Anstey Soldiers Who Fell in World War I
Outside St George’s Church in Anstey stands the war memorial bearing the names of twelve soldiers from the village who died in World War I. Their names are read out on Armistice Sunday. Interestingly, the brass plaque inside the church bears the name of only ten men.
Some of these names I recognised as belonging to Anstey families whom I knew, or knew of, having been a resident of this village for almost 40 years. The approach of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War gave me the excuse I needed to find out more about these men and how they fitted into the village. Of course, I have left it far too late. Had I attempted this when I first moved here, there would have been many more leads and, I suspect, many more photos. Even our oldest local residents were born at least a decade after its outbreak, into families who did not want to remember, least of all talk about, the horrors of war. Yet some still have a memory to share or a faded photograph. Those who died were mostly unmarried with no children. They were never a father, only an uncle, and with no direct descendants memorabilia has often not survived.
However, there has been information to discover. The census returns made every 10 years from 1841 and especially the 1911 census, the last one to be released, have been invaluable. So, too have been the enlistment records, although over half were destroyed in bombing raids in WW2. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has information on the places of burial in cases where bodies were found. Hertfordshire County Archives, Royston Museum, Anstey Church records, Anstey Chapel papers, and Anstey School records have all had information to be gleaned. But it has been individual people who have given the most, and so willingly, and to whom I am so grateful.
Three years on, this project is far from finished. Every moment I have spent on it has been a privilege and a joy. I believe what I have written to be correct but would welcome any comments or changes. I would also be pleased to receive any extra information, especially in the form of photos or letters.
I have also been researching the soldiers who served and who survived. (Records show that forty-five men left from Anstey.) Any information on these would also be welcome.
Jenny Goymour, March 2015. (Revised 2021)
Click on images to enlarge
“Anstey War Memorial
Anstey has very worthily perpetuated the memory of its heroic sons “who fought to give us peace and so they gained a better peace than ours”. A war memorial tablet was erected in the Parish Church and one too in the Congregational Chapel, but the parish generally also wished for a further memorial to be erected outside. Two trees were taken down in the churchyard and a splendid site obtained for the erection of the memorial, which is conspicuous from the main road to all traffic and is hard by the church where many of the gallant dead were baptised and near the school where they received their education.
Artistically designed and executed by Messrs G Maile and Son of Euston Road, London the memorial takes the form of a Celtic cross of grey Cornish granite. Finely carved in relief on the face is a Crusader’s sword, signifying, like the cross itself, sacrifice. On the base is the dedicating inscription, “To the glory of God and in honoured memory of the men of the parish who fell in the Great War 1914 -1919”. Then follows the names engraved in lead letters of the following twelve men who, out of 45 that went from the village, died nobly for their King and country.
B Bentley, H J Bradford, B G Catley, A Caton, F J Chappell, R Coxall, H G Hicks, K Martin, F L Scripps, H R Smith, G W Strange, H P Wick.
“They died that we might live.”
The parishioners are justly proud of the memorial which will be an everyday possession to the many passers by. The memorial as now erected cost £126 8s 9d, which has been very readily subscribed. A suitable fence will shortly be placed round the memorial.
The memorial was unveiled and dedicated on Sunday afternoon at a very impressive service conducted by the Rector,
the Reverend F R Williams RD.”
L Cpl Bert Bentley MGC 54874
The 1911 census does not indicate how many children were born to his parents Albert and Esther Maria née Skeggs but fourteen are traceable through previous censuses. These are:
Albert Charles born in 1884
Alice born about 1888
Edith born about 1890
Daisy born in 1891
Bertie born in 1892
Oliver born in 1894
Florence born about 1896
Christopher born about 1898
Stanley born about 1900
Ruby born about 1901
Arthur born about 1903
Percy born about 1905
Donald born about 1907
Reginald Francis Cyril baptised March 1913
The eldest three children are recorded as being born in Barkway, the subsequent ones in Nuthampstead, and the last was baptised and presumably born in Anstey. Bert’s father was born in Nuthampstead and his mother in Anstey.
According to the 1891 census the family was living in Nuthampstead. Albert was a gamekeeper and they had three children at this time, Albert, Alice and Edith.
In 1901 the family was living in Nuthampstead. There were two adults and nine children. Albert, the eldest child at 13 was recorded as living with his grandmother Bentley, also in Nuthampstead. Possibly the family home was becoming overcrowded.
By the 1911 census the family had moved to Puttock’s End, Anstey and were living in a five roomed cottage. This is now one house known as The Grange, but then was a pair of small cottages. There were two adults and nine children. Albert was a farm labourer as were Bertie and Oliver. The three eldest girls had now left. Alice was a servant in Whitechapel, Edith a cook at The Limes in Barley and Daisy a servant in Clapham Park.
Bert served in the 6th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps. Documentation shows he was in the Machine Gun Corps in 1914 but this unit did not come into existence until 1915 so there may be some doubt. It had had 100,000 serving soldiers, plus officers, and was highly efficient and successful. It took the fittest and most intelligent men from other regiments to man the guns, often in the front line and more latterly well in advance of the front line and because of this its casualty rate was high. It was disbanded in 1920. All of its operational records and regimental orders were destroyed in a fire deemed “mysterious” in 1920 and details of its soldiers are only just coming to light.
There are no details of Bert’s war service other than that he was reported missing in 1918, becoming a prisoner of war in German hands. He died of wounds on 14th April 1918 and is buried in Soignies Communal Cemetery in Belgium. He is one of only 13 British soldiers buried there; the rest are German soldiers, this town being home to German hospitals.
He is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial and on the brass plaque in Anstey Church and Chapel.
Herbert Bradford RE
Herbert John Bradford was born on Feb 8th 1895 in Anstey.
