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, July 1918
Click on the link: WWI Killed in Action July 1918
OR PDF version: WWI Killed in Action July 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 is just one, 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 76916 Royal Durham Light Infantry, Reginald James STONESTREET of Robertsbridge, died 3rd July 1918, 42-years-old. Not all of the combatants quite fitted into the category of “young” and Reginald is also an example of those who lost their lives other than as a result of violence in the Field.
Reginald was born in Brightling near Robertsbridge, Sussex, in April 1876, the fifth of the seven children of James and Emily. He was baptised in the village 4th July that year. It was a rural community and father James had a long tradition of working the land. However, he had managed to progress to work as a groom and, later, became a gamekeeper. This work was also taken up by at least two of his sons including Reginald.
Although mostly in Brightling, Robertsbridge and Salehurst, the family generally began to spread and many could be found ending up in Ticehurst a few miles to the north. This was where Reginald met and married Mary Ann Edmunds, the eldest in a large family similarly brought up in a rural community. Soon after the marriage the couple set up home in Salehurst where Reginald worked as a domestic groom on Abbey Farm. The couple had no children of their own but they took in a “visitor” a term used for a fostered child. In 1901, this was Grace Cook who was still with them in 1911. By this time, a second visitor, Dulcie Croft had joined them. Dulcie went on to marry a William Harden in Cranbrook, Kent, in 1932. Reginald, like his father, graduated from groom to gamekeeper, taking up the position at Paper Mill Farm, Benenden, Kent.
The family then moved on to Tunbridge wells where Reginald began work as a carpenter, although he was not totally skilled at this work; he was described as an “efficient rough carpenter” when tested on his military enlistment. He was 38 years and 9 months old when he enlisted at Gillingham, Kent on 21st January 1915. He was, of course, a little older than most of the other recruits but clearly determined. His original posting was as Sapper 1763 in the Royal Engineers.
Because of his age, Reginald was not sent overseas right away and was held in reserve. However, as time passed more and more of the younger men were lost and he was needed at the Front. In September 1917, he was transferred as Private 76916 in the Durham Light Infantry. He embarked at Folkestone and joined his Unit in France of 1st October. He had received plenty of training in the Royal Engineers but probably not directly related to what he might experience in the Infantry. He joined exhausted comrades filled with the horrors that three years of bitter fighting had thrown at them.
The 24th March 1918 saw Reginald in close combat with the enemy and the result was his capture by German troops. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp at Neubrisach on the border of France and Germany. This was a medieval fortress city originally built to defend the Holy Roman Empire. It was, effectively, a large walled town. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Neuf-Brisach, in the Alsace region of France.
Conditions for Reginald would not have been pleasant by any means. Prisoners were very poorly treated and any illnesses contracted there or anything they already had when captured would receive quite rudimentary treatment. That is not to say that the men were totally neglected only that the German military authorities had more pressing concerns. There was a hospital at Neubrisach and Reginald was admitted to it. This may have been soon after his capture at the end of March or some time further into his imprisonment. Information on his capture would have been very slow in reaching the British forces and until the news finally reached Reginald’s wife, Mary, he would have been reported as “missing”. Mary and the rest of the Stonestreet family would have thought the worst.
Once aware of his capture the family would have found some comfort in the thought that he was at least in a place of relative safety and they would have to wait only until the end of the fighting. But it was on 3rd July 1918 that the Official German List from Fortress Hospital, Neubrisach reported Reginald as having died of “lung disease”. He was buried in the town, Neuf-Brisach, Departement du Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. He was 42-years-old.
Months of delays meant that Mary – at that time living 5 North Street, Tunbridge Wells – and the rest of the family in Robertsbridge and Ticehurst knew nothing of Reginald’s fate until early 1919. Mary had already had to await proof of Reginald’s capture in order to apply for a separation allowance and it was not until September 1919 that she could begin to receive a widow’s pension of 15/- per week.
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/