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Remembered Today:

George Hicken RWR, RBR, Labour Corps & RFC


Leonard68
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My grandfather, George Thomas Hicken, was born in 1876 in Birmingham, England. He joined the British Army in 1896 and fought in the 2nd Boer War with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion. He re-enlisted in January 1915, again with RWR, 2nd Battalion. He fought in the Battle of Loos, was wounded by gas poisoning and sent home. In June 1916, he was honourably discharged as unfit for service. The information that had been passed down to me from my father was that George died before the war ended presumably due to complications from the gas poisoning. At first I thought that was the end of my research into his life. To complete my records, I thought I might as well get his death certificate. However, I concluded that his death certificate never got registered, since the only one I could find for his name, age group and timeframe was for an Air mechanic with the Royal Flying Corps in Aldershot. Next, I thought I’d try to find out where he was buried. During that research I came across a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) record indicating that a George Hicken, Air Mechanic 3rd Class was buried in the Birmingham Witton Cemetery. Further, it indicated his wife was Lily Hicken living at 115 Park Lane Aston, Birmingham. This was my grandfather! I had found the right birth certificate after all. How did he come to be with the RFC? Early in my research I had found his Medal Index Card for his service with the RWR along with a couple of others that I had dismissed because they were ”obviously” not his. With this new information, I went back and relooked at the dismissed cards. Well, one of them was his after all. It showed that he had served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment (No. 8310), the Labour Corps (No.363901) and the RAF/RFC (No. 126868). Unfortunately, both his RWR and RBR WW1 service records had been destroyed in WW2. However, his RFC service record survived. It has a lot of information about his activity in 1917, even though this was before he joined the RFC. For example it tells me that he went back to France in April 1917 with the RBR, was transferred to the Labour Corps in September 1917, and was transferred to the RFC in January 1918. It also tells me he was not well, spending most of his time in France in hospitals and Details Camps.

The questions I have for the readers of this column are as follows:

Is it possible he was conscripted in 1917 even though he had already been honourably discharged as unfit for service less than a year earlier? He was 40 years old in 1917.

Why would a Birmingham man enlist with the RBR? Why not rejoin the RWR where he had served twice previously?

Can anyone tell me in which RBR Battalion, George Hicken, No. 8310, served in 1917?

I can understand his transfer to the Labour Corps, since he was probably deemed not fit for frontline service. I can also understand his transfer out of the Labour Corps because he probably became unfit even to serve in that capacity. But why transfer him to a completely different branch of the Armed Forces, a very sick man who died just 26 days after his transfer to the RFC?

Any thoughts anyone might have about answers to these questions would be much appreciated.

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Is it possible he was conscripted in 1917 even though he had already been honourably discharged as unfit for service less than a year earlier? He was 40 years old in 1917.

Why would a Birmingham man enlist with the RBR? Why not rejoin the RWR where he had served twice previously?

I can understand his transfer to the Labour Corps, since he was probably deemed not fit for frontline service. I can also understand his transfer out of the Labour Corps because he probably became unfit even to serve in that capacity. But why transfer him to a completely different branch of the Armed Forces, a very sick man who died just 26 days after his transfer to the RFC

Yes, it's entirely possible for a man who had been discharged to be conscripted at a later date. There are a number of possible reasons - his condition may have improved, and the authorities became increasingly reliant on conscripts of lower-grade (physically speaking) men. Some years ago I posted a case on here (Charles Horatio FOOTE, in case you want to search for the thread) of a man who had been discharged as being 'quite useless' and graded as 'permanently unfit' yet who was conscripted about a year later and then killed in action while serving on the front line about a year after that. See the case of your man as a sign of increasing desperation on the part of the military authorities.

Why join the Berks? Because conscripts were sent where they were needed. The man himself would have no say in the matter.

Edit: in case you wanted to look for the other case that I mentioned (Charles Horatio Foote), the search engine doesn't turn it up unless you search for the words 'permanently', 'unfit ' and 'foote'. Another similar case gets mentioned by one of the people who posted on the thread.

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Thank you Graeme and headgardener for your responses. The British Army certainly must have lowered the bar when it came to the meaning of the word "fit". George landed back in France on the 21st of April, 1917 and by the 11th of May was already in the hospital. I have attached an extract of his 1917 service record

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Well, in fairness to the authorities, your man may not have died as a direct result of having been gassed judging by the extract you've posted. He was admitted to hospital in May 1917 with what was diagnosed as an inflammation of the lining of the stomach (looks like it was actually the early signs of a stomach ulcer) for which he spent 4 weeks in hospital, after which he was discharged to duty. Then he had a touch of bronchitis in October of the same year. It's not clear how long he spent in hospital at that stage, but it doesn't appear to have been serious. He was back in the UK (presumably haviNg just been transferred to the RFC) at the time that he died of a perforated stomach ulcer (I.e. an ulcer that split and caused the contents of his stomach, gastric acid and all, to leak into his abdominal cavity), plus a blood clot in his lung (which presumably occurred as a result of the perforated ulcer). Either would be fatal given the relatively rudimentary medical investigations and treatments that would have been available. Hard to know how much of a factor his gassing would have been beyond leaving him in a very weakened state.

