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More East End Soldiers Of World War I

May 1, 2014
by the gentle author

Approaching the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, we remember some of those from the East End who served in the conflict. These photographs are a second selection from those already collected by Tower Hamlets Community Homes for an exhibition and booklet to come in August. Readers are invited to contribute their family pictures and stories by emailing

George Joseph Dubock was descended from a Huguenot family that arrived in the East End in 1706. He was born on 5th December 1878 in 109 Eastfield St, Limehouse, and his family moved shortly after to Mile End Old Town. George worked as a Dock Labourer and a Road Sweeper/Scavenger for the Council. Serving as Private #14373 in the Sixth Dorset Regiment, George was a victim of a gas attack and suffered post-traumatic stress after the War. Later, George became a Master Cabinet Maker and ended his days working in Newbury, restoring old furniture until he died in 1951.

Cards sent home from the Front by George Joseph Dubock

Alfred William Blanford was born in Poplar in 1894 and lived in Whitethorn St, Bow. At eighteen, in April 1912, he married Florence Jenkins and, in the December of the same year, they had their first child – also called Alfred. In February 2014, Alfred & Florence’s second son, Fredrick, was born and their third child, Edith, in December 1916.

Alfred joined the Army before his twentieth birthday and, in December 1914, by the time of Fredrick’s birth, he was in training in Aldershot. He served as a Driver in the Royal Field Artillery and was killed in action in May 1916, before the birth of his daughter Edith.

Henry George Crooney, also known as Harry, was born in Poplar in 1897 and served in the Royal Artillery from 1914-1918. Lying about his age, Henry enlisted in the Army before he was legally eligible. He joined the Royal Artillery because of his experience with horses, having worked since a child with his father who ran horses and carts from the docks.

Henry’s grand-daughter, Cheryl Loughnane, recalls the wartime stories Henry would tell – including his hatred of bully beef and of the time he stole a pig from French farm.

After the war, Henry married Annie and worked as a haulier. When he retired, he could not stop driving around the East End and became a volunteer for ‘Meals on Wheels,’ delivering dinners to pensioners.

Alfred James Barwell was a Private in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). He lived with his parents, Alfred & Alice Barwell, at 27 Museum Buildings, Chester St, Bethnal Green. Aged just nineteen, Alfred was killed in action on 21st March 1918. His is listed on the Pozieres Memorial (Panel Ref 58 and 59) in the Somme.

James Polston, Rifleman 5059 in the Eighteenth Battallion London Regiment – London Irish Rifles. James was born on 20th September 1884, the eldest son of James & Elizabeth Polston who lived at Warner Place, Bethnal Green, and Lauriston Rd in Bow. He was killed in action on 8th December 1916 and is commemorated at the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground in Flanders.

(Photo of Water Tull courtesy of Doug Banks)

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was the first black British Army Infantry Officer. The son of a joiner, Walter was born in Folkestone on 28th April 1888. His father, the son of a slave, had arrived from Barbados in 1876. In 1895, when Walter was seven, his mother died and his father remarried only to die two years later. The stepmother was unable to cope with all six children and so Walter and his brother Edward were sent to a Methodist -run orphanage in Bethnal Green.

Walter was a keen footballer and played for a team in Clapton. In 1908, his talents were discovered by a scout from Tottenham Hotspur and the club decided to sign the promising young footballer. He played for Tottenham until 1910, when he was transferred for a large fee to Northampton Town. Walter became the first black outfield player to play professional football in Britain.

When World War I broke out, Walter abandoned his football career to join the Seventeenth (First Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and, during his military training, he was promoted three times. In November 1914, as Lance Sergeant, he was sent to Les Ciseaux but, in May 1915, he was sent home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Returning to France in September 1916, Walter fought in the Battle of the Somme between October and November. His courage and abilities encouraged his superior officers to recommend him as an Officer and, on 26th December, 1916, Walter went back to England to train as an Officer.

There were military laws forbidding ‘any negro or person of colour’ being commissioned as an Officer. Despite this, Walter was promoted to Lieutenant in 1917 and became the first ever black Officer in the British Army, and the first black Officer to lead white men into battle.

Walter was sent to the Italian Front where he twice led his Company across the River Piave on a raid and both times brought all of his troops back safely. He was mentioned in Despatches for his ‘gallantry and coolness’ under fire by his commanding officer and he was recommended for the Military Cross, but never received it.

After their time in Italy, Walter’s Battalion was transferred to the Somme and, on 25th March 1918, he was killed by machine gun fire while trying to help his men withdraw.

Walter was such a popular man that several of his men risked their own lives in an attempt to retrieve his body under heavy fire, but they were unsuccessful due to the enemy soldiers’ advance.  His body was never found and he is one of the many thousands from World War I who has no known grave.

(Story & photo of John Arthur Tribe courtesy of  East London Advertiser)

John Arthur Tribe was part of a large, close-knit family from Kirby St, Poplar. John lied about his age and joined the Army in 1911, serving in the Fourth Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, at first in India and then at the Battle of Loos in 1915, where he was killed in action. John is commemorated at the Loos Memorial but has no known grave.

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East End Soldiers of World War I

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. May 1, 2014

    Beautiful photos, but a sad memory of all those young men who gave their lives in that awful war. Valerie

  2. Salvatore Scotti permalink
    May 1, 2014

    Such brave men…perhaps we should start a campaign to award Second Lieutenant Walter Tull the Military Cross posthumously.

  3. May 1, 2014

    Yes, these World War I themes will keep us busy this year. Great things are there to come!

    In Kassel we have a cemetery with 1783 soldiers of the British Commonwealth, which I have visited several times:

    Love & Peace

  4. May 1, 2014

    What a terrific post: thank you. There is a Facebook group with goals for recognition for Walter Tull:

    Prince Harry will visit Folkestone to unveil a WW1 memorial arch in August. An announcement about a medal at least would seem appropriate.

  5. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    May 1, 2014

    I have never felt so humbled as I do upon reading the story’s of these men, and yet it fill’s me with hatred and bitterness towards the Establishment of the time who both USED and ABUSED the incredible bravery and loyalty of these men and the countless other’s who fought alongside them in a VAIN and POINTLESS conflict that achieved NOTHING.

  6. May 1, 2014

    Hi…Many thanks for helping to promote our search to recall and remember the lives and stories of people who lived in or worked in Tower Hamlets and fought in WWI.

    As mention above, please email me , if you would like to contribute to our exhibition.

    For info – we will be sharing the photos and stories with the Imperial War Museum’s “Lives of the First World War’ project and the Bishopsgate Institute so that a record can be kept for future generations.


  7. Donald Carlton Burns permalink
    May 3, 2014

    On 5 August there will be a ceremony commemorating the start of WWI at the Tower. As I understand it, the ceremony will feature a display of poppies arranged in the moat area, one for each British soldier who died during this terrible war. This will be a singular event and I, along with a great many others, look forward to being in attendance.

  8. Lisa Steinhauser-Gleinser permalink
    May 3, 2014

    Just thinking of my Grandfather’s. One of them was in France, Alsace and the other at Verdun. Both coming home, but Dad’s father died early and Mum’s Dad after WW2. Both had written diaries about their time at the front. Horrible what they’ve described and what they had seen. Mum’s Dad: “On the other side there were guys like us, why should I kill them?”

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