The Annesleys

Chesterton House, Chessington Road, West Ewell

The Annesleys did not live in West Ewell for very long, but that was almost certainly because Mr Annesley died soon after they moved in to Chesterton House, which was probably in about 1899: the house looks to have had ten rooms. He was William Gore Annesley, born in Pimlico in 1858, and in 1891 he was a bank clerk in London. Perhaps, like many men based in London offices, he decided to move the family to a pleasant rural area and commute up to town by train.

On the surface there was nothing at all remarkable about the Annesleys, but please read on.

The ancestral conundrum

Our William Gore Annesley was the son of William Campbell Breadalbane Annesley, a senior clerk in the War Office, who in turn was the son of Irishman Charles, graduate of Edinburgh University and sometime physician in the Royal Scots Greys. Charles was born in about 1784. Quite separately, we have another William Gore Annesley, a distinguished Captain in the Royal Navy, whose father was Francis Charles, also a naval man, born in Ireland about 1790. Oddly enough, William Campbell Breadalbane had a brother called Francis Charles. None of this can be coincidental and the names are very unusual.

In the catalogue of the National Library of Ireland Commander Francis Charles Annesley RN, father of Captain William Gore Annesley RN, is acknowledged to be the natural son of the 1st Earl Annesley (also Francis Charles, died 1802) and we will come back to him momentarily. (William Breadalbane's brother, Francis Charles, was not the naval Commander: he was an Inspector General of Hospitals who died in 1889.)

You may be expecting me to produce proof that Commander FCA and Charles were closely related, but I am afraid there's no such rabbit in my hat. The reason for this is that the 1st Earl Annesley had no legitimate children and arranged for his title to pass to his younger brother, so that all bar one of his illegitimate offspring and their descendants do not feature in peerage records, which are generally the most reliable source of information.

We might also ponder on why the father of our WGA had the additional forenames of Campbell Breadalbane. He did marry a Campbell and Clan Campbell were the Earls of Breadalbane. Or was this Annesley family just suggesting stronger connections to 'the aristocracy' than it really had?

Perhaps it's time to move on to Mrs Annesley of Ewell, whose ancestry is less complicated.

Mrs Annesley

Mrs Annesley, who married our William Gore in 1894, was Eleanor Mary St John Wilson, born in 1869 in Cheltenham. At that point her father, (Stephen) Henry Kenneth, was the Governor of Gloucester County Prison and he later became HM Inspector of Prisons; before Gloucester he had been a resident magistrate in Natal. Mr Wilson was born in Mauritius and married Annie Emma Matilda MacLean from Grahamstown, South Africa; he died in 1896 and in the 1901 census Annie was in Ewell with her recently widowed daughter. William had died on 24 December 1900 and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard. There were two children, being John Campbell (5) and Kathleen Annie Louise (3), both born in Kensington; Kathleen died unmarried in 1972 and we will come to John in due course, but we first need to deal with a further instalment of Eleanor.

In 1907 Eleanor married (Cyril) Edward John Hammond, who was an Engineer-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy; he originated from New South Wales, although his forebears were English. This marriage did not go well, as the following article from the Portsmouth Evening News of 4 July 1914 will relate.

In the Divorce Court on Friday a decree nisi was granted to Mrs Eleanor Mary St. J Hammond, whose husband, Cyril Edward John Hammond, is an Engineer-Commander in the Navy.

Mrs Hammond, dressed in a violet costume with a heliotrope hat, said her husband never returned to her after he was ordered to his ship, HMS Victorious, at Devonport in August 1912. They were married seven years ago at St Michael's, Chester Square and lived at Hong Kong and St Leonards. For over a year after he went to Devonport he made no offer to make a home for her and in November last the Court granted her an order for restitution of conjugal rights. When the papers in that petition were served on the respondent at the Royal Hotel, Plymouth he gave particulars of a visit with a lady to Sittingbourne.

A solicitor said Mr Hammond told him he could not remember the name of the hotel, but it was that of an animal. Witness ascertained that it was 'The Bull'.

The landlord of 'The Bull', Sittingbourne told of the respondent visiting there with a lady and read out the particulars of the bill, which included an item of 6s.6d for wine.

Hammond explained his behaviour as the result of 'our utter unsuitability of temperament'. The unfortunate Eleanor did not last much longer and died on 30 November 1918, aged only 49, having reverted to her former surname of Annesley. Her mother survived until 1921. Hammond remarried in 1916 and died in 1924.

