Merton Remembers 2014-2018

A 13-year-old Colliers Wood boy goes to war

Singlegate School pupil William H Barrett (born c. 1899)
Birdhurst Road, Colliers Wood

It's always shocking how young so many of the boys and men were who signed up and went to war. William Barrett was just 13 years old when he joined the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA). He had been a pupil at Singlegate School in Colliers Wood when he enlisted.

His father supported his decision to enlist. The headmaster at the time, Mr Archibald W Dall, provided a reference for William in support of his application.

Records show that he arrived in France with his unit on 15 August 1914 and had come under fire from the Germans by 22 November of that year. He would have been just 14 years old.

He rode his horse, Jim, throughout the war. At the end of hostilities, when William went to India still as part of the Royal Horse Artillery, we know that, sadly, Jim didn’t go with him.

Over eight million horses from all sides died at the Western Front during the fighting. There are no records about the fate of William’s horse, Jim. But the National Army Museum now holds his hoof set in silver (picture right: Copyright National Army Museum).

William was awarded the Military Medal (MM) in September 1918 and his citation appears in the London Gazette 13 November 1918.

When he was awarded the medal, his father Henry Gulliver Barrett wrote to the headmaster of Singlegate School to report this news about their 'old boy' and the school log book states the following (see below): "The father of Trumpeter William Barrett RHA has written to say that the latter has been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in the field. I have given the boys half an hour’s play this afternoon in his honour."

Trumpeter William Barrett survived the battles on the Western Front in World War I and went with the royal Horse Artillery to India. He died in Sialkot in 1920 from a short bout of pneumonia and is commemorated as a casualty of the war on The Delhi 1914-18 War Memorial. At this time, his family was living in Clive Road, Colliers Wood.

With thanks to Diane Holmes of Colliers Wood for her research into the impact of World War One on the area.

Find out more about what Merton council is doing to commemorate those who fought in the war at Merton Remembers.

At Morden Park on August 2 at 11am a Commemorative event will mark the start of the First World War and Merton's contribution during that time.

Two narrators will guide the audience through the first year of war aided by the award-winning Regent Brass band and a choir. Your attendance is requested, and - should you wish - please also bring a picnic for after the event where the brass band will play for your entertainment.

Please note that this event does not take place at Morden Hall Park, but Morden Park by the Register Office.

August 1, 2014