Private, East Surrey Regiment, 1st Bn.
Service no. 442
Died on 8 May 1917, aged 26
Remembered at Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Chris Burge writes:
David Townsend was born in August 1890, the third child of Harry and Elizabeth. In the 1891 census, the couple were living at 27 Broomgrove Road, off Stockwell Road, with their three children: George, Walter and baby David. Three other families lived at the same address, a total of 17 people in one property. The overcrowding was typical of all the properties in this alley, which the social reformer Charles Booth described in his 1899 notebook as the only squalid part of the area, ‘as like a den as I have seen anywhere.’
By the time of the 1901 census there had been three additions to the family: Florrie, Charles and Sarah Ada. The Townsends had moved next door to number 29, which was also home to the Williams family of nine. David’s mother Elizabeth died in 1904 and the family began to split up.
In the 1911 census, siblings Florence and Charles were in live-in service, while only David’s older brothers George and Walter were still in Lambeth. George was a boarder in the Wandsworth Road and Walter was still in Stockwell. Walter had married Beatrice Elsie Hurley in 1909 and their first child Walter John was born and baptised in 1910. Walter (known as Jack) made a living as a fishmonger’s assistant, Beatrice was a daily servant. Walter Townsend’s family lived in three rooms at 29 Broomgrove Road, a property also occupied by another family of nine people. We cannot find David on the 1911 census.
David enlisted on 7 September 1914, shortly after the outbreak of war. Only burnt fragments of his service papers have survived, but his service number and other records suggest that pre-war he had been in the 4th Extra Reserve Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. All reservists had been urged to report for duty and were processed ‘with all possible speed’.
At the time of his enlistment David was just over 24 years old, 5ft 4in tall and weighed 118lbs with a 34in chest. He gave his brother ‘Jack’ at 31 Broomgrove Rd as his next of kin. Passed medically fit, David was first posted to the 3rd East Surrey stationed at Dover.
He was sent to France on 3 December 1914 as part of a draft of 160 men who reached the 1st East Surrey eight days later. David endured the winter in the trenches of the Ypres Salient. Spring 1915 brought a renewal of fighting, notably at Hill 60 in April and his battalion was subjected to chlorine gas in early May. Quieter months followed and they were near Morlancourt, on the Somme, by September 1915. It was noted on 16 September that two men were wounded by trench mortar fire and one other by an accidental explosion of one of their own bombs. David Townsend was wounded in the back and invalided back to England by 26 September. He would not rejoin his battalion in France until 25 May the following year.
Almost another year of fighting had passed when the 1st East Surrey took part in the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917. An attack on Oppy Wood and Village on 8 May was a costly failure, the total of killed, wounded or missing of all ranks numbering 509. David Townsend was posted missing that day. An enquiry was made via the British Red Cross on 20 July, but eventually on 13 February 1918 private 442, David Townsend was regraded for official purposes as having died on or since 8 May 1917.
It was David’s brother Walter who received his medals in 1920 and 1921. It was also Walter who took the Army form W5080 to be witnessed and countersigned at St Andrew’s Vicarage on 17 March 1921, in order to receive his late brother’s plaque and scroll. According to Walter, David Townsend’s only other living relatives were his brother Charles and married sister Florence. Walter and Beatrice Townsend lived at 31 Broomgrove Road until around 1930, when they moved to Stockwell Grove.
Postscript: David Townsend’s brother ‘Jack’, also served in the Great War. Walter John Townsend was marked as a ‘Naval or Military absent voter’ in the 1918 Electoral Roll for Lambeth at 31 Broomgrove Road. The separate list of Lambeth’s absent voters which would have identified his unit has not survived. Between May 1915 and the war’s end Private ‘6546 Walter John Townsend’ served in the same company of the 1st East Surrey as David Townsend. It’s possible that the brothers had both been in the East Surrey Regiment before the war. chris burge