Rifleman Stephen James Oakins, 30751 Bedfordshire Regiment; 72110 29th Bn. Middlesex Regiment; 55509 Royal Fusiliers; 51906 Highland Light Infantry; S/37439 London Regiment att. R.E. Postal Section
Born on 20th February 1880 in Dagnall
Died on 12th October 1957 in Little Gaddesden
Stephen James (Steve) Oakins was born in Dagnall, Buckinghamshire, the seventh of the 11 children of John Thomas Oakins and Emma née Whitman. He was baptised at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Edlesborough on 17th March 1880.
His siblings were:
- William, who died aged three, born in 1867
- John, born in 1868
- Eliza Ann, born in 1870
- Rosa Mary, born in 1872
- Hubert William, born in 1874
- Ruth, born in 1876
- Emmie Caroline, born in 1882
- Samuel George Oakins, born 2nd October 1883
- Elizabeth, who died aged eleven, born in 1886
- Edith Lilian, born in 1889
By 3rd April 1881, the family had moved to Little Gaddesden. The address in the Census is just recorded as “Village”. However, the position of the entry indicates that they lived in the “Town Houses”, 1 – 4 Little Gaddesden. Steve’s father was a Domestic Coachman and his 12 year old brother John an Agricultural Labourer. Eliza, 10, Rose, 8, Hubert, 6 and Ruth, 4 were at school.
Stephen James Oakins started at Little Gaddesden School on 24th April 1883 as an infant, only three years old.
On 21st April 1890, Stephen Oakins received his Certificate of Proficiency at Little Gaddesden School. Although he was only 10 years old, this enabled him to leave school and go to work. On 5th May, the Log Book records:
For more than a month the following boys have had regular employment on the Home Farm and it is more than likely that this will be continued for an indefinite time as the summer advances. Such being the case, their names will be removed from the Registers.
11 boys are then named, including Stephen Oakins and Arthur Fowler, who had also obtained his Certificate of Proficiency.
However, the farm work must have ceased during the winter, as Stephen Oakins was re-admitted to school on 10th December 1890. He went to work again on 11th February 1891 but is listed as a Scholar in the Census of 2nd April.
The 1891 Census shows the family living at 1 Little Gaddesden. Steve’s father John Thomas was a Domestic Gardener; he was also Sexton of the Parish Church. John, Emma and seven of their children were at home then, which must have been very cramped. John (Jnr) aged 22 was an Agricultural Labourer and Eliza, 20 a Domestic Housemaid. Stephen, 11, Emmie, 9, Samuel Oakins 7 and Elizabeth, 5 were all at school; Edith was aged 1.
According to his son John’s account in ‘A Century Remembered’ Steve worked as a Telegraph Boy when he left school.
However, the 1901 Census, which shows 21 year old Steve living with his parents at 36 Little Gaddesden, then records him and his father both working as Domestic Gardeners. 17 year old Sam Oakins was a Painter while 11 year old Lilian was still at school.
Then, from April 1902, Steve worked as a Postman. His son John’s account adds:
He was one of the few in the village who did not work on the estate. The mail came up to the village by pony cart. A postman, Johnny Garrett, who lived in a cottage in the castle grounds at Berkhamsted, delivered in the village on foot while my father walked by footpath to Dagnall and delivered there and came back via Wards Hurst Farm, a round trip of seven miles. Then for the evening collection he cycled to Dagnall and collected from the box and the Post Office and then collected from the box at Ringshall, blowing a whistle to let the inhabitants know that the box was being cleared, and on many occasions someone coming out called “Hang on a minute, Steve!” For the use of his cycle he was paid 3d a week.
On 17th April 1901 Private Stephen Oakins enrolled in the muster roll of the “C” Company, 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion, Bedford Corps. On 1st November that year, he received his Certificate of Efficiency, which stated that:
he has fulfilled the requirements and possesses the qualifications stated in the form of certificate applicable in his case, under the Order in Council (see Volunteer Regulations) for the 35/- (shillings) grant as an efficient Volunteer.
His First World War Attestation Paper shows that he served in the Volunteers for 1 year.
