Katie’s fascinating voyage of discovery to Hastings

Katie Daubs and Richard Lautens preparing for their walk along the Western Front. Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star
Katie Daubs and Richard Lautens preparing for their walk along the Western Front. Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star

A CANADIAN journalist has made a fascinating voyage of discovery to trace her great-grandfather’s footsteps in the First World War.

Katie Daubs, a reporter on the Toronto Star, came to the UK as part of a two-month tour of the Western Front for her newspaper to mark the conflict’s centenary.

She visited Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, where Canadian troops trained, before coming to Hastings, where many Canadian soldiers stayed to convalesce.

Katie contacted Heather Grief, from Hastings Local History Group, prior to her visit last Tuesday (April 15), asking about information on Canadians in Hastings during the First World War.

Her great-grandfather Jimmy Daubs had both worked at the No 8 Stationary Hospital (the old St Helen’s Hospital) and been a patient. He was hit in the face with a baseball bat when playing in the Hastings Canadian army team. Matches were held on the Central Cricket Ground against teams from neighbouring Eastbourne and Bexhill.

Katie said: “I first learned that my great-grandfather was in Hastings when I had a look at his service record. It showed that he was in the hospital there in June 1917, when he took a baseball bat to the face during a game. He fractured his face pretty terribly, according to the medical report. He was in hospital until October or so – he’d been knocked unconscious initially.

“The interesting thing that I’m trying to figure out is whether he was playing for the Hastings hospital baseball team or if he was playing for another team, and later became a member of the hospital team after his long stay there. A picture of the hospital’s baseball team in June 1917 that I found at Canada’s War Museum shows my great-grandfather as part of the team. Like any of these stories about the First World War, there’s nobody around to explain what went on, in exact terms. But I’m slowly piecing it together, with the help of people like the crew I met in Hastings.

“Richard Lautens, my photographer, and I visited the site of the old hospital, and some of the other war landmarks, including the cricket pitch where they would have played baseball.

“The historical group was fantastic. I had called Heather from Canada before I left and she was able to send out the word we were coming and change the theme of the meeting to Canadians in Hastings. Brian Lawes gave a wonderful presentation, and many people stayed afterward to give us pointers and suggestions.

“I’m still trying to track down more information about my great-grandfather. Nobody in my family really knows his story during the war, as like many of his generation, he didn’t talk about it.

“He met his wife in England – a pianist named Hilda Tansley from Nottingham. Both died before I was born.

“After the incident with the baseball bat, he was transferred to the Canadian Medical Corps, and the hospital where he received his care – they soon had a stationary hospital set up, following the air force around France.”

Large numbers of Canadian troops were based in Hastings. Many also volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps, which did its basic training in town. Tented camps appeared on playing fields, especially along The Ridge, but many troops were billeted in people’s homes and pubs. Many presentations of medals were made, usually in Warrior Square, which was a handy location for such events as four Canadian divisions had their headquarters fairly nearby at Carlisle Parade, Dane Road, Pevensey Road and Warrior Terrace.