1995 and 265227 Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman, Hertfordshire Regiment
Born 13th June 1895 in Hudnall
Killed in Action 31st July 1917 in Belgium
Arthur Whitman was born in Hudnall to Joseph WhitmaIMn and Susan, née Liberty. Joseph was a Carpenter’s Machinist and subsequently a Carpenter on the Ashridge Estate.
His elder brother Frank was born on 8th March 1890 but died aged 3, so Arthur never knew him. His younger brother James (Jim) was born on 4th April 1898 and his sister May on 24th April 1900.
By March 1901 the Whitman family lived at No 13 Little Gaddesden; by 1911 they had moved to No 40 Little Gaddesden.
Arthur Whitman of Hudnall entered Little Gaddesden School on 29th March 1899 aged 3 years 9 months. He did well at school and, in early 1903, distinguished himself in the Religious Knowledge Examination which formed part of the Annual Diocesan Inspection. His school attendance was also commended that year.
On March 14th 1904, Arthur was awarded a prize of 2/- (two shillings, 10p today) for full attendance during the past school year (which in those days finished at the end of February). Prizes for full attendance that year were also awarded to, among others: Walter Bunn, Godfrey Bunn, Victor Collier, Bernard Phillips and Archie Wells. The Log Book entry then notes:
The following prizes were also given away from the money earned by the children at the last Concert – Two prizes were given in each Standard to those who obtained the greatest number of marks in the four quarterly examinations.
The list included: Standard 2, Arthur Whitman – 1s. 6d. (one shilling and sixpence, 7½p today).
Having passed their Standard 5 Labour Exam, Arthur, aged just 13, and Albert Barlow, aged 12 years 8 months, left Little Gaddesden School on 16th June 1908. Arthur Maunders and Frederick Purton had also taken the exam but did not pass it.
In the 1911 Census, 15 year old Arthur Whitman was a Telegraph Messenger working for the Post Office and living at home with his parents and younger siblings Jim and May at 40 Little Gaddesden. By November 1912 he was an Apprentice Carpenter employed by Lord Brownlow on the Ashridge Estate. His apprenticeship was due to be completed on 4th September 1916.
Joining the Little Gaddesden Scout Troop 7
Arthur Whitman, then aged 16, and his younger brother 13 year old Jim joined the Little Gaddesden Scout Troop at its start, October 26th 1911. Arthur was Patrol Leader of the Peewit Patrol and Jim a member of the Lion Patrol. The scouts first met in the Reading Room at John o’Gaddesden’s House but meetings soon moved to the Armoury, at 27 Little Gaddesden, the home of their Scout Master, Harry Temple. Miss Bridget Talbot was their President and Mr Humphrey Talbot their Treasurer. The other Patrol Leaders were Arthur’s 16 year old cousin Frank Whitman of Hudnall (Wolf Patrol) and 14 year old Frank Johnson of 38 Little Gaddesden (Lion Patrol).
Scouts in the other Patrols who served were: Stanley Austin, Sidney Bellamy, Edward Bunn, Kenneth Edge, Gerald Green, Bernard Halsey, Percy Hobbs, Frank (Henry F.) Johnson, George Pinnock, Archie Wells, Frank Whitman and Jim Whitman.
“Bright Boy Scouts – Clever Performance at Little Gaddesden – High Approval” 7
According to the hand written ‘Little Gaddesden Scout Diary 1912 – 1922’ kept by their President, Miss Bridget Talbot, the Little Gaddesden Scouts gave a concert/variety entertainment at the school in early February 1912, assisted by Scoutmaster Temple and other supporters. The extract below is from a press cutting reporting the event, pasted into the Scout Diary. The cutting is undated and unattributed but is probably from the local “Gazette”.
Perhaps the one item in the programme which overtopped the others for novelty and excellence of execution was the Kirkby Malzeard sword dance by six members of the Troop (B. Phillips, F. Johnson, A. Whitman, J. Whitman, A. Halsey and A. Basford) with Scoutmaster H Temple as the singer of the introductory verses and violin-player for the dance itself. Its intricate movements were performed with admirable precision and, at the end of the dance, the holding up of the “nut” or star formed by the interlaced swords was greeted with the most enthusiastic applause by the spectators, who would gladly have seen the whole performance again.
Volunteering for the Territorials 6
On 2nd November 1912, Arthur attested for the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment, Territorial Force at Hemel Hempstead, while living in Little Gaddesden. He was 17 years 4 months old, 5 feet 9½ inches tall and had a 33 inch chest.
Leaving the Scouts 7
“At the beginning of Nov (1912)… Scout A Whitman gave in his badges … Having joined the Territorials he found he cd not manage both that + the Scouts”.
The Outbreak of War 8
Arthur was at Annual Camp at Ashridge at the start of August 1914. The week was planned to include parades, drills, skirmishes, night exercises, camp sports, inter-company football and boxing and a tattoo with massed bands – not to mention a visit to the Ashridge Flower Show. However, at 5am on Monday 3rd August, the order was received to strike camp. All thoughts of the tattoo, the boxing finals and the football cup match forgotten, the men of F Company returned home to await further orders. These arrived next day, instructing them to report to Company HQ at The Bury in Hemel Hempstead on 5th August.
