The forgotten Northfleet hero who fought and fell at the Somme
PUBLISHED: 10:34 07 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:20 09 November 2016
A man researching his family history discovered the town's memorial is incomplete
The war memorial in Northfleet contains the names of the town’s heroes who fought and died for their country in the First World War.
One of the names engraved on the stone is Frederick William Holt, who lived in Northfleet and died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
But a Gravesend man researching his family history has discovered there was another soldier with the same name who shared the same fate – and who is not commemorated on the memorial.
The two men grew up a few doors away from one another, died in the same battle, and are both named on the memorial at Thiepval in northern France.
Melvyn Hubbard is the great nephew of the Frederick William Holt whose name is engraved on the town’s memorial.
He told the Reporter: “On the Northfleet memorial there is only one FW Holt, but there really should be two.
“I often wondered why there was only one, but all I can think is that maybe there were two and they said ‘we have already got one’. It means there was a soldier not remembered on the memorial.
Mr Hubbard had always suspected the two Holts were related, and this September he finally uncovered the truth – that they were cousins.
He was visiting the memorial in Thiepval and met Great War historian Roger Joye, who did some research into the Holt family.
“My great-grandmother, Louisa, had a son before she had my grandfather and her maiden name was Holt,” Mr Hubbard explained.
“She had Fred Holt, probably out of wedlock, and then married my great-grandfather, so he was my granddad’s half-brother.”
“Louisa had a younger brother, William Frederick Holt, who had three children - one of whom was Frederick William.”
The two cousins both joined up to fight in World War One, with Louisa’s son joining the Coldstream Guards and her nephew serving in the Royal West Kent regiment.
Along with thousands of other British, French and Commonwealth soldiers, the two men died within two weeks of one another in 1916 as the Allies launched their offensive.
“They obviously grew up and played on the streets in Northfleet and went to war and got killed. They are neighbours on the Thiepval memorial,” Mr Hubbard said.
When Mr Hubbard’s sister was moving house recently, she uncovered a family memento that had a poignant link to the fallen soldier - a pendant owned by his great-grandmother.
“It was always a story in the family that when my grandmother got news of Fred’s death she tore it from her neck and it still sits in this box where it was all those years,” Mr Hubbard said.
“She must have been devastated to lose him and his cousin, and after they grew up so close together.
“My grandmother kept a box and used to put a silk poppy in it every year in memory of them.”
Like many families who had experienced the war, it was rarely discussed in detail in Mr Hubbard’s family.
“I used to ask my granddad about the war but he did not really answer,” he explained. It was not a total blank – he used to answer in a roundabout way.
“We don’t really know any of the Holt family, and I would love to get in touch. There must still be some alive.”
Mr Hubbard has scant information about his great uncle’s cousin, but he hopes some relatives will read the story and make contact.
“Apparently he used to play for Gravesend and Northfleet football club, but we don’t know what he looks like,” he said. “It would have been in the early 1900s, but we don’t have an exact date.
“There is a soldier not remembered on the memorial. It would be nice to get that added, but they are both in Thiepval.”
Family members tried to visit his great uncle’s grave after the war - but neither of the two men’s bodies had ever been recovered.
Then Mr Hubbard and his sister visited two years ago and saw both names written on the memorial in France.
“We were the first family members to see his name on the memorial in Thiepval. Whether the Holt family ever witnessed it I do not know,” he said.
Anyone who thinks they may be a relative of Mr Hubbard’s great uncle, or anyone with information, can contact him on 01945 430604 or email his sister, Anne Freeman, at firstname.lastname@example.org