Jasper Cecil Fullarton Hankinson
16th June 1896 --5th January 2004
Jasper on his 107 th Birthday 16 th June 2003
with his daughter-in-law Margaret and son Duncan
.Jasper on his 106
th Birthday 16
th June 2002
with his daughter-in-law Margaret and son Duncan
he was the Little
Swede Jasper Hankinson, now
aged 106, is
one of the last
the First World
Richard McComb of
the last ever cavalry charge by the British Army.
Hankinson (right) pictured with his brother Bert during the Great War
It was private Jasper Hankinson’s job to
go to the Front and bring back the bodies of the dead. “First of all it was a
bit of a shock but you got hardened to it” he recalls.
Then it all changed. The intensity of the
fighting increased and the casualties rose rapidly. The task of collecting the
bodies became too dangerous and in any case there were too many of them.
was told to march to the Somme,
the scene of one of the most ferocious battles in military history. But the life
of the young recruit, then aged 20, may well of have been saved by an unexpected order
issued in November 1916.
was diverted from northern France
secret destination. They
the trench’s of
the Somme, where
casualties was 1 . 3
lie ahead for Pte Hankinson
but on this
day, as with
luck was shining
Jasper Hankinson is the second oldest of only 41 surviving British veterans of the 1914-18 war. President Chirac in 1997 awarded him the Legion d’Honneur, the highest military honour in France.
is 106 years
centuries ago, in
1896. Conservative Prime Minister Lord
Salisbury was running
government, a coalition
was the year
before Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee
of the Boer War.
embedded in history
on Christmas Day
was as Lawrence
British liaison officer, spearheaded
Temple Balsall, near
up to then
lived independently in his own
There is a
on a table in his
room. “The Queen looks
picture,” he says warmly.
manners are impeccable
almost apologetically: “I hope
this is of some
you, Richard.” He uses my
name like an
is an unspoken bond
emotions. It is
only in the
in rural Herefordshire to France,
Palestine. With rudimentary
the slaughter of
to end all
wars and miraculously
to recall his adventures.
the story of
Jasper Cecil Fullarton Hankinson was born on June 16, 1896 in Markyate, Hertfordshire, where his father Herbert Gladstone Hankinson, was the headmaster of the village school. The family moved to Leominster, Herefordshire, when his father took up a new teaching post and Jasper later became captain of Leominster Grammar School.
He was appointed a junior clerk at the town’s Board of Trade Labour Exchange in 1914. In his spare time, he was opening batsman of Leominster Cricket Club, he is still an honorary member – and recalls travelling by horse-drawn wagonette to match’s. He sat up front with the local parson and waited outside while his older team-mates quenched their thirst after games.
Jasper enlisted under the conscription scheme in December 1915 but became frustrated at the delay in being called up ”I got tired of waiting to serve my country, as most young men did in those days,” he says.
Jasper was posted with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry at Shrewsbury and Whitchurch until his father intervened with the local MP and got him into the London Scottish Regiment, in which his brother Bert served. He was ordered to Warminster, near Salisbury Plain, and quickly picked up his nickname.
“My brother was with the same squad and was called the Big Swede because he was very tall and fair. When I joined him later him afterwards they called me the Little Swede,” he says with a chuckle.
The young recruit was confined to hospital when he contracted pleurisy but it was not without its advantages. “When in hospital the young nurses seemed to take a delight in painting my tummy with iodine. Needless to say, I didn’t object,” he recalls.
He returned to training duties a fortnight later. “We had rifle shooting. I was pretty good. Then we used to have charge. There were sacks that were hanging as if they were bodies and we had to charge them with bayonets.”
The training was limited and when Jasper later found himself in Bethlehem he did not know to carry out guard duties: “I was worried about this as I had never done it before during my training and didn’t know the proper drill. A friend of mine, the batman of the company commander arranged to do it for me. I often regret I didn’t have a go.
Jasper and his brother sailed for France in the troop ship Dover Castle in June 1916. they landed at Le Havre and were sent to the Arras area, where there was severe fighting at Mont St Elois and Vimy Ridge.
Jasper, then aged 20, had the task of going forward to the battlefields to bring back the dead. He drove a horse-drawn limber, which usually carried supplies and munitions. The bodies were placed on the limber and taken back for burial.
“That was only at the beginning of the war because there weren’t many casualties. It could be done you see. But afterwards it was too big a job, there were a lot of casualties and you could not do that sort of thing.”
And though it was a harrowing job, it was something he took in his stride. “It wasn’t nice. You got used to it,” he says, detached from the memory.
“I used to sit eating my sandwiches against dead horses. You get hardened. You take it in your stride eventually.”
“I wasn’t frightened, but always nervous. Everybody must have been nervous. First of all it was a bit of a shock but you get hardened you see.”
“He adds: “Things you would find disturbing you got used to.” So did the attitude of the British troops to the enemy change as casualties mounted? “I don’t think we thought much about that.” There was no sense of hatred or animosity, he says.
On July 1, 1916, British troops went over the top at the start of the Battle of the Somme and Jaspers battalion was ordered to the Front at the start of November. (The battle ended on November 19.)
“My luck was in because we were only a few miles from the Somme when we were diverted and entrained for an unknown destination,” says Jasper.
The secret mission was to Salonika in Greece and the London and Scottish set sail from Marseille in the White Star liner Megantic. Several years later, the notorious poisoner Dr Crippen and his mistress Ethel Le Neve were bought back to England from Canada on the same ship.
Heading for Salonika, Jasper was on deck as the captain of the Megantic had to weave the ship past German U-boats. “A ship in one of the convoys had recently been sunk and the survivors landed in Sicily,” recalls Jasper.
“It was November 1916 and snow was on the ground. We marched to the hills of Macedonia, the Greece/Bulgarian border, the Dorian Front. We spent about nine months in Greece and after France it was a picnic.”
Jasper contracted trench foot and his brother was laid low with malaria. They did not see each other again until after the war.
In July 1917, the regiment was posted to Palestine. Jasper was in the company transport section and was sent to Alexandria to collect horses and mules for the advance across the Sinai Desert towards Beersheeba.
He still insists there were “no great hardships” although in reality British troops suffered heavily from malaria, heatstroke, cholera and dysentery. The conditions were akin to those of the Crimea War and the men’s rations were more limited than the meagre supplies given to soldiers on the Western Front.
It was in this environment that the young private struck up a friendship he recalls with fondness to this day. His constant companion for his nine-month posting in Palestine was a white mule he christened Snowball.
“I was in charge of a mule which carried medical supplies,” says Jasper laughing at the recollection. “She was quite well behaved. I got attached to her.”
Snowball came to his rescue when he found himself stranded. ‘It gets dark very quickly out in the East and I was with this mule with medical supplies and it went dark all of a sudden. I had not got a clue where I was.
“So I said to Snowball, ‘You’d better take me home.’ I don’t know whether she was listening but she did her stuff, she got me back.”
Jasper was worried his white mule would make an easy target in the desert for the Turkish artillery. But with Snowball at his side, he was present at the last ever cavalry charge of the British army.
The Worcester Yeomanry Cavalry mounted the charge at Huj in the Sinia Desert at 1 . 30pm on November 8, 1917.
The raid against apparently insurmountable odds was reminiscent of the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854.
Soldiers armed with sabres and mounted on 181 horses charged into 20,000 Turks, 21 German field guns and three Austrian 5.9 Howitzers. The victorious and bloody assault helped to end centuries of Ottoman occupation in Palestine.
Jasper recalls: “The Turks were on a ridge and we were below in the desert. The Turks were doing great damage with their artillery so it was decided then to make the charge.
“The cavalry did a most effective job. The enemy were cut down and there were few survivors on both sides.
I went over the battlefield later with the battalion. All the killed and wounded had been cleared but the site of the wounded and dead horses was pitiful.
General Sir Edmund Allenby led the Egyptian Expeditionary Force into Jerusalem in December 1917 and Jasper entered the Holy City on Christmas Day. “I remember the Jews applauding us as we passed by.”
His regiment was sent back to France for the spring offensive and Jasper had another lucky escape near Courtrai in Belgium.
“In October 1918, towards the end of the war, I was driving a pair of horses, pulling a limber loaded with ammunition to the Front, when a shell burst nearby and the horses bolted, throwing me underneath the convoy.
“It must have been a near thing, for a tin of dubbin, which I had in my greatcoat, was squashed flat. I woke up two days later in a barn. All I had really was a scratched ear.”
Jasper was one of the first in his company to be demobilised and returned to the labour exchange in Hereford, where he met his future wife, Betty. There was no big celebration when peace was declared. “I don’t think there was a great deal of excitement about it.”
He worked for 47 years in the civil service then went to help his son, Duncan, who was running a market garden business near Knowle. He finally stopped working at the age of 84 when his son retired. Betty died in 1987.
Withdrawn before the Somme, run over by a wagon, Jasper was also hit by a shell. “I must say I was lucky in the Great War,” he says.
Jasper Hankinson was barely out of his teens when he sailed to war in France. He carried the bodies of slaughtered soldiers and knew people who died in battle.
When pressed about these experiences, he will only say: “Its a bit difficult to explain really.”
The words tell you nothing and everything. The bond of silence is unbroken.
Jasper in Egypt during the Great War with comrade Frankie Garbut.
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