Joseph Whitman

Joseph Whitman, National Reserve

Born on 13th April 1864 in Hudnall
Died on 15th November 1937 in Little Gaddesden

Family and Home 1, 2

Joseph Whitman was born in Hudnall, then in the parish of Edlesborough, the eighth of the 10 children of James Whitman and Eliza née Mead. His father was a Farm Labourer.

Joseph had nine siblings:

  • William, born in 1847
  • Emma, born in 1848
  • Samuel, born in 1850
  • Elizabeth, born in 1854
  • Sophia, born in 1857
  • Matilda, born in 1859
  • George, born in 1862
  • David, born in 1866
  • Mary Ann, born in 1869

Education 2, 3

Joseph attended Little Gaddesden School.

The 1871 Census shows him living with his parents at Hudnall. His father James was an Agricultural Labourer and his mother Eliza a Straw Plait Maker. His brother William, 23, was a Shepherd, his sisters Elizabeth, 16, Sophia, 14 and Matilda, 11 were all Straw Plait Makers while George, 9, Joseph, 7 and David, 5 were at school. Mary Ann was an infant aged 1.

The Little Gaddesden School Log Book entry of 4th August 1873, when Joseph was only 9 years old, notes that his name was “taken off the books” as he was to go to farm work. However, on 5th January 1874, Joseph Whitman of Hudnall is listed among the children entering the school. It was then quite usual for boys engaged in farm work in the summer and autumn to return to school for the winter months. Joseph’s name was taken off the School Registers again on 4th May 1874, when he was 10 years old. No further entries for him have been found so he may well have left school then to go to work full time.

Employment 2

The 1881 Census shows Joseph employed as a 17 year old Bricklayer’s Labourer on the Ashridge Estate.  The family had by then moved to the Laundry at Ringshall (later numbered 14 Ringshall). James was a General Labourer and Eliza a Laundress. She was helped by Joseph’s sister Elizabeth whose husband Jacob White was a General Labourer. Joseph’s brother George, 19 was a Carpenter while David, 15, was a General Labourer and Mary Ann, 11, was still at school.

Marriage and Children 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

In the 2nd Quarter of 1888, Joseph Whitman married Susan Liberty. Their son Frank was born in the first Quarter of 1890 and baptised at St John the Baptist’s Church, Great Gaddesden on 18th May 1890. The family lived at Hudnall.

The 1891 Census shows Joseph as a Carpenter’s Machinist, living at 3 Hudnall with his wife Susan and 1 year old son, Frank. However, Frank died when he was three years old and was buried in the old churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 1st July 1893.

Joseph and Susan’s second son, Arthur Whitman, was born at Hudnall on 13th June 1895 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 7th July that year.

Their third son James ‘Jim’ Whitman was then born at Hudnall on 4th April 1898 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 29th May 1898.

Joseph’s Family 1900 – 1914 1, 2, 7, 8

Joseph and Susan’s daughter May was born on 24th April 1900 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 1st July 1900. By that date the family had moved from Hudnall to Little Gaddesden.

The 1901 Census shows them living at 13 Little Gaddesden. Joseph still worked as a Carpenter’s Machinist. At the time of that Census, Arthur Whitman was 5 years old, James Whitman 2 and May 11 months.

By 1911 the family had moved again, to 40 Little Gaddesden. Joseph is then recorded as a Carpenter working on the Ashridge Estate. By that time Arthur Whitman, 15, had left school and worked for the Post Office as a Telegraph Messenger. James Whitman, 12 and May, 10 were still at school.

The Outbreak of War 9, 10

The first member of the family to serve was Joseph’s son Arthur Whitman, a pre-War Territorial Volunteer in the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment. Called up on 4th August, Arthur and other members of F Company reported to Company HQ at The Bury, Hemel Hempstead on 5th August, then moved to Hertford to join the rest of the Regiment, before going via Romford to Bury St Edmunds, where they trained for two months. On 6th November 1914, the Battalion arrived in France.

Photo of F Company, 1st Battalion Herts Regiment, in training
Men from F Company, 1st Hertfordshire Regiment training at Bury St Edmunds in August 1914. Photo given to Michael McCaul for the Little Gaddesden Archive by Horace Ruffett’s nephew E. H. Ruffett in 1996/7.

The following Little Gaddesden men have been identified in this photo: Left: Joe Hing; 4th from left: Arthur Whitman aged 19, armed with sandwich and mug of tea; Right: Horace Ruffett. Other men who may be in this photo are: Vernon BatchelorHarry CutlerWilliam FennRichard Hoar and Herbert Impey.

Joseph’s War Service 11, 12

Although he was 50 years old at the outbreak of War, Joseph Whitman is named on the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour as a member of the National Reserve. He has no medal record and further details of his military service have not been found.

The National Reserve was a register kept by Territorial Force County Associations. The rules of entry were complex, registration was voluntary and there was no age limit for joining or leaving.

