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The FOBLC is recognised by HMRC as a charity, ref. XT38745, and is a member of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends

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Louis 'Dri' Drysdale (1883-1933): Famous Jamaican tenor buried in Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries

Finding out recently from records that the famous Jamaican tenor and singing professor, Louis 'Dri' Drysdale, was buried in Ladywell cemetery was a particularly welcome if serendipitous discovery.   Dri as he was popularly called died aged 49 years at his home on Westbourne Road, Forest Hill in March 1933.  Although the whereabouts of his grave are known it seems that any headstone has been lost due to WW2 bomb damage . However his long forgotten story is wonderfully captured on the Jamaica.History website

Dri arrived in the UK as a part of the  Kingston Choral Union which became famous as the 'Jamaica Choir' during its two tours extending from 1906 to 1908. Several members, including Dri decided to stay on to make use of the opportunities to improve their musical skills.

The Kingston Choral Union of Jamaica, renamed the Native Choir from Jamaica, left the island on 4 January 1906 for Bristol and then to Liverpool where they were to appear at the colonial products exhibition for entrepreneur Alfred Lewis Jones. Led by T. Ellis Jackson, with pianist Harry Nation, the males were Louis George Drysdale, Carlton Bryan, J. T. Loncke

( photograph courtesy of Historian Jeffrey Green -whose excellent website has as its main focus the activities of black people in Britain ca 1830-ca 1940-

With the backing of Sir Alfred Jones, Dri was able to study at the Royal College of Music with outstanding operatic performers of the day. He then made a very successful career training singers, using the finest Italian methods. Although it does not seem that he ever returned to Jamaica, and he and his first wife were divorced around 1911, he maintained strong links with the island.

From the Daily Gleaner, October 31, 1924
Lovers of music in Jamaica will be interested to learn that Mr. Louis Drysdale, the tenor singer who was a member of the Jamaica Choir which left here under Mr. T. Ellis Jackson to sing at the Liverpool Exhibition in 1906, is a teacher of singing in the Italian method and a specialist in breath control, diction, phrasing and style in London. He studied at the Royal College of Music with Gustave Garcia, and under such other distinguished masters as Prof. Giovanni Clerici (Hon R.A.M., Florence), Signor Lenghi Cellini and Signor Joaquin Bayo. Mr Drysdale has had exceptional experience in training voices, his pupils being most successful. He trains pupils for opera, oratorio and the concert platform.

Testimonials to his musical influence are numerous and include some from world famous artists of the day. He was  acknowledged as one of the best teachers in singing in Europe. His palatial studio in Forest Hill, London, S.E. 23, was regarded as a Mecca of Music.:

From the Daily Gleaner, February 5, 1930
In 1930 the great Jamaican comedian, Ernest Cupidon, wrote of his recent visit to Britain 'While I was in England it was my good fortune not only to meet Mr Drysdale and his charming English wife, but to stay in their home at Forest Hill for several weeks. That Mr. Drysdale is a distinguished teacher of voice production and singing has been demonstrated by the results he has achieved.  His wife, an accomplished accompanist, is of invaluable service to his art. He has a large clientele of men and women of all nationalities, and people travel from distant parts of England to take lessons from  Mr. Drysdale.'   

In addition to his 'palatial' house at 11 Westbourne Road, Forest Hill, Dri had studios in the centre of London, one being at the Grotrian Hall on Wigmore Street. Among those mentioned as benefitting from Dri's coaching were the enormously popular American singer, Florence Mills, and the young Marian Anderson, at the start of her remarkable career. Dri offered a generous scholarship to Jamaican singers in 1930, and fellow Jamaicans were always welcome at his home.

One source noted that after Louis Drysdale died in London in 1933, he was for several years remembered by Jamaicans for his achievements, but, as has happened to so many, his name soon faded from the Jamaican memory. Lets hope that with his final resting place now known, his enduring musical legacy will once again be remembered in guided walks and other cemetery events.

Chicago Defender July 15, 1933
One of many glowing obituaries from contemporary newspapers

Lance Bombardier Sydney James Hedger- ' Died for his Country'- Dunkirk 1st June 1940 aged 21 years

British troops line up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation.
Located amidst a cluster of graves in Brockley cemetery lies the gothic shaped family headstone of the Hedger family. The stark details of Sydney James Hedger's sacrifice, lettered on the headstone, having been wounded at Dunkirk tell the viewer that ' he died for his country and us' on the 1st June 1940  aged 21 years as part of  91 Field Regiment and now lies buried in the familiar soil of South East London.  Sydney who was the son of Harry and Lily of Catford, is also remembered on the Brockley screen wall.

Hedger gravestone courtesy of Billion Graves

The recent release of the film 'Dunkirk' ( 2017) has once again brought to wider attention with its dramatic recreation of the evacuation,  an evacuation codenamed Operation Dynamo, which saw the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other allied soldiers from the French seaport of Dunkirk. By 4 June 1940, nearly 350,000 troops had been saved.

The evacuation associated with the troops trapped on Dunkirk, was called a  “miracle” by Winston Churchill. As the Wehrmacht swept through western Europe in the  spring of 1940, using Blitzkrieg, both the French and British armies could do little to halt the onslaught. For the people in Western Europe, World War Two was about to start for real. The “Phoney War” was now over.  The advancing German Army trapped the British and French armies on the beaches around Dunkirk. 330,000 men were stuck here and they were a sitting target for the Germans. Admiral Ramsey, based in Dover, formulated Operation Dynamo to get off of the beaches as many men as was possible. The British troops, led by Lord John Gort,  were professional soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force, trained men that we could ill afford to lose.

