Sunday 20 April 2014

41610 Pte Thomas Lakin, Norfolk Regiment


I interviewed Thomas Lakin at his home in Loughborough in July 1984. He was born in Quorndon, Leicestershire on the 19th September 1899 and prior to being called up he was working as a weaver for M Wright & Sons in Quorn. The company, established in 1870, is still trading in Quorn under its original name today. Thomas Lakin died at Loughborough in September 1987.

Thomas Lakin's narrative

I was in the Notts & Derby Young Soldiers’ Battalion which was a battalion that had had been specially set up to train young soldiers. I was first at Rugeley [Cannock Chase] with them and then we were transferred to Doncaster from where we were marched to Welbeck Abbey. We were under canvas there for a month or two and then we went to France.
I had tried to join up three times before but each time I went to the recruiting office at Leicester my mother fetched me out. She knew I shouldn’t have gone. The first time I went, I went to join the Navy with a mate. They kept me three days and then sent me home and told me to grow up a little bit and put a bit more on my chest. So I never bothered with them again. I was fifteen and a half which was the earliest you could join the Navy at that time.

We did all our finishing training at Welbeck Abbey and then we went down by train to Dover and crossed over to Calais. We were all in one big camp like and didn’t belong to any regiment or anything. But as soon as you got there you were there to be out in any regiment that needed reinforcements, so I got in with the 1st Norfolks.

I was at the depot for about three days and was then posted to up to a little place called Merville that was somewhere in front of Armentieres. We were there two or three months and it was quite quiet. The Portuguese had been there and the Germans had pushed them back, but we went there and we pushed the Germans back. That would be early 1918 before the German advance.

When we left Merville we marched down and finished up on the Somme. There was the Cheshire regiment, The Warwickshire Regiment and the Norfolks. The Cheshire regiment went over the top first, then the Warwickshire Regiment went through them and they took over the front line. Then we went through both of them and there didn’t seem to be much doing; the Germans were falling back.

Where we went over the top we were near two little villages called Aichet-le-Grand and Aichet-le-Petit and they were practically the same. There was always a bit of dead line firing by the artillery before you went over but it wasn’t very pleasant to be under it yourself. So long as it wasn;t too heavy you didn’t bother but it if it got heavy you began to dive for cover. We had little holes at the back of the trench.

When I got wounded it was a spare shell that came over. We were on the corner of a village and you could see the German soldiers preparing to make an attack. They were putting quite a bit of shells over and I got hit by a piece about as big as my hand. It was a good job it was spent but it caught me on the shoulder and broke my shoulder and gave me severe bruising.

I was taken to an ambulance and it were full of wounded from our side and German lads as well. We went to Rheims and I was in hospital there for about a week before they brought us down to Le Havre. We were put on a boat and went to Southampton and I think the journey took about fourteen hours. This would be about August 1918.

When I was wounded the Germans were retreating but they stopped to pump shells into us and managed to hold us up.

I was in hospital for a week or so at Southampton and then I was sent up to a hospital in Stockport just outside Manchester. I was there for about a month and then I had a fortnight’s leave. After that I was posted to a little village in Bedfordshire called Ampthill. The Duke of Bedford had a castle there and he’d got a big park which we used to sleep in in tents. I was having electrical treatment on my shoulder until I got the use of it back. I used to go out every morning with the Duchess of Bedford who later got killed in a flying accident. I didn’t see much of the Duke but he was the fellow who introduced the grey squirrels from Mexico. Down in Bedfordshire there were thousands of them and they used to ruin the crops.

When I’d finished my convalescence I was posted from Bedford down to Dover but while I was travelling down, the Armistice was signed.

Friday 18 April 2014

370217 Cpl Jerry Hawkes, 8th London Regiment

Jerry Hawkes (seventh from left in the photo above) deserves more space than I am able to dedicate to him on this particular post. He was one of several Post Office Rifles veterans that I interviewed in the mid 1980s and he had a good recall for names - and nicknames.  This post will try and shed further light on some of the characters he mentioned in my discussion with him.

Jerry Hawkes was actually Albert William Francis Hawkes and he was born in Goswell Road in the City of London on 25th October 1896. He told me, "They know me as Jerry. I don't know where I got that name from, no idea. I became a telegraph boy when I was just a lad. I was in the Post Office orphan homes because my father died early and I was there for a long, long time." His original regimental number with the 8th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) was 1585 which indicates that he joined the regiment in early 1913.

Jerry's pals and acquaintances

"My best pal of all was Ted Harsant and poor old Ted he got killed. He lived in Goswell Road near me."  This is 1920 Sergeant Frederick William Harsant who was killed in action on 21st May 1916. The Commonwealth War Graves website tells us that he was the son of William David and Emily Virtue Harsant, of 2, Pickard St., City Rd., London. Ted has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

"We had an officer called Maxwell and he always used to say, I want the deepest dug-out you've got. We used to call him dug-out Maxwell. He finished up as brigadier. Brigadier! Maxwell was windy but his boy wasn't a bad bloke." This is Captain A Maxwell CMG, DSO; later Brigadier-General 174th Infantry Brigade.

"They were nearly all post office men in our mob and we had a fella, Sergeant-Major Chivers, and he always got nick-named "Chum" because every time he spoke  he used to say, "Now don't forget this, chum". Chum this and chum that and so we nicknamed him Chum Chivers." 1443 CSM Simeon George Chivers MC died of wounds on 19th September 1916 aged 42. He was the husband of Charlotte Florence Elizabeth Chivers of 34 Douglas Road, Surbiton, Surrey. He is buried in St Sever Cemetery, Rouen. As well as the Military Cross, CSM Chivers was also Mentioned in Despatches.

"I was in number 4 platoon, Captain Milne's company which was number 2, the same as Bill Howell. I remember being with him in the trenches. We always called him Sammy; I don't know why."
There is a medal index card for a Major D D Milne, 8th London Regt, later Highland Light Infantry. Bill Howell is the same 2518 Bill Howell I interviewed at around the time I met Jerry Hawkes. I have posted about him HERE

"We had two relations in our mob, Aberdeen their name was. One was a boy messenger same as me and he put his age up same as I did. Two brothers: Aberdeen and Aber; we always knew the other one as Aber." Probably 520, later 370045 Alexander A Aberdeen and 1559 Frederick Arthur Aberdeen. Frederick, the younger of the two boys, was killed in action on the 15th September 1916 and is buried at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery in Longueval. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes that he was the son of Mr and Mrs A W Aberdeen, of 389 Northampton Buildings, Clerkenwell, London. His elder brother joined the Post Office Rifles in 1908 and may well have seen prior service with the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps. Jerry remembered that "Abber finished up as a sergeant major. He was a wonderful man."

"After the war they transferred me to Stoke Newington because we lived near there and one of the blokes in the office there finished up in my platoon: Harry Diggins. He was a proper clown. He didn't care two hoots about anybody up the line. He just didn't care." This is 1806 Pte Henry Diggins, later 370316. Although his number indicates that he joined the 8th Londons in February 1914, Harry did not go overseas until after 1915. His service record survives in WO 364.

I only met Jerry Hawkes once, at his home in Iwade, Kent in 1986. He died in late 1988 or early 1989, his death registered in January of that year. The photo is taken from Charles Messenger's Terriers in the Trenches.