare, casualties were as high as the major offensives without breakthroughs, such as the Somme in 1916 and Passchendaele in 1917. The Allied side, or Entente Powers, mostly made up of the French, British and Americans, sustained over 1 million casualties between August and November 1918. 

Amongst the dead was George, who was killed in fighting around Le Catelet, near St Quentin. He was 34 years old. 

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Memorial trees planted for George Smith and Francis Coombes on Church Road

The twenty-third tree, and the final one in the line along Church Road, was planted in memory of 27-year-old Private Francis Coombes.

He too had grown up in Tylers Green and was a telegraph boy when he was a teenager, before he got work in London as a builder’s clerk.

He joined the British Army in early 1916. His unit was 7 Battalion, Royal West Surrey Regiment (“The Queens”.) They participated in the Battle of the Somme, fighting on the difficult first day, though Francis would be killed later, in September 1916. 

At that point in the battle, the British were attempting to capture the Schwaben Redoubt, which, like the Hawthorn Redoubt blown up on July 1, was a strongpoint in the German line, overlooking the village of Thiepval. Hence, Francis is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, as his body was never found.

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Francis Coombes’ plaque beneath his tree (image: writer’s collection)

The tree tour now pauses momentarily as there is a gap in the line of memorial trees. The next one grows in St Margaret’s churchyard, which is past the Horse and Jockey pub, up the hill and on the right at the crossroads of Church Road and Hammersley Lane.

The memorial tree is visible the moment one walks into St Margaret’s churchyard, and is dedicated to Private Sidney Fountain of 10 Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. 

He was born in Tylers Green and baptised in St Margaret’s, and was the youngest son of Ellen Rose from nearby Hazelmere, and William Fountain, who worked as a chair maker in High Wycombe. (Once again, Wycombe was historically a chair-making centre). He appears to have been very active in his community growing up, playing cricket and football, singing in the choir at St Margaret’s, playing in a brass band and doing dancing and amateur dramatics. 

He joined up in 1914 and served with the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and the Cyclist Corps, though came home again when he became ill with nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys.) Ron Saunders says this probably accounts for why he then ended up in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment when he went back into service. 

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An artist’s impression of the Passchendaele, the battle in which Maurice Perfect and Frank Deadman were killed, and Sidney Fountain died just before (image from ‘World War I’ by Ken Hills © Cherrytree Press Ltd)

When he ended up back on the Western Front, Sidney died when he succumbed to injuries caused by German shelling. The manner of his death puts him somewhere between soldiers like Harry Dutton, who were killed during ‘quiet’ routine days manning the line, and those like Maurice Perfect, who died in major battles. 

Sidney Fountain’s injury occurred during a prolonged “storm of steel”, as German post-World War 1 writer Ernst Junger put it (this was the title of his war memoir), in which the enemy fired 50,000 artillery shells at the British line, the salient near Ypres. The British in turn fired more than 4 million artillery shells over a two-week period. This all preceded the enormous Battle of Passchendaele, which started in late July, 1917.

It was a campaign Sidney Fountain would not live to see, as he died of his injuries in the Canadian Hospital in Boulogne, on July 14, 1917. He was 28.

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Sidney Fountain’s memorial tree in St Margaret’s churchyard (image: writer’s collection)

As well as the tree planted in honour of Sidney Fountain, the churchyard at St Margaret’s contains a number of other reminders of the war.

Adjacent to the church entrance stands the village war memorial, which has etched upon it the names of all 30 men who died in the conflict, as well as those who died later, in World War 2.

At the back of the church, there is also a stone memorial to Captain Philip Rose, the same man who was the son of the owner of the Rayners Estate and who is remembered by the first memorial tree. 

Finally, there is a unique headstone at the bottom of the churchyard, a sandy-coloured tablet in the style of the war graves in France and Belgium. It bears the name F H Eustace and refers to the same Frederick Eustace whose death was commemorated by the planting of the third tree, the first of the original trees that were planted in 1937. Once again, he had become ill and died in the UK from the effects of epilepsy and was thus buried at home in Tylers Green.