The Little Gaddesden Brass Band 10
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 Stephen Oakins, aged about 23, is shown on the left hand end of the front row. His brother Samuel Oakins, aged about 20, is 4th from left in the middle 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.
On 10th September 1907 Stephen James Oakins aged 27 married Frances Sadd aged 24 at St Andrew’s Church, Hingham, Norfolk. Stephen was a Postman of Little Gaddesden and son of John Thomas Oakins, Watchman. Frances, of Hingham, was the daughter of James Sadd, Groom and Gardener. Samuel George Oakins signed as a witness.
Stephen and Frances’ first son, John James Oakins, was born on 13th April 1910 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 5th June 1910. By then the family lived at 26 Ringshall, where they are also shown in the 1911 Census.
Their daughter Rose was born on 12th July 1913 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 5th October 1913.
On 8th December 1915, Stephen James Oakins, a Postman aged 35 years 10 months, attested at Berkhamsted to serve for the duration of the War. He was 5 feet 10½ inches tall, weighed 130 pounds and had a 35 inch chest. By then he and his family lived at 11 Little Gaddesden.
Stephen’s “Burnt Documents” Service Record is very badly damaged and not all pages are complete but he must initially have been posted to the Reserve. He was then appointed to the Bedfordshire Regiment, mobilised and, on 6th July 1916, posted to the Depot. He served as a Private, Service Number 30751.
However, Stephen’s fitness category was recorded as Cii, indicating that he was suitable for Labour Service at Home. The part of the page giving the reason for this assessment is missing, but his record shows that he had poor physique and had problems with his teeth and eyes. As a result of this, he was transferred to the 29th (Works) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment in which he served as a Private, Service number 72110, from 1st November 1916 to 30th March 1917. The Battalion was possibly based in West Sussex at that time. On 31st March 1917, Stephen was transferred again, this time to the Royal Fusiliers, Depot Labour Company, in which he served as a Private, Service Number 55509, until 8th May 1917.
The Highland Light Infantry 9
However, on 9th May 1917, Stephen was transferred yet again, this time to the 2/7th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, in which he served until 16th July 1917. That was followed by service in the 2/9th Battalion, where he remained until 10th February 1918. He served as a Private, Service Number 51906. A Medical Board on 13th November 1917 assessed his fitness category as Bii – suitable for Labour Service abroad. However, he remained in the UK and, according to his Service Record, saw an eye specialist and was supplied with glasses.
Brother Sam Killed in Action 15
On 11th November 1917, Stephen’s younger brother, Sapper Samuel George Oakins, Royal Engineers, was killed in action at Ypres, aged 34. He is buried in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. His death followed that of their first cousins Private George Hoar and Lance Serjeant Arthur Whitman, who both served in the Hertfordshire Regiment and were both killed near St Julien on 31st July 1917.
Further Transfers and Service Overseas 9
Between 11th February 1918 and 8th November 1918, Stephen served as a Private then a Rifleman, Service Number S/37439, in the London Regiment, 8th City of London (Post Office) Rifles.
Then, on 9th November 1918, two days before the Armistice, Rifleman Stephen Oakins, S/37439, 8th Battalion London Regiment was attached to the Royal Engineers Postal Section and embarked for Salonika, where he served until July 1919. As a member of the Royal Engineers Postal Section, his role would have involved the sorting, delivery and collection of mail to and from the troops.
One page of Stephen’s Service Record contains contradictory information. The stamp ‘Transferred to Class “Z” Army Reserve on Demobilisation’ gives a very faint date of 28th August 1919. However, below that, is an entry indicating Home Service between 13th July 1919 and 31st March 1920, which is included in the calculation of his total period of service: 4 years and 114 days from 8th December 1915. Stephen’s Military History Sheet states that he was part of the 1919 Russian Expeditionary Force and his Statement of Service adds the start date for that: 30th June 1919. However, it seems that, while the plan was for him to join the Russian force, he actually returned to the UK from Salonika. For his War Service, Stephen was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
A Letter of Thanks 17
The men of the Salonika Force received a typed letter, signed by Major General Hall, conveying the thanks of the Commander in Chief for their service and noting:
Although conditions in Macedonia have been particularly hard on account of the severity of the climate, the prevalence of malaria and the difficulty of arranging for regular leave, you have the satisfaction of knowing that the Force in which you served was the one which, by its victory over Bulgaria, struck the blow which first began the break-up of the enemy nations allied against us.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
Stephen Oakins 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, he is listed serving in the Army Service Corps. However, while that may have been his intended Corps when he attested, his actual service was in other units. On the Centenary Revision of the Roll he is shown in the unit with which he served overseas: the 8th Battalion, London Regiment attached to the Royal Engineers Postal Section. Also listed on the Rolls are his brother Samuel Oakins, R.I.P., his uncle Joseph Whitman and seven of his first cousins, all grandchildren of James and Eliza Whitman. They are: Donald W Goodman, Edward Hoar, George Hoar R.I.P., Richard Hoar, Arthur Whitman R.I.P., Francis Whitman and James Whitman.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
On demobilisation, Stephen returned to 11 Little Gaddesden and resumed his work as a Postman. His son John’s account notes that:
Father did the Dagnall round for 29 years and then the round was taken over by motorcycle and sidecar and he was transferred to Berkhamsted. The parishioners of Dagnall presented him with a clock for his services.
Stephen and Frances’ third child, Stephen, was born on 21st July 1920 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 19th September 1920.
The Old Comrades Association and the Royal British Legion 19
The Little Gaddesden Branch of the Royal British Legion developed from the Old Comrades’ Association, formed after the First World War. A committee of Steve Oakins, William Johnson and Joe Hing began the work which led to the formation of the Little Gaddesden Branch which was established in 1923 and was only the seventh branch in the country. Steve then remained a member of the Royal British Legion for many years.
Buying No 11 Little Gaddesden 6
Steve’s son John’s account in ‘A Century Remembered’ states that:
In 1928 the estate was sold in lots and the cottagers were given the chance to buy their own home. My father, never having earned more than £3 a week, managed to buy no 11, the house we lived in, and no 10, the one next door occupied by Joseph Buggey who didn’t want to buy. The pair of houses cost £240.
The 1939 Register 3
The 1939 Register shows Steve and Frances living at 11 Little Gaddesden with their younger son, Stephen. Steve was still working as a Postman and was also an Assistant A.R.P. Warden. Frances had “Unpaid Domestic Duties” and Stephen (Jnr) was a Carpenter. Steve and Frances’ older son, John, lived next door at No 10 with his wife and young daughter.
77 year old Stephen James Oakins of 11 Little Gaddesden died on 12th October 1957. His funeral took place at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 16th October and he was buried in the old churchyard. His widow Frances lived at 11 Little Gaddesden until her death on 1st November 1973. She was then buried with Stephen.
The account of Stephen’s funeral, believed to be from the local “Gazette” of the week of 21st October, included the following comment from the Rector, the Revd. C.H. Paterson:
Perhaps as one who knew him well and greatly respected him, I might be allowed briefly to supplement your obituary notice of the late Mr Stephen Oakins.
A staunch churchman, he was for many years warden of Little Gaddesden Parish Church, which he served with love and devotion and where he will be greatly missed. His simple piety and hearty humour will long be remembered, and it is fitting that his body should rest in our beautiful churchyard.
5. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1872 – 1886 and 1887 – 1906
6. Leonhardt, John (ed), 2002, A Century Remembered – a celebration of the Millennium in Little Gaddesden, Rural Heritage Society of Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Ashridge
8. Certificate of Efficiency as a Volunteer
9. https://www.findmypast.co.uk British Army Service Records. The ‘burnt documents’ were First World War documents that survived a fire in a War Office store caused by an incendiary bomb in September 1940. Charred and water-damaged, they were unfit for consultation until microfilmed in a large programme started in 1996. See https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14567.
10. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903
12. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
17. Letter of Thanks to Salonika Force member 37459 Rifleman S.J. Oakins, 8th City of London Regiment
19. Senar, H (1983), Little Gaddesden and Ashridge, Phillimore & Co. Ltd.
21. Little Gaddesden Burial Register
23. Obituary and Funeral Report for Stephen Oakins, believed to be from The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, week of 21st October 1957
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson