Henry Thomas was born on the 13th June 1881, the son of Henry Thomas Emptage and Martha Elizabeth Emptage, formerly Walk, of High Street, St Lawrence, Ramsgate, Kent. Henry’s father was a carter.
[A carter was a driver of a horse drawn vehicle delivering parcels and goods. They were often employed by railway stations to deliver the parcels which arrived at the station.]
At the time of the census in April 1891, Henry was aged 9 years 10 months. He and his brother William Alfred, 8, were with his father, Henry Thomas, 33, then a general labourer. They were lodging in Thanington Road near Canterbury.
Henry Thomas Snr described himself as a widower but we know that, on that same day, his wife Martha was staying as a visitor in Broadstairs, with their children Frederick John and Ellen Lucy. With them was William John Emptage, Martha’s brother in-law.
The separation was permanent, with Martha setting up home with William John and having two children with him, one of whom died. Frederick and Ellen stayed with them. Martha died in 1897 aged 41.
Henry Thomas Snr set up home with Malbry Jane Wilson and had five children with her before he died as a result of illness sustained after an workplace accident in 1896 at the age of 40.
We don’t know where Henry Thomas Jnr lived between 1891 and 1897 but by the time he was 16 he had lost both his parents and he decided to enlist in the army.
India and South Africa
For people who lived in poverty, the army offered regular meals, a roof over their head and the opportunity to see other parts of the British Empire. Of course, it also offered both excitement and danger.
Henry enlisted in the 3rd East Kent “The Buffs” Regiment soon after his 18th birthday and joined the 3rd Battalion. Unfortunately, his attestation papers are not available and we don’t have full details of his military service but we know that Henry served in South Africa in the Boer War and was awarded the Queens South Africa Medal with the clasps ‘1901’ and ‘1902’
By September 1902 Henry was back in England and living in Rosemary Lane, Canterbury and working as a labourer. Two doors away lived Emma Clara Bailey.
Emma was born in Preston Village near Faversham in Kent in April 1881 to Richard Bailey, a farm labourer and mother, Harriet Hoar. Harriet died when Emma was five and her father Richard married Jane Wratten, a widow with two children. In 1901 Emma, aged 19, was a general servant in the home of a Solicitor’s Clerk in Clapham, south London. By 1902 she had moved to Canterbury.
Henry and Clara married on 21st September 1902 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Wincheap Green, Canterbury. He was 22 and she was 21.
On the 1st August 1904 at 7 St John’s Place in Canterbury, Emma gave birth to a son, Henry Thomas, who sadly died at birth. Four days later Emma died, aged 23, after contracting puerperal fever brought on by septicaemia.
Army and Marriage
Perhaps it is little wonder that after the loss of his wife and son, Henry re-joined the army. By 1906 he was a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery and was stationed at Wellington Lines at Aldershot.
There he met and married Florence Dodge. They both lied about their ages on the marriage certificate.
Born in 1871, Florence was 35 when they married but, perhaps because Thomas was ten years younger than her, she referred to herself as being 30. In turn, Thomas who was actually 25, gave his age as 29. Such ‘economy with the truth’ when stating ages on marriage certificates seems to have been a fairly regular occurrence when one partner was quite a bit older than the other.
The mis-statement of their ages was not the only inaccuracy on the marriage certificate. Henry gave his father as a deceased soldier. In fact, his father, Henry Thomas Emptage was a carter, a labourer and then a driver for a furniture remover. He had never served in the army and had died in 1896 from pleurisy following an accident at work.
Did Henry change his father’s occupation to impress his future wife or in-laws or, in truth, did he not know what it was? Henry was only 16 when his father died and, although we know they were together in 1891, when Henry was nearly ten, we don’t know if they had any contact after that, particularly after Henry’s father had moved to London with Malbry Jane Wilson. Perhaps Henry didn’t know or couldn’t remember what his father’s occupation really was.
At least he did know his father’s name, which was more than his half brothers Edward Lindsey and Walter Dansy did when they got married. They were much younger when their father died and they wouldn’t have had any memories of him at all.
