Richard Ernest Simmons was born in Chelmsford, the son of a gardener. He obtained a scholarship to Chelmsford’s Grammar School, after which he trained to be a teacher, becoming assistant master at the town’s Victoria Elementary School. He joined the army in September 1914, was sent to Gibraltar in January 1915 before being moved to France in July 1915. He was wounded in the Battle of the Somme in September 1916 and hospitalised for almost two months as a result. The following September he was granted an officer’s commission. He was killed by an exploding shell near Ypres in December 1917. His family home was in Meadow Side, off Rectory Lane.
Richard was born at Meadow Side, Rectory Lane, Chelmsford on 29th June 1892, the younger son of gardener Martin Simmons and Lea Elsie Louise Simmons (nee Girond). His father had been born in 1861; in Chipstead, Surrey his mother c1864 in Switzerland and was of Swiss nationality. The couple had married in London in 1887 and came to Chelmsford by 1890. In 1891 they had been resident at 6 Meadow Side, Chelmsford with two sons.
Richard had five siblings, including Lea Marguirite Elise Simmons (1887-1900), Martin Edouard Simmons (1890-1963), Eleanor Ruth Matilda Simmons (1893-1940) and Phillis Mary Simmons (born in 1905). Apart from Lea, who was born in Chipstead all the children were Chelmsford-born. A fifth sibling died in childhood.
The 1901 census found eight year-old Richard living with his parents and two surviving siblings at an unnumbered house in Meadow Side, a short cul-de-sac off the southern side of Rectory Lane, Chelmsford. His father was a domestic gardener for Charles Ridley J.P. who lived across Rectory Lane at his large house ‘The Elms’ - today site of the Rectory Lane Car Park and Elm Drive. Richard’s father had started working for Mr. Ridley around 1890, soon after his arrival in Chelmsford, and was to remain in his employ for more than forty years.
Richard was educated at the Victoria Elementary School, Chelmsford, until 18th September 1906 when he obtained a scholarship joined the Fourth Form at King Edward VI’s Grammar School in Chelmsford as a day scholar. At that time he still lived in Meadow Side and his father remained employed as a gardener. Richard was granted a two year exemption from school fees, renewed for one year, courtesy of Essex County Council.. He obtained the Oxford Junior Level qualification in July 1908, was a burser from that September until July 1909. He gained the Cambridge Senior Local qualification in 1909 and the London University Matric 1st Class. His time as a pupil ended just after his seventeenth birthday, on 30th July 1909, and two months later he became a student teacher, a profession he followed until joining the army at the start of the war. He studied further at St. Paul’s College in Cheltenham and returned to Chelmsford to work as a teacher at his old elementary school.
The 1911 census listed 18 year-old Richard living with his parents, his grandmother (Mary Simmons, born in Chipstead, Surrey), a brother and sister, still at their Meadow Side home. He was a municipal teacher at the Victoria Elementary School in Chelmsford. His father and brother Martin were domestic gardeners - his father being a head gardener.
Richard later worked at a London County Council school where he was an assistant master.
On 17th September 1914, aged 22 and three months, Richard attested to the 7th (Reserve) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment at Hornsey in north London. He was given the service number 3327 and rank of Private. He gave his home address as Meadowside, Rectory Lane in Chelmsford. The report of his medical, successfully taken the following day, described hin as six feet tall (tall for that time), with a 37 inch chest (with gour inches of expansion), good vision and fair physical development.
On 19th September 1914 Richard signed a declaration agreeing to serve outside the United Kingdom should he be required to do so. On 11th October 1914 and 21st October 1914 he received anti-typhoid inoculations at Barnet and on 31st January he set sail for Gibraltar as a member of the 2/7th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. He remained in Gibraltar until 24th July 1915 when he went to France to serve with the 1/7th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.
While in France, in September 1916, Martin suffered a gun shot wound in his elbow during the Battle of the Somme. He spent the period 19th September 1916 to 13th November 1916 in hospital in the U.K. recovering.
After his recovery Richard did not rejoin the 1/7th Battalion, remaining in England with his original unit, the 7th (Reserve) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. He was posted to D Company.
On 13th March 1917 he completed his application for an officer’s commission. In it he gave Meadow Side as his permanent address, his current address for correspondance as 24 St. James Road, Tinbridge Wells, Kent, and his profession in civil life as ‘schoolmaster’. His good moral character was certified by the Rector of Chelmsford and confirmation that he had received a standard of education suitable for an officer from the principal at St. Paul’s College in Cheltenham. His commanding officer recommended his as a suitable candidate for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit with a view to him being ‘appointed to a commission.’
On the same day he completed his application form he passed another medical at Tunbridge Wells. He had grown to six feet one inches tall, and weighed 12 stone six pounds.
His application was successful and on 16th May 1917 Richard arrived at Bournemouth to start officer training at No. 3 Royal Garrison Artillery Officer Cadet School.
On 16th September 1917 Richard was formally discharged from the Middlesex Regiment having obtained his commission as a Second Lieutenant into the Royal Garrison Artillery, news of which was published in the London Gazette on 4th October 1917. He was posted to the 232nd Siege Battery, arriving in the field on 15th November 1917, but less than a month later he was dead, killed in action by an exploding shell on 5th December 1917.
Today he lies at Solferino Farm Cemetery, north-west of Ypres, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium (grave: II. C. 13).
On 14th December 1917 the Essex County Chronicle carried a family announcement of his death:
“Simmons. - On Dec. 5th, killed in action in France, Sec.-Lt. Richard Ernest Simmons, R.G.A., son of Mr. and Mrs. Simmons of Meadowside, Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, aged 25.”
