. hemlocs WW1


The Hemingfords in World War 1

7. The Fighting Men of Hemingford Abbots

On Hemingford Abbots High Street near Watts Lane, you see the house of local farmer, Thomas King and his wife Rose. Unusually, they have just the one child, a son, who is 15. Harry King will enlist in Bedford and be killed in action in France, serving with the Royal West Surrey Regiment on 1 September 1918.

Walking into the centre of the village, past the Wheatsheaf public house, you pause near the Reading Room (probably where the Village Hall is now sited) at the house of William Burbage, a 74-year-old retired farm labourer. Living with him is his nephew, Harry Hayes, aged 23 and also a farm labourer. He will join the Bedfordshire Regiment, be promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal and be awarded the Military Medal, introduced in March 1916 for acts of bravery in the field. He will die of his wounds on the Somme on 13 October 1916.

Nearby, in Sunnyside, opposite the Axe and Compass, live Walter Allen, a local builder, and his family. Walter and Mary have four sons - Charles, Edward, George and William - who are all involved in the business. Charles will be exempted from military service to continue working in the family business, but his three brothers will all serve. The youngest, William Allen, has already joined the Bedfordshire Regiment Territorials in 1913 and will find himself transferred to the Hunts Cyclist Battalion on the outbreak of war. He will subsequently be transferred to 63 Royal Naval Division, serving in Nelson Battalion at Passchendaele. He will end up in hospital with trench fever and when he comes out he finds that most of his battalion have been wiped out. He joins Hawke Battalion and in 1918 is badly wounded and repatriated. He is still in hospital when the Armistice is signed. Thirty years later, a piece of shrapnel works its way down his leg and is removed by a doctor. (William’s granddaughter still has the shrapnel!). William’s son and his wife still live next door to Sunnyside.

Close to the Allens live the Hart family. Charles is a widower shepherd with two sons and a daughter. Charles junior is 18 and Tom 16; both are domestic gardeners and both will serve in France. Charles will join the Hunts Cyclist Battalion as soon as war breaks out and will be badly wounded, and discharged from military service in 1918. Tom Hart will be killed in action in the Somme area of France on 21 March 1918, serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

On the corner of High Street and Rideaway stands the Cedars, home to Thomas and Florence Ivatt. Their son, Harold Ivatt, was educated at King’s School Ely and is employed as a mining engineer in the Cannock Chase coalfield. He was commissioned in the South Staffs Territorials in 1912 and will be mobilised with his battalion on the day war breaks out. Deployed to France in April 1915, Harold will be attached to the 137th Brigade Mining Section as a result of his experience working underground. He will then be posted to Egypt, but will soon return to France, heroically leading his company at the taking of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. He will be awarded the Military Cross for ‘great bravery in rescuing his men from a burning mine’, being decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace in the Birthday Honours Investiture, 1916. However, he will spend time in hospital in May 1916. At the end of July 1916, he will be sent to England suffering from further ill health, be assessed as being fit for light duties only and be struck off the strength of his battalion. Nevertheless, he will be promoted to Captain in August 1916 and finally return to the South Staffs in June 1917. On 21 May 1918, while his battalion is fighting in the Essars sector, he and his two subalterns will be killed instantly by a shell which explodes in the headquarters dugout. Major-General Thwaites (GOC 46th Division) writes: ‘his loss is deeply regretted by me and his battalion; we can ill spare valuable young officers of his calibre now’.

Carrying on along Rideaway, you come to Hemingford Park Lodge, home of William and Elizabeth Locke and their three children. Son Willie Locke is 20 and works for Murketts. As part of his duties there, he has driven Oliver Locker Lampson, the MP for Ramsey. In December 1914, Locker Lampson, who is a friend of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, will receive a commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and personally fund the establishment of an armoured car squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service. Willie will join this squadron and serve in an unoccupied portion of Belgium for most of 1915. By the end of that year, trench warfare will mean there is no scope for armoured cars on the Western Front and the Admiralty will disband most of its armoured car squadrons. As a gesture of goodwill to the Russians, however, three squadrons of armoured cars, known as the Russian Armoured Car Division and including Willie Locke in their complement, will be sent by ship to Murmansk. Commander Locker Lampson will command the force. By 1917, the armoured cars will be fighting in what is now Ukraine and Willie will already have been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for bravery. Sadly, on 13 July 1917, the Hunts Post reports:

