Rex Needle: Article led to face in First World War photograph being identified

Lily Baldwin
Lily Baldwin
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A face from one of the most famous photographs in the Bourne archives, that of the recruiting sergeant pictured with the first fifteen enlisted men who left this town to fight in the First World War, has been identified with the help of a letter to The Local.

The men had volunteered to join the Lincolnshire Regiment at the outbreak of war and on Monday 31st August 1914, they met at the recruiting depot in West Street [at the indoor rifle range next to the Bourne Institute] and were escorted to the railway station by the town’s brass band with a large number of residents following behind to give them a hearty send-off.

WW1 recruits

WW1 recruits

With them was one man in uniform who until now we have only known as Recruiting Sergeant Todd but after the photograph appeared in this newspaper on Friday 15th August 2014 with my feature about letters from the trenches written home by Bourne lads to their loved ones, a lady wrote in saying: “My grandfather was that sergeant.”

Mrs Lily Baldwin, aged 78, of Heathcote Road, Bourne, recognised him and has since provided further details about his distinguished army career and his later life as a pub landlord.

George Walter Todd was born in South Street, Bourne on 13th December 1873, the son of William and Fanny Todd, and after school went to work as a labourer but the military life beckoned and on 19th April 1895 he enlisted in the Yorks and Lancs Regiment at the age of 17. After basic training at Pontefract he was posted to India, being promoted sergeant in 1899 before sailing for South Africa where he saw action during the Boer War and was awarded the South Africa medal.

He returned to England for discharge in 1903 but when the Great War broke out in 1914, he re-joined the colours to become recruiting sergeant stationed at Bourne for one year during which time he was responsible for enlisting some 800 recruits from the South Lincolnshire area. Sergeant Todd’s army experience proved invaluable for his next series of postings to various military camps along the east coast where he served as a drill sergeant putting new recruits through their paces on the barrack square.

He had married Mary Ann Stubley, aged 24, at Bourne in 1902 and they had four children, three girls and a boy, and during this period the family lived in married quarters at several towns with the children continually changing schools until he was finally discharged after the Armistice in November 1918 when he came back to Bourne.

Returning to civilian life meant finding a home for the family and so George and Mary Todd chose the licensed trade, taking over as mine hosts of the New Inn on the Spalding Road in Bourne [now closed] where they remained until 1921 when they moved to Witham-on-the-Hill where he became first the village postmaster and then landlord of the Six Bells. He also ran a cobbler’s shop from the stables using the expertise he had learned during his days in the army to repair boots and shoes brought in by villagers, remaining as landlord until retiring in 1947 when he handed over to his son-in-law, Walter Dalby.

George died in St George’s Hospital at Stamford on 22nd June 1960, aged 86, his wife having died in 1952, and they are buried together in the town cemetery at Bourne.

One of their daughters, Florence Mary Todd, who died in 1997, aged 92, was the mother of Mrs Baldwin who remembers her maternal grandfather as a proud old soldier who never forgot his military career, details of which she has traced by searching the Internet and finding his enlistment papers and service record which she has passed on to be added to the history of Bourne.

“He was always smart, sported a waxed moustache and looked every part the soldier”, she said. “He smoked twist tobacco in a clay pipe and while mending shoes in his leather apron he used to let me work the foot treadle of his sanding and polishing machine.

“I even remember him holding the nails in his mouth while re-soling boots and shoes and I used to wonder why ever he didn’t swallow them. He was also a ferocious dominoes player and usually won although I was never sure whether this was by fair means or foul. But he was always very kind, especially to we children and I remember him with great affection. He wrote me a lovely letter on my 21st birthday which I treasure to this day.”