Thomas Townsend was born in Maidstone, Kent, in around 1864. Details of his early life are sketchy, but his mother was Mary Townsend, and he had an older brother, Henry.
Thomas worked as a labourer, mainly in brickyards, and, at the turn of the century, was living in to the north of Maidstone. The 1901 census records him as sharing his home with his wife, Lydia Townsend, her son, George Andrews, and a visitor, seven-year-old John Lassam.
The next census, in 1911, Thomas and Lydia are both shown as living in the same house, although it notes they had been married for eight years. John Lassam is still living at the property, by now as a boarder, while he was also working as a labourer.
Conflict was closing in on Europe and, despite being 50 when war was declared, Thomas was keen to play his part. He initially enlisted in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, but soon transferred across to The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Full details of his service as unclear, but it seems he was assigned to the National Reserve Guard at Faversham, Kent.
Private Townsend’s role was guard duty, possibly at the munitions factory in the town. While carrying out this role in the autumn of 1915, he caught a chill, which then became pneumonia. He was admitted to the Faversham Military Hospital, but the lung condition was to get the better of him, and he passed away on 28th November 1915. He was 51 years of age.
Thomas Townsend was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery, not far from where he carried out his military role.
The life of Edward Hopson looks likely to remain a mystery, and what can be pieced together is done from a few fragmented documents. His gravestone sits in the Faversham Borough Cemetery in Kent.
A local newspaper, contemporary to his passing in January 1915, acts at the starting point:
Edward Hopson, a Maidstone [Kent] man, belonging to the National Reserve Guard doing duty at the Explosives Works at Faversham, died suddenly while proceeding on duty on Tuesday night.
Evidence of identification was given by Joseph Cornelius, a Lance Corporal in the Guard, who stated that so far as was known, the deceased’s only relative was a half-brother. The deceased gave his age as 49 when he enlisted, but witness believed his correct age was 61. He was apparently in good health when passed for duty on Tuesday at the works of the Explosives Loading Company at Uplees.
Charles John Link, engaged on patrol duty at the works, stated that about 10:30 on Tuesday night he was accompanying deceased to the point where he was to do guard duty. On the way deceased complained that he could not see, and shortly afterwards, as they came to a style, he exclaimed “Oh! dear,” and then, dropping his rifle, he fell into the witness’s arms and expired.
South Eastern Gazette: Tuesday 26th January 1915
The cause of death was given to be heart disease, and, at the inquest, a verdict of “Death from Natural Causes” was given.
The report suggests that Edward was born either in around 1866 or 1854. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission give his parents as Jack and Annie Hopson, but there are no surviving census records from the 1800s that would corroborate this.
The 1911 census records an Edward Hopson, aged 57 and from Maidstone, Kent, residing in the Maidstone Union Workhouse. He is listed as a former farm labourer, and his marital stated us given as widowed.
If this is the Edward Hopson commemorated in Faversham Cemetery, it seems likely that he used the outbreak of war – and the opportunity to enlist – as his escape route from the workhouse.
He joined The Buffs (The East Kent Regiment), and was assigned, as a Private, to the 4th Battalion. This particular troop was dispatched to India in October 1914, and it seems likely that Private Hopson was reassigned to the National Reserves Guard, and posted to Faversham.
This is all conjecture, of course, but, either way, Private Hopson died of a heart attack on the night of the 19th January 1915, aged approximately 61 years old.
Edward Francis Wakeford was born in Rottingdean, near Brighton, Sussex, in February 1881. He was the younger of two children to curate William Wakeford and his wife, Eliza.
The family home was always a busy one; the 1881 census records one visitor, four boarders and a servant. Ten years later, confirms one boarder and two servants.
By 1901, William had taken up a post in St Peter’s Church, Henfield. This seems to have been a step up: helping look after the family and a visitor were four servants – a gardener, a cook, a housemaid and a kitchenmaid.
In March 1907, Edward married Annie West Thornton; she was the daughter of a well-to-do family – the census records show that her father, William West Thornton, lived by private means, while Annie was sent to Surrey to attend a boarding school.
Edward and Annie couple set up home on the Sussex coast, and, when William passed away in 1912, were soon also living by private means. They went on to have three children: two girls, Olive and Iris, and a boy, who they named William after both of their fathers.
War was coming to Europe by this point. While full details of Edwards military service are not available, he appears to have given a commission in the Royal Sussex Regiment. Initially serving as a Lieutenant, but October 1914, he was promoted to Captain.
Edward was assigned to the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion, and served in East Anglia. It seems that he fell ill while there, and was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Military Hospital, suffering with appendicitis. Sadly the condition proved too much, and Captain Wakeford passed away following the operation. He died on 23rd February 1915, not long after his 34th birthday.
Edward Francis Wakeford’s body was brought back to Sussex. He was laid to rest in Henfield Cemetery, not far from the church where his father had served for so long.
The now widowed Annie wed again, marrying Reverend John Gurney in October 1917. Tragedy was to strike again, though, when she passed away just a year later, on 20th October 1918. She was laid to rest Henfield Cemetery, in the plot next to her late husband, Edward.
