Alec Edmund Stuart Hodgson was born in Headingly, Yorkshire, on 7th September 1898 to Marion Helen Hodgson [née Knight] and her husband Edmund John Hodgson. Another child did not survive past infancy.

Stuart’s father’s occupation was a glass merchant with his mother taking up the position of Housekeeper and Matron to the founder of Wellington College, John Bayley in 1901. Whilst Stuart lived on the premises from the age of 3 he was only a pupil at the school1 from 1911-14, associating himself with productions by the College Dramatic Society and serving in the Officers Training Corps [OTC] as a Lance Corporal [Acting Corporal]. He left to study electrical engineering, living in Wolverhampton, with the intention of going up to Birmingham University a couple of years later.

On 23rd March 1915 whilst still in Wolverhampton Stuart travelled north to Roker, Sunderland where he applied for a commission in the Special Reserve of Officers with a preference for the York and Lancaster Regiment. He appears to have deliberately omitted his date of birth from his handwritten application, although a date of 7th September 1886 was added by another hand at a later date, and then later still the year 1896 in a circle! As Stuart was under the age of 21 the form required the countersignature of a parent, and it was his mother who performed this task. Proof of birth was a firm requirement for an officer candidate and they were required to submit, either with the application itself, or at a date soon thereafter, an original birth certificate or a certified copy; the penalty for dishonesty could be quite severe.

His certification of ‘good moral conduct’ was completed by his local GP from Wolverhampton, together with John Bayley himself, who wrote “Hodgson will do his utmost to succeed and that he will be firm and gentlemanlike”.

Stuart was subsequently commissioned on 29th March 1915 as a probationary Second-Lieutenant into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment, being the depot/training unit of the Regiment who at the time were in Roker. Here he remained until his arrival in France on 12th October 1915 with a posting to the 2nd Battalion, one of the two regular Battalions of the Regiment.

Writing back to his old school towards the end of 1915 Stuart wrote:

We have just come out of the trenches, having had six days in. We have been fairly lucky this time, and I have not had a great number of casualties. I must say I felt a bit queer when I saw the first man fall. The trenches are so bad now that we keep moving about every two days. Some, naturally, are much worse than others, and we went into some where the water was right up to the waist.

We are fitted with gum boots reaching to the thigh, but even then we often get very wet. The winter is now coming into great prominence. We have had several hail storms, and every night there is a heavy frost, which makes things rather unpleasant to work, as you know we work all night and try to sleep by day.

He received confirmation of his rank on 8th January 1916 at POPERINGHE, moving to FORWARD COTTAGE a few days later. Whilst in the trenches there they were susceptible to enemy shelling but fortunately the casualties were reasonably light and here they remained until 23rd January when they relieved the 8th (Service) Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment [8BEDS] at BURGOMASTER FARM and CANAL BANK. On 25th January the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte were sending over various aircraft on reconnaissance flights providing elusive targets for the soldier’s rifles.

As January turned into February the Battalion was spending its time between FORWARD COTTAGE and POPERINGHE where, from time to time, enemy aircraft would drop bombs on the town. The first week of March saw the Battalion billeted in various cellars within the town of YPRES which was slowly being destroyed on a daily basis by enemy shell fire, before they moved to new positions in the RAILYWAY WOOD sector, occupying themselves with night time patrols and holding the line.

At the end of March they returned to POPERINGHE where they entrained for Calais and some much needed rest and reorganisation and where they could take part in some sport; swimming in the sea and the Brigade gymkhana which was a great success.

By 16th April Calais was but a distant memory and the Battalion was now back at CANAL BANK where it was pretty wet and miserable. Sometime over the 19th/20th April whilst the Battalion was supporting the 8BEDS during an attack in the MORTELDJE salient Stuart was injured to the extent that he was repatriated back to England.

During his period of convalescence he was posted back to 3rd (Reserve) Battalion where he was able to undertake light duties. Eventually his medical board pronounced him fit again and he returned to the Front in September 1916 posted to ‘B’ Company, 2nd Battalion.

