Garratt Lane in Tooting came to a standstill on Saturday 24th September, as five hundred people turned out to see the unveiling of the first blue plaque in the area for almost half a century.
All eyes were on the little blue and white house at No 934 and buses ground to a halt as passengers strained to catch a glimpse of what was behind the emerald green curtain being serenaded by uniformed buglers. The plaque was placed on the home of Sidney Lewis, believed to be the youngest solder to have served in the British Army in the First World War.
He was twelve years old when he joined up and at the age of thirteen he fought at the Battle of the Somme. At this point his Mother became aware of his whereabouts and provided the authorities with his birth certificate which lead to him being sent home.
One hundred years later, seven carloads of Lewis family attended the Tooting event and the plaque was unveiled by his 83 year old son Colin. The family were visibly moved at how Sid’s story has captured the local imagination.
A powerful sound system pumped WW1 tunes down Garratt Lane all morning and bemused shoppers emerged from Tooting Broadway tube station to the strains of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. The remarkable ceremony which started at 2pm, was organised by the Summerstown182 community history project who have recently received Heritage Lottery funding. It included a recitation by a twelve year old boy, Che Shimmin in full military uniform reading a verse written especially for the event by a local resident.
The highlight of the day was an emotionally-charged performance from an upstairs window by acclaimed Irish violinist Tracey McRory. The haunting melody of ‘Far from Home’ her ‘Tribute to Sidney Lewis’ composed for this occasion will not be forgotten by anyone who heard it.
Three Chelsea Pensioners were present as well as numerous representatives of the Armed Forces, past and present. The Mayor of Wandsworth contributed a reading and a number of local councillors were in attendance. Local school participation included Ernest Bevin College and Earlsfield Primary and visitors came from all corners of the UK and as far away as France and Belgium. The plaque was dedicated by Reverend Roger Ryan who invited everyone back to St Mary’s Church to launch the lottery funded status of Summerstown182.
A very successful campaign called ‘A Quid for Sid’ raised the necessary funds to pay for this and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and Tooting MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan were enthusiastic supporters of the initiative. Having been manufactured some months ago, the plaque has been taken all over Tooting and further afield, allowing donors and well-wishers to pose for photos with it, promoting the event and drumming up interest and awareness. Saturday’s event will be remembered for a very long time - in the words of one observer, Keith from Earlsfield 'It really was an absolutely marvellous occasion; brilliantly conceived and organised, and very moving, This really is an amazing area of London in which to live; with a deep and varied history, a vibrant present, and I am sure a fantastic future. It is great to be part of it’.
Thank you to Marion Gower, John Hill and Peggy Shimmin for the photographs and support.