3609 Acting Warrant Officer 2nd Class Herbert Fenn, M.M., Bedfordshire Regiment, attached Machine Gun Corps
Born on 29th January 1888 in Little Gaddesden
Died on 8th July 1928 in Sholden, Kent
Herbert Fenn was born at 11 Little Gaddesden, the third of the 4 children of George William Fenn and Harriett née Burgess. He was baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 20th May 1888.
His brother Hamor William Fenn, (always called William) was born in 1880, his sister Rose in 1885 and his sister Annie on 27th May 1893.
By 1891, the family lived at 18 Little Gaddesden. His father was a Herdsman in 1891 and a Domestic Coachman in 1901; he died in June 1908.
On the 4th April 1892, Herbert started at Little Gaddesden School. The School Log Book entry read: “Entered Herbert Fenn of Little Gaddesden on the School Books – Fine weather and a good attendance.“
In 1896, 1897 and 1898, Herbert’s name is listed among those children who distinguished themselves in the Religious Knowledge examination held during the school’s annual Diocesan Inspection.
On 10th March 1898, five children including Herbert passed their Labour Certificate. In recording this in the Log Book, the Headmaster added “I think however that none of the children are leaving at the present time.” Herbert was only 10 years old and it is not clear when he did leave school. However, by 31st March 1901 he was employed as a Post Office Telegraph Messenger Boy.
The Little Gaddesden Brass Band 7
The Little Gaddesden Brass Band was formed in 1902 and a report and statement of accounts for 1902 – 1903 has survived. To obtain funds, entertainments were performed and donations sought. Each band member paid 3d per week (1¼p today) toward the cost of tuition. The report noted “our balance in hand is very low, but we again rely on our many kind friends to give us their support and stick to our motto: Nil Desperandum”. The report included a photograph on which Herbert aged 14 or 15 is standing 2nd from the right in the middle row.
Others in the Band with links to the Roll of Honour are:
- Back Row, L to R: 1. Archibald Johnson; 2. Thomas Johnson; 3. Frederick Cutler; 5. John Wibden; 6. Edward Hing; 7. Edward Pinnock (father of George Pinnock and Arthur Pinnock).
- Middle Row, L to R: 3. Arthur Johnson; 4. Sam Oakins; 6. Harry Wells (father of William Wells); 7. Walter Holland.
- Front Row, L to R: 1. Steve Oakins; 4. William Johnson; 5. Sidney Rogers.
- Under the drum: Hubert Halsey
- Band members absent from the photo included William Fenn and Matthew Munden; the Band’s Secretary was Geoffrey Talbot.
Service in the Volunteers 8
A 1908 entry in the Little Gaddesden Parish Diary, written by the Rector, the Revd. Edward Clark, noted that
The Annual Church Parade for Volunteers continued until the Volunteers themselves came to an end. Very few of the old Volunteers, to be exact only William and Herbert Fenn, joined the Territorials.
Herbert’s pre-First World War record is lost but his brother William Fenn’s record shows pre-1908 Volunteer service with the 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. If the brothers continued to volunteer together, Herbert would then have joined the Hertfordshire Battalion, Territorial Force, but there is no record of this.
In the 1911 Census, 23 year old Herbert, a Domestic Gardener, lived at 18 Little Gaddesden with his widowed mother and his 30 year old brother William Fenn, a Domestic Plumber. His sister Annie, however, was by then a Parlour Maid at the Manor House, Little Gaddesden in the household of Colonel Wheatley, father of Philip Wheatley.
In 1913 (4th Quarter), Herbert Fenn married Florence Louisa May; the marriage was registered in Towcester, Northamptonshire. However, they returned to Hertfordshire; their son William Herbert Alec Fenn, born on 19th August 1914, was baptised at St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 20th September, at which time the family’s address was 9 Middle Road, Berkhamsted.
