Platt During Autumn 1917

Tragedy hit the community in mid-October when 16-year-old Platt local Herbert Maynard was killed at Mr. Pascall’s sandpit. Herbert, a sawmill worker who lived in the Platt Brickfield and had attended Platt school, was helping his father dig sand on a Sunday morning when a large amount fell on the boy, burying him up to his waist. Herbert’s father immediately rushed to assist him but was halted by a second slide which completely covered his son. Unfortunately, all of the available tools were also buried, and Mr. Maynard frantically clawed away with his hands to find Herbert. Within minutes two other men with tools arrived on the scene, and after digging for about half an hour, Herbert’s suffocated body was eventually uncovered about four feet under the surface. An inquest held at the Brickmaker’s Arms several days later established that between 70-80 tons of sand had fallen (though not all on the deceased), and a verdict of accidental death was returned. Mr. Pascall, whose only son was killed in action at the Front the previous year, had been supplying the sand to a firm in London, who were engaged in ‘very important work’ and stated that unless they were ‘well supplied’, there would be very serious consequences. Mr. Maynard – a long-term employee, knew this and had opted to work on the weekends with his son and several others in an effort to fulfill the quota.

Schemes to help the war effort continued throughout the autumn including the distribution of seed potatoes to allotment holders and cottage gardeners and the collection of horse chestnuts by local children for use in munitions which were used to make acetone, a vital component of the smokeless propellant for shells and bullets known as cordite. A rather more unusual request came from Mr Banfield, proprietor of the Wrotham Heath garage, who placed an advert in the local press offering a fair price for any old Ford motor cars that he would personally convert into tractors that were ‘capable of doing the work of three or four large farm horses’. The advertisement included a footnote reminding readers that ‘every car so used will be doing good work for the Country.’

Production of medical supplies grew in quantity at the Platt War Hospital Supply Depot, which had recently become an independent unit, with the ‘splint-padding box’ becoming something of a Platt speciality. During September and October over 200 covered splints of all sizes had been produced, and were, for the first time, sent directly to the British Red Cross.

Overseas, four Platt men lost their lives within one week of each other in October. On the 3rd, William Leslie Neaves, who had previously lived in the Platt Brickfield, was killed by shellfire near Ypres at Polygon Wood. His body, if recovered, was never identified and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing in Belgium.

Two days later, Edward George Newman, a sergeant serving with the Royal Field Artillery, died during an operation to amputate his leg. He had been wounded above the knee while trying to extinguish a fire in his gun pit the previous month and was sent to a hospital in Etaples to receive treatment. His parents, who lived in Whatcote Cottages, received a letter from Edward’s major that read:

Dear Mrs. Newman, Just a line to express to you from all ranks of the battery our sincere and deep sympathy with you in the death of your son, Sergt. E. G. Newman. I cannot say how distressed I was when I heard of his death from wounds, as he was quite one of the old stagers of the battery. He had served under me ever since I took over command of the battery at Aston Clinton, so I consider I knew him fairly well. I can honestly say he was one of the calmest and bravest men under fire that I have ever seen….. I must confess that I feel deepest the loss of any of the old crowd that came out with the battery in 1915.

Jesse Joseph Bush died in hospital at Le Tréport on the 9th of wounds received in the action at Polygon Wood. A native of Larkfield, Jesse lived in Crouch before the war and was one of four brothers who were all serving on the Western Front. Their father, also named Jesse, had seen military service during the second Boer War.

The last of the four men died the following day. John William Bowen, a signaller from Wrotham Heath, serving with ‘A’ Battery, 59th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, was killed by a shell while advancing on German lines with the infantry during the Battle of Poelcappelle. Following his death, John’s wife received the following words of condolence from his commanding officer:

…. his loss is quite irreparable, and we all feel it very much. He was just one of the very best, quite fearless and absolutely trustworthy in the most hard and unpleasant jobs……. The signallers and all of us have lost one of the stoutest and most popular friends, who will never quite be replaced. It is the death of such a man that makes me at times hate the war. I must end now. I cannot say how I sympathise with you in your loss, and everyone joins with me in sending their deepest sympathy with you.

Scott Wishart