On 8th October the Battalion went back into the line and two days later, together with six Vickers Machine Guns from the Brigade Machine Gun Company [MGC], was in MISTY TRENCH and the new support line between the Front Line and RAINBOW TRENCH. With various other Battalions around them, or in the reserve, they were subjected to heavy shelling and intermittent direct and indirect Machine Gun fire which continued through the night.

At 7.00am on the following day bombardment of the enemy lines commenced and then continued throughout most of the day but at 3.15pm a ‘Chinese’ attack lasting some 10 minutes started. This consisted of a barrage coupled with heavy artillery fire. After the 10 minutes had elapsed, the barrage ceased and ‘normal’ bombardment continued. The enemy responded by sending over a barrage of their own.

The morning of Thursday 12th October 1916 saw the recommencement of what was termed ‘The Battle of Le Transloy’ by the British Fourth Army and the French VI Army on its right flank. It was the final offensive mounted by the Fourth Army during the 1916 Battles of the Somme, the outcome of which was considered to be inconclusive.

The adjutant later recorded in the War Diary2 the events of 2.25pm that afternoon.

Twenty minutes after the advance of the 4th Divn on the right, the 2/York & Lancaster Regt advanced to the assault from the 6th Divn front line; the 71st Bde on the left stood fast in CLOUDY TRENCH.

Immediately an intense machine gun barrage was laid by the enemy on the 16th I.B. front line. The first wave advanced a distance of from 50 to 80 yds suffering exceedingly heavy casualties: the remainder of the battalion not casualties found shelter in shell-holes and returned to the original front line after dark.

A large number of casualties occurred actually whilst the regiment was getting out of the front line to the assault. Thus of the fifteen officers who went into the line on the evening of the 8th October only 5 remained.

The Battalion casualties for the day when the roll was finally called amounted to 3 Officers killed and 4 wounded; Other Ranks 57 killed, 130 wounded and 33 missing.

Initially the official record listed Second-Lieutenant Alec Edmund Stuart Hodgson, 2nd Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment, as ‘killed in action’ [KiA], but this was then struck out and amended to ‘wounded’, thus leading to some confusion within the military, additional distress to the family which in turn led to various enquiries to determine his fate.

By amending the record from ‘KiA’ to ‘wounded’ initiated the War Office to despatch the following telegram to Stuart’s mother at Wellington College.

Receipt of this news at Wellington College prompted Marion Hodgson to reply at 12.54pm on 20th October, receipt being acknowledged by the W.O. telegraphist at 1.00pm the same day!

On the 22nd October the War Office wrote to the Deputy-Adjutant General (Base), [DAG] in France to request ‘the present location & condition’ of 2nd Lt Hodgson. His subsequent reply confirms they now regard him to be ‘wounded and missing’.

Meanwhile on 24th October 1916 John Bayley had decided that a more direct approach was called for in determining the fate of his former pupil. He posted a handwritten letter to J.T. Davies, private secretary to the Secretary of State for War, David Lloyd George, who just happened to be a friend, for his help.

You will see from enclosed, that the son of Mrs Hodgson, our matron at the College, and Quarter master at our private school hospital3, was wounded on 12th October, and we cannot get any further news. Naturally she is in deep trouble. Can you give instruction in the right quarter to obtain information if possible?

In a few days, I shall be in London again. I wonder if the Minister of War will be too busy to see me for a few minutes. I could make any time convenient either in the day or evening.

Thanking you in anticipation of an early reply.

I am
yours faithfully
J Bayley

The records do not show whether John Bayley ever had his meeting with Lloyd George.

On the 3rd November Marion Hodgson sent another telegram to the War Office for an update as there had been “no answer to my telegram 20th Oct.” [Given the circumstances, the War Office attitude to next of kin might be considered surprising, but regrettably having read numerous official records from the war it was not that unusual.] Upon receipt of this latest telegram from Wellington College a reply was sent to the effect that 2nd Lt Hodgson ‘is now reported wounded and missing 12th October.’ This in turn was followed up by an official confirmation from Lloyd George’s private secretary to John Bayley the following day.

