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Joseph Farmer

Served with Essex County Constabulary from Dec 7, 1905 and died on Apr 15, 1917.

Joseph Farmer, the son of Frank Farmer, was born in Axminster on March 17, 1884. After leaving school he joined the army, serving with the Coldstream Guards. On discharge from The Guards he worked as a labourer before joining Essex Constabulary as Police Constable 256 on December 7, 1905. At that time his height was recorded as five feet ten and three quarter inches.

He served at Brentwood until March 7, 1908, when a health problem forced his removal to Great Clacton, where he stayed the next eight months until November 18. He then transferred to Lambourne End, and was serving in Tilbury when he married Florence Ellen Pavitt, the 23 year old daughter of Samuel Pavitt, an engine driver, at St. John the Baptist Church Tilbury Docks, on August 21, 1912. He later served at Rochford, although he, his wife and two young children kept their house at 15 Railway Cottages in Tilbury.

At the outbreak of War in August 1914, Farmer, a reservist, was recalled to his regiment as Private 4901 of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. At that time his wife, Florence, was pregnant with their son Joseph Charles who was to be born on November 12, 1914. Joseph Farmer never saw his son.

The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards was one of six battalions of Guards that went to France with the original British Expeditionary Force, crossing the Channel between of August 12 and 17, 1914. Together with the1st Battalion Scots Guards, 1st Battalion Black Watch and 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers they formed the 1st Guards Brigade of the 1st Division. They were commanded by Brig-General Ivor Maxse.

The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards had little involvement in the retreat from Mons. However they formed part of the rear guard of the division on August 27 and formed the infantry of the advanced guard of the 1st Division when the allied armies turned and advanced on September 6. Having crossed the Petit Morin and the Marne they were not seriously engaged till September 14, the day after crossing the Aisne. Having struggled up the wooded Vendresse valley and taken positions along the Chemin des Dames they came under continuous artillery fire and sustained heavy losses.

The History of the Guards Division in the great war records:

'Lt-Colonel Ponsonby eventually collected the equivalent of about a company of his men and continued the advance, penetrating about a mile within the enemy's line and occupying a very forward position beyond the village of Cerny. Then followed some confused fighting in the fog that was very thick. For a time the Guards were able to hold their own, but in the afternoon a heavy counter-attack, in which eighteen German battalions took part, was launched against the front held by the 1st Division. The Coldstream, Scots Guards and Cameron Highlanders made a gallant resistance and attacked in their turn, but the enemy's pressure was too great and they were eventually obliged to relinquish their forward positions.'
The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards lost 11 officers and 350 other ranks during this day's fighting. It is believed that during the action on September 14 Joseph Farmer, who had been posted as missing, was taken prisoner. The war was barely a month old!

Sometime later Joseph sent a post card from a Prisoner of War camp at Doeberitz in Germany informing Police Superintendent Scott at Rochford that he had been captured and was quite well and was enjoying more privileges than he had been.

Following this Joseph Farmer was transferred, with other prisoners of war, from Germany to the Eastern Front where he was held in captivity on the front line in the vicinity of Mitau, in what is now Latvia, until he died on April 15, 1917, at the age of thirty-three. A letter, in which he also complained of the difficulty of working with two frostbitten toes, was published posthumously in the Essex County Chronicle.

'I am with my old company, working in the trenches on the Russian firing line; we are under big gun fire all the time, and I was nearly blown to pieces today. We are told we are here because our Government is treating German prisoners the same. Will you make this known to the public how we are treated and why, for it is awful here, but keep a good heart.'
He was buried originally in Mitau, but after the war his body, and those of thirty-five Allied soldiers was reburied in Nickolai Cemetery in what is modern-day Latvia. A total of thirty-six British soldiers are buried in the Nikolai Civil cemetery where Joseph Farmer is honoured and remembered. The cemetery is a small plot within the large civil cemetery of Jelgava.

The following documents submitted to The Committee on Treatment of British Prisoners of War stored in the National Archives make reference to Joseph Farmer and give some indication of the deprivation and hardship endured by him and his fellow prisoners.

Paper 2806 - Alexander Gibb, Company Sergeant Major 6826, 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

'While at Mitau, I also saw, I should think, about 20,000 parcels in two shops. These had arrived from Libau for us during the last 3 months, and had they been forwarded on and delivered to us they would have saved every one of the lives that were lost. All the deaths were due to starvation and exhaustion and nothing else. In one of the shops hundreds of wrappers showed that large numbers of the parcels had been stolen.
The following were removed from Camp to hospital and died there;-
Private Farmer; Coldstream Guards 15 04 1917. (other names listed).'
Paper 4109 - Private 6700 C Brown, 1st West Yorkshire Regiment (Captured Soissons 20 09 1914.)

'I was first sent to DOBERITZ where I remained till May, 1916. From DOBERITZ I went to LIBAU employed on heavy dock work.
Accommodation very bad - no parcels or letters for five months after which they came regularly.
February, 1917 my company consisting of 500 men were taken to LIBAU. Entrained from LIBAU to MITAU in cattle trucks. Began a march surrounded by Uhlans, snow was above our knees. After first 10 kilometers men began to fall out and were immediately struck with the butt end of lances by the Uhlans and those who could not march were placed in sledges their kit being stolen by German soldiers passing on the road.
Slept in a large cavalry tent with 8 small trench stoves but no fuel supplied.
Informed German prisoners were being employed on the Western Front. Despite protests by the German Government the practice was being continued so as a reprisal we would be kept at LATCHEN until the German's (prisoners) were removed from close behind the British lines.
There was strict Military discipline, half rations, no smoking and no letters or parcels.
Defaulters would be tied up on a pole for two hours a night for 14 days.
There was no water and we used snow for drinking and water from the river.
We were in a continued state of starvation. Bones thrown out by the German kitchen the other side of the river were eagerly gnawed by us and even swill tubs were welcome to assuage our hunger.
Men were inadequately clad for weather conditions and suffered frost-bite. Our main diet was soup.
Sometimes (owing to the below zero temperatures) it was impossible to get boots on and cloths were used to wrap feet in yet we were still sent to work at the point of a bayonet. A distance of some 7 kilometres.
I recall 42 men dying. Men deliberately chopped fingers off hoping for hospital. Constantly under shell fire when repairing trenches - hoped to die from the shells.

There was a roster of three names, if one escaped the other two were shot. I recall the names of some of the men who died one was Private Farmer - Coldstream Guards.'
Paper 4127 - Corporal 28107 Robert Steel, 5th Troop Royal Engineers.

'On 13th April, (1917) we were transferred to a temporary hospital in an old Lettish school building and found ourselves much worse off - no sanitary arrangements and the hospital filthy. Each man was forced to sleep with Russians either side, 22 Russians to 6 English.
Private Farmer died in hospital on 17th April, 1917.'
On September 5, 1917, Essex Police Committee resolved

'that the sum of £14. 7. 7 be paid to Mrs Florence Ellen Farmer, the wife of Constable Farmer being the rateable deductions made from his pay whilst a member of the County Police Force.'
The poppies gleamed like bloody pools through cotton-woolly mist;
The Captain kept a lookin' at the watch upon his wrist;
And there we smoked and squatted, as we watched the shrapnel flame;
'Twas wonderful, I'm tellin' you, how fast them bullets came.
Robert Service
(Canadian Medical Corps)

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