There were four brothers: Arthur (my grandfather), Benjamin, Geoffrey and Albert. All born in Preston near Faversham, in a very poor working class family. Interestingly, having lived all over the world, I myself now live in Faversham where all this started. I know small two up/two down they lived in.
I never met any of these men, but they have all had a profound effect on my life.
Over the years, my father has written down parts of his family history. He is one of the only ones left now. This is what I know of his family’s history and experiences of World War 1, in his words.
Arthur was born in 1892. He joined the Army in 1910, going off without his mother’s permission to Canterbury to join the Royal Field Artillery. I learned after his death in 1964, that from the start he sent more then 80% of his pay home to his mother (Note: this was partly to send youngest brother Albert to school, the only one in his family. See below for Albert’s story.)
When the First World War started, he was in Cork, Ireland. His unit (I believe it was Battery no 101 of the 6th Division) was at once shipped over to France and Belgium, fighting at Mons, then at all the major battles on the Western Front, ending up in the army of occupation of Germany in Cologne, until late 1919 when he returned home to Faversham, leaving the Army as a full sergeant. He had at some time been awarded the Military Medal for Bravery, but would never tell us what it was for. He said, always that he opened a can of bully-beef one day and there it was inside. He had four wound stripes by 1918 end. he had small pieces of shrapnel in his limbs when I was a boy, and he did once tell me that he had been bayonetted in the rear end in 1918.
His often told story of the war was of his pity for the horses who were hurt by bullets and shrapnel. Each gun was drawn by six horses, who were usually led back a mile or two from the gun emplacements where they were still vulnerable. He told of spending much off-duty time tending horses and of having shot many that were not treatable.
He was a very disciplined man, but always angered at unjust authority. In 1916 he was ordered by his Battery Sergeant Major to accept a promotion to Bombadier (Corporal). He refused, and was punished by being ordered to become the Battery hair-cutter. This he did…
Benjamin was born in 1894, left shcool at age 11 and joined the Army – The Royal East Kent Regiment, the Buffs – in 1912.
“If the Guards can’t do it, send for the Buffs, and those poor buggers has to”
He was in France (and Belgium) until early 1919, rising to the rank of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant and along the way won the DCM for “gallantry in the face of the enemy”, bringing in, on his back, a colleague wounded in no-man’s land, under rifle and machine gun fire from the German trenches. In making recommendation for this medal, his commanding officer told him that if the person he’d brought in had been an officer, he’d have recommended him for the Victoria Cross – the highest of all British decorations in the field.
He survived the war.
Jeff was born in 1896, the third of the four brothers.
He joined the Royal Navy in 1914 and did not tell me of any particular events during the war which he spent on a destroyer.
In 1919 he become a Metropolitan Policeman, as did his elder brother Arthur.
Albert, the fourth brother, was born in 1900. He lied about his age and managed to join the army before he was 16. He died on 1 June 1916 just as he turned 16. He was on the HMS Black Prince in the Battle of Jutland. All hands perished.