Edward (Ned) Gent (1884-1918) was the 4th son of John Gent (1848-1924) and Mary Gent of Glencoe House, Whittle le Woods. He married Annie Knowles on 14 April 1909 at St John’s, Whittle le Woods and lived at Lytham View, Whittle le Woods, Chorley. They had one daughter Bessie, born 3 November 1914.
Edward (Ned) was employed as a blacksmith by Mr B Harrison in Chorley, was born 11 November 1884 and died, aged 34, on 1 December 1918. He was a Sapper (466351) in the Royal Engineers – 13th Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Section and died from influenza, followed by pneumonia at Paradise Row, Whittle le Woods whilst on leave at the end of the First World War. He is buried with his wife Annie, who died aged 87 on 28 October 1971, in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Whittle le Woods.
Their daughter Bessie Jackson (nee Gent) died in 2002 aged 87
On Armistice day, 11 November 1918, his 34th birthday he wrote to his father and sisters “did ever anyone have a more blessed birthday gift … no more dodging bombs and shrapnel, and machine gun fire”. He had written to his family describing life in the trenches and had ‘seen some pitiful sights’ in Verdun, Lens, Bethune, La Bassee, Vimmy and Lille. In his last letter he was very near Tournia and was writing not far from Courtrai on Armistice Day.
After three years of active service in France he was given leave of a few days and had then to return to France. After walking from Wigan railway station to Chorley in cold, wet and windy November weather he succumbed to influenza and pneumonia and died within days of reaching home.
In August 1918 an extremely virulent strain of flu had appeared in France and although it probably originated in the Far East the Allies of the First World War began to call it ‘Spanish’ flu. This was primarily because when it moved from France to Spain the Spanish press had the freedom to report the pandemic whereas a news censorship had been imposed on countries involved in the war.
It was an A virus strain of subtype H1N1, highly infectious and with extremely severe symptoms. Many of its victims were healthy young adults. It is now thought that the virus had jumped from birds to humans. It was during the second wave of the disease, between September and December 1918, that there was the heaviest loss of life.
The stress of combat and chemical attacks would have weakened the soldiers’ immune systems and cramped conditions and large movements of troops would have hastened the pandemic. Symptoms included a blue tint to the face and coughing. It is now thought that 50 to 100 million people died worldwide and that as soldiers on both sides were too sick to fight and more had died from flu than had been killed by weapons, the virus may have played a major role in ending the First World War.
The pandemic is estimated to have infected about half the world’s population at the time, about one billion people.
It could be argued that with the severity of the flu symptoms and the poor general health of the troops, Ned would probably have died in the trenches if he had not been lucky enough to get home on leave. Obviously, the atrocious weather conditions on his journey home did not help his chances of recovering from the flu but we must be grateful that he had a loving family around him when he died.
Ned’s cousin James Gent (b 1867 – they shared the same grandfather, John Gent b 1814) had a son David fighting in France in 1915 and tragically his body was never found after the second attack at Givenchy on 15 June. He was 20 years old and is remembered on a panel at the Le Touret Memorial.
Ned’s story is a sad one and the war was also a tragic one. On Armistice Day, 11th November, his birthday he wrote about not forgetting the ‘brave lads who have given their all, for this, our glorious cause’.
How poignant to describe it as ‘a glorious cause’. All those brave soldiers would have to believe in that image. They would have to believe the propaganda fed by the government about ‘glorious causes’ to justify the waste of fellow soldier’s lives and the pain and suffering of themselves and their families.
But the heartache did not stop there. According to family legend, blame was apportioned among some family members regarding a belief that he may have survived with more intensive nursing care and family feuds over the issue would seem to have been carried on for many years.