Those eligible to register for the National Reserve included:

  • Ex-soldiers of the Territorial Force or Territorial Force Reserve after not less than eight years of service or who had been discharged with not less than one year’s service for any reason other than misconduct or inefficiency.
  • Ex-soldiers of the Militia who have completed one period of engagement.

It is certainly possible that Joseph was a former Militia or Territorial Volunteer.

Once registered, men were then classified. Class I was for officers and men under 42 years of age who were medically fit to join a combatant unit for service at home or abroad. Class II was for Officers, Warrant Officers and Sergeants under the age of 55, and men under the age of 50, medically fit to join a combatant unit for home defence or for duty in fixed positions or administrative work at home.

How National Reservists were employed 12

National Reservists were invited to sign an honourable obligation to serve when required. They then reinforced existing units of the regular army or the Territorial Force and were used to strengthen garrisons, guard vulnerable points, provide specialists or tradesmen in technical branches, or undertake hospital, veterinary, remount, clerical or recruiting duties.

Joseph was clearly serving in England in November 1917 when his wife Sue wrote to him. He would then have been aged 53. The photo shows that him as a Lance Corporal and the cap badge could be that of the Hertfordshire Regiment. However, the exact date of this photograph is unknown.

Photo of Joseph Whitman in uniform
Lance Corporal Joseph Whitman in uniform. Photo courtesy of Caroline Hughes.

Autumn 1917: “We must still have faith” 13, 14, 15, 16

A letter has survived which was written to Joseph Whitman by his wife Sue and, from events mentioned in it, can be dated to late October or early November 1917. This is included with permission of Caroline Hughes, Joseph’s great, great, granddaughter. Punctuation has been added to the transcription for ease of reading, and some explanatory notes are provided after the text.

Facsimile of Sue Whitman's letter
Photograph of Sue Whitman’s letter to her husband Joe, courtesy of Caroline Hughes.

A Transcription of Sue’s Letter

40 Little Gaddesden
Sunday night
Dear Joe
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

“Poor Arthur” was their son Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman who, on 31st July 1917, the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, was wounded in action near St Julien (Sint-Juliaan on today’s maps) and had been reported missing.

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 Whitman and his first cousin 265166 Private George Hoar, 1st Bn. Hertfordshire Regiment were missing after the same attack.

Son Arthur Killed in Action 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

Arthur’s body was never found. On 31st July 1917 the men of the 1st Herts Battalion were heavily engaged on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres and lost over 450 men during their assault on St. Julien, including Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman and Arthur’s first cousin Private George Hoar. A note subsequently added in Arthur’s 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. Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman and Private George Hoar are both commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”

Joseph Whitman 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 listed as National Reserve and he is similarly shown on the Centenary Revision of the Roll. Also listed on the Rolls are his sons Arthur Whitman, R.I.P. and James Whitman and eight of his nephews:

Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver

Post-War Life 2, 5, 6, 22

By Spring 1919, Joseph was back at 40 Little Gaddesden. He then returned to his work as a Carpenter on the Ashridge Estate. Electoral Register entries show that he and Susan lived at No 40, at least until Susan’s death. Their daughter May, their son Jim Whitman and, from their marriage in 1922, Jim’s wife Edith lived there too.

Joseph’s wife Susan died aged 74 in February 1932. Her funeral service was held at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 22nd February that year. Then, on 15th November 1937, Joseph died aged 73. His funeral was held at Little Gaddesden Church two days later.

Joseph’s Obituary 23

An unattributed and undated copy of Joseph’s obituary, believed to be from “The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser” for the week ending 20th November 1937, notes that Joseph worked on the Ashridge Estate for 51 years as a machinist and as an engineer at the Water Works. It also stated that he was the oldest ex-Serviceman attached to the Little Gaddesden Branch of the British Legion. Among the mourners at his funeral were his son Mr J Whitman, his daughter Miss Whitman and his nephews Mr S J Oakins and Mr Goodman. Mr W Wells also attended, representing the Little Gaddesden Branch of the British Legion.


1. England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions

2. 1871 – 1921 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcriptions 

3. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1872 – 1886

4. Hertfordshire Baptisms, Great Gaddesden

5. England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007

6. Little Gaddesden Burial Register

7. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947

8. The 1939 Register

9. 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.

10.  British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920, Arthur Whitman

11. British army reserves and reservists – The Long, Long Trail

12. The National Reserve – The Long, Long Trail

13. Copy of Sue Whitman’s letter to her husband Joe, November 1917, courtesy of Caroline Hughes




17. Macdonald, Lyn (1978), “They Called it Passchendaele”, Book Club Associates (by arrangement with Michael Joseph Ltd).

18. British Army Service Records, 1912

19. UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919



22. Electoral Registers 1832 – 1932

23. Press cutting from “Daisy Thorn’s Scrapbook”. A miscellany of village information, now held in the village archive.

Do you have any questions about the information recorded here? Or do you have any further information that you can share with us about those from Little Gaddesden who died or fought for their country? In either case, please contact Jane Dickson at

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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson