Tag Archives: Boer War

CWG: Serjeant Tom Harris

Serjeant Tom Harris

Thomas Harris – known as Tom – was born on 13th October 1876, the only son of Edmund and Mary Harris. Edmund was an agricultural labourer from the Somerset village of Seavington St Mary, and this is where Tom was born and raised.

Mary had married Edmund in the spring of 1876, but had been married before; she was widowed when her previous husband, Alfred Vickery, died ten years before. They had had seven children of their own, half-siblings to Tom.

Edmund died in the Wells Lunatic Asylum when Tom was only six years old. When he left school, he found work as a farm labourer, but sought bigger and better things, even though he was now the only one of Mary’s children still living at home.

Tom enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in January 1893, and soon found himself overseas. During his sixteen years’ service, he spent seven years in India and six months fighting in the Second Boer War. Corporal Harris seems to have had a sickly time of it, and while in India, was admitted to hospital a number of times for fever, ague and diarrhoea, as well as a bout of conjunctivitis.

When Tom’s contract came to an end in 1909, he returned to Britain, setting up home in Newport, South Wales, where he found work as a sheet weigher at the local steel works.

Mary died of senile decay and cardiac failure in May 1910. She was 74 years old, and sadly passed away in the Chard Workhouse, in similar circumstances to her late husband.

In October 1913, Tom married Ada Long in Chard. She was the daughter of a shopkeeper, and the couple set up home in South Wales, where Tom was still working.

War, by now, was closing in on Europe, and Tom wanted to use his previous experience to serve his country once again. He enlisted on 20th August 1914 in Newport, joining the Devonshire Regiment as a Private, although he was quickly promoted first to Corporal and then to Serjeant. His service records show that he was 5ft 8ins (1.73m) tall, had blue eyes, brown hair and a tattoo of a Spanish girl on his right forearm.

After a year on the Home Front, Serjeant Harris was sent to Egypt in September 1915. On the way out, he contracted a severe cold, which left him deaf in his left ear. He was also suffering from varicose veins, which left him in pain in his right leg. He was treated for both conditions, and put on light duties for three months.

In November 1916, Serjeant Harris was supporting a food convoy when it came under attack. Buried in sand and wounded, he was laid up in a hole for two days and nights before help came. He was initially treated for shell shock in the camp hospital, but was eventually evacuated to Britain for treatment.

The incident had put too much of a strain on Tom, and he was medically discharged from the army in April 1917. While his medical report confirmed that the general paralysis he was suffering from was a result of the attack, it also noted on six separate occasions that he had previously suffered from syphilis, suggesting this may also have been a contributing factor to his mental state.

Tom was discharged initially to an asylum in South Wales, before returning home to Ada. The couple were soon expecting a child, and a boy, Sidney, was born in February 1918. By that summer, however, Tom’s condition had worsened enough for him to be admitted back to the Whitchurch Military Hospital in Cardiff.

It was here that Tom passed away, dying from a combination of chronic phlebitis – an extension of the varicose veins he had previously complained of – and general paralysis on 8th August 1918. He was, by this point, 41 years of age.

Tom Harris was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest – finally at peace – in Chard Cemetery.


Serjeant Tom Harris
(from ancestry.co.uk)

CWG: Gunner William Hann

Gunner William Hann

William Hann was born towards the end of 1871, the son of Harry Hann, who was a stonemason, and his wife Susan. Born in Stoke-under-Ham (now Stoke-sub-Hamdon), he was one of nine children, although sadly five of his siblings passed away at a young age.

Sadly, little of William’s early life remains documented. A newspaper article that reported on his passing, however, confirms that he served in the Royal Field Artillery, and was based in India for four years, before being shipped to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.

Back in Somerset in the early 1900s, he married a woman called Ellen, and the couple went on to have four children – Hilda, Herbert, Kate and Louisa.

At the outbreak of the [First World War], though under no obligation, [Gunner Hann] responded to the call of duty and was among the first to volunteer from Stoke. He was attached to the Indian Expeditionary Force and sent to France, and it is interesting to know that he saw some of the native soldiers whom he had bet while serving in India many years ago.

After serving in France for some time, he was transferred to Mesopotamia, and it was there that his health became impaired, which made him an easy victim of the disease which caused his death.

