Bombed during World War II, St George’s Garrison Church survives as an evocative ruin with recently conserved mosaics, and a modern canopy roof, now available for all to enjoy.

About > Commonwealth Garden

Commonwealth Garden Project

(This Page is under development) The Commonwealth Garden Project: This will be a garden of Planting from around the Commonwealth - a Memorial to the contribution of the Commonwealth, a place to reflect for local people and visitors alike, and to learn more about our History and Ecology.

Section 1 - Commonwealth VC recipients commemorated in this Church

Section 2 - The vital contribution of The Commonwealth

Section 3 - Greenwich and the Commonwealth to-day

Section 4 - The Commonwealth Memorial Garden

To see the plans please click on this link (and magnify on your screen if required):

https://www.stgeorgeswoolwich.org/assets/ugc/docs/Garden_Plan.pdf

Section 1 - Commonwealth VC recipients commemorated in this Church

The VC Mosaic seen in the Apse at St George's gives the names of those in the Royal Artillery who have been awarded the Victoria Cross from its inception until the end of the Second World War. Here we refer to Christopher Teesdale, Roden Cutler, Jock Campbell and Umrao Singh Yadav.

The bronze used to make all Victoria Crosses comes from cannons captured in early campaigns.

Christopher Teesdale VC – South Africa

Major General Sir Christopher Charles Teesdale VC KCMG CB (1 June 1833 – 1 December 1893) was the first South African-born recipient of the Victoria Cross.

He was born in Grahamstown, Cape of Good Hope, the son of a Royal Artillery Officer. He joined the Artillery as a cadet on April 1848, and was a Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Artillery during the Crimean War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC:

On 29 September 1855 at Kars, Turkey, Lieutenant Teesdale volunteered to take command of the force engaged in the defence of the most advanced part of the works, the key position against the attack of the Russian Army. He threw himself into the midst of the enemy and encouraged the garrison to make an attack so vigorous that the Russians were driven out of the redoubt. During the hottest part of the action, and by his intrepid example he induced the Turkish artillerymen to return to their post from which they had been driven by enemy fire. After he led the final victorious charge which completed the victory, he saved from the fury of the Turks a considerable number of the enemy wounded - an action gratefully acknowledged by General Moutavieff of the Russian Staff.

Lt. Teesdale was wounded at the battle of Kars, taken prisoner and held in Russia until he was released in 1856. He was awarded the Légion d'honneur and made an Honorary CB in the same year.

A talented water colourist, he was responsible for illustrations in a book on the Battle of Kars by Humphry Sandwith, MD, the regiment's doctor at Kars. The illustrations were done whilst Lt. Teesdale was in captivity.

He was decorated with the VC by Queen Victoria in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle on 21 November 1857.

After the Crimean War he was appointed Master of The Ceremonies and Extra Equerry to The Prince of Wales - positions he held until his death. He was also made aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria on 1 October 1877. Promoted to Major-General in March 1887, he was made a Knight Commander of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the Queen's Jubilee honours on 8 July 1887. He retired on 22 March 1892 and died on 1st December 1893, being buried in his family tomb in South Bersted, Sussex.

Arthur Roden Cutler VC - Australia

 Arthur Roden Cutler was born on 24 May 1916, and grew up in the Sydney Harbour suburb of Manly. After school, he worked for the Texas Company Australasia,  (later  Texaco). He studied economics at night at the University of Sydney and joined the Sydney University Regiment in 1936.

As an 18-year-old lifesaver, he swam to the aid of a surfer who was being circled by a large shark. The shark brushed him twice as he helped the surfer to the beach.

On 10 November 1939, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Sydney University Regiment and in May 1940,  volunteered for overseas service with the Second Australian Imperial Force, receiving a commission in the 2/5th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, 7th Division.

His VC was awarded for conspicuous and sustained gallantry during the Syrian-Lebanon Campaign. At Merdjayoun on the 19 June 1941 an Allied infantry attack was checked after suffering heavy casualties from an enemy counter attack with tanks. Enemy machine gun fire swept the ground but Lieutenant Cutler with another artillery officer and a small party, pushed on ahead of the infantry and established an outpost in a house. The telephone line was cut and Cutler went out and mended this line under machine gun fire returning to the house, from which enemy posts and a battery were successfully engaged.

