Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War


The Childs family had been resident in Portsmouth for well over 100 years before the outbreak of the Great War. Census records show that a Joseph Childs was born in Portsea in 1801 and that he married local woman Elizabeth Barrett at Gosport in 1822. By the time of the first census in 1841 Joseph and Elizabeth were living at 52 Cumberland Road and Joseph's occupation was listed as 'Shipwright'. They had six children, one of whom was Samuel Knight Childs who had been born in 1838.
In 1851 Samuel was working as an errand boy at the prominent Bush Hotel on Elm Grove which at the time was run by John Prince. By 1861 Samuel had followed his father in becoming a shipwright, as indeed had two of his brothers, and in 1863 he married Elizabeth Stickland at Portsea. Elizabeth must have been a patient woman as Samuel, who by then was a Carpenter in the Royal Navy, spent so much of his time at sea he did not get round to setting up a home or starting a family until the early 1870s. Even then he continued to spend time at sea and was absent for the 1881 census when Elizabeth was recorded living at 86 Arundel Terrace, Fratton Street with the couples four boys, Edward, George, Alfred and Herbert.
By 1891 Samuel had retired and was at home with the family. The census that year found them living at 14 Cressy Road. Edward Childs had already followed his father and grandfather by becoming a shipwright and in 1892 he also followed them by marrying a Portsmouth woman named Elizabeth. In 1901 Edward and Elizabeth are listed as living at 14 Claremont Road, just round the corner from Fratton Railway Station, with their first two children - Royden James (b. 1893) and Elsie (b. 1896).

In 1905 Royden began attending the Secondary School at Victoria Road North in Southsea and continued his studies there until 1909. He certainly made his mark at the school as a later commentator wrote "Perhaps none of those whose names appear in the Roll of Honour of the Secondary School was so long and so intimately associated with the School as 'Roy' Childs, and certainly none was more admired and respected. During his four years as a scholar he was a brilliant student, a captain of his class in football, and in sports and games a conscientious leader who thought more of the ethics of the game than of the success in winning it."
Royden matriculated at London University in 1909 and stayed on at the school for two years longer as a Student Teacher. He passed his Intermediate Science Examination in 1910 as a student of the Municipal College and obtained his B.Sc. Degree in 1913 as a student of Reading College where he also served in the O.T.C. After teaching in London schools for a few months he returned to the Secondary School as an Assistant Master in March 1914.
On the outbreak of war he enlisted as a private in the Royal Fusiliers (Public School Battalion) and in May, 1915, he received his commission in the Royal Berkshire Regiment. After being employed for some time in and around Portsmouth, he sailed for France on June 6th, 1916, and was soon plunged into that tremendous and long drawn out struggle of July, 1916, known as the Battle of the Somme. In the attack on Delville Wood, while gallantly leading his Platoon across a shell-swept zone to the assistance of some comrades who were hard pressed, he was struck and instantly killed, July 27th, 1916. He was buried in Delville Wood, though no trace of his grave now exists. His senior officer wrote of him: "He had already proved to all what a fine fellow and gallant soldier he was, respected by all with whom he came in contact both officers and men."
The photograph above was taken from a WW1 memorial booklet published by Southern Grammar School. Extracts also appear above.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists Royden James Childs, Second Lieutenant, Royal Berkshire Regiment, died on 27/07/1916. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial (Pier and Face 11 D.). Son of Edward and Elizabeth Ellen Childs, of 14, Claremont Rd., Portsmouth. B.Sc. London University.
Royden Childs is remembered on the Southern Grammar School WW1 Memorial and on the Cenotaph. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War'.
Tim Backhouse
June 2014