The Graphic, 7 April 1900
The remarkable incident of the six sons of Mr John Westley, of Lee, Kent, who enlisted together last month in the 3rd Middlesex Imperial Yeomanry, is but another proof of the strong patriotic feeling shown throughout the country in consequence of the present war in South Africa…
The brothers, whose ages range from twenty-one to twenty-seven, have been liberally educated in England, and all have had the advantage of finishing their studies abroad, either in Germany or France. They are keen sportsmen, football being their special forte. Four of the brothers are members of the West Hampstead Football Club, Joseph being considered one of the finest goalkeepers the club has ever had, and well worthy of county honours. Arthur has done good service for the club as ‘back’, and Percy is a smart outside-left. Oscar (the youngest) is the seventh son in succession without the intervention of a daughter. He has spent two years studying mechanical engineering at Messrs John Penn and Son’s works, Greenwich. The other five are leaving good positions in the City, and their employers, in nearly every case, have behaved most generously towards them.
Being descended from an old Catholic family, Cardinal Vaughan has written to their parents with reference to their enlistment: “With all my heart I bless the six soldiers, and admire their spirit and determination…To give six soldiers is next best thing to giving six priests to God’s service.”
The Queen, in acknowledgement of the six brothers, has graciously sent the following letter through Lieutenant-Colonel Davidson, Equerry-in-Waiting: “Dear Sir, I am commanded by the Queen to thank you for the photograph, which Her Majesty received with pleasure. Your six fine sons form a most interesting group, and you may well feel proud of their appearance. The Queen trusts that the six brothers, who have shown such excellent spirit in all joining the same regiment for service inSouth Africa, may all be spared to return in safety at the end of the war.”
Their eldest sister, who is training as a nurse in Glasgow, has volunteered for work with the Red Cross in South Africa.
So what fate befell the fighting Westley brothers?
Genealogy records show that their father, John (cashier to a foreign merchant banker), and mother, Emily, had a total of 9 sons and 4 daughters born between 1869 and 1883 – meaning that Emily was pregnant almost every year. The 13 children, with the 6 soldier brothers highlighted, are:
1869 – Robert Hall
1870 – Amy Gertrude
1871 – Alfred Edward
1872 – Harold Charles Percy
1873 – Arthur John
1874 – Cecil Thomas
1876 – Francis Joseph
1877 – Gerald Wilfred
1879 – Herbert Oscar
1880 – Annie Marie
1881 – Violet Isabel
1882 -Florence Angela
1883 – Harry Cuthbert
The website AngloBoerWar.com shows that all 6 brothers qualified for the Queen’s South Africa medal and that they all enlisted as private soldiers in 11th Battalion, 62nd (Middlesex) Company. Their service numbers show the order in which their enlistment was processed:
11410 – Westley, Harold Charles Percy
11411 – Westley, Arthur John
11413 – Westley, Cecil Thomas
11412 – Westley, Francis Joseph
11409 – Westley, Gerald Wilfred
11408 – Westley, Herbert Oscar
Ancestry records tell us what become of each of them after 1900:
Harold Charles Percy
By the time of the 1911 census, Percy Westley had returned to his position in the City of London as a Stock Exchange Clerk. He was married to Florence with 2 children, and living in Hampton Wick – at that time in Middlesex. Also staying with him was a commercial clerk named Frederick Geyer, a German national born in England. Whatever Percy’s sentiments were about the German people, at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he ‘rushed to the colours’ again at the age of 42. He served in the 1st County of London Yeomanry and later in the Essex Regt, in the rank of Corporal. He saw his first action at Gallipoli in 1915. He survived the war and died in Middlesex in 1951, at the age of 79.
In the 1901 census, 12 months after the newspaper article was published, Arthur Westley was at his parent’s house in Lee, Kent. He was still in the Army, but had been commissioned as a Lieutenant. Arthur probably settled in South Africa after the Boer War ended in 1902, as there are no clear census or military records for him in England after 1901. He was, however, a frequent traveller between South Africa and England. He is recorded as sailing from Cape Town to Southampton in 1922; his occupation is listed as civil servant and his listed address in England was Hampton Wick – presumably he was going to stay with Percy. Arthur made the same journey in 1926 with a wife, Agatha, and they both travelled home together again in 1932 and 1936.
In the 1911 census, Cecil was a Stockbroker’s Clerk living in Sreatham, South London, married to Mary. Like Percy, he enlisted in the 1st County of London Yeomanry in 1914. His service record has survived and notes previous service 1895-99 as a Private in the London Rifle Brigade, and 1899-1902 in South Africa with the 62nd Middlesex, for which he received the Queen’s South Africa medal with 4 bars. He could speak French, and his physical development was ‘good’ just short of his 40th birthday. He attested on 23 September 1914 as a Private and was immediately promoted to Sergeant, but he did not serve overseas. He spent the war on ‘Home Service’, presumably in an instructional role, until he was demobilised in February 1919. He died in Worthing, West Sussex, in 1948, aged 74.
In the 1911 census, Joseph Westley is also a Broker’s Clerk. He was unmarried and living in Surrey with his married sister Violet. He probably then emigrated to New Zealand shortly after. When he eventually retired, he returned home to England in 1937 and died in Brighton, East Sussex, in 1939, aged 63.
Gerald Westley was the only brother who did not return home from the Boer War. As a member of the 14th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry, he died at Bethlehem on 2 March 1901, aged 23 - less than 12 months after the newspaper article was published.
In the 1901 census, Oscar Westley was at his parent’s house in Lee, Kent, along with his brother Arthur. The census was taken on the night of 31 March 1901, so perhaps the two brothers had made the 3 week journey home to personally break the news of Gerald’s death. Like Arthur, Oscar had also been commissioned as a Lieutenant. Also like Arthur, he probably settled in South Africa after the Boer War to work as an engineer. He returned to England from South Africa, accompanied by a wife and 2 daughters, on 12 September 1914, perhaps with the intention of rejoining the Army. However, there is no record that he served in World War 1.
And finally, the last line of the newspaper article mentions their eldest sister, who was training as a nurse in Glasgow, and had volunteered for work with the Red Cross in South Africa. This refers to Amy Gertrude Westley, born in 1870. In the 1901 census she is listed as working in Glasgow Royal Infirmary as a hospital nurse. There is no record of Amy actually serving during the Boer War, but it is probable as she did go to South Africa. She is recorded as returning to England in October 1916, in what must have been a dangerous sea voyage at the height of the First World War, having been resident in Pretoria as a nurse. She did not marry, and died in 1932 in Surrey, aged 62.