WW1 memories of hero grandfather

WW1 hero who was awarded military cross
WW1 hero who was awarded military cross

Local man Jonathan Campbell has written about his war hero grandfather who was awarded the Military Cross.

Jonathan, from Little Common, has written Flowers Of The Lys which traces the life of Hugh Martin Trower who grew up in Brittany Road, in St Leonards, and then began working as a Customs and Excise Officer in Malaya.

Jonathan writes of discovering his family history: “I never knew my grandfather as he died before I was born. My first task was to establish some basic facts about his life which traditionally means copies of Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates.

By great good fortune, while sorting through papers left to me by my mother, I discovered a full set of BMD certificates for my grandfather and could therefore start my research journey.

The birth certificate confirmed that my grandfather had been born Hugh Martin Trower on 15th March 1889, the eldest of seven children of Dr Arthur and Hilda Lillian Trower. His father’s family home became 25 Brittany Road St Leonards-on-sea, East Sussex in the early 1900s and for the next thirty years.

Another document I uncovered in papers left to me was that my grandfather had received a War Pension of £42 a year from 1924 onwards. A letter from the Ministry of Pensions, Officers’ Branch dated 31st October 1924 confirmed the basis of the award as my grandfather having 20 percent disablement due to the war gunshot wound in his right forearm and nephritis. This disability did not deter him from two of his favourite pursuits as mentioned in his obituary printed in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer 12th October 1942 which was again located for me by the very helpful staff of the local Reference Library- these were cricket and golf, the latter through being a member of the Cooden Beach Golf Club from 1936-42 which for me established a very poignant if brief connection to Bexhill-on-sea.

The death certificate confirmed that my grandfather died during the Second World War on October 5th 1942 aged 53 at his home, 19 St Matthew’s Gardens, St Leonards-on-sea. I could find no record of him being interred or cremated at Hastings Crematorium & Cemetery which would have been the obvious resting place and where other Trower family members were in a family grave with a marked headstone.

The issue would have remained unresolved were it not for a chance visit I made to see one of my contemporaries in the remaining Trower family. Philip Trower is the son of my grandfather’s brother, Albyn. When I visited his home to pick up some school prize books that had belonged to my grandfather, I mentioned the mystery of the burial or cremation of my grandfather to Philip Trower. To my surprise he produce a diary that his father had kept and sure enough the entry for October 5th 1942 confirmed his brother’s death and that the service and cremation were to be, according to family tradition for the male members of the Trower family, not at Hastings Crematorium but at Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton & Hove on 8th October 1942. Woodvale were able to confirm to me that his ashes had been scattered in the Gardens of Remembrance there.

And so to my grandfather’s Military Cross, what Great War battles had he been in and for what had it been awarded. A breakthrough came when I received a cutting from my relative, Philip Trower picturing my grandfather in uniform with his brothers and father, published he believed in a local Hastings paper soon after 1914. The local Reference Library again with this information uncovered a copy of The Hastings and St Leonards Pictorial Advertiser and Visitors List 8th July 1915 which carried the following article and two family photographs under the heading:-

The details of my grandfather’s action in the Great War were confirmed in the local obituary notice I discovered through the local Reference Library, published by the Hastings & St Leonards Observer 12th October 1942. He went to France with his regiment, the 6th Middlesex later in 1916. He saw action at the Somme. Then in 1917 at the battle of Cambrai, as chief machine-gun officer he was responsible for the single-handed destruction of a German gun and crew during which he sustained injury. For this heroic action he was awarded the Military Cross and shortly after was invalided out of the army.

The Military Cross, silver with a ribbon of three equal parts of white, purple and white and George V’s Royal Cipher was first established 28th December 1914. I established, by accessing a copy of my grandfather’s Medal Card through the National Archives that this medal had been awarded to Lieutenant Hugh Martin Trower for “gallantry during active operations against the enemy in April 1917 during which he received a gunshot wound to the right forearm.”

I was also able to locate a copy of the full citation which appeared in the Supplement to the London Gazette 5th July 1918:-

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When the battalion on the flank was held up by machine gun fire, he immediately formed a defensive flank with his platoon, and attacked the gun from the flank. He and three others rushed the gun and put it out of action, killing the team of one officer and eight men. By his gallant act the battalion on the flank was able to continue its advance.”

My research journey was at an end. Some of the material I had gathered I used when writing a short book later in 2012 entitled “Flowers of the Lys.” This is a tribute to my grandfather’s bravery during the Great War. It is based on historical and family research, but tells his story as a fictional account of life in the trenches leading up to his heroic action, with flashbacks to his life in St Leonards-on-sea. Copies are available from the author who can be contacted by email: jonathancampbell221@gmail.com for further details.