The enemy then attacked this outpost with infantry and tanks, killing the Bren gunner and mortally wounding the other officer.  Cutler and another manned the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun and fought back driving the enemy infantry away. The tanks continued the attack, but under constant fire from the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun eventually withdrew. Lt Cutler then personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded members of his party. Undaunted he pressed for a further advance. He was ordered to establish an outpost from which he could register the only road by which the enemy transport could enter the town. With a small party of volunteers he moved forwards until finally, with one other, he succeeded in establishing an outpost right in the town, despite enemy machine gun fire which prevented the infantry from advancing.

At this time Lt Cutler knew the enemy were massing on his left for a counter attack and that he was in danger of being cut off. Nevertheless he carried out his task of registering the battery on the road and engaging enemy posts. The enemy counter attacked with infantry and tanks and he was cut off and forced to go to ground, After dark he succeeded in making his way through the enemy lines. His work in registering the only road by which enemy transport could enter the town was of vital importance and a major factor in the enemy's subsequent retreat.

On the night of 23–24 June he was in charge of a 25-pounder sent forward into a defended location to silence an enemy anti-tank gun. This he did and next morning the recapture of Merdjayoun was completed.

Later at Damour on 6 July when the Allied forward infantry was pinned to the ground by heavy hostile machine gun fire, Lieutenant Cutler, regardless of all danger, went to bring a line to his outpost, when he was seriously wounded. Twenty-six hours elapsed before it was possible to rescue this officer, whose wound by this time had become septic necessitating the amputation of his leg.

After the War Cutler held a number of important positions within the Australlan Diplomatic Service for which he was knighted, and was appointed Ambassador to the Netherlands. He was then appointed Governor of New South Wales and held that position for 15 years; longer than any previous holder of the office. As the most senior Governor he acted as Administrator of the Commonwealth of Australia in the absence of the Governor General.

Sir Arthur died on 21st February 2002

Jock Campbell VC – Scotland

Major-General John Charles Campbell, VC, DSO & Bar, MC (10 January 1894 – 26 February 1942), known as Jock Campbell, was a British Army officer and a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Jock Campbell was born in Thurso, Scotland and educated in Fife and then Sedbergh School. In 1915, he was commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery. He became a first class horseman - in the top flight at both polo and hunting he was captain of the Equestrian team at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. A first class artillery officer he was awarded the Military Cross in the First World War.

When the Second World War broke out Campbell was 45 years old  and commanding a battery in the 4th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery in Egypt. When Italy declared war in June 1940, Campbell, by then a lieutenant colonel, was commanding the artillery component of 7th Armoured Division's Support Group under Brigadier William Gott. He was awarded the DSO and later a bar for his brilliant command in decisive desert battles.

In September 1941 Gott was promoted to command 7th Armoured Division and Campbell took over command 7th Support Group as an acting brigadier. In November 1941 while occupying the airfield at Sidi Rezegh, south of Tobruk, they were attacked by two armoured divisions of the Afrika Korps. The British tanks suffered heavy losses but prevented the Germans taking the airfield. Brigadier Campbell's small force, holding important ground, was repeatedly attacked and wherever the fighting was hardest he was to be seen either on foot, in his open car or astride a tank.

 Alan Moorhead’s tribute is in these words. ‘He led his tanks into action riding in an open armoured car, and as he stood there, hanging on to its windscreen, a huge well-built man with the English (sic) officer's stiff good looks, he shouted, 'There they come, let them have it.' When the car began to fall behind, he leapt on to the side of a tank as it went forward and directed the battle from there ... They say that Campbell won the VC half a dozen times that day. The men loved this Elizabethan figure. He was the reality of all the pirate yarns and tales of high adventure, and in the extremes of fear and courage of the battle he had only courage. He went laughing into the fighting]’

The following day he was again at the forefront, encouraging his troops through continued enemy attacks. He personally directed the fire of his batteries, and twice manned a gun himself to replace casualties. Though wounded, he refused to be evacuated during the final German attack. His leadership did much to maintain the fighting spirit of his men, and resulted in heavy casualties being inflicted upon the enemy.

