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Family Trees From The Garden of England

  • The Luckiest Mother in England

    In 1911 Arthur Howlett was back living with his parents as he was unemployed. After an unsuccessful stint as an apprentice baker in North London, Arthur had become a trainee gamekeeper on Lord Paget's estate at Antsey near to Standon where his family lived. However, Lord Paget lost his fortune in South Africa's gold mines and as a result had to sell some of his estate. Arthur was one of the first to lose his job so he ended up back at home.

    He found work in Rockfords Nurseries in the Waltham Cross area and whilst lodging in Cheshunt joined the Hertfordshire Territorial Army. This was a decision that changed his life. In the summer of 1914 Arthur was at a training camp with the TA in Folkestone. War broke out and Arthur was immediately sent to France with the 1st Herts. One of the 100,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force. This band of men known as the Old Contemptibles kept the German Army at bay. Arthur turned 25 in the October of that year and was lucky to see his birthday. By the end of 1914 only 4000 of the original 100,000 men were still alive.

    Arthur's three other brothers who were old enough to fight in WW1 were John, William and Arthur's twin brother Frederick. At one point Arthur encountered John and William on the front line as their respective regiments of the Herts and Beds crossed paths. John was a regular soldier and had been in the army since 1912. Frederick had also joined the army at the outbreak of war. William was a little younger, having been born in 1899, so joined later. However, all four brothers survived the war, which, when considering the huge losses, was a remarkable feat indeed. Their mother, Emily, must have been the luckiest mother in England.

    Arthur was declared missing in action on the 31st of July 1917. At this point he was taken prisoner but it was to be some months before his mother received notice from the Red Cross that he was still alive. The accompanying photograph had captured Arthur just as he had blinked. His closed eyes gave the appearance that he was blind and this was the terrible thought that crossed his mother's mind when she first saw the photograph.

    The date Arthur went missing was the third battle of Ypres, commonly known as Passchendale. This bloody battle led to the virtual wiping out of the Hertfordshire Regiment. For a time the 1st Herts had temporarily ceased to exist. I remember my grandfather telling me some of his father's stories. Of sitting in a shell crater with German soldiers whilst they all cursed the War together and shared cigarettes. He learnt some German whilst in the POW camp until the end of the war and in later years would reel off German that his children assumed he was making up. It wasn't until the second war when an Austrian child refugee was staying with the family that she was able to confirm that he was actually making some sense!

    Arthur eventually made his way back home and was attached to the Irish guards and ended up training to do guard duty at Buckingham Palace. Eventually he was demobbed and married in Little Hadham in 1920.

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