Wimbledon resident, Douglas Reed, tells of his father’s World War I experiences

merton-remembersRobert James Reed (1889-1952)

Douglas Reed is Wimbledon born and bred. He is a retired surveyor and has worked on many major projects including the development of Heathrow and Gatwick airports when they were fledgling domestic airports.

It all started with a single photograph…

A father goes to war

There is a book in everyone, so the saying goes, and Douglas’ tale is the story of his father’s experiences in World War I. Speaking about why he felt compelled to write such a personal book, Douglas says:

“This whole story was prompted by a photograph I found in my mother’s house many years ago.

Robert James Reed

Robert James Reed (right)

“It is of my father, Robert James Reed, with a fellow soldier in uniform. I now know that the chalk on their boots places them in the Somme, the location of many infamous battles. Unfortunately, I don’t know the identity of the soldier standing to my father’s right. I have often thought there could be one of his descendants out there with a similar photograph.

“This is a story about an infantry soldier, not so often told in the major history books of our time. And yet nearly one million private soldiers gave their lives and four million were wounded. My father endured 35 battles – going over the top on the Western Front 35 times. He was wounded twice. But like so many men of that generation, he did not talk about his ordeals and I, regrettably, didn’t ask.

“A father of three, he volunteered at the age of 24 to join up and became a soldier in the Middlesex Regiment – a front line infantry regiment that lost 30,000 men – the so-called “Die Hards”. He was one of the millions of soldiers who went over the top at the Western Front so many times, but unlike so many, he came home.

Troops well led

“A lot of my research disproved the myth that this war was a waste of time and the men were badly led. I found no suggestion that lives didn’t count and a lot of evidence that many senior officers laid down their lives for their country and cared for their men.”

Campaign medals

Robert Reed was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory medal and the Defence medal.

Campaign medals

Campaign medals

The original medals were lost when the Reeds’ home in Haydon’s Road, Wimbledon, was bombed during World War II. But Douglas Reed applied to the Ministry of Defence for copies. Robert was awarded the 1914-15 Star as he was amongst the first to volunteer to go to war.

Here is a short film of Douglas telling his father’s story and sharing his inspiration for writing his book Knowing That We Do Thy Will.


Take a look at our other World War One stories.