OAKMAN, Ernest

No.8785, Private, Ernest OAKMAN
Aged 17

2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment
Killed in Action
on Wednesday, 26th August 1914

An Old Contemptible

Ernest Oakman was born in Burnt Fen, West Row (Mildenhall Q3-1897 4A:835), son of Henry James and Mary Jane OAKMAN (née BROWN).

1901 census...Aged 3, he was at Burnt Fen, West Row with his father Henry OAKMAN [45] farmer/innkeeper born Foxton; his mother Mary [41] born Ely; brothers Albert [20] carter born Soham, Oliver [16] farm labourer, born Ely, David [6] born Ely, and John [1] born Burnt Fen, Suffolk, and sister Martha [10] born Ely.

1911 census...Aged 13, a farm labourer, he was at Widgham Farm, Dullingham with his parents; brothers Albert and Oliver (farmers), David (milkman) and John (school) and sisters Martha and Ethel [19] born Ely. 2 of the ten children had died, Walter [1883-1886] and Walter [1888-1896].

At sometime later he and his brother David must have joined the Army since they were soldiers when war broke out. No records show a connection with Swaffham Prior other than the memorial plaque in the Little Chapel. Presumably his parents moved to the area after 1911.

His elder brother David Oakman died the same day in the same battle see here

He enlisted in Cambridge.
Attested in Suffolk Regiment in Cambridge. As a regular in the Army he was of course one of the first to be sent to France and unfortunately he and his brother Ernest were the first Swaffham Prior men to die. His Army records have not survived.

The 2nd Battalion were in Dublin on the day war broke out, 4th August 1914, and by 10th they were ready to embark direct to France. Moving by marching and by train they eventually reached Mons on the 22nd. Then the German advance strengthened and the Retreat from Mons began for the British Army. By the evening of the 25th August the 2nd Suffolks were halted just outside Montay. After a brief halt they moved on, to Pont des Quatre Vaux, half a mile west of Le Cateau.
On the 26th the order went out from Brigadier General Rolt that there was to be "no retreat...there is to be no thought of retirement". After six hours of continuous and overwhelming fire, they still held, but the Germans had mustered an massive force which nearly totally surrounded the British and by just before 3 the Argyll Highlanders and the Suffolks were overcome. A battalion in the British army was approximately 1,000 men and this day the 2nd Suffolks suffered 720 casualties of all ranks. The remnants slipped away and the next day, at dawn the roll call revealed the Battalion under command of Lt Oakes was 'A' Coy 31; 'B' Coy 19; 'C' Coy 38 and 'D' Coy 16 with 7 attached men, a total of 111. A few stragglers caught up later in the day.
The dead numbered 74, only three have known graves. Numbers at this stage of the war are notoriously inaccurate. The Imperial War Graves Commission had not even been thought of. In fact the concept of even finding the dead and burying them individually was not generally known. Up to then it would have normally only been some officers buried individually or brought back to England. It took a man called Fabian Ware to start organising the currently accepted method of recording, and burying the dead, where possible, in individual graves.

Ernest Oakman is commemorated on the La Fuerte sous Jouarre memorial

click here to go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for full cemetery/memorial details