An article written by Richard Donkin, for All Saints Ecclesall Parish magazine, many thanks to Richard for this information
Norman Donkin 1893-1915
I came across this name on the war memorial in All Saints Ecclesall and as we share the same surname I decided to explore. What I have discovered may be of interest as we are in the month which includes Remembrance Sunday. It turns out that he is my second cousin twice removed. He was born in Addiscombe near Croydon in Surrey to Edith and Edwin Donkin. He was the seventh of eight children. He had one living brother and five sisters. In the 1901 census the family is at Addiscombe. His father was a director at the Bryan Donkin Company in Bermondsey in London. In 1902, when Norman was 9, the company moved to Chesterfield and the family moved to Penmore House, Hasland just outside Chesterfield. Sadly his father Edwin died in 1905 at the age of 55. His wife and children moved to 69 Rustlings Road sometime before 1910. Norman attended Chesterfield Grammar School and King Edwards School in Sheffield. In the 1911 census, aged 18, he is living as a boarder with Albert and Elizabeth Brook at 144 Derby Road, Chesterfield. Albert is an iron founder born in Deptford London. He may have moved to Chesterfield with the company in 1902. Norman’s occupation is given as Engineer-Student. In 1913 Norman’s mother and family moved to 134 Greystones Road. After three years training Norman accepted an appointment at the firm’s London office. Early in 1915 he married Catherine Verner at Lambeth. His elder brother Cyril had married Catherine’ sister Marie in 1908. Norman enlisted in the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade at the Westminster recruiting office and was soon at the front. On the 4th September 1915 the Derbyshire Times carried the following report:
Chesterfield Engineer Believed Killed.
Though Private Norman Bryan Donkin, 8th Rifle Brigade, is officially reported missing, it is feared by his relatives that he has been killed, nothing having been heard of him since July.
Headquarters reported to a relative on August 17th that no news had been heard of Private Donkin, his company being one of those on which the Germans used the flame projector. A survivor reported that all the men in the trench where Donkin was had died at their posts. They did not hold out any hope that the men were prisoners, as the Germans did not boast of taking any. There was no reason to suppose that the flame burnt anyone, but they were probably shot at close quarters by the enemy through the flame.
A vivid description of the fight, in which the Rifle Brigade fought so heroically, has been sent by Corporal L. Lathbury in collaboration with Acting-Sergeant G.E. Roberts. They state that one of the German trenches was broken into a crater 90ft by 40ft deep caused by the explosion of one of their mines, which incidentally blew up their explosive store. (Note this is almost certainly what is now known as the Hooge Crater where the British dug a tunnel under a German strong point and exploded 1.5 tons of explosive at 7pm on the 19th July 1915). Near the crater the lines were only 15 yards apart. On Thursday night July 29th, they were relieved, but before the next day they found themselves back in the woods. In their absence the Germans had ejected liquid fire, which ignited everything with which it came in contact. Against it nothing could stand, and their men had to fall back into the woods behind The Rifle Brigade and other battalions were called on as reinforcements, as the enemy seemed likely to attempt a further advance.
“Our company,” says the writer, “took a position further in the wood, when we were ordered to construct some sort of shelter against shells with all speed, as shell fire was expected soon. Three of us set about enlarging a crump hole, but within ten minutes shells were falling fast. The bombardment of this area of woodland was terrific; men who had been in previous bombardments say that in intensity it even exceeded that at La Basco and Neuve Chapelle.
“At 2.45 everybody was ordered to stand to with ‘fixed swords,’ and this against shell fire of every description and rifle and machine gun fire. Part of the 8th Rifle Brigade charged through the wood, followed by ‘C’ Company of the 7th who almost at once took the lead. Simultaneously the remainder of the 8th and ‘B’ Company advanced on the right. Many fell before they got to our fire trenches on the edges of the wood and only a small remnant, led by Lieut. Talbot, passed through our old barbed wire in the only place it was cut, but they only got ten yards or so, every man being down, although a few unwounded crawled back later on. Since that dreadful afternoon the lost ground has been regained with heavy loss to the enemy.”
This reflects some of the horrors of war. Norman Donkin, Rifleman S/491, 8th Battalion the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own), killed in action on the 30th July 1915. He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, panel 46 - 48 and 50 as well as in Ecclesall Church, Ecclesall Parish Halls, Chesterfield Grammar School, King Edwards School, Sheffield Town Hall and Calow War memorial. His wife came from Calow and two of her brothers Adrian and Richard are also commemorated on the memorial. They served in the Sheffield Pals (York and Lancaster Regiment 12th Batallion)
Norman’s mother died in 1916 and is buried in our churchyard. His widow Catherine married John Benjamin Lewis in October 1918 in Sheffield. It appears that all his siblings left Sheffield and moved to other parts of the country. His sister Ivy was living at 134 Greystones Road until 1922 when she married.
Many people have provided information which has helped me to put this together. Special thanks to Joe Clark who looked through microfilms of the Derbyshire Times until he came across the article about Norman. Also to the owners of the web site www.sheffieldsoldierww1.co.uk and Mike Briggs web site for Old Cestrefeldians in the Great War.
Penmore House, Hasland
69 Rustlings Road
134 Greystones Road
144 Derby Road, Chesterfield
The War memorial beside the Emmaus Chapel, All Saints Ecclesall.
The War Memorial at Calow near Chesterfield
General View which includes the Grave of Edith Donkin, mother of Norman Donkin, in All Saints Ecclesall.
The War Memorial at All Saints Ecclesall