To mark the centenary of the end of WW1, Portsmouth City Council has been putting up signs in hundreds of the city’s roads listing those who lived there and died during the war. Just such a sign has now appeared in my road, with the names of seven men who died serving their country.
Somehow, just knowing their names doesn’t seem like enough, so I decided to find out who these men were and what happened to them.
Artificer Engineer Benjamin George Evans was born in 12th January 1882 in Pembrokeshire, Wales. He was a career naval officer, the rank of Artificer Engineer requiring no less than 8 years’ service and the passing of an exam: he was clearly an intelligent man and a skilled engineer. He was married to KS Evans (unfortunately I have so far not been able to find out her full name).
He was serving on the HMS Queen Mary during the Battle of Jutland when she was struck twice by German torpedoes; her ammunition stores exploded and she sank, killing all but 20 of the 1,289 men on board. Two of those killed lived in Laburnum Grove: Artificer Engineer Evans and Chief Carpenter Barber.
Private Leonard Horatio Hugh Pollentine was born in 1899 in Wandsworth, London. He was the youngest of five siblings. He was a private in the 12th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, serving in the trenches at Ploegsteert (known to the British as Plugstreet) in Belgium. He was just 18 when he died, dying not as part of a major battle but just from ‘day-to-day trench warfare’. His body was never found; he is one of more than 11,000 men with no known grave commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing.
Battery Sergeant Major William Henry Noble Buckingham was born in 1869 in West Ham, then part of Essex (it’s now London). He was the eldest of the four children of Charles and Ellen Buckingham. In 1911 he married Daisy Clarke, who was also from West Ham. He served in the Royal Field Artillery (as, coincidentally, did my own great-grandfather). He died on 15th March 1915 and is commemorated on a memorial in Ilford, Essex.
2nd Corporal Samuel Olley Osborne was born in 1894, the second son of Edward and Susannah Osborne. Lieutentant Victor Edward Osborne, born in 1893, was his older brother. They had two younger sisters, Audrey and Charlotte.
Lieutenant Victor Osborne served in the 3rd Battalion of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, attached to the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry). He was taken as a prisoner of war during fighting in Germany, and died in April 1918 in a POW camp in Kassel, Germany. His grave is in the nearby Niederzwehren Cemetery, which was created to hold the bodies of POWs who died in the camp (although it was later extended to hold the graves of WW1 servicemen who died across Germany).
Younger brother 2nd Corporal Samuel Osborne was part of the 101st Company of the Royal Engineers, the men who maintained transport and communications systems throughout the war. He died less than a year after his brother and is buried in Milton cemetery in Portsmouth, less than a mile from where he lived and where I now live. I will be leaving some flowers on his grave.
Private Frederick Cyril Coward served in the 2nd Battalion of the Australian Machine Gun Corps: how an Australian family came to be living in Portsmouth I cannot discover. Private Coward died at the Battle of St Quentin Canal, during the Hundred Days Offensive, the series of Allied victories which directly led to the Armistice on 11th November 1918. Like all members of the Australian Machine Gun Corps, Private Coward was a volunteer.
Chief Carpenter Frederick Norman Barber was born in 1868, the son of Mary Henderson. He joined the Royal Navy in 1889, aged 21, and worked his way up from Shipwright to Chief Carpenter, one of the most senior officer roles on board a ship of the time. He was serving in this capacity on the HMS Queen Mary when she sank during the Battle of Jutland (the same incident that killed Artificer Engineer Benjamin Evans). Chief Carpenter Barber is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common.
These are just seven of nearly 6,000 Portsmouth people who died during WW1, but they are seven people I would have known nothing about without the new city signs. And they should be remembered – every single one.