Herbert Edwin Hawkins, the son of Edwin James and Mary Susanna Hawkins, was born on 26th April 1895 and was the eldest of three brothers. Herbert was educated at Ilford County High School and was also in the Ilford Church Naval Brigade for three or four years.
By 1911, the Hawkins family were living at 234 Balfour Road, Ilford; Herbert was aged 15 and working as an accountant’s clerk. At some stage before the war, Herbert joined the Inns of Court Officer’s Training Corps so he was presumably working in a barrister’s office. By the beginning of the war he was given a commission in the Essex Regiment. Promoted to Lieutenant in November 1914, he then became captain in May 1915, just after his twentieth birthday.
Herbert was killed by a shell on 1st July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He is buried in Carnoy Military Cemetery in France. At his date of death, he was recorded as living at 89 Coventry Road, Ilford.
In 2014, Redbridge Museum were able to contact Herbert’s nephew, who is now living in South Africa and who kindly supplied this photograph of Herbert.
Research by Redbridge Museum with thanks to Jonathan Hawkins
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Ilford Recorder, 14th July 1916
Further research by Andrew Emeny, History Teacher at ICHS
Herbert was born on 26th April 1895 and attended Ilford County High School between 16th September 1907 and 28th July 1910. He had previously been a pupil at Christchurch Road Elementary School in Ilford. In 1910, he achieved a 2nd Class Honours in the Oxford Junior Local Examination and subsequently left education to become a clerk in a shipping office. He also came fifth in the 1913 school rifle club competition.
Whilst at school, Herbert lived at 234 Balfour Road, Ilford. His father, Edwin, was a commercial traveller. His younger brother, Harry, also attended Ilford County High School between 1909 and 1913.
Herbert was one of ten Commissioned Officers listed in the first Roll of Honour in the Christmas 1914 magazine and in the school hall. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 10th Essex Regiment.
The Spring 1916 edition of the school magazine, Chronicles, reported that ‘Capt. H. E. Hawkins paid the School a visit just before Christmas. The strange character of this war is seen in his experience. For a very long time his men and some Germans occupied two sides of a highroad. But our force never saw its opponents until, a mine having exploded, there was a race to occupy the resulting crater. Hawkins minor has also obtained a commission. It seems only yesterday that he painted that picture of the School House Flag flying in the Hall, which ought to be one of the chief ornaments of our place of assembly, but which, as this note is penned, is standing in ignominious exile in the school office with broken glass.’
Capt. Hawkins also sent a letter to IIIb Girls on 14th November 1915, thanking them for parcels that they had sent. He wrote, ‘It is extremely good of you all to do this for “Tommy,” and I can assure you he appreciates your gifts highly. They are saving the peppermints in one platoon until we go to the trenches again, probably on Tuesday; anything of peppermint nature is very welcome at 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., when the cold seems particularly hard… On Sunday we do harder work than on any other day. About 100 men have gone on coal fatigue, unloading coal and coke from railway trucks. Two hundred have gone to continue digging some new defences just behind the front line, and another 200 are digging a new line of defences farther back. About 50 are working with the transport; they gather piles of bricks from the ruins, load them on waggons, and then unload at some place where we are using bricks to floor our trenches. The remainder of the battalion go to church parade. That is what “authorities that be” call a “rest”!’
Herbert died on the first day of the Somme. The following tribute was written in Chronicles by David Randall, C. F.;
‘Captain Hawkins was actually under arms when war broke out. A member of the Inns of Court O. T. C., he was at the annual camp on that terrible date. The men were brought back to Headquarters and paraded with the rest of the Battalion, where they all volunteered for active service. In September 1914, he was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant and posted to the 10th Essex, then just formed. This was the time when men had to do their training without even uniforms, and was a very arduous period for all concerned. He was promoted to Lieutenant in November 1914, but it was not until July 1915, that the Battalion went to France. Soon afterwards he obtained his Captaincy. His last leave was in April of the current year (1916), and when he returned to France he was made Town Major, and acted in that capacity till just before the first offensive of July 1st, when he was recalled to the Brigade to take charge of the Brigade Dump. Unfortunately, he was caught by shrapnel and killed out-right on July 1st, to the great regret of his Colonel. He lies in the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Carnoy. I give part of the sympathetic letter of one of the Chaplains of the Brigade:-
“…His was the first body I found on the field of battle. It was wrapped in my rug, which I had lent him the previous night because he complained of the severe night cold. His thoughtful servant had covered him with it. I got a party to take him down to Carnoy, where he lies buried, wrapped in my rug.
He and I were very intimate, having lived together for a considerable time, and we slept together for the last few nights before he fell.
He was a splendid fellow, and always a gentleman. We, the few of us left here, deplore his untimely death, with so many hopes unfulfilled. The war is taking a heavy toll of young life, but the behaviour of all is magnificent.’
His brother, Harry, a second lieutenant in the Essex Regiment was severely wounded soon after Herbert’s death. However, he recovered at Lady Cooper’s Hospital near Winchester. One of his fellow patients was former school friend, Gordon Stenning (who lost both of his brothers in the war).
Research by Andrew Emeny, History Teacher at ICHS
ICHS school records and magazines
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Ilford County High School started life as the Park Higher Grade School in 1901 in Balfour Road, Ilford. It was renamed Ilford County High School (or initially County High School, Ilford) in the years after the school’s management was transferred from Ilford School Board to Essex Education Committee in 1904.