Two local men lost their lives on 1st June 1916. Private Harold Hackett, aged 25, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and Stoker 1st Class Charles Simmons, aged 21, serving aboard H.M.S. Tipperary.
Harold Hackett was born in 1891, the seventh son and eighth of the ten known children born to harness maker, William Hackett, and his wife, Caroline. The couple had married in William’s home town of Walsall in 1875, where they lived until about 1880. They then moved with their two sons (Benjamin Thomas and Arthur William) to Caroline’s home town of Birmingham, where they went on to have eight more children. One of the younger children, Christopher, died aged two in 1891.
The youngest child, Rose May, seems to have been born shortly before Caroline died in late 1897/ early 1898. Within a year, Caroline’s widowed husband had also died, leaving their nine surviving children orphaned. The eldest five – Benjamin, Arthur, Alfred James, John Henry and Carrie – were old enough to earn their own living. The youngest, four-year-old Rose, appears to be with her aunt and uncle in Walsall. The remaining three children, aged 8-14, were in institutions.
Harold and his older brother William went to Marston Green Cottage Homes where they appear as inmates on the 1901 census, aged 11 and 14 respectively. Their eight-year-old sister, Dora, was an inmate in Sir Josiah Mason’s Orphanage in Erdington, Birmingham.
Five of the six surviving boys are known to have served in the Armed Forces, and two of them died in the First World War.
- Arthur William Hackett, a brass caster by trade, enlisted in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 21st June 1898, when he was aged 18 years, ten months. During his eight years with the colours, he saw service in Malta and in the Boer War, as well as Bermuda, Gibraltar and a return to South Africa, before being transferred to the Army Reserve in 1906. He was discharged in June 1914 on termination of his period of engagement.
- John Henry Hackett, known as Jack, was born on 24th September 1883 and was a mill hand by trade. He joined the Royal Navy on 15th August 1899 as a Boy 2nd Class. He served on many ships, and rose to the rank of 2nd Yeoman of Signals by 31st December 1907, when he was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve. He was mobilised on 13th July 1914, serving on H.M.S. Good Hope, a ship on which he had previously served in 1905. Good Hope was sunk by German gunfire off Coronel, on the Chilean coast, on 1st November 1914. All those on board died.
- Alfred James Hackett, enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regiment in October 1902, aged 21 years and three months. He served in South Africa and India and then went to France on 12th August 1914 until 9th Sept 1914. He was later transferred to the Army Service Corps, Woolwich. His service record notes the receipt of a Princess Mary’s Gift Fund box at Christmas 1914. With his service due to expire on 13th October 1914, Alfred re-engaged in April 1914 for a further four years. His discharge in 1919 notes that he was “thoroughly sober and reliable”.
- William Hackett was reported as being a Quartermaster aboard H.M.S. Nankin (see Birmingham Gazette article below)
- Harold Hackett had enlisted in the British Army by 1911 as the census shows him with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield. All of his siblings, bar one, were now old enough to have left institutional care (the youngest child, 14-year-old Rose, was an inmate at Aston Union Workhouse in Erdington in 1911). Harold first entered a Theatre of War on 4th October 1914. He died at Kempston Hospital, Eastbourne as a result of wounds received at Loos, and was buried with military honours at Yardley Cemetery, with a firing party of Royal Engineers from Great Brook Street. A report appeared in the local paper, also mentioning his brothers:
Birmingham Gazette 21 June 1916
BIRMINGHAM AND MIDLAND HEROES
Private Harold Hackett, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died of wounds received at Loos, and was buried with military honours at Yardley. A brother, Seaman Jack Hackett, went down in the Good Hope, while three other brothers are Quartermaster William Hackett, on H.M.S. Nankin; Private A. J. Hackett, 2nd South Staffords, and Mr Arthur W. Hackett, who saw 16 years’ service with the 3rd Warwicks, and went through the Boer War. The latter’s home is at 21 Whitehall-road, Bordesley Green, from which address Private Harold Hackett’s funeral took place.
Harold Hackett is commemorated locally on the Marston Green Cottage Homes war memorial.
Charles Simmons, known as Charley, was born in Berkswell on 30th November 1894, and was the youngest of the 14 children born to parents George (a farm labourer) and Mary (née Tandy). He was baptised at Berkswell parish church on 24th February 1895.
Parents George and Mary had already lost two sons and a daughter before Charley was killed in 1916. Their son, Benjamin, died in 1907, aged 21, and his older brother, Harry, was killed in action in France in October 1914. Their daughter, Louisa, died in 1913, aged 35. Two years earlier, she was listed as an inmate of Meriden Union Workhouse, and described as a “lunatic”.
In 1911, Charley was recorded as a farm labourer, working as a servant to Joseph Chattaway on Blyth Farm, Barston. By the time he enlisted in the Royal Navy on 26th September 1913, he was described on his short service attestation record as a former bricklayer’s labourer. He signed up for a term of five years’ active service, followed by seven years in the reserves. Sadly, he was killed less than three years later, when his ship, H.M.S. Tipperary, only launched in March 1915, was sunk in the night action at the Battle of Jutland as she pressed home determined torpedo attacks on the German main battle line. Charley Simmons was one of the 185 hands lost out of a crew of 197.
He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, as well as locally at Berkswell.
If you have any further information on either of the local men who died on this day, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977