The same edition also carried a report on Richard’s death:
“Sec.-Lt. R. E. Simmons, R.G.A., younger son of Mr. and Mrs. Simmons, Meadowside, Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, was killed in action on Dec. 5. While on duty with the Major. a shell landed near, killing him instantly and severely wounding the Major. At the outbreak of the war Sec.-Lt. Simmons enlisted in the Middlesex Regt., and after spending five months at Gibraltar, was sent to France, where, in Sept., 1916, he was wounded in the battle of the Somme. Later he joined a Cadet Corps, was gazetted Sept., 1917, and joined his battery in France early in Nov. last. Sec.-Lt. SImmons was for many years connected with the Victoria Schools Chelmsford. as scholar, student teacher, and assistant master. After winning a local scholarship he proceeded to the Grammar School, then to St. Paul’s Cheltenham, on leaving which he was appointed assistant master under the L.C.C. He was an undergraduate of London University, and a clever young teacher.”
SIMMONS, RICHARD ERNEST,
2nd Lieutenant, 232nd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, (
formerly of the 7th (Reserve), 2/7th and 1/7th Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment)
The day’s Essex Weekly News reported:
“Sec.-Lieut R. E. Simmons, R.G.A., younger son of Mr. and Mrs. Simmons, Meadowside, Rectory-lane, Chelmsford, was killed in action on Dec. 5. While he was on duty with his Major a shell landed near, killing Lieut Simmons instantly and severely wounding the Major. At the outbreak of the war deceased enlisted in the Middlesex Regt,. and after spending five months at Gibraltar was sent to France, where, in September 1916, he was wounded in the battle of the Somme. Later he joined a Cadet Corps, was gazetted September 1917, and joined his battery in France early in November last. Lieut. Simmons was for many years connected with the Victoria Schools, Chelmsford, as scholar, student teacher, and assistant master, After winning a local scholarship he proceeded to the Grammar School, then to St. Paul’s College, Cheltenham, and on leaving was appointed assistant master at the L.C.C. He was an undergraduate of London University and a clever young teacher.”
The April 1918 edition of the King Edward VI’s Grammar School’s publication, The Chelmsford Magazine, reported:
“Yet another death is to be recorded in that of R.E. Simmons who has had a great deal of hard strenuous service and who is one of the old boys who wrote most appreciatively about Mr. Smylie.”
After his death his effects were sent home to his father. They included: one photograph, one photograph case with photograph, visiting cards, letters, a diary, one ‘Where is it”, one note case, one wristwatch and strap, one broach, and a letter containing one smaill unopened packet.
Richard is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and by the Chelmsford Parish Great War Memorial in Chelmsford Cathedral. He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
The 1918 register of electors listed Richard’s parents still their Meadow Side house. The site of their home is now occupied by Harway House.
Richard’s father died in 1930, aged 68. His mother followed suit in 1934, aged 70 after being hit by a car in Broomfield Road. The Essex Chronicle reported:
“”WIDOW'S SAD DEATH FROM ROAD INJURIES INQUEST AT CHELMsFORD
Mrs. Lea Elise Louise Simmons, aged 70, a widow, of the Keene Memorial Homes, Chelmstord, died at St. John's Hospital, Wood Street, Saturday, from injuries received on March 31 when she was accidentally knocked down by car.
A verdict of Death by misadventure was returned at the inquest on Monday. Mr. H. J. Smith represented the driver of the car.
Martin E. Simmons, sergeant in the Southend Borough Police, son of the deceased, said his mother was a very active woman for her age. He saw her several times after the accident, but she could never tell him what happened.
Dr. J. T. Whitley said deceased was admitted to St. John's Hospital, Wood Street, from Chelmsford Hospital. She had fracture of the left leg and other injuries. She improved until May 20, and then got worse and died. Death was due to old age, accelerated by the injuries received in the accident.
Phyllis Mary Simmons, of Kentish Town, a daughter, said she was with her mother on March 31. They walked down Swiss Avenue. Before witness could do anything her mother walked across the road towards her home. A car coming from Dunmow struck her and knocked her down. It was dark at the time.
Leonard Norrington, King's Road, Chelmsford, said he was walking along Broomfield Road, and as he reached the corner of Swiss Avenue he saw the old lady step off the path and walk across the road towards the Keene Memorial Homes. He saw a 'bus pull up to avoid her, and then he saw a car coming at a normal speed from Broomfield. The car was about six yards away, and almost immediately hit the deceased. It pulled up in a short distance. The off side part of the car struck her.
Frank Spooner. of Hatfield Peverel, employed by the Eastern National 'Bus Co., said he was driving a double-decker 'bus along the Broomfield Road, and when near the Keene Memorial Homes someone ran across his 'bus from the near side. He saw a car coming from the opposite direction. This car pulled up, and then witness saw a woman lying in the road. There was. a fair amount of traffic.
P.s. Bush gave evidence of finding human hair on the running-board of the car.
Sidney George C. Smith, aged 17, of the Saracen's Head Hotel, Dunmow, said he was driving his father's car from Dunmow to Chelmsford, accompanied three persons. Just before the accident he was proceeding at about 25 miles an hour. saw the 'bus approaching, and there was traffic behind it. As he was meeting these vehicles he was slowing down. He added: ''I saw faint glimpse of something and felt a bump at the same time. This was on my off side. I pulled up immediately and ran back to find the deceased lying in the middle of the road. I heard the daughter say, 'It was my fault. I shouldn't have let her go.’”
Vera Wade, Saracen's Head Hotel, Dunmow, said she was sitting in the back seat of the car. She saw something in dark clothing come from the off side of the car and strike the side. The driver could not have avoided the accident. Returning their verdict the jury exonerated the car driver from all blame. “