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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.’