IN SEARCH OF UNCLES
CPL WILLIAM TALLETT 1885-1917
When performing Great War research I have always said, prepare for the unexpected, unexplained and the downright shocking, I have experienced all three!!!!. I studied the Great War in the knowledge that my family wasn’t affected by it, whereas my wifes family has suffered horribly in two World wars. The reason for my confidence was in the course of studying my family tree I found a census return for 1881 which listed my Great grandfather and his siblings. It appeared that my great grandad was the youngest by some margin and by this dating was 37 on the outbreak of WW1. This made him and his siblings too old for action. Other complications were tha fact that as my family were illiterate farm hands the spelling of my surname changed plus they moved around alot finding work on farms. My family name is originally Tullett, very common in Sussex where my family was, but became corrupted to Tallett in 1880′s. Tallett is a French name and found in the Midlands, not the south, so all Talletts in Kent are related ( And i have proved it). So around the turn of the century the Tallett family was living at Highcroft Villas in Swanley with some others living at Bath Villas in Swanley.
On release of the “Soldiers died” Cd ROM I had one delivered immediately as it would be a boon to my research. Curious to look for anything as ever, I typed in my family name. The search revealed a few Talletts, I started to look through their details and on the last one, William Tallett my jaw dropped.There was this Tallett who lived and enlisted in Swanley Kent, where my family settled to after leaving Sussex, but he was Born in Brighton, the same place as my Great Grandad. This man had to be a realtive, right birth place, right residence. It also added that he was formally of the RW.Kent Regt with a terratorial number. The Unit he was killed with was 17th Middlesex and he was killed on 2nd December 1917. This unit was part of 2nd Division, I knew their movements as my friend had a grandfather in the division and i had done some study with him, also 2nd Division were usually neighbours to the RND. So now I knew my Great Uncle had been killed in the German Counter Attack at Cambrai.
Apart from the basic military facts i knew nothing. So i applied to the MOD for service papers, and asked my friend Gethyn from Dartford to check the local papers for any entries. Gethyn has written a book on Dartford Casualties, worth a read if you get the chance!!!!. He came back to me with a good result and something totally unexplained!!!. The Dartford Chronical 14-12-17 had an entry for Cpl C.Tullett of Middx Regt kia on 2nd December, the entry went as follows:
” Mrs Tullett of 2 Bath Cottages, Main rd, Swanley Junction, on monday evening recieved a letter from Capt R.A.Hornby officer commanding stating that her husband , Corporal Cornelius Tullett aged 32 Middlesex regt had been killed in action on the 2 inst. Corporal Tullett was for 5 years before the war in the Swanley District terratorials and was in camp when the mobilisation took place in August 1914. He leaves a widow with 4 children and was the son of Mr and Mrs P.Tullett of Highcroft Cottages Swanley. He had been in France for 13 months and prior to being sent to the Western Front served at home in the Royal Defence Corps at home. Capt. Hornby Writes:- Corporal Tullett was killed in action on the 2nd inst. He was killed by a minenwerfer in the front line during the course of a very hostile bombardment predecent to an attack. Your husband was always a most cheerful, gallant, and willing soldier, and his loss is felt greatly by the company and battalion”.
The suprise was the name Cornelius, there is no indication as to where that came from, Tullett was explainable, his father was my great grandfather, the addresses were right. I had also found out that he was a pre war terratorial and when he went to France, and exactly what happened to him. His age of 32 also meant that he wouldn’t appear on that census i had seen, he hadn’t been born yet!!!.
My next move was to check the Battalion war diary to see what was happening and where. I found that they were just south of Moevres and had been counter attacked several times, and retook their ground. The troops were tired and many casualties had been sustained, including Great Uncle. One of the company commanders of 17th Middlesex recieved a posthomonous VC for this action.
I was due back to France, i was determined to see where he was killed and to see his entry on Louverval Memorial. A an excercise i looked to see where the victims of that action were buried to see if there was a clump of known burials, but there were few known burials, and some of them were as far afield as Achiet!!!. I located the area in which William was killed using a trench map and a michellin blue series modern map. The first port of call was the memorial at Louverval. We arrived and parked. The gardeners were working making the place look pristine as usual. I quickly found the Middlesex panel hoping that my entry wouldn’t be up in the heavens. Luckily it was chest level. It is hard to explain the feeling i got as i looked at the name, i was quite choked. This was the first time a family member had been to my knowledge to visit.
As we drove away i felt a deep sadness. We next drove to the site of Williams death. It was just down the road and turned left -the road to Moevres. We pulled up and i got out to look into the field where my uncle was killed and may still lay. It was open with the Canal de Nord nearby. We walked in the field which was surrounded by poppies appropriately.
We made our way to Moevres British Cemetery which was adjacent to the field. We next moved on to Moevre Communial Cemetery, wandering around i found a casualty of the 17th Middlesex killed the same day as William, there was also a block of 3 unknown Middlesex. Was one of these William??. I took the grave references and wrote to the CWGC and asked where the bodies were found-the burial return, it turned out that they were found in the area of the 17th Middlesex.
Well at a loose end one Sunday i took the kids to Lullingstone Villa. After getting there and the day being gorgeous i looked at the map and found how close i was to my ancesteral roots. I had never seen no 11 Highcroft but had heard about it from Dad etc. Well i saw it as i drove past. I continued on to the Church to see if William was on the Memorial. I checked and sure enough there he was as C.W.Tallett which was obviously Cornelius William Tallett, his name was actually William, known as Cornelius, so theres an obvious trap for memorial researchers highighted!!!. William also appears on the Farningham memorial but as William C Tallett.
Service papers and another suprise!
My application for Williams service papers met with dissappointment as the MOD said that they hadn’t survived the bombing of 1940. Seeing him refered to as Cornelius left me with one open possibility. In Jan 2001 I went to the PRO to inspect the new release of service papers to the letter T. I tried Cornelius Tullett, no result, so i thought i’d look at all Talletts. To my suprise i found my great Uncle Arthurs service papers, he was Williams oldest brother by 16 years!!!!. I thought all of my relatives were too old to serve, this proved me wrong. His service paper details confirmed it was the right Arthur Tallett, he was born in Godstone, Surrey and was the right age, identical to the details on that census return. It revealed that he had joined the army in 1885 into the 7th Hussars and served 9 years with the colours and 3 in reserve, finishing his commitment in 1897. Incredibly he re enlisted in August 1914 into the 5th Dragoon Guards aged 45, and went straight to France!!! and surived.