For Remembrance Day this year I am sharing a piece written by a friend Maggie Anderson, all about Hiram Ashford Southgate, DCM who I discovered in a friend's family tree. In 1911 Hiram was 22 and a humble shepherd's labourer in Chelmondiston, Suffolk. Luckily for me Maggie had got to Hiram first, and she researched and wrote this piece about him in 2008.
Unusual names interest me, they always have, and when one crops up in my family, as they have seemed to over the 40 years I have been researching my family, their difference seem to somehow make them more unique, much more ‘mine’.
The recent upsurge of interest in World War 1 led me to re-examine my Family History folders and to do more research regarding those valiant souls who marched off into the unknown for King and Country at the beginning of that terrible time.
Hiram Ashford Southgate was one such lad, he was my grandmother’s uncle and as such was quite closely related and very much ‘mine’. He was born in the first quarter of 1889 in the village of Onehouse, Suffolk, a son of Laban and Charlotte Curl (Woollard) Southgate. Laban had started life as a Thatcher, born in Combs, Suffolk, become a fairly successful Farmer with the 1871 Census for Barking, Suffolk showing him married to a local girl, Charlotte Woollard, and farming 57 acres. Ten years later he had moved on to Badley, still in Suffolk, where he was working 110 acres and employing 2 men and 2 boys. Alas, this was not to last, his love for drink did him no favours and by the time Hiram was born, the tenth of what was to be eleven children, his father was by then classed as a Yardman on a farm. The family moved soon after 1897 and the 1901 Census shows them living at 43 Lings Lane in Chelmondiston, a small village on the outskirts of Ipswich, Suffolk, and it was there I was to see Hiram’s name on the World War 1 Memorial. The church records for Chelmondiston gave me the detail I was after and showed that Hiram was baptised, together with his younger brother Walter and his young niece Daisy Emily Southgate, on 23rd November 1893. Several other Southgate families were living in the village as the Parish Register was to show and I feel sure that there must have been a lot of ‘ toing and froing’ between those small village houses.
Like many local young men Hiram enlisted with the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment and his field of war was to be France. He did not sit out his war quietly, a fact which is proved by the entry in the London Gazette Supplement 2894 of 15th March 1916, which records him as being awarded the DCM “For conspicuous gallantry. He had volunteered for a raiding party and during the retirement, when his Lieutenant was in barbed wire and was badly wounded, he turned back under hot fire and dragged him to a place of safety”.
Sadly, like so many of the Suffolk Regiment, Hiram was not made invulnerable by his medal, and he was to die 30th March 1916 and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial and perhaps ironically it was seen that the period in which he was to die was considered to have been “a quiet period with no significant activity”.
I was to find when checking the Internet, that Holbrook High School, Suffolk, had chosen him as one of their selection from the Suffolk Regiment giving detail previously unknown to me, which described the way in which he had met his death, and I quote from their entry…
Private Hiram Ashford Southgate, DCM
During the night of 28/29 March, 1916 the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment moved into the trenches at St. Eloi. Fierce fighting was taking place here and the 2nd battalion moved into the trenches under heavy shellfire. In the morning the battalion realised that part of a trench to the right of the battalion was still held by the Germans. Bombers, led by Lieutenant HP Gardham tried to clear this part of the trench. However, after 20 yards they came up against a barricade that the Germans had constructed to defend their position. Heavy German machine gun fire meant that they could not get past this point. Private Southgate attempted to climb the barricade, but he was cut to pieces the moment he dropped down on the other side. Private Southgate had recently been awarded the DCM for bravery at the Bluff trench system. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres (Belgium).
In the history of the Suffolk Regiment, 2nd Battalion 1914 – 1927 Hiram’s death is described in a slightly different manner and begins…
“28th March 1916 Captain G C Stubbs assumed command of the battalion. On reaching the trenches the situation was found to be obscure and complicated. Some of the craters had not yet been occupied by our troops, and dawn of the 29th revealed the unhealthy fact that part of the trench on the right edge of the battalion sector was still held by the Germans. Early the next afternoon our bombers, under 2nd Lieut H P Gardham, endeavoured to clear this portion of the trench, but after making about 20 yards of ground came up against a barricade which the enemy had erected. Heavy machine-gun fire foiled all attempts to get beyond this point. The leading bayonet man, Pte H A Southgate, recently decorated with the DCM for gallantry at the Bluff, was killed trying to cross the barricade.”
Hiram’s final Casualty Details, as given on the Commonwealth War graves site, merely state:
SOUTHGATE, HIRAM ASHFORD, NATIONALITY UK
RANK PRIVATE, SUFFOLK REGIMENT, UNIT 2nd BN,
DEATH DATE 30/03/1916, SERVICE No 13085
GRAVE REF Panel 21
MEMORIAL YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
2894 SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 15 MARCH 1916.
13085 Private H. A. Southgate, 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment.
For conspicuous gallantry He had volunteered for a raiding party, and, during
the retirement, when his Lieutenant got caught in barbed wire and was badly
wounded, he turned back under a hot fire and. dragged him to a place of safety.
Such a sad end to a young life. I for one am VERY proud of him and feel we should all try to remember our heroes.
Maggie Andersen 23rd November 2008