Frederick Thomas Perkins, the grandfather of two Lufkin women and a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces who was killed in World War I, will have his body laid to rest in France today.
It has been more than 100 years since the battle at Novel Alley in France, when Perkins was killed in action. His body was buried among the war debris and lost until a new hospital began excavation of the property.
“The War Diaries of 11th Battalion The Essex Regiment show that on 22 April 1917, they took part in an attack,” reads his memorandum, which was provided by Perkins’ granddaughter, Lufkin resident Doreen Havard.
He originally served in the 4th Battalion but was transferred to the 11th in December 1916. A heavy bombardment caused heavy casualties along the front line to the tune of 10 officers and 250 soldiers of other ranks, and it was during this time that Perkins went missing.
Rosie Barron from the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre and Maj. Peter Williamson, who is retired from the Essex Regiment Museum, were able to determine Perkins’ identity through research and using the identification they found on his body.
They found him with a spoon that was engraved with “4 Ex” and “3899” and a notepad that had “389” marked on it. The notepad is so old they are unable to open it, for fear it would crumble, Havard said.
Havard and her sister Diann Vail have lived in Lufkin for several years now — Havard runs a paper route with her husband for The Lufkin Daily News — but remain close with their sister who still lives in England, Linda Cook.
Through the numbers on his spoon, uniform and notepad, they found his will, contacted family, and after a DNA test with one of his great- nephews, were able to confirm his identity, Havard said.
“It took maybe a year before they finally contacted my sister to tell her that they had found him,” she said. “It was a long time. A lot of research.”
He will be laid to rest at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Loos British Cemetery with other members of his regiment, many of whom remain unidentified, Havard said.
“There are so many people and so many men out there that we might never know where they fell, where they lay,” Cook said. “And it’s not just the English and French, it’s the Germans and Americans and the Canadians. There are just so many people in the First World War and the Second World War and all the wars since that lost their lives.”
Cook is his only granddaughter still living close enough to attend the funeral, and she flew to France with her cousin and his family.
Lost soldiers are no longer sent home when their remains are found because the expense, especially after World Wars I and II, would be too great with such high casualty lists, Havard said. But Perkins will have his own engraved headstone that says: “No greater love hath a man than lays down his life.”
“It’s so newsworthy because he had a child,” Havard said. “A lot of the young men who went to go fight in World War I were just young kids. They were sixteen and seventeen, and their parents had all died — there may have been an uncle or an aunt or maybe cousins, but no descendants. But he had a son, my daddy.”
Through tears, Havard pulled up a picture of her grandfather.
“My daddy looks just like him,” she said. “I guess, in a way, it was a shock. I knew he had been killed in the first World War but I really didn’t realize he had been missing in action. My father never really talked much about his dad. I really don’t know why.”
All the three granddaughters ever knew about their grandfather was that he died in war and his name, because it was engraved on the medals he won in war, Cook said.
“My dad was about two and a half when (his dad) actually left for war,” Cook said. “By the time my dad was three years and two months, his dad was dead.”
He had only served for seven months before he was killed, although he did sustain an injury in the January before his last battle, Cook said. But it was not serious enough to send him home, so he was patched up and sent back to the trenches.
Perkins left a young wife, Annie Barker, behind in addition to his son when he left to serve, but continually checked up on the two, Havard said. He called his son “my dear boy” in all his letters to his wife.
Havard thinks there might have been hard feelings between Barker and Perkins’ parents, James Richard Perkins and Elizabeth Anne Poulter, which made it difficult to talk about it.
“I just wish my father — I know they’re together now — but I just wish he could have been there,” Havard said. “His life would have been so very different.”