Welcome to the Rayleigh Branch of The Royal British Legion
Samuel Leonard Hazell (1898-1917)
Corporal, Essex Regiment, First Battalion,
Service No 19303”.
By Lesley Heuer
Samuel Leonard Hazell was my great uncle and is a bit of an enigma. The family all know his name but in the 21st century we do not know very much about the teenager who went off to war.
The first time I was aware of his existence was in the 1950s when my grandmother – his half sister Edith – gave me a white china mug with a picture of Blackpool Tower on it. Solemnly she told me “That belonged to my brother Sam, he died in the Great War”. Nothing more was said.
Samuel Hazell was born in Bradwell in 1898 the son of William Hazell and his second wife Annie Elizabeth Turner. He became part of a large family of siblings and half siblings which eventually numbered 10. William already had five children with his late wife Emma, and Annie brought a daughter to the marriage.
William was a farm labourer and the family regularly moved to different farms across the Dengie and Rochford Hundreds – among the places they lived over the years were Steeple, Tillingham, Rettendon, Althorne, Sandon and Rayleigh. According to Edith, Annie would often come home and announce the family was moving having heard of a better job or better house while out and about in the lanes and villages of this part of Essex.
In the 1901 Census the Hazell family were living at Lower Green, Sandon and three year old Samuel appears for the first time. By the next Census in 1911 they are living at Steeple and the 13 year old Samuel is described as a farm labourer working on the farm.
The Hazell family were also members of the Peculiar Peoples’ chapel.
This was an offshoot of the Wesleyan movement and was founded in 1838 in Rochford by John Banyard, a farm worker’s son who gave up his drunken ways after hearing a local preacher. Taking their name from a translation of the phrase “chosen people” in the book of Deuteronomy, the Peculiar People preached a puritanical form of Christianity which proved popular, and numerous chapels sprang up throughout rural Essex. They also practised faith healing. The sectpractised a lively form of worship and considered themselves bound by the literal interpretation of the King James Bible.
They also did not believe in going to the doctor if anyone became unwell relying on prayer. If the patient recovered that was seen as proof of the power of prayer, and if the person died then that was also regarded as God’s wish. This sometimes led to some parents being imprisoned if children died when medical care was refused. This reluctance persisted and even in the 1950s my grandmother would often turn to home remedies – such as vinegar or washing soda – to treat my insect bites.
The Peculiar People were teetotal and during both world wars, some were conscientious objectors, believing as they still do, that war is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
So when Samuel decided to enlist into the Army in May 1915 he did so in the knowledge that he was going against the beliefs that his parents and family held close.
He was just 17 when he joined up – this could have been teenage rebellion with the lure of adventure in far flung places away from the farms of Essex or could have been simply a case of being swept along by the fervour to serve King and Country.
Leaving his parents and brother and sisters in their home at The Weir, Rayleigh, Samuel set off to join the 1st Battalion the Essex Regiment.
The 1st Battalion had sailed from Avonmouth for Gallipoli on 21 March 1915, travelling via Egypt and Mudros, and landing at Cape Helles on 25 April. They were involved in heavy fighting suffering more than 500 fatalities and 700 wounded. In January 1916 the battalion was evacuated and returned to Egypt, and it was about this time that Samuel arrived to join them.. The battalion remained in Egypt until March when they were sent to France. They sailed from Alexandria to Marseilles and then travelled by train to an area east of Pont Remy.
The 1st Battalion took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. The battalion, which comprised W, X, Y, and Z companies, took up position in the British trenches at 3:30 am. At 8:40 am, the battalion received orders to advance and clear the German first-line trenches. It was delayed by heavy enemy fire and congestion in the communication trenches. The Newfoundland Regiment advancing to the left of the Essex battalion was almost entirely wiped out as it advanced towards the German lines. At 10:50 am, the Essex companies were in position and received orders to go "over the top". The companies came under heavy artillery and machine gun fire almost as soon as they appeared over the parapet, causing heavy losses. The attack became bogged down in no man’s land. The battalion received orders from 88th Brigade headquarters to recommence the attack at 12:30 pm, but at 12:20 pm the battalion commander advised brigade HQ that "owing to casualties and disorganisation", it was impossible to renew the attack. The survivors of the battalion received orders to hold their position.