Florence, originally named Flora and also known as Florrie or Flory, was born in April 1871, in the village of Stoke under Ham near Yeovil, Somerset. Her parents were Edward Dodge, a miller and Sarah Jane (formerly Chant).
Florence was a domestic servant and worked for families in Somerset and Gloucestershire before marrying Henry Thomas Emptage at the Registry Office in Farnham, Hampshire on the 26th May 1906. She gave no occupation on the marriage certificate.
Non commissioned soldiers who were career soldiers were allowed to take their wives and children abroad with them and so Florence travelled with Henry, wherever the regiment sent him.
Sometime between 1906 and 1910 Henry returned to India, where their eldest daughter, Marguerite Kathleen (who later changed her name to Margaret) was born in Abala, on the 25th January 1910.
By the time of the April 1911 census, Henry Thomas was a Gunner in “T” Battery of the Royal Artillery, stationed at Abbassia Barracks in Cairo, Egypt. Florence was there with their two daughters, Marguerite Kathleen aged 1, and 13 days old daughter Florence.
Tragedy struck on the 3rd April 1911 when Florence died aged just 2 weeks old. Her death certificate stated that she was a premature child, but no other cause was given.
Five days later, her mother Florence succumbed to acute diarrhoea and died aged 40 on the 8th April. More commonly known as dysentery, it may have been caused by poor hygiene during the birth of their daughter Florence.
Henry Thomas was only 29 and had lost two wives and a daughter. It is hard to imagine what he must have felt at this time but he must have been shattered.
Within a year or so Henry was stationed back in England but he had a daughter to care for. How was he to do so? In the absence of any type of nursery child care provision in those days, most men left with children to care for but with no family help nearby remarried quite quickly.
Fifteen months after Florence died, Henry married Anna Cordula Vollmar in June 1912, at St Mary Magdalene Parish Church, Greenlaw Street in Woolwich. She was a spinster of 33, and daughter of an Otto Vollmar, a mechanic. No census records can be located for Anna, and it is possible that her parents might have been Austrian or maybe German, and did not arrive in the UK until shortly before she married Henry.
Henry was a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery and was stationed at the Regiments Barracks in Woolwich. By then he had been a career soldier for over eight years. He gave his age as 33 although he was actually 31.
Between his entrance to the army and two of his marriages, it was the 3rd time that Henry had stated an incorrect age. We have to wonder whether he was entirely sure how old he was. However, that Henry lied to enter the army early is understandable and, with two of his wives being older than him, it was understandable that he was ‘economical’ with the truth.
Once more Henry left the army and he and Anna set up home in Goudhurst, Kent. The parish magazine of September 1914 shows him having been living and working at Finchcocks, an estate in the area, but by then he was serving in the war.
World War I
Having been so recently in the army, Henry was probably called up as a reservist. In November 1914 he went abroad with “G” Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery.
The date indicates Henry may have become involved in the 2nd Battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915, and possibly the Battle of Loos in September 1915.
“G” Battery had a quieter time in 1916, even though close to the Somme, but by April of 1917, the Regiment was in the thick of it fighting at Arras. “G” Battery was badly hit in the assault on Monchy-le-Preux on the 11th April. It involved both tanks and cavalry and is well documented.
However, if Henry had already transferred to his ultimate unit, “D” Battery of the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, he would have been 5 miles away at Roclincourt, just north of Arras.
The evening of 9th April 1917 was the opening of an offensive when the brigade notably forced a mass of German infantry to retreat. The offensive lasted two months and the brigade stayed in the area. It was briefly involved in one of the later stages of the Third Battle of Ypres but November and December were relatively quiet months spent back near Arras with some opportunistic action taken but no major action.
Brigade diaries show that one man was killed and one was wounded during heavy bombardment by the Germans on 30th December. The Germans had fired shells into Heninel, a small farming community just 10 kms southeast of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.
On 30th December 1917, Henry, aged 36 and a sergeant in the Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery, was killed in action.
