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CWG: Stoker 1st Class William Wakeford

Stoker 1st Class William Wakeford

William Edward Wakeford was born on 18th April 1885, the oldest of seven children to William and Theresa. William Sr had been born in East London and was a labourer for the engineering company Vickers. Theresa came from south of the Thames, in Greenwich, and it was in South East London that the Wakefords raised their family.

When he left school, William Jr found work as an assistant to a corn dealer. He was set on a better life and career, however, and, on 1st June 1906, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the Royal Navy with the rank of Stoker 2nd Class.

William learnt on the job; he was initially assigned to HMS Acheron and, during his initial five-year term of service, he served on five further vessels, rising to the rank of Stoker 1st Class as a result of his hard work. In between his voyages, however, he was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent.

When his contract came to an end in May 1911, Stoker Wakeford was assigned to the Royal Naval Reserve. With war looming, however, this did not turn out to be for long and, when hostilities begun in 1914, he was called back into action. He was assigned to the battleship HMS Cornwallis, and spent more than two years on board. During this time, the ship saw action in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily the Dardanelles Campaign, and the fighting around Gallipoli.

By the start of 1917, Stoker Wakeford was back on dry land, and based at HMS Pembroke. For a variety of reasons, that was a particularly busy year at the dockyard, and temporary additional accommodation was set up at the Chatham Drill Hall nearby; this is where William found himself billeted.

On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night air raid: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit; Stoker 1st Class Wakeford was among those killed instantly. He was 32 years of age.

William Edward Wakeford was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.

William’s younger brother Cecil also fought in the Great War. Serving as a Private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, he saw fighting on the Western Front. Caught up in the Battle of St Quentin in March 1918, he was killed as the regiment were cut off by German advances. He was just 22 years old. He was laid to rest in France, and is commemorated at the Pozières Memorial.

CWG: Stoker 1st Class Joseph Beha

Stoker 1st Class Joseph Beha

Joseph Beha was born on 16th June 1891, in the Yorkshire town of Whitby. He was the middle of five children to Joseph and Alice Beha, and had a half-sister, through his mother’s previous relationship.

Joseph Sr was a labourer in the local shipyard, and the family had moved to Hartlepool by the time his son had reached 10 years old. The sea had a definite draw for Joseph Jr, and by his twentieth birthday he had enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class.

The service records show Joseph Jr stood 5ft 3.5ins (1.61m) tall, had brown eyes, dark hair and a fresh complexion. His land base was HMS Pembroke, the alternative name for the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent, and it was here that he received his initial six months’ training.

Stoker Beha’s first sea posting was HMS Falmouth, a light cruiser, on board which he served for more than eighteen months, gaining a promotion to Stoker 1st Class in the process. Over the next few years, he was posted to two further ships and, by the time the First World War broke out, was serving on the armoured cruiser HMS Lancaster.

While his record suggests he was of generally good character, Joseph’s time was totally without blemish. He served time in the cells on three separate occasions – for five days in 1913, fourteen days in 1915 and ten days in 1917 – although no evidence of his misdemeanours remains.

The summer of 1917, found Stoker Beha back on dry land in Chatham. HMS Pembroke was a particularly busy place at that point in the war and temporary accommodation was set up. Joseph found himself billeted at The Drill Hall, away from the main barracks.

On the night of 3rd September 1917, Chatham suddenly found itself in the firing line, as the German Air Force launched a bombing raid. One of the bombs landed squarely on the Drill Hall, and Stoker Beha was killed instantly. He was just 26 years old.

Ninety-eight servicemen perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night. They were buried in a mass funeral at the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham. This, too, is where Joseph Beha was laid to rest.

CWG: Stoker George Simpson

Stoker George Simpson

George Wilfred Simpson was born early in 1882, the second of seven children to Robert and Mary Simpson. Robert was a shipbuilder from Yorkshire, and the family were raised in Thornaby, on the River Tees near Middlesbrough.

Details of George’s early life are a bit patchy, but when he left school he found work as a warehouseman. He met Florence Unwin, who was born in Stockton-upon-Tees, and they married in the spring of 1906. They young couple set up home in the town and went on to have four children, all boys.

