Researched and written by Anne Wright
Bombardier E Stokes
‘C’ Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
Killed in action, 18.3.1918
Ernest Stokes’ family moved to Weybridge between 1911 and 1914. His parents, John and Mary Ann (nee Dellow) were born in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green respectively in the mid-1840s. They were married on Christmas Day 1868 at St Jude’s Church in Bethnal Green. Ernest had ten siblings, two of whom died before 1911. He was born in 1881 in Hackney. His father was a clerk at the time of Ernest’s birth but through the years progressed to book keeper and then managing a furniture warehouse. In 1891 the family home was still in Hackney, in Millfield Road, where Ernest had the company of his siblings: Marian, Annie, Frederick, Francis, Willie and Alice. Ten years later the Stokes had moved to 18, The Drive, Walthamstow and in 1911 they lived at York House, 1, Hermon Hill, Snaresbrook in Essex, but Ernest was not with them. He had already joined the Royal Garrison Artillery and was based at Stamford Fort Barracks near Plymouth.
The primary role of aircraft in the First World War was reconnaissance but as the war continued their activities expanded to include tactical and strategic bombing, ground support and strafing. In response anti-aircraft (AA) guns were needed and in 1914 the British Army raised its first such sections as companies in the Royal Garrison Artillery. The intention was to have one AA Section per division but an extra fifteen were added in 1915 to protect communications. Ernest would have been part of a unit of forty-three, which included two officers, two gun detachments of twelve men each and their support staff to carry out their complex tasks in this developing form of warfare.
He and his comrades would have had to deal with the night bombing of camps and communications if they were involved in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. By the end of that year there were ninety-one AA Sections in France. A new type of gun was added to their armoury: the 3-inch, 20-cwt (hundredweight) design which was mounted on a lorry and had a vertical range of 18,000 feet and could fire 15 rounds per minute. Up to this point the most frequently used weapon was the 13-pounder, 9-cwt version which had a vertical range of 13,000 feet and could fire 8 rounds per minute.
The growing necessity of AA Sections was recognised by the drawing up of an air defence plan as an integral part of the preparations for the Battle of Cambrai, November 1917. Seven AA Sections were allocated to the assault target area and if Ernest was with this group their covering fire extended to 3,500 yards beyond the British line. Even at this stage the AA guns were probably most effective as a deterrent; in a hectic week ending on 27 April 1918 of 2,039 enemy aircraft engaged, just 10 were shot down and 5 were damaged.
Ernest was killed in action on 18 March 1918 probably in the Arras area as he is buried in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension (V.A.15) which is 20 km north of the city. Many artillery casualties are buried here. He died three days before the launch of the German Spring Offensive. His family continued to live at 14, Heath Road which is also referred to as a shop in electoral registers until at least 1923. Ernest’s effects were divided between his father and sisters Emily and Alice.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Development of British Anti-Aircraft Artillery in the First World War, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
London, England, Church of England Marriages & Banns, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk