Gunner “Harry” Edward Hankinson

Harry Hankinson © Dorking Advertiser Local World Ltd
Harry Hankinson © Dorking Advertiser Local World Ltd

Many thanks to Jim Edwards of North Holmwood for this research.

Harry Edward Hankinson was born in Dorking on 13th August 1893 and baptised the following year at St Martin’s. In 1901 he was living at 21 Mill Lane with his father, Henry Joseph, who was home on furlough from the Royal Reserves of the Royal Garrison Artillery, and his mother, Emily. The Royal Reserves were temporary units of former soldiers raised during the Boer War for home service to replace regular troops sent to South Africa.

In 1911 Edward was living at Woodyers Farm, Beare Green as a boarder and working as a carter on the farm. His father (now a jobbing gardener) and mother were living at Blackbrook, Holmwood. One sister, Margaret, had married at St John’s Church and was living in Bentsbrook Cottages, North Holmwood and his other sister, Rose, was in service as a cook in Harrow Road West, Dorking.

Harry Hankinson Death Notice © Dorking Advertiser Local World Ltd
Harry Hankinson Death Notice © Dorking Advertiser Local World Ltd

Edward enlisted at Guildford and served in the Royal Horse Artillery (number 78833) as a gunner (private). He went to France on 16th December 1914. He died on 10th June 1915 whilst serving with X Ammunition Column. His death is listed (incorrectly) as occurring in India, but the pay records show that he actually died of wounds in Meerut Casualty Clearing Station which was probably at St Venant. This is a small commune about 8 miles from Aire, where he was buried, since the St Venant cemetery was at the time only being used for Indian soldiers. These small towns were in an area away from the fighting, where casualties would receive treatment before being transferred to hospitals near the coast about 40 miles away, at Boulogne or Calais.

The Meerut Casualty Clearing Station did have Indian connections. Some of the staff had come from the Meerut Hospital, which was one of three Indian army hospitals that had moved to France early in the war to treat Indian casualties. The hospital was located near Boulogne and by March 1915 it had been converted to a British General Hospital.

Edward’s parents were still in Blackbrook. His mother’s brother also lost a son commemorated in North Holmwood, Thomas Lucas. Edward’s sister, Rose, later married at St John’s Church in 1925.

An interesting report appeared in the Dorking Advertiser. Harry’s father, Henry was forced to defend Harry’s name against accusations that Harry was a alcoholic.

Harry Hankinson Obituary © Dorking Advertiser Local World Ltd
Harry Hankinson Obituary © Dorking Advertiser Local World Ltd

“The young hero sent home some thrilling letters regarding his experiences at the Front. One of his stated: “I know now what it is like to be under shell fire, as our Battery was in action and we had to take up the ammunition. The sights out here are something cruel to see. All the houses are burnt to the ground, and the trees knocked right in half by shell. We were at the guns the other day, and we saw the shells bursting in front of us only about three or four hundred yards away. The Germans were firing at a church, which is the only thing they seem to fire at. We also saw them firing at one of our aeroplanes, but they could not hit it. There are a lot of graves beside the road with a cross and a soldier’s name on every one and the date the poor fellows were killed. The people here don’t seem to take any notice of the guns. What houses are left are all full, and where our Battery is there is a house not ten yards behind it and people still living in it. If that was me I should want to clear out of the way. I have been pretty lucky so far not to have stopped a bullet : let us hope it will keep so.”

A recent letter states : “I expect you thought I was never going to write again, but we have been busy just lately, and have not had much time. Our Battery came out of action last Sunday, and so we have moved away from the firing line for a little rest. We are in a little French village. It is a pretty place, and the people are very good to us. I have not yet stopped a bullet yet, but have had some narrow scrapes. I was standing beside one of our teams when the leading driver got hit in the head, so I had to take his place. We had to gallop as the Germans could see us. It is a pitiful sight to see the wounded come out of the trenches. The Germans are a lot worse than …. : they are using a lot of poisonous gas shells…”

Mr Hankinson writes us tendering his thanks to “all kind friends for sharing with him the loss of his son,” and adds : “Only one person when this was mentioned, said if he had not been killed in the war, he would have killed himself with drink. Sir, I think such a thing as this is a shame on the person saying it. I certainly can say that my son was a credit to us at home and away, and I think the many friends of his, will endorse what I say. It is a great pity that people should not think before saying such things. It plainly shows their thoughts with respect to our brave lads in khaki. Where would they have been had not the same noble lads stemmed the rushing tide of a demon foe. Would they have a roof over their heads? Would they have anything to eat? And yet this is the respect they show towards the parents who have forfeited their only son’s life to uphold old England’s name. I am pleased to say son’s name is honoured in Dorking and all the surroundings, and I, his father, will not have it dishonoured. He died a noble death; let him rest in peace. ”

Born                                  Dorking
Lived                                 Beare Green, Dorking

Son of                               Henry Joseph and Emily Hankinson of Blackbrook, Holmwood

Enlisted                             Guildford

Regiment                          X Ammunition Column, Royal Artillery
Number                             78833

Date of Death                    10th June 1915
Place of Death                   Meerut Casualty Clearing Station, Aire, France.

Age                                    21

Cemetery                          Aire Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais

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