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Yes, I agree, we'll never know what lingering effects, if any, the gas poisoning had on his general health condition in 1917. We only know that 9 months after the gassing, he was judged as unfit for service and 10 months after that, he was judged to be fit for service. His record indicates he was with the Labour Corps in France from the 7th of September 1917 to the 23rd of October 1917. The next entry mentions his transfer to the RFC on the 8th of January 1918. Presumably, he was in England, still with the Labour Corps, from the 24th of October 1917 to the 7th of January 1918. It appears that he was operated on for his gastric ulcer. His Death certificate lists the cause of death as: 1. Perforated gastric ulcer operation, and 2. Pulmonary Embolus.

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I found the following on another site that might be of interest -

"There were three distict parallel non commisioned ranks in the RFC Technical, Disiplinary, and Clerical. Air mechanic 3rd class was the lowest rank in the technical trades on 2/- (shillings per day). Disiplinary tended to use army ranks and clerical were various grades of Clerk. His pay was better than Disip 1/6d and clerical 1/8d per day in old money.

They did all sorts really, mechanic, rigging, to just starting up the engines and holding down the tails etc."

Did your grandfather have any skills that might have accounted for him being transferred to a "mechanical" job?.

Evan

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N

I found the following on another site that might be of interest -

"There were three distict parallel non commisioned ranks in the RFC Technical, Disiplinary, and Clerical. Air mechanic 3rd class was the lowest rank in the technical trades on 2/- (shillings per day). Disiplinary tended to use army ranks and clerical were various grades of Clerk. His pay was better than Disip 1/6d and clerical 1/8d per day in old money.

They did all sorts really, mechanic, rigging, to just starting up the engines and holding down the tails etc."

Did your grandfather have any skills that might have accounted for him being transferred to a "mechanical" job?.

Evan

There is nothing of note in his records. At age 14 he was a brass worker/filer. In 1896, at age 20, he joined the British army and stayed for a 7 year stint, fighting in the 2nd Boer War. He spent another 9 years after that in the Army Reserve. The 1911 Census lists him as a "Paper Slitter". Under "Trade Classification" on his RAF Service Record he is listed as "Labourer". Perhaps he picked up some mechanical skills in his army days. I can say that his son, Leonard (my father) was absolutely brilliant at anything mechanical or electrical, without any formal training. He was just a natural. So maybe George passed these traits on to his son. Mind you, I certainly didn't inherit any of them.

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Yes, I agree, we'll never know what lingering effects, if any, the gas poisoning had on his general health condition in 1917. We only know that 9 months after the gassing, he was judged as unfit for service and 10 months after that, he was judged to be fit for service. His record indicates he was with the Labour Corps in France from the 7th of September 1917 to the 23rd of October 1917. The next entry mentions his transfer to the RFC on the 8th of January 1918. Presumably, he was in England, still with the Labour Corps, from the 24th of October 1917 to the 7th of January 1918. It appears that he was operated on for his gastric ulcer. His Death certificate lists the cause of death as: 1. Perforated gastric ulcer operation, and 2. Pulmonary Embolus.

Based on the dates you've mentioned, my take on this would be that he served in France for 1 month in April/May 1917, then in hospital for 1 month with gastritis, then back to service for 3 and a half months until being hospitalized with mild bronchitis on 21st Oct and evacuation back to the UK on 24th Oct. There would have been various medical boards assessing his suitability for service, they may have concluded that active service was too much for him and I suspect that he was regraded for home service only. This may be partly the reason for his transfer to the RFC. The 'trade' listed on AIR 79 (Labourer) will be the work in which he was employed while serving with the RFC.

Regarding the conscription of men who had been previously discharged - remember that the medical profession is made up of individuals with different levels of knowledge and expertise, many of whom employ different approaches to the same problems (hence 2nd and 3rd opinions on the same patient). A change in the rules meant that men who had previously been discharged became liable for reassessment, and if someone along the way decided they were fit for some level of service (possibly based on a tightening the rules designed to prevent people from 'falling through the net') then suddenly a previous 'unfit' man could become 'fit' again. And some people's medical conditions did actually improve.

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I have checked the Royal Berks records and the only G Hicken we have was transferred from the Royal Warwicks to the Royal Berks 1st Garrison Battalion 26/1/1917.as 34188. The regular number 8310 belonged to G F S Hague who enlisted 24/8/06 and died at Zonnebeke 26/10/14. I do not have a holder for a Territorial number 8310 and the highest number I have recorded is 7941. The only other series is the Special Reserve but that was finished with by early on in the war and should have been preceded by 3/.

