Town’s farewell to Jack was full military parade
- Credit: Archant
HE was still a teenager, looking forward to a life of fulfilment and service to others as a doctor. As the only son of a well-to-do family in Gorleston, his future looked secure and assured.
When the First World War broke out, patriotism and duty called. So John Sleeman Reed abandoned his medical training to volunteer for active service and joined the Royal Flying Corps. He accomplished a hazardous mission over the German lines in Flanders, being fired upon at 3000ft but returning safely to his base from that brutal Belgian war-zone.
His war and life were to be short-lived, however, because only two months after being commissioned, Second-Lieutenant Reed was fatally injured – not by enemy action but in a flying accident over Britain. Aged 19, he was interred in Gorleston 99 years ago this month.
During the current centenary of the 1914-18 war, the Great Yarmouth Mercury has devoted great attention to it, in particular publishing a supplement featuring 1000 photographs and names of local men who went to fight for King and country.
Many never returned, killed in the trenches or at sea. Parents, widows and children grieved. John Reed (popularly known as Jack) was just another casualty, but the military and his prominent family combined to ensure that his funeral in Gorleston was a high-profile memorable occasion.
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Much of our borough was plunged into mourning.
Detached observers reflecting almost a century later might well divide into two camps. To some, it could seem as though the funeral was symbolic, selflessly embracing all the other local victims thus far in the 18 months since war was declared in August 1914. Conversely, others might – cynically, but perhaps with some justification - have taken an alternative stance, reckoning it was an unseemly over-the-top reaction stemming from social standing and influence.
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The victim’s father, also named John Reed, was a highly-respected doctor whose wife, Mary, was a member of a professional-class local family. Indeed, Bob Aindow - a descendant of the family who has researched the episode - observes: “The grand funeral illustrates to my great-grandfather’s standing in the local community - a second-lieutenant would not normally have had a funeral on this scale.”
Bob Aindow, 63, who lives in Cornwall, is a retired Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer physical trainer. Airman John Reed was his great-uncle, Dr Reed his great-grandfather.
Despite frequently delving into the history of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston area during the past six decades, until this month I had never come across any mention of either the Reed family or young John’s funeral. So I am grateful to Malcolm Ferrow, of Marine Parade, Gorleston, for alerting me when he received a cutting about it from the Farnborough News and Mail in Hampshire which has also been reflecting on the 1914-18 war.
The sender was former Yarmouth bank manager Paul Jackaman, once of Burgh Castle but long resident in that newspaper’s circulation area. For decades he has been close friend and customer of 81-year-old Malcolm who is well-known hereabouts as an antiques dealer. That newspaper’s interest stemmed from the fact that the fatal aircraft crash was on Laffans Plain in Farnborough.
The Yarmouth Mercury report of the inquest said that a Royal Flying Corps officer, Lieutenant F W Goodden, was crossing the plain when a biplane flew slowly 200ft overhead and then plummeted to the ground. The pilot, who was absolved from any blame for the fatality, had broken an arm and injured his leg, but John Reed was unconscious in the passenger seat.
The witness believed the aircraft was flying slowly “so that the occupants might see a wrecked aeroplane beneath which had just met with an accident, but it was too slow for safety.”
The Gorleston airman’s parents – accompanied by his sister, Dorothy - left for Hampshire immediately they were notified by telegram. Despite surgery, two days after the crash John Reed died in the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, from brain injuries. The verdict was “Accidental death.”
In a tribute, his colonel wrote: “He was fearless, and would have made a splendid airman. All the officers just loved him.” And the young man’s orderly added: “He was the dearest young gentleman – he never gave me any trouble.”
The funeral service was held in Gorleston parish church, followed by interment with full military honours in Gorleston cemetery – the so-called “old” one at the crossroads of Magdalen Way and Crab Lane.
According to the Mercury: “Hundreds of people assembled at the church and in the cemetery, while every shop and business premises was shuttered and shaded on route from High Street to the church, which was lined with troops and civilians all paying a last tribute of respect to the memory of a young and popular officer who had so recently spent his leave among them before rejoining his regiment, the Buffs (East Kent Regiment).
“The cortege was headed by a large firing party with arms reversed (butt upwards), and the band of the Middlesex Regiment playing Chopin’s Funeral March. Then came the gun carriage drawn by six horses bearing the casket covered with the Union Jack, surmounted by the deceased officer’s hat and sword together with his family’s floral tributes.
“Following the gun carriage came the coaches with the mourners. Behind the carriage walked Col C R Phillips and Major H Pearce together with some 20 officers representing the 63rd Provisional Battalion, and the Royal Flying Corps, many of whom carried massive floral tributes,while an open carriage was also filled with numerous fragrant and exquisite tokens from friends.
