Barbara, one of our Royal Parks in the First World War volunteers and a researcher for the Friends of Greenwich Park, took a look at some of the men who signed up to serve in World War I and realised something interesting:
When war was declared, Royal Parks employees were amongst the many who rushed to ‘do their bit’ for King and Country. But contrary to popular imagination, it wasn't just the young men that joined up in the early days. The Army needed older, experienced men to carry out special roles.
The Office of Works, the Civil Service department which used to run the Royal Parks, often employed former Army servicemen as Park Keepers in the Royal Parks and when war broke out, many were ready and willing to re-enlist. Aged in their 40s and 50s, they were much older than most recruits. Two stand out; James William Fenn and William Charles Gould, who were well into their 50s in 1914. They were both skilled at working with horses - experience gained from their Army service which could be put to good use.
At the age of 19, James William Fenn had signed up and spent 24 years in the Army. As ‘an experienced farrier, well accustomed to the treatment of sick horses’, he saw active service all over the world - in Egypt, South Africa and India. He was clearly very committed because, only 10 days after Britain declared war on Germany, he left his job at Greenwich Park and re-enlisted with the 11th Hussars (Special Reserve). He served at home in the Army Veterinary Corps, based at Woolwich, until 1919.
William Charles Gould's life took a similar route: he served for 22 years with the Royal Horse Artillery at home and abroad, rising through the ranks to become a ‘Rough Rider’- an horseriding instructor. In 1914, he was working in St. James’ Park and he soon re-enlisted. There, the lives of Fenn and Gould diverge - Fenn died of pneumonia in 1915 before his unit left to fight in France, and he was buried in Brompton Cemetery, perhaps because of its links to the Royal Parks.
These older recruits make quite a different picture to the young men who we think of, marching off to war.