11th November 2018 – Letchmore Heath
With the 100th anniversary of the cessation of the First World War, perhaps we should take time to reflect on a former resident of Letchmore Heath, Arthur Hawkins, who was killed in action on the 19th April 1916.
Arthur was the eldest son of Hannah and Henry William Hawkins who lived at 3 Letchmore Cottages, (Henry was the son of “Old Henry” and Mary Hawkins). When Henry and Hannah married in 1890 they moved into number 3 Hill Cottages where Arthur was born in the same year. But tragedy struck the family somewhere between April and June 1897 when Arthurs father a domestic gardener died at the age of 31, Arthur would have only been 7 years old at the time.
After his death Hannah moved into number 2 Letchmore Cottages with Arthur and his two younger brothers, Edward aged 14 and Edmund aged 6. Hannah became a laundress working from home and took in a paying lodger, Fredrick Crossley a domestic coachman.
Shortly after the outbreak of war on 28th July 1914 Arthur enlisted with the 8th Battalion of the Bedford Regiment at their recruitment drive in Watford, as Private 14344 A Hawkins He later left the village in September 1914 to fight for “King and Country” not realising he would never see his home or family again. His battalion suffered heavy losses during a German massed bombardment and raids on their lines during April 1916 (see below for full battle details). Arthur has no known grave but he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, West-Viaanderen, Belgium, his name is on memorial panels 31 and 33. There is also a stone memorial plaque set into the wall of his old home at number 2 Letchmore Cottages.
Arthur would have been awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
There are 4 further plaques in Letchmore Heath commemorating the men from the village who gave their lives in the “Great War” these are set into the walls of their old homes
Arthur Burnell Bernadine, The Green
Ted Camp Landor cottages, Back Lane
Stanley Beal Camp Landor Cottages, Back lane
Harry Walton Keene The Old Bakery, Grange Lane
Details of the battle
On the 9th April 1916 the Germans launched the Lys offensive which continued until 30th April 1916. But by the 16th April 1916 the 8th Bedfordshire Regiment had moved in to support the trenches on the Yser Canal to the East of Ypres. On the nights of the 19th and 20th April there was a heavy German bombardment on the British lines and they broke through to the South of Ypres near the town of St Elai and gained a footing in trenches D20 (Willow walk) and S18a. Trenches D21, B16 &B17 held the battalion line. By 21st April the trenches had been retaken and consolidated by the British.
Over these two nights 3 officers were killed, 3 were wounded and 1 listed as missing, of the other ranks 32 were killed, 65 were wounded and 97 were listed as missing. Whilst there is no actual documentary evidence there is a very high probability that Arthur was one of the 97 listed as missing.
The Bedford Regiment were subsequently relieved by the 2nd Yorkshire and Lancaster Regiment.