Western Chronicle: Friday 1st June 1917

Gunner Hann had contracted cellulitis in his right arm, which turned septic. He returned home on sick leave on 22nd May 1917, but died at home from blood poisoning just two days later. He was 48 years of age.

William Hann was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, in his home village of Stoke-sub-Hamdon.


CWG: Private John Stainton

Private John Stainton

John Stainton was born in the Cumbrian village of Ambleside in January 1871. He was one of seven children to George and Mary Stainton, a labourer and his wife. John followed in his father’s footsteps as a labourer, as they took him to where the work was – by the time John was ten, the family were living in Barrow-in-Furness.

The 1911 census found John married to a woman called Mary. The couple wed in 1909 and were boarding with Maybrooke Cole, a fellow labourer, and his family.

The next record for John comes in the form of his enlistment papers. He joined up on 31st August 1914, but the document throws up a couple of anomalies.

To the question “Are you married?” John marked “No”. The fact that he didn’t confirm he was a widower presents more questions than answers.

The document also confirms that he has previous military experience. He served with 2nd Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), which fought in the Second Boer War, and was involved in Battle of Spion Kop in January 1900.

John re-enlisted in the same battalion on 31st August 1914, and remained part of a territorial force for the best part of a year. It was during this time that he married Rhoda Selina Cooper. She was born and brought up in Clevedon, Somerset, and it can only be assumed that John was stationed in the county at this time.

Private Stainton seemed to have a bit of a rebellious streak, and his service records identify three times when he was pulled up for dereliction of duty. In December 1914, he was admonished for overstaying his leave pass; in June 1915 he was reported for being absent from the base; a year later, he was admonished again, this time for losing a pair of handcuffs.

The battalion were sent to France in July 1915, and, in the end, Private Stainton served on the Western Front for just over a year. On 27th July 1916, he was sounded by shrapnel in the right shoulder, face and thigh, and was evacuated back to England for treatment. Admitted to the English General Hospital in Cambridge, sadly his wounds proved too much for him. Private Stainton died on 11th August 1916, at the age of 45 years old.

John Stainton’s body was brought back to his widow; he lies at rest in the picturesque churchyard of St Andrew’s in Clevedon, Somerset.


The Commonwealth War Grave for John Stainton incorrectly gives his name as T Stainton.


CWG: Lance Corporal James Hain

Lance Corporal James Hain

James Frederick Hain was born on 5th November 1881 in the village of Holmer in Herefordshire. He was one of seven children to James and Catherine Hain, and was more commonly known as Fred. On James Jr’s birth certificate, his father was listed as a manure agent, although by the time of the 1891 census, the family had moved to London, where James Sr was now running a coffee house.

When he left school, James Jr started work as a French polisher, but he had a taste for adventure and joined the army. He served in South Africa during the Boer War campaign of 1899-1900, attaining the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal Clasps.

In 1900 James returned home, finding work as a French polisher. The military life was in his blood by now, though, and in September, he re-enlisted. Initially joining the Royal Berkshire Regiment, he was soon transferred over to the Royal Engineers as a Sapper.

James had signed up for a period of eight years and, as part of his role as a wireman (maintaining and fitting telegraph cables), he was stationed abroad. On one particular trip, when his battalion was travelling from Plymouth to Limerick early in 1908, he was injured. According to the accident report: “owing to bad weather on boat between Fishguard and Waterford he was thrown violently forward, striking his head against a girder.” Treated in Limerick, “the disability is of a slight nature, and in all probability will not interfere with his future efficiency as a soldier.”

Sapper Hain’s time with the service was nearly up, and he was put on reserve status in November 1908. By 1911, he was working as a linesman, and boarding in a house in Hayle, Cornwall.

War was on the horizon by now, and on 5th August 1914, James was called back into service. He saw action on the Western Front, adding the Victory and British Medals and the 1915 Star to his count. In October 1915, he was treated for shell shock, and evacuated back to England.

At the beginning of 1917, Lance Corporal Hain was transferred back to the Army Reserve, suffering from neuritis. His health was to suffer for the rest of his life.

In September 1917, having settled in Cornwall, James married Beatrice Opie, an innkeeper’s daughter from the village of Wendron, Cornwall. The couple would go on to have a son, who they called Frederick, two years later.

