Rifleman Horace Frederick Cooke and Rifleman William John Hextall, both died on 8th August 1916 whilst serving with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Both are buried in Essex Farm Cemetery and neither is commemorated locally as far as we know, as they had both moved out of the area before enlisting.
Horace Frederick Cooke was born in Selly Park in 1886 and was living in Northfield by 1891 and at “Stockwood”, Birmingham Road, Solilhull by 1901. His father, William Henry, was a clock dial manufacturer. Horace was the second of two children. His older brother, also William, followed their father into the family business.
By 1911, Horace had been married to Gertrude Rebecca for two years, and they had set up home in Northfield, where he was working as a thimble manufacturer. They had an eight-month-old daughter, Marjorie Gertrude.
Horace joined the Army on 5th March 1916 and was killed just over five months later. He was mentioned in Solihull Parish Magazine, November 1916 as having been killed, and his name is included in the list of the fallen that was published in the magazine in December 1917, but his details weren’t included on the Solihull war memorial.
Soldiers Died in the Great War lists William Hextall as living in Olton at the time of enlistment, although he was born in East Cowes, Isle of Wight in 1888. His father, Samuel John Hextall, died there in 1890, leaving his widow, Sarah (née Breedon), with a toddler and a newborn baby. The couple had married in Warwick in 1887.
Aged 12, William and his 11-year-old sister, Florence, were living in Hatton, Warwickshire at the time of the 1901 census, boarding with widowed Frances Cope, whilst their widowed mother, Sarah Hextall, worked as a night nurse at Warwickshire County Lunatic Asylum, Hatton. Ten years later, Sarah was still at Hatton, although she is recorded as the Head Night Attendant.
By 1911, William was boarding in Leicester and was working as a house painter. He gave his place of birth as Hatton, rather than the Isle of Wight, which is perhaps not surprising as he had grown up in the area from a very young child. It’s not known when he moved to Olton, or where he lived. The fact that he is not recorded on Olton’s war memorial may indicate he wasn’t there for very long. The Commonwealth War Graves Debt of Honour Register notes that his mother was resident in Acocks Green in the 1920s.
If you have any more information about either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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