Charles Hawkins’s Story
Only son of his widowed mother – died 1918
Charlie Hawkins’ mother and grandmother were both young widows and so apart from the time when his Uncle Henry was living with the family in the early 1890’s, he grew up in a mainly female environment.
His grandmother was Mary Rice. In 1851, both Mary and her future husband, Josiah Rice, were in Tintinhull. Mary was living with her family, the Gilletts. Her father, Thomas, was a Chelsea Pensioner. He and Mary’s mother, Ann, had four children at home. Mary was described as a glover, and was aged 26. Josiah Rice, her husband to be, was married to his first wife, Ann, and had a thirteen year old daughter, Harriet.
Mary gave birth to Joseph in 1855 and Harriett in 1860.
Josiah’s wife, Ann, died in 1857, and by 1861 Josiah was living in Martock with Mary Gillett as his housekeeper. Mary’s children, Joseph and Harriett Gillett were living in the house. Josiah married Mary in 1867 and there were then two children of that marriage, James (1863) and William (1868). Josiah was twenty five years older than Mary and he died in 1871, aged 70.
The census returns for that year record Mary Rice as a widow with four children living in Lower Street, Stoke sub Hamdon. Her first born is called “Joseph Gillett”, but Harriett is called “Harriett Rice.” Was Harriett the daughter of Josiah Rice, I wonder?
Poor Harriett was also fated to be widowed at an early age. She grew up to marry Ambrose Hawkins, a glover from Wootton in Oxfordshire. Ambrose moved to Stoke from Oxfordshire some time between 1871 and 1878, the year of his marriage to Harriett. They lived in East Stoke with Charlie (born 1878) and his younger sister, Ethel May (born 1888).
Sadly, Ambrose died in the autumn of 1890. He was only 31 years old and Harriett was left a widow at 29. She moved in with her mother and brother, Henry, in the High Street.
Charlie was ten years old when his father died, old enough to have known him and missed him. There are seven reports in the school log books of Charlie being punished for truancy, one for “continual truancy”, but we can’t put this behaviour down to the unhappiness of a little boy who had lost his father because it took place between March 1888 and March 1891 and during most of this period his father was still alive. Charlie might just have been a boy who would rather be off rabbiting or playing on the Hill than being in school. Or it may have been that he was offered a day’s work and the family were not well enough off to give up the opportunity of his earning a few extra pennies. I don’t know what Ambrose died of but perhaps he was ill for some time and money was particularly short.
In 1901, Charlie was working as a horse driver/groom. He was aged 21 and still living with his widowed grandmother and mother and younger sister, Ethel, but now the family were living in West Street.
Charlie’s grandmother, Mary Rice, died in 1908. In 1911, Charlie (now 31) lived in North Street with his mother and sister, both working in the gloving industry. Charlie worked as a labourer on a farm.
There is no record that I can find of the actual date of Charlie’s enlistment but according to a report in the Western Gazette, he went to France in the early part of 1915 in the ASC. He was one of Kitchener’s early volunteers. A man with experience of driving and horses would have been welcomed in the Army Service Corps.
The unsung heroes of the British army in the Great War – the ASC, Ally Sloper’s Cavalry. Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition. In the Great War, the vast majority of this tonnage, supplying a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won. [The Long, Long Trail]
The Western Gazette goes on to say that nine months later, he was transferred to the Infantry. His Medal Roll card lists him as starting out as a driver with the ASC, then transferring to the Durham Light Infantry and finally to the East Kent Regiment (The “Buffs”). The Commonwealth War Graves website gives his regiment at the time of his death as the East Kent Regiment.
Without his army record, it is difficult to trace Charlie’s whereabouts during his service abroad, but we know that he served his country for three and a half long years. He was in the 6th Battalion of the East Kent Regiment when he died of wounds in Rouen on 27th August 1918. He died in the very last few months of the War. His mother must have had hopes that she was finally going to have him home again.
The 6th Battalion was with the 37th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division. In 1918 the 12th Division was fighting in the area of the Somme, over the same land where so many of the Stoke lads had died two years previously. I don’t know what date Charlie was wounded and how long he was in hospital in Rouen before he died, but this is an account of the actions the 6th Battalion would have taken part in between January and August 1918:
On 5 January 1918 Divisional HQ moved to Merville and on 13 January moved again to Croix du Bac where it came under orders of XV Corps, while the brigades relieved 38th (Welsh) Division in the Fleurbaix front line. Various trench raids took place here, as did the reduction of brigades from 4 battalions to 3. On 22 March orders were received warning the Division of an imminent move. Two days later the Division, less its artillery, concentrated in the Busnes area and moved that night by motor lorry to Albert.
The First Battles of the Somme 1918
The Battle of Bapaume
On the morning of 24 March the Division arrived in the area of Senlis, Warloy and Bouzincourt. An tiring and confusing day was to follow. That afternoon, 36 and 37 Brigades moved forward to the line Montauban-Bazentin le Grand, on the old 1916 Somme battlefield. But events were moving fast as the enemy’s offensive pressed forward. 35 Brigade after much marching took up a position covering Albert. 37 Brigade, in the area of Ovillers, covered the withdrawal of 47th (London) Division and then itself withdrew to Aveluy and by 4.30am on 26 March 36 Brigade had also taken up a position west of the Ancre. There were no prepared trenches or wire defences and natural lines, such as the railway embankment north of Albert, were taken up to await the expected German attack. There was no touch with other Divisions to the right but contact was made with 2nd Division on the left.
The First Battle of Arras 1918
Soon after midday on 26 March, Germans were seen advancing down the slopes into the Ancre valley. They were also seen in large numbers to the south of Albert moving on Meaulte and Dernancourt and by 7pm Albert itself was full of them. The 7/Suffolks had to withdraw through the ruined town to west of the railway line. On the northern side too, it seemed that the Division was in great danger of being outflanked, for enemy had got to Grandcourt and Beaumont Hamel. All units came under increasing pressure as the enemy pressed on. Many enemy attacks were repelled with heavy casualties, although the Division suffered 1634 casualties in halting their advance.
The Division was finally relieved by 47th (London) Division on 29 March and moved to Warloy. After a short rest, the Division came back to the front line on 2 April. Further enemy efforts on 5 and 6 April were beaten off, yet by the time relief came from 38th (Welsh) Division and the 12th Division had withdrawn to Toutencourt, another 1285 men were lost. April to July were spent in the area of Auchonvillers and Mailly-Maillet, where new drafts arrived to replace the losses.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was to say in his “British Campaign in France and Flanders, January to July 1918” of the Division’s role in March and April that they “withdrew from the line in glory, for it is no exaggeration to say that they had fought the Germans to an absolute standstill”. He was right. The enemy offensive in Picardy had finally been defeated.
On 1 July 1918, two years to the day that the British offensive had opened on the Somme, the Division carried out an attack at Bouzincourt. After initial success, counter attack drove the attacking units back at a cost of 680 casualties. The Division was relieved on 10 July and came under orders of XXII Corps. It was moved to the area south of Amiens.
The Battle of Amiens – August 1918
The Divisional artillery supported the successful attack of the French 66th Division near Moreuil on 23 July 1918. It remained in action near Gentelles in covering the 2nd Australian Division, and between 8 and 25 August played a part in the highly successful attack by Fourth Army, the Battle of Amiens. Meanwhile the infantry of the Division continued to rebuild and train. On 30 July, the Division moved to III Corps and the area of Vignacourt, Canaples and Pernois.
The Battle of Albert – a phase of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918
Under the command of III Corps and on the left flank of this Corps front along the River Ancre, the Division generally played only a holding role on 8 August 1918 when Fourth Army made its great attack. However, German withdrawal from the Ancre and from Dernancourt being observed before the attack took place, 35 Brigade – on the Division’s right – became involved. The 7/Norfolk and 9/Essex advanced to their objectives, consolidating a new line from the west of Morlancourt to the Ancre, but the Cambridgeshires on the right were held up by heavy fire from the Sailly Laurette road. The battalion renewed its attack later in the day, assisted by a tank, and achieved its objectives, capturing 316 enemy, 14 machine guns and 10 mortars. 37 Brigade took up this attack later on 9 August and succeeded in further captures. By the evening of 10 August the old Amiens defence line had been recaptured: in all the Division had by now advanced almost two miles.
After a brief rest, the Division attacked again on 22 August, pushing right across the wilderness of the old Somme battlefield, capturing Meaulte, Mametz, Carnoy, Hardecourt and Faviere Wood, which was reached after a week’s continuous fighting. The Division had made an advance of another 15000 yards. It was relieved on 30 August by 47th (London) Division and moved back to the Carnoy-Briqueterie area. [Taken from The Long, Long Trail – http://www.1914-1918.net/]
After he was wounded, Charlie was taken to a base hospital at Rouen. Base hospitals were generally located near the coast and needed to be close to a railway line for casualties to arrive. The hospitals at Rouen were stationed on the southern outskirts of the town. They included eight general, five stationary, one Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No 2. Convalescent Depot. The great majory of the dead from these hospitals were buried in the city cemetery of St Sever. An extension had to be started in September 1916.
It is in St Sever Cemetery Extension that Charlie Hawkins is buried, along with his fellow Stoke comrade, Cyril Gold who died on 22nd July 1917.
On 13th June 1918, the Western Gazette printed the following:
“Died of wounds. Mrs H Hawkins of North St has received the sad news that her only son, Private C Hawkins, Durham LI, died of wounds at the Base Hospital Rouen, on 27th August last. He went to France in the early part of 1915 in the ASC. Nine months afterwards he was transferred to the Infantry. Much sympathy is felt for the widow and mother.”
The following list contains information about Charles Hawkins. Click on the document name to open a pdf of the document.