Category Archives: East Kent Regiment

CWG: Private Albert Dowsett

Private Albert Dowsett

Albert Dowsett was born in the Essex village of Sible Hedingham in the spring of 1868. He was the fourth of six children – all of them boys – to Stephen and Susan Dowsett. Stephen was an agricultural labourer, while his wife worked as a straw plaiter to bring in a little extra money.

Albert seems to have been a bit of a tearaway. In July 1877, a local newspaper reported that:

Ezekiel Rulton and Albert Dowsett, boys each nine years of age, were indicted for breaking into the dwelling house of Matilda Jaggard, at Sible Hedingham, and stealing two books, value 1s, on the 20th June. Rulton, having once before committed burglary was sentenced to 10 days’ hard labour and five years in a Reformatory School. Dowsett was acquitted.

Essex Standard: Friday 6th July 1877

Stephen died in the autumn of 1884, while Susan died in March 1892. By this point Albert was 23 years of age, and had found solid work in the army. Full details of this early service no longer remain available, but he fought in South Africa in the 1890s.

By 1897 he returned to England and moved to Stone, near Greenhithe, in Kent. It was here that he met and married Anna Davis, the daughter of a local brewery man. The couple set up home in the village, and went on to have three children, William, Dorothy and Margaret.

The 1911 census recorded the family living in a small terraced house close to the railway station in Greenhithe. Albert was working as a labourer in the wash mill of the local cement works, and the family had a boarder, widower William Davies, who was a weighman at the same works.

Away from work, Albert had also found another calling, and was employed as a verger at St Mary’s Church, just a few minutes’ walk from home.

War was now encroaching on Europe, and, with his previous army service, Albert was perfect to resume his military role. Given the age limitations for new recruits early on in the conflict, it is likely that he volunteered for this role. He willingly took up a post with the 3rd Supply Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

Private Dowsett was given a guard’s role, and was part of the team given the duty of patrolling two explosives factories near Faversham. He was on duty on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd April 1916 when a fire near one of the factory buildings set off a series of massive explosions. More than a hundred people were killed; sadly this included Private Dowsett. He was 48 years of age.

Albert Dowsett was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in a mass grave the town’s Borough Cemetery.


CWG: Private William Jarvis

Private William Jarvis

William Edward Jarvis was born in the spring of 1875, the son of silk printer Edward Jarvis and his wife Elizabeth. He was one of five children, and the family were raised in Crayford, Kent.

When he left school, William found work as a stoker, and this is what he was doing when, in the summer of 1903, he married local engineer’s daughter Maud Kitchener. The couple set up home with Maud’s widowed mother, and went on to have three children, Ivy, Edward and Edna.

War was coming to Europe, and while full details of William’s military service are unclear, it is evident that he had enlisted to play his part by October 1915. He was assigned to the 3rd Supply Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and served as part of the territorial force.

Private Jarvis was part of the team given the duty of guarding two explosives factories near Faversham. He was on duty on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd April 1916 when a fire near one of the buildings set off a series of massive explosions, killing more than 100 people, William included. He was 40 years of age.

William Edward Jarvis was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in the town’s Borough Cemetery.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

CWG: Private Ernest Court

Private Ernest Court

Ernest Court was born in the autumn of 1865, one of eleven children to Stephen and Harriet Court. Stephen was an agricultural labourer from Kent, and the family were raised in the village of St Nicholas at Wade, in the north of the county.

When he left school, Ernest followed his father and became a farm labourer. The 1881 census found him working at St Nicholas Court Farm, under William Broadley, a farmer of some 500 acres (202 hectares).

In the summer of 1894, at the age of 28, Ernest married Catherine Henman; she was a widow nine hears his senior. The couple went on to have a son, Frederick, who was born the same year, a younger half-brother to Catherine’s own son. They soon moved to Faversham, where work was more abundant.

Ernest continued to pick up jobs where he could. The 1901 census recorded him working in the stone pits; the same document gave Catherine working as a charwoman to bring in some extra money. Ten years later, Ernest was working as a road labourer for the town council. Catherine was no longer employed, but Frederick, having left school, was working as a jobbing gardener.

War was approaching Europe by this point and, by October 1915, Ernest had stepped up to play his part. Private Court was assigned to the 3rd Supply Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). While a good proportion of the regiment served overseas, Ernest remained on home soil, and was given a protective role at the Cotton Powder Company and Explosives Loading Company factories to the north of Faversham.

Private Court was based at the factories on the 2nd April 1916. That afternoon a fire set off a series of massive explosions at the site and around 110 people – Ernest included – were killed. He was 50 years of age.

Ernest Court was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in the town’s Borough Cemetery.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

CWG: Private John Harding

Private John Harding

In a mass grave in Faversham Borough Cemetery, Kent, is a commemoration to Private John Harding, who died during the Faversham Explosion on 2nd April 1916.

