Dengate Shop Fire
James Ernest Dengate
James Ernest Dengate
James Ernest Dengate was the youngest son of George (1854-1921) and Jane Dengate (1854-1941). He was baptised in St Matthew's Church, St Leonards on the 6th November 1889. At that time, his father was working as a gardener and the family were living at 35 Paynton Road in St Leonards. The 1891 census shows James Ernest, along with his three brothers and parents living at the same address. George is working at this time as a 'corn dealer.'
Ten years later, on the 1901 census, the family are continuing to reside at 35 Paynton Road, which is described by the numerator as a'Grocer's Shop'.
The 1911 census records James Ernest living with his parents at 19 Parkfield Road, Hollington, employed as a 'Shop Assistant (Grocery)'. The following year, on the 20th February 1912, James Ernest married Florence 'Floss' Maria Avann. They married at Church-in-the-Wood, Hollington when she was around five months pregnant.
James Ernest, Florence Maria and their first child, Muriel Nellie Dengate
James Ernest, Florence Maria and their children, Muriel Nellie and Elsie Florence Mary Dengate, c.1915
Jim and his wife of two years, Florence Maria Dengate had their second daughter, Elsie Florence Mary Dengate (1914-?) baptised two days before the outbreak of the war. At the time, they were living at 1 Church Road in Hollington. The road was little more than an alleyway with a dozen small houses and a Hastings Corporation Water Pumping Station at the end, running between Hollington Old Lane and the main Battle Road. Jim was working as a painter and from his house he could walk or catch a tram into the more affluent St Leonards to ply his trade. The reasons for Jim’s enlistment in WW1, as with most other Dengates who enlisted before conscription are unknown, but severe poverty may have been a cause (Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Phillranphoripists gives a vivid account of a painter’s life in Hastings at this time).
Jim enlisted in August 1915 in Hastings and joined the 9th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was transferred to the 16th (Sussex Yeomanry) Battalion in May 1918. The Battalion had fought in Egypt and Palestine since its formation the previous year but had now been called to France, sailing from Alexandria and landing in Marseilles on the 7th May. The next month was spent in training at Manin. The Battalion were assured they had not been brought over as another wave of cannon fodder in the stalemate of trench warfare.
Jim's wife, Florence gave birth to a baby girl, Doris Grace Dengate. She was baptised 27th July 1917 in St John's Church, Hollington. Whether or not Jim was home for the birth and baptism is not known. Sadly for the family, Doris died in early 1918. More bad news for Florence was still to come...
The 31st August brought a significant change to the fortunes of the Battalion when they were moved to Haute Allaines on the Somme. Here they were ordered to undertake their first full frontal assault on enemy trenches, supported by Australian troops. The advance was timed to commence at 8.30am on 1st September 1918. The Battalion’s objective was the German front line trench. The approach to it, and its location was in full view of a German artillery battery further up the hill. Consequently the shellfire directed against the advancing troops was both severe and accurate. It didn’t help matters that many shells from the British barrage, laid down to cover the advancing troops, fell short and caused a number of casualties. Jim Dengate’s ‘C’ Company was in the thick of the fighting, lead by Captain Edwards. The company saw heavy and sustained trench warfare. In one attack, James’ company were aiming for Quennemont Far m, but intense and accurate fire meant they had to take cover in ‘Zoo Trench’. An enemy aeroplane flew over low and dropped a flare on the position of James’ C Company. The Germans now knew the exact location of Zoo Trench and shelled it mercilessly for three quarters of an hour.
The beleaguered troops sent up SOS flares in an effort to attract artillery support, but none came. Realising they were being outflanked and fearing the anticipated counter attack, what was left of the Battalion withdrew. They were bombed and snippered all the way back as the Germans, snapping at their heels, picked off the exhausted men scrambling and slithering across the open ground back to where they had started. At some point on that fateful day Jim Dengate disappeared. Initially he was posted as missing, possibly captured, but nothing was known for certain. His family had to wait at least three months until after the Armistice and the subsequent return of prisoners before they received news of Jim’s fate. A released prisoner was able to provide information that James had survived the battle over Top Trench and had been taken prisoner. Unfortunately he had been fatally injured, almost certainly by a British shell, on the day following the initial battle on September 21st. He was 28 years old.
Jim’s wife Florence placed a notice in The Hastings & St Leonards Observer on the 4th January 1919. The notice in the paper concludes: ‘Greater love hath no man, than this, that he laid down his life for his friends. God bless you, dear Jim, - Floss.’
Six days later on 10th January 1919, a report (below) of James’ death appeared in the Sussex Express and the Hastings & St Leonards Observer.
Florence Maria Dengate
Click here to download official records pertaining to James Ernest Dengate in WW1:
Notice in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer, 4th January 1919 confirming James Ernest Dengate's death
Jim’s body was never recovered. It either lies in an unmarked grave or where he fell. His name is remembered, along with 9,000 others who were killed in the three months between August and November 1918 at the Somme and Loos, on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. Jim was awarded the Victory, British and Star medals for his service.
Jim’s daughter, Muriel later went out to France to visit her father’s plaque.
Muriel Nellie Dengate (right) visiting her father's name on the memorial at Vis-en-Artois
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