The speaker at the May meeting was Peter Lavis who talked about the Lost Gardeners of Heligan, a social history project of WW1.
Heligan was owned by the Tremaynes for about 450 years. In 1914 the squire was Jack Tremayne who employed 23 garden staff. The house itself was turned over to the Royal Flying Corps to be used as a convalescent home for WW1 victims. By June 1917 only eight gardeners were left, the rest lost in the WW1 fighting. Jack found he could not live with the ghosts of Heligan and in 1921 left to live in Italy.
- The first, Charles Dyer, was a fisherman from Mevagissey who was in the Naval Reserves. Called into action by the Town Crier ringing his bell, he was one of 48 men called up from there. In 1915 fishing trawlers were requisitioned for light gun and mine sweeping duties. Dyer was on one of these named the Rosa when he was injured and hospitalised in Plymouth. He disappeared from hospital and was classed as a deserter until his body was found two years later not far from his home. Presumably he had been trying to get back to see his family again.
- Leonard Warne joined the Royal Engineers. In 1918 he was wounded in France, sent back to Plymouth Hospital where he died from his injuries.
- Albert Henry Rowe joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) and died in 1918 aged 18. Records state he had enlisted and died on the same day! Investigations by Peter found that having enlisted and collected his uniform he was sent for training to Ireland where he died from flu.
- Charles Ball, a labourer, enlisted with the Worcestershire Regiment in 1916, was badly injured on the Somme in 1918 and died in hospital in France.
- William Guy, a brilliant gardener, joined the DCLI in 1914, sent home suffering from shell shock, then went out again. He died at the Somme in 1918 when his whole battalion was wiped out without trace.
- Percy Carhart, a mere 5’ 3½” tall, died without trace in 1917 at Passchendaele.
- Archibald Smaldon, a carpenter, served with several battalions during the war, probably because of his carpentry skills. He returned after the war to add an additional five children to the five he already had.
- The Paynters, father William and his sons Richard and Fred, all came back to work again at Heligan.
Memorials of those who died during the war were available to widows in the form of the Death Plaque, or Widow’s Penny as it became popularly known. However, these had to be applied for and were not given out automatically.
Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll became involved in the design of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries which can be seen across France and Belgium. They tried to personalise them and make them beautiful, peaceful places to visit. The names of men whose bodies were never found are engraved on panels surrounding the gravestones. The names of these gardeners from Heligan can be found on war memorials at their home towns and abroad.
After Peter finished his talk, Jane Black gave a vote of thanks for his interesting and thought provoking talk, one that would give an added dimension to any future visits to Heligan.