Samuel Oakins

177585 Sapper Samuel George Oakins, Royal Engineers,
transferred to
(421646) 20th Company, Labour Corps

Born 2nd October 1883 in Little Gaddesden
Killed in Action 11
th November 1917 at Ypres, Belgium

Family and Home 1, 2, 3

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

Education 4

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.

Employment 3, 5

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.

Photo of Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902-1903
Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

Others in the Band with links to the Roll of Honour are:

Marriage and Children 5, 7, 8

Samuel George Oakins married Ethel Emily Lee in Hitchin in 1910

Photo of Ethel & Sam Oakins' Wedding (1910)
Sam and Ethel’s Wedding, 1910. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

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.

Photo of Sam and Ethel with Pelham
Sam, Ethel and Pelham. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

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.

Military Service 9, 10, 11

Sam enlisted in Berkhamsted. He served in the Royal Engineers, whose cap badge is visible in this family photograph.

Photo of Sapper Oakins
Sapper Sam Oakins, Royal Engineers. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

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,-samuel-george/.

Photo of Sam's Grave Marker Ypres Reservoir Cem
The original grave marker for Samuel Oakins’ grave in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

The original, temporary grave marker read:

In Memory Of
421646 Spr Oakins S.G.
20th Coy. Lab. Corps

to which the words

Royal Engineers

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).

Aerial photo of Ypres (1918)
Ypres – Reservoir Cemetery (upper right), the prison and Minneplein, probably taken in late 1918. Click or tap for larger image. Credit: Greg’s War Collection.

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:

Photo of Sam Oakins' grave in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery
Sam Oakins’ grave in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Photo courtesy of David Heard.

Sam’s CWGC headstone (Grave reference I. I. 20) shows the badge of the Royal Engineers beneath which is the inscription:

177585 Sapper
S. G. Oakins
Royal Engineers
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.

Photo of Oakins family grave, ca. 1925
Oakins’ family grave in ca. 1925, with Sam Oakins’ wooded grave marker from Ypres. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

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.

Photo of Sam Oakins' family's grave in Little Gaddesden Churchyard
Sam Oakins’ family’s grave in Little Gaddesden Churchyard in 2017, after over 90 years of weathering.

The inscription reads:

In loving memory of
Emma, the beloved wife of
John Oakins
who fell asleep Decr 23rd 1913
aged 65
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
aged 80
His end was peace
also in loving memory of
Samuel George Oakins
son of the above
killed in action at Ypres Novr 11th 1917
aged 34
Peace, perfect peace

Sam Oakins was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.


1. England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcription

2. 1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcription

3. 1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcription

4. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906

5.  1911 Census for England & Wales

6. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903

7. England & Wales marriages 1837-2005 Transcription

8. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947

9. Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919


11. UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920

12. The Little Gaddesden Parish Diary 1877 – 1918

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