According to the 1911 census there were 13 children born to his parents Amos and Sarah née Seymour, six of whom had died by 1911. In previous censuses the children had been recorded as:
John b 1877 (*died of appendicitis aged about 15)
Annie b March 1878
William b April 1880 (*died of pneumonia aged about 30)
Albert Herbert b May 1882 (died young)
Leonard b Feb 1884 (died young)
Henry baptised Oct 1886 (died young)
Alice Florence b Aug 1888
Mercy Lavinia b July 1891
Sidney b April 1893
Herbert John b Feb 1895
Edward b April 1896 (died within a few months)
Robert Roy b Dec 1898 (*He had a twin who died at birth)
*according to Mercy’s daughter
Eleven of these children (not John) were baptised in Anstey Church. John and Annie were born in Cottered, the rest in Anstey.
According to the 1891 census, Amos & Sarah were living in Anstey with John, 14, Annie, 13, William, 12, Mercy, 9 and Alice 2. Amos was an agricultural worker. When the three youngest children, Herbert, Edward and Robert were baptised the family was recorded as living “near the well”.
In the 1901 census the family was still in Anstey with William 20, a shepherd, Alice 12, Mercy, 9 and Roy aged 2. Amos was still an agricultural worker.
In the 1911 census the family was living in a three roomed cottage in New Barns Lane with Mercy 19, Sidney 18 and Roy 12. Amos was a farm labourer as was Sidney. According to Herbert’s niece (Mercy’s daughter) the family lived in a cottage in a dip on the right hand side leaving Anstey (now 1 & 2 New Barns Lane).
Herbert is not recorded as living with his parents in 1901, nor can he be traced as living anywhere else.
However according to the 1911, Herbert was living in Daws End with his “uncle” and family of 6 children in a four roomed cottage. At that time this household consisted of Enoch William Bentley (horse keeper on farm) born 1874 and Mary née Bradford. (Mary’s father Robert was brother to Herbert’s father, Amos) An Anstey resident remembers this as being as what is now 2 Dawes Cottage.
Their children were:
Charles Frederick 10
Edith May 8
Alice Gertrude 5
Rose Louisa 2
Alfred William 7 months
They went on to have Phyllis Lily in 1913, Bertha Irene in 1916 and Sidney in 1920.
Herbert worked as a farm labourer. Where was he in 1901? Why was he living with his “uncle” when there were already 8 people living in four rooms? And where had he been living in 1901?
When war broke out in 1914 Herbert would have been 19. There are no surviving records of him joining up. Had he not volunteered he would have been conscripted in March 1916. When he was killed he was a pioneer of the 3rd Battalion Special Brigade, Royal Engineers. To enter the Royal Engineers men had to have a recognised trade or profession and were given the rank of Sapper. However, the shortage of skilled men allowed the introduction of unskilled men, such as farm labourers, to the ranks. These became the Pioneers.
Royal Engineer Special Brigades were formed to develop the British response to the German’s use of chlorine gas in 1915. The Specials were responsible for producing large scale gas cloud attacks to be used both offensively and defensively. Could Herbert Bradford have died during such an attack as this?
He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial which is for men who have no known grave. Most men remembered here were killed during the Battles of Arras in April and May 1917 and during the German offensive beginning March 21st 1918.
Herbert died on 22nd March 1918. Could this have been during the Battle of St Quentin which lasted from 21st to 23rd March? He was just 23 years old.
He is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial and on the brass plaque in Anstey Church and Chapel.
L Cpl Bernard Catley MGC
Bernard George Catley was born on December 14th 1893.
According to the 1911 census there were 6 children born to his parents Walter and Lucretia née Wheeler, three of whom had died by the 1911 census.
The surviving children were; Bernard George b 1893, Gwendoline Laura b 1895, Margaret Jessie b 1901
There is no record of the three children who died, indicating they died very young.
His father, grandfather and great grandfather were all born in Anstey as were Bernard and his two sisters. All three children were baptised in Anstey Church. Gwendoline’s baptism entry indicates the family was living “near the church. ” Lucretia came from Langley.
The entry in the 1901 census indicates that the family was living close to Anstey Hall. Walter was a horse keeper on a farm.
By the time of the 1911 census the family was living at Dawes End, in what is now Bell Cottage in the side nearest the church. Walter is not recorded as living there. Gwendoline, 15, was living at Meesden Bury, as a servant to Frank and Jessie Prime. Bernard was a farm labourer.
Bernard joined the Bedfordshire Regiment but by the time he died in September 1916 he was in the Machine Gun Corps. There is no surviving record of his enlistment. The Machine Gun Corps 65th Coy embarked at Devonport on July 5th 1916 for Salonika where they joined the 22nd Division on 16th July 1916. There they had to cope with malaria and each soldier was issued with quinine on a daily basis.
They were involved in the Battle of Horseshoe Hill from 10th to 18th August and in the Battle of Machukova from 13th to 14th September 1916. It was presumably in that battle that Bernard Catley was killed on September 14th.
He is remembered on the Doiran Memorial in Greece, which commemorates those men who died, but whose graves are not known.
According to the Royston Crow a memorial service was held for him in Anstey Chapel. “He was the first to lay down his life for his country from this village during the present war, although others have been severely wounded. The Rev J S Wilson, who conducted the service, spoke very highly his Christian character, and his devotion to duty. Mr W S Fordham of Puckeridge, also took part and offered words of comfort to the bereaved. Favourite hymns of the deceased were sung, and ernest prayer on behalf of the many lads at home and abroad represented in the congregation. A very touching song was sung by Mrs Prime, entitled “Good night”. The service throughout was most impressive. Much sympathy is felt for the family of the deceased, he being the mainstay of the home for his mother and two sisters, his father, formerly an ernest worker for the chapel, being away owing to a mental affliction”.
He is commemorated on the war memorial, and on the brass plaque in Anstey Church and Chapel. In addition, his friends at the Chapel erected their own memorial plaque in his memory.
ERECTED BY HIS FRIENDS AND FELLOW WORSHIPPERS
IN MEMORY OF
WHO WAS KILLED IN ACTION
SEPTEMBER 13TH 1916
AGED 22 YEARS
“GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS
THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS
Driver Arthur Caton RFA
Arthur James Caton was born on April 16th 1889 in Anstey. He was the eldest of two children born to his parents James and Mary. His sister Edith Mary was born early in 1891.
In the 1891 census his father James was a grocer at Anstey Stores. (This was at Snow End, in what is probably now Roding House.) James was born in Manuden in 1865, Mary in Saffron Walden in 1866.
By the time of the 1901 census James Caton was living in High Hall with Edith, Arthur and Jessie Ferridge, his housekeeper. Arthur’s mother, Mary, had died in 1898 aged 32. James was then recorded as being a general shopkeeper and farmer. In 1902 James married Jessie Ferridge, his housekeeper, in her home county of Kent.
In the 1910 Record of Land Valuations, James was recorded as being a tenant farmer at High Hall and farming 99 acres. In addition he was also farming 70 acres in Nuthampstead belonging to Baron Dimsdale. James owned what is now Oakwood in Cheapside (which was let out) so must have been a fairly wealthy man and had made quite a jump from running a small grocer’s shop a few years earlier.
According to the 1911 census James and Jessie were still living at High Hall with Arthur and Edith, plus two more children, Ethel born in 1905 and Constance born in 1910.James was a farmer, Arthur worked on the farm.
Arthur signed up in May 1915 for four years service. His papers show that he was a non-conformist. He would have volunteered, conscription not being introduced until March 1916. He became a private in the Herts Yeomanry and according to his records he was not sent abroad. However he was discharged on 12th July after 57 days for “not being likely to become an efficient soldier”.
His experience reflected that of many volunteers who were rejected at the beginning of the war but as the casualty figure rose, men previously rejected were called up.
He was indeed later conscripted and eventually sent to Egypt as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery 301st Brigade. The RFA was horse drawn and as a driver Arthur would have controlled a team of six horses, pulling ambulances, guns or other equipment. Arthur died in Egypt two months after the armistice, on January 22nd 1919. He was in hospital there and died of enteritis.
He is buried at the Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery, in Egypt, where most burials were made from the Alexandria hospitals. According to a document held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the wording on his tombstone reads, “Jesus Christ God’s son cleanseth us from all sin”. It was requested by his father.
At the time of his death his parents were living in Royston now in Denmark House on North Road. According to Arthur’s younger step-sister Connie they moved there in 1915. Certainly it would have been between Easter 1914, when it is recorded that James hosted afternoon tea in his barn and 1917 when High Hall was recorded as having a new tenant. Documents held by Anstey School show that James Caton was a school manager in June 1915 but by 1916 he no longer held that post.
In the light of James’ great ties with Anstey due to his involvement with the founding and running of its Chapel it seems pertinent to wonder why the family moved. Did Arthur’s discharge from the army have some effect on him? This coincided with the time they left Anstey.
Arthur is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial and on the brass plaque in Anstey Church and Chapel, as well as in the Methodist Church in Royston where his two step-sisters attended, as presumably did his father and step-mother, after they left Anstey.
He was almost 30 when he died.
James Caton and Anstey Chapel
James was a fervently religious man and despaired of some of the behaviour of Anstey people. In a letter he wrote to an unknown recipient in about 1891 which is now in the care of the Chapel Trustees he says,
“Anstey is a village the population when last census was taken was a little under 400. There are no less than 5 Public Houses in the village to which many may resort on a Sunday evening, not only Men. But I have seen Mothers with their infants in their arms. Thus it goes on from one generation to another until they seem to make drink their God.”
He was a non-conformist and had been instrumental in reopening the small Chapel building in Cheapside in 1891 for congregationalist services on a Sunday evening. He paid the rent arrears due on the building and together with Mr Jacob Prime, an Anstey Farmer, paid for repairs and then guaranteed its upkeep.
Numbers and enthusiasm were obviously large enough for a more spacious building to be required and on Easter Monday 1903 a new Chapel was opened. James Caton (and Jacob Prime) had a huge involvement. In 1905 James was appointed one of two deacons of the Chapel.
James’s barn at High Hall was used for the Afternoon Tea after the opening service on Easter Monday when 200 people attended. Chapel archives show that this became an annual occurrence, with between 150 and 200 people taking part in the Easter Monday Tea in his barn. The last record is for 1914.
Pte Frederick Chappell AIF
(Australian Imperial Force)
Frederic James Chappell (and his twin sister Ethel Rose) was born in Anstey on January 11th 1894 and was baptised in Anstey Church.
Both of his parents, James and Sarah Ann née Martin, were born in Anstey as were Frederic’s two grandfathers. His was a family with long connections here. His parents were married in Anstey Church and all of the children were baptised there too.
Ada Rose born in March 1878
Lottie born in June 1880
Fanny born in September 1882
Henry John born in October 1884
Dorothy born in August 1888
Arthur George born in 1889
Frederic James born in January 1894
Ethel Rose born in January 1894
Alfred Bernard born in February 1897, died in infancy
Both the 1899 and 1901 censuses show the family living in Anstey but with no indication of a location.
In the 1911 census the family was living in a four roomed cottage in Cheapside in the west side (nearest the well) of what is currently Little Thatch. It consisted of James 55, a farm labourer, Sarah, (Arthur) George, 21, also a farm labourer, and Frederic and Ethel. Although Frederic was 17 at the time no mention of an occupation was given.
This family with such long connections to Anstey seemed then to more or less disappear.
Frederic had an Anstey cousin, Francis Martin, who also served in the war and whose daughter still lives in the village, but she has no knowledge of Frederic or his family. Ada Rose married Samuel Thomas Jones of Kentish Town in 1900. By 1911 Fanny was a servant in Hornsey and Dorothy a servant in Hackney. In 1915 George married Emma Danes and had a son Leonard George. An Anstey resident remembers them living at Hillside but after that they are untraceable.
