Family Who Lost Four Sons

Edward Brackstone, from Parkstone, saw six of his sons join up to fight for their King and Country in the First World War.

Only two came home.

Edward and Mary Ann Brackstone and family circa 1899

Edward and Mary Ann Brackstone and family circa 1899

The last of the four brothers to die was Herbert Henry, the baby of the family. He survived beyond the Armistice but, while still in France, he succumbed to the Spanish flu that swept across the world, claiming millions of lives.

Herbert Henry Brackstone, 1899-1919, died in France

Herbert Henry Brackstone, 1899-1919, died in France

Herbert went into the military field hospital at Etaples, near Boulogne in January 1919. He was seriously ill but, a month later, news filtered back that he had improved and was no longer on the critical list.

Tragically, by April has condition had deteriorated so badly that a telegram was sent to the Infantry records office in Shrewsbury who alerted Edward and his wife Florence at Vale Cottage at 78 Albert Road.

It said: ‘Regret to inform you 53747 Private H Brackstone Cheshire Regiment reported dangerously ill from Broncho-pneumonia and Empyema at 7th Canadian General Hospital Etaples France. Regret permission to visit him cannot be granted.’

Edward was distraught at being refused permission to go to see his dying son. He went to see Alderman F.C. Julyan of the Poole Local Pensions Committee, begging him to do what he could to allow him to see Herbert one last time before it was too late.

Urgently, Alderman Julyan wrote to the Records Office pleading with them to allow Edward Brackstone to be given permission to go to France.

‘This man has lost three sons killed in the war – out of five or so who joined up and this refusal has hurt him very much. He is only a working man; one knows others have been assisted in going and why assistance in this case is withheld I cannot understand.’

He added that he would be writing, too, directly to the war office and the local MP, Captain. F.E. Guest.

Tragically, before the Army Records Office replied, Edward Brackstone received a second telegram. It was the fourth of its kind that had been delivered his door during the war.

It read: ‘Deeply regret to inform you your son 53747 Private H Brackstone Cheshire Regiment died 22 April 1919.’ It added: ‘I am to express the regret and sympathy of the Army Council [?] in your sad bereavement.’

The awaited reply from the Records Office arrived two days later.  It would have made no difference. It did not grant permission for Edward to visit his stricken son, stating that only the medical officer in charge at the hospital was authorised to do so.

Even before the war, Edward Brackstone’s life had been blighted by tragedy. Born in 1860 in London, he had married Somerset-born Mary Ann Tilley in 1880 at St Andrew’s Church in Poole. The couple would have 11 children. Although he worked as a potter or potter’s labourer, four years after the wedding he built the house in Albert Road where he lived with his family. It was number 78 and he called it Vale Cottage.  The family would go on to build several others in the neighbourhood, according to his great-granddaughter Mrs Pat Bryant, who has collated information about her past relatives.

Mrs Pat Bryant, granddaughter of Edwin Brackstone (2)

Mrs Pat Bryant, granddaughter of Edwin Brackstone

Herbert Henry was the last child to be born to Mary Ann. He came into the world early in 1899 and was baptised at Heatherlands on the 26 February of that year.

Just over a year later, on 31 March 1900, Mary Ann died. She had suffered from an antepartum haemorrhage (a gynaecological bleeding) and syncope (a temporary reduction in the blood flow to the brain.)

Edward, now widowed, was the father of 11 children, aged between 19 and one year. Their names were Mary Louise, Edwin, William, Caroline Lily, Robert, Edith, George, Charles, Frank Wilfred, Frederick Arthur and little Herbert. But just two months after Mary Ann had died, one of the little boys, George, passed away, too. He was seven and a half years old.

Edward Henry Brackstone who lost four sons

Edward Henry Brackstone who lost four sons

Grieving, Edward was left to cope with looking after so many children. But, happily, he found another partner. She was a widow called Florence Locke, nee Barnes, who was working as a laundress and living in nearby Jubilee Road. She had two children of her own, Ethel, born in 1888 and Robert Locke who was five years younger.

