26 April 2012

Pte 21021 John Henry Hassell

John Hassell was born in Plaistow and lived there with his wife Annie at 43 willow Grove, just behind Plaistow Underground Station. The family home was later destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz of Ww2 and is now a small community park.

He enlisted in the West Ham battalion at Stratford and was a member of D Company and entered France & Flanders as a replacement from the Hammers depot company at a point in early January 1916 (which means he wasn't entitled to the 1915 Star)

John was first wounded in the fighting at Vimy Ridge on the day three huge mines were blown under the German lines and the 17th Middlesex (Footballers) engaged in fierce fighting to hold the craters. The 1st battalion of the Kings Regiment then raided the German trenches and D Coy of the Hammers gave them officially recognised 'valuable assistance'.

A few weeks later and the West Ham Battalion was in action in Delville Wood.

D Coy was giving support to the 2nd battalion of the South Staffs Regiment when they were counter-attacked by Germans. They repulsed these assaults and it was during this period of intense combat that 39 year old John Henry Hassell was again wounded, this time fatally.

We'll never know for sure when or how, as the author of the war diary is unusually limited with information, most likely due to the fact that during this 48hr period the HQ trench and dugouts were demolished by a round of intense and heavy German artillery.

destroyed German trenches, Delville Wood, Sptember 1916

The commanding officer, Lieut-Col Papillon, Lt Len Holthusen the Signals Officer from Forest Gate and the Adjutant 2/Lt Cyril Lyne from Stratford were all buried alive and had to be dug out. None of them quite recovered from this experience.

John Henry Hassell's body was never found.

Overall in the Devil's Wood, the West Ham Battalion lost 39 men killed, 17 were missing, 138 were badly wounded and 20 men were sent mad by the artillery: shell shock...

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