Suf­fragette Al­ice’s great-grand­kids to re­mem­ber her son Al­fred in Peo­ple’s Pro­ces­sion on cen­te­nary of Ar­mistice

Leicester Mercury - - News - By DAVID OWEN david.owen@reach­

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


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