Two years after Mary’s passing, Edward and, Florence, married and lived together at 78 Albert Road. They had three children together, Dorothy, born in 1903, May (1904) and Sidney (1906).

As time went by, the children grew older and some went out to work. One of the boys became a butcher; another worked as a baker; a third as a laundry van boy. Herbert had been a dairyman and one of the girls got a job in a restaurant. Some of the grown-up children left home and got married.

Soon after the First World War began in August 1914, the first of the brothers volunteered to fight for King and Country. He was Charles, by then a butcher by trade, who had married Constance Amelia Faulkner just a few months before and they had had a baby daughter, Nora. He was called up to join the Royal Berkshires in June 1916 but was discharged less than a month later, probably due to poor eyesight. That did not stop him joining up with the newly-formed RAF some time afterwards where he served as a butcher.

A second brother, Edwin, a labourer, attested in December 1914. He had married Bessie Mesher several years before and the couple had two surviving children at the time. More would follow. Edward, Bessie and their family lived at ‘Sunnyside’ in New Road, Parkstone. He had spent six years previously with the Dorset Militia but, like his brother Charles, was also discharged as medically unfit. He, too, though, would later serve his country for a family photograph shows him in uniform.

Edwin Brackstone in uniform 2

Edwin Brackstone in uniform

Edwin and Charles survived the war. Herbert and the other three brothers to answer the call were not so lucky.

Frank Wilfred, who enlisted at Corfe Castle, and served with the Dorset Regiment, died on 17 July 1916 in Mesopotamia. He was buried in the Basra war cemetery in Iraq. Frank was about 20 years old.

His younger brother, Frederick Arthur was killed in action on 24 March 1918 at about the same age, according to the Forces War Records. He was a Private, initially with the Dorsets but subsequently with the Wiltshire Regiment. His death is commemorated at the memorial at Arras.

Frederick Brackstone, 1898-1918, killed in France

Frederick Brackstone, 1898-1918, killed in France

The fourth brother who died in the war was Robert William. A building labourer, he had married Poole-born Martha Pearce in 1909 and they had two young sons. They were living at a house called Heathfield in Cromwell Road, very close to the rest of the Brackstone family. Robert volunteered in December 1915 and was mobilised the following May, serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. That September he was sent to France and would go on to be promoted to Acting Lance Corporal before reverting to Private at his own request.

On 2 November 1918, just nine days before the Armistice, marking the end of the conflict, was signed, Private Robert Brackstone was killed in action. He had served for two years and 327 days.

His widow, Martha, and their two children would receive a weekly pension of 25/5 (£1.27 and worth about £37 today). The year after he died, the Army sent her Robert’s possessions. They consisted of photos, letters, two religious books, cards, a metal mirror, two photo cases, his watch, case and chain, a cross and a fountain pen. She acknowledged receipt and asked about his missing pocket knife and brushes.

Martha and the two boys, Robert and William, emigrated to Canada in 1920, soon after her husband’s Memorial Scroll and Plaque were sent to her at their Parkstone home. Brother Herbert’s was sent to his step-mum Florence, who, before he died, he had listed as his mother.

Mrs Pat Bryant, who, like her husband, Adrian, was born and bred in Poole, said her grandfather, Edwin, ‘never talked about the war.’

She did not even know, until a few years ago, that four of Edwin’s brothers had lost their lives in the First World War.

‘It must have been just terrible,’ said Mrs Bryant, who lives in Birds Hill Road, Poole. ‘You just think of all the suffering.’

‘My poor great grandfather. My heart goes out to him.’

Apart from the memorials in the war cemeteries abroad and the family photos Mrs Bryant treasures, the names of the four brothers who laid down their lives for their country are listed on a roll of honour in Poole.

