Fred & Alec Naylor, Veterans of the First World War

Within weeks of the declaration of the First World War on 4 August 1914, the Lay Clerks of St George’s Chapel began to sign up for Military Service. A Chapter minute reveals that full pay was granted to the first three men leaving for service: G.E. Bower, Frank Eaton Cooter and Fred Naylor.[1] Over the next two years almost half of the then Lay Clerks left to join the army, as did the Chapter Clerk and the Assistant Master of St George’s School. Though religious ministers were exempt from conscription in 1916, a few had also sought permission from the dean and canons to take up positions as chaplains at the front. One request from Minor Canon Bernard Everett was accepted in 1915, but as numbers were severely depleted during the War, they refused to grant Minor Canon Maurice Foxell permission to take up an Army Chaplaincy on 27 July 1918.

One of the three Lay Clerks to depart in 1914 was Fred Naylor. Fred joined the St George’s Chapel choir in May 1895. He sang at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, four Coronations and the funerals of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V and George VI [SGC V.B.11-15]. His two children, Fred Alexander (Alec) and Kathleen were born and brought up in the Horseshoe Cloister, baptised in St George’s Chapel and Alec followed his father’s musical vein as a Chorister to the Chapel Royal, St James’ Palace.

During the First World War both Fred and Alec left Windsor to serve in the Army. Fred spent five years serving at the front in Egypt, Palestine and then in Syria. Alec joined the army in October 1917, aged 19, and served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry regiment. While at the front in France, he was captured and sent to the Holzminden Camp in Germany. He wrote to his mother on 28 March 1918 [SGC M.155/B/1/3/2]:

“My Darling Mother. Hope you haven’t given up all hope. I was captured on the 21st. There are 10 other Officers from our Batt. Had a pretty rough time until we got here 2 days ago. They nearly starved us. We were marching for 3 days + then 3 days in the train.”

Alec kept a steady account of all the letters he sent and received during his time in the camp, many which arrived all at once, regardless of their date of posting. Sometimes his family could send packages, but after his first parcel, he told his sister that he only received a few items as the others were taken somewhere along its long route to Germany [SGC M.155/D/1/2/1]. In his diary, he wrote: “For the prisoner there is always the ‘want to’ and the ‘cant’.” [SGC M.155/C/3/4/1]. Clippings of articles he kept in the years after the War reveal the atrocious conditions faced by men in prisoner of war camps and confirmed that Holzminden was one of the worst of the First World War camps.

After his release, Alec applied to take up a position with the Indian Army in the Middle East. Like his father, he visited Egypt, but remained there for some years after the First World War. Fred Naylor returned to the Horseshoe Cloister and to his duties as Lay Clerk, in addition to taking the position of Librarian for the Choristers in September 1919.

All of the Lay Clerks who left to serve during the First World War returned to St George’s Chapel. Fred remained a Lay Clerk until his retirement at the age of 86 in 1957 [V.B.11-15]. He died aged 91 in 1963 and a memorial service was held in his honour at the Chapel. A memorial plaque mounted on the wall in the Dean’s Cloister records the unique and devoted career of Mr Fred Naylor. When Alec retired he became Captain of the Stewards and on the Management Committee of the Friends of St George’s Chapel. Both Alec and his sister Kathleen were part of the first group of members of the Friends, continuing their family’s long connection to the College of St George.

The Naylor family in the Horsehoe Cloister, including Eva and Fred Naylor, as well as their adult children, Kathleen and Alec.
The Naylor family: Kathleen, Fred, Eva and Alec [M.155/D/1/2/5]
[1] The same was agreed on 9 November 1914 for A Thomas Watson and Lewis Stainton. Others would follow in 1916: H. Akeroyd and Albert G. Key. Others from the College also left, including the Assistant Master at St George’s School and Mr Fox Strangeways, in Spring of 1915.

Kristen Mercier, Assistant Archivist

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The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.