Reigate Chorister’s WW1 Story

Reigate St Mary’s Prep and Choir School was delighted to be contacted by the niece of a former chorister  killed in The First World War.

On Nov 16, the Surrey Mirror published a story about a letter written by George Garton with details of life as a soldier prior to his despatch to the Western Front. Just three months later he was killed in the Charge of the Buffs.

George’s niece, Brenda, who grew up in Reigate but moved to Scotland, knew nothing about this letter written to Godfrey Searle (Superintendent of the Choristers at the St Mary’s) but fortunately a friend spotted the article and sent it to her.

Brenda telephoned the School and subsequently wrote a short synopsis of how her life had been impacted by her uncle’s death.

Had he not been killed, her uncle George had been destined for a career in the church. After his death, his brother, Maurice (her father), followed this path instead.

Maurice Garton entered the church and became a missionary in China (Brenda and her brother were born in Peking). He and his family were interned there during the war. Her family history is fascinating and she is delighted to know that details of what turned out to be the last months of her Uncle’s life, have been preserved in such a wonderful letter.

Many more letters are contained in an old box in the choir room at Reigate St Mary’s School from both world wars. There is also an article from the Surrey Mirror dated July 9, 1943 thanking the Godfrey Searle Choristers for singing periodically at St Paul’s Cathedral during the Second World War when St Paul’s own choristers had been evacuated.

In his letter to Godfrey Searle, who left a trust to enable the foundation of the choir school in 1958, George Garton wrote: ‘I am very sorry I cannot be present on Old Boys’ Day at Reigate. I should like very much to be there but it is impossible. All weekend passes are stopped now except very special ones indeed. We are getting close to the time when we go abroad as we expect to be in France by the end of March. The rumour is about that we are leaving this district for Aldershot about the 20th of this month’

The letter goes on to describe his training and despatch to France. It is beautifully written and a wonderful piece of history in itself.

Sadly, a further letter received by Godfrey Searle is from George’s Mother including an extract of what she received from the Chaplain of 37th Brigade.

‘I am indeed sorry to say that George has been killed in action but in a most famous Charge of the Buffs, one that was really heroic – one company after another went up over the parapet in waves and alas were stricken. Nine out of ten officers were killed but it can with truth be said that everyman who took part in that charge knew they would almost certainly be killed – yet never hesitated. Your son was such. I knew him well and knew what an influence for good he was. He helped my colleagues and myself in many ways and was a noble example of a Christian life. He lies with his comrades near Vermelles.’