Piecing together puzzle of four brothers at war
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