John's Military Sons

At the outbreak of the Boer War in October 1899, John Dickens, age 53, was in his last posting in the army stationed at Montrose, Scotland. He was a Quartermaster, Hon. Lieutenant, with the Forfar and Kincardine Artillery, Southern Division, RA. With him, was his second wife, Annie, whom he had married three years earlier and the younger children from his first marriage, Leonard (13), Lily (11), Gertrude (9) and Eileen (6). Four of his five surviving older sons were already in the army serving in various branches of the Royal Artillery.

His first son, Charles Henry (26) was a sergeant with 65th Battery RFA at Woolwich. He was married with a son, Arthur Charles, whose birth had been registered in the 65th Battery's records of the previous year at Hilsea. The birth of a second son, Gerald, was registered at the RA Depot at Woolwich in 1899, but he died very shortly afterwards. Although Charles' complete service record has been lost (by the Ministry of Defence) much of it can be reconstructed from the summary of war services, medals received, and promotions published in the Army Lists and corroborated by the places of birth of his children.


                                     Charles Henry in Later Years

The fourth son, Frank John Rich (17) had jonied the army in April 1897 at No.2 Depot, Southern Division RA, at Liverpool. His father, John, then stationed in Londonderry, and step-mother Annie, were stated on his application form to be his next of kin, together with elder brother, Charles, who had returned from India and was serving in Limerick with 11th Bty RFA. His other elder brother, Arthur, who was still at home, was also included as next of kin. A year later, Frank was posted as trumpeter to 16th Company, Southern Division, RA, stationed in Malta. He was there at the outbreak of the Boer War. His complete record of service has been obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew. There is no surviving picture of him but the Description on Enlistment of 15 April 1897 shows him at age 14.l/2 as 4ft 9.l/2 inches tall, weighing 70 lbs. with a fresh compelxion, grey eyes and light brown hair.

The fifth son, Ernest George (15) had just left home from Montrose and joined the RFA at Woolwich in August 1899. His complete record of service has been obtained. At the outbreak of the war, he was a recruit at the Woolwich Depot. He was 5 ft. 6.3/4 ins. tall and weighed 88 lbs.

These three sons of John Dickens served in the Boer War and the campaigns in which they were involved can be traced fairly reliably from contemporary accounts. John Dickens also had three more sons, one of whom probably served in South Africa but no reliable information has been found.

John's second son, Herbert Eugene, was born in 1875, but he died in 1897 before the war began. It seems possible that like all his brothers, he had joined the army at a young age.

John's third son, Arthur Hamilton (18), had joined the army in the second half of 1897, a month or two after Frank had enlisted, and about the time when his father finished his tour of duty in Londonderry and went to Scotland. Again, no complete record of service could be found for him but after the war, in 1910, a postcard from his step-mother, Annie, which has survived, was addressed to Sergeant AH Dickens, 16th Company, Southern Division, RA, Portsmouth. It is quite possible that he had joined the same Garrison Artillery Company, the 16th, as had Frank, before the start of the Boer War and fought through the war with it.

John's last son, Leonard Ralph (13), was too young to go to South Africa. He remained at home working as a motor fitter until he joined the army at age 24 in 1911. He was in the Royal Engineers and in the 1914-18 war served in Malta, Egypt and Salonika.


         John, Ernest, Annie and Leonard at The Priory, Ingoldmells

                                                    about 1920


The most popular song in England in 1899, was 'Goodbye Dolly Gray'.

Goodbye Dolly, I must leave you
Though it breaks my heart to go...
Something tells me I am needed
At the front to fight the foe.
See the soldier boys are marching
And I can no longer stay
Hark, I hear the bugle calling...
'Goodbye, Dolly Gray!'

And in South Africa, our boys sang,

We are marching to Pretoria
Pretoria, Pretoria
We're marching to Pretoria
Pretoria today.


Charles Henry Dickens





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