78220 Private Herbert Wells, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, later G/44968 18th Battalion Middlesex Regiment
Born on 8th October 1899 in Dagnall, Buckinghamshire
Died on 26th March 1953 in Little Gaddesden
Herbert (Bertie) Wells was born in Dagnall, Buckinghamshire, the youngest of the 3 children of Charles Wells and Susan née Rogers.
His sister Florence (Flora) Wells was born on 30th August 1896 and his brother Archie Wells on 17th March 1898.
In the 1901 Census, the family’s address is recorded as Barracks Yard, Dagnall. Bertie’s father was then a Domestic Garden Labourer.
On 8th June 1903, Herbert Wells started at Little Gaddesden School as an Infant aged 3 years 8 months.
On 8th July 1907, an entry in the Little Gaddesden School Log Book recorded that Archie Wells and Bertie Wells had a rash. Fortunately, this turned out to be nettle or heat rash. However, the anxiety was that it might be measles, which was then a very serious illness capable of closing the school for several weeks.
The 1911 Census shows the family living at 39 Little Gaddesden. 11 year old Herbert was still at school while Archie Wells, 13, worked as an Office Boy on the Ashridge Estate. Their father Charles was a Gardener, their mother Susan and their sister Florence were at home.
The School Log Book entry for 2nd January 1912 notes that the Rector:
gave away the Prize Book “Under the Southern Cross”, sent by the County Council, about 12 months ago. Herbert Wells gained the Prize, in a written Examination on Australia, just before the Christmas Holidays.
On 16th May 1912, Herbert Wells and Robert Willmore passed their Exemption Exam, so each obtained a Labour Certificate and could leave school to go to work. Herbert was then aged 12 years 7 months.
Herbert would have been called up when he was 18 years old in the Autumn of 1917. An extension of the Military Service Act on 10th April 1918 meant that he could then serve overseas while still aged 18, after completing six months’ training. The Little Gaddesden Absent Voters’ lists for Autumn 1918 and Spring 1919 show him serving as a Private in the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Service Number 78220. His Medal and Award Roll entry confirms that he served overseas as he was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
In the Summer and Autumn of 1918, the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was in action during the Hundred Days Offensive, starting with the Battle of Amiens between 8th and 11th August 1918. German forces defending positions at Amiens were outnumbered six to one by Allied forces, whose surprise attack allowed them to advance eight miles in a single day. They then breached the German lines, creating a gap approximately 15 miles long. As a result of that attack, approximately 12,000 German troops surrendered to Allied Forces.
Then, during the week of the 22nd August 1918, they took part in further advances and the capture of Meaulte, Mametz, Carnoy, Hardecourt and Faviere Wood. In September they were then involved in the Battles of the Hindenburg Line including Epehy and the St Quentin canal. In October they fought in the Final Advance in Artois, reaching the Schelde Canal by 27th October. However, they were then withdrawn for rest. After the Armistice, they were sent to Douai, North East of Arras and engaged in battlefield salvage work.
In common with many younger soldiers, Herbert was demobilised very late. The Autumn 1919 Absent Voters’ List shows Herbert Wells of 39 Little Gaddesden promoted to Lance Corporal and transferred to the 18th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. His Service Number was then G/44968.
The Battalion Diary for 10th March 1919 reports that: “A draft of 4 officers and 120 Other Ranks reported for duty from 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers”.
That Battalion’s full title was 18th (Service) Battalion (1st Public Works Pioneers). It remained in France until Autumn 1919 and had a variety of roles. These included: battlefield salvage work, demobilisation duties in No 1 Despatching Camp, Le Havre, guarding and escorting Prisoners of War and general construction tasks. In addition, the Battalion Diary for 1919 regularly mentions training, cricket and football matches, drill competitions and church services.
The original, pre-Second World War, wording on the left hand panel of the Little Gaddesden War Memorial on the village green, read:
This memorial is erected in honour of the one hundred and thirty six men who went from the villages of Little Gaddesden, Hudnall and Ringshall and served in the war of 1914 = 1918. The names of those who gave their lives for their country are cut on the stones here. The names of those who returned to England are preserved in the Church.
However, the Church Roll of Honour lists only 119 men; one of those omitted is Herbert Wells, possibly because he did not serve until late in the War. His name has been added to the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll. Herbert’s brother Archie Wells is, however, named on both Rolls.
A Recent Find
Early in 2020 a slightly revised copy of the original Roll of Honour was found. It is very similar to the original Roll but has an extra name added at the end: Richard Wells, Royal Fusiliers. Herbert’s National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) entry names him “Wells Herbert otherwise Richard Herbert of 48 Little Gaddesden”. It is, therefore, believed that Herbert Wells is the man named Richard on that copy of the Roll.
Return to Little Gaddesden 14
The 1920 Electoral Register shows that, on demobilisation, Herbert returned to his family home, 39 Little Gaddesden.
However, by 1923, Herbert and his parents lived at the Cottage, Ashridge Workyard, where they remained until at least 1930.
Then, in the 2nd Quarter of 1933, Herbert Wells married Violet Ella Austin. The marriage was registered in Luton.
The 1939 Register shows them living at 48 Little Gaddesden. Herbert worked as a Gardener while Violet (whose name is recorded as Ella V Wells) had “Unpaid Domestic Duties”.
53 year old Herbert Wells of 48 Little Gaddesden died on 26th March 1953. Then, on 1st April he was buried in the old churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden. However, on his headstone, his name is recorded as Richard Wells.
His widow Violet Ella Wells stayed in the village, eventually moving to Bede Court, where she lived to the age of 91. Her ashes were buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 28th October 1995.
4. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906 and 1906 – 1934
6. 1918-21 Absent Voters’ Lists Parliamentary County of Hertford, Hemel Hempstead Division, Little Gaddesden
12. Leonhardt, John (ed), 2002, A Century Remembered – a celebration of the Millennium in Little Gaddesden, Rural Heritage Society of Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Ashridge
17. Little Gaddesden Burial Register
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson