Private Joseph Lenten Austin, a regular soldier who had served through the Boer War 1899-1902, died on 6th October 1914 whilst serving with the 3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and lived in Tanworth-in-Arden.
He appears on the 1881 census, aged four, living with his parents, Joseph and Ursula, at the Cross Keys public house, Ely Street, Stratford, although his middle name appears to have been written down as Denton, rather than Lenton (or Lenten). His father, Joseph, is listed as the inn keeper. By 1891, the family had moved to Haselor, with Joseph (senior) now working as a gamekeeper, and 14-year-old-Joseph (junior) listed as gamekeeper’s assistant.
Joseph’s service record shows that he joined the Army on 20th May 1898, enlisting at Worcester, and serving for a term of 12 years. At the time of enlistment, aged 19 years and 10 months, he gave his trade as a butcher, and said he was already serving in the militia. The attestation papers were obviously badly damaged by enemy bombing in 1940, so several parts of pages are missing. The page that normally contains physical details about height, weight etc. is not intact, and all that can be determined is that Joseph had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. His religion was listed as Church of England.
He does not appear to be recorded on the 1901 census, presumably because he was serving in South Africa at the time. On the expiration of his 12-year service in 1910, Joseph immediately re-engaged for “such further period as would make up 21 years continuous service”. He gave his next-of-kin as Joseph Austin, Aspley Heath, Hockley Heath, Birmingham. The 1911 census shows him in India, serving with the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment.
It seems that he wasn’t always a diligent writer of letters home. Amongst his service record is a letter from his father and brother, saying that Joseph had been drafted out to Malta from Ireland, since when they had only received one letter from him, although several had been sent to him with no reply, and his mother, brother, sisters and father were “anxious to know if he is still alive and with the army”. The letter is badly damaged and no date is discernible, although what appears to be a response suggests that it was from October 1912. This presumably refers to the fact that his original term of service expired in 1910 and explains the family’s understandable confusion as to whether he had, in fact, left the Army at that point.
He is commemorated locally on the Tanworth-in-Arden war memorial, as well as at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre memorial in France, also known as the memorial to the missing at Marne. He was also listed in the Order of Service for a memorial service held at St Patrick’s Church, Salter Street on 3rd September 1916, although this gives his date of death as 1915. The confusion presumably relates to the delay between his going missing and being declared dead.
Joseph’s service record includes a fragment of a letter from his father to the War Office, dated 2nd November 1914, expressing regret at the news that his son was missing and the he hoped “it is no worse and that he will be able to return to the line”. A form dated December 1915 says that the report of the death of Pte Austin has been accepted as sufficent evidence for official purposes and has been assumed to be October 1914. The next-of-kin should be notified accordingly, and the usual papers prepared if not already done.
Also included in the service record is an acknowledgment from his father of the receipt of Joseph’s 1914 Star medal. Dated June 1919, Joseph (senior) added to the form his thanks and said “his mother and I receive as a great honour”. A clasp was sent in April 1921, and the British War Medal and Victory Medal were sent in July 1921, with receipt acknowledged by Joseph’s brother, Charles, on behalf of their mother.
In 1919, the next-of-kin details were listed as: father, Joseph Austin, Aspley Heath, Hockley Heath, nr. Birmingham; Mother Ursula Austin; Sisters: Elizabeth Fox (45), Emily Summers (38), Ursula Kitchings (36) and Alice Austin (31); Brother Charles Austin (27), no. 31561, C Flight, 31 Squadron, RAF Risalpur, North West Frontier, India.
If you have any more information on Joseph Austin, or a photograph, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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