But what of Frederic? According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Frederick James, son of Mrs J Chappell of Anstey, Herts died on September 1st 1918 in France aged 23. He was serving with the Australian Imperial Force.
It would seem that Frederic emigrated to Australia as indeed did his brother Henry John, ten years his senior. Henry appears to have emigrated first, sailing for Sydney from London on the Miltiades on 6th July 1910. A Frederick Chappell, farm hand aged 22, set sail from London on 1st July 1914 on the “Euripides” bound for Sydney – this may have been our Frederic but it has not been possible to verify.
(Frederic himself spelt his name without the k, but others often added the k at the end).
His enlistment papers are dated May 26th 1916 and he would have volunteered to serve, there being no conscription in Australia at that time. What is puzzling is why he gave his age as 23 years 3 months when he was in fact 11 months younger according to the baptism records in Anstey Church. He was very slight, being just under 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing just over 8 stone. At the time of his enlistment he was a clerk. Frederic and his brother Henry must have been on friendly terms but at some point relations seemed to have soured. This would explain why on Frederic’s enlistment record Henry’s name was inserted as next of kin only to be scrawled out at some point and replaced with that of his “sister” Mrs Ruby Constance Buchanan, wife of Jack and mother of 4 children. It was this family with whom Frederick was living when he signed up. Mrs Buchanan was not his sister but clearly she and her husband were valued friends,
Having made his will on 30th September 1916 (leaving all to Ruby, or in the event of her death to her second daughter Olive) and according to the Embarkation Rolls for World War I held in the Australian Archives, Frederick sailed from Sydney on 7th October 1916, arriving in Plymouth 6 weeks later. He then sailed for France on 21st December 1916 and joined his unit on 1st February 1917.
On 1st July 1917 records show he was at Carrier Pigeon School in France. On 9th November 1917 he was admitted to the field hospital in Ypres with “pains in the legs and shivers”. This was diagnosed as myalgia the next day, but by 21st November he had been transported back to England and was admitted to the 1st Southern General Hospital in Stirchley, Birmingham, with trench fever and severe anaemia. He was still convalescing at the beginning of February 1918. He returned to France at the beginning of March 1918 and was gassed and hospitalised as a result at least twice.
During the successful attack on Peronne on 1st September 1918, which had been in the hands of the Germans since March 1917, Frederic was shot in the head by a bullet and died immediately. He was buried in the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension, France.
His effects were returned to his “sister” Ruby Buchanan, but his service medals by law had to go to his nearest blood relative who was his mother, his father having died in early 1914. It was not until 1923 that she was traced, as living at the School House in Anstey with her married son George. It was her other son in Australia, Henry, who provided the army authorities with their mother’s address. Henry had been found in December 1922 via the executrix of Frederic’s will. When contacted previously in April 1921 Mrs Buchanan was evidently unable or unwilling to help. It seems strange that she was unaware of Frederic’s home address in England. Had there been a falling out with his wider family?
Following Frederick’s death, Mrs Buchanan and her husband placed notices in the Sydney Morning Herald both immediately and a year later on 25th September 1919.
Henry, by that time known as Jack, also placed a notice in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1st September 1918 indicating that misunderstandings had caused the brothers to grow apart.
Postscript according to information from Frederick’s great-great nephew, (Ada Chappell’s great-grandson.)
Ada married Samuel Thomas Jones and had 12 children, the youngest of whom remembered a photograph of Frederic in a ‘bushman’ type outfit on the wall at his childhood home. It is not known whether this photograph still exists.
Henry died in Sydney in 1942, leaving a widow, Jessie, who was also from England but whom he married in Australia, and with whom he had two sons.
Lottie, Fanny and Dorothy (Dolly) all married and had children in London.
(Arthur) George lived in Anstey and died in 1942. He is buried in Anstey churchyard.
Frederic’s twin sister Ethel married Bert Walters, the adopted brother of Samuel Jones, Ada’s husband. Ethel was then 40 years old and they had no children. She died in 1960 and according to Anstey Church’s burial register, her ashes were brought from Marylebone and buried in Anstey churchyard.
Pte Reginald Coxall
East Surrey Regiment
According to the 1911 census there were ten children born to his parents Walter and Harriet née Catley. All lived to adulthood.
Alice Lavinia b 1885?
Albert b 1887
Arthur Samuel b 1889
Sidney b 1892
Charles b 1894
Agnes b 1897
Reggie b 1899
Clarice Laura b 1902
Marjory (Mary) Winifred b 1906
Millicent Gertrude b 1909
All of the children except Alice and Sidney were baptised in Anstey Church and where addresses were recorded the family can be seen as living at in Anstey at Cave Gate (March 1895), Bandons Cottage (Sept 1899) and North End (May 1906).
In the 1901 census Walter was recorded as being a “horsekeeper on farm”.
By the 1911 census the family was living at North End in five rooms.
Walter was a farm labourer as were Arthur, Sidney and Charles.
Alice had left and was a cook for the Reverend Frederic Broughton at Wyddial Rectory. Albert had married and was living in Buntingford and was working as a gardner. Agnes too must have been in service. Alice Merrit, a visitor born in Holloway, was staying on the night of the census (April 2nd). She was to marry Arthur on April 17th 1911 in Anstey Church.
Reg’s four elder brothers all fought in the Great War. Arthur, enlisted in 1915 aged 26 and Charles also enlisted in 1915 aged 21. Conscription had not been introduced then, so they both were volunteers answering Kitchener’s call. Both Albert and Sidney appear to have been fighting in 1915 indicating that they too volunteered.