He reportedly received a letter of congratulation from General Johann von Ravenstein, commander of the 21st Panzer Division, one of the armoured formations which Campbell had faced at Sidi Rezegh. When interviewed later as a prisoner of war, General Ravenstein freely expressed his "greatest admiration" for Campbell's skill on "those hot days.”

In February 1942 Campbell was promoted Major General. Three weeks after his promotion he was killed when his jeep overturned on a newly laid clay road.

During the Western Desert Campaign Campbell was considered one of finest commanders in the Eighth Army, an old desert hand who had been in North Africa from the start of the war. His loss was deeply felt. He was buried in Cairo War Memorial cemetery.

Umrao Singh Yadav VC - India

Umrao Singh Yadav (21 November 1920 – 21 November 2005) was the only non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery or the Royal Indian Artillery to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Second World War, and the last survivor of only 40 Indian soldiers to be awarded the VC between 1912, when first eligible to be awarded the VC, and Indian independence in 1947.

Umrao Singh Yadav, son of Mohar Singh, was born into a Hindu family in Palra, a small village 50 km north of Delhi. He attended a local school and joined the Indian Army during World War II in November 1939. He was promoted to Havildar (Sergeant) in the Royal Indian Artillery, Indian Army in 1942.

On the night of 15 to 16 December 1944 in the Kaladan valley, Burma, Umrao Singh was a field gun detachment commander in an advanced section of the 33 Mountain Battery, 30th Mountain Regiment, Indian Artillery, serving on detachment as part of the 81st West African Division in Viscount Slim's British Army. Singh's gun was in an advanced position, supporting the 8th Gold Coast Regiment. After a 90-minute sustained bombardment from 75 mm guns and mortars of the Japanese 28th Army, Singh's gun position was attacked by at least two companies of Japanese infantry. He used a Bren light machine gun and directed the rifle fire of the gunners, holding off the assault. He was wounded by two grenades.

A second wave of attackers killed all but Singh and two other gunners, but was also beaten off. The three soldiers had only a few bullets remaining, and these were rapidly exhausted in the initial stages of the assault by a third wave of attackers. Undaunted, Singh picked up a "gun bearer" (a heavy iron rod, similar to a crow bar) and used that as a weapon in hand-to-hand fighting. He was seen to strike down three infantrymen, fatally wounded, before succumbing to a rain of blows.

Six hours later, after a counter-attack, he was found alive but unconscious near to his artillery piece, almost unrecognisable from a head injury, still clutching his gun bearer. Ten Japanese soldiers lay dead nearby and seven critically wounded. His field gun was back in action later that day.

Singh was presented with his VC by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 15 October 1945. The citation reads "Havildar Umrao Singh set a supreme example of gallantry and devotion to duty."

He was promoted after recovering from his wounds. He retired from the British Indian army in 1946, but rejoined the army in 1947 following Independence. He was appointed to the honorary rank of Captain on 15 August 1970.

 After leaving the army a second time, he returned to farm his family's 2 acre smallholding. At the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of VE Day in London in 1995, he was almost turned away from the VIP tent because his name was not on the correct list, but Brigadier Tom Longland, who had organised the event, recognised his medal and gave orders for him to be admitted.

 He was with four other Indian Army officers including a General after attending the inaugural event. They were waiting on the roadside for the traffic to ease. All of a sudden, a car came to a halt in front of them and a well-dressed gentleman stepped out. He had spotted Umrao Singh’s medal from his car and stopped to pay his respects. He approached him and said, "Sir, may I have the privilege of shaking hands with a Victoria Cross winner.”  Then he looked at the Senior Officer present and said, "General, you are from the Indian Army." When he replied in the affirmative the man gave his name, saying that he was Michael Heseltine. When the General thanked him for having invited the Indian delegation for the VE-Day function, he received the gracious reply, "General, it is we, the British, who should be grateful to your country and your Armed Forces, who helped us win both the First and the Second World Wars. How can we be ever so ungrateful to forget your country's great contribution?"

