William Stuart Barnett, known as Stuart, was born on the 4th March 1892 in Sutton, Surrey. He was the only son of William Barnett an his wife Louisa. Stuart’s father died when he was only two years old and he grew up in Wickham Road, Sutton with his mother and three sisters. He was educated at Laleham House School in Margate which was a boarding school. In 1912, Stuart enlisted in the 9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria Rifles) and was promoted to Cpl in 1912. In May 1914 he was transferred to The Royal Engineers. He went to France on the 10th August 1914, as a despatch rider with the G.H.Q. Signal Company. Cpl Stuart Barnett was killed in action at Doue France on the 7th Sep 1914 while carrying despatches from General Headquarters to the 2nd Army Corps Signals.
The Rev. O. S. Watkins, Wesleyan Chaplain to the Forces, Flanders in his book ” With French in France and Flanders ” writes so beautifully about the incident. ” I found the brave lad lying in a cottage in the village. Peasants told me that in the darkness he had lost his way, and had actually ridden through two villages occupied by the Germans until he was brought to a stand at Doue with a bullet through his heart. As soon as the Germans retired the villagers had lifted him tenderly into the cottage, straightened the fine young limbs into decent restfulness, and covered him with a clean white sheet. I found him, a bunch of newly gathered flowers on his breast, his face calm and determined, but looking strangely young. He was carried to his last long rest by old men belonging to the village—there were no young men, for all were serving with the Army—and as we passed through the streets women came from the houses and laid flowers upon the bier. Up the steep road we toiled, with many a stop to rest the ancient bearers. Ahead boomed the heavy guns in action, and below we could see the infantry advancing to the attack. At last we reached the hill-top, crowned by its little church and peaceful graveyard. We laid him in his shallow grave, the peasants, with heads uncovered, listening with reverence to the grand words of the Burial Service in a language they did not understand. Before the service was over shrapnel was bursting on the hill, and silently the peasants crept to the wall for shelter, their heads still uncovered. As the final Amen ‘ fell from my lips, and I stood for a moment looking down on all that was left of that fine young manhood, one of the old men, forgetting his fear of the thundering guns, stepped to the graveside, and, as he cast earth upon the prone body with his hands, with wonderful dignity he addressed the sleeper. As far as I could understand his words he said : You are a brave man and our friend. You have given your life for our country. We thank you. May you sleep well in the earth of beautiful France,’ and the others said ‘ Amen.’
Cpl Barnett is still buried in Doue Churchyard where the French villagers carried him that night, the only British Casualty buried there. He is commemorated on Sutton War Memorial and on the Memorial Painting in Christchurch, Sutton.