The Secretary of State then received another letter from John Bayley requesting to know why, now that 2nd Lt Hodgson was ‘considered wounded and missing’ his name had failed to appear in any of the published casualty lists. The War Office duly rectified this ‘error’ on 18th November 1916.

The archives relating to Stuart Hodgson also contain a copy of a letter, dated 4th March 1917, dictated by a Lance-Corporal B Tonkin, 2nd York and Lancs, who at the time of writing was an in-patient at the Military Hospital in Lincoln. The letter does little to clear up the confusion; and was addressed to a Mr D.D. Robertson4, the brother-in-law of Marion Hodgson and the uncle of her son by marriage.

Dear Sir,

Having received your letter dated 31st March5 in regard to Sec Lt A.E.S. Hodgson I can only repeat what I previously stated that there were two waves, each wave consisting of two platoons B. Coy with Captain Bailey in command. I was told off for the first wave and Mr Hodgson for the second. The first wave went over the top but never reached their objective (wiped out). We were then reinforced by the second wave, we were then close to the barrage when I saw Mr Hodgson hit with a piece of shrapnel. I dragged him into a shell hole close by and there stayed with him until dusk and then helped him back into our front line and asked him if he could manage to the dressing station and he replied he could manage alright. I then went back to see if I could help anyone else and the first person I found was Sec Lt Jepson dead and about 15 yards from him was a Pte Atkinson, blind but still alive. We carried him into the trench. I would like to know if this Pte is a late L/Cpl, middle aged, tall and rather grey, if so that is the man we carried in, blinded. So that is all I can tell you and Major Horlington6 will make the same statement and in regard to making any mistake in regard to the identity of Mr Hodgson, I knew him when he was first in Ypres before he went home as I have been with the Regt all the while, but I believe there was a L/Cpl Hodgson either wounded or killed in the same battle so I think I have told you all and I should be too pleased to hear any good news concerning him.

I remain
yours obediently
) L/Cpl B. Tonkin

Another letter in the file addressed to Mr Robertson, at his home in St. John’s Wood, London dated 20th March 1917, from the Enquiry Department, British Red Cross7 paints a somewhat pessimistic picture. There is however no indication from the records as to when Robertson first became involved in the enquiries. The letter contains an extract of a report from L/Cpl Tonkin, who at the time of writing was in a Field Hospital in France, prior to his repatriation to Lincoln.

We followed the barrage going over in the first wave from Rainbow Trench. I was with them; but we were all wiped out but two. 2nd Lt Hodgson led the second wave over, which met practically with the same fate, he getting very badly wounded in the back by shrapnel, I got him very gradually into a shell hole, pulled off his equipment and bandaged him to the best of my ability. I stayed with him till dusk and then managed to get him back to our trench. I saw nothing of him after as I went out again to search for others. I am afraid he must have been killed on the way to the Dressing Station, as every effort to trace him has failed.

The letter then went on to state that “as this is the first report we have received from an eye witness we would caution you as taking it in any way as final that 2nd Lt Hodgson was killed.”. They would however continue with their enquiries.

On 11th April 1917 Robertson wrote to the War Office on behalf of the family. On the basis of L/Cpl Tonkin’s statements and allowing for the fact that the statutory period of six months had elapsed since his nephew had been reported as ‘missing’, he was seeking to “close what is necessarily a very sorrowful business for her” and have 2/Lt Hodgson declared ‘believed killed.’

It was also apparent from his letter that when Stuart returned to France following his injuries at Ypres he left his identity discs behind. These were subsequently found; one had been on his braces when his kit was lost upon repatriation in April 1916, and the second was found in a boy’s pocket in the school! As he was without his discs his body could never have been positively identified raising the possibility that he lies in an unmarked grave as ‘A soldier of the Great War known unto God.’

