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EXCLUSIVE: Long-lost family of Private Best contact Southwark News from USA after war grave revelation

The long-lost family of Private William Thomas Best have been reunited after their ancestor who died fighting in the First World War appeared in last week’s Armistice special edition of the News.

Private Best

After seeing a photograph of her late, distant cousin in an article online, Glenys Philyaw wrote in saying: “I was born and raised in East Dulwich, but moved to the US in 1984 to marry my American husband.

“I still visit London every year and very proud of my South London heritage.

“Thomas William Best is my second cousin, twice removed.

“His parents were Mary Ann Mann and Thomas Samuel Best.

“Thomas Samuel died when his son was two, and his mother remarried a John Roullier in 1887 when Thomas was around five.

“It is the Roullier family that I am passionate about – my grandmother Eliza Roullier was a great, great, grand-daughter of the first Roullier to arrive in London from Paris in the late 1780’s – Jean Alphonse Ferdinand Roullier.

“Jean was a prolific writer, painter and teacher of languages. He operated a book shop in Soho in 1801.

“He had three books published (that I know of) one of which was titled ‘The Primitives of the Greek Tongue, in Greek, Latin, English, Italian and French’, published 1809.

“Unfortunately, his education and standard of living did not follow down the generations – his daughter spent time in a debtors prison and his son, John, my great-great-great-grandfather, had fifteen children and was living in the slums of Peckham.

“The Roullier White shop on Lordship Lane is connected to this Roullier family. Lawrence, the owner, who sadly passed away, was my third cousin.”

The News was more than happy to put her in touch with David Rodgers and his wife, so she can share her research into their shared family tree, with David describing the news as ‘fantastic’, and saying he couldn’t wait to tell the family.

According to Glenys’ research, Private Best is listed in the 1901 census as living on Honiton Street in Peckham, and later in Walworth’s Borrett Road in 1911.

He appears as a ‘paper hanger’, and then a ‘house decorator’ by trade. He died from pneumonia while being treated in hospital for gunshots to the face.

His widow, Ethel, received a war widow’s pension of 33 shillings and nine pence until her death in Peckham in 1975.

As we reported last week David Rodgers, from Sevenoaks, was dismayed to find a pile of rubbish was covering Private Best’s grave in Camberwell Old Cemetery when he went to pay their respects on the Friday before the centenary of the end of World War One.

It emerged the rubble had been left on the graves of 48 war dead – including his wife’s great-grandfather’s – after being illegally dumped fifteen years earlier, though the council claims it will move it once and for all as part of its continuing redevelopment of the public cemetery.

After visiting the cemetery David, whose wife’s family hails from Peckham, told the News: “It seems while the rest of the world were commemorating the fallen, those in Camberwell Old Cemetery were left forgotten.”

Since last week’s front page story both the council and Commonwealth War Graves Commission had been in touch to offer their apologies and confirm no war graves had been ‘disturbed’ despite the rubble and redevelopment.

The Commission has assured David Rodgers and his wife the work to this area of the cemetery will be completed within a month, after which the area will be landscaped, terraced and grassed and no war graves will be disturbed throughout.

A spokesperson for the commission said they will be in touch with his family when the new headstone will be placed.



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