The youngest son Reg enlisted in October 1917 when he was 18 years 2 months. He was a farm labourer and had been working for Mr Edward Pigg on his farm in Barkway. He served with the East Surrey Regiment.
Some of Reg’s letters to his family survive and give an insight to his war contribution, his health and his state of mind, which seems to go from acceptance of the situation to a strong desire, having been gassed on several occasions, to be back at home.
According to a letter written to his sister Win (Marjorie) in January 1918 he and his fellow trainees were receiving inoculations and were presumably still in England. He enclosed a “boe’ for her hair. It was for her 12th birthday.
From a postcard written to his sister Aggie in March 1918 we know he was hospital at Crowborough Camp with measles and hoping to visit his home in “about a week”.
According to his war records he was posted to Etaples in France on April 27th 1918
A further letter, to “My Dearest Mum and all,” was sent from the Front on 29th August 1918. (It would appear from a subsequent letter that his regiment had been in the firing line since August 20th. ) This letter is full of pride at being recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross). This was for taking messages under shell and heavy machine gun fire. “I shall just swank with that ribbon on my chest when I get home….”. Yet at the same time his interest was still with the things going on at home on the farms and with his younger sisters at school.
According to his war records he was wounded in action on August 23rd, but he does not mention this in his letter. He may well have been wounded during the action for which he was to be awarded the DCM.
According to his letter of September 1st 1918 he had been subjected to shelling and mustard gas two days previously. He was feeling “a bit rotten at present”, and his “pal”, with whom he joined up, was killed by his side. In a later letter he says, “he was like a brother, we were always together”. He would of course prefer to be harvesting with his father rather than being “in the firing line” but obviously the thought of his medal kept him going. “My recommendations have gone through alright. I expect shall be getting my medal before so very long now”. “Tell Dad to tell Dawlie he will have to send his sons out here to get a DCM like me.”
His letter to one of his sisters of the 13th September 1918 was from a convalescent camp in France. Whilst it is hard to read it refers to the gas attack and a shoulder injury. He was “glad to get out of it for a while” and missed letters from home. He wondered if she had heard “about me getting recommended for the DCM”.
By September 14th he had received a longed for letter from home with welcome writing paper and envelopes, and also from Pat who seems to be mentioned quite often. He was obviously suffering from his wounds and feeling very miserable. He told his mother not to send him much money as it was of no use to him in the trenches “and that’s where I don’t want to go any more and I am real fed up. I don’t seem to have the strength to walk. Thats where I feel it most in my legs and chest I can’t get my breath not properly especially when I have been marching and walking far. … I pray and hope please God will keep me safe so I can get back home safe and see you all again.” He talked about the friend who was killed by his side “my Pal was a Bedfordshire boy, and his name was Bernard Chance, and his home is at Dunstable, Beds, he was a good mate and was like a brother, we were always together.” He mentioned other local lads. “I am surprised to hear that F Martin is a prisoner, so poor old Wag (his brother) has escaped it so far and good luck to him, and Chris and Doug Bentley are both Gased and in Blighty, it wasn’t my luck to get there.”
On September 20th 1918 he wrote to one of his sisters , ‘I expect you were surprised to hear that I have been recommended for bravery ..” and to another “I don’t know how I came to be so brave.. “ He complained very little about his wounds, yet he wrote, “I should just like to be in Blighty now so I could enjoy mysen with the girls and suchlike, but wait till I do get home I will make up for all lost time, but I don’t think I should walk to Barkway many times as I feel too weak in the legs…”
By October 3rd 1918 he had been marked A1 and expected to leave at any time. (He told his sister that convalescence time was shorter due to the pressure on the hospitals.) In a post script in the same letter he said that he would be leaving “ for the Base” on the morning of 4th October after a 4 am breakfast.
The last surviving letter from Reg was to his “Dearest Mum” written on October 14th 1918, the day on which he was leaving to join his battalion. He was hopeful that the war would be over by Christmas and was so looking forward to “going to Church on a Sunday in peace once more” and to working with his father’s horses again.
According to a newspaper article kept by the family, on 21st October 1918 Reg was ”severely wounded in several parts of the body including the left arm which had to be amputated”.
He died of his wounds on November 1st 1918. The Church of England Chaplain, who may well have been with him at the end in the Casualty Clearing Station, wrote to his mother the next day to give her details, words of comfort and to tell him where he would be buried.
He is buried in Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery. The cross was replaced with the tombstone that all of the fallen were given. According to a document held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the wording on his tombstone reads “Called away, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” It was requested by his mother.
On 29th January 1919, a letter was written to his mother, informing her of where her son was buried and telling her that, “The grave is marked by a durable wooden cross with an inscription bearing his name, rank and regiment, and the date of his death.” A photograph of the grave would be taken and sent to her as soon as possible.
He never got the medal he was so proud of. His mother wrote in to the authorities to enquire about it but they said they had no record of any army award. He was certain that a recommendation had gone through and his parents must have been so disappointed. His father could not read or write, apparently, and they would not have known how to take the matter further.
Ten days after he died the Armistice was declared. Reg Coxall never returned to his home and family in Anstey that he so loved.
He is remembered on the war memorial in Anstey and on the brass plaques in Anstey Church and Chapel.
Pte George Hicks
Henry George Hicks was born in September 1885 in Anstey.
According to the 1911 census there were twelve children born to his parents Henry and Tamar née Sparks, two of whom had died by 1911. His father was born in Anstey, his mother in Chesterford, Cambridgeshire.
In previous censuses the children had been
Lavinia b 1868
Charlotte b 1870
Julia Sarah b 1871
Amy Lydia b 1873
Harriett Elizabeth b 1875
Agatha b 1876
Flitter b 1878
Annie Tamar b 1881
Grace Jemima b 1883
Henry George b 1885
Oswald b 1888
Dorothy b 1893
All except Dorothy were born in Anstey and all baptised in Anstey church
Lavinia is untraceable after the age of two and presumably died young.
According to the 1881 census the family was living in Snow End in a part of a cottage which is now Clare Cottage.
By 1891 the family was living in Cave Gate, Wyddial, with 6 children and Henry’s father George.
By 1901 they were in Hertford with 3 children, Henry George, aged 16 (always known as George), who was an errand boy, Oswald, aged 13, and Dorothy, aged 7, who were both at school. (They also had a boarder, a young man who was a traveller for a soap company).
In 1903 Oswald was recorded on the death registers aged 15.
By 1911 Henry and Tamar were living alone in a two roomed cottage, one of three which now form Well Cottage (the end part nearest the Meesden Road). All of their children, all their daughters and their only surviving son, had left Anstey.
By the time of the 1911 census George was living at 12 Factory Cottage Terrace, Royston working as a general labourer. He had married Eliza Jane Bonfield, in Wyddial in January 1907. She was born in Ashwell but was living in Anstey, aged 15 by the 1901 census. They had two daughters, Eva Elizabeth, aged 4, and Cassie Jimimer, aged 2.
George volunteered in Royston on September 8th 1914 aged 29 years 4 months. His occupation was given as a labourer (at the Nash & Co coal yard in Royston.) He was recorded in the Herts and Cambs Recorder as enlisting in the week 4th -10th September as part of Kitchener’s New Army. “All recruits are now asked to bring serviceable boots, suits and great coats with them when coming to enlist. These clothes will be returned to the men’s homes as soon as uniforms can be made for them. The Government will allow 7/6d to all men in possession of serviceable clothing” . He was sent for training straight away. He joined the Bedfordshire Regiment.
However he was discharged on November 30th 1914 due to a dilated heart.
He is thought to have been called up in June 1916 and served with the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) and went out to France in August 1916 and spent some time on the Italian Front.
In February 1918 peace was declared between Germany and Russia. Germany could now focus on the fighting on the Western Front and on March 31st it launched the Spring Offensive. The aim was to destroy the British Army there before America, having just entered the war, could send troops over. The fighting was more fierce than anything seen before on the Western Front with intense artillery bombardment including that by plane, followed by the use of various gases. By the end of that day German troops had advanced more than four miles and inflicted almost 30,000 casualties. George Hicks died of wounds on 22nd March 1918 and could well have given his life during this campaign. He was 32 years old.
He is buried in Grevillers British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
He is commemorated on the war memorial in Anstey and on the brass plaque in Anstey Church and Chapel. He is also remembered on the War Memorial in Royston.
On War Memorial outside church only
Kenneth Martin was born on June 30th 1884 in Anstey.
According to the 1911 census there were 13 children born to his parents Arthur George and Sarah Ann née Skeggs, two of whom had died by 1911. In previous censuses the children had been recorded as:
Christopher Skeggs born in 1870? (illegitimate child of S Skeggs according to the 1871 census. In the 1881 census he was referred to as a son-in law and never took the surname Martin)
Walter William born in April 1872
Fanny born in 1874
Albert born in 1878?
Ada born in 1880
Joseph Thomas born in May 1881
Kenneth born in June 1884
Bernard born in February 1886
Daisy born in February 1889
Edward John born in February 1891
Bertie born in May 1893
Richard born in April 1898
Without Christopher there are 11 names which indicate that one, possibly two children (if Christopher is a 14th child) died at a young age. All were born in Anstey, most were baptised in Anstey Church. Bernard was christened on two separate occasions!
In the 1881 census the family of 2 adults and 5 children was living in Flint Hall Cottages.
In the 1891 census the family was at the same address, 2 adults and 6 children.
According to the 1901 census the family was still in Flint Hall Cottages although some of the children had left. Arthur was a horse keeper, Albert, 24, Kenneth 18, and Bernard 15 were agricultural workers, and there were also Daisy, 12, Edward, 10 Bertie 8 and Richard 2 in the house.
In the 1911 census Flint Hall Cottages was still the family home with information that it is was a four roomed cottage being provided. (There was another Martin family living in the other half). This is probably the pair of cottages (now one house) on the left hand side (leaving Anstey) in New Barns Lane. Arthur was still there, now a widower, still working as a horse keeper, with Albert 35, Richard 12, Daisy 22 and her 4 year old daughter Edith. Kenneth had left.
Kenneth had married Kate Pledger in 1909 in Wyddial Church and they were recorded in the 1911 census as living in Wyddial in a three roomed cottage. (at Moles Farm, a pair of thatched cottages according to his son).
There were 4 children;
Lily Irene Pledger, b 1906
Alfred (John) b 1910,
Walter James b 1911
Olive b 1914
Kenneth Martin, enlisted in Royston on April 25th 1903 in the Second Bedfordshire Regiment (1st Battalion). He was almost 19. He was described as being 5 feet 6 and 8/12 inches, with blue eyes and brown hair. His school friend James Bradford, from “near The Bell”, joined the same regiment 2 weeks later. Both boys left school aged 11 and had been agricultural labourers since then. Was Kenneth’s decision to join up prompted by a terrible accident which befell his mother in the family home?
On March 9th 1903 Kenneth’s mother Sarah was badly burned in a fire in her home. Her own mother and married sister living in the adjoining cottage saw Sarah in flames through a window, doused her with buckets of water, cut off her clothes and summoned Dr Dixon from Buntingford. Sarah had been mending clothes, with a fire in the grate and a lamp on the table. Her husband Arthur, hearing the commotion, came downstairs to see what was going on, saw his wife being attended to and went back to bed. He was taken to task by the Coroner for his “unfeeling behaviour.” Sarah was nursed by her sister but died 11 weeks later. According to the Coroner’s report Dr Dixon was surprised that she lived so long, given the gravity of her injuries.
