During the last 4 years, a number of activities have been undertaken by organisations at home and abroad to mark the 100 years since World War I, 1914-1918. To commemorate the final landmark of that century, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery have launched a major project which will look at the conflict and its aftermath with particular reference to the people of Hastings. HRFHS has joined in this Project along with Hastings Borough Council and a number of other local historical groups.
The culmination will be an exhibition at the Museum in Johns Place, Bohemia Road, in November to coincide with the annual commemoration which will no doubt be rightfully exceptional this year.
Several activities are planned as contributory to get the preparation for November under way, including an invitation to Hastings residents to share their family stories of the Great War and the years that followed. This society would also like to extend the invitation beyond Hastings itself to our wider, Rother, area to include Rye, Bexhill, Battle and all the villages and hamlets between. Even if you no longer live in the area or your relative was not actually from here, we would still like to hear your story.
And although those who gave their lives are the central part of the commemoration, this is not just about them alone. Very many survived the horrendous conditions and returned to pick up the pieces of shattered families who had struggled back home. A return that brought with it a devastating flu epidemic which took more lives than the bullets and shells of the field. Life would never be the same. A whole new social order emerged with so many demobbed servicemen still suffering debilitating injuries and trauma. Those relatively untouched found they had saved a broken, almost bankrupt, country.
Women had just begun to find a voice and they, too, had their stories. The shortage of eligible husband material is well-documented as is the struggle to achieve the respect and rewards deserved for carrying out so-called “men’s” jobs. But there were other brave women also. The thousands who set off to the “New World” of Canada and America with the soldiers they had met in transit to the killing fields.
What is your family’s story?
The Society would like to gather all of these and present them for others to share.
To find out how you can join in or for more advice, get in touch with us through the contacts page
We shall be offering a Writing Workshop at the Ore Centre on Weds 11th July – open to all
HRFHS Area Servicemen Who lost Their Lives in WWI, May 1918
Click on the link: WWI Killed in Action May 1918
OR PDF version: WWI Killed in Action May 1918
to see all those from the HRFHS area who were lost during the month
Each month, one of those who gave their lives is researched in order to present a short biography. This month, however, 5 brave servicemen serving in the Labour Corps are representative of the many not only in this little corner of the Country but across the World. They were ordinary men who had dreams and hopes and they left behind ordinary families whose dreams and hopes were shattered. This month it is:
Private 60855, Eldred WAITE of Catsfield, died 13th May, 37-years-old;
Private 60344, Godfrey Charles DUKE of St Leonards, died 14th May, 36-years-old;
Private 60356, Robert FRANKS of Battle, died 14th May, 35-years-old;
Private 60478, Charles SHOESMITH of Hastings, died 14th May, 31-years-old;
Private 89858, William WOODS of Hastings, died 16th May, 32-years-old.
The Labour Corps had relatively low status compared to the other ‘fighting’ regiments. Their work involved maintaining supply and communication lines which was, of course, vital yet somehow apparently less courageous. In reality it involved truly heroic activity in the worst possible conditions. Throughout the conflict, there was a dangerous shortage of men available to carry out the so-called menial, labour-intensive duties involved in keeping an army on the move and creating the means of getting huge numbers of troops from A to B with the accompanying constant supplies and providing the essential lines of communication. This work was carried out by a variety of companies from regiments in any given area until January 1917 when the Labour Corps was created specifically for the purpose. The companies of the new Labour Corps were drawn from the existing regiments and were made up of troops no longer considered fully fighting fit and / or those who were that little bit older. Nevertheless, their task would require a high degree of hard physical work all within similar conditions under enemy fire, sometimes with even greater exposure. It was definitely not an easy option; if option they had.
In the closing months of the War, the Allies fighting in France fell back almost to previous lines before “The Big Push” which would be the beginning of the end. The 34th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers formed the 101st Company, Labour Corps, from its numbers. In May 1918, the 101st was stationed at the village of Foncquevilliers between Amiens and Arras in the Pas-de-Calais region. They were creating and maintaining communication lines within range of enemy artillery. Five men from the Hastings and Rother area gave their lives as they carried out that vital work between 13th-16th May, all dying from wounds or gassed.
Four of these five had originally been in 34th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and the fifth had been transferred from the Hampshire Regiment. They were:
It is, perhaps, unlikely that these men were acquainted before their original enlistment but quite possible that some of them knew each other during service in the Royal Fusiliers. They became comrades-in-arms with a common geographical background, thrown together by fate and age. Tragically, that fate placed them and many others in a fatal succession of events. Each left behind grieving families.