John Gurney went on to live a full live. He never married again, and settled in Buxted, near Uckfield. He passed away in November 1956, at the age of 76 years old. He was also laid to rest in Henfield Cemetery, where he was buried in the same plot as Annie.
Edward and Annie’s children also went on to have full lives, despite the early loss of their parents.
Olive never married, and passed away in Nottingham in 1986, aged 78 years old.
Iris married in Liverpool in 1934, and went on to have two children. When the marriage failed in the 1940s, she got wed again in 1949. She passed away in Cheltenham in 1965, at the age of 54.
William got married in 1940, at which point he was serving as a Lieutenant in the 1st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He saw action in Italy towards the end of the war, and was awarded a Military Cross for his service. When peace came to Europe again, he and his wife settled into a normal life, before emigrating to Australia. William passed away in May 1967, at the age of 54 years old.
William Reeves was born in the summer of 1896, one of eleven children to James and Ruth Reeves. James was a house painter from Henfield in West Sussex, and it was there that he and Ruth raised their growing family.
When war came to Europe, William was keen to play his part. He enlisted as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and, by October 1915, was in France.
Little information survives about Gunner Reeves’ military service, but by the time he was demobbed, he had earned the Victory and British Medals, the 1915 Star and the Silver War Badge. The latter award was given to those servicemen who had been honourably discharged from service due to wounds or sickness.
William returned to Sussex, but to a quieter home, James having passed away in the spring of 1916. William was also suffering with his health. He had contracted tuberculosis while in the army, and this is the condition to which he finally succumbed. He passed away on 16th December 1919, aged just 23 years old.
William Reeves was laid to rest in Henfield Cemetery, within walking distance of his family home.
William Banfield was born on 7th November 1890, in Henfield, near Horsham, West Sussex. He was the second youngest of seven children to George and Ellen Benfield. George was a carpenter, and this was a trade his two sons – William and his older brother, George – were initially both to follow as well.
William had a longing for the sea, however, and, on 11th June 1909, he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. His service records show that he was 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m) tall, had brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.
Stoker Banfield was based out of HMS Victory, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, Hampshire, but, over the eventual decade of his service, he spent no more than seven months ashore. Instead, he served on a total of nine ships. This included the battleship HMS Exmouth where, during the eighteen months he spent on board, he was promoted to Stoker 1st Class, and also spent 14 days in the brig, for reasons undisclosed.
On 27th September 1915, William was assigned to HMS Princess Royal. He served aboard for nearly three and a half years, patrolling the North Sea, coming under fire during the Battle of Jutland, and providing support during the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight.
Towards the end of January, Stoker 1st Class Benfield fell ill, and was admitted to the Edinburgh City Hospital. Suffering from encephalitis, sadly the condition proved too much for his system to bear and he passed away at the hospital on 31st January 1919. He was 28 years of age.
William Banfield was brought back to Sussex for burial. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home town, Henfield.
William’s older brother, George, was also to fall victim to the First World War. He had enlisted in the Royal Navy three years before his younger sibling, and also served as a Stoker 2nd Class (subsequently being promoted to Stoker 1st Class in 1907).
George was also based out of HMS Victory, and, in April 1911, was stood down to the Royal Naval Reserve, having completed an initial five years’ service.
When war broke out, George was called back into service, and was assigned to HMS Good Hope, travelling from English shores to Nova Scotia, before heading to South America and into the Pacific.
Caught up in the Battle of Coronel on 1st November 1914, the Good Hope was sunk by the German cruiser SMS Scharnhost. All souls on board – all 926 of them – were lost; this included Stoker 1st Class George Banfield. He was only 27 years of age.
James Joseph Wing was born in Tonbridge, Kent, in the summer of 1876 and was the oldest of six children to Henry and Frances Wing. Henry was a labourer, but when he finished school, James found work as an errand boy for the post office.
This was not a long-term career, however, and by the time of the 1901 census, when James was 25, he was labouring for the railway. His mother had died in 1897, and Henry remarried, to a woman called Frances Stapley.
In the spring of 1902, James also married, to Sussex-born Mary Ann Goacher. The couple wed in Steyning, near Worthing, but settled in Henfield. James seemed to be picking up work where he could – the census of 1911 recorded him as a coal porter, but by the time he enlisted, in June 1916, he gave his trade as a gardener.
James joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner, and was initially assigned to the No. 1 Depot in Newhaven. Full details of his service are unclear, but he transferred to No. 2 Depot in Gosport, Hampshire, in the summer of 1918.
Gunner Wing had only been in Gosport for a couple of months, when he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in nearby Fratton. At 12:15pm on 4th December 1918, he passed away, a post mortem revealing he had succumbed to a cerebral tumour. He was 42 years of age.
James Joseph Wing was brought back to Sussex for burial. He was buried in the cemetery in his adopted home town of Henfield.
Alonsa Dixon was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, in 1887, the oldest of seven children to Alonsa and Caroline Dixon. Alonsa Sr was a billiard marker, who raised his family in a small house near the city centre.
Alonsa Jr found work as an errand boy for a grocer when he left school, but went on to find work as a jobbing gardener. By the time of the 1911 census, he had moved out of home, and was boarding with cab driver George Gill and his family.