Armoured Cars in Action
Chief Petty Officer Locke, who has died of wounds received whilst fighting with Oliver Locker Lampson’s Armoured Car Squadrons in Roumania, on July 1st, was the son of Mr and Mrs Locke, of Hemingford Abbots Park Lodge. As a lad, he was employed by Mrs Williams at Hemingford Park. Afterwards he worked at the St Ives Post Office, and subsequently for Messrs Murkett, motor engineers, of Huntingdon and Peterborough. Deceased joined the Squadron on its formation and had seen a good deal of service, rising by merit to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. A memorial service is to be held this (Thursday) evening at Hemingford Abbots Church.

Willie was with a party of men manning a Maxim machine gun in the trenches when a shell hit the entrance to the dug-out where they were sitting. He died overnight from his wounds. Locker Lampson wrote to Mr and Mrs Locke and concluded: ‘he fell as a soldier should, fighting for his country and a noble cause, and he leaves behind a fine record of devoted duty’. Willie will posthumously be awarded the Russian St George’s Cross.

Going back into the High Street, you stop near the school at the house of the Saunders family. Harry and Elizabeth have nine children, two of whom will join the Army. Herbert Saunders is a 22-year-old farm labourer and Ernest, 18, an errand boy. On 25 May 1917, the Hunts Post reports:

Pte Saunders, of Hemingford, dies of wounds.
Pte H G Saunders, Manchester Regiment, son of Mr H Saunders of Hemingford Abbots, has died of wounds received in action in France on May 10th, at the age of 25. A letter received from a comrade states that the deceased soldier had done his duty bravely and was well loved by all the men of his platoon, who wished to express their deep sympathy to his friends. A younger son, Pte E W Saunders, Royal Berkshires, was wounded last November, and had his right arm amputated. He is now at home on leave.

Continuing along the High Street, you see the Boot and Slipper public house. George Lilley is a farm labourer but runs the pub in his spare time with his wife. Son Fred Lilley is 17 and works at Marshalls Brewery in Huntingdon. He will volunteer at the outbreak of war, joining the Hunts Cyclist Battalion, but will then transfer to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. On 24 September 1916, he will die of leg wounds on the Somme, having been in France for only two months. Elder brother William will serve with the Bedfordshire Regiment.

As you leave the village, you spot the home of Isaac Favel and his family. Isaac’s wife is Constance and her brother James Clifton lives with them. He is 19 and a hay cutter and presser. In October 1915, he will volunteer along with his workmates and join the Bedfordshire Regiment. He will serve as a machine gunner in France, Belgium and Italy. In September 1916 he will be wounded and invalided back to the field hospital but once recovered he will return on the front line. Later in the campaign he will have his appendix removed in the trench hospital and be cared for by local Belgian people. Less than six weeks later he will be declared fit and returned to action. His proudest moment will be in 1918, when he will destroy two German machine gun nests, which have pinned down his battalion and delayed their advance. He will be awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in this action.
Jim will later be awarded the Medaille Commemorative des Batailles de la Somme and the freedom of the City of Ypres; the medal will finally arrive in 1970 as the Belgian authorities cannot trace him for over 50 years, despite the fact that he will visit Ypres and the battlefields every year after the end of the war. He will sign his name in the Visitors’ Book at the Menin Gate 56 times and on his final visit in 1969 he will proudly lead the Veterans March in Ypres.
Jim will live the rest of his life as a farmer in Hemingford Grey and die in 1984 aged 89. He is, of course, Derek’s father.

For Jim, as for many men who serve, the war will remain the central experience of his life and everything that follows will seem to be an anti-climax; the ordinary routine of life must have appeared dull and restrictive.