Shirley Stephenson visited the museum to tell about the story and final letters of 5444 Private George Brown, 7th battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, the youngest brother of her mother in law. George was the seventh of nine children. Three of his brothers also served in France but survived. In 1915, he left his family home in Brandon, County Durham, to live with his older sister and her family on their farm in North Cowton. Here, he worked for them and was learning the trade of butchery, his sister and husband hoping to set him up, eventually, in his own business but he was called up in May 1916. He enlisted at Croft and was sent to Babworth Camp, Retford.
At the beginning of July, he writes to his sister, Mary, and her husband, Tom, asking them to apply to his commanding officer for a month’s leave in order to assist them with haytime saying, ‘……tell him I worked for you and you can’t get anyone else…. I think you will succeed as he can’t refuse.’ Unfortunately, he could because the Regiment was posted to France; three weeks later, ‘we are going to face the foe….. we poor devils with three months’ training.’
By 25th July, George and his Company were training on the French coast ‘…… it is very hot here…… very tiresome marching around in the sand all day….. we get better food than in Retford but not much of it.’ Three weeks later his letter reads, ‘…. I am not allowed to tell you where we are or where we had been but you can guess it is rough enough…. I could write a book full… we look forward to mail coming…. send Darlington paper….’ A few days later, he is thanking his sister for the cakes ‘…. as fresh as when you baked them….’ and asking for cocoa and a little bit of sugar.
In September, he is in hospital in Lymm, Cheshire and there is a break in the letters until March 1917, when George is once again in France, in the trenches, it is wet, cold and there have been snow showers. A surprising aspect of his letters is the number of times he meets other men from North Cowton whilst in France. He learns from his sisters’ correspondence of villagers who have been killed, injured or gassed. These things bring to immediacy the effect of this global conflict on a very small village. Less surprising perhaps, is the number of times food is mentioned and how appreciative he is of the parcels his sister sends ‘…. wish I had been having supper with you instead of sitting in this barn eating dog biscuits….’ (April 1st 1917). A fortnight later, he is asking for ‘…. bread or anything substantial as we get very little bread, about a week since I saw any. We are living on biscuits and bully beef.’
They have also been involved in the Battle of the Somme. ‘I shall not forget Easter Monday for a bit (9th April 1917) the roughest night I have put in. They have taken our overcoats and blankets off us so we just have to help ourselves to keep warm as we can.’ (It has been raining and snowing).
His last letter, dated 27th April 1917, reads ‘We are at rest for a day or two after a week’s hard fighting. We had a very rough time and lost a lot of our men. I think I was lucky to come through.’ This was the advance at Arras and the River Scarpe.
On 9th May George and C Company were back in trenches north of Roeux, part of an action to move the line forward that lasted until 2.30am on 15th during which they were heavily shelled, there was a shortage of water and by the night of 13th, official reports noted that the men were ‘very tired’. When they were relieved, of the 18 officers and 436 other ranks, only 5 officers and 241 OR remained and 139 of them were wounded. George was one. He died on 14th May, 1917 and is buried in St Nicholas British Cemetery. He was 21 years old.
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Maud Florence Hoare Maud was living in Ashford in Middlesex when she enrolled as a VAD for the British Red Cross. She joined in January 1915 and was stationed at the Military Hospital Catterick Camp. Maud spent approximately a year at Catterick Camp. Stationed from 15th January 1918 until the 9th of February 1919. This information, provided by Alathea Anderssohn has been drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ archive.
Submitted by Glennis Robson. John Albert Lancaster was my uncle, he was my mother’s elder brother (13 years older). My mother spoke of much loved brother who was a source of goodness and “spoilt” his baby sister. On receiving the news of his death my grandmother picked my mother up from school. They made their way home down the back lanes to hide their tears from passers by. “Jack”,as he was known, was killed on the 16th of October 1917 at hill 60 in Flanders aged 19 after only a few months at the front. He enlisted in the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) regiment on the 6th of December 1916 in Newcastle. His father William, a farrier, also joined up declaring that if his son was prepared to fight so was he. Unlike his son he survived the war. Having no known grave his name is on the Menin Gate. In 1988 my husband Keith and I visited the Western Front to see his name and the battlefield where he died. Since then “our Jack” has been in the consciousness of the wider family. Every November we place a poppy cross by my mother’s grave-stone in St Mary’s churchyard.
Submitted by Michael Kent. Joseph Hatton was my dad. I only recently learnt about his early life. Dad never spoke about the First World War. He was born 20 February 1896 in Bradford and had three sisters and two brothers. My dad never told me that grandad was a train driver in the 1890’s, or that I had a half brother born in 1915, that he lost his father in 1919 and his wife, when he was in his early twenties. I do not know what happened or where he went from 1922 until 1950 when he was living in London where I was born thirty years later, in 1952. 10724 Private Joseph Hatton was recruited in Yorkshire in August 1914 and served in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (3rd West Riding) as a Reserve. After training in England he was sent to the Western Front in 1915. In May of that year he was poisoned by gas. My dad didn’t die, unlike so many around him who suffered this cruel death, but he was evacuated via Boulogne to Manchester Western General Hospital to recover. He was posted again in December 1915. In March 1916 he was then posted to the 9th Battalion and embarked for France again in April. He had a few days leave in Etaples and then returned to the front. He was wounded in July 1916 by a shell explosion killing many men. Dad lost his hand. He was put on a train back to England….