Submitted by Mike Crisp.
Private 47165 George Laws was by trade a painter and decorator from the small market town of Beccles, Suffolk. He joined the 22nd Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Scottish) and served in France. On the opening day of Operation Michael, 21st March 1918 his battalion was in the front-line trenches around St Leger / Bullecourt where he was reported missing. His body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Arras memorial. According to the battalion diary they suffered 1,130 casualties on that day.
George’s wife Gertrude, was heartbroken and never gave up hope of her husband being found, writing to the War Office on several occasions to try and gain more information. It was not until many months later friends of George visited her to relate that George was a member of a bombing party which went to a flank and were never seen again.
Not only was Gertrude in mourning but also on the poverty line, forced to bring up 2 small children on her own. To help make ends meet she took in washing, sat with the dying, and laid out corpses for the local undertakers.
Her son became the surrogate ‘man of the house’ and it was not until 1968 that he felt that he could leave his mother to get married himself.
Gertrude died at the age of 97 in 1977.
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Elizabeth Jane Griffiths known as Batchie Born in Llandingat, Carmarthenshire, in 1899. Batchie was enrolled with the Red Cross at the age of 18 and served as a VAD for just over a year. She was stationed at Catterick Military Hospital as a clerk. After her time at Catterick Camp, she returned to North Wales and married Emlyn James. Just before Christmas 1946, the British authorities relaxed the rules on contacts between British people and German prisoners of war. Emlyn and Batchie James were among the many British families who invited German prisoners to their home on Christmas day. From then on they invited two German prisoners from the camp at Castle Martin to their home in Pembroke every fortnight. Each time a prisoner was moved to a different camp, another would take his place, and so over time they got to know many Germans. Batchie and Emlyn received a letter from the Secretary of State for War refusing permission for two German prisoners of war, Helmut Grothe and Joachim Becker, to visit before returning to Germany. These two prisoners had been among those whom Emlyn and Batchie James had invited to their home in Pembroke. This information provided by Alathea Anderssohn (granddaughter of Batchie Griffiths) has been drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ archive.
Otto Wedgewood was born in July 1882 at Bredgar in Kent to Rowland and Annie Wedgwood. He was a descendant of Thomas Wedgwood, the elder brother of the famous potter Josiah Wedgewood. Otto was one of six children. The 1891 census has Otto’s father’s occupation as ‘living on own means’ and was successful enough to employ two servants. The 1901 census shows Otto was living at the home of his nephew George Maxstead in Hornsea Yorkshire. Otto at the time was an Engineer Apprentice. On the 24th October 1914 Otto embarked from London to Bombay in India. His occupation on the passenger list is given as ‘Expert’ and presumably the trip was work related. It is not certain when he returned to Britain. However, it probable that he felt he had to ‘do his bit’ for the war effort and so came home. He subsequently joined the Royal Engineers. From the 4th May 1917 he served with CRE IX Corps. The London Gazette of the 4th December 1915 details Otto attaining the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. By the end of the war he was a Captain. Otto spent time in Canada in the early 1930s but by 1939 he was back in England working as a Cement Works Manager at Gravesend in Kent. In 1944 he married Stella Vincett in Chatham. Otto died on the 23rd May 1957 and was cremated five days later at Greenwich in London. He was 74 years old. Otto’s Granddaughter, Jeanette Schofield, in Richmond.
Paul Goad of Frenchgate told us about his Great-Uncle, Henry Jesse Richardson. Henry was born in March 1889 in Hailsham, East Sussex, where he lived prior to enlistment. In the 1911 census he gave his profession as Mat Making, his Father William, being a Mat Weaver at that time. Hailsham had a vibrant string, twine and rope based industry at the time from which they gained their employment. Henry enlisted in 1916 at Purfleet and joined the 13th London Regiment (Princess Louise’s Kensington Battalion). Henry’s Service medal and Award Rolls show that he served on the Western Front from September 1st 1916 until his death on August 16th 1917 at the Battle of Langemarck. During his time in theatre Henry’s Battalion were in action at the Battles of Ginchy, Flers-Courcelette and Morval in 1916 and the Second Battle of Arras in 1917. Henry’s burial spot is at Ypres, Arrondissement Ieper, West Flanders Belgium. He is also remembered on the roll of Hailsham War Memorial.