William George Foster


Ditchling, main street

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Photographer, Ditchling. Foster was born in Brighton in 1880, and was the younger son of Thomas Gimson Foster and Louisa Jane Barwell. According to Gill Hall, his great granddaughter, he married Cara Elizabeth Tiltman in Brighton Register Office on September 5, 1905. In 1909 he was living at 2 Fairplace Cottages at Burgess Hill, and working as a photographer's assistant. Gill also reports that from 1910 to 1912 he had a photographer's shop in Brighton. Paul Green has established that he joined the 8th Battalion (Pioneers) of the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1914 and gained the rank of Lance Corporal. He evidently trained with his Battalion at Colchester and on Salisbury Plain, before leaving England for France on July 24, 1915. Gill's understanding is that he became the Battalion photographer, and Paul has found postcards labelled "Foster & Harwood, 3a Clarence Street, Brighton" showing Battalion soldiers at Colchester and also unlabelled but otherwise similar cards of the Regiment at their Salisbury Plain camp. Presumably William Foster took the photographs and sent them to his elder brother, Alfred Thomas Foster, and partner Harwood to print as cards.

At some stage in the war, it seems likely that Foster transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer and photographer. After the RAF was created on April 1, 1918, he became a member of their 4th Squadron, which Paul reports specialised in aerial reconnaissance. He died on October 26, 1918 at Armentieres. Paul has found the following entry in official records:

FOSTER  William [George] Sergeant 93772, The Royal Air Force Number 4 Squadron. Accidentally killed on active service in France 26 October 1918. Resident of The Twitten, Ditchling. Born in Ditchling (sic), formerly of Brighton. Recorded on Brighton War Memorial and St Peter's Memorial Book (Brighton). Buried "Y" Farm Military Cemetery, Bois Grenier F 276.

It is uncertain when Foster first settled in Ditchling, but he produced a series of black and white or sepia real photographic cards of the village that are marked "Foster", "Foster, Ditchling" or "Foster, Photo, Ditchling" on the front. The cards tend now to be very yellowish and faded. A series of 6 or more cards show the existing bells and two new bells being prepared for hanging in Ditchling Church in January 1914. Other subjects include private houses (such as Streat Place), village streets, Clayton Windmills, and the approach road to Hassocks station. The captions are written in some cases in small, blocky capitals and in other cases in a rather flowery script, sometimes with certain letters extended in an awkward spiky fashion, repeating the same mannerisms seen on some of the cards published by his father.

The same label "Foster, Ditchling" appears on some now badly faded sepia real photographic cards of an undated Red Cross Society Field Day at Falmer. One of these cards is also labelled on the reverse "Foster & Harwood, 3a Clarence Street, Brighton", as are a few of the Ditchling views. A card of the "Anne of Cleves" house is labelled "Brighton View Co. 3a Clarence Street, Brighton". The Clarence Street Foster seems to have been his elder brother, Alfred Thomas Foster (see Brighton View Co.).

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