There was a lot of traffic between all the regiments of Southern Command which included both the RBR and the RWF but the Garrison Battalion never went overseas

So I have to cast considerable doubt on what has gone before. Where did his Royal Berks reference come from?

John

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John.

The RBR 8310 number is on the RAF Medal Roll & MIC, as are the Labour Corps and RAF numbers. I agree that it is odd that he has such a low number, having re-enlisted in 1915.

There is no mention of the RWR on either record. There might be further references on the RAF records that Leonard has.

Steve

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Steve

I am sure there is a mistake somewhere - could you email me an image of the RAF medal roll & MIC to john.chapman458@gmail.com

What did he re-enlist in?

regards

John

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Could he have been a member of the RBR Labour Battalions (10 to 13)? I know these Battalions transferred to the Labour Corps in April 1917, but perhaps it took several months for the record keeping to catch up and his September transfer just reflects that transition.

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Leonard.... I'm not sure that John got it either so I sent him a copy of Georges medal roll earlier today.

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Thanks, Rollerbeadle. I believe John has all the info. He emailed me back saying that there was a George Hicken in the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) whose number was 3/8310 and that he had already comleted 12 years of service and re-enlisted in 1917. I couldn't find any records online for this George Hicken, so John must have access to other resources. Anyway, it appears as though my grandfathers RFC records have been contaminated with this other George Hicken. As a result, I'm not sure which information is my grandfathers and which is not.

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Thanks, Rollerbeadle. I believe John has all the info. He emailed me back saying that there was a George Hicken in the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) whose number was 3/8310 and that he had already comleted 12 years of service and re-enlisted in 1917. I couldn't find any records online for this George Hicken, so John must have access to other resources. Anyway, it appears as though my grandfathers RFC records have been contaminated with this other George Hicken. As a result, I'm not sure which information is my grandfathers and which is not.

Hi Leonard,

I haven't seen your man's AIR79 document. Can you post copies of the sections detailing the various dates relating to his actual service, including the date of his enlistment in the army (which must presumably be sometime in autumn/winter 1916/17)? I'm wondering whether the problem here relates to the MIC's rather than the service papers, or whether perhaps an error was entered on the RAF service papers at the time that the MIC's were being prepared.

I understand that you found 2 MIC's for your man; one detailing his service with the R Warw R from Jan 1915 until June 1916 (presumably showing that he was awarded a 15 star, BWM/VM and SWB?), the other showing service with the R Berks R, Lab Corps and RFC/RAF - can you tell us exactly what details are included on each MIC, including what medals (if any) were issued on them. I'm wondering whether the R Berks R and Lab C is in fact the Reservist referred to by John, and that your man's RFC/RAF service number has been added to the R Berks MIC in error instead of being added to the R Warw MIC. It's the only way in which these 2 different men's service could be linked - assuming that they aren't the same person, which seems unlikely based on the details that you've given us so far.

We know that a George Hicken landed went overseas in April 1917, that he spent 5 and a half months in France - one month of which was spent in hospital with gastritis. We know that this man's gastric symptoms can be linked to your George Hicken's ultimate demise in 1918. We know that the George Hickens who joined the RFC in Jan 1918 is your relative because of his next-of-kin details. The problem appears simply to be the attribution of the Berks and Lab C numbers to the RFC/RAF man.

So, any chance of posting details from each MIC, and service details from the relevant sections of the AIR 79? Most importantly, what service details are shown for the period up to January 1918? And does the AIR 79 actually refer to service with R. Berks R and Lab C, including those service numbers, or are these details only included on the MIC...?

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headgardener, thank you for your continued interest in my grandfathers records. I will attempt to send all the records part by part due to the size limitations. Attached is part 1 of the RFC record. On this file, his year of birth is incorrect. It should be 1876 instead of 1878. Also, it shows him transferring to the RAF as a Pte 1 on the 1st of April 1918 even though he had already died. Perhaps all existing RFC records were transferred to the RAF.

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Attached is part 2 of the George Hicken RFC record. The entries on the right half I had posted earlier. The entries on the left show my grandmother's name and the correct address for my grandparents.

RFC Service Record Part 2.jpg

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Attached is part 4 of the George Hicken RFC record. This is the bottom half of the second page with all the interesting stuff. I should note that on the original, this entry appears to have been entered by one person all at once using the same pen. That is, it doesn't look like several entries made at different times by different people. The ink is blue, compared to black on the first page and the writer is definitely different than the writers (at least 2) on the first page. I'm just trying to say that this entry was probably done in 1925 with the writer using whatever records were available to obtain the data and just got 2 files intertwined.

RFC Service Record Part 4.jpg

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