Suffragette Alice’s great-grandkids to remember her son Alfred in People’s Procession on centenary of Armistice
A LEICESTER family with a proud tradition of fighting for a just cause and freedom will remember their soldier grandfather when they join 100,000 other marchers on Armistice Day for The People’s Procession.
Alfred Hawkins, son of leading English suffragette Alice Hawkins, fought with distinction on the Western Front during the First World War.
Born in 1889 in the Sanvey Gate area of the city, he lived for most of his life, until his death in 1982, at the grand old age of 95, in Herrick Road, Knighton Fields.
Susan Anderson, of Countesthorpe, and her brother Peter Barratt, 62, of Wellingborough, grew up on Leicester’s Eyres Monsell estate listening to tales of their grandad’s deeds during the Great War.
The two siblings will wear his campaign medals when they join The People’s Procession past the Cenotaph, in London, on Sunday.
The procession, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, is billed as “A Nation’s Thank You” to those who fought, and the many who died for their country.
Susan said: “It will be a very proud occasion for us.
“I have vivid memories of my grandad and we’ve learnt more from the various notes he made about his wartime experiences and speaking to family members over the years.
“He was born one of four sons and two sisters, the son of Alice and Alfred Hawkins, our great-grandmother being the Leicester suffragette.
“In the 1911 Census, Alfred’s occupation was listed as lift operator.
“He joined the Royal Navy in late 1912 and it’s believed his decision to join the armed forces followed the untimely death of his brother Tom, who died of a brain tumour.
“After this traumatic event, Alfred and another brother decided to join up, Alfred in the Navy and his brother Arthur in the Army.
“When we were children, Grandad would tell us stories of his mother Alice and of his experiences during the war.”
Peter said: “In mid-1913, he decided that life in the Navy was not for him so he crossed over to the Royal Horse Guards and, at the outbreak of war in 1914, Alfred and his comrades were among the first soldiers to be sent to Northern France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
“One experience he told me about was when the cavalry charged the German lines. He recalled that on one such
charge, a shell burst in front of him. His horse reared up and carried on, reaching the German line.
“When the rally was sounded, they galloped back to their regiment and when he stopped, the horse dropped down dead with a piece of shrapnel in his heart. Grandad believed that adrenalin drove the horses on.”
He added: “The men formed strong bonds with their horses and if a horse fell ill, the men would sleep in the stables with them and if they lost a horse through poor feed or from injuries during the battles, the men were inconsolable.”
When the decision was made that the cavalry were no longer required on the battlefields, Alfred was seconded to a field gun crew with his horse and four other men and horses, to pull large artillery.
Susan said: “While on leave one day in a French village, just behind the lines, he met up with his two brothers, Arthur and Bertie, who were in other regiments.
“Realising that they may never meet each other again, they found the local STORIES OF WAR: Susan Anderson, of Countesthorpe, who is attending the People’s Procession in London tomorrow for Armistice Day, in memory of her grandad, pictured, Alfred Hawkins. Right, Alice Hawkins photographer and had a photo taken.
“This photograph (left) hung in Grandad’s hallway for over 60 years. In the photo they are in their uniforms that they walked out of the trenches in. No time to change into regimental best!”
Alfred saw action in some of the biggest battles of the war, including the Somme and Ypres.
However, he and his brothers all survived the conflict and at the end of the war Alfred was sent to an Army barracks in Surrey, where he met his future wife Gertrude Messam, a war widow with three children who lived nearby.
Susan said: “They married in 1919 and our mother, Vera, was born in1923.
“Grandad visited the battlefields of France and Belgium on many occasions after the end of the war.
“He was a lifelong member of the Old Contemptibles and the last surviving President of the Leicester Branch, we believe, for many years until it was disbanded through falling numbers in the 1970s.”
Alfred spent most of his working life as a gardener with the Leicester City Parks Department before working as a caretaker at Avenue Primary School, in Clarendon Park, until his retirement.
Peter said: “I think he was very influenced by his mother, Alice, and he used to listen to her speak out for equality and the vote at public demonstrations as a boy.
“He was a proud member of the Labour Party and fought for social justice. He never forgot his comrades who fought and died in the trenches.” Susan added: “I remember as a girl attending Remembrance Day events with him. At the end of the Ode to Remembrance he used to always shout ‘We will remember them!’ at the top of his voice. That always stuck with me.”
She added: “It is with great honour that we will wear Grandad’s medals, in honour of the men, women and animals who served in the Great War and the many who gave their lives.
“It means so much to remember them and to pass our memories on to future generations.”
LUCKY SHOT: Alfred Hawkins, right, with his two brothers in a photo taken behind the lines in Flanders