When the war came to Europe, George wanted to do his part. His full service records are not available, but he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve as a Stoker at some point during the conflict. By the summer of 1917, he was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

The base was a particularly busy place at that point in the war and additional accommodation was desperately needed. Stoker Simpson found himself billeted at Chatham Drill Hall, away from the main barracks.

On the night of 3rd September 1917, Chatham suddenly found itself in the firing line, as the German Air Force launched a bombing raid. One of the bombs landed squarely on the Drill Hall, and Stoker Simpson was killed. He was just 35 years old.

Ninety-eight servicemen perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night. They were buried in a mass funeral at the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham. This, too, is where George Wilfred Simpson was laid to rest.

CWG: Stoker 1st Class John Hammond

Stoker 1st Class John Hammond

John William Hammond was born on 24th March 1899 in the Kent coastal town of Gravesend. One of eight children, his parents were James (who was known as Robert) and Margaret Hammond. Robert had been an army man all his life: by the time John was born, he had retired from the Royal Field Artillery and was supporting his family with his Corporal’s pension.

The 1911 census records the family of nine as living in a small terraced house on the outskirts of Gravesend. Robert had found employment as a customs watcher (or collector).

When he left school, John found work at the docks, labouring to bring in some extra money for the family. By this time, war had been declared, and, keen to do his bit for King and Country, on 13th January 1916 he volunteered for the Royal Navy as a Stoker.

John’s enlistment papers give a little more insight into him. He was recorded as standing 5ft 6.5ins (1.69m) tall, with brown hair, blue-grey eyes and a fresh complexion. His was noted as having vaccination marks on his left arm and a scar on his left knee. But the most telling part of his service papers is that he gives his year of birth as 1897: he was sixteen years old – and underage – when he joined up, so adding two years to his age ensured he was accepted.

Stoker 2nd Class Hammond’s first posting was just down the coast at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham. He spent five months there, learning his trade, before being given his first ocean-going assignment.

John’s first ship was the battleship HMS Swiftsure which, over the next eleven months, acted as convoy support for the Atlantic shipping lanes. By the time he arrived back in Kent in April 1917, John had travelled to and from Africa and had been promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

Back at HMS Pembroke, Stoker Hammond had had an unblemished record. This changed when, in August he was detained for 21 days, although his misdemeanour is not clear.

During that summer of 1917, the Naval Dockyard was a busy place. When its barracks reached capacity, Chatham Drill Hall was called into use as temporary accommodation and, having been released from detention, this is where John found himself billeted.

The German Air Force was suffering significant losses during the daylight raids it carried out. In an attempt to stem the flow of casualties, the decision was taken to trial night time raids and, on 3rd September 1917, Chatham found itself in their line of fire. The Drill Hall that Stoker Hammond was sleeping in received a direct hit, and he was killed. He was just 18 years old.

The 98 servicemen who perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night were laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham. This, too, is where John William Hammond was buried.

CWG: Private William Jennings

Private William Jennings

William Gladstone Jennings was born in Kent, in the summer of 1898, the only child of James and Emma Jennings. James was a marine engineer in the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, and it was here that the family lived.

Sadly, due to his age, and the lack of military service documentation, there is little written about William’s life. He was still at school by the time of the 1911 census, and the next records available confirm that he enlisted in the army. The date for this is not available, but it would have been by May 1917 at the latest and he seems to have enlisted with the surname Hickson, which was possibly his mother’s maiden name.

Private Jennings transferred to the Tank Corps when it was formed in July 1917. What his specific role was is lost to time, but it appears that his time in the regiment was short. The next available document is the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects; this confirms that William passed away on 30th October 1917, in the Military Hospital in Woolwich.

There is no confirmation of the cause of his death, but Private Jennings was just 19 years old.

William Gladstone Jennings was brought back to his home town for burial, and he lies at rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham.

CWG: Serjeant Harold Lean

Serjeant Harold Lean

Harold Henry Lean was born in Gillingham, Kent, in the summer of 1890. The youngest of eight children, his parents were tailor Robert Lean and his wife Sarah. His siblings followed a variety of trades – coachman, painter, shoemaker – but Harold was keen to follow a more long-term career.

