Two local men died on 19th October 1918 whilst on active service – Private John Freeman, 6th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Signalman Edwin Herbert Hulston, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, serving on HMS Plumpton.
John Freeman was born in Berkwell in 1885 and was the fifth of the eight children (four sons, four daughters) of parents, David (a labourer) and Louisa (née Gazey) who had married at Temple Balsall in 1876. The couple initially set up home in Allesley before moving to Berkswell 1880/1881.
By the age of 15, John had moved out of the family home but was still living in Berkswell, and was working as a cowman on a farm. His brother, Walter (1879-1970), was also working as a waggoner on the same farm. A third brother, Thomas, was working as a waggoner at Blind Hall, Berkswell. The youngest brother, Leopold Ernest (1888-1970) also became a farm worker, and worked on a farm in Willenhall, Coventry.
We don’t know when John joined the Army but he didn’t see any overseas service before 1916. He enlisted in Coventry and was initially posted to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment but was then transferred to the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry before being posted to the Royal Inniskiling Fusiliers.
He died in Charing Cross Hospital, London as a result of wounds received in France, and is buried in Berkswell churchyard. He is also commemorated on Berkswell war memorial.
Edwin Herbert Hulston was born in Nuthurst-cum-Hockley Heath on 17 November 1898 and was the youngest of the five children (three sons, two daughters) of parents, George, a farmer, and Emma (née Badnadge). He was educated at St Mary’s day schools, Acocks Green, and Tyseley Secondary School before becoming a bank clerk with the London City and Midland Bank.
He had two older brothers who volunteered for the Armed Forces. Gilbert George (born 1890) became a farmer and emigrated to Canada in 1910, serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force from January 1916. Leonard Wilfred (1896-1970), a clerk, joined the Royal Flying Corps on 14th September 1915.
Edwin joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 18th March 1917 and served as a Signaller on the minesweeper, HMS Plumpton, from 10th September 1918. On 19th October 1918, Plumpton struck a mine which destroyed her bridge, her aft mess deck and port-side stokehold. Edwin Hulston was one of nine people, including the Commander, who were killed. To prevent the ship from sinking, Plumpton was taken in tow by another minesweeper, HMS Quadrille, and beached east of Ostend Pier. She was later broken up for scrap at the site where she was beached.
De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour includes an extract from a letter sent to Edwin Hulston’s parents by the Chaplain who had buried their son. About 2000 people from Ostend attended the funeral and the Chaplain said:
He was the first service man to be buried in Ostend since the Germans evacuated it, so they (the Belgians) paid a special tribute of respect to him as the representative dead of the Service who had done so much to relieve them. The Town Band was present, the Burgomaster with all the Town Council, and the Belgian General, besides our own Naval representatives. The Burgomaster made a most touching speech after the funeral… He specially wanted me to pass on to you the gratitude of the whole of Ostend to your son, who, by the loss of his life, had represented the work done by Great Britain for the freeing of Belgium.
Edwin Herbert Hulston is commemorated on the war memorial at Umberslade Baptist Church.
If you have any further information about either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977