They can be found on a memorial at St John’s Church at Heatherlands, Ashley Road, alongside the names of scores of other parishioners. They had all died in what was called ‘the war to end all wars.’

St John's Memorial e

St John’s Memorial

A War Memorial for Poole?

A common feature during, and after the First World War, was a desire to commemorate and remember those who had given their lives during the conflict. Poole was no different but what is remarkable is that the War Memorial in Poole Park was unveiled as late as 1927. A Culture Vulture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project provides a timeline up to the end of 1920 of the debate about a war memorial in Poole.

All agreed that there should be a memorial but there was no agreement over what form it should take. Opinions were clearly divided between those who believed that it should be of practical value and those in favour of a ‘traditional’ memorial. The dates are those of the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper in which the article or correspondence appeared with the aim of giving an idea of people’s opinions as expressed in the local newspaper. Not all references are included here.

  • 12 July 1917 A meeting of invited people was held in the Guildhall to discuss a War Memorial for Poole. A person commented that ‘before they did anything in the way of stonework they should see that proper provision was made for the wounded and the relatives of those who had fallen in the War’. The aim was to set up an Executive Committee to determine the best course of action.
  • 26 July 1917 Instead of a war memorial there should be Homes of Rest for Disabled Soldiers or Almshouses wrote a correspondent.
  • 26 July 1917 A correspondent wrote that ‘I hope the memorial will not take the form of statuary, which would be of no special interest to future generations’.
  • 2 August 1917 A correspondent wrote that almshouses would only benefit a few while public baths would be of use for many – often the only opportunity to have a bath was at the public baths.
  • 16 August 1917 A correspondent proposed a monument near the Wesleyan Church with a bell, similar to the Curfew Bell, that could be rung.
  • 23 August 1917 A request for names to be provided by those who had died in the war for a ‘War Heroes Memorial’ had largely been ignored. The report did wonder if people were aware of the project.
  • 30 August 1917 A Poole soldier serving with the Heavy Artillery Group wanted a workshop to be built for wounded soldiers.
  • 21 March 1918 The Sheriff to convene a public meeting about a war memorial. The Editorial of the newspaper expressed a hope that no soldier’s or sailor’s name would go ‘unrecorded’.
  • 11 April 1918 Suggestions included a bed endowed at Cornelia Hospital, almshouses, or a memorial with an ‘inscription of the names of the men of Poole who had given their lives’.
  • 18 April 1918 A correspondent suggested swimming baths, housing, reconstruction of Hamworthy Bridge, and a new museum. Another correspondent wanted a clock tower in Poole Park with the names of those who had died to be recorded on a plinth.

The end of the war saw no decision being made.