Henry had spent most of the previous twenty as a soldier and had served in the Boer War and the First World War. So it seems very sad that Henry met his death at a relatively quiet time during the history of his brigade in the First World War.
He had finally been involved in one fight too many.
Henry Thomas Emptage is buried 5 miles south of Arras at Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux. His grave reference is 11 E 15.
The cemetery contains 1901 burials and commemorations of the First World War: UK 1453, Canada 447, India 1.
The memorial stone at the entrance to the cemetery reads: “Their name Liveth For Evermore”.
For his WW1 service Henry was awarded the 1914 Star with clasp, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
A Soldier’s Will
All soldiers were encouraged to write a will before going into battle and such wills were held to be within the meaning of the Wills Act 1837, and recognised by the War Office as constituting a valid will.
The War Office records have the will of Sergeant Henry Thomas Emptage, Royal Field Artillery. W.O. E/529774/1. Record number 371/629801.
He wrote it on the 9th June 1917, just 6 months before he was killed. The words are simple:
In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to my wife, Mrs Anna Cordula Emptage. Malling Place, West Malling, nr. Maidstone, Kent, England”
Kilndown War Memorial
The memorial was erected by the inhabitants of Kilndown in 1920. It is inscribed: “To the Glory of God and in Memory of the men of Kilndown who fell in The Great War A.D. 1914-1918”
I am grateful to Gil and Roger Joye who, together with Bob Brown, researched the details of all those whose names are inscribed on the Kilndown and Goudhurst War Memorials and so traced the movements of Henry’s regiment during WW1.
The mens’ biographies were published in 2014 in “Goudhurst and Kilndown at War”. (See below.) I was pleased to have the opportunity to provide the details of Henry’s family and life before World War One sadly ended it.
So, where is Kilndown and why does Henry’s name appear on the memorial?
Kilndown is a hamlet, some five miles west of Cranbrook, in Kent.
The location of the estate of Finchocks, where Henry was working when war broke, may provide the clue to why his name appears on the memorial.
Although the current postal address is Goudhurst, Finchcocks lies between Goudhurst and Kilndown and is a few miles closer to Kilndown than Goudhurst.
Perhaps the estate had closer ties with Kilndown as the names of other people who lived or worked on the Finchcocks estate before being killed in the war are also inscribed on the Kilndown War memorial.
Six sons of Henry Thomas Emptage Snr went to the battlefields of France in 1914. Henry was the eldest. His brothers William Alfred and Frederick John survived, as did his half brothers Edward Lindsey and Walter Dansy. Both Henry and Edward’s twin brother, Charles Frederick (Charley) died in the war.
Henry’s medals appeared at auction in 2007 and as well as the medals described above there was in addition: an Indian Medal with bars for Punjab Frontier and Tirah which had been erased and renamed to Henry. Henry does not appear on the medal roll for this medal and appears to have no entitlement to it. Similarly the Queens South Africa Medal, which Henry was entitled to wear, included the bar ‘Transvaal’, which it seems unlikely that he was entitled to.
Henry’s widow, Anna Cordula Emptage never remarried, and died in nearby Tunbridge Wells age 76, on the 14th March 1955.
Marguerite (Margaret) Kathleen Emptage, the only child to survive from her father’s first two marriages, married Leslie Charles Allen in 1937 and they shared 60 years of marriage together, before Margaret passed away age 87 in Worthing, Sussex.
It is not known if they had any children, and if any reader recognises Margaret and Leslie, and can help with any information about them, we would love to hear from you.
David Lindsey Emptage
Anna was living in the village of West Malling, when Henry wrote his Will. Living down the road, was a 3rd cousin of Henry, a Florence Marion Robins nee Emptage who was married to Ernest Robins. Ernest Robins was the younger brother of Herbert George Robins who opened the Robins Game Reserve in Wankie, Southern Rhodesia.
Finchcock, a Manor House built in 1725 and standing in 13 acres, is now a museum housing historical musical instruments.
“Goudhurst and Kilndown at War” by Roger Joye, copyright Goudhurst and Kilndown Local History Society 2014, published by Direct Design Books in 2014.