Three local men died on 18th August 1916: Private James Samuel Hopkins (Worcester Regiment, attached to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment); Private Herbert John Massey (6th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment); and Private William Henry Bolton (6th Battalion, Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire) Regiment). All three were gardeners by trade, although James Samuel Hopkins had previously been a soldier in the militia and served in the Boer War.
James Samuel Hopkins was born in Acocks Green, Worcestershire on 20th January 1881. He was the third son of parents Thomas, a gardener, and Fanny.
On 3rd May 1899, aged 18 years and three months, he enlisted in the county militia, joining the Worcestershire Regiment for a period of six years. He gave his occupation as gardener, and his employer as Mr Beck, Olton, near Birmingham.
The two militia battalions initially became the 3rd and 4th Battalions, Worcestershire Regiment and it was from these that most of the Regular recruits (1st and 2nd Battalions) were drawn. In 1900, two more Regular battalions were raised so the county militia units became the 5th and 6th Battalions. James combined his militia duties with working as a gardener and, at the time of the 1901 census, was still living in Acocks Green, working as a general labourer whilst boarding with his brother, William, a bricklayer’s labourer, and his young family.
Private James Samuel Hopkins seems to have served with the 6th Battalion, which joined the British Army in South Africa in January 1902. He returned to England in October 1902 and was discharged from the militia as “time expired” in October 1902. He married Mary Ann Busby in 1909 and, in 1911, they were living in Sparkhill with their four-month-old son, Samuel Edward. James was listed as a jobbing gardener.
He rejoined the military soon after the outbreak of war, and first served overseas in November 1915, entitling him to the award of a 1914-15 Star. He died on 18th August 1916 and is buried at Pozieres British Cemetery, Ovillers-la-Boisselle. The announcement of his death in local newspapers in October 1916 notes that before the war he was a gardener at Solihull. He is not commemorated on war memorials in Solihull or Olton, where he worked, nor Acocks Green where he was born, but is included on Sparkhill war memorial.
Herbert John Massey was born in Meriden on 5th March 1893 and was the seventh of the nine children of parents, William (an agricultural labourer) and Elizabeth. William was born in Bicester, Oxfordshire and Elizabeth (née Kibble) was from Berkswell. The couple married in Bicester in 1877 and, sometime between 1877 and 1880, moved to Meriden with their baby son, George, and Elizabeth’s older son, Edward. The family then remained in the Meriden area, with Elizabeth dying in 1904 and her husband in 1925.
According to The Fallen of Meriden, Great & Little Packington during the Great War 1914-18 by Doreen Agutter, the Massey family lived in a four-roomed cottage that still stands near the end of Hampton Lane, the original “Straight Mile” between Meriden Mill Farm and Patrick’s House.
Herbert became a domestic gardener before joining the Army. He doesn’t appear to have served overseas before 1916, as there is no indication of an award of a 1914 or 1914/15 Star. He is buried at Pozieres British Cemetery, Ovillers-la-Boisselle and is also commemorated on the war memorial at Meriden.
William Henry Bolton was born in Reading and was the second of the six children of parents Frederick and Caroline, who were all still living in Reading at the time of the 1911 census.
William was working as a domestic gardener by the time he was 18, and it is believed that sometime between 1911 and his enlistment into the Army, he joined the staff of Elmdon Hall as a gardener. Elmdon Hall was the seat of the Alston family and William Bolton would have been working for “Squire” William Alston, a bachelor who died, aged 75, in 1917.
We don’t know when William enlisted, but he died in No. 14 Stationary Hospital, which was situated at Wimereux in the Pas de Calais between October 1914 and June 1919. He is buried at Wimereux Communal Cemetery and is also commemorated on Elmdon war memorial.
If you have any more information on these men and the local connections, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977