“The cortege was met at the church by the Vicar (the Rev Forbes Phillips), the Vicar of Southtown (the Rev B Baker Ritso), and the Rev W D Maclagan (priest-in-charge at Gorleston) who were the officiating clergy.
“The procession through the churchyard passed between the military and the Scouts of the Naval Base under Scout-Commissioner C Addison-Williamson who also formed the guard of honour at the entrance to the cemetery.”
At the end of the choral service, the congregation emerged to find the most dismal of conditions.
Continued the Mercury: “The weather, which had proved threatening and dull, had during the service turned to heavy rain which was pouring down as the procession re-formed at the north gate with the waiting military squads. The band again rendered Chopin’s Funeral March up to the cemetery gates where the rain gave place to brilliant sunshine. Eight officers carried the casket through a great concourse of people to the grave which was lined with ivy, evergreen, sprays and tulips. The final obsequies (funeral rites) were performed by the Rev Ritso and the Rev Phillips, following which three volleys were fired over the grave and the Last Post by the buglers echoed and re-echoed in the stillness which prevailed.”
The deceased flier had lived with his parents at Surbiton Lodge in Gorleston, on the corner of High Street and Trafalgar Road East, a convenient location because just across the side road stood Gorleston Cottage Hospital where Dr Reed was a member of the medical staff for years; his wife was one of the hospital’s official visitors.
The Cornwall-born GP and surgeon moved to Yarmouth to become a practice partner, then switched to Gorleston to take charge of a new surgery in his Surbiton Lodge.
It is apparent that he was revered by not only his patients but also in a wider sphere because a posthumous profile declared: “He was a medical officer to the Post Office and various insurance societies. He was a great lover of birds which he identified by their songs, and he was also a prominent Freemason, instrumental in founding the St Andrew’s Lodge at Gorleston.”
Another entry said: “The name of Dr Reed was a household name in the neighbourhood. His skill was very high, but this alone did not make him a huge success as a doctor, which he was. It was his confidence in the recuperative power of the body itself and his love for the individual that inspired health back to his patients. “The deep riches of his inner character were hidden by an extreme simplicity and gentleness of the outward manner. He could not bring his tongue to utter a hard word, however justified.”
Another interest of the doctor was golf. When Gorleston Golf Club celebrated its centenary in 2006, its commemorative book recorded that at the inaugural meeting at the Cliff Hotel in 1906, he was elected as one of its four vice-presidents.
Mrs Reed was a member of the Ruddock family, members of which practised as solicitors in Yarmouth.
Mr Aindow explains: “Mary Reed was my great-grandmother and Dorothy Applewaite was my grandmother (John and Mary’s daughter and sister to John Reed, the flyer). It was Dorothy’s house in Suffield Road, Gorleston, where I was born in 1951.”
The ill-fated John Reed was educated at Great Yarmouth Grammar School before transferring to Dulwich College and then abandoning his medical training when war broke out to enter Sandhurst Military Academy; he was gazetted as a second-lieutenant in the Buffs and attached to the Royal Flying Corps.
In my postwar years at the boys Grammar School, roll-of-honour boards listing the 109 “old boys” who died in the First and Second World Wars were on display. John Sleeman Reed’s name was on the 1914-18 board. The school is now the Great Yarmouth High School. Those boards are no longer on display but are “in storage”.
That is a shame. But Bob Aindow has asked the school “to consider having them reinstated to their rightful place where everyone can see them. We have freedom and peace today because of them, and our children should be reminded of the Great Yarmouth men who gave their lives for their future, so that they can remember them, with thanks and gratitude.”
As for the Reed’s home and the doctor’s surgery, Surbiton Lodge, it formerly belonged to Harry Harvey-George, manager of the huge locally-based Short Blue trawling fleet, until 1890 when he moved across the road to The Tower which he had specially built. His family gave the land so the Cottage Hospital could expand.
The hospital, open from 1889 to 1937, was replaced by that on Lowestoft Road which was demolished in 1988 and succeeded by the James Paget Hospital. The Trafalgar Road East building, now Headway House, is used by care organisations.
Dr Reed and his wife moved to Gorleston Marine Parade. He died in 1938, aged 79; his widow, Mary, died in 1942, aged 81.
Their Surbiton Lodge was acquired by Dr Kenneth Hamilton Deane (1898-1993) who practised there for 62 years, an achievement acknowledged by a blue heritage plaque. In recent years the property was demolished so houses could be built.