The reply from the War Office of 26th April 1917 informed Robertson that The Army Council would not accept L/Cpl Tonkin’s statement as conclusive evidence of death but only strengthened it. The Army Council would however accept 2nd Lt Hodgson’s death on the basis of the time elapsed and the necessary steps would be taken to ‘declare him as having died on or since that date’ [12th October] with his name being removed from the Army List. Only then did the War Office express their sincere sympathy to the relatives!

On 28th April 1917 the following internal WO notification appeared:

With this, somewhat perfunctory and formal statement his life was officially brought to its end: he was 18 years old. With no human remains to bury, Second-Lieutenant Alec Edmund Stuart Hodgson, 2nd Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to The Missing in France alongside the 72,194 other British and South African men, who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918, and who have no known grave.

The York and Lancaster Regiment was raised in 1756 and disbanded in 1968.

The following tribute to Stuart Hodgson, written by John Bayley, later appeared in the college magazine.

My young friend, Second-Lieut Stuart Hodgson, 3rd Battalion The York and Lancaster Regiment, who has lived with me since he was three years of age, was killed in action on the Somme, October 12th 1916. This brave lad felt it to be his duty to his country to join the Forces and his equally brave mother raised no objection when he presented himself at Headquarters and took a Commission at sixteen and a half years of age! His was one of the grim Battalions which held the infernal Ypres salient through the awful winter 1915-16, during which Lieut. Hodgson and another officer were given a most valuable map of the German Trenches and Machine Guns.

Soon afterwards he was invalided home, and for a time undertook work of Captain’s rank at Sunderland and Newcastle. In due course he returned to the Front, and in a bold attempt to make it easier for his men to advance, he made the ‘great sacrifice’. He is reported by those who worked by his side as one of the cheeriest and most encouraging of young officers, that he hardly knew what fear meant, and was a great credit to the Regiment to which he was attached.

In our School, in our Country and Empire, let us give eternal honour to all these young souls who like my ‘young charge’ have nobly fought and nobly died that we might live.

All ‘old boys’ and parents who remember Mrs. Hodgson will join with the whole School in tendering to her our heart-felt sympathy in the loss of her only son, but we would ask her in this hour of grief and sorrow, to try to share our feelings of pride in the great sacrifice she has made.

Eleven mothers and sons are giving their best in the service of God and Humanity. We hate War, but we prefer War rather than Liberty and Civilisation should be crushed under the heel of Prussian militarism, and if in this titanic struggle, our brave young heroes die at the post of duty we may take comfort in the words of John Oxenham:

Whether they live or die, Safely they’ll rest; Every true one of them, Thy Chosen Guest.

No soul of them shall fail, Whate’er the past; Who dies for Thee and Thine, Wins Thee at last.

So my brave young friend Stuart, on the battlefield of France we leave thee, peacefully asleep not far from many of thine old schoolfellows, and to all of you our last words are:

Farewell! Farewell! Until we meet, as we shall meet again.

The Hodgson Biology Prize was set up in Stuart’s memory and over the years numerous pupils were the recipient on Speech Day. However, due to lack of funds the prize is no longer awarded.

1. Contemporaries from his time at Wellington at the time of the 1911 census and who died in the War can be found in Appendix 1.
2. Battalion War Diary: WO95/1610/5 [1916 Jul – 1916 Dec].
3. John Bayley had established a Voluntary Aid Detachment [VAD] Hospital within the grounds of the school known as the ‘St. John VAD Auxiliary Hospital, Western 27’, for 25 wounded soldiers with himself as the Commandant and Marion Hodgson as the Quarter Master. Some of his correspondence was written on College notepaper and some on VAD notepaper.
4. D.D. Robertson worked for the Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem at their HQ in Clerkenwell.

5. This date is incorrect as the contents of the letter do not sit within the timeline of the other related correspondence. A date of 31st January would be more appropriate.

6. Major [then Captain] Horlington had previously communicated directly with Marion Hodgson in October 1916 giving his account of the events of that day.
7. The Enquiry Department for Wounded and Missing, part of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John was based at 18 Carlton House Terrace, London & headed up by the Earl of Lucan.

See also the Imperial War Museum permanent digital memorial to the ‘Lives of the First World War’ for AES Hodgson.