A-Z of The Great War: A tale of two villages

Sgt Walter Jackson and his men in France.
Sgt Walter Jackson and his men in France.

In this week’s A-Z of the Great War we reach the letter K as GERRY LEES tells the story of some of the brave men from Nether Kellet and Over Kellet who saw action in the First World War.

The Kellet villages had totally contrasting experiences in the Great War.

Nether Kellet is one of only a dozen or so doubly thankful villages that got its people back from both wars, including 21 in the First.

In contrast, on the striking memorial in Over Kellet there are 10 names that didn’t survive.

The villages do, however, have something in common in regard to the Great War – remarkable stories.

Two Over Kellet soldiers were brothers Thomas and Ernest Edwards, the former being the first from the village to perish in the conflict in March, 1916.

Their family history is, to say the least, an unusual one.

Thomas was born in Paris and had eight siblings who started life in places as far apart as Scarborough, Ostend and New South Wales, before the family returned to Over Kellet.

The reason for this was that their parents were doing what they had done for many years, travelling the world as showmen.

In 1874, Agnes Edwards had given birth to Emily who later became ‘Millie the Mite’, wife of ‘General Mite’ the Midget, the pair becoming a world famous human circus exhibit.

At maturity she was three feet 10 inches tall and weighed under three stones.

Millie was reported as being born in Calamazo, Michigan, a long way from her real birthplace of Over Kellet.

Her brother Ernie Edwards, of normal height, was part of 8th Battalion of the Lancaster-based King’s Own regiment that attacked at the Battle of the Scarpe in April 1917.

He was wounded and taken to one of the hospitals at the huge Etaples military base near Boulogne. He died there on the 16th of that month.

Walter Jackson was born in Nether Kellet a week or so before Christmas 1885.

He was brought up by his grandparents and then by his great uncle Isaac after grandfather John sustained a bad injury at a local quarry.

Walter became a builder’s labourer and by 1911 was living in Jubilee Terrace, Nether Kellet, with his wife Florence and daughters Nancy and Nellie.

He joined the army at the outbreak of war in 1914 and spent much of the following two years in training, becoming a sniper instructor along the way.

The latter end of 1916 saw the need for fresh troops in France/Belgium and his battalion was sent to the conflict.

He clearly showed natural leadership qualities and became a sergeant in February, 1917. He fought in many place, such as Ypres, the Canal du Nord and Cambrai.

He consistently acted with bravery, leadership and intelligence, carrying out many daring patrols.

After the War, Walter returned to his job as a builder’s labourer and continued to live at Jubilee Terrace in Nether Kellet, where his wife Florence died in 1928.

He remarried nine years later, to Blanche Tyler from West Yorkshire, and hey continued to live at the terrace until Walter died in his bed on September 30, 1966.

He was buried next to Florence at Bolton-le-Sands and in 1993 Blanche was laid to rest with them.

Tom Townson, the seventh Over Kellet victim of the Great War was a joiner who had to cope with irregular sleep patterns. Tom was known to drop off at odd moments, but people who knew left him alone and he was fine when he awoke.

It could be argued that he shouldn’t have been admitted to any form of military service but he was, in January, 1916, and became a stretcher bearer.

He was wounded that year and recovered but was hit again and taken to Le Treport hospital near Dieppe. The family tradition is that his sister Mary, his senior by four years, was given permission to go to France to tend to him. But when she arrived in December, 1917, he had already passed away.

He is buried in Mont Huon cemetery with 1,840 British comrades.

*Gerard Lees is the author of ‘Thankful and not so Thankful – how the Great War changed three English villages forever’