Corporal Edward Hirst, 2057011, Royal Army Service Corps
Edward Hirst was born on the 6th December 1894 in Todmorden, Yorkshire, the son of Todmorden born police constable Arthur Hirst and his wife Hannah (nee Smith) who married on the 14th June 1894 in Walsden, Lancashire. In 1901, the Hirst family were living in East Marton, near Skipton and Edward has a younger brother Walter born in Shipley on the 21st July 1898.
A daughter Nellie was born on the 31st July 1906 at 20, Streetside, Ossett and baptised on the 29th August 1906 when Arthur Hirst was now working as a police constable locally and had joined the Dewsbury Constabulary on the 30th September 1903 when the family moved to live in Ossett. Arthur Hirst was first appointed as a police constable in the West Yorkshire Constabulary on the 1st April 1896 and retired still at Dewsbury as a constable in 1922.
During WW1, Edward Hirst did 4½ years active service in France, Belgium and Italy as a wireless operator in the Royal Engineers and qualified with a 2nd class certificate. After he was demobbed, Hirst returned home in May 1919, taking a job as a tram driver at the Church Street, Ossett tram sheds.
Edward Hirst married Mabel Menmuir in Spring 1920 in the Dewsbury area. Mabel was born in 1900 in Soothill, Batley, the daughter of Scottish railway signalman David Menmuir and his wife Janet (nee Plumb) who had married in Dewsbury in 1894. There were five children: Janet b. 7th December 1920 in Dewsbury; Hannah b. 30th June 1922 in Wakefield; Geoffrey b. 1925 in Dewsbury; Norman b. 1925 in Dewsbury and Jack b. 20th July 1928 in Dewsbury.
Above: Interior of Royal Engineers, British Army forward wireless station at Moyenneville, the Somme in 1917.
In 1928, 33 year old Edward Hirst left his pregnant wife and four children, the family home at Hillcrest Avenue, Ossett and a good job with the Dewsbury and Ossett Tramways, for an adventure with the French Foreign Legion.
Edward had travelled to London and crossed over to France on a night boat. After arriving at Dunkirk he presented himself at the recruiting office of the Legion where, after a thorough medical examination, he was declared fit for service. He was given 10 francs, a military overcoat, a haversack containing a mug and a towel, and a train ticket to Marseilles. On his 26 hour journey he had his watch, wallet, papers and war medals stolen. Attached to the Legion's Intelligence Dept as a wireless operator, he served first in Algiers and then in Morocco. Whilst in Algiers he escaped but was caught, punished and made to serve the five years he had signed up for. Edward said that whilst in Morocco he was awarded the Croix de Guerre, with Palm and Star.
Above: Foreign Legion colour guard, Marrakech, Morocco in 1925.
Edward returned to Ossett and his wife in 1933, having served his full five years in the French Foreign Legion, and gave himself up to the police. His wife Mabel was intending to have him charged with desertion, but on his return, had the charges dropped.
"FOUND MYSELF" IN FOREIGN LEGION - LEFT HOME 'FOR NO APPARENT REASON.' Ossett Husband Forgiven by Wife. A remarkable story of leaving his wife and children and "finding himself" in the French Foreign Legion, was told by a prisoner at Ossett Magistrates Court. Edward Hirst, of Hillcrest Avenue. Ossett was charged by his wife with desertion, but at her request the case was withdrawn.
Hirst was further charged with leaving his wife and five children chargeable to the common funds. Mr. F. W. Hirst, relieving officer, said that prisoner left his home In 1928. and since then his wife had received from the Guardians £505 10s. 8d in relief. Prisoner giving evidence. said that after being employed on the Ossett Tramways for great many years he left home, for no apparent reason, in April. 'Something came into my head he said - not exactly loss of memory' but I found myself in France and in the French Foreign Legion. I was sent to Algiers, and in a short time made my escape in the hope of getting back to wife and kiddies, thoughts of whom were always troubling me. I was caught when not too far from the coast, taken back and kept until I had finished my five years. I got discharged on April 7 with good conduct, and reached home Sunday. Yesterday I gave myself up to the police. That is the reason I have been away so long." 2
By 1939, Mabel and Edward were living in Urmston, Greater Manchester and Edward was a Corporal 2057011 with the 39th Battalion, Anti Aircraft Brigade.
Above: Typical WW2 AA Gun used to down V1 flying bombs.
39th Anti-Aircraft Brigade was raised in September 1938 at Retford, Nottinghamshire and was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army (TA) during the Second World War. It was responsible under Anti-Aircraft Command for protecting industry along the Humber Estuary and airfields in Lincolnshire during The Blitz. Later it defended the coast of East Anglia against Luftwaffe 'hit-and-run' attacks. It was later converted to a field force formation, covered the embarkation ports for Operation Overlord and defended London against V-1 flying bombs. It served in the campaign in North West Europe, defending Antwerp against V-1s and supervising the clean-up of the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Corporal Edward Hirst, 2057011, Royal Army Service Corps, aged 51 years, died on the 26th February 1946, more than five months after the end of WW2. Apparently he was shot whilst working in the NAAFI at Oldenburg in Germany. He is buried at position 10. A. 5 at Sage War Cemetery, Niedersachsen, Germany. The small village of Sage lies in the north of Germany approx 56kms west of Bremen.
Sage was on the line of the Allied advance across northern Germany in 1945 but most of those buried at Sage War Cemetery were airmen lost in bombing raids over northern Europe whose graves were brought in from cemeteries in the Frisian Islands and other parts of north-west Germany. Sage War Cemetery contains 948 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 158 of them unidentified. There are also 23 war graves of other nationalities, most of them Polish.
Mabel Hirst was 45 years old when her husband Edward died. She never remarried and died in hospital in Manchester in 1974.
Edward Hirst's name was quietly added to the Ossett War Memorial with little or no notice in October 2023.
1. Ancestry Family Trees for Edward Hirst.
2. "Yorkshire Evening Post", April 1933