John Lakeman, known as Jack, was born in 1898 in Modbury, and lived with his parents Nicholas and Ethel Lakeman, cheeseman and grocer, at 4 Broad Street Modbury. Nicolas died in 1945 and Ethel in 1942.
Jack started boarding at Wycliffe School, Gloucestershire at the age of 11 in 1909. His school noted that ‘he was a somewhat cheeky and pugnacious youngster, but withal a most popular one, and his habit of “squeaking” when being pommelled or gently chastised in the playground earned him the nickname of “Guinea”, which stuck to him to the end.
His school career, without being brilliant, was successful from almost all points of view.’ He represented the school in football and as wicket keeper in the 1st XI cricket team. He wanted to become a doctor but was thwarted by the war.
He joined the Inns of Court OTC in 1916 soon after his 18th birthday and received his commision as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 20th (Tyneside Scottish) Northumberland Fusiliers. Being in the Tyneside Scottish, he was numbered among the Jocks and wore a Balmoral.
He was in France for 3 months and wrote from the front line about his experiences: “I am doing very well, billeted in a farm house. The men are packed like sardines in barns which, just at present, are extremely draughty and cold. The rum ration helps to keep them warm, but an officer must always attend and keep a sharp look out unless the mess tin, spoon, rum and all disappear in addition to the 2 tablespoons’ ration. The men always grumble at the quantity, but never go to sleep before it comes round.”
A fortnight before he was mortally wounded he wrote to his old school: “This country reminds me very much of Stonehouse being hilly and wooded to a great extent. In fact, it would be a delightful place to live in were it not for the perpetual thunderstorm in our midst! At present we are billeted in low huts made chiefly of corrugated iron and matchwood, and possessing a thermometric range similar to that of the Old Chapel, less the felt lining. Still, on the whole, they are a great success in comparison with a fusty dug-out infested with rats suffering from chronic ‘flu’ which sneeze and snore at you all day. My last home in the front line delighted in the name of a shelter. You slept on a duck board and closed up the door with a waterproof sheet. The weather was so cold that I invariably woke with a feeling that my feet were in a shell hole in no man’s land.”
He was wounded on the first day of the Arras offensive, being shot through the head. He was taken to the Le Touquet Hospital, known as the Hotel des Anglais, where he was still conscious but he died, in the company of his parents, 3 days later aged 19 on 20th April 1917 at the Duchess of Westminster Military Hospital. He is buried at the Etaples Military Cemetry Pas de Calais with the inscription: ‘Of Modbury, Devon, England’
His mother wrote afterwards: “What we have seen of the courage, heroism and self-sacrifice of our brave, noble boys since we went to France, no words can express, and at the Hotel des Anglais we were as one family, united in the common bonds of sympathy and anxiety. We can never be grateful enough for the loving care bestowed upon us. We were called to Jack’s bedside for the last time at 1pm on Friday, and the end came so peacefully that we scarcely knew it. God has been good to us in every way, and we thank Him for such a dear son.”
The following words are from a biography written by J A Sibley for Wycliffe College in 1920. His Colonel writes :
” Your son had not been with the regiment very long, but while with us he did exceedingly well, being very keen on his work, very hard-working and reliable. He possessed a charming disposition and his brightness and cheerfulness quickly made him a favourite both with his brother officers and with the men. I cannot tell you how sorry I am to lose an officer of such promise.”
The Captain who commanded his Company writes from a hospital in England : “Whilst I knew him he was easily the cheeriest and certainly the keenest subaltern in the Battalion. He came to my Company in an unusual manner. He reported at Battalion Headquarters along with another officer, and the C.O. suggested that the two weakest Companies should decide by tossing which officer they should have. We won the toss and the choice was one on which we have always congratulated ourselves, and which the other Companies have envied. He was hit whilst leading his men in a most gallant manner, and from my knowledge of him this is just what I should have expected. While with us he endeared himself to everyone in the Company and to many outside it. I had been out for more than two years, and though I have now become hardened to losing comrades, I felt his loss beyond what I can say. His men worshipped him : he was rapidly bringing his platoon to be one of the smartest in the Battalion, and many are the times he has sacrificed himself so that his men might have some little extra comfort. He was as true a soldier and gentleman as I hope to meet.”
An old Wycliffe officer writes : “Jack was always to me the most cheery and happy fellow under all circumstances . He always looked upon the bright side of life, and made the best of it. He possessed the finest character that anyone could hope for, and was for ever going to endless trouble to do somebody a good tum.”
There have been many other tributes from past and present Wycliffe boys to his character and influence, and as summing them all up we quote that of one who was acquainted with him intimately: ” All who knew Jack during his long years at Wycliffe liked him, and those who knew him well loved him dearly, for he was such a bright, straight, kind, trustworthy boy, and his school is for ever in his debt.
Even in the presence of death you can rejoice in ….. a son who never tarnished honour’s shield, who was always loving and cheerful and helpful and brave and true, and in the thought that ‘ God, of His love, hath crowned so fair a life with a death as noble.’
|Address:||4 Broad Street, Modbury|
|Next of Kin:||Son of Nicholas Lakeman, cheeseman and grocer (d. 1945), and Ethel Lakeman (d. 1942). Brother and younger sister|
|Unit||20th (Tyneside Scottish) Northumberland Fusiliers|
|Died On:||20th April 1917|
|Where Buried:||Etaples Military Cemetry Pas de Calais.. Reference XV11.C.7|
|Memorial:||Inscription: 'Of Modbury, Devon, England'|