When he left school (and after his father’s death in 1901), he enlisted in the army, becoming a Gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery. Little remains of his service documents, but at the time of the 1911 census, he was firmly ensconced in the Artillery Barracks in Leeds.

The next record for Harold comes, sadly, in the form of a news report, detailing the inquest surrounding his death:


Mr Hamilton Brown, Deputy Coroner for Exeter, held an inquest at Topsham Barracks last evening touching the death of Acting-Sergt. Harold Henry Lean, 26, of the [Royal Field Artillery], who died on Saturday as a result of a self-inflicted wound in the throat.

The evidence given by Bombardier JE Driscoll, of the [Royal Military Police], Trumpeter Sydney Russell, deceased’s batman, Bombardier Biddlescombe and Corporal J Williams signalling instructor was that Sergeant Lean, who had some time ago been ill, on Saturday morning was in his room with Russell, but did not speak all the morning.

Shortly after eleven o’clock he took his razor from a shelf in the corner of the room where he kept his shaving materials. Going to his bed he lay across it with his knees nearly touching the floor and drew the razor across his throat. Russell ran to him and caught him by the shoulders, but deceased pushed him away. Russell then called the assistance of Driscoll and Biddlescombe from an adjoining room.

Williams, who was a personal friend and worked with deceased as a signaller, said that deceased worried about the illness from which he had suffered, and two days previously said he thought he was going insane. He had never threatened to take his life.

Captain RW Statham, [Royal Army Medical Corps], said deceased joined that unit in October 1916, and a month later he reported sick. He was sent away to a military hospital, but was returned this year cured and reported for full duty. The illness had a tendency to create mental depression.

On Saturday morning had entered his name on the sick list, but did not attend the sick parade at 9am. At 11:10 when witness was called to him he found him dead. Witness described the wound, which was a very severe one.

The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity”.

Wester Times: Tuesday 15th May 1917

Serjeant Harold Henry Lean’s body was brought back to Kent from Devon. He was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham.

CWG: Petty Officer Tom Jones

Petty Office Tom Jones

Thomas Jones (known as Tom) was born in Wednesbury on 7th September 1882 and was the middle of seven children. His father, also called Thomas, was a grocer and, with his mother Mary, they raised their family first in the Staffordshire town and then in Blackpool, Lancashire.

When he left school Tom helped his dad in the shop, primarily dealing with meat. His mind was on greater adventures, however, and in November 1898, he enlisted in the Royal Navy. Due to his age, he was initially given the rank of Boy, but was officially signed up as an Ordinary Seaman on the day after his 18th birthday.

Over the time of his initial twelve years’ service, Tom rose through the ranks, from Able Seaman to Leading Seaman and Petty Officer. In May 1912, however, he was ‘disrated’ back to Able Seaman, but there is no evidence to confirm why this was done. By this time, he had served on nine ships, as well as having time in shore-based establishments, and had completed his twelve years as a mariner.

Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1904, Tom had married Hannah Kennedy, a dockyard labourer’s daughter from Gillingham, Kent. The couple went on to have four children and set up home in the centre of the town, not far from the Naval Dockyard where Tom was sometimes based.

With war in Europe on the horizon, Tom immediately volunteered to continue his duty when he term of service came to an end. Working hard, he soon regained the rank of Leading Seaman and, by April 1915, was back up to Petty Officer once more.

During the remainder of his time in the Royal Navy, Petty Officer Jones served on a further seven vessels. In October 1920, after more than two decades’ service, he was invalided out, having contracted tuberculosis, rendering him unfit to continue.

At this point Tom’s trail goes cold. It seems likely that his lung condition got the better of him; he passed away on 20th June 1921, at the age of 38 years old.

Petty Officer Tom Jones was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent.

Tom Jones II
Petty Officer Tom Jones
(courtesy of

CWG: Private Richard Taylor

Private Richard Taylor

Richard Edmundson Taylor was born in 1895, one of nine children to Frederick and Emma Taylor. Frederick was from Portsmouth, Emma from Blackburn, but the couple had settled their family in Kent, where Frederick worked as an engineer and pattern maker at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham.

When he left school, Richard took work as an apprentice photographer – his older sister Mildred worked as a re-toucher in the same studio. The 1911 census reveals that his eldest sister, Alice, was working as a governess; the family of eleven were living in a small terraced house in Seaview Road, Gillingham – a road that, ironically, had no view of the nearby River Medway or Thames Estuary.