St Margaret's church Tylers Green
The Tylers Green war memorial (left) and the memorial to Philip Rose at the back of the church (images: writer’s collection)
War Grave in St Margaret's Church Tylers Green Buckinghamshire
Frederick Eustace’s war grave, noticeable for its sandy colour amongst the other graves in the St Margaret’s churchyard (image: writer’s collection)

Directly across from the side entrance to the churchyard, back in the direction of the Tylers Green Village Hall, there are two more memorial trees. These, the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth, were planted to commemorate the lives of Lance Corporal Bert Lewis and Private Joseph Nicholas.

Bert Lewis was killed in October of 1915 while serving with 5 Battalion, the Wiltshire Regiment, as he participated in the Dardanelles, or Gallipoli, Campaign. Like Egypt and Iraq, this campaign came about because of Britain being at war with the Ottoman Empire, which had first expanded out of Turkey and into Europe in the 14th Century. A legacy of this was Ottoman Turkish control of the Dardanelles, the narrow sea lane that today divides the north-western European tip of Turkey from the Asian remainder of it, the portion of the country referred to as Anatolia. 

As First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill was effectively the government leader and representative of the Royal Navy. He planned to use the Navy to weaken the Ottoman Empire by attacking its capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) by sea, and to open up a warm-water trade link with Britain’s ally Russia via the Black Sea, which lay just beyond the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus. The first step in this process was the capture of the Gallipoli peninsula, which is why British, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and French troops (some colonial) landed there in 1915.

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Bert Lewis and Joseph Nicholas’ trees, just across the road from St Margaret’s and a little way from the Tylers Green Village Hall (image: writer’s collection)

Unfortunately for Bert Lewis, and my own great grandmother’s brother, the operation was a costly failure, leading to the deaths of large numbers of the Allied, or Entente, troops being killed. Bert Lewis, who was 29 and had worked in the chair industry in High Wycombe and been involved in village football and cricket, was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

Private Joseph Nicholas’ connection to Tylers Green is unclear, though Saunders notes that his pre-war work as a furniture porter may have brought him to South Bucks and High Wycombe. However, he too ended up in 5 Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, instead of the OBLI, just as Bert Lewis did, and he likewise served in Gallipoli. 

Unlike Bert, Joseph Nicholas went on to serve in Iraq, his battalion originally being intended to help with the relief of those besieged at Kut (i.e. men like Felix Fryer.) 

Like Arthur Dover, when Nicholas died in May 1916, probably from illness, he too was buried in Amara cemetery. He was 32 years old. 

The trees for Bert Lewis and Joseph Nicholas are visible on the left here – to find the final trees turn right at Bank Road and follow it past Woodbine Cottages to the bend, at which point the final trees are visible in the distance in front of Widmer Pond (embed: Google)

At this point, to find the remaining four memorial trees, it is necessary to take a right turn after Joseph Nicholas’ tree at Bank Road. A walk past Woodbine Cottages, where Bert Lewis and others had lived, and across the Front Common towards Widmer Pond leads to the trees. Three of these are the original trees and are clearly visible, whereas the final tree, on the left, is smaller.

When one reaches it, the twenty-seventh memorial tree can be found on the far right of this line and it is dedicated to 19-year-old Geoffrey Edward Rose Bartlett. His story is unique for two reasons. 

Firstly, he was the first person from Tylers Green to have died in the First World War. Secondly, Bartlett did not serve in the British Army, but the Royal Navy as a midshipman. In fact, he seems to have come from a naval family, being the great-great-grandson of Admiral James Noble, who served with Commodore Horatio Nelson, later Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Bartlett himself was educated at St John’s Beaumont School, which was a preparatory school for Beaumont College, a public school that closed in 1967. He wanted a career in the Royal Navy, but an irregular heartbeat looked likely to block this. However, Bartlett still served in the mercantile marine and later did manage to get into the Royal Navy as a Midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve when war came.

It was in this role, while he was aboard HMS Bulwark, that he was killed in an accidental explosion set off whilst ammunition was being loaded aboard. He was one of 738 others killed in the incident, and the ship lies at the bottom of the River Medway to this day. 

Like the Rose family, other losses soon followed, with Bartlett’s father dying in 1915, his uncle two years later and his grandfather just after the war. Another example, it would seem, of how village life was never the same again after the war.

Widmer Pond in Penn and Tylers Green, Buckinghamshire
Widmer Pond and the Front Common in Tylers Green today, with historical cottages visible behind – the Woodbine Cottages are not quite visible but are just beyond the white house in the back of the picture (image: Ian Petrie)

The next tree along, and the twenty-eighth in the sequence of all the memorial trees, was planted in memory of Guardsman Joseph Piggott. Like my own great grandfather, Piggott was a member of one of the Grenadier Guards battalions, in his case 3 Battalion. Guardsman is the equivalent of a private within the various Guards regiments. 

Unlike my grandfather, Piggott had not already been in the Army before the war. Instead, he had worked as a bricklayer and was distantly related to William Wheeler, who is represented by the nineteenth tree. Piggott’s grandmother had married Zachariah Wheeler, the builder of St Margaret’s. 

Joseph Piggott is also noteworthy for having participated, and died in, the first great tank battle of the war, the Battle of Cambrai, which was launched in November of 1917.

Tanks had made their battlefield debut the year before, late in the Somme campaign, but Cambrai was the first significant use of them as one of the main elements of attack. 

The British made early gains, at first largely overrunning the first two lines of German trenches, but they were in turn pushed back when the Germans counterattacked. Piggott died on November 27, in fighting around a place called Bourlon Wood, which the British pressed on to after they had got through the first lines of German trenches. 

Piggott was 32 years old and, like so many, his body was never found, though he is remembered on the Cambrai Memorial. 

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The opening push across the German lines at Cambrai (image from 'Cambrai 1917' by Alexander Turner © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing)

The next tree is dedicated to Sergeant Robert William Saunders, who was born in Tylers Green and who lived next door to Felix Hugh Fryer (memorialised by the sixth tree), down the hill from the Front Common, at Potters Cross. 

Like my great grandfather, Robert Saunders enlisted in the Army before the war and, in his case, spent 21 months’ service in Sierra Leone. Though he was not an infantryman, serving instead with the Royal Artillery.

While the infantry were organised into sections, platoons, companies and battalions, the basic organisational building block of the artillery was the battery. Each battery contained a small number of guns, usually four to six, and each gun was crewed by a small number of men. (For more on the organisation of British artillery batteries, click here). Siege batteries had the biggest guns and Robert’s battery, 60 Siege Battery, contained four six-inch howitzers, which is to say guns that fired artillery shells with a six-inch diameter at the base. Howitzers differed slightly from ordinary artillery guns in that they were designed to fire up, over and onto enemy positions at steeper trajectories.

One of the roles of artillery guns, and particularly of siege batteries, was to fire upon the enemy’s artillery positions in order to put them out of action, often before a planned assault by the infantry on the enemy trench lines. 

The Germans of course did the same, and it was one of these enemy bombardments during the 1918 German Spring Offensive (‘Operation Michael’ or Kaiserschlacht) that killed Robert Saunders. He was first wounded by splinters from a German shell and died later of his injuries. He was 29 years old, and he won the Meritorious Service Medal posthumously. 

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Robert Saunders’ tree in front of Widmer Pond (image: writer’s collection)

The thirtieth and final tree was planted for Captain Cyril Edwin Arnold Long, of 15 West Yorkshire Regiment. He died two days before Robert Saunders, on March 27, 1918, and so was also a casualty of the German Spring Offensive. 

Cyril was born in London, though his father Stephen became the schoolmaster at Tylers Green School (now Tylers Green First School) in 1907, and Cyril therefore lived next door in The School House. He later attended The Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe, which had the same architect behind it as Tylers Green School, Arthur Vernon.

Cyril was an apprentice chemist before the war and he started out his military service with the Honourable Artillery Company, which had both infantry and artillery elements. He was later transferred to 15 West Yorkshire Regiment (or the “Leeds Pals”) probably, Ron Saunders says, because the unit would have needed officers after fighting at the Somme in 1916. Martin Middlebrook lists it as having sustained 528 casualties on July 1, 1916, 24 of which were officers. No wonder they needed men like Cyril Long.

It was during his time as an officer with 15 West Yorks that Cyril was killed, at the age of 23, and he is also remembered with 40 other former pupils and teachers of the Royal Grammar School on the memorial there.

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Cyril Long (image: RGS High Wycombe)

Cyril Long’s tree completes the tour of the village memorial trees, but not the story of Tylers Green more generally. To begin with, Ron Saunders also informed me that there was an additional man from the village who died fighting in the war and who, for some reason, was not included on the village memorial at St Margaret’s.

This missing name is that of Gunner Richard Mitchell Martin. Like Sergeant Robert Saunders, he also served in the Royal Artillery, also died in 1918 and was also given a medal – in his case, the Military Medal. Richard Martin was also about the same age as Robert Saunders, being 30 when he was killed.

Like William Crabbe, Martin’s early life seems to have had considerable hardship. He was born in London’s East End in 1888 and became an orphan at the age of 10. He appears to have had some education at the workhouse in Poplar. He went on to join the Royal Field Artillery in Essex.

There seems to also be some confusion about where exactly he lived in Tylers Green, since the woman he married in 1917 had one address in the village (Laurel Cottage), and the will me made the following year had another one (2 Cherry Tree Cottages.) In any case, he was clearly tied to the village, and the latter address was included in a 2018 “Heroes Trail”, which was a guided tour of the houses the fallen soldiers had lived in.

As well as Gunner Richard Martin, the other important thing to remember is that the memorial trees only represent a fraction of those from Tylers Green who participated in the war. Saunders notes that in August 1919, men from the area who had survived the conflict were honoured during a Bank Holiday Monday meal. Each man had a menu card with the following inscription:

“Tylers Green and Penn 1914-1919 In grateful remembrance of your service in the Great War.” 

There were 140 men from both Tylers Green and adjacent Penn, and although not every former serviceman was necessarily present, it seems likely most were.

The Forces Network ran the numbers on the casualty figures for British soldiers in the First World War back in 2018, for the centenary of the end of the conflict. 

As noted in that article, a figure of one in 10 men of fighting age is sometimes given as a rough proportion of those from across the country who died in the conflict. This is about right, depending on what is considered “fighting age” (i.e. since the service age increased as the war went on.) 

Age was also not the only factor. Deaths occurred more often amongst those who served in combat roles, like the infantry and the artillery. Breaking the numbers down in this way reveals that a British infantryman on the Western Front had a roughly one in four chance of being killed. 

Together, Penn and Tylers Green sustained 52 deaths, 30 of these of course being memorialised by the Tylers Green trees. If those 52 deaths and the 140 servicemen who survived are added together, the 52 who died make up approximately 27 percent of the total. This is of course very close to 25 percent, or one in four.

Ernest Johnson IMG 2885 Tylers Green First World War memorial trees
(image: writer's collection)

In that sense, then, Tylers Green and next-door Penn appear to have been typical of villages that sent young men away to serve overwhelmingly in combat roles like the infantry. 

Perhaps one can therefore think of Tylers Green as being a kind of microcosm, representing how the war impacted many villages in the United Kingdom, and its memorial trees helping to put flesh and muscle on the statistical bones of First World War casualty figures.

And for me personally, the stories behind the village memorial trees help create a link between those from the village who died in the past, during the war, and those who have died more recently, like the villager I knew.

Because of this, I now feel that I almost knew Philip Rose, Maurice Perfect, Cyril Long, Ernest Johnson, Harry Dutton and all the others from Tylers Green too.

Thanks to Peter Brown, Ronald Saunders, June and Peter Underwood, Cathy O’Leary and Miles Green for assistance with searching for image rights, and for those credited under the above pictures for allowing the use of them. More information on those from Tylers Green who died in the war can be found at June and Peter Underwood’s Buckinghamshire Remembers website.

Additional thanks to Ron Saunders and to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum for help with factchecking for this article. Any queries about the history of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry regiment, or any of the soldiers who served in it, can be sent to [email protected]

In addition, more information about the men behind the Tylers Green memorial trees can be found in Ron Saunders’ book, ‘Penn & Tylers Green in the Great War and the Men Who Did Not Return’. Email Ron at [email protected] if you are interested in getting a copy, or visit pennandtylersgreen.org.uk and search for local history books to find Ron Saunders’ book as well as titles by Miles Green. 

For illustrated accounts of the first day of the Battle of the Somme and of the Battle of Cambrai, read ‘Somme 1 July 1916: Tragedy and Triumph’ by Andrew Robertshaw and ‘Cambrai 1917: The Birth of Armoured Warfare’ by Alexander Turner. Visit Osprey Publishing for more military history.

And for any service personnel with children interested in learning about the First World War, Ken Hills’ book ‘World War I’ should prove to be of interest.

Image of the Menin Gate by Johan Bakker.

Image of the Pozieres British Cemetery by Wernervc.

Widmer Pond in Penn and Tylers Green, Buckinghamshire
(image: writer's collection)