Remembering sacrifice of forgotten Canning Town soldier
- Credit: Archant
As a child, Linda Stock was taken by relatives to a strange church to watch a bell-ringing ceremony that baffled her throughout her life – until she eventually learned the truth and unveiled a deep family secret.
When researching her ancestry, the 67-year-old was shocked to learn there was a relative – a great-uncle – she had never heard of.
With nobody alive from the time, Linda decided to hire a professional historian to answer her questions about this mystery man.
The historian discovered that the great-uncle, Joshua Fardon, had signed up during the First World War in Canning Town, lied about his age – and perished on a battlefield in France.
“I went to Cambrai, where he died,” Linda said. “And when I saw his name I couldn’t stop crying.
“Even though I didn’t know him, I just kept thinking of this young boy, away from home and terrified.
“There was no body, apparently, so he must have been blown to bits. I thought it was terrible.”
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What most upset Linda was that her family – particularly her grandfather, Joshua’s older brother – had kept it a secret.
“My grandad was in the Royal West Kents – the same regiment as Joshua,” she said. “He was wounded at the Somme but he would never talk about it.
“All he would say is that the Germans did it. I had no idea he was also hiding a brother.
“But I suppose that was just the time – you simply didn’t talk about the war then.”
Compounding the loss and cover-up was the discovery that Joshua’s mum had learned her son had lied about his age and asked his sister to write a letter to get him removed from the front.
“He was 17 when he signed up, and you had to be 19 to fight on the frontline,” Linda said.
“He was 5ft 4in, 123lbs and had a 32in chest but they believed he was 19. There was an outcry at home.
“The letter got him withdrawn from the front but when he actually turned 19 they sent him back – and he ended up at the Battle of Cambrai.”
That battle, one of the earliest in which tanks were used in large numbers, resulted in tens of thousands of British casualties – including Linda’s great-uncle.
She had remained saddened by the lack of recognition for Joshua, not only by his own family but by the country and the borough.
But one day, while reading a copy of the Recorder, she came across a story about bells engraved with the names of the war dead – and decided to have a look.
“I was umming and ahhing about whether to go, but I’m so glad I did,” she said of her visit to the Memorial Community Church, in Barking Road, Plaistow.
“When I saw his name, I was overwhelmed. It explained everything – that was why they took me there, even though they never told me. My nan was a member of the church, so it must have been her.
“It meant his death wasn’t in vain. It meant he was recognised in England for his efforts.”
Linda is now making an appeal to find any other relatives of Joshua – and hopes they will come forward to join her in remembering a man that so many people strove to forget.