In spite of personal hardship and receiving substantial offers, Singh refused to sell his medal during his lifetime, saying that selling the medal would "stain the honour of those who fell in battle.”

After the 1995 VE Day celebration Singh complained to the British Prime Minister, John Major about the meagre pension of £168 per year paid to the then ten surviving Indian VC holders. The amount had remained fixed since 1960.The Prime Minister subsequently arranged for the pension to be raised to £1,300 per year.

He died at the Army Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi on his 85th birthday, 21 November 2005.

His name is the last to be added of Royal Artillery recipients of the Victoria Cross shown in the Memorial mosaic in the apse of St George's Garrison Church, Woolwich.

Section 2 - The vital contribution of The Commonwealth

The contribution of Commonwealth Countries in both World Wars and other conflicts was crucial to Allied success in Europe, Africa and Asia. The Commonwealth provided finance, material, soldiers and auxiliaries, but at great cost.

In World War 1 some 3 million soldiers and auxiliaries came from the Commonwealth countries, including the following numbers of soldiers:

India 1,440,437

Canada 628,964

Australia 412,953

South Africa 136,070

Other Countries 134,37

New Zealand 128,825

 

Sadly the fatalities included:

India 64,449

Australia 61,527

Canada 56,638

New Zealand 18,166

South Africa 7,121

 

In World War 2 some 15 million soldiers and auxiliaries served, many from the Commonwealth countries.

Sadly the fatalities included:

India 87,000

Canada 42,000

Australia 39,700

New Zealand 11,700

South Africa 11,900

 

In World War 2 Canada provided $4 billion of financial aid; munitions and supplies for the Allies came from Canada India Australia and elsewhere. The role of Malta in the conflict was so important, and 30,000 volunteered from Cyprus.

One of the longest military attachments between Britain and countries now forming the Commonwealth is the link with the Gurkhas – and many Gurkha families now live in Woolwich. The Brigade of Gurkhas has celebrated over 2 centuries of continuous loyal service to Britain; initially under the command of the East India Company from 1814, then with the British Indian Army from 1895 and continuing after Indian Independence in 1947 to the present day. The Gurkhas were awarded 12 Victoria Crosses in the 2 World Wars.

Recipients of the Victoria Cross from a number of Commonwealth countries include:

Australia 91

BVI 1

Canada 96

Fiji 1

Grenada 1

India 29 - one is Umrao Singh shown on the Garrison Church VC Memorial

Jamaica 1

Kenya 1

Nepal 13

New Zealand 26

Newfoundland (before joining Canada) 2

Rhodesia 3

South Africa 21

Sri Lanka 1

 

The Korean War (1950-1953) involved the British Commonwealth Force Korea, co-ordinated with the UN and always under an Australian Commander in Chief (initially Lt General Sir Horace Robertson). All 3 branches of the Armed Forces were engaged. Australia provided 17,000 Service Personnel of whom 340 were killed. New Zealand suffered 33 fatalities from 3,794 serving soldiers sailors and airmen.

The Malayan Emergency between 1948 and 1960 also saw major contributions from Commonwealth countries. As well as personnel from Australia and New Zealand, Fiji contributed 1,600 soldiers and suffered 25 fatalities. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Kings African Rifles drawing  troops form Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia,) and Kenya suffered 23 killed.

To-day service personnel from the Commonwealth Countries make up about 6,200 of the British Armed Forces. (some 5% o f the total). Since 2018 citizens from the Commonwealth have been entitled to join without a residence requirement. The recruitment target is 1,350 per annum, of which 1,000 will be for the Army, 300 for the Royal Navy and 50 for the Royal Air Force. The largest contingent remains the Gurkha contribution from Nepal. There is also a sizeable number (about 1500) from Fiji and about 400 from Ghana.  St Vincent and the Grenadines with a population of 109,000 contributes 245 soldiers to the British Army.

The links between the Commonwealth Countries and Britain, forged during 2 World Wars and other conflicts remain strong to this day.

