R13923 Serjeant Oliver Gentle, M.M., King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Born on 18th April 1895 in Little Gaddesden
Died on 6th February 1983 in Tendring, Essex
Oliver Gentle was born in Little Gaddesden, the third of the four children of Arthur George Gentle and Mary Ann née Payne. He was baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 2nd June 1895.
His older sister Ella Florence was born on 5th September 1889, his brother Arthur Bertram (Bertie) Gentle on 19th September 1891 and his younger sister Gladys Alma on 1st August 1897. His family lived at 46 Little Gaddesden; their father, an eminent and prize-winning horticulturalist, was Gardener to Mrs Denison at the house now known as Denison House.
Between 18th March and 6th September 1897, the family spent 6 months in Northchurch, but they then returned to Little Gaddesden.
Oliver started in the Infant Department of Little Gaddesden School on the afternoon of 18th April 1898, which was his 3rd Birthday. Four year old Rupert Flowers started the same afternoon.
Little Gaddesden School had an annual Diocesan Inspection, during which the children were examined in Religious Knowledge. Oliver Gentle was among the children who distinguished themselves in this examination in January 1903.
Oliver left from Standard 7 at Little Gaddesden School on 11th March 1910. Unlike some pupils, who left at the earliest opportunity, Oliver stayed at school until a month before his fifteenth birthday.
The 1911 Census shows 15 year old Oliver working as a Domestic Garden Boy, probably for his father. He lived at home at 46 Little Gaddesden with his parents and his sister Gladys, 13, who was at school.
On 27th May 1915 Oliver and his brother Bertram Gentle enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps at Tonbridge. They have consecutive regimental numbers: Oliver R13923 and Bertram R13924. Bertram Gentle’s obituary confirms that:
The two sons of Mr. and Mrs. A.G. Gentle were employed together at Tonbridge, Kent, at the same calling in which their father is so well-known, and in May, 1915, they enlisted in the 12th Battalion King’s Royal Rifles.
Their Medal Roll Index Cards show that they both served in France from 3rd November 1915.
On 31st August 1916, Oliver’s older brother, 24 year old Rifleman Arthur Bertram Gentle, 13924, A Company, 12th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was killed in action in a night time bombing raid at Guillemont on the Somme. Oliver was by his side.
Wounded three times 9
Oliver’s Obituary notes that he fought at the battles of the Somme, Hill 60 and Passchendaele, where he was wounded three times, and received the Military Medal for his bravery.
“A Good Lad and a Chum worth having” 10
Family papers now in the care of Oliver’s Great Niece include a letter to Oliver’s mother from his Platoon Sergeant, 6449 Sergeant James Cross, sent after Oliver had been awarded the Military Medal and promoted to Sergeant. The letter, dated 22nd August 1917 reads:
I have great pleasure in writing these few lines in which to express my congratulations Re the receipt of the Military Medal by your son Oliver. Having had the good fortune to serve with him in his present Battalion, as well as both the others in which he has served and which you no doubt know. I have been his platoon Sgt for a short time now, and can speak of him with thorough knowledge of what I am saying.
He is now as you are probably aware a full Sgt himself in charge of men. A position for which he has worked very hard and in which I am sure he will make a complete success. He has been and is now a good lad. A chum worth having and I know that he will agree with me that we have shared some exciting and also some very pleasant times together. He has always been reliable in whatever position it has been our fortune to be in. Our officers will agree with that I am sure.
Re the honour that has been conferred upon him, I can state that he earned it by performing a particularly dangerous duty successfully and I may say it is not the first time he has done similar duties. You can be justly proud of him. I can assure you as are all our boys and I.
I do not know if he has ever mentioned me when writing. You will of course want to (be) sure? who it is that writes and this is the method of sending ones? address 6449 Sgt J Cross A Coy 18th K.R.R.C. B.E.F France.
Oliver often speaks of you + his dad and business at home. I wish you the best of health and hope sincerely that when “Victory” is ours, you will have the pleasure of welcoming home, one with whom I have had some good times.
He is very popular with all who serve with him and all join with me in congratulating him on his promotion of earning and receiving the honour he now has. May he have a safe and speedy coming through is the honest wish of Yours Very Sincerely James Cross Sgt.”
Awarded the Military Medal 11
The Supplement to the London Gazette of 28th September 1917 records Oliver’s Award as follows:
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Military Medal for bravery in the field to the undermentioned Ladies, Non-commissioned Officers and Men:- R/13923 Cpl. O. Gentle, K.R.R.C. (Berkhamstead).
For his War Service, Oliver was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
Oliver Gentle 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. On the original Roll, Oliver’s unit is shown as “The King’s Royal Rifles”. On the Centenary Revision of the Roll this is recorded more formally as “King’s Royal Rifle Corps”. His brother Bertram Gentle, R.I.P. is also listed on both Rolls.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
Moving Away 12
Oliver’s parents moved from Little Gaddesden after the death of his father’s employer, Mrs Denison, in 1917. In Autumn 1918 and in 1919, Oliver is shown as an Absent Voter of his parents’ new address: Altnacealgach, Park Road, Colchester. He joined his parents there in 1920 but his father died in November 1921.
In 1923, Oliver and his mother lived at Pretty Gate Farm, Shrub End, Colchester; from 1924 their address was 28 King Harold Road, Shrub End.
On 27th November 1927, at St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Frinton, Essex, Oliver Gentle, aged 32, married Florence May Balls, aged 24, of Pole Barn Lane, Frinton. Oliver and Florence lived at 28 King Harold Road, Shrub End.
The 1939 Register records Oliver and Florence living at 72 King Harold Road, Shrub End. Oliver was a Smallholder with a Greengrocery Round, while Florence had “Unpaid Domestic Duties”. Oliver’s Obituary states that he also worked for the Civil Service and that, for 15 years, he was Churchwarden of All Saints Church, Shrub End. His Death Certificate adds that his Civil Service role had been in the Ministry of Labour.
In later life Oliver suffered from Parkinson’s disease. On 5th February 1983 Oliver Gentle, of 1 Baden Powell Drive, Shrub End, died in Heath Hospital, Tendring, Essex; he was 87 years old. His widow Florence stayed at that address until her death aged 88 on 3rd May 1992.
2. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
5. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906 and 1906 – 1934
6. Obituary of Rifleman A. B. Gentle from the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, originally published 16th September 1916.
9. Obituary of Oliver Gentle from his family papers. Press cutting dating from 7th – 14th February 1983, source not stated but possibly from The Colchester Gazette.
10. Letter from Oliver’s family papers: 22nd August 1917 from Sgt. James Cross to Oliver’s mother Mary Ann Gentle.
11. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30312/supplement/10026 R/13923 Cpl. O. Gentle
15. Certified copy of Oliver Gentle’s Death Certificate
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson