16650 Private Cecil Stanley Groves,
1/South African Infantry Regiment.
Killed in Action, 23/24 March 1918,
Commemorated on The Pozières Memorial.
This one is personal; Stanley is one of my great uncles. I am posting a day early because one of his nephews lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, which is currently 13 hours ahead of us.
Cecil Stanley was the fourth son, and fourth child of the seven children born to Alfred Grosse and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Lewin. He was always known as ‘Stan’.
His father, Alfred, was a Lincolnshire ‘yellow belly’. Born in Owston, he was the youngest son of a farm bailiff; on the maternal side, his grandfather was William Chapman, a Waddington farmer. One of William Chapman’s younger brothers was Samuel Palmer Chapman, a man whose dedication to learning has inspired some of my own pupils, and gives me, I think, the excuse to interrupt my homage to Stan, with a hint of Samuel’s story.
One of the youngest sons in a large farming family, Samuel Palmer Chapman was taken out of school, aged 12, to work on his father’s farm. Such was his yearning for learning, that he always set off for the fields with a textbook under his cap, to protect it from the weather. When he took a break, he would sit under a tree, lift his cap, and take out his textbook. He worked his way in turn, through subjects such as Algebra and Latin. Eventually Samuel became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society; his obituary reveals that this self-taught man was indeed a rare bird, a Fellow who was not a University Professor, but simply an ordinary man who had been awarded that accolade despite the not having the benefit of an academic education.
In 1890 Alfred Grosse emigrated to South Africa, seeking his fortune as a miner, but instead becoming a train driver for the Cape Government Railway. These were the days when train drivers had the standing that pilots of an A 380 Airbus have today. Stan and his siblings were born in the ‘Railway Camp’ at Beaufort West in the Cape Colony. According to a Wesleyan baptismal register, Stan was born on 10 June 1899, just four months before the start of the Second Boer War; it’s chastening to think that his early years, as well as his final years, were lived out in the shadow of two major wars.
The photo below, taken in 1913, the year before war was declared, shows Alfred and Polly Grosse with their five surviving children. Standing behind their parents, were Wally, Percy and Stan. In the front row, are Reg, Alfred, Polly and Joyce. By 1913, Percy was in training as a mechanical engineer, but was already a Reservist, having enlisted in the Territorial Army. The Grosse family, now using the surname Groves, was living at Malta Farm, just below Mowbray, and about where the Liesbeek Parkway runs today. It was about this time that the family, and some of their cousins, adopted the surname Groves.
Stan was privately baptised by a visiting Wesleyan minister on 26 October 1900. Unusually for this family, where othre children were baptised within two months of their birth, there seems to have been an interval of well over a year in Stan’s case, if the baptismal register is correct. After leaving school, Stan became an apprentice fitter with the South African Railways.
We were always told that Stan had lied about his age when he enlisted, so keen was he to follow his older brothers, Percy and Wally, and his uncle Jack, to Europe. After initial training, Stan sailed in August 1917, on RMS Llanstephan Castle, a mail ship which had only recently been requisitioned for the war effort. His service records reveal that he had enlisted in the S.A. Rly Coy—presumably a Railway Company— and part of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade.
The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have Stan’s date of death as 24 March 1918. However his service record [File No. 39308] has him declared missing on 23 March 1918 and it is for that reason that I record both dates above. It was not until a week before Armistice Day, that Stan’s death was confirmed, after a long and anxious wait for his parents. The UK Register of Soldiers’ Effects records his effects only in terms of money due ‘for disposal’, namely £9 6s 8d.
Their grief at the loss of Stan may have contributed to Alfred and Polly’s estrangement and their eventual divorce on 1 December 1919. At Polly’s insistence, several of her grandsons were given the name Stanley. One of them was registered, at birth, as Patrick, by his defiant parents, but they had to cave in to Polly’s wishes when the time came for Patrick to be baptised. He was always known to his cousins as Stan, though he did not answer to Stan anywhere else.
To understand the exceptional achievements of The South African Infantry Brigade in holding the line during the Kaiserschlacht (The Kaiser’s Battle), please view Simply Magnificent, my post of 28 November 2014, .
Yesterday (21 March), Max Dutton, Assistant Historian for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, recorded a clip from The Pozières Memorial. Those who have never visited the area, may find this interesting.
The Lewins, Cecil’s mother’s family
Alfred’s father-in-law, James William Lewin was a friend and contemporary of Keir Hardie, and worked his way up the ranks on the Midland Railway from Porter to Driver. Known as Will, he was one of the ‘ringleaders’ of the first major Railway Strike in the early 1870s, a strike based on issues of safety. This strike had the support of The Times as well as of Parliament, thanks to the Derby M.P., Mr Bass, whose barrels of beer were conveyed to St Pancras by the Midland Railway. Will was a committed socialist, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his youngest child, Jack, whose obituary described him as a ‘fiery speaker’, came close to overturning the majority of H.B. Betterton, in Rushcliffe, one of the most solid Tory seats in the country, during the 1923 General Election.
Jack Lewin, who was only a few years older than his nephews Percy, Wally and Stan, was badly wounded at Delville Wood, and spent many months in hospital, before rejoining his regiment in 1917, only to lose an arm in the next round of battles. This time Jack ended up in the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, whose main focus was the rehabilitation of soldiers with life-changing injuries. While there he made his mark as a writer, contributing some fine pieces to The Springbok Blue, the hospital’s magazine, and while an inmate there, found the time to get married in the Richmond Registry Office in August 1917.
Percy, the eldest son, was sent back to England twice for medical treatment in other London hospitals. I have a photograph which shows Percy in Hospital Blues, in the hospital’s grounds in Richmond Park, at about the time Jack was a patient there, and in a group which perhaps included his uncle, Jack. (Those Hospital “Blueys” were vital when patients were allowed to roam outside the hospital, because they identified them to the general public as wounded soldiers rather than civilian skivers.)