Eldred WAITE was born in Catsfield in 1881, the fourth of seven children. His father, James was an agricultural labourer who managed to obtain work as a bricklayer which would have given him a few pennies per hour more. From an early age, Eldred began work in the fields himself. The family moved from rural Catsfield into 15 North Road, Sidley when he was in his twenties and he diversified into other labouring work, probably associated with his father’s building trade.
Eldred had five sisters and one brother, Edwin Charles, who was seven years younger. Edwin began work as an upholsterer but in June 1906 he enlisted in the Royal Engineers, aged 19 years 7 months. This was for a 3-year stint which included service in India. He then transferred to the Reserve for 12 years whereupon he was mobilised in August 1914. He was wounded in the field (left calf) 11 Sept 1914, transferred to convalescent camp, St Nazaire the following month. One month later 13 Nov 1914 he was killed in action at Ypres.
James and Charlotte Waite lost both their sons, one in the early months and the other in the last months.
Godfrey Charles DUKE was born in St Leonards in 1883, the fourth of the eight children born to David and Eliza. Father, David had good prospects in that he ran a small catering business in the growing St Leonards area but he died aged 44 in 1896. Godfrey was not yet in his teens and the widow, Eliza’s, youngest was 5-years-old. Everything now depended upon the income of the children to keep the family together. Godfrey found work as a grocer’s porter, two of his four brothers went into catering work with another becoming a window cleaner and the youngest learning the skills of a plumber and gas fitter. The family lived variously in North Street, Alfred Street and Cross Street in the Warrior Square area of St Leonards.
In 1912, Godfrey married local woman, Lydia Ballard and two children soon arrived: Evelyn in 1913 and Frank towards the end of 1915. It is quite likely that Godfrey had gone off to France before the birth of his son. Lydia was left to raise the children alone, the hopes she and Godfrey must have had dashed forever. Although all five of the Duke brothers served in the War, it was only Godfrey who perished.
Robert FRANKS was born in Battle in 1883, the son of Robert Senior and Emma. He was the only son with three sisters. Like Godfrey Duke, Robert was only 11-years-old when he suffered the early loss of his father in 1895 at the age of 54. In need of support, his widowed mother, Emma, took the family from Battle to her home area and they ended up in Streatham, London. It was here that Robert began work as a potman in a local pub. His sisters were each married in the Wandsworth area and moved out but Robert remained with his mother until he enlisted at the outbreak of war, coinciding with the death of his Mother when she was 70 years of age..
Like his comrades, Eldred, Godfrey and Charles, Robert was posted to 34th Royal Fusiliers Regiment by which time he was into his thirties. He survived the years of fighting but was destined to be “pensioned” into the fateful 101st Company Labour Corps.
Charles SHOESMITH was born in Hastings in 1887. He was the fourth of eleven children born to labourer, Thomas and his wife, Caroline. Both his parents were born and raised in Hastings and found themselves in the same economic situation experienced by their ancestors; they all suffered hardship. Before he was 13-years-old, Charles left home. He may have gone to live with relatives but it is most likely that he moved in with an employer who would offer him accommodation thereby relieving the situation for his parents in Halton.
His older brother, Robert Henry, must have had similar idea when he lied about his age to enlist in the Royal Army Service Corps in 1900. At that time he was still 16-years-old but he claimed he was 18. He had gone off to Woolwich where he enlisted for short service. Perhaps it was his tender age but he immediately fell foul of army rules and was placed on repeated charges of absence and loss of kit until he was eventually discharged with forfeiture of his pension. He had served only a few days over one year. Two further years of struggle led him to return to Hastings where he managed to find work with the Hastings, London, Brighton and South Coast Railway as a shunter, a job he managed to keep. Charles Shoesmith’s other brothers were young enough to miss the call to arms.
Charles’ father, Thomas, died in 1930, aged 72 and his mother, Caroline the following year, a lifetime’s struggle and grief closed.
William WOODS was also born in Hastings one year before Charles Shoesmith, in 1886. William was the youngest of four children, having two sisters and a brother, George Junior. William’s mother died when he was very young and the children were brought up by their father, George, who was a cabinet maker. This “affluence” allowed them to live in the Manor Road area of the town comprising somewhat smaller terraced housing which would have been a little cramped with the addition of father’s widowed sister-in-law and her daughter.
William found work in Hastings as a shop porter and had dreams of raising a family when he married local woman, Daisy Blakley in 1908. They set up home at 86 Queens Road just down the hill from his father and siblings. It was a long wait but a daughter Phyllis arrive in 1913 indicating a positive family life ahead which, of course, was not meant to be. Little Phyllis was too young to have been able to remember her father when she witnessed his departure for France before she was 2-years-old.
The full list for the duration of WWI can be found in the Members’ Area. If you are a member simply log in and scroll the Resources section. If you are not a member why not consider joining? Go to: http://www.hrfhs.org.uk/details-rates/