Pte. Joseph Baldwin (1884 – 1918)
Joseph Baldwin was born on Christmas Eve 1884, and one of nine children to a carpenter from Wrotham named William George Baldwin, and his wife Mary Ann Streeter.
In 1891 the Baldwin family were living at 10 Grove Road in Sevenoaks with six of their children (William, Frank, Mary, Rose, Daisy and John) although Joseph, who was six, was resident at his grandparents’ house in Plaxtol High Street. Joseph’s father died in 1896 and by 1901 his mother was living with two of his brothers. Joseph had left home and was working as a grocer’s assistant at William Norrington’s shop on St. John’s Hill.
When he was 18, Joseph visited the Army recruiting office in Maidstone on 17 February 1903, and joined the Royal West Kent Regiment for a period of 12 years. At the time of his enlistment Joseph was recorded in an army medical as being 5’ 3 ¾” in height, weighing 112lbs with fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He was passed fit for army service and subsequently posted to join the 1st Battalion at Shorncliffe on 22 May.
The Queen’s Own remained in the UK until 6 April 1904 when they boarded the SS Soudan at Southampton and sailed for Malta. Nine days later the men disembarked and were placed under canvas at Pembroke and Mellieha for a month prior to moving to Floriana Barracks.
7187 Pte. Joseph Baldwin remained in Malta for over a year, returning to England on 22 October 1905 and based at Dover until February 1906, when he was transferred into the (First Class) Army Reserve, having served his three years in the Regular Army.
On 2 January 1909, Joseph married Katie Baldock at St. Michael’s Church in Maidstone. The couple lived at 25 Greatness Road in Sevenoaks, and had two daughters named Phyllis and Ada. Joseph had found work as a postman – a job he held until August 1914 when he was mobilized back into the Army. He was one of 320 Reservists who arrived at the Regimental Depot in Maidstone within a day or so of notices being posted.
Joseph was immediately dispatched to Dublin, where he joined his old battalion, and sailed with them for France on board the SS Gloucestershire on 13 August. Two days later the West Kents disembarked in Le Havre, and following an uncomfortable night sleeping in sheds situated on the quay, they made their way to a rest camp five miles out of town. The streets were lined with cheering crowds with an officer in the battalion writing in his diary that:
The whole journey was a sort of triumphal progress. At every station there were crowds of people with cigarettes, little flags, sweets and flowers for the men. Great cheering, hand shaking, kissing of hands. Many shouted ‘Guillaume’ (meaning the German Emperor) and then pretended to cut their throats. In the towns the windows were full of people for half a mile on each side of the railway waving flags and handkerchiefs, and shouting ‘hip, hip, hurrah, Vive l’Angleterre!’
A week later the excitement of the battalion’s arrival in France Joseph’s unit found themselves marching towards Mons carrying heavy packs across cobble-stoned roads and in the stifling heat of late summer. Joseph was batman (personal servant) to a commissioned officer, a post he held throughout his time at the Western Front.
The battalion’s first engagement with the enemy occurred on 23 August near Mons at the village of Tetre however, faced with overwhelming numbers of German infantry and superior artillery, the West Kents were forced to retire under the cover of darkness.
Following the Allied retreat into France the battalion was in action at the Battles of Le Cateau, the Marne, the Aisne, La Bassée and Messines and Neuve Chapelle. Joseph was likely involved in some, or all of these actions and spent Christmas 1914 based in the Wulverghem sector on the Ypres salient. Conditions in the trenches during this period were described as being squalid with life being a ‘dreary monotony’ punctuated only by casualties. Heavy rain made conditions worse, and Joseph would have been more concerned with battling the elements than the Germans.
During 1915 he is known to have fought at the Capture of Hill 60 before returning to England on 9 February 1916 and, having served his time, discharged with an exemplary record on 2 March. By then his wife and children were living at 17 Whatcote Cottages in Platt, and Joseph eventually returned to postal work after receiving his discharge papers.
Incredibly Joseph was summoned before the Wrotham Military Service Tribunal on 12 July 1916 and given three-months exemption. Having had his full military career detailed in front of the committee at the hearing, it appears he was ‘left alone’ after that, however, still keen to do his bit, he joined the British Red Cross on 7 January 1918 and went to Mesopotamia (Iraq) where he worked as an engineer transporting the sick and wounded by motor launch. Joseph died on 16th July 1918, an officer wrote:
You will have received an official notification of the sad news of your husband’s death. Permit me to add to it my deepest sympathy in the great loss you have sustained. Your husband has done splendid service while he was in Mesopotamia in transporting the sick and wounded. He died in a very noble cause, and has added yet another name to the long, long roll of honour of those who have died for their country in the hour of its greatest peril. Do not be over-wrought with grief, and think of him as one who nobly died.
For his military service Joseph was awarded the 1914 Star, British War and Victory Medals and was buried in the Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery.
His brother John died of wounds in October 1915 whilst serving with the 9th Lancers and was given a full military funeral in Sevenoaks. According to a newspaper article Joseph was among the mourners present.