  • 20 February 1919 Poole War Memorial committee proposed that the memorial should be in two parts at a total cost of £10 000. Firstly, a 30ft tower should be built on Constitution Hill, with the names of those who had died recorded on stone tablets, and possible trophies from the war, such as captured German guns, and tearooms. The second was the purchase of two semi-detached houses in Seldown, ‘Forest Holme’ and ‘Belle Vue’, and to convert them into a convalescent home for soldiers.
  • 6 February 1919 In a Council meeting, an opinion was expressed that there should be a central memorial on Constitution Hill with another option being a monument at the old Toll Gate House in Longfleet.
  • 27 February 1919 A poorly-attended public meeting threw out the Poole War Memorial committee’s suggestions.
  • 6 March 1919 Concern was expressed that the convalescent homes could easily be condemned with a new Government Health Ministry being proposed and any money spent on them would be wasted. The tower idea was ‘useless’. Some wanted a Poole War Memorial Institute.
  • 20 March 1919 Poole War Memorial committee resigns after the response to its proposal for the tower on Constitution Hill and a convalescent home was unenthusiastically received.
  • 27 March 1919 A correspondent suggested that a fully equipped fire station would be a useful memorial for the town.
  • 27 March 1919 A public meeting was to be held to discuss the proposed extension to Cornelia Hospital as a memorial.
  • 3 April 1919 A correspondent considered a monument was a waste of money, the extension to the Hospital as not necessary, and wanted houses built for rent to returning soldiers.
  • 3 April 1919 The Cornelia Hospital Committee proposed an extension to the hospital and intended to raise £10 000 with 75% spent on the extension and 25% on a monument.
  • 10 April 1919 Opponents to the hospital extension believed that the State should pay for hospitals.
  • 17 April 1919 At a poorly-attended meeting it was proposed that an extension of Cornelia Hospital should be the town’s war memorial. 24 voted for the proposal and 10 were against.
  • 1 May 1919 East Dorset Guild of Workers was closed. The Guild had provided clothing and food packages to soldiers at the front, in hospital and POWs. Its remaining funds were distributed with the Poole Hospital War Memorial Fund receiving £700 and the Isolation Hospital £10. A comment was made by some that more money should have gone to the Isolation Hospital.
  • 15 May 1919 A soldier serving in Germany with the Royal Garrison Artillery wanted public baths.
  • 22 May 1919 Another committee was formed which hoped to work with the hospital extension committee, this time to create an educational Institute, with baths, for ex-soldiers.
  • 26 June 1919 A soldier serving with the army of occupation in Germany wrote that statues had no use. They wanted public baths because they would need one when they got home.
  • 26 June 1919 Funds should be raised to create a memorial by extending the Hospital and building an Institute with monies divided 75:25.
  • 17 July 1919 Some supported the idea that a fire engine should be purchased as a war memorial as the existing fire engine was not fit for purpose.
  • 10 June 1920 A branch of the League of Nations was formed in Poole at a packed meeting held in the Guildhall. A view was expressed by some that those who had died during the war would want, as a memorial, the unity of nations. The branch had around 500 members by August. The League of Nations came into being with the Treaty of Versailles and it was hoped that future wars could be avoided by nations working together. There is a suggestion that Poole was the first place in Dorset to have a branch.
War memorial Poole park.

War Memorial Poole Park from the Poole Museum collection

During August 1920, the local newspaper was once again discussing the lack of, and the need for, a memorial in Poole. The long editorial of 12 August expressed a hope that a decision would be made without delay and work begun soon. And yet again there was no consensus.

  • 19 August 1920 A cenotaph should be built at the junction of Mount Street (now part of Lagland Street) and High Street.
  • 19 August 1920 A correspondent believed that instead of a monument an Endowment fund for the Cornelia Hospital should be created with a simple plaque recording the reason. There was no free National Health Service until 1948 and everything had to be paid for – at the time there were concerns the hospital could struggle to survive.
  • 26 August 1920 Money should be given to the Mayor’s fund for a ‘Poole’ workshop at Enham Village Centre for disabled ex-servicemen. The fund had only raised £105. The correspondent believed that this was the best war memorial the town could have. Enham Village was created in 1919, with the support of King George V and Queen Mary, to provide training for disabled soldiers in trades such as upholstery and gardening. 150 men were in residence at the end of 1919. It provided the same care to injured soldiers during the Second World War.
  • 11 November 1920 The Cenotaph in London was unveiled by the King in a day of remembrance that included the interment of the ‘Unknown Warrior’ in Westminster Abbey.

From the timeline it is clear that people wanted a memorial but as to what form it should take was unclear. How unusual was Poole’s experience is not known. However, the local newspaper of 20 March 1919 reported on a meeting held in Dorchester into a war memorial for the town. Suggestions put forward included public baths, a convalescent home or rest home for soldiers and the meeting ended with no agreement. The debate in Poole was only resolved when Alderman H. Carter spoke in 1925 about the need for ‘a timeless tribute to all war dead’ which eventually led to the unveiling of Poole War Memorial in Poole Park on October 16 1927.

And the story is continued here on the Poole Museum Society Blog