In October 2019 we received a great image of Shiny 7th soldiers outside their huts at Sutton Mandeville in 1916 from a family member of Reg Johnson, who is sitting cross-legged at the right. The postcard is clearly marked 3/7th City of London, No. 16 & 17 Hut. ‘DAC’ could stand for Divisional Ammunition Column, harking back to it being a Royal Field Artilery (RFA) camp in 1915. Does ‘Drums’ mean this was the 3/7th Corps of Drums? We know Reg was a bugler, from images discussed below.
On the back of the postcard there are about 20 names; mostly just first names and quite difficult to read. There’s a couple we might be able to identify. Even by itself – showing such fine detail of the men and their huts – this is such a great image. But the collection of images associated with Reg Johnson contain much more …
We were also sent a studio photo of Reg with nice uniform details, including his Shiny 7th cap badge as cut into our hillside. There appears to be a watch in his top right pocket. But what about the insignia on both upper arms? When we posted this on Twitter, Alan (@COLDLUNCHUK) kindly replied to say that Reg is wearing ‘bugle cords’ and that the upper arm badges are probably drums, which is consistent with him being in the Corps of Drums. He looks very young so the photograph might be from 1914 or 1915.
Jumping ahead, there’s another studio photo of Reg with ‘Happy Xmas 1918’ on the back. This is presumably in France, after the Armistice. Although the photograph is fuzzy, Reg no longer has a Shiny 7th cap badge. However, even the blurred shape of the badge helped narrow down his record on the IWM Lives of the First World War online database to the only Reginald Johnson who served in the London Regiment and then the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Reg refers to himself on the back of the photo as ‘Useless RJ, Commanding Officer’s Batman’. He has a distinct ‘Beaty tilt’ to his cap. The other soldiers are named as Bert Walshaw, Fred Corkhill and Bob Wellburn. The Machine Gun Corps cap badge is obvious – but identification of the tam-o-shanter badges would be welcome. The woman is referred to as ‘Some Pusher (saleswoman?) in the Photo Shop’. More on Reg later …
There’s another couple of images relating to the Shiny 7th at Sutton Mandeville. One is of the Commanding Officer of the 3/7th, the evidently formidable Lieut.-Col. Sir Pieter Canzius van Blommestein Stewart-Bam.
Many South African officers joined the Shiny 7th and were trained at Sutton Mandeville because of Stewart-Bam’s background. The postcard of Stewart-Bam is postmarked Sutton Mandeville Camp 14 Apr 16 and was sent to Reg’s mother by Ivor.
Ivor was on his way to France at short notice and writes on the card that he has asked Reg to pass on the news. He appears to give his next address as 7th London Regt, 47th Division, Havre, Base Camp. Ivor’s identity is unclear: ‘3946’ on the postcard could be his service number, which corresponds to Charles Ivor Richards in the London Regiment. The surnames don’t match but he refers to Reg’s mum as Ma. This is plausible, but further corroboration is required.
The last image that can be related directly to Sutton Mandeville is a large group of officers. There is nothing on the back, but it is the same image as one in Planck’s History of the Shiny Seventh captioned ‘Officers with the Reserve Battalion’. This photo is much clearer than in the reprint of Planck’s book and all the officers’ faces can be seen quite clearly. Planck helpfully lists the names of all the officers in the photo. The hut and the tall trees in the background indicate where the photograph was taken, probably near Fricker’s Barn.
Staying with the Shiny 7th and Reg’s family we take a leap sideways to two photographs from Llandudno sent by ‘Arthur’ to Reg’s older sister, Olive. First is a group of Shiny 7th soldiers in the doorway of Caradoc Boarding Establishment. Five are in greatcoats; two in service dress.
The two in service dress are in a second image: a detailed studio photograph also sent by Arthur to Olive while he was in Llandudno on a fortnight’s course of musketry for NCOs. But which one is Arthur?
Back now to Reg in the Shiny 7th before he went to Sutton Mandeville. There are three more photographs, two of which we have narrowed down to Green Street Green, a suburb near Orpington in south east London; the third seems likely to be from somewhere nearby.
If Reg is amongst this line of buglers then it is not clear which one he is. But we can be certain of the location because the shops in the background are still standing: 39-45 High Street, Green Street Green.
The next image is the same location but looking north up the road: the same white fence and corner windows are visible on the right. Reg is starred but also recognisable from the tilt of his cap. The large building on the left is the former Oak Brewery, owned by Fox & Sons. The 3/7th were in Orpington in 1915 before moving to Sutton Mandeville. They were billeted in the former brewery. Photographs on the Great War Forum show soldiers of the Shiny 7th on a route march outside Fox’s brewery.
The last photo is also of Reg as a bugler on the left of the line, turned out as smartly as in his early studio photo (but with his cap tilted!). It seems likely that this is also in Green Street Green. Before they were in Orpington, the 3/7th were in Tadworth, Surrey, which offers another possibility.
This fantastic series of images has given us an amazing insight into the soldiers who trained at Sutton Mandeville, both before and after their time in our parish. They have provided several new leads and still pose some questions. Many thanks to Reg Johnson’s family for sharing their images and investigations with us. If you have any answers – or any images of your own relating to the camps at Sutton Mandeville – then please get in touch!