Leonard Joseph Stokes

Name Leonard Joseph Stokes
Corps East Surrey Regiment 2nd Battalion
Rank Private
Service No. 3082
Date / Place of entry Kettering
Date of Death 29 March 1915 Killed in Action
Memorial / Grave II B16 Voormezeele Enclosure No.3

Leonard Joseph was the fifth of ten children of Thomas Foster Stokes (1862-1932) and his wife Constance Jane nee Tirrell. He shared great grandparents (Thomas Stokes and Ann Almond of Great Easton) with Edgar, Arthur and John Thomas Stokes and their families were neighbours in Drayton in the 1890s.

Originally a farm labourer growing up in Drayton, Thomas became a shepherd and therefore moved around the district every few years. Leonard was born at Fern Farm, Hallaton in the late Spring of 1897 but by 1911 the family was at Bradley Priory farm in Blaston where he was employed as a farm lad.

Leonard’s mother Constance (1866-1954) was born in Titchmarsh. Her mother Sarah was from Wilbarston and married Thomas White, a Middleton farm labourer in 1875. They had two children and the family including Constance lived at Middleton Town’s End were Thomas and Sarah were still listed in the 1911 census. Thomas and Sarah’s son George White married and settled in Great Easton where he was employed as an ironstone labourer;  their daughter Mary Hannah married and moved to Kettering. Constance married Thomas Foster Stokes at Cottingham in 1886.
As his military record has not survived the date Leonard joined the East Surrey regiment is unknown. His second cousin John Thomas Stokes of Oakham was also in the East Surreys.The 2nd Battalion was part of the regular army and had been stationed in India until November 1914. It sailed for England that month and arrived just before Christmas. As part of the 85th Brigade of the 28th Division, the Battalion sailed for France on 19th January and was quickly moved up the line to the south of Ypres. In the following five days’ heavy fighting it lost more than eight hundred of its one thousand soldiers, some dying from the effects of poison gas.  Reinforcements had to be swiftly brought in; given his youth, it’s likely that Leonard was one of these. Conscription had not yet begun so he must have volunteered.
The regimental war diary for 17th March states there were 791 other ranks stationed in the trenches. On the following day the Battalion marched to new billets in Etaines where Leonard was one of four soldiers - one officer and three men - killed in the trenches on 29th March. He was barely eighteen years old and is buried in Voormezeele cemetery in Belgium. Voormezeele village is four kilometres south west of Leper and was just behind the British lines in 1915. The cemetery was begun in February 1915. 1611 Commonwealth servicemen are buried or commemorated here, 609 of them unidentified. His distant cousin Ernest had been killed two weeks earlier.

None of Thomas and Constance’s other children died in the fighting, but their son Thomas, Leonard’s elder brother and a railway drayman, died in 1913 aged twenty one, and a daughter Edith Emily died in 1908 in Birmingham aged nineteen. Leonard’s grandmother Sarah White of Middleton died in 1928 aged 84. His eldest sister Florence Annie was a servant at Cottingham Rectory in 1911. Their living in Cottingham may be the reason Leonard’s name was included on the village’s war memorial.