Carved in Stone: Past Merton combatants

Non-combatant Profile: Rosaleen Louise Cooper

Miss Rosaleen Louise Cooper (née Graves) was born in Wimbledon on 7 th March 1894. Her childhood home was 1 Lauriston Road. Her father, Alfred Graves was a school inspector from Somerset and her mother Amalie von Ranke was originally from Munich. People throughout the world are aware of Rosaleen's famous brother, the soldier poet and writer Robert Graves. However her own story is no less interesting and she also enjoyed success as a musician and poet in her own right. Many of her works were published during and after the First World War, including "The Smells of Home" in 1918 and "Night Sounds and other poems" in 1923.

Cooper joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) on 17 th September 1915, aged 22. She served as a nurse at No. 54 General Hospital, Wimereux, France from 23 rd November 1917, until 14 th March 1919. This base hospital, known as "London General Hospital," was in use from July 1917 to May 1919. Service records show that Cooper received the 1 Scarlet Efficiency Stripe on 15 th October 1917. Awarded by a chief matron or commanding officer, stripes signified nursing efficiency and were worn on uniform dress sleeves. They were red or blue (depending on whether a nurse was under contract to the War Office, or the Order of St. John. )

Founded in 1909, the Volunteer Aid Detachment was supported by the Red Cross and the Order of St. John. It consisted of untrained nurses who worked in military hospitals under the control of the War Office, or the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John. Rosaleen served under the latter. VADs had no prior nursing training and were predominantly unpaid volunteers. Cooper and her fellow VAD nurses cared for sick and wounded soldiers both at home or abroad. They worked at various locations including Army hospitals and convalescent homes.

After completing her VAD work, Cooper trained as a doctor and became a Devon G.P. She married James Cooper in 1932 and the couple had three children. It is clear that the VAD experience had a profound impact on Rosaleen's life. In an extract from Max Arthur's novel, We Will Remember Them: Voices from The Aftermath of the Great War, she states, "It seemed to me a rather useless life then, just teaching little girls to play piano after what I had been through. The whole experience of the war had a lasting and dramatic effect on my life".

Rosaleen died on 3 rd August 1989 in her home town of Wimbledon. Her story epitomises the courage and commitment shown by many Merton women, determined to support the war effort at home and abroad.

Many thanks to Sally Ronchetti for allowing us to use her painting of Rosaleen Cooper.

Flight Lieutenant Harold Rosher

Harold Rosher was born in Beckenham, Kent on the 18th November 1893. He was the eldest son of Frank and Gertrude Rosher and had two sisters and one brother; Helen, Mary and Ernest. The family lived at 40 Merton Hall Road in Wimbledon. Harold's father was an ‘Employer, Brick & Cement Manager', with sufficient income to employ a servant at the family home.

Harold was educated at The Dene, Caterham and Woodbridge schools. He did well at school despite suffering from asthma and bronchitis. As an open air life was considered beneficial for his health he became a student at the South Eastern Agricultural College in Wye, Kent, where he remained until August 1914. His name appears on the College's Roll of Honour.

When war was declared, Harold applied for a commission in the Royal Naval Air Service, initially enrolling as a civilian at the Brooklands Aerodrome in Weybridge, where he trained as a pilot. Appointed as a Probationary Flight Sub-Lieutenant on the 18th August 1914, he transferred to the Grahame-White Training School in Hendon, obtaining his Aviators' Certificate on the 30th September 1914. He was later promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

During his service with the No. 1 Squadron, which operated from Hendon, Dover, Harold wrote frequently to his family. After his death, these letters were published as a book: "With the Flying Squadron: Letters of a Pilot of the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War". Harold wrote vividly of his experiences in the air, life on the bases and his off duty hours. The letters also show his sense of humour...

...Dearest Mum,

Whatever induced you to do it? The tobacco etc. arrived but the toffee had all melted, and a more sticky mess you can't conceive. It was as much as I could do to read your letter. I managed to rescue some of the toffee and the general opinion on same is that it is very good...

On 22 nd March 1915, Harold was..."Mentioned in Despatches for Meritorious Work in connection with an Air Attack on Ostend – Zeebrugge and Bruges on February 11th, 12th and 16th."

A letter to his father dated 12th February 1915 describes his raid on the Belgian coast:

"The weather was misty and cloudy, and very cold... Before I came abreast of it I saw flashes along the coast. A few seconds later, bang! bang! and the shrapnel burst a good deal short of me, but direction and height perfect...

All along the coast the guns were firing, nasty vicious flashes, and then a puff of smoke as the shrapnel burst. I steered a zigzag course and made steadily out to sea, climbing hard...

After flying for three-quarters of an hour, I reached Zeebrugge. I had to come down to 5,500 feet because of the clouds. I streaked in through them, loosed my bombs and then made off... I fairly streaked out to sea, and... got back after one and a half hours in the air. As to what happened generally I can't tell. It may possibly appear in the papers."

Harold survived several plane crashes including one where he ended up in the water of the Docks at Dunkirk whilst flying a Vickers bi-plane. On another occasion his ‘Morane' aircraft crashed at Dunkirk, overturned and was completely smashed up – miraculously Harold emerged uninjured.

Harold Rosher was killed on the 27th February 1916 at Dover, whilst testing an aircraft which had been repaired following an earlier accident. The plane was intended for training new pilots, but Harold insisted on testing it first. All went well until he started his descent about a mile from the aerodrome. The aircraft suddenly nose-dived and crashed to the ground. Harold was killed instantly - he was just 22 years of age. The cause of the crash was never explained and he was buried on the 2nd March 1916 at Charlton Cemetery with full naval honours.

Harold is commemorated locally at St. Andrew's Church, Wimbledon.

His book is still in publication and can also be read online by following this link .

Private Maurice M W Knott

Born in Woking c.1887, Maurice Montague William Knott was the son of Frederick and Annie Knott. A railway shunter/porter at Wimbledon Park Underground Station, he married and had one son called Owen. During the First World War Maurice enlisted as a Private in the 2/5 th East Surrey Regiment. This battalion, formed in Wimbledon in September 1914, was originally for men who had not volunteered for General Service. It was involved in home defence and coastal duties in south-east England. (The battalion was disbanded by August 1917 and the men were sent overseas to join the Expeditionary Forces.)

(Photo: Wimbledon Park Station c.1924. Merton Memories Photographic Archive)

Tragically, having returned from Christmas leave on 27 th December 1915, apparently in good health. Maurice died on 1 st January 1916 at Redhill Military Hospital, following an operation for appendicitis. He was just 28 years of age. His funeral-wake took place at the family home, 35 Ridley Rd, Wimbledon, following a service with full military honours at Holy Trinity Church.

Private Knott's grave can be found at Wimbledon Cemetery, Gap Road and is one of many listed in a survey by A. Whitehead – an invaluable resource for those Carved in Stone project volunteers researching the lives of First World War combatants.

Private Charles Bone

Charles was born in Carshalton, Surrey on 23 rd March 1885, however by 1891 he and his family were living at 11 Cecil Terrace, Bond Road, Mitcham. His father, George, was an agricultural labourer, born in The Cape of Good Hope, Africa. Charles was the middle child of seven. By 1901 the family were living in Queens Road, Mitcham and Charles was working as a farm labourer.

By the outbreak of War, Private Charles Bone had already been in the army for 12 years. He joined up, aged 18, on 5 th November 1904, serving eight years in India, followed by two years in Gibraltar. Charles married Margaret Sallis at St. Mark's church on 20th October 1913. On 19 th April 1914 the couple had a son, also named Charles. Their family home was 38 Fountain Road, Mitcham.

During the War Private Bone served in the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. The local newspapers printed letters detailing his transfer to a Leeds hospital following a leg injury suffered during the Retreat from Mons and his subsequent recuperation in Mitcham. In September 1914 the Mitcham Advertiser described Charles as ‘most anxious to go back to have another "pot" at the Germans.' Private Bone was clearly a dedicated soldier; he wrote to his wife, ‘You know in time of war duty must be done, and it becomes one to do his best, as I intend to do…I shall soon be back again to have another dust-up.'

Private Bone soon returned to the front, however, on 2 nd December 1914 he was severely wounded in the back near Ypres and died on the Ambulance train just after midnight. He was buried at Boulogne, France.