By Ed Perkins
There are two heroes in the story of Poole man William Harold Hammond. One was the shell-shocked soldier, rescued unconscious after being buried alive on the Western Front. The other was his wife, Lillie, who would nurse him till he died.
Longfleet St Mary’s churchyard with William Hammond’s grave in the foreground.
William Hammond was born in 1878 and brought up in Kingston upon Thames. The son of a cooper and his schoolmistress wife, he would stay in touch with his family and friends in the Surrey town for the rest of his life.
His father, Charles, would go on to become the manager of a brewery store and, when grown-up, William followed in his footsteps, moving to Poole to manage the Whitbread brewery store in the Dorset town.
It was while living in Poole, boarding at ‘Tivoli’, a young couple’s home in Parkstone Road, that he was to meet the woman who would become devoted to him.
Her name was Lillie Naomi Ince and she was born in 1881 in the City of London, her mother and father both being in the business of manufacturing umbrellas. Even as a child, Lillie would learn the hard facts of life, for her brother, Oliver, passed away when she was three and her father died when she was seven.
Lillie’s widowed mother moved to Winchester with her daughters and carried on making umbrellas for a living. Lillie grew up there and took a job working as a Post Office telegraphist.
By 1911, like her future husband, she had moved to Poole, boarding with a widow and her daughter in Wimborne Road and working as a clerk at the post office.
Lillie Ince and William Hammond met and fell in love and in that year of 1911, Lillie now 30, and William, 32, married.
The ceremony took place in London’s Hampstead where their marriage certificate shows she was then living, just around the corner from Swiss Cottage.
The newly-weds set up home in Poole in a semi-detached called The Creek in Sterte Esplanade, that had been built around 1906, just a few years before. In those days the Esplanade homes looked out directly over the waters of Holes Bay.
A Russian cannon, said to date back to the Crimean War, looking out over Holes Bay and positioned at Sterte Esplanade, where William and Lillie Hammond lived. Picture: Poole Museum
Within three years their family grew, for Lillie, on 18 March 1914, gave birth to their only child, a boy they named Harold Brooke Hammond. He was baptised in Parkstone that June.
William carried working as the brewery store manager and, when war broke out in 1914, became a member of what was to become the Dorset Volunteer Regiment. It was a defence unit for volunteers who trained at drill halls in Heckford Park and Weymouth Road, Parkstone, and who guarded the coast and strategic places at Sandbanks, Hamworthy and other sites across the county, freeing artillery soldiers to be sent to the Front.
Conscription, introduced in January 1916, however, meant that men up to the age of 40 were liable to be called up. In the June of that year, William now 38, married and the father of a boy of just two, enlisted.
His Army record shows that he stood at 5ft 5ins, weighed 9st 4lbs had a 36ins chest and was classed fit for general service, despite his vision in both eyes being 6/9.
It would be more than a year before William was called up for active service with the Royal Field Artillery in June 1917. He was given the rank of Driver and the regimental number 239666.
Driver Hammond was to spend the rest of that year serving in Britain, qualifying as an Army telephonist, before being posted to France two days after Christmas. He disembarked at Le Havre and then went on to the Western Front.
He was in the field in France for the next five or so months. Then, in April 1918, something happened.
‘As a dispatch rider in France he was buried by a shell explosion,’ a note on his medical record explains.
‘Unconscious for a fortnight.’
We know that after being dug out from the shell-hole he was taken to a field hospital, probably in Rouen, suffering from shell shock.
‘He was in ‘a highly-confused state,’ a medical report stated. ‘He talks incessantly. Says his wife must be given £500.’ He was delusional but with ‘no grandiose ideas’.
Tragically, the horrific experience would trigger the re-activation of a disease that he had probably contracted as a much younger man before he married. It had been latent, probably for many years. Common at the time, before the invention of penicillin its final stage would lead to madness and death.
Driver Hammond’s case was ‘aggravated’ by his service, the Army admitted.
He was posted back to Britain for treatment, first to the Army clearing hospital, the Royal Victoria at Netley, near Southampton, where he arrived on 25 May. His Army Pension record shows that he was suffering from ‘confusional insanity’,
Hammond stayed at Netley for a single day before being sent up to Perth in Scotland for treatment at Murthly Military Hospital. He would remain there under treatment for the next five months.
‘On admission he was very confused. Since then there has been a gradual advance of physical symptoms,’ the record reveals.
Eventually, the Army decided he was ‘permanently unfit for was service of any kind’, granted him a weekly pension of 27 shillings and sixpence (£1.38p – worth about £40 a week today) and discharged him.
Before his discharge, his medical report states that the origin of his disability had occurred on 29 April that year in France – around the time he was buried alive.
Diseased, deeply confused and now discharged from the Army, who would look after the shell-shock victim now?
On 25 October 1918, Lillie Hammond took him home.
‘His wife brought him home, hoping that home influences would improve his condition,’ a hand-written note from his Poole doctor, Dr George Smith Small, records.
There, while bringing up their little son alone, Lillie lovingly nursed him through the coming months, over Christmas and deep into the new year.
Poor William’s condition, though, was terminal. Lillie had tenderly nursed him single-handed for 137 days.
As his life neared its end, however, he was finally sectioned and taken off the County Asylum near Dorchester as a ‘person of unsound mind’. Harry Brooks, a Poole JP, signed the admittance form.
He based his judgement on a certificate provided by Dr Small who wrote: ‘He lies in bed with eyes staring, refusing to speak or take notice of anything, hands twitching; keeps muttering to himself.
‘I have had him under supervision since October 1918. He has had three attacks of an epilepsiform nature and, since the last attack, his moods are uncertain and he is difficult to control.’
William’s wife, Lillie, added other facts: ‘He says he is full of disease and in consequence requests to be moved to an isolation hospital. He refuses to shake hands for fear of spreading the disease.
‘When offered food he says: ‘’What is the use – I have no mouth’’.
‘Lately he has threatened to lose himself on the sandbank in front of house. At times he has been violent, attempting to get to window.’
His very brief time at the Dorset County Asylum was paid for by the Poole Union, whose Relieving Officer, Harrie [sic] E. Shave understood that William would be placed there ‘with other service men.’
He added in his letter to the hospital: ‘It is a very sad case as they are very respectable people indeed.’
We know from the Dorchester asylum hospital records that, by then, dark-haired William was thin and in poor physical condition. He was not speaking and in a ‘stupitose’ state. It was ‘very difficult to arouse his attention which then ‘wandered’ and was ‘evanescent’.
The evening of the day after his admission, he had a major seizure followed by several other attacks. The next day, semi-conscious, the fits became more frequent and severe and he turned blueish.
In the early hours of 14 March 1919, he grew weaker and died. He was 40 years old.
William Harold Hammond, despite his disease and confusion – his death certificate confirms that the cause of death was what known in those days as General Paralysis of the Insane – had evidently tried his best during his deteriorating condition not to be a nuisance to his caring wife.
She had taken him home that previous October, though ‘it was unwise of her to do so,’ according to Poole Union officer Mr Shave.
‘She has been a faithful nurse and has done everything possible for her husband,’ the local medical man, Dr Small, wrote in his report.
Lillie would remain in the Poole area for the rest of her life. By 1939, she had moved away from The Creek, the house where she had nursed her suffering husband The Creek and now lived in Sheringham Road in Branksome, where she lived with her sister Rhoda, a private nurse, and her son, Harold, now working as an estate agent’s clerk and also an auxiliary fire officer. Harold would later marry and work, for a time at least, as a commercial driver.
Sterte Esplanade today.
Lillie Naomi Hammond passed away in Redhill Park, Bournemouth, in 1963 at the age of 79. The shell-shock that triggered the condition that led to her husband, William’s death, had changed her life.
After his death she had received a widow’s pension from the Army and her late husband was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Silver Badge for his service on the Western Front.
His funeral service, on 20 March 1919, took place at St Mary’s, Longfleet, conducted by the vicar, the Rev Canon Okes Parish. The mourners included his brother Mr F. Hammond, his sister Mrs White, sister-in-law Miss Ince and two friends who came down from Kingston upon Thames where he had grown up.
They heard of how well-known William had been in Poole and the esteem in which he was held.
Poignantly, Lillie was unable to be at the funeral. She was unable to attend ‘through a sudden indisposition,’ the local paper, the Bournemouth Guardian reported.
‘The music included Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, which was the piece Mr Hammond had asked his wife to play shortly before his death.’
The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported that week that he ‘died following shell shock in France’.
William was buried in the churchyard outside. He was one of 80,000 men in the war to suffer from shell shock. For them, the trauma did not end when the guns ceased firing.
Today his grave is fittingly tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ensuring the soldier’s service for his country will not be forgotten.
The grave of Driver William Harold Hammond of the Royal Field Artillery.