Poignant story of Basingstoke man who died in the trenches

A story in the Hants and Berks Gazette, reporting on the death of Ernest Fitzgerald in 1917

A story in the Hants and Berks Gazette, reporting on the death of Ernest Fitzgerald in 1917

First published in News

IT WAS one of the most moving aspects of Monday’s service as a Basingstoke father shared a story of loss that devastated his family during the First World War.

Gerald Fitzgerald, who lives in Pack Lane, Kempshott, told the story of his grandfather Ernest Fitzgerald, who died during the conflict.

Ernest was born in Basingstoke in 1882 and lived with his family in May Street. He attended Fairfields School and later worked at Ody’s grocery store at the top of Wote Street.

He married Lemmie – the love of his life – in August 1907 and over the next eight years, the couple had three sons – Alfred, who was named after Ernest’s brother, Edward, who was Gerald’s father, and Harold, who was only months old when Ernest went to war.

Ernest joined the 12th Hampshire Regiment and in November 1916, he and his comrades arrived in Salonika, commonly known as Thessaloniki, in Greece.

Gerald, who is 78, told the congregation that Ernest was a dedicated letter- writer and always signed off his letters to his beloved Lemmie, with “I remain your loving husband, Ern”

with 40 kisses for his wife and three children, and requested that Lemmie sent him a copy of the Hants and Berks Gazette, a packet of cigarette papers, Woodbine cigarettes, writing paper, soap and a “nice cake”.

Gerald said: “Ernest managed to sound fairly cheerful in his letters but he was obviously very concerned about his baby son, 10-month-old Harold, who had been very unwell.”

In a letter dated March 12, 1917, Ernest told Lemmie: “Do not worry about me as I am A1 at present. Well, I don’t know but they say it will be all over next month. Hope so.”

But sadly, almost one month after the letter, Ernest was killed by a shell burst on April 17, aged just 33.

His last letter to Lemmie was written on the day he died, telling her not to worry as it wouldn’t be long before he returned home.

Further tragedy hit the family as Lemmie wrote to Ernest, before she heard of his death a week later, to tell him that baby Harold had sadly died.

Gerald said it was probably some small comfort that his grandfather never knew that his tiny son had passed away.

In a letter to Lemmie, which appeared in the Hants and Berks Gazette on May 19, 1917, the captain of the regiment said: “Both his platoon officer and myself are extremely sorry, and offer you our sympathy. You will be glad to hear that he did not suffer, being immediately killed by a shell. He was a good soldier and liked by all his comrades.”

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