John Campbell 'Jumbo' Annesley

By 1911 John was already a cadet at Dartmouth, passing out as a Midshipman early in 1913. In 1918, by now a Lieutenant, he was awarded the DSO; the citation read 'In command of a coastal motor boat showed great bravery when under heavy machine-gun and battery fire at short range. He continued to make smoke screens and only withdrew when he and all his crew had been wounded'. The measured tones of the citation give little indication of context, but this was in fact the hellish Zeebrugge Raid, where an attempt was made to block the port entrance to stop the German submarines coming out. The idea was to scuttle three old cruisers in the channel and set two submarines packed with explosives on a collision course with the mole (a massive pier) and, in order to achieve this, various diversions and smoke screens were organised. Although the raid was touted as a success by the British, it was actually a disaster and the German submarines were soon back in business. More than 200 British personnel were killed, many more wounded and a destroyer was lost; German casualties were light. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for this single action, two of them posthumously.

Graphic of the Zeebrugge Raid from Popular Science magazine, July 1918.
Graphic of the Zeebrugge Raid from Popular Science magazine, July 1918.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

HMS Vindictive at Zeebrugge, 23 April 1918, by Charles John de Lacy.
HMS Vindictive at Zeebrugge, 23 April 1918, by Charles John de Lacy.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1919 John was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government. By the outbreak of World War 2 he had reached the rank of Captain and assumed command of the cruiser HMS Enterprise in 1940. He was soon involved in operations off Norway and took part in removing Norwegian gold reserves from the country as well as evacuating King Haakon and his government from Tromso.

HMS Enterprise at anchor in November 1943.
HMS Enterprise at anchor in November 1943.
Image source (photo ref: FL5389).

For these services he was appointed an Officer of the First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav and he was also mentioned in dispatches. In 1942 Enterprise was in the Far East, when HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, two heavy cruisers, were attacked by a large force of Japanese dive bombers off the coast of Ceylon and both sank almost immediately. Enterprise, together with the destroyers Paladin and Panther, rescued many hundreds of survivors from the water. One of them was Augustus Agar, Captain of the Dorsetshire. Agar had been in the Coastal Motor Boats at Zeebrugge, along with John Annesley, and in 1919 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions with a Coastal Motor Boat (CMB4) involving Bolshevik Russia. Fuller details appear in his biography on Wikipedia. Agar is not strictly relevant to this tale, but his exploits do serve to illustrate just what the little CMBs were up against at Zeebrugge and elsewhere.

This is CMB4, now at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford: she is made of wood and is just 40 feet long. And what Agar did with her, for which he won his VC, was to torpedo and sink the Bolshevik cruiser Oleg, which came in at around 440 feet and 7000 tons. (John's boat, CMB 22B, was a whopping 15 feet longer than CMB4.)

HM CMB No 4 in Imperial War Museum London (1920
HM CMB No 4 in Imperial War Museum London (1920
Image source: Wikipedia.

ship, Coastal Motor Boat (CMB 4), British
A modern photograph of Coastal Motor Boat (CMB 4) at IWM Duxford
Image source IWM (MAR 563)

Bolshevik cruiser Oleg
Bolshevik cruiser Oleg
Image source: Library of Congress.

John had a narrow escape from death during the Second World War and, ironically, he was not even on active duty at the time. On 10 October 1942 he was a passenger on the 23,456 tons troop transport HMT Orcades, which was sailing from Suez to Liverpool via Cape Town. Just off Cape Town she was sunk by torpedoes fired from U-172, but fortunately most of the passengers and crew managed to get off in lifeboats and survived.

HMT Orcades in March 1942 - Australian troops assembling on deck for a parade.
HMT Orcades in March 1942 - Australian troops assembling on deck for a parade.
Image source: Australian War Memorial.

At the end of his career John commanded the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (not the same Victorious as his erstwhile step-father, Hammond, had been concerned with); he retired from the Navy in 1948 and went to Australia, although he had returned to England (Buckinghamshire) when he died in 1964, aged 69.


I cannot finish without mentioning a sad civilian war casualty. Eleanor Annesley's elder brother, Major John Arthur MacLean Wilson OBE, who was born in Pietermaritzburg, died in 1936 and was married to Violet Conway-Gordon. During World War 2 Violet was with the WVS and on Sunday 18 June 1944, then aged 72, she was at the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks (on Birdcage Walk), attending a morning service, when it was hit by a V1 flying bomb ('doodlebug'). The concrete roof fell in, killing her and 120 others, military personnel and civilians; scores more were seriously injured. The Commanding Officer of the Grenadier Guards, The Lord Lt Col Edward Douglas John Hay, was killed when walking back to his seat after reading the lesson.

The Chapel before and after the bomb..
The Chapel before and after the bomb.
Image source: The Argus (Melbourne) of 12 July 1944 via

Linda Jackson © 2015.