Berkswell Rectory Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital

Berkswell Rectory was used as an Auxiliary Hospital during the First World War. These hospitals for wounded soldiers were administered by the British Red Cross Society, and were used as convalescence hospitals – a stepping stone between treatment at a general hospital and discharge home.

The Red Cross had set up Voluntary Aid Detachments (V.A.D.) in each county to provide supplementary aid to the Territorial Forces Medical Services in the event of war. Members came to be known as ‘V.A.D.s’ and were all trained in first aid and nursing.

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19th May 1915

Two local men died on 19th May 1915.  Herbert Samuel Wakelin died at home in Olton on 19th May 1915 and is buried at Yardley Cemetery in Birmingham.

Charles Samuel George, who had spent almost all his childhood as an inmate at Marston Green Cottage Homes, died of wounds in France, whilst serving as a Private with the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. He was the brother of Harry George, who had died of wounds on 31st October 1914.

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17th May 1915

Regular soldier Sydney Alfred Cockayne, from Catherine-de-Barnes, died of wounds on 17th May 1915 whilst serving as Acting Sergeant Major with the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

He was actually baptised as Alfred Sidney Cockayne, and appears as Alfred on the 1891 and 1901 censuses before being recorded as Sidney Cockayne in 1911. Presumably, preferring to be known by his middle name, he switched the order of his Christian names when he joined the Army. Certainly, all his Army records refer to him as S. A. Cockayne.

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13th May 1915

Trooper Percy Edgar Bowen is commemorated on the war memorial at Meriden, which was where he was working when he was called up for active service in 1914.

He was born in Hinckley in 1891, and apparently lived in Hinckley until at least 1911. He was a member of the Leicestershire Yeomanry and was called up for active service when war broke out. It’s known that he first entered a Theatre of War on 2nd November 1914. He died of wounds in Belgium on 13th May 1915 during the Battle of Frezenburg Ridge, the third of six engagements that made up the Second Battle of Ypres. Research by Hinckley Museum indicates that he was initially posted as missing before being declared presumed dead in May 1916.

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9th May 1915

Private William Henry Smitten of Knowle was killed on 9th May 1915, just one week after first arriving in France with the Royal Warwicks. On the same day, 25-year-old Lieutenant Thomas Edwin Turner of Solihull and London also died serving with the London Regiment (Kensington Battalion).

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8th May 1915

8th May 1915 saw the deaths of two men with a connection to places now in the Solihull Borough:

  • Private Harry Betts, 8th Battalion, Australian Infantry (previously of Castle Bromwich)
  • Major John Cecil Lancaster, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (member of the North Warwickshire Hunt)

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V. E. Day in Solihull, 1945

Tuesday 8th May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, saw much rejoicing as the fighting in Europe officially came to an end and some of the men held as prisoners of war started to return home. At 3pm on Monday 7th May Prime Minister Winston Churchill made the official announcement that the following two days would be public holidays. However, it’s clear from newspaper articles in the Warwick County News that people were very mindful that war with Japan was still ongoing. The newspaper summed up the local celebrations as:

“typical of others throughout the land where people had gathered together to give thanks that the nightmare of the last grey years was over, and, while remembering that men in far distant lands were still in danger of their lives, to enjoy the day that their individual effort had made particularly their own” (Warwick County News, 12th May 1945)

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