Thursday, 1 September 2011

Village hero

This is a photograph of Huggins, A.R., as the Lydford war memorial calls him; to his family he was Archie, short for Archibald Reginald.  How the village must have loved him.  Not only did he play for the Lydford Rangers football, but was the sterling right back of the Tavistock Football Club, whose defensive work often saved the day, and (according to an obituary in the Tavistock Gazette) ‘won him unstinted praise from both friend and foe.’   (In September 1914, the club thought it ought to suspend matches ‘until December, or until the war is over.’   Like so many other people, they imagined it would be a short war.)  Lyford was not much of a cricketing village, to judge from surviving score books; but one day in August 1901 Archie managed to reach 48.  
In January 1914, Archie is recorded as the hero of the church billiards team, playing a team raised by his brother Harry in the village reading room.  Archie was then 27.  In his huge paws – he could pick up an old-fashioned leather football in one hand- - the billiard cue must have looked like a match stick.  Did Archie have his own horse?  He must have had access to one, being a member of the Royal North Devon Hussars; the Hussars were one of the yeomanry regiments – a forerunner of the Territorial Army.
The Huggins family had been in Lydford since the 18th century.  Originally they were miners: this was an important area for tin  Later they became stonemasons, which was just as well, because the mines – having tried copper and finally arsenic – closed.  Stone was plentiful: Archie developed those massive hands levering stones off the surface of Dartmoor.  Work, however, was less so.  Nothing more than a village, Lydford was crowded with builders, carpenters and masons -- at a time when farming, which underpinned the economy, had been in recession for decades.   When Archie married Lily Wonnacott one late spring day in 1914, he left of his parents’ modest cottage – which would have been cramped for a strapping fellow like him, as well as crowded with other siblings (he was one of 13) – and set up home in another Devon village, towards the north coast.
As a member of the Hussars, Archie would already have been available for service when the war started.  He was a sergeant.  We see him here, eager as a schoolboy, in the pith helmet in which he was sent to the Dardanelles.  This is a strange thing, though.  He was died on October 26, 1915, only days after his ship --- SS Olympic, sister of the Titanic -- docked, and is buried, not at Gallipoli, but in the British War Graves Cemetery  in Alexandria.  What happened to him?  What was the role of the Hussars?  I am writing the book to find out.

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