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Somme centenary: Tragic tales of Romford soldiers who perished

PUBLISHED: 08:00 01 July 2016

German prisoners help to carry British wounded back to their trenches after an attack by XIV (Irish) Corps on Bavarian units holding Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme. Picture: PA/EMPICS

German prisoners help to carry British wounded back to their trenches after an attack by XIV (Irish) Corps on Bavarian units holding Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme. Picture: PA/EMPICS

PA/EMPICS

Historian Jim Bolton has, for many years, researched the names on Romford War Memorial and the memorial in St Edward the Confessor Church.

Historian Jim Bolton has researched the stories of many Havering soldiers killed during the First World War, including some who died during the Battle of the Somme Historian Jim Bolton has researched the stories of many Havering soldiers killed during the First World War, including some who died during the Battle of the Somme

In 2014, Jim published St Edward’s War Memorial 1914-20 and, following that, began looking into the 132 names which appear on Romford War Memorial but not the St Edward’s memorial.

He has identified eight Romford men killed on the first day of the Battle of Albert, which began the Somme Offensive.

Speaking of his work, Jim said: “Given that the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Essex Regiment and the London regiments were heavily involved, there may have been other casualties about whom nothing is known, because neither memorial is a complete record.

“The saddest story is probably that of the 1st Battalion, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which took part in the attack on Beaumont Hamel with the 1st Essex.

A general view of a trench system in Newfoundland park at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme, France. The locals call it the A general view of a trench system in Newfoundland park at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme, France. The locals call it the "harvest of iron" - the regular ploughing up of shrapnel, cartridge cases and remnants of barbed wire from the land which, 100 years ago, became the Somme battlefields. Picture: PA/EMPICS

“The Newfoundland battalion was wiped out and an impressive memorial erected. It also marks the place where about one-third of the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment fell.”

Below, Jim shares the stories of two Romford men killed during the Battle of the Somme.

Pte John Hasler

John, or Johnsir, Hasler was born in Romford in the autumn of 1893.

Graves of British soldiers who fought at the Somme in the first World War, who are buried at the Connaught Cemetery near the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, northern France. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Graves of British soldiers who fought at the Somme in the first World War, who are buried at the Connaught Cemetery near the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, northern France. Picture: Martin Keene/PA

His parents were John Hasler, a stoker at Romford gas works, born in Hornchurch, and Emily, who was from Romford.

In 1901, the family was living at 4 Well Yard, Romford.

John was then seven and his sister Priscilla nine.

John Hasler senior died in 1908 and his widow remarried, to George Walter Hunwicks, a coalman.

A scene in one of the German trenches in front of Guillemont, near Albert, during the Battle of the Somme. It shows the havoc wrought by the British bombardment, with German dead visible in the photograph. Guillemont was captured by the British in late September, 1916. Picture: PA/EMPICS A scene in one of the German trenches in front of Guillemont, near Albert, during the Battle of the Somme. It shows the havoc wrought by the British bombardment, with German dead visible in the photograph. Guillemont was captured by the British in late September, 1916. Picture: PA/EMPICS

Johnsir, 16 in 1911, lived with his mother and stepfather at 14 Lower Richmond Road, with Priscilla, now 19 and a worker in the brewery, and his younger brother and sisters, Charles, seven, Emily, nine, and Ivy, five.

His service records have not survived, like those of so many others, but the medal roll shows that he went to France on July 27, 1915 and probably served first in the 2nd (Regular) Battalion, Essex Regiment.

At some point, he was transferred to the 1st (Regular) Battalion, Essex Regiment, which landed in France in March 1916 after service at Gallipoli and in Egypt.

The 1st Battalion was in the 88th Brigade, 29th Division and on July 1, 1916 took part in the attack on Beaumont Hamel with the 1st Battalion, Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

The sun rises over wild poppies growing on the edge of a field at Thiepval in northern France, close to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA/EMPICS The sun rises over wild poppies growing on the edge of a field at Thiepval in northern France, close to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA/EMPICS

The Newfoundland battalion was completely destroyed, suffering 91 per cent casualties, losing 26 officers and 658 men.

The 1st Essex suffered a third of these losses, including Pte Hasler, whose body was never found.

Rifleman William Hammond

William Hammond was the son of George, a 51-year-old jobbing gardener from Framlingham, Suffolk, living at 6 St James Cottages, Brentwood Road, Romford, in 1911.

British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive. Picture: PA/EMPICS British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive. Picture: PA/EMPICS

His wife Alice Eliza was 52 and came from Ashford, Kent, where their eldest son Frederick, 25 and a postman, was born.

William, then 23, and John, also 23, were born in Woodford; they were probably twins.

Rifleman Hammond was 27 when he enlisted on June 18, 1915.

He stood 5ft 9in, weighed nine stone 7lbs and his chest measurement, when expanded, was 34in.

His occupation was given as a shop assistant.

He had joined the only military unit formed in Romford during the First World War, the 18th (Service) Battalion (Arts and Crafts), King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Recruiting for the battalion, which was temporarily under the command of Maj Sir Herbert Raphael, of Gidea Park, began on June 4, 1915.

In October 1915, the battalion was attached to 122 Brigade, 41st Division and landed in France on May 3, 1916, at Le Havre.

Rifleman Hammond was killed in action on June 30/July 1, 1916, although the 41st Division’s first major action was not until September 15, 1916 at Flers-Courcelette.

Mr and Mrs Hammond wrote to the Romford Times on August 2, 1916 that they had just lost another son, William, and another son, John, had fallen in action some time ago.

The Hammonds were neighbours of the Whipps family, three of whose sons were also killed in the war.

For more personal stories from the battle, including another shared by Jim and three soldiers researched by Sean Connolly, of the Rainham War Memorial Project, see the free 24-page Somme supplement in today’s Recorder.

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