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A Tribute to my Grandfather - both of him!

Posted Monday, June 4, 2007

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Remember Them

A Tribute to my Grandfather - both of Him! by Tom Bates.

`1.7 million who fought and died for freedom'

People will gather together all over the world on Remembrance Sunday - at over 23,000 cemeteries and memorials, to pay tribute, and to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country; the 1.7 million who fought and died for freedom, for justice, and for peace in two world wars.

In every city, town and village in England wreaths will be laid at the foot of war memorials, first erected during the 1920’s and 30’s to commemmorate those who fell in the Great War of 1914-18, and as the years go by, those in attendance with living memories of the fallen, grow fewer and fewer.

The First World War ended almost 90 years ago and only those over 95 years of age will have any living memory of a father, brother, relative or friend who marched away to war and never returned - for the rest of us they mostly remain just anonymous names carved in stone.

But each one has a story.

Derbyshire Regiment!

Derbyshire contributed the Sherwood Foresters Regiment to the campaign, with battallions formed in Chesterfield and Derby in 1914, and the county’s memorials record the names of over eleven thousand men of the Regiment who made the ultimate sacrifice between May 1914 and November 1918.

But there is one such memorial in the village of Old Whittington that is unique in Derbyshire, for amongst the listed heroes of the village it proudly exhibits the names of two men of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment who were not only friends and comrades-in-arms, but who also made a widow of the same woman!

When her father was killed on the Somme on August 10th 1916, Nellie Hewitt was just three months old and the youngest of the five children of Lance Corporal Albert Hewitt and his wife Minnie.

When the war ended in November 1918, Nellie was almost three years old and her mother was twice widowed!

Later when the memorial, designed by George Syddall and paid for by public subscription was erected near the Revolution House at Old Whittington, Minnie Hewitt became the only woman in Derbyshire to have two husband’s names on the same war memorial!

Albert Hewitt was 34 years old and a reservist when war broke out in 1914 and he was recruited in Chesterfield, along with his friend Chris Loomes to be part of Kitchener’s `New Army’.

Albert was assigned to the 12th Battn., Sherwood Foresters Regiment, formed at Derby on October 1st 1914, whilst Chris joined the 1st/5th Battn., Sherwood Foresters, also formed at Derby in August the same year.

Both were held in reserve, and when they weren’t away at weekend combat training, they enjoyed a pint together in the Cock & Magpie, in fact Albert lived on High Street and Chris lived just around the corner on Church Street, with the pub in between the two!

A year later on August 10th 1915, Albert was mobilised and arrived in France with the Pioneer Battalion, and within a month a letter arrived from home notifying him that his wife was pregnant.

Nellie was born the following May, and when she was three months old her father was killed in action on the Somme.

Lance Corporal Albert Hewitt died at the Battle of Delville Wood on August 10th 1916, exactly a year to the day that he had arrived in France.

Nellie, now aged 90, and still living within sight of the war memorial at Old Whittington, near Chesterfield, takes up the story.

“My mother was feeding me when she received the dreaded telegram to say that my father was `missing in action’, and she was so shocked that she dropped me. I was only three months old at the time, so I never really knew my father. He had been home on compassionate leave when I was born, and had only gone back in June”.

Lance Corporal Hewitt was part of the major offensive on the Western Front which began on July 1st 1916 as thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an attack on the German lines near Gommecourt. The attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance and losses were catastrophic - almost sixty thousand men perished, including Albert Hewitt.

The allied target was the capture of the town of Thiepval, which was eventually taken at the end of September, and the Battle of the Somme ended in November with the onset of winter.

Chris Loomes had survived, though seventy two thousand of his comrades had perished, and he went home on leave, back to Old Whittington, where his first duty was to call and see his friends widow.

“Family tradition has it that my father and his friend always drank in the Cock & Magpie whenever they were home on leave together, so my mother took my father’s place and went with his friend to the pub. They found consolation in each other initially, I suppose, said Nellie, but it turned to romance, and the next time Christopher Loomes came home on leave in the spring of 1917, they got married”.

That was as the Germans fell back to their major defences at the Hindenburg Line. The following March when they launched an attack on Brie and recaptured the village, Christopher Loomes found himself promoted to Sergeant and attached to the 46th Division, which along with the 34th Division finally recaptured the village on September 5th 1918.

With the allied troops overunning their defences at the Hindenburg Line, the German army was in full retreat, but with victory in sight, Sergeant Christopher Loomes was killed at the Battle of Epehy on September 25th.

Seven weeks later the war was over; Minnie Loomes was a widow for the second time, and subsequently became the only woman to have the names of two husbands on the roll of honour on the same war memorial.

Lance Corporal Albert Hewitt, army number 21181, of the 12th Bttn. Sherwood Foresters Regiment is also remembered with honour at the Thiepval Memorial in France.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 who died on the Somme and have no known grave.

Sergeant Christopher Loomes, army number 203482, of the 1st/5th Battn. Sherwood Foresters Regiment, is also remembered with honour at the Brie British Cemetery in France. He lies with 408 of his comrades and is one of the 396 who are identified.

On Remembrance Sunday, 90 year-old Mrs Nellie Bramley, (nee Hewitt) herself a widow, will look out of her window at the war memorial across the road as she has done every November for the last fifty five years.

And there, between High Street and Church Street, outside the Cock & Magpie where two comrades in arms once drank together, she will watch as they lay a wreath beneath the names of the father and step-father she hardly knew.

But with pride - she will remember them both. So shall I. They were my Grandfather.

 
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A Tribute to my Grandfather - both of him!

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