Remembrance Sunday: Remembering one Hackney teenager 100 years after his death in First World War
PUBLISHED: 18:58 07 November 2017
It's exactly 100 years since one Hackney teenager was killed in the battle of Beersheba. Emma Bartholomew speaks to his nephew ahead of Remembrance Day, remembering those who fought and gave their lives
Gordon Meadows only discovered he had an uncle called Percy a few years ago – but this week he remembered the uncle he never met on the centenary of his death – just four days before the end of the battle of Beersheba.
Gordon, 66, who emigrated to Australia 43 years ago began to explore his family history once his own children came along.
“Conversations with my aging mother filled in a few gaps about my own dad who died when I was just eight years old,” he said. “The internet started to reveal lots more about my dad’s family - he had four siblings including Percy who I had no idea about other than my mum telling me that my dad had a brother who died in the First World War.”
He found it “quite exciting” to find out about Percy, who he felt an “instant connection” with, since his father and son have both seen active service with the British and Australian armies.
Lance Corporal Percy Meadows was born in Dorking in 1898, and was the oldest son of scullery maid Emily and publican Charles Meadows, who then moved to London to become a waterman and lighterman of the River Thames.
Percy enlisted in the 1/10th London Regiment in Hackney in 1915, and his medal records show he entered the Theatre of War in the Balkans the same year. His Battalion arrived at Sulva Bay, Gallipoli on August 11 and left a year later in December. Moving on to Egypt they were involved in the defence of the Suez Canal, and March 1917 saw the start of the invasion of Palestine where the London Regiment took part in the first and second Battles of Gaza. After these two failed attempts by the British forces to capture the city from the Turks’ Ottoman Empire, it was decided to attack from another front via Beersheba. The famous charge by the Australian Light Horse cavalry and the capture of Beersheba allowed the Allied forces to finally capture the strategic city of Gaza on their third attempt. Sadly, Percy was killed in action five days before the end of this battle.
His medals and personal belongings were sent to his mother Emily in Hackney, and he was buried at the war cemetery in Gaza. His name appears on the war memorial in Dorking High Street and also on a plaque in St Peter De Beauvoir Church in Northchurch Road, dedicated to men of Hackney who died in the First World War.
His nephew Gordon, told the Gazette: “So many allies perished in WW1 - Australia alone lost 60,000 - many of them like Percy were barely out of school. I look back at when I was 19 and the world was my oyster, and I am saddened that Percy and so many other soldiers were deprived of the living and loving that we survivors take for granted. A hundred years – four generations - is a long time and probably the last milestone or anniversary to be remembered and celebrated for any type of event . I am glad I found Percy at this time - it is very sobering.”
Another Hackney lad, Gordon’s father John - who was known as Jack - was eight years younger than Percy, and enlisted in 1943 for the Second World War, aged 37. He was part of the D-Day Normandy beach landings, which began the liberation of German-occupied north western Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front. Gordon’s mum told him in a letter: “Dad was standing for over 12 hours with hundreds of other soldiers waiting to land, being bombarded by heavy German guns. He said it was dreadful, and most of the men were sick.”
Jack was also one of the first into Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen on April 15 1945. He died 13 years later in London. Gordon said: “Like most returned servicemen he never spoke about the war - I suspect he suffered PTSD. He would have seen, smelt and experienced some of the worst carnage and tragedy known to man. Looking back now, it must have been hell on earth.”