At this point, Richard’s trail goes cold. He enlisted in the Royal West Surrey Regiment – also known as the Queen’s – but there is no documentation to confirm when this was.

Private Taylor’s battalion, the 2/4th, would go on to fight at Gallipoli, but he would not have been involved, and, more than likely, did not see any overseas service. The prefix to his service number (T/2711) may well have indicated he was in training when he passed away, although, again, there is no physical evidence to confirm this.

Nor is there any indication of the cause of Private Taylor’s death. His name does not appear on any contemporary newspaper reports, so it is unlikely that it was due to any misadventure; more probably, he passed away from one of the many communicable diseases that became common in the training camps of the 1910s.

Whatever the cause, Private Taylor died at home on 4th February 1915. He was just 19 years old.

Richard Edmundson Taylor lies at rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in his home town of Gillingham, Kent.

CWG: Private Frank Woods

Frank Ernest Woods was born in 1885, one of seven children to Thomas and Alice. Thomas was a labourer and he raised his family in Worcestershire.

Frank left home early – by the time of the 1901 census, he was living as a gardener for the Cornforth family, who were grain merchants in South Claines, near Worcester.

Frank’s work with the family continued; the 1911 census show that they had relocated to Kensington. The Cornforth family were now running the Eaton Court Hotel, a boarding house with nineteen rooms; the 25-year-old Frank had been elevated to the role of waiter.

Another of the Cornforths’ staff was a housemaid, 20-year-old Ethel Elizabeth James; within a matter of years, the couple were courting, and Frank and Ethel married in November 1915.

The Great War was already being waged across the Channel, and Frank enlisted, joining the Rifle Brigade in June 1916. Within three months, he was fighting on the Western Front.

Private Frank Woods was killed in action in Belgium on 1th January 1918. He was 33 years old. He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Zonnebeke.

Frank Ernest Woods was the first husband of my Great Great Great Aunt, Ethel Elizabeth James.

CWG: Air Mechanic Herbert Holdstock

Air Mechanic Herbert Holdstock

The year is 1897, and Edwin Holdstock has crammed a lot into his 38 years. Born in North Kent, he has travelled well, working as a grocer’s manager in south London. His first wife, Kate, gave him five beautiful children, four girls and a boy, before she died, aged only 35. Edwin married again, to Louisa, and they have already had their first child, a boy.

A new birth is on its way, though, and his third son – Herbert Frederick Victor Holdstock is born. They are living in Thornton Heath, Surrey.

The family up and move again, this time to Grimsbury, near Banbury, Oxfordshire. Edwin has new employment, as a superintendent for Kingsley Sewing Machines in the town.

Edwin appears to be an ambitious man; by the time of the 1911 census, he has moved the family from Oxfordshire back to Kent. He and Louisa have four children now and they live in Rainham, where Edwin works as a Political Agent.

Herbert was keen to make his own way in the world, however, and worked as an apprentice watchmaker and jeweller in both Rainham and nearby Sittingbourne.

He enlisted relatively late into the war; his service records show that Air Mechanic Holdstock started his Royal Air Force service on 20th June 1918. He was stationed in South London.

While there, he contracted pneumonia and was hospitalised. Within a week, Herbert had passed away. He was just 21 years old.

The local newspaper reported on his funeral:

Only so recently as November Mr EC Holsdtock of Orchard-street, Rainham, the Secretary of the Sittingbourne District War Pensions Committee, sustained a sad bereavement in the death of his wife [Louisa], who succumbed to an attack of influenza and pneumonia. Mr Holdstock has now suffered another bereavement in the death of his second son, Herbert Frederick Victor Holdstock, who died in the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich… A little over eight months ago he joined the Royal Air Force, as a mechanic, as was stationed at Kidbrook, near Woolwich. Never robust, he contracted pneumonia, and after a week’s illness succumbed. He was a bright, cheery young man, and much liked.

East Kent Gazette: Saturday 1st March 1919.

Air Mechanic Herbert Holdstock lies at rest in the graveyard of St Margaret’s Church in Rainham, Kent.