The names of 949 members of the Essex Regiment are recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, commemorating the officers and men of the regiment who died on the Somme and have no known grave.
By 1917 the war had become a struggle of attrition. The opposing Allied and German armies were stuck in a stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front (France and Belgium), in which millions had been killed and wounded in battles that brought the war no closer to an end. In the spring of 1917 the Allies planned a new, massive offensive: the French would assault the German lines at the southern end of the front in the Champagne region of France, while the British would launch diversionary attacks in the north, around the French town of Arras.
The military historian Jeremy Banning has described how the first Battle of Arras began on April 9, Easter Monday, with the Canadian forces fighting to capture Vimy Ridge, despite unseasonal sleet, snow and severe cold. The British advances were also impressive, although the plan to capture the village of Monchy-le-Preux was not realised at first. The British forces had to contend with the Hindenburg Line. By that night, the fate of Germany was in the balance, but British disorganisation and a breakdown of communications gave them some breathing time.
On April 11 more than 2,000 Australian troops were captured after fighting their way through the Hindenburg Line. But the Allied forces did finally secure the village of Monchy. With the village captured the cavalry were to advance east to the Green Line. However, they were forced back into the village by German machine gun fire where they were subjected to a ‘box barrage’ of artillery. Unable to escape, the narrow streets were clogged with horses and cavalrymen. The men found refuge in cellars but the horses could do nothing and were killed in great numbers as shells rained down. The streets of Monchy, full of horse carcasses and the residue of high explosive shells and animals are said to have run with blood.
April 13 was a day for fresh troops to take the field to carry on the attack. Exhausted and frozen men trudged back to Arras, replaced by units at full strength. By now it was almost too late for the breakthrough that had appeared so possible on the evening of April 9.
An attack was planned from the precarious Monchy salient. Just two battalions of men would attack up Hill 100 (named Infantry Hill by the British). Conditions were so bad in the village with the narrow roads still blocked that the attack was postponed until 5.30am on April 14. Banning says: “the plan was to capture Infantry Hill and send out patrols into the Bois du Sart and Bois du Vert to check for enemy. In hindsight this badly planned attack appears highly dangerous, almost suicidal. The Monchy salient was already surrounded on three sides by enemy forces.”
Now a corporal, Samuel Hazell was among the men from the 1st Essex Regiment and Newfoundland Regiment who carried out the attack. It started well and by 7am it was reported that Infantry Hill had been captured. However, in their first proper use of the new defensive employment of ‘elastic defence’ a German counter attack was delivered with such speed and precision that over 1000 Essex and Newfoundlanders were killed – a 19 year old Samuel Hazell among them – wounded or taken prisoner.
Monchy had been left undefended and was now at the mercy of advancing Germans troops. The situation was only saved by the commander of the Newfoundland Regiment, Colonel James Forbes Robertson who, with eight other men opened rifle fire from the edge of the village. For five hours their fire held back the enemy until fresh troops reached them. These men, known as the ‘Men who saved Monchy’ were all decorated for this.
Samuel Hazell has no known grave, his name appears among those of the 34,718 men commemorated at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Memorial at Arras.
After his parents died in 1929 and 1933 respectively, his name was included in the wording on their grave in Rayleigh Cemetery.
For his service to King and Country this Essex teenager was awarded the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1915 Star.
Samuel Hazell, far right back row, with some comrades in arms from the Essex Regiment.
100 years later, the Comittee members of the Rayleigh branch of the Royal British Legion lay a Wreath in his memory. Thanks to Lawrence Sculpher, a great great nephew of Mr Hazell for the photos.