Sadly, there is little concrete information about John, other than the details recorded in the Register of Soldiers Effects. This document confirms that he served in the 3rd Supply Company of the 3rd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He had enlisted before October 1915 and no next of kin is recorded.

Another document suggests that Private Harding was a resident of Milton Regis, a small village to the north of Sittingbourne. Again, however, there is not enough additional information to corroborate this or to expand on his personal life.

Unfortunately, therefore, Private John Harding is destined to remain a mystery, one of more than a hundred men and women to have died on that fateful day.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

CWG: Private William Catlow, AKA William Adams

Private William Catlow

William Adams was born in Skelmersdale, near Liverpool, in around 1868. He was the son of George and Harriet Adams, although as his name was quite common in the area at the time, it is not possible to narrow down details of his early life any further.

At some point after leaving school, William joined the army, using the surname of Catlow. The 1891 census records him as a soldier in the Private Infantry, based at the Habergham Eaves Barracks near Burnley, Lancashire.

On leaving the army, William found work as a labourer and, by the 1890s, he had moved to Kent. He met and married a woman called Kate in 1895, and they went on to have a son, Archibald, the same year. The 1911 census records the family living in Cheriton, near Folkestone, William doing labouring work, and Kate employed as a laundress.

With the outcome of the First World War, William stepped forward to play his part again. By this point, he was 46 years old and, while he was assigned to the 4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), was given more of a territorial role.

Private Catlow was serving at the site shared by the Cotton Powder Company and Explosives Loading Company to the north of Faversham in the spring of 1916. On the afternoon of 2nd April 1916, a fire caused a series of massive explosions at the factories, and William was one of around 110 people to be killed. He was 48 years of age.

William Adams, known militarily as Private William Catlow, was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in the town’s Borough Cemetery.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

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.


CWG: Private Thomas Townsend

Private Thomas Townsend

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.


CWG: Private Edward Hopson

Private Edward Hopson

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.


CWG: Lieutenant John Scrace

Lieutenant John Scrace

John Scrace was born on 31st July 1892 in Chatham, Kent, the oldest of five children to John and Adelaide Scrace. John Sr was a relieving officer for the Medway Board of Guardians, a role which involved “taking charge of poor or insane persons not otherwise cared for” [census1891.com]. Adelaide worked in a similar role, as an infant protection visitor.

It is fair to say, therefore, that John Jr had a very supportive childhood. He attended King’s School in Rochester, where he obtained a scholarship to Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

When war broke out, John was keen to do his part. Initially joining The Buffs (the East Kent Regiment), he transferred across to the newly-formed Royal Air Force in June 1918. By this point he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant, and, as part of his new RAF role, was based at Driffield in Yorkshire.

On 24th August 1918, the aircraft John was flying at the base, spun into the ground, and John was killed instantly. A subsequent inquest identified that “the cause of the accident was due to the fact that, for reasons unknown, part of the top of the left-hand plane of the machine crumpled up in the air and thereby [caused] the pilot to lose control of his machine.” [rafmuseumstoryvault.org.uk] Lieutenant Scrace was just 26 years of age.

John Scrace was buried in Christ Church Churchyard in Luton, Bedfordshire; he is commemorated in Woodlands Cemetery in his home town of Gillingham, Kent.


CWG: Private Holdsworth Elphick

Private Holdsworth Elphick

Holdsworth Elphick was born on 7th June 1891, one of five children to Herbert and Mary Elphick. Herbert was a billiard marker and professional player, who had been born in Brighton. Mary was from Ireland, but the couple raised their family in London, presumably as this is where the best opportunities for work were.

When he left school, Holdsworth found work at the George Hotel in Balham, South London, where he was employed as a barman. The 1911 census shows another barman there called Geoffrey Elphick, who, while not one of Holdsworth’s brothers, may well have been a cousin.

When war broke out, Holdsworth was quick to sign up. He enlisted as a Private in the Buffs (the East Kent Regiment) on 9th September 1914 and, after a year on the Home Front, he was sent out to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in August 1915.

There is little further information available about Private Elphick’s time in the army. He returned to England on 25th February 1916; this appears to have been a medical evacuation as, two months later, he was discharged from the army as he was no longer physically fit to continue.

Life continued for Holdsworth. In September 1917, he married Lydia Ann Armstrong, a dock labourer’s daughter from Southampton, although this is where his trail seems to end.

The next available evidence for Private Elphick is his gravestone. This confirms that he passed away on 11th November 1918 – Armistice Day – but no further information is available. He was just 27 years of age.

Holdsworth Elphick lies at rest in the Broadwater Cemetery in Worthing, West Sussex (presumably this is where he and Lydia moved after their marriage, although there is nothing to confirm this).