From May 26th 1940, small ships transferred soldiers to larger ones which then brought them back to ports in southern Britain. The beach at Dunkirk was on a shallow slope so no large boat could get near to the actual beaches where the men were. Therefore, smaller boats were needed to take on board men who would then be transferred to a larger boat based further off shore. 800 of these legendary “little ships” were used. It is thought that the smallest boat to make the journey across the Channel was the Tamzine – an 18 feet open topped fishing boat which is now on display at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Despite attacks from German fighter and bomber planes, the Wehrmacht never launched a full-scale attack on the beaches of Dunkirk. Panzer tank crews awaited the order from Hitler but it never came. In his memoirs, Field Marshall Rundstadt, the German commander-in-chief in France during the 1940 campaign, called Hitler’s failure to order a full-scale attack on the troops on Dunkirk his first fatal mistake of the war. That 338,000 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk would seem to uphold this view.

One of the reasons put forward for Hitler not ordering an attack was that he believed that Britain had suffered from the might of the Wehrmacht once and that this experience would be sufficient for Britain to come to peace terms with Hitler. For a powerfully paced narrative account of the Dunkirk Campaign the special 75th Anniversary edition of the book by Simon Sebag-Montefiore comes highly recommended.

A Tribute to Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton- killed at Passchendale October 25th 1917

One of many iconic images of the Passchendaele battlefield in 1917
Passendaele (Passendal) is a small village five miles north-east of Ypres in Belgium and is the name by which the final stages of the Third Battle of Ypres are better known. Along with the Somme, it has come to symbolise the Great War for many. The Third battle of Ypres was preceded by the attack on Messines ridge in June 1917. The main battle commenced on the 31st of July 1917, and stretched on until November the 10th, 1917. The final phase, the advance on Passchendaele, took place in October and November, the aim being to take the strategically important high ground of the Passchendaele ridge. The first battle of Passchendaele, on the 12th October, failed to take the village, and the second battle of Passchendaele lasted from the 26th of October until the 10th of November. After over three months, with 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties the result was little more than to expand the ground covered by the Ypres salient and the controversy over the conduct of the Battle remains to this day.

Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton, (4th Battalion-London Regiment) Royal Fusiliers

On Sunday, November 5th, 2017 at Poelcapelle CWGC Cemetery near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium (see below), there was a ‘special centennial memorial’ for Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton, (4th Battalion-London Regiment) Royal Fusiliers, who was killed in action on October 26th, 1917, during the ‘Battle of Passchendale’.  Eight members of the Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries group attended as part of a British delegation at the kind invitation of Gil Bossuyt (First World War guide- Also in attendance playing the moving music for the tribute were 45 musicians from the local Flemish Deerlijk Brass Band.  The event was recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (see link below) and in a welcome break in the weather during a sunlit interlude a poppy wreath was laid at the headstone.

Headstone of Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton -Poelcapelle British cemetery
Hugh Gordon Langton was a very promising violinist, who was taught by the most prominent music teachers from that time from across Europe. The grave of Hugh Gordon Langton is the only one of all Commonwealth graves and memorials (there are more than a million worldwide) which has musical notes inscribed as an epitaph. However a recent tonal revision of the musical notation - the piece was originally thought to have been from ' After the Ball is over' a popular Tin Pan Alley song from 1891, has led to some doubts by music scholars as the notes would suggest a different composition.

As part of the planned visit the Friends group were able to benefit from an excellent guided walk from Gil over parts of the former Battlefield, to be present at the playing of the last post at the Menin gate, Ypres and to enjoy the warm hospitality offered after the Sunday tribute by sharing in a memorable meal with Gil and members of the band in nearby Zonnebeke before returning home.

Members of the Friends group with local tour guide Gil Bossuyt in Poelcappelle cemetery
At @CWGC Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium on Sunday, 45 musicians from the Deerlijk Brass Band performed a special #HoldHighTheTorch tribute during a ceremony commemorating Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton. Download the free app here

Family grave of Hugh Gordon Langton’s parents and his younger deceased brother in Brockley cemetery.

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 12th November 10.55am – 12.15pm

Join us for our annual commemoration of the fallen of the First World War on SUNDAY 12th November 10.55am – 12.15pm

Meet at the Ladywell Cross of Sacrifice for the two minute silence and wreath-laying. This will be followed by a walk via threerelevant graves to the memorial in the Brockley Cemetery for a further wreath-laying.

New Hither Green and Sydenham memorial to those who died through enemy air raids in WW1 unveiled

Commemoration of Civilian Deaths in Hither Green and Sydenham in WW1

The memorial in the Ladywell Cemetery commemorates civilian victims of enemy air raids in the First World War.

On 19th October 1917 a Zeppelin dropped a bomb on what was then Glenview Road near Hither Green station.  (The road is now part of the extended Nightingale Grove).  Three houses were destroyed and others damaged.  Two families in particular suffered badly:  the Kingston family lost seven children killed; the Milgate family lost four members – the father and three children.  They and others (a total of fifteen people) were buried in Heroes Corner.

On 19th May 1918 a Gotha bomber dropped a bomb on Sydenham Road, at its junction with Fairlawn Park.  Several shops were demolished or damaged.  Five members of the Delahoy family, father mother and three daughters, were killed as were four people in the adjoining shop.  A total of thirteen people were buried together in a public grave.

The original memorial to the victims of these two incidents was erected by public subscription at the position of the first grave.  The names of the victims of both events were recorded on the memorial slab.  Over a period of time, the slab became weathered and the names indecipherable.

The Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries, with the agreement of Lewisham Bereavement Services, instigated a project to restore this memorial, and to refurbish the Deptford civilian memorial in the Brockley Cemetery.  The Friends group was successful in its bid for funding to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Ladywell Ward Assembly.

The unveiling of the new Hither Green and Sydenham memorial, and the commemoration of the victims, on Saturday 21st October at 2.30pm marks the completion of the first stage of the project.