William John Hicks was born in the village of Northlew, Devon, in the spring of 1886 and one of seven children to John and Sophia Hicks. Both of his parents were born in the village, and that was where John found employment as a farm labourer.
By the time of the 1901 census the family had moved to the southern side of Dartmoor, and were living in Wolborough, near Newton Abbot. William had left school, and was also employed, working as a grocer’s porter in the town.
In December 1908, William married Maud Alice Wotton, and the couple set up home near the town’s station. They went on to have a son, also called William, who was born the following year. By this point, William had found more secure employment, and was working as a wagoner for a flour mill.
War was approaching Europe, and when the time came, William joined up to play his part. He enlisted in the Army Veterinary Corps, and there is no doubt that his pre-war employment stood him in good stead for the role. There is little information about Private Hicks’ military service, but it is clear that he had joined up by March 1916, and, for some part at least, was based in Hampshire.
Sadly, the other other available information relating to Private Hicks is that confirming his passing. He died, of causes unknown, on 19th September 1916, in Aldershot, where he was billeted. He was 30 years old.
William John Hicks’ body was brought back to Devon for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Woborough.
Frederick Henry Harvey Finch was born in 1876 in the Sussex village of Ripe. He was one of eleven children, born to James and Eliza Finch. James was an agricultural labourer, a trade into which most of his children, Frederick included, followed.
In the spring of 1900, Frederick married Ellen Maloney. She had been born in Fareham, Hampshire, and, by the time of the 1891 census, ages just nine years old, was recorded in the Union Workhouse in Portsea. The couple wed in Hailsham, and went on to have three children, Frederick Jr, Hilda and Herbert.
By now, Frederick had moved on from farm labouring, and was working as a groom and a gardener. Within ten years, however, he had moved the family to the coast and the village of Angmering; he had found new employment, working as a carter for a coal merchant.
Frederick continued in this line of work as war broke out, but was one of the first to join the village’s contingent of the Voluntary Training Corps. He seemed to be content with this and at the start of 1917, he enlisted in the armed forces, joining the Army Veterinary Corps.
Private Finch was sent to Woolwich for training, but within a matter of weeks fell ill. Admitted to the Royal Herbert Hospital, he passed away on 24th January 1917, at the age of 40. No specific cause of death is recorded, but a local newspaper report of his funeral suggests, rather disingenuously, that “his health, which was never very robust, proved unequal to the strain of Army life”. [Worthing Gazette: Wednesday 7th February 1917]
Frederick Henry Harvey Finch was brought back to Angmering for burial He lies at rest in the graveyard of St Margaret’s Church in the village.
Joseph Redgrave was born at the start of 1897, the youngest of nine children to Charles and Hannah. Tragically, five of Joseph’s siblings passed away and, by the time of the 1911 census, the family were living in a three-roomed cottage within a few minutes’ walk of Charles’ place of work, the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.
Sadly, little documentation about Joseph remains. When it comes to his military service, his records confirm that he enlisted prior to November 1916, joining the Army Veterinary Corps as a Private. There is no evidence that he served overseas, but documents place him at the Larkhill Camp just north of Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
Tragically, Private Redgrave died from unrecorded causes at the camp’s hospital on 15th May 1917, at the age of just 20 years old.
Joseph’s body was brought back to Kent; he was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham.
Harry Stephens was born in Banwell, near Weston-super-Mare on 4th January 1873. He was one of six children to Frederick Stephens and his wife, Emma. Frederick was a butcher, and this was a trade that both Harry and his older brother, Fred, would go into when they left school.
It appears that being a butcher was not the full-time career that Harry was looking for, and so, in the 1890s, he found other employment as a farmer, and moved to Lynton, on the north coast of Devon.
It was here that he met Norah Watts, another farmer’s daughter and, in 1898, the couple married. They set up home at Furzehill Farm, and went on to have four children, Frederick, Alice, Albert and Herbert.
By the time of the 1911 census, Harry had moved his family back to Banwell, where they lived in a four-roomed house on the High Street. Harry was now a cattle dealer, and was presumably supplying meat to his mother who, having been widowed in 1902, was now running the butcher’s shop with three of Harry’s siblings.
War was coming, though, and on 21st July 1915, Harry enlisted. Given his farming background, he was assigned to the Army Veterinary Corps and, while remaining on the Home Front, over the next few years he gained promotion.
Towards the end of 1917, when Serjeant Stephens was serving in Romsey, Hampshire, he fell ill, complaining of chest pains and breathlessness. He was taken to Hursley Hospital near Winchester for cardiac checks, and it became apparent that he was no longer fit for active duty.
Discharged from military service on 5th July 1918, he returned home. Admitted to the Military Hospital in Taunton, it was only a matter of weeks later than Serjeant Stephens passed away. He was 45 years of age.
Harry Stephens was laid to rest in the St James’ Cemetery in Taunton.
