Private Percy John Hale

Date of Birth c.1880
Age at Death 27
Date of Death 15 March 1917
Service Number 5232
Military Service No.1, Honourable Artillery Company
Merton Address 12 Rumbold Villas, Mitcham
Local Memorial Mitcham War Memorial

Additional Information

Born in 1890 in Luton, Bedfordshire, Percy was the son of Benjamin Hale and his wife, Mary Ann. The couple also had two older daughters, Edith and Maude. Three younger children, Minnie, Daisy and George, were born between 1894 and 1900.

During Percy’s early childhood, his family was living at 55 North Street. His father and several neighbours were straw hat manufacturers, a trade for which Luton was then famous. Even today the local football team, Luton F.C. are nicknamed “the Hatters.” By 1901 Benjamin Hale seems to have become a travelling salesman in the hat trade and his oldest daughter was a straw hat finisher.

The 1911 census showed Percy and four of his siblings still living in the family home at 27 Wenlock Street, Luton. Maude and Minnie were now working as machinists, sewing straw hats. 20 year old Percy had found employment as a shop assistant in a gentleman’s outfitters.

It is unclear how Percy came to Mitcham, but on 12 February 1916, aged 25, he married Agnes Simmons at the local parish church. Mitcham was still famous for horticulture and Percy’s new bride was the daughter of George Simmons, a well-known nurseryman. He and his brother, Ephraim, cultivated flowers in fields to the west of Carshalton Road, not far from the current Mitcham tram station. During the latter part of the First World War their land was used for allotments to boost the local food supply.

Percy is known to have continued his work as an outfitter’s assistant and was employed in the shop of Robert Munday, on Upper Green East, Mitcham. He and his new wife moved into 12 Rumbold Villas.

At the time of his marriage. Percy was already a Private in the Honourable Artillery Company. Sailing from Southampton on 1 October, 1916, his unit arrived in Le Havre and proceeded to the Front three days later.

By 8 December 1916 Percy had joined the 252nd Tunnelling Company. Part of the Royal Engineers, this unit was particularly active during the Somme campaign. The men were responsible for everything from constructing underground dugouts for Allied troops, to tunnelling and placing mines under enemy lines. After two years of war, many troops were living in cramped, damp and insanitary conditions. Records from 20 January 1917 show that Percy had contracted scabies, a common skin ailment during trench warfare. He rejoined his unit a week later.

On 15 March 1917, Percy was killed in action. He was just 27 years old and had only been married for just over a year. He was buried at Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2, south-west of Arras. His name also appears on the Mitcham War Memorial.

In September 1917 the Ministry of Pensions wrote to Percy’s widow to award her and her young child, a pension of 18 shillings and 9 pence per week ( roughly £74 in modern money. ) She later moved back to live at her parental home, St Agnes - now 6 Elmwood Road, Mitcham.


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