Herbert Fenn was one of 17 men on the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour who volunteered for the Bedfordshire Regiment in the first month of the War. 12473 William Wells volunteered on 26th August followed by 12589 William Grant, 12591 George Cash and almost certainly 12593 Charles Batchelor on the 27th. 13330 Frank Dove R.I.P. and 13724 Horace Halsey joined on or before 3rd September 1914 and a further 11 men attested on 3rd September. These were 13785 Edward Saunders, 14374 Harold Catt, 14452 Herbert Jacobs, 14532 John Mayling, 14553 Victor Collier, 14546 Frederick Purton R.I.P., 14557 Ernest Bearton, 14575 Arthur Maunders, 17221 Bertie Purton, 17231 Herbert Fenn and 3/8219 Jesse Holland.
Herbert’s Medal and Award Roll entry shows that, in addition to serving in the Bedfordshire Regiment, he was attached to the Machine Gun Corps, Service Number 3609. He fought at the Battle of the Somme and, on 7th August 1916, Sergeant H Fenn, 3609, 51st Company, Machine Gun Corps was admitted to the 51st Field Ambulance with a shrapnel wound to the neck. He was then transferred to a Casualty Clearing Station the same day. The 51st Company, Machine Gun Corps went to France to join the 17th (Northern) Division on 17th February 1916 and stayed with that Division until February 1918.
Death of his brother William 22
On 22nd March 1916, Herbert’s older brother 35 year old Corporal Hamor William Fenn, 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment, died in hospital in St Omer, France after a short illness. He is buried in Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, where his grave reference is II. B. 47.
The Supplement to the London Gazette of 12th December 1917, records the following Award:
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Military Medal for bravery in the Field to the undermentioned Non-commissioned Officers and Men:- … 3609 Sjt. H. Fenn, Bedf. R., attd. M.G. Corps (Berkhamstead)
No further details are given, but, in 1917, the 17th (Northern) Division had been involved in both the Arras Offensive and the 3rd Battle of Ypres. For his War Service, Herbert was also awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
The Autumn 1918 Great Berkhamsted Absent Voters’ List shows Herbert as a Sergeant in the 58th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps – but this may have been the 58th Company.
By the time Herbert was demobilised and transferred to Class Z Reserve on 11th April 1919, he had been promoted to Acting Warrant Officer 2nd Class.
Men who have answered their Country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
Herbert Fenn is named on the Roll of Honour, which hangs in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden and lists 119 men from Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Hudnall who served in the 1914 – 1918 War. His unit is recorded as “Machine Gun Section”; on the Centenary Revision of the Roll this has been recorded more formally as “Machine Gun Corps.” Also named is his brother William Fenn R.I.P., 1st Bn. Hertfordshire Regiment who died while on active service in France.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
Electoral Registers for the period 1919 – 1922 give Herbert and Florence’s address as Robin Hood Cottages, Little Gaddesden. Their daughter Rose Elizabeth Fenn was born on 25th February 1920 and baptised in St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 14th April that year. The Baptism Register records that Herbert was a Gardener.
Herbert, a Journeyman Gardener of the Cottage, Sholden Paddock, Sholden, Kent died on 8th July 1928. On his Death Certificate, his age is given as 43 but he was actually only 40. According to an article in the Dover Express, he “had considerable war service and suffered from neurasthenia“, as the result of which he was depressed. His Death Certificate states that he died in the loft of the stables of Sholden Paddock, as the result of strangulation by hanging while of unsound mind. The Dover Express also notes an earlier suicide attempt, after which he spent four months in hospital. The effects of his war service had been too much for him to bear.
Herbert’s widow and children remained in Kent and the 1939 Register shows them living at 157 Downs Road, Walmer, Kent. There, Florence worked as a Cook and their son William as a Chemist’s Assistant (Dispenser) and Photographic Salesman. A redacted entry is believed to be their daughter Rose. Later Nursing Registers show that she trained to be a Nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dover, between 1937 and 1940, listing 157 Downs Road as her address.
2. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
5. Little Gaddesden Burial Register
6. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906
7. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903
8. The Little Gaddesden Parish Diary 1877 – 1918
16. 1918-21 Absent Voters’ Lists Parliamentary County of Hertford, Hemel Hempstead Division, Little Gaddesden
19. Copy (pdf) of the Death Certificate of Herbert Fenn d. 8th July 1928
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson