Captain 27th Batt. Manchester Regiment (The Oldham Pals) attached to 16th Batt.

Of all the OBs so far commemorated, tracing John Hawkins’ background and life has proved to be most challenging.  I think he may have had a rather sad life.  In 1911 his parents, John Lane and Christine Hawkins, were living in Jersey, claiming to have been married for thirty years and having three children, all still living. Initially I could not confirm the birth registration of any of these children (but see below).  John was the sole child living with John and Christine in London on census day 1901.  His parents’ marriage is recorded as taking place in December 1914, about a month after the death of Emma Margaret Hawkins in Maidenhead.  In the 1911 census she had claimed to have been married for 46 years and had five children but the Registrar General drew a red line through the entry.  It would seem that although, as a wealthy stockbroker, John Lane Hawkins could have afforded a divorce, for the sake of his first wife’s reputation the fiction of the marriage was preserved.  The last census showing John and Emma together was the one taken in 1881.

Arriving in Steep in January 1901 (aged just 8 years old) John was one of the small boys who entered Bedales before the establishment of a separate Junior department in 1902.  I haven’t found any trace of his activities in the Bedales’ publications during the six years he remained in the school; he left at Easter 1907.  Presumably he completed his education elsewhere, perhaps in Jersey if his parents had already moved there.

The next solid fact about John’s life is his appointment as a second Lieutenant in the 4th battalion the King’s (Liverpool) regiment on 6th May 1910.  He served for almost two years, leaving in April 1912 “for personal reasons”.  He may have served abroad during this period as I have not been able to trace him on census day 1911.  Extraordinarily, almost immediately he seems to have volunteered for the Lincolnshire Regiment.  He declares his previous service in the Liverpool Regiment saying he had resigned his commission; the record is stamped May 1912.  John made no mention of this service when he volunteered for the Manchester Regiment in December 1914. Perhaps he did not follow through with his application.

Before volunteering for active service, on 21st November 1914 John Noel Hawkins married 21 year old Antonia Margaret Christie at Marylebone Register Office.  This provided a breakthrough: the transcript shows John Noel provided the surname Cutler alias Hawkins.  This allowed me to uncover the birth registration of a Dorothy Christine Cutler, probably his elder sister, in Kensington in 1882 and that of a Barbara Mary H Cutler in 1889 in the same place.

When John applied for a commission on 14th December 1914 he provided a letter of support from the Earl of Derby KG.  I haven’t been able to uncover his connection with the earl and unfortunately the letter didn’t find its way into his file at TNA.  He expressed a preference for the Oldham Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and it was granted.

On New Year’s Day 1915 the battalion moved to 36 wooden huts at Chadderton camp where they remained for over two months.  On 8th March they marched in formation through Oldham to the station, leaving for Llanfairfech and further training until May when they returned to England and were based in Grantham.  The final destination for training was Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain.  The Battalion had been renamed the 24th (Service) Battalion.  It is possible that by this time John had been transferred to the 16th Battalion because, if the records in Oldham are correct, he did not leave with the 24th for France on 8th November.

The Roll of the Oldham Pals records that Captain J N Hawkins arrived in France on 15th July 1916.  He had just 15 days left to live. The War Diary of the 16th Battalion records that they were in training on the 15th.  At 1.30pm on the 19th they marched out, stopping overnight and arriving in “Happy Valley” on the 20th.  Presumably it was there, readying himself for battle, that John wrote a brief will “I … hereby bequeath all I possess to my wife Antonia Margaret Hawkins.”  The next two days were spent in reorganising the battalion and in more training.  Captain J N Hawkins was put in command of C Company.  At 4.15pm on the 22nd they received orders to march to the Mansel Copse area where they bivouacked for the night.  On the 23rd they moved to the Assembly Trenches at Cambridge Copse where they had arrived by 11.30pm.  Between that day and the 29th July they were deployed in a number of different trenches.  By 3.30am on July 30th they were in position in the Assembly Trenches and were involved in conflict until ordered to withdraw at 5.00am on 31st July. The officer commanding finished his account by listing casualties: one officer killed and five wounded, all 2nd Lieutenants, (3 of whom died later of their wounds) and “missing Capt. J N Hawkins” and a 2nd Lieutenant. In his brief obituary Mr Badley wrote:“He is known to have been wounded while leading his Company in one of the attacks in the battle of the Somme.  The last seen of him was by a wounded Sergeant of his Company who heard him call to his Sergeant Major, ‘I am hit, but I’ll carry on’.  From that moment all trace of him was lost”.  Antonia was notified that he was missing in action, presumed killed and the Kew file contains some correspondence attempting to ratify the assumption of death which was finally accepted early in 1917.  The International Red Cross pursued enquiries about the fate of Capt. Hawkins and on 29th October 1917 a Sergeant from B Company interned in Germany confirmed that he had been killed.  Antonia Hawkins married a Canadian soldier Captain Charles Victor Grantham in December 1917 and after the war they returned to Canada. 

Sources: The Bedales Archives: TNA at Kew: ancestry.co.uk.  I am particularly indebted to Pat Etchells of The Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society for much information about the Oldham Pals.