CWG: Private Ambrose Hopkins

Private Ambrose Hopkins

Ambrose Frank Hopkins was born in the autumn of 1886, in the Kent village of Ospringe. He was one of four children to shopkeeper-turned-farmer William Hopkins and his wife Julia.

When he finished school, Ambrose found employment in a brickyard in nearby Faversham. In August 1901, however, things took a turn for the worse for the Hopkins family.

Mr WJ Harris, Coroner, had a painful task on Monday evening, when he held an inquest on the body of William Hopkins, a farmer, who was found hanging in the cellar of his house that morning, having ended his life in consequence, it would appear, of business troubles.

Julie Hopkins, wife of the deceased, stated that her husband was 59 years of age… He went to bed on Sunday evening apparently in his usual health and at four o’clock that morning to light the fire which he usually did. Deceased had lately been troubled by business worries.

Blanche Sophia Hopkins, deceased’s daughter, stated that on going down the cellar about seven o’clock that morning (Monday) she saw her father hanging from a beam in the ceiling. She was too much frightened either to touch him or to notice if he was dead, but run up and sent to PC Ward and a doctor. The constable saw deceased just as she found him.

Faversham News: Saturday 31st August 1901.

The tragedy rocked the family and, within eighteen months, Julia too had died. By the summer of 1903, Blanche had auctioned off her once family home for the sum of £270, in order to support her and Ambrose, who was nine years her junior.

In 1906, Ambrose married Florence Harris, a widow thirteen years his senior, who had three children. The couple settled down in Faversham, and went on to have three children themselves – Elsie, Harold and William.

By now Ambrose was working as a labourer in Harty Ferry, just the other side of the Swale River on the Isle of Sheppey. But again, things were going to change as, in May 1916, he was called up for military service.

Private Hopkins was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He was sent to Dover for training, before returning to home on leave in advance of further action.

An inquest was held at the Guildhall, Faversham, on Tuesday by the County Coroner… touching the death of Ambrose Frank Hopkins, aged 29… a Private in the 3rd Buffs, stationed at Dover, who hung himself on Sunday last.

Florence Amy Hopkins, the widow, stated that deceased has been… called to the colours three weeks that day. He had leave on Friday last until Sunday night. When he returned he seemed in very good health, but he told her he could not get on in the Army as he could not do his drill, etc.

He was a very quiet man of sober habits. They got on well together except for occasional tiffs. On the Sunday he said what a good breakfast and dinner she had got. All Sunday morning he was cleaning his buttons. He sat talking till after 3pm and then went out the back.

She went out for about twenty minutes, and when she returned she could not find him. Thinking he had gone to bed she went upstairs, but he was not there. Just about five she looked down the cellar stairs, thinking he might be at work there, and saw him hanging by a rope.

On the Saturday night she found the following note on the living room table in her husband’s handwriting. “Good night, my dear Flo, the last night here. My dear little wife, think of me and be good to the children.” She went upstairs, woke him up, and asked him what he had done it for, and he said it was only a joke. There had not been any words between them.

His one trouble was about going back. She told him to make the best of it, and that it would all be the better for him. He replied “Flo, I cannot and I never shall.” They owed a little, but nothing to worry about.

He complained of the food very much, and said that all he had on Thursday night was a piece of bread as hard as a brick. He had fallen away very much since he had been in the Army.

Alfred Willett, a munition worker.. stated that he was called by [Julia] about 5:30pm on Sunday and found deceased in the cellar hanging by a rope fastened to the rafters. The knees were about six inches from the ground, and the feet were touching the ground. Witness cut him down, but he was quite dead. His tunic and cap were off.

Lieutenant Hillier Hughes, of The Buffs, said that deceased had a clean conduct sheet, and he was quite up to average at drill. The food at dinner consisted of meat, two vegetables and pudding. An officer always went round to enquire if there were any complaints. The bread was fresh every day.

The Coroner, in summing up, said that apparently the deceased was not well balanced, and no doubt felt that he was not doing as well as he ought to.

The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane.”

Faversham Time and Mercury and North East Kent Journal: Saturday 24th June 1916.

In very similar circumstances to his father, Private Ambrose Frank Hopkins had died on 18th June 1916. He was just 29 years of age. He was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery, finally finding some peace.

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