Training for France 8
From Hemel Hempstead, F Company moved to Hertford to join the rest of the regiment before moving on to Romford and then Bury St Edmunds, where they trained for two months.
This is a copy of a postcard from Horace Ruffett (seated far right) to his brother Ernest Ruffett, dated 30th August 1914:
It was given to Michael McCaul for the Little Gaddesden Archive by Ernest Ruffett’s son E. H. Ruffett in 1996/7.
The postcard reads:
F Com. 1st Herts
Dear E I thought you would like one of these. It is a good one. You will know them nearly all. It is very hot here today. Yours H
19 year old Arthur Whitman has been identified by his great, great niece Caroline Hughes as the man sitting 5th from right, armed with sandwich and mug of tea. Joe Hing (uncle of the yet-to-be-born Leonard Hing, who was to perish in the Second World War) is seated far left. Other men who may be in this photo are: Vernon Batchelor, Harry Cutler, William Fenn, Richard Hoar and Herbert Impey.
On 5th November 1914, the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment left Bury St Edmunds by train, embarking aboard the “City of Chester” at Southampton, sailing for Le Havre at midnight and arriving in France 6th November 1914. Over the next 5 days, they proceeded via St Omer to Ypres, where the regiment saw its first action during the First Battle of Ypres. According to Vernon Batchelor from Hudnall, the Battalion spent Christmas 1914
…up to our knees in mud and water… They (the Germans) were busy singing at midnight and playing some sort of whistle; of course our side was singing as well. We were only 15 yards away from the Germans in one place, and between two and three hundred yards away in others, so you see we are not very far from the enemy.
Thank you for the Christmas Parcel 8
On 30th January 1915, the Hemel Hempstead Gazette published a letter from 76 men of F Company, Hertfordshire Regiment, to thank the people of Hemel Hempstead and district for the Christmas parcel containing many good things. Among the signatories was Private A. Whitman.
To England with a Septic Toe 6
On 24th January 1915, Arthur was admitted to the British Hospital, Wimereux with a septic toe. Next day he was transferred to a hospital ship for further treatment in England, initially at Fort Pitt Hospital, Chatham. On 29th January he was moved to the V.A.D. Convalescent Home at Gravesend Yacht Club, from which he was discharged on 8th February. He served in the UK until 27th April 1915, after which he sailed again for France, re-joining his Battalion in the field on 6th May 1915.
All Arthur’s service was completed in the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment. Between July 1916 and April 1917, he was promoted as follows:
- 25th July 1916 – Lance Corporal (Provisional)
- 8th October 1916 – Lance Corporal
- 20th November 1916 – Corporal
- 4th March 1917 – Acting Lance Serjeant
- 24th April 1917 – Lance Serjeant
On 31st July 1917, the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, 22 year old Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman, Hertfordshire Regiment, was wounded in action near St Julien (Sint-Juliaan on today’s maps). His body was never found. A note subsequently added in his Service Record reads: “Regarded officially as having died on or since 31.7.17”. His ‘Soldiers died in the Great War’ entry records him as Killed in Action.
The actions of the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment on that day are set out on the Memorial which was unveiled exactly 100 years later.
It is located at the exact spot near St Julien which the “Herts Guards” reached on 31st July 1917. The memorial includes a dedication, a map and an explanation of the choice of location. The inscription reads:
This memorial is dedicated to the Officers and Men of the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment who fought in The Great War 1914 – 1918″. The explanation states that: “At 10.10 am on the morning of the 31st July 1917 around 620 men of the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment attacked German positions on the Pilkem Ridge, the final objective of the opening day of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. After leaving the Steenbeck River the Battalion came under heavy machine gun fire as they advanced towards their objectives. This memorial marks the point of the furthest advance of the Battalion that day. By midday, suffering heavy casualties, the Battalion was forced to withdraw in the face of a fierce enemy counter-attack. Over the next hour the remnants of the Battalion conducted a fighting withdrawal to their starting position, leaving behind every officer and 75% of other ranks, killed, wounded or captured.”
Arthur Whitman and his first cousin George Hoar were two of the Herts Guards killed in action that day.
