Piec­ing to­gether puz­zle of four broth­ers at war

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - County Coup - By Vicky Cas­tle

When war broke out a cen­tury ago, four Ash­ford broth­ers en­listed to­gether and were sent off to dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

But pen­sioner Clive Back, 75, from New­town, is strug­gling to find more de­tails about his grand­fa­ther and great-un­cles who fought in the Great War.

He said: “I’ve got all my in­for­ma­tion from fam­ily mem­bers, let­ters and things, but I’ve searched and searched and I just can’t get hold of their war records.”

What great-grand­fa­ther Mr Back does know is the men were the only four out of the 11 chil­dren born to Emily and Henry Thomas Beck of Wood­church to go to war be­cause they were the only ones old enough to en­list.

His search for in­for­ma­tion be­came com­pli­cated when he dis­cov­ered the orig­i­nal fam­ily name was in fact Beck but which three of the wartime broth­ers later changed to Back.

One of them was his grand­fa­ther Henry ‘Harry’ Thomas Back, a farm worker who be­came the sec­ond in the fam­ily to en­list, aged 36.


Re­tired post­man Mr Back said: “My grand­fa­ther was al­ready mar­ried, had three chil­dren and was get­ting on a bit when he signed up.

“I could find no record of his ser­vice other than that he was in the East Kent Buffs.

“I have pic­tures of him in uni­form and a few post­cards that re­veal he was in Salonica when it was bombed in 1918.

“But he would never speak about any of it to any­one, never mind to us.

“In those days you went to visit your grand­par­ents but you hardly spoke to them.

“Us three broth­ers would just sit there on his sofa, not say much and just be­have our­selves.

“Later in life he be­came a bee man and used to make and sell honey in the vil­lage. He died in 1965, aged 82.”

Mr Back be­gan his fam­ily quest when he re­tired in 2001 and found in­for­ma­tion about the Beck/Back broth­ers, Wil­liam Charles, Henry Thomas, Arthur Ge­orge and Edward Mark.

He has found very lit­tle about the el­dest brother Wil­liam Charles who had left Wood­church be­fore he en­listed and lost con­tact with the fam­ily.

He said: “I can’t find any pho­to­graphs of him. I’ve spo­ken to all these fam­ily mem­bers and no­body seems to know any­thing about him.

“I do know that when he lived in Wood­church, he took on a woman called Amy Fuller who had six chil­dren and they moved to Hoth­field to­gether.

“The only thing I can think is as it was wartime, per­haps he was friends with her hus­band who might have been killed.”

But while the el­dest two ap­peared to sur­vive the war, his great-un­cles Arthur Ge­orge and Edward Mark were not as for­tu­nate.

He con­tin­ued: “Pri­vate Edward Mark Back of the East Kent Buffs was the youngest to go to war.

“He was just 18 when he left but was dead by the time he was 20.

“He got gassed in May, 1915, and dis­charged from the army with tu­ber­cle of lung.

“He spent time in a hos­pi­tal in Daven­port, then was trans­ferred to a san­i­to­rium near Sit­ting­bourne be­fore he went back to live with the fam­ily in Wood­church.

“But the fam­ily were liv-

‘He would never speak about any of it to any­one, never mind to us. In those days you went to visit your grand­par­ents but you hardly spoke to them’

ing in a big house with three or four dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies and be­cause Edward Mark was so un­well he was af­fect­ing the oth­ers.

“His breath­ing was so loud be­cause of his ill­ness so which kept the other fam­i­lies awake, so the fam­ily con­verted a gar­den shed into a room which he slept out in un­til he died.”

His el­der brother Arthur Ge­orge Beck was a pri­vate in the 5th Cana­dian In­fantry who moved to Canada with his wife and three chil­dren.

He was re­ported miss­ing in July 1917 to his wife Lily who later dis­cov­ered he was killed in ac­tion in April 1917 aged 24.

His wife and chil­dren re­turned to Eng­land in 1919 and re­turned to Wood­church with the rest of the Beck/Back fam­ily.

Mr Back, who con­tin­ues to piece his fam­ily puz­zle to­gether, said: “I will keep search­ing for in­for­ma­tion be­cause it is my fam­ily, which makes it is very im­por­tant.”

Clive Back’s grand­fa­ther Henry ‘Harry’ Back, pic­tured hold­ing the dog, along­side other soldiers

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