Section 3 - The Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Commonwealth today

The most up to date census (2011) shows that in the Royal Borough of Greenwich the largest numbers of residents born abroad come from five Commonwealth countries, and Poland.

The largest such community is residents born in Nigeria with just over 13,000 an increase of 232% over the previous 10 years. Greenwich has the largest concentration of Nigerian born residents of any of the London Boroughs.

Second in size is the Nepalese community which numbers 4,700 representing an increase of 2,933% in 10 years.  That increase is substantially comprised of Gurkha families who have settled in the Borough.

The next most established Commonwealth countries (in order) are India, Ghana and Jamaica.

The Caribbean Social Forum is based in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and was founded by one of the trustees of the WGCT.  The Forum was started in January 2015 and in 2017 won the National Diversity Award to the Community Organisation which has done most in the fields of Race, Religion and Faith. The Forum is for those over 50 (the mature children of the Windrush generation). It meets every week at the Tramshed Theatre in Woolwich and has 600 registered members, mostly with roots in the Caribbean. The Forum summer party at the Garrison Church is one of the highlights of our calendar.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains 3 principal cemeteries in the Borough. In Greenwich Cemetery there are 556 graves for Commonwealth Soldiers who died in World War 1 and 124 for those in World War 2. In Charlton Cemetery there are 59 headstones to Commonwealth Service people who died in the Great War and 55 to those who died in the Second World War.  The Greenwich Royal Naval Cemetery commemorates 19 sailors from the Commonwealth who died in World War 1 and 2 who died in World War 2.

The continuing links are shown by the recruitment of Commonwealth students at the University of Greenwich. The University has registered alumni in 49 of the 54 Commonwealth countries (including the UK). There are around 23,000 alumni from those countries. Currently the University has 2,400 students from 34 Commonwealth countries (not including the UK.)

There is a Commonwealth Way in the Abbey Wood area of the Borough with many residents of Black African, Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin.

The Commonwealth Building in Woolwich houses a number of businesses.

The links between the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Commonwealth are strong and enduring and make the location of the Garrison Church for a Commonwealth Memorial Garden particularly fitting.

Section 4 - The Commonwealth Garden Project

We plan to build a Commonwealth Memorial Garden on the land on 3 sides of the Church and have plans for this garden prepared by the local firm of Garden Designers Ireland Albrecht.

The Royal Borough of Greenwich has many communities with Commonwealth connections including those from West Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia. It is our intention to connect with these links in bringing the project to fruition.

The principal garden would be on the land to the north of the Church (on your left looking from the main road) with views of the Church, the Barracks to the west and elevated views across Woolwich to the East. There is a wall on the northern boundary which will create a favourable micro-climate absorbing heat from the southern sun and providing a good location for shrubs and climbers from the hotter areas of the Commonwealth. The plans are to create an Asian spice and herb garden, a Caribbean and Americas small holders garden, a Pacific dry garden and an African meadow garden. 

On the South side of the Church (on your right looking from the main road) the plans are to create a British garden including an orchard and wild flower meadow to represent the UK’s role in the Commonwealth. 

The design brief incorporates the ecological and educational aspects of this project. The gardens will be irrigated by a water feature and there will be a seated amphitheatre at the north eastern corner.

Our MP Matthew Pennycook wrote of the scheme as follows “ I was hugely impressed with the designs I saw and the potential for the Garden not only to enhance the restored Garrison Church but also to strengthen the community’s and the country’s relationship with the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth service  personnel who served gallantly in successive armed conflicts.”

We shall be holding a Project Launch Event so watch this space! In the meantime your input or ideas are welcome - please send to our Chair - tim@ttbarnes.com

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St George's Garrison Church in Woolwich, with its modern canopy roof and stunning mosaics, is both an evocative ruin and a contemporary space. Designed by Thomas H Wyatt in an Italian-Romanesque style, the Church was built between 1862-63 to serve the Royal Artillery in Woolwich. Today it is run by a local group, the Woolwich Garrison Church Trust who are committed to making it available for all to visit and enjoy. Directly opposite the Barracks in Woolwich, South East London, come and enjoy its beauty and peaceful garden.

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