Discharged from the Army, James put his engineering experience to good use, joining the General Post Office to work with telegraphs.

By this time, James’ medical condition had been formally diagnosed as General Paralysis of the Insane. A degenerative disease, similar to Alzheimer‚Äôs disease, it was associated with brisk reflexes and tremors (usually most obvious of the lips, tongue, and outstretched hands) and characterised by failing memory and general deterioration.

By August 1920, James was admitted to the Somerset and Bath Asylum in Cotford, because of his worsening condition. He was not to come out again, and passed away ten months later, on 13th June 1921. He was just 39 years old.

James Frederick Hain was buried in the St James’ Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset.


James Frederick Hain
James Frederick Hain
(from findagrave.com)

CWG: Private John Kennell

Private John Kennell

John Kennell was born in Yeovil in 1872. One of five children, he was the only son of bootmaker Francis Kennell and his wife Elizabeth.

John enlisted in the Dorsetshire Regiment in 1888. Interestingly, his enlistment records give his surname – and that of his parents – as Hosegood. When he was discharged, however, the documents give him as John Hosegood alias Kennell (the census records confirm his family name as Kennell, however).

Private Hosegood was initially based at The Citadel Military Barracks in Plymouth. His service meant he travelled the world – he spent two years in Egypt, four in India and two in South Africa (where he was involved in the relief of Ladysmith). In all, John served 14 years in the army and was discharged in May 1902.

John married Bessie Greenstock six weeks after being demobbed; the Banns show they wed in the Parish Church of Sherborne (or Sherborne Abbey), and list John as a soldier. He was 30, Bessie seven years older.

By the time of the 1911 census, the couple were living with their two young children – Francis and Edith – and Bessie’s widowed mother in the village of Oborne, two miles to the west of Sherborne in Dorset.

When war broke out, John reenlisted within weeks. After a period of re-training, Private Kennell was posted to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 23rd October 1914, and served nearly three years on the Western Front.

Private Kennell returned to the UK on 30th December 1916, and remained there until being discharged as no longer fit for war service in July 1917. Sadly, I have been unable to find any details of what led to him being discharged, but the service records do not suggest that he was wounded in any way.

After his discharge, details of John’s life are sparse. His name does not appear in any newspapers of the time, and all I have been able to find it that he passed away on Christmas Eve 1919. He was 47 years old and was buried five days later.

Private John Kennell lies at rest in Sherborne Cemetery, Dorset.

CWG: Corporal Sidney Hornby

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Sidney Horace Hornby was born to John and Emily in March 1880. John was a tailor’s assistant from Paddington, and the family – Sidney was the eldest of six siblings – initially lived in the Greenwich.

Sidney enlisted in the army in 1898. He joined the East Kent Regiment for a short service of seven years and was sent to South Africa. In March 1900 he was wounded at the Battle of Driefontein. His service, though, saw him promoted through the ranks from Private to Sergeant.

Something must have happened during his enlistment, however, as on 2nd September 1901 Sergeant Hornby’s military record marks him as having deserted.

Sidney’s records pick him up again on 24th April 1908, when he is put on court martial. Found guilty of desertion, he is reduced to the ranks and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude (later reduced to two years’ hard labour).

His attitude seems to continue, however, as within a matter of months he was discharged due to misconduct and denied any pension for his previous service.

Sidney’s family had moved from Greenwich to Kent at some point before the 1901 census, and his father died three years later. By the 1911 census, he had moved back in with his mother, and worked as a labourer to help look after them.

The Great War called, however, and it seems that Sidney’s previous misdemeanours did not excluding him from fighting again. He joined the Royal West Kent Regiment although his full service for the 1914-18 campaign are not accessible. Again, his service seems to have been good, as he was elevated to the rank of Sergeant for a second time.

Hints of Sergeant Hornby’s rebellious nature remain, however, as he was court marshalled again in February 1916. He was convicted of drunkenness, and reduced to the rank of Corporal.

That was the summer of the Battle of the Somme, and by the autumn Hornby was one of the many who fell during that time. He died on 4th October 1916 and was 36 years old.

Corporal Sidney Hornby is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.


Sidney Horace Hornby was my 1st cousin, four times removed.