In April 1912, he married Edith Alice Gill. Trixie, as she was also known, was George’s daughter, and it seems likely that romance blossomed after Alonsa moved in. The couple went on to have a son, also called Alonsa, who was born the following year.
War was coming to Europe, and Alonsa was in one of the first waves of men to volunteer for King and Country. He enlisted in the East Yorkshire Regiment, and was assigned to the 13th Battalion. His service records show that he was 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m) tall, and weighed 144lbs (65.3kg). He was noted as being of good physical development.
Initially serving on home soil, Private Dixon was eventually dispatched overseas, arriving in Egypt in December 1915. Having spent just under three months in North Africa, he was moved to France in March the following year.
Alonsa had some health issues by this point, and was suffering from Bright’s Disease, or nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). He was treated in a field hospital in Abbeville, but subsequently medically evacuated back to England for further care.
Private Dixon was admitted to the Monastery Hospital in Wincanton, Somerset in April 1916, but his condition proved too severe, and he passed away on 10th July 1916. He was just 29 years of age.
Alonsa Dixon was laid to rest in the cemetery of the town in which he passed away, Wincanton.
Albert John Woolcott was born in the spring of 1877 and was one of three children to Thomas and Mary. Thomas was a labourer for a spirit company, and both he and huis wife came from Chard in Somerset, which is where Albert and his siblings were born.
When he finished school, Albert was apprenticed to a local iron foundry and, by the time of the 1901 census, he was recorded as being a blacksmith in his own right.
By this point, Albert had met local woman Mary Pattimore: the couple married in the local church on Boxing Day 1901, and went on to have four children, all of them boys. Albert continued with his ironwork: the 1911 census records him as being the blacksmith at Chard’s Gifford Fox & Co.’s lace factory.
Albert played a keen role in the local volunteer movement for the Somerset Light Infantry. Through the town’s Constitutional Club he took an active role in its rifle range and was known to be a particularly skilled marksman. He also played in both the Volunteer Band and Chard’s Municipal Band.
When war came to Europe in August 1914, Albert was already billeted on Salisbury Plain as part of the volunteers, and was promoted to the rank of Serjeant. He was sent to India with his troop – the 5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry – and remained there until April 1916.
By this point, Serjeant Woolcott was suffering from dorsal abscesses on his hands, and was evacuated back to England for treatment. Over the next nine months he was in and out of Netley Hospital on the outskirts of Southampton, where he had a number of operations to try and fix the problem.
Sadly, his treatment proved unsuccessful: Serjeant Woolcott passed away in the hospital on 19th January 1917, at the age of 39 years old.
Albert John Woolcott’s body was taken back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in his home town’s cemetery.
Gilbert William Jennings was born on 4th January 1901, and was the third of four children to William and Lily Jennings. Both were born in Chard, Somerset, and this is where they raise their young family. William was a foreman in one of the town’s lace factories and when he finished school Gilbert followed his father into the industry.
War broke out across Europe in 1914 and, while Gilbert was too young to enlist at the start of the conflict, it is evident that he wanted to play his part as soon as he was able to.
On 6th September 1918 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force: his experience with factory machinery led him to the role of Air Mechanic 3rd Class. His service records confirmed that he was 5ft 7ins (1.70m) tall, had brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion.
Air Mechanic Jennings was sent to Buckinghamshire for training, but his time there was to be tragically short. Within a matter of weeks he was admitted to the Central Military Hospital in Aylesbury with pneumonia. The condition was to prove too much for his body: he passed away on 28th October 1918. He had been in the Royal Air Force for just 52 days and was a victim of his desire to get involved in the war before it was too late to do so. He was 17 years of age.
Gilbert William Jennings’ body was brought back to Somerset for burial: he was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home town, Chard.
Harry Ashford was born in Sidford, Devon, on 2nd June 1880, the oldest of seven children to Samuel and Fanny Ashford. Samuel was a mason and Fanny worked as a lace worker managing this at the same time as raising her children. The family left Devon in the late 1880s, settling instead in Chard, Somerset.
After initially working as an errand boy, when Harry finished school he found employment as a house painter. He had met lace worker Ada Hancock by this point, and the couple married in Chard’s Methodist Church on 4th May 1901. The couple set up home in the same road as Harry’s parents, and went on to have a daughter, Nora, the following year.
By this point, storm clouds were brewing over Europe, however, and Harry felt the need to play his part. On 22nd September 1915, at the age of 35, he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. His service record show that he stood 5ft 6ins (1.68m) tall and was of good physical development.
Private Ashford serve on the Home Front, and was based at the Tweseldown Camp near Farnham, Surrey. He served there for a little over a year before he contracted nephritis – inflamed kidneys – and was admitted to hospital. Sadly, the condition proved too severe and he died on 31st October 1916 from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 37 years of age.
Harry Ashford’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of his adopted home town, Chard.
Both of Harry’s parents passed away not long after he died – Samuel in 1919 and Fanny in 1920. Ada never remarried, and lived a reasonable life, passing away in Nottinghamshire in the autumn of 1932, at the age of 53 years old.