Kenneth enlisted for 3 years in the army. In the last 2 months of 1905 he trained to be a groom for the mounted infantry. He would have returned home in 1906 and at the end of that year he had a child, Lily, with Kate Pledger whom he married in 1909. (Lily seems to have been concealed on the 1911 census, her parents declaring one dead child. In fact she lived to the age of 80.) Because he had also enlisted for a further 9 years in the Reserves he was called up on the outbreak of war. According to his own notes he was called up for war on 5th August 1914. “I rejoined my colours at the call of my country on August 5th 1914 at Bedford Barracks, in the county of Bedfordshire.”
According to Kenneth’s son Johnny, and recorded in an interview in Wyddial in 1997 when he was 87, he last saw his father “in the bean field and watched him walk with the other men down Wyddial Causeway to Buntingford and off to war.“ He said that his father was a professional soldier.
His division landed in France on August 16th 1914 and fought in the early engagements of the war – The Battle of Mons, August 23rd, the Battle of Cateau, 26th August, the Battle of the Marne, September 6th, the Battle of the Aisne, September 13th – 14th, the Battle of la Bassée October 12th. He would have been wounded during one of these battles and died of his wounds on 23rd October 1914.
According to an article in the local newspaper The Herts and Cambs Reporter
“WYDDIAL SOLDIER DIES FROM WOUNDS
Private Kenneth Martin of Wyddial who was severely wounded in the war and invalided home succumbed to his injuries at Leeds hospital on Wednesday last week. He leaves a widow and three young children to mourn his loss.”
The Teachers’ Training College in Leeds had been turned into a military hospital called the 2nd Northern General Hospital and the severely wounded of the Battles of Mons and the Marne were sent here. It could be that Kenneth was one of them.
He is buried in Leeds (Lawnswood) Cemetery, Yorkshire.
After Kenneth, died in the Great War, Kate never locked her doors day or night, always hoping Kenneth would return. Of course he never did. She never remarried.
Kenneth was 30 years old when he died.
Lance Corporal Frank Scripps RF
Frank Scripps was born in July 1891 in Barkway.
According to the 1911 census there were ten children born to his parents Thomas and Emily Louisa née Coxall, four of whom had died by 1911. Thomas was born in Barkway, Emily in Anstey.
In the 1911 census, the parents and three of the children were living in a three roomed cottage in Church Lane, Barkway. Frank and his father were farm labourers. Two younger brothers, Charles and Henry John were at school. Emily evidently could not write as the census form has a cross instead of a signature.
In July 1915 Frank married Edith Emily Martin in Anstey Church. She was the daughter of Thomas and Eliza Martin, who in 1911 lived in one half of the cottages in Flint Hall, (now Flint Cottage) with Kenneth Martin’s family living in the other half. (Edith’s sister Gertrude Mary married Charles Coxall, brother of Reg Coxall who was also killed in the Great War). Edith had not been recorded as living there in the 1911 census. They had one daughter, Sylvia May, who was christened in September 1915 in Anstey Church. Frank’s occupation is given as a labourer.
Frank enlisted on April 9th 1916. At the time he was working for Mr T Pigg of Biggin. Conscription was introduced on March 2nd but married men were exempt until 25th May 1916 so he must have volunteered. He was sent to France on September 12th. On April 18th 1917 he was buried by shell explosion and was sent back to England. He returned to France on July 24th and was killed in action on September 19th. He was 26.
He was buried in Albuera Cemetery, Bailleul-Sire-Bertoult, France.
According to a document held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the wording on his tombstone reads “Father in thy generous keeping leave we now our loved one sleeping.” It was requested by his wife.
As Frank and Edith were married after the 1911 census, there is no way yet of finding out where they lived but his regimental details indicate that the family lived at Biggin.
The year after his death Mrs Scripps was awarded 4/6d dole money by Anstey Parish Council as one of 8 widows, and also in 1919 as one of 13 widows. She is the only one mentioned by name.
In the early 1920’s Edith had moved to The Station, Shepreth, Cambridgeshire, and was then known as Mrs E E Scripps.
Frank is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial and also on the brass plaques in Anstey Church and Chapel.
Private Herbert Smith
Herbert Richard Smith was 15 on the 1911 census. Therefore he must have been born in 1896?
According to the 1911 census there were seven children born to his parents George William (Bill) and Fanny née Martin. In previous censuses they have been recorded as:
Herbert b 1896
Mary b 1897
George William b May 1899
Annie b 1901
Gladys Fanny b 1904
Elizabeth b 1909?
According to the 1901 census, the family was living in Mill House adjacent to the windmill. (This was on the corner of New Barns Lane and Lincoln Hill but has now been demolished. It was in the garden of what is now Mill Haven).
In the 1911 census the family was still living in Mill House, with information being provided that it had three rooms. All the children were living there except for Mary who, aged 14, was a servant to an Anstey farmer, Jacob Prime. Herbert’s father was a farm labourer and Herbert was a plough boy. According to her grandson, Fanny delivered many an Anstey baby. Her elder brother Kenneth Martin was killed in the war in 1914 and is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial.
Herbert enlisted in Royston and joined the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment (disbanded in February 1918 and its personnel transferred to the 6th (Service) Battalion.)
According to his nephew, (his sister Annie’s son) Herbert did one length of service, came home on compassionate leave, and the night before his return for a second term had a party at the Bell Public House for his friends saying it would be the last time he would see them. It was.
On April 1st 1918 the 6th Battalion went into the Front Line at Rossignol Wood in France. Herbert died there of wounds on April 3rd. The Battalion remained there until 9th April and lost some 5 officers and 101 men, mainly from shell fire.
From the Battalion’s War Diary
1 Apr 1918 – front line trenches near Rossignol Wood Battn in the line, ROSSIGNOL WOOD sector, Three Coys in front line 1 in support – Two prisoners captured. Fairly quiet. Artillery active on “D” Coy front. Transport & details moved from COUIN to BAYENCOURT.
