No Saving Private Stooke
(Published in the Lincolnshire Poacher Winter 2012 pp41-43)
Every village in Lincolnshire remembers its war dead in one way or another Sometimes, it's by an imposing stone cross such as that at Woodhall Spa. Or thelovely stained-glass window at the church in Kirkby on Bain.My village, Carlby on the Lincolnshire/Rutland border, has a memorial too. On the wall of our church of St. Stephen’s is a modest plaque. It reads ‘In grateful memory of those connected with this Parish who gave their lives for home and country in the Great War'. It goes on to name seven men.
The population of Carlby at the time of the Great War was about 125. So the village's losses were not insignificant. But what particularly struck me was that, of the seven names of the servicemen who died, four were the same. They were four brothers. Frank, Arthur, Frederick and Edgar Stooke.
What is the story of the four Stookes who gave their young lives for king and country? They were the sons of Christiana Charlotte Stooke, the landlady of the Plough Inn at Carlby and John Robert Stooke, onetime Headmaster of Essendine School. The last census before the war, in 1911, shows that Arthur Augustus was the second eldest, at 21 then. He was single and a linesman for the G.P.O., living away from home at Skegness boarding with Mr. and Mrs Clarke. The eldest was Frank at 26. He was also still single, living at home in the Plough Inn at Carlby. He was a moulder in an iron foundry. Frederick and Edgar were, in 1911, still school children aged 13 and 11.
Soon after, the Great War came along and the brothers enlisted. Three of them went off into different parts of the Army whilst one joined the fledgling Royal Flying Corps. A fifth brother, Harold, also joined up. He had been 16 in 1911 and was an apprentice grocer.
Frank was the first to die. He was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers and, according to Army records, he met his death on 16 May 1915 when he would have been aged 30. Two years later, Arthur Augustus Stooke, Airman 1st Class in the Royal Flying Corps, aged 27, died just after New Year, on 3 January 1917. The final two Stookes, Frederick, Private, aged 20, Coldstream Guards, and Edgar, Private, aged 18, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), died within days of each other, on 13 and 26 April 1918. One cannot imagine what it was like at the Plough when the shattering news came to their mother, who had already lost two other sons.
Making it worse was that Mrs. Stooke was by then a widow.The father of the four brothers, John Robert, had died in 1910 (John had been 17 years older than Mrs. Stooke). But, despite the terrible loss of her four sons,she stillhad a large family and many would have been with her. The census records of 1901 show that John Robert Stooke and Christiana Charlotte Stooke had four daughters and five sons living with them. This was at the Schoolhouse in Essendine, just over the Lincolnshire border into Rutland, where John was the headmaster. On his death Mrs. Stooke moved with the family to the Plough in Carlby. It must have been quite crowded at The Plough. As well as the seven children living there with their mother, Mrs. Stooke kept ducks and chickens, a parrot, a canary, a pekinese and Queenie the pony. The 1911 census gives a fuller picture. Mrs. Stooke, who herself filled in and signed the census form, records that she had been the mother to 16 children, of whom 13 were living and three deceased. This ties in with the letter I had from her granddaughter (reproduced below) which confirmed that Charlotte had borne 14 children and was the step-mother to two others that her husband brought from his first marriage.
The Great War was getting on for 100 years ago. Still, times past and people long gone should be remembered. But, why oh why? In the Second World War, they saved Private Ryan. Why didn’t they save young Edgar Stooke?
The Great War wasn’t like that and the dying went on until the end. The last name on our plaque is of Frederick John Holmes, Private, Lancashire Fusiliers. Frederick was 18 when he died on 4 November 1918, just one week before the Armistice.
I must honour the other two names for their loss was no doubt an equal sacrifice and equally mourned by their families. Ernest Couzens, aged 26, Corporal in the Leicestershire Regiment, died 14 July 1916. And Edward Green, Private, the Lincolnshire Regiment, age unknown, died 20 July 1917.
Here is a photo of the Carlby plaque; and below are extracts from the letter by Charlotte's granddaughter Dorothy Webb, prompted by reading my original article in Stamford Living.
"Grandmother Chris, as she was known to everyone, had fourteen children - eight boys and six girls - of whom 13 survived childhood. One little girl (Edith) fell out of her high chair on to the brass fender and died several days later. She also brought up two stepsons from her husband's first marriage (he was 17 years older than my grandmother) and three nieces and one nephew who were left orphans, the youngest being two or three days old. So she nurtured 20 children altogether!
Five of her children fought in WW1, four of whom were killed. The fifth son, Harold, returned home with the Military Medal (he was a Corporal in theLincolnshire Regiment). He also lived through WW2 in Sheffield where his flat was bombed out of existence."
The 14 children of Christiana Charlotte Stooke wereNorley, William, Frank, Alfred, Arthur, Harold, Edgar, Frederick, Alice, Annie, Edith, Ethel, Ida and Evelyn. Their remarkable mother is shown opposite. She is the lady without a hat in the left centre of the photo, in the doorway of The Plough with her name above as licensee, hosting what seems to have been a wedding party. She died duringanother war, in 1940, aged 85.
References & acknowledgements: details of the soldiers is taken from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour Register which can be accessed free on . Census records for 1901 and 1911 accessed via Ancestry.co.uk (small search fee). Lincolnshire Village Memorials