Ernest Hart Painter was born in December 1884 one of eight children to Alfred and Elizabeth from Devon. Alfred moved the family to Cheddar, Somerset to work at a paper mill in but sadly passed away when Ernest was only eleven years old.
The family rallied round Elizabeth, however, and, by the time of the 1901 census, she was living on the outskirts of the town with her six younger children. Elizabeth worked as a domestic cook; Ernest was an agricultural labourer; his two older sisters were shirt machinists; his 13 year old brother Albert was listed as a gentleman’s servant.
Ernest, by this point, seemed to have taken on the role of head of the family; he continued work as a farm labourer, while Elizabeth earned money as a housekeeper. Alfred became a mechanic for a car dealer and, at the 1911 census, the three of them lived with the youngest member of the family, Ernest’s sister Emily, who had followed in her older sisters’ footsteps as a machinist.
As with many of the fallen men and women of the Great War, a lot of Ernest’s military service records have been lost to time. He enlisted in the Army Veterinary Corps in December 1915, his work as a farm labourer presumably having involved animals and livestock.
Private Painter must have been on the front line as, on 30th May 1918, he was shot in the ankle. Shipped back to England for treatment, he was eventually discharged from service on 19th November, a week after the Armistice. The ankle wound continued to give him trouble, however, and over the following couple of hears, he had a number of operations on it.
Sadly, the last of these procedures resulted in an infection, and sepsis took hold. Private Painter passed away from blood poisoning on 15th April 1921. He was 36 years old.
Ernest Hart Painter lies at rest in the graveyard of St Andrew’s Church in Cheddar, Somerset.
One of the things I have found during this research is that occasionally a mystery will come to light. In the case of the gravestone in the Somerset village of Coxley – nestled on the main road between Wells and Glastonbury – it was the very identity of a person buried there that threw me.
The headstone in question simply says “WG Collins served as Private G Clark in the Army Veterinary Corps”, but the research tools I normally use drew blanks.
Unfortunately, the Findagrave website does not have the burial listed under either name, so that too was a dead end.
The British Newspaper Archives site – a record of media across the UK covering 250 years – similarly has no entry for either name around the time of his death, which suggests it was either not ‘out of the ordinary’ (not headline-grabbing) or his death and funeral were just not submitted to the local paper.
Fold3 – which stores military records – has a record for 9978 Private Geoffrey Clark. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects confirms that a war gratuity was awarded to his sister, Ada Jane Waldron, after his death.
And, as it turns out, it was Ada who proved the key to the mystery of her brother. Working on the basis that Ada’s maiden name was Collins, I used Ancestry.co.uk to try and track her down. The site presented a family tree featuring both an Ada Jane Collins and, more importantly, a William George Collins, and the game was afoot…
William George Collins was born in the Somerset village of Coxley in the summer of 1889. He was the youngest of seven children – Ada was his oldest sister – to James Collins, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Jane.
Following the death of his mother in 1901, and his father a decade later, it’s evident that William wanted to make his way in the world. By the 1911 census, he had moved to Wales, working as an attendant at the Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum. The asylum, which was in Bridgend, South Wales, was home to nearly 900 patients, and William acted as one of the 120 staff looking after them.
War was on the horizon, however, and the mystery surrounding William returned once more. Military records for William (or Geoffrey) are limited; he enlisted in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in the summer of 1915 and was shipped to France in September of that year.
There is no record why he enlisted under the name Geoffrey Clark, nor does there seem to be any evidence of either names in his family. As to his passing, there is nothing to give a hint to how he died. All that can be confirmed for certain is that he passed away at the University War Hospital in Southampton on 25th October 1918, at the age of 32.
William’s probate records give his address as Railway Terrace in Blaengarw and show that his effects went to his sister, Ada.
William George Collins – also known as Geoffrey Clark – lies at peace in the graveyard of Christ Church, in his home village of Coxley.
There is tantalisingly little information available about Private J Lewin, and what I have been able to identify has come from a variety of disparate sources.
Jonathan William Lewin was born in 1877/8 in Essex. By the time of the 1911 census, he was working as a painter in Colchester. He was living in the town with his wife, Agnes Cudmore, who he had married in early 1902. The couple had no children.
The remainder of the information of Private Lewin’s life comes from a piece in the Western Gazette:
The death has occurred at the Yeatman Hospital [Sherborne, Dorset] of Private Jonathan Lewin, of the Army Veterinary Corps. The deceased soldier had been at the Front for a year, and about three months ago was brought home sick and sent to the Yeatman Hospital. He was there found to be suffering from a malignant disease, and his recovery from the first was hopeless. Deceased, who belinged to Colchester, and was 38 years of age, leaves a widow but no children. The funeral took place yesterday and was attended by a number of wounded soldiers and the members of the VTC.
Western Gazette: Friday 7th July 1916.
Private Jonathan Lewin lies at rest in Sherborne Cemetery.
One of the reasons I love researching this type of history, is trying to discover the person behind the name on the gravestone. It seems such an additional loss, therefore, when the life of a brave soldier, like Private Lewin, has disappeared through time.