2 Apr 1918 Battn in line. Four O.R Killed & seven wounded.
3 Apr 1918 Battn in line. Six O.R. Killed & 10 wounded.
Herbert would have been one of these men.
He is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1, in the Somme, France.
In addition to the 3 campaign medals Herbert automatically received, he was also awarded the Military Medal, the MM, whose initials he was entitled to carry after his name. It was instituted by Royal Warrant on 25th March 1916, and backdated to 1914 as the equivalent award for “other ranks” of the Military Cross. It was awarded to Warrant Officers, Non Commissioned Officers and men of the British Army for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty when under fire in battle on land.
We do not know the details of its award to Herbert but it must have been given for an act of bravery between 1914 and March 1917 when it was reported in the supplement of the Edinburgh Gazette on 23rd of that month.
He was 22 when he died.
He is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial and on the brass plaque in the Church and Chapel.
L Cpl George William Strange
George William Strange was born on June 30th 1895 in Anstey.
According to the 1911 census there were six children born to his parents, Henry and Martha Susannah née Smith, two of whom had died by 1911. In previous censuses these children had been recorded as:
Evelyn Annie Mary b 1885
Mabel Martha b 1888
Blanche Violet b 1893 She died in 1894
George William b 1895
Bertha b 1900
There are only five names which indicates the sixth child must have died at a very young age.
His mother was born in Anstey, his father was variously recorded as being born in Nuthampstead, Barkway and Anstey but certainly lived in Anstey and was living at the Windmill Public House with his parents aged 23 in 1891. All the children were born in Anstey and and were baptised in Anstey Church.
By the time of the 1891 census the family was living in Snow End. Henry and Martha then had two children, Evelyn and Mabel. Henry was a thatcher.
In the 1901 census Henry was recorded as being a labourer and he and Martha had George and Bertha living with them. Evelyn, 16, had left to become a servant in Hertford and Mabel, only 12, lodged at Church Cottage with a Mary Wittham.
According to the 1911 census the family was now living in 5 rooms in Cheapside (In Dimsdale Cottages in what is now 5 Cheapside Cottages). Henry, known as Harry, was a farm labourer, as was his son George. Only Bertha, 11 was living there too. Evelyn was now a school cook in Bishop’s Stortford and Mabel a domestic housemaid at the Rectory in Anstey.
George joined the Bedfordshire Battalion 8th Brigade as a Private and eventually became a Lance Corporal. He enlisted in Royston. He was awarded 3 service medals, the 1914 – 1915 Star being interesting in that it provides a date of his entering the theatre of war as 30th August 1915 so he must have joined up sometime previously. George would have volunteered as conscription wasn’t introduced until March 1916. He died of wounds on 14th April 1917 and is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery. He was 21. Bethune was a hospital centre and the 33rd Casualty Clearing Station was in the town until December 1917. It is possible that he died there of his wounds.
He is remembered on Anstey’s war memorial and on the brass plaques in Anstey Church and Chapel.
The inscription on his parents grave in Anstey Churchyard reads
“Henry Strange died June 4th 1944 aged 86. Also his wife Martha Susanna. Died 24th January 1949 aged 84 years. Also George William, son of the above. Died of wounds in France April 14th 1917 aged 21 years” . He was their only son.
Hubert P Wick
On War Memorial outside church only
Hubert Percival Wick was born in 1898 in Walthamstow.
According to the 1911 census there were five children born to his parents Alfred John, born in Westmill, and Edith Clara, born in Walthamstow, four of whom were still alive in 1911.
In previous censuses the children had been recorded as:
Violet Grace b 1894 in Anstey
Hubert Percival b 1898 in Walthamstow
Ivy Maud b 1904 in Walthamstow
Cyril Geoffrey b 1908 in Walthamstow
The fifth child must have died at a young age.
Although Hubert was born in Walthamstow his family had a long connection with Anstey. His great grandfather, Thomas Barker was born in Anstey and in the 1881 and 1891 censuses he was recorded as being a grocer in Snow End. His grandparents John Wick and Emma Letitia née Barker together with their son Alfred, Hubert’s father, were living at the grocer’s shop in Snow End, Anstey in 1881. (Most likely now the site of Brambles, Lincoln Hill). His grandparents are buried in Anstey churchyard as are his parents.
By the time of the 1901 census the family was living in Walthamstow, in Barclay Road. Alfred was a house decorator.
In the 1911 census the family was still living in Walthamstow but in Grove Road. Alfred was a builder and Violet Grace was a dressmaker.
Hubert volunteered on 24th February 1916 when he was 18 and enlisted on 12th June. His occupation was given as a cashier in a dairy. On 25th September he arrived at Le Havre and his papers show that he joined the 13th Battalion on 17th November 1916. He was a rifleman. He was killed in action on 11th April 1917 aged 19 and is buried in Monchy British Cemetery, Monchy-Le-Preux. The high lying village of Monchy, south east of Arras, had been held by the Germans. After much bitter fighting it fell to the British on 11th April 1917 it and could be that Hubert Wick was killed during this battle.
According to a document held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the wording on his tombstone reads, “ His life was ours” It was requested by his family. Hubert is remembered on the war memorial in Anstey
His parents were still living in Walthamstow in August in 1917 but must have moved to Anstey soon after. Alfred built Millhaven in Anstey and lived there for a number of years with Edith, who died in 1925.
Violet Grace married William Howard, a woodturner from Walthamstow, in Anstey Church in October 1927.
Ivy Maud married Albert Edward Chappell, a gamekeeper from Anstey in June 1927 in Anstey Church. They lived in Chappell Cottage, Cheapside and their daughter Eileen lived in Anstey until her death in 2004.
Cyril emigrated to Canada. On return visits to Anstey he made himself responsible for the maintenance of the war memorial, presumably in memory of his brother Hubert.
If you have any further information please email Jenny Goymour at email@example.com