“I’m afraid there isn’t any Hertfordshire Regiment” 12
Much later on 31st July 1917, in “the inferno of shells exploding on the front around St Julien”, the four Company Quartermaster Sergeants of the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment were looking for their battalion. The ground was impassable in places but they had kept on going with their small party because they were bringing the Herts’ supper – rations for 600 men. But even with mules they couldn’t get beyond the first German line. In Lyn Macdonald’s book “They Called it Passchendaele”, Quartermaster Sergeant G.W. Fisher’s account, given years later, is included:
There were four Company Quartermaster Sergeants, myself and three others, and we decided between us that two of us should go forward to try and find the Battalion, one would stay with the rations, and the other one would try to find Brigade Headquarters to get some indication as to where the battalion might be. We tossed up for different jobs and it fell to my lot to have to find Brigade Headquarters, so I set off. There was a most tremendous bombardment going on all the while. After a long time I found the Brigade Headquarters. They were in an underground German concrete pillbox just in front of St Julien. I went down the stairs, saluted the Brigadier, told him who I was, explained the position and said, ‘Could you give me any instructions, sir, that would help me to find the battalion?’ He just stood there and looked at me. We were both standing on the steps and the pillbox was rocking like a boat in a rough sea with explosions. After a while he said, ‘I’m sorry Quarters, I’m afraid there isn’t any Hertfordshire Regiment’.Macdonald, Lyn (1978), “They Called it Passchendaele”
A letter has survived which was written by Arthur’s mother Sue to his father Joe and, from events mentioned in it, can be dated to late October or early November 1917. This is included with permission of Caroline Hughes, Arthur’s great, great niece. Punctuation has been added to the transcription for ease of reading, and some explanatory notes are provided after the text.
40 Little Gaddesden
I am trying to write once more. We have been very busy lately, shall be this week but not after. We are getting on very well and well if I had poor Arthur. The red cross has not found them yet I heard Saturday, so we must still have faith that they will come forward. Nothing is impossible to God so hope and pray; I feel he is living and our pigs are getting on well and when you come home next time I shall have enough money to give you to make your books even 100 and I do not owe a penny for any thing, so we are not doing so bad in war time but if it keeps on much longer I do not know what will become of the country. Jim is getting on all right on the engine but so black. Mrs Sarah Ann Janes at Ringshall fell down going down her path Friday and put her shoulder out, she is in the Hempsted Hospital, and another of the Saunders and Fred Grooms son married at Studham is killed. Harrison the schoolmaster wounded in the foot. Now if there is anything you want tell me and I have a nice lot of apples but as many droped as gathered. I am sending you a pie this week. Tell me if you have any new vests yet and about the place and what you do and where you go; you do not tell us anything. May is going to write to you now. Good night and God bless you and Arthur and keep you both. With love from all, from your ever loving wife Sue.
Explanatory Notes to the Letter
Arthur’s father Joe served in the National Reserve. He would have been 53 years old at the time the letter was written and was serving in the United Kingdom.
Jim and May were Arthur’s younger brother and sister.
Mrs Sarah Ann Janes of Ringshall was a 66 year old local widow.
Fred Groom’s son was 25444 Private Frank Albert Groom, 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment who died of wounds aged 29 in Belgium on 20th October 1917. He is buried at Dozinghem Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Grave Reference XI. G. 21. He had married Daisy Annie Ginger in 1909 and had 3 children.
Another of the Saunders was 29372 Private William Harry Saunders of Studham 1/8th Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was killed in action in or near Broodseinde, Ypres on 7th October 1917 and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Panel 23 – 28.
His brother, 112 Company Sergeant Major Alfred Saunders, 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, had died of wounds at No 2 Field Ambulance, Noeux-les-Mines near Béthune, France on 24th November 1915. He is buried at Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery, Grave Reference I. E. 27.
Their brother Edward Saunders, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, was married and lived at Ringshall. He survived the war and is named on the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour.
Harrison the Schoolmaster was the Headmaster of Little Gaddesden School, Lieutenant Douglas Harrison Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. He survived the war and is named on the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour.
“The Red Cross has not found them yet” refers to the fact that both Arthur and his first cousin 265166 Private George Hoar, 1st Bn. Hertfordshire Regiment were missing after the same attack; George too is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Panel 54, and is listed as
Arthur was recorded as the “son of Joseph and Susan Whitman, of 40, Little Gaddesden, Great Berkhamsted, Herts”. His Grave Registration Report gives his age as 21, though he was actually 22. His Baptism Register entry confirms his date of birth and shows a Baptism date of 7th July 1895.
We will remember them 9
Arthur Whitman is commemorated on the War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. He is also named on the Roll of Honour in the church, together with his father Joseph Whitman (National Reserve) and his younger brother James Whitman (no regiment listed), who both survived the war. Seven of his first cousins are also named on the Roll of Honour: Donald W Goodman, Edward Hoar, George Hoar R.I.P., Richard Hoar, Samuel Oakins R.I.P., Stephen Oakins and Francis J Whitman.
Arthur was posthumously awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
2. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
5. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906 and 1906 – 1934
7. The Little Gaddesden Scout Diary 1912 – 1922, HALS, Hertford, Acc 3131
8. Reynolds, Bertha & Chris (1995) “The London Gunners Come to Town”, Life and Death in Hemel Hempstead in the Great War, Codil Language Systems Ltd in association with Dacorum Heritage Trust.
12. Macdonald, Lyn (1978), “They Called it Passchendaele”, Book Club Associates (by arrangement with Michael Joseph Ltd).
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson