Chronicles: John (‘Jack’) Jenkins of the IOW Rifles

Last Sunday Ventnor remembered the men of the Isle of Wight Rifles who lost their lives at Gallipoli in 1915. We are using the page today to mark the event with the story of John (‘Jack’) Jenkins, shown here on the right, who survived Gallipoli in 1915, only to lose his life in Gaza two years later.

Three generations of the Jenkins family served as volunteers in the ‘Rifles’.  Jack’s grandfather John was a Sergeant, followed by son Charles who served for 33 years, was an expert shot and became a Colour Sergeant (at his golden wedding it was remarked that over a period of 28 years he missed only two detachment parades and one company drill, and on one occasion when away from home he travelled specially from London in order not to miss a drill.)  Jack himself was a Sergeant before the war, becoming Company Sergeant Major in 1915.

Jack’s great grandfather George Jenkins was an Irishman who married a girl from Portsea, moved to the Isle of Wight, and set up home in Tulse Hill in Ventnor, working as a  chimney sweep, and passing the business on in due course to his son John, and then his grandson Charles, who recalled many years later that he started work as a chimney sweep under his father in January, 1881, at the time of the great snowstorm.  Charles and his wife Beatrice were living in Templar Cottage in St Catherine Street when their son Jack was born in 1891; Jack was to be their only son, with two younger sisters, Ethel born in 1897 and Nora born in 1902. By 1911 the family had moved to 17 Albert Street, and at the time of the census that year, Charles and Beatrice had Charles’s 77 year old mother Louisa living with them as well as the children. Jack was 19, and working as chimney sweep with his father, Ethel was 14, and still at school, and the youngest, 8 year old Nora, was in the Isolation Hospital, probably suffering with Scarlet Fever – an infectious disease that took many children’s lives in those days, although not Nora’s.

In 1915 the ‘Rifles’ left their training base at Watford for Liverpool, where on 31 July Jack, along with the other men, boarded the requisitioned Cunard liner Aquitania and sailed for the Mediterranean, and Gallipoli.

Jack was one of the survivors, and in 1916 returned on leave to Ventnor where, on Friday 12 May, he married Edith May Liddon, at St Catherine’s Church.  Edith (shown below) had been in service to a Miss Brown at Westfield in Bonchurch, but she was from Somerset, and her family travelled to Ventnor for the wedding;  her father Benjamin Liddon, a Motor Mechanic by trade, gave her away and her sister was a bridesmaid alongside Jack’s sisters.  It was a ‘Motor Wedding’ – a phrase popular at that time, which I presume must mean that the wedding party travelled to the church by motor rather than in a carriage or on foot.

Edith’s employer Miss Brown was clearly fond of her – or perhaps caught up in the romance of a wartime wedding – and she lent her house for the reception, as well as providing the wedding breakfast and bridal cake.  The Isle of Wight Mercury described how The bride, who was given away by her father, looked very happy in her wedding gown of white mauve silk with tunic of Guipure [lace], wreath and veil. She carried a sheaf of lilies, which together with the bouquets of roses and lilies carried by the bridesmaids came from the conservatories at Westfield, and were the artistic work of the gardener.

The bridesmaids (Edith’s sister Lily and Jack’s sisters Ethel and Nora) were attractively attired in biscuit coloured eoline [silk] with black Tagel [straw] hats. The bridegroom’s gift to the bride was a gold pendant and chain, and to the bridesmaids gold brooches. The bride’s gift to the bridegroom was a wristlet watch. The presents from relatives and friends were numerous and useful. Company-Sergeant-Major and Mrs. Jenkins left later on in the day for their honeymoon, which will be passed in London and in Somerset. The many friends of the newly-married couple in Ventnor and elsewhere will wish them the utmost happiness and prosperity. Mr. E.H. Crinage supplied the motors.

After the honeymoon, Jack Jenkins left almost immediately for service with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and was killed in Palestine on November 2nd 1917. His grave is in the Gaza War Cemetery, Palestine (now Israel).

Lesley Telford, Ventnor& District Local History Society.  Sources: VDLHS archives; Isle of Wight Family History Society ‘Memorials & Monuments’ website; UK Census records.