177585 Sapper Samuel George Oakins, Royal Engineers,
(421646) 20th Company, Labour Corps
Born 2nd October 1883 in Little Gaddesden
Killed in Action 11th November 1917 at Ypres, Belgium
Samuel George Oakins was the ninth of the eleven children of John Thomas Oakins and Emma, née Whitman. His father was a Domestic Gardener and Sexton of the Parish Church. In the 1891 Census, the Oakins family lived at 1 Little Gaddesden. John, Emma and seven of their children were at home then, which must have been very cramped. By 1901 the family had moved to 36 Little Gaddesden and only Samuel, Stephen and Lilian were still at home.
Samuel’s siblings were:
- Brother: William Oakins, who died aged three, born in 1867
- Brother: John Oakins, born in 1868
- Sister: Eliza Ann Oakins, born in 1870
- Sister: Rosa Mary Oakins, born in 1872
- Brother: Hubert William Oakins, born in 1874
- Sister: Ruth Oakins, born in 1876
- Brother: Stephen James Oakins, born on 20th February 1880
- Sister: Emmie Caroline Oakins, born in 1882
- Sister: Elizabeth Oakins, who died aged eleven, born in 1886
- Sister: Edith Lilian Oakins, born in 1889
Sam Oakins was entered on the Little Gaddesden School Registers on 18th April 1887 as an infant aged 3 years 6 months. In 1895 he distinguished himself in the Religious Knowledge Examination, which formed part of the annual Diocesan Inspection. In April that year he passed the Standard 4 Examination and on 22nd April the School Log Book recorded that he had “gone to work with a Certificate of Proficiency”. He was aged 11½.
In the 1901 Census, Sam is recorded as a Painter and, in 1911, as a House Plumber on the Ashridge Estate.
The Little Gaddesden Brass Band 6
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 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 in which Sam Oakins, aged about 20, is shown fourth from left in the middle row. His brother Steve, aged about 23, is on the left hand end of the front 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; 6. Harry Wells (father of William Wells); 7. Walter Holland; 8. Herbert Fenn.
- Front Row, L to R: 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.
Samuel George Oakins married Ethel Emily Lee in Hitchin in 1910
In the 1911 Census, Sam and Ethel were living at 36 Little Gaddesden with Sam’s parents.
Their first son, Pelham Marcus John Oakins, was born on 15th March 1912 and baptised in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 7th April that year, by which time Sam and Ethel had moved to Studham.
By the time their daughter Violet Emma Oakins was born on 8th April 1915, the family had returned to 36 Little Gaddesden and Sam was again recorded as a Painter. Violet was baptised on 6th June 1915.
Sam enlisted in Berkhamsted. He served in the Royal Engineers, whose cap badge is visible in this family photograph.
His CWGC Casualty Record gives his unit as Depot, Royal Engineers, noting that he had transferred (with sevice no. 421646) to 20th Company, Labour Corps at the time of his death. His Labour Corps Medal and Award Roll Entry notes previous service (no. 57825) in the Northumberland Fusiliers. The dates of his service in these different units are not known.
Death, and the Birth of his Third Child 10
On 11th November 1917, Sam was killed in action at Ypres aged 34.
11 days later on 22nd November 1917, Sam’s second son was born and named after his father: Samuel George Oakins.
Burial in Belgium 10
Sam is buried in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. His CWGC entry is https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/99445/oakins,-samuel-george/.
The original, temporary grave marker read:
In Memory Of
421646 Spr Oakins S.G.
20th Coy. Lab. Corps
to which the words
have been added.
The inscription within the vertical scroll is:
Killed In Action 11/11/17
The Reservoir Cemetery is visible in this aerial photograph of Ypres that was probably taken in 1918 (maybe late in the year, after the armistice).
The cemetery, which had been in use since 1915, is in the upper right. Samuel Oakins is buried in the furthest left row, just to the right of the angled wall.
After the war the temporary grave marker was replaced with a CWGC headstone:
Sam’s CWGC headstone (Grave reference I. I. 20) shows the badge of the Royal Engineers beneath which is the inscription:
S. G. Oakins
11th November 1917 Age 34
Beneath the cross on the headstone are the words
In Ever Loving Memory
In The Midst Of Life
We Are In Death
Once the CWGC headstones had been put up for the men, their original, wooden grave markers were returned home to the families. In Sam’s case, the wooden marker was placed on his parents’ grave, on the headstone of which he is commemorated. The marker remained on his family’s grave until it decayed.
A Tribute from the Rector of Little Gaddesden 12
Sam is mentioned in a 1917 extract from the Little Gaddesden Parish Diary written by the Rector, the Revd. Edward Clark. “The Rolls of Honour, both that of the men serving and that of those who had laid down their lives while serving, lengthened steadily. Among the latter none were more genuinely or widely mourned than Sam Oakins – who with his brother Stephen had for many years assisted his father in his work as Sexton – a good fellow in every way and everybody’s friend.”
Three Cousins Killed in 1917
When Sam was killed on 11th November, two of his cousins had already fallen that year. On 31st July 1917, the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, Private George Hoar and Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman, both serving with the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment, had been killed near St Julien (Sint-Juliaan on today’s maps). Both are commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
We will remember them 11
Samuel Oakins 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 older brother Stephen Oakins, who survived the war, his uncle Joseph Whitman and his first cousins Donald W Goodman, Edward Hoar, George Hoar, Richard Hoar, Arthur Whitman, Francis Whitman and James Whitman.
As noted above, Samuel Oakins is also commemorated on his parents’ grave in the old churchyard, NW of the tower.
The inscription reads:
In loving memory of
Emma, the beloved wife of
who fell asleep Decr 23rd 1913
In the midst of life we are in death
of whom shall we seek for succour,
but of thee, O Lord
also in loving memory of
John Thomas Oakins who died July 10th 1925
His end was peace
also in loving memory of
Samuel George Oakins
son of the above
killed in action at Ypres Novr 11th 1917
Peace, perfect peace
Sam Oakins was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
4. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906
6. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903
8. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
12. The Little Gaddesden Parish Diary 1877 – 1918
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson