Fallen in December 1915:
Benjamin George Oakley
Edgar Thomas Butler
BENJAMIN GEORGE OAKLEY
‘A’ Coy. 6th Bn., Bedfordshire Regiment
Died of Wounds Saturday, 4th December 1915
Remembered with Honour, Humbercamps Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France, Plot 1 Row D Grave 1
Benjamin George Oakley was born in St Pancras, London in 1892 to Henry Oakley and Rachel Bennett. He was the sixth and youngest child born to the couple and the others were; Joseph, Frances Kate, Florence Martha, Alfred Edward and Albert John Bennett.
By 1901 Benjamin was living with his mother and two of his brothers in ‘Belconey’, Leverstock Green whilst his father Henry was boarding with the Conduit family in St Pancras, London. His father worked as a ‘Carman’ so would have driven a horse and cart, an occupation commonly associated with the railway and removals companies at this time and equivalent to modern day couriers.
was one of the poorest areas of Leverstock Green in the 19th and early 20th
centuries. It consisted of a long terrace of about 10 meagre dwellings, along
with two pubs ‘The Mason’s Arms’ and ‘The Plough’ (which still stands today).
The Biswell family lived next door to Benjamin in 1901 and it lost two sons in
the Great War as well, Harry and John aged twenty and nineteen respectively.
Their biographies also appear on this site.
In June 1910, the family suffered a tragedy when Benjamin’s uncle committed suicide. His mother Rachel found her brother and the “sensational” news was reported in the Hemel Gazette which stated: “SENSATION AT LEVERSTOCK GREEN - RETIRED BUTLER COMMITS SUICIDE -FOUND HANGING BY HIS SISTER. Mrs. Rachel Oakley found the body of her brother, a Mr. Bennett who had lived in Leverstock Green for about 7 years -he had previously acted as butler to the Cavendish and Gladstone families. From a variety of notes he left it was obviously suicide and at the inquest held in Leverstock Green schoolroom on Tuesday, the verdict was returned of suicide.”
By 1911 Benjamin lived at 11 Bennett’s End a short distance from Leverstock Green and he is the only child left at home with his widowed mother. He worked as a Labourer on a ‘Thrashing Machine’ but by the time he enlists he is working as a Carter for one Mr Mallard a coal, coke and firewood dealer in Apsley.
was amongst the first few men to enlist, attesting at Hemel Hempstead in the
first weeks following Britain’s declaration of war. (see extract)
He enlisted with the 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, a "Service" battalion, raised specifically for the duration of the war in August 1914, as a part of 'K1', Lord Kitchener's first call to arms for 100,000 men to fight for their country. Initially, the battalion was attached to the 9th (Scottish) Division at Aldershot whilst training, but when the 37th Division was formed in March 1915, the Battalion was moved to join it at Andover and trained on the Salisbury Plain, where it was transferred into the 112th Brigade.
Shortly before mobilisation Benjamin was granted home leave and returned to Hemel Hempstead in July to marry Helen Beatrice Coxhill nee. Wilson whom he had met sometime after 1911. Helen worked as a Mill Hand at Dickinson and Co. and had been married in 1905 to John William Coxhill from Northchurch, Berkhamsted. She was the widowed mother to four young children; Dorothy, William, Violet and Beatrice and she was ten years older than Benjamin. They married in a civil ceremony on Sunday, 25th July 1915 and had only a few days of married life together before Benjamin departed for France from where he would not return. Their only son Benjamin George was born in early 1916 and would grow up having never known his father. Helen married for a third time in 1921, six years after Benjamin’s death and had another son with her new husband.
Benjamin sailed for France from Southampton aboard the SS Empress Queen disembarking at Le Havre in the early morning on the 30th July 1915. For the next four moths the 6th Battalion was engaged in digging and improving trench defences mainly around Bienvillers-au-Bois approximately nine miles south-west of Arras. The reported casualty rates during this period were relatively light; four Killed and eighteen Wounded, mainly due to German sniping and shelling.
In early December at Bienvillers-au-Bois, the Battalion War Diary records events: "4 Dec 1915 Our artillery shelled Germans in the morning Enemy retaliated and sent about 100 shells into BIENVILLERS Numerous small howitzer shells failing to explode. Ptes Walker & Oakley wounded subsequently died, Ptes Heard & Lancaster [also wounded."
Benjamin was killed on Saturday, 4th December 1915.
A letter of
sympathy from Corporal J. Delderfield shortly after Benjamin’s death, was sent
to the Gazette with a request to publish as the sender did not know Mrs. Oakley’s
address. Details were published in the Hemel Gazette on Christmas Day 1915 and
one hopes that Benjamin’s widow had already been made aware of the sad news
rather than reading it in the local paper. (see extract)
He is commemorated on the Leverstock Green War Memorial as well as the plaque in the village school.
Remembered with Honour at Humbercamps Communal Cemetery Extension,
Pas-de-Calais, France where he is interred in Plot 1 Row D Grave 1.
He was 23 years old when he died.
Benjamin was eligible for the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Belconey, Leverstock Green –
Benjamin’s home in 1901 (Courtesy: bacchronicle.homestead.com)
Extract from The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser 29th Aug. 1914
Extract from The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser 25th Dec. 1915
Private Benjamin George Oakley, Humbercamps Communal Cemetery Extension, France (Courtesy: Traquair Photography 26th May 2016)
EDGAR THOMAS BUTLER
10th Bn., Hampshire Regiment
Killed in Action Tuesday, 7th December 1915
Remembered with Honour, Dorian Memorial, Greece, Pylon No.2, West Face, Col.3
Thomas Butler was born on Tuesday, 14th February 1899 in Bromley,
Kent, the oldest child to Thomas Shingells Butler and Emma Harriet Baker. The
Butlers had seven children in all; Edgar, Frank William, Doris, Hilda, John and
two others that research has been unable to uncover, but one of whom died young.
Frank died in 1902 when he was only a year old.
further confusion regarding the children due to a small piece published in the
Hemel Gazette in December 1915 just before Edgar was killed. It states that
along with her husband Thomas and son Edgar, Emma had a second son, recorded
simply by his initial ‘N’, serving with the Forces. I have been unable to
discover the identity of ‘N’ although he would have had to have been born
before Edgar who had enlisted ‘under-age’ at fifteen years and ten months old.
It is highly unlikely that ‘N’ would have been younger than his brother. (see extract)
In 1901 the family lived at 137 High Street, Bromley where Edgar was born, and his father Thomas worked as a ‘Furniture Salesman and Cycle Maker’, a curious occupation and more likely to be two separate jobs.
Ten years later in 1911 the family had increased with the birth of Edgar’s two sisters and his youngest brother and lived at 44 High Street, Hornsey in Middlesex. Thomas now worked as a Motor Engineer repairing ‘motors’ and twelve-year-old Edgar and his sister Doris were at school.
The family moved briefly to St Alban’s on its way to Hemel Hempstead where it found a home in Queen Street. Edgar was enrolled at Boxmoor JMI School and entered on the 24th September 1912 leaving only three months later in December. His reason for leaving was given as “Liscard: Entered the Navy (Boy Apprentice)”. He was not quite fourteen years old.
On the outbreak of war Edgar enlisted in the Army. He may have had already left the Navy or it may be that in his determination to go and fight he knew his age was against him. His date of birth was known in the Navy, but as a new recruit in the Army he could falsify this in order to enlist.
He attested at Liverpool in December 1914 and initially joined the Bedfordshire Regiment when he was still under sixteen years of age. However, he transferred to the Hampshire Regiment sometime in 1915 and this may again have been because he was under-age. He would have had to undergo basic training and with the Bedfordshires, this meant coming in contact with other recruits or officers from Hemel Hempstead who knew him and his real age. Transferring to another Regiment would solve this problem.
He was eventually assigned to the 10th (Service) Battalion Hampshire Regiment and posted for training at Basingstoke when the Battalion had returned from Ireland. On completion of his training Edgar sailed from Liverpool in September. He landed at Mudros on the 3rd October just in time to take part in the landing at Salonika on the 5th October. He saw action on the 7th December at Kosturino in the retreat from Serbia and it was there on that day that he was killed. This was also Edgar’s first day in action.
Initially reported as ‘Presumed Dead’, his death on Tuesday, 7th December 1915 was not officially confirmed until December 1916.
Edgar is recorded twice on the Hemel Hempstead War Memorial, ones as "Edgar Thomas" and once as "Edgar". There is a third Butler recorded as "P. T. Butler" and research has failed to identify this soldier. It is possible that this is also Edgar Thomas recorded as "P. T." instead of "E. T."
Edgar is Remembered with Honour at the Doiran Memorial, Greece, Pylon No.2, West Face, Col.3.
He was only 16 years and 10 months old when he died.
Edgar was eligible for the 1914-14 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Pte. Edgar Thomas Butler – a fresh faced sixteen-year-old in 1915 (Courtesy: The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser)
Extract from the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser 4th Dec. 1915
Doiran Memorial, Greece (Courtesy: CWGC)
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