AS the country gears up to commemorate the start of the First World War, one Oxfordshire family will remember its heroes.
A century ago, Keziah Parker watched her six sons and husband Felix go to war, but only one of her sons returned unscathed. Four of them died.
A hundred years later, grandson Albert Parker researched his family tree and discovered the tragic sacrifice his uncles had made, and his grandmother’s terrible loss.
Albert Parker with a plaque in memory of his great-uncle, Maurice Hirons
Mr Parker, 74, said: “I can’t think of any woman I have ever read about who could have had a harder life than my grandmother. She was just an amazing woman.
“When her first husband died she had eight children and no income. She used to go out to work, take in washing and stand ironing until 2am.
“Then after having such a hard job bringing them up, then to lose them, it’s a dreadful story. I think it’s unbelievable what my grandmother went through receiving all those telegrams.”
Mr Parker’s grandmother, of North Street, Bicester, waved off her sons, William, George, Maurice, Francis, Joseph, and Arthur, and second husband Felix as they joined the Army to fight in Europe.
Over the four years of war, she received four telegrams to inform her her sons, Maurice, Francis, Joseph and Arthur had been killed in action.
In one letter Joseph’s commanding officer wrote to inform Keziah of his death, only to write again weeks later to tell her he had made a mistake and although he had been hit by bullets, he had actually survived.
Joseph lost an eye and returned to Bicester for leave in 1916, but he went back to the battlefields and died in Flanders.
Mr Parker has fond memories of his uncle Bill, who managed to return unscathed.
He said: “He was a lovely man – he was very kind.
“But I never remember him talking about the war.”
Keziah’s son Maurice was the first to be killed just months after Britain joined the war.
Maurice was just 20 when he was killed in Ypres, France, on November 7.
The following August, the family was dealt a second blow when Francis, 26, was killed near Ypres.
In February 1916, Keziah was told Joseph had been killed in action at the front after he was among a team of bombers sent to fight the Germans after an attack on a trench.
In a letter from his commander Lt Douglas Burn, Joseph was described as a “real good soldier” and his loss was a “great blow to both myself and the platoon, especially the other Bicester boys, Bottrell, Grace and Geden”.
But weeks later there was joyous news for the family as it turned out there had been a case of mistaken identity.
The final letter was received just three months before the war ended in 1918. It told that Arthur, 28, had been killed in Flanders.
Mr Parker said: “During the course of the Great War, Keziah had lost four of her sons and seen a fifth son badly wounded.
“No Bicester family made a greater sacrifice during the First World War than the Hirons family.”
The story behind Bicester family’s great sacrifice
Keziah Hitchman was born in Wootton and at the age of 20 she married farm worker Arthur Hirons, 26, of Duns Tew, near Bicester.
Two years later, the couple and their children William and Arthur, moved to Little Chesterton, near Bicester. They had six more children, Francis, George, Maurice, Edith, Joseph and Robert.
In 1898 Arthur died of pneumonia.
Eight years later in 1906, Keziah married 26-year-old Felix Parker, a Bicester council worker, and the pair had three children, John, James and Hilda Parker.
Keziah died in 1944 aged 77.
When the First World War started, the family were living in North Street, Bicester, and Keziah’s second husband Felix, and her sons Arthur, William and Joseph joined the Army.
William Hirons left school at 14 and worked as a shepherd boy, and later a carter working with horses on a farm at Duns Tew.
William Hirons l
He joined the Royal Engineers as a driver with horses in 1914. He worked with horses throughout the war and returned unscathed to Bicester. He died in 1976, aged 84.
George Hirons joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1908. in 1918 he was invalided with shell-shock. He died the same year in a home in Oxford. He was 27.
Maurice joined the military about a year before war started and was called-up to serve in 1914.
Initially he was based in Aldershot, and then France in September 1914 to reinforce the 2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
At 20, he died on November 7. He has no grave, but his name is listed on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres.
Francis joined the Navy in 1907, when he was 18, but later transferred to the Army and joined the 3rd Battalion The Rifle Brigade. In 1913 he became a bugler. While stationed in Ireland, he met and married Catherine Nugent.
Francis was sent to France with his battalion as part of the British Expeditionary Force.
In August 14, 1915, he was wounded and taken to hospital where he died two days later. He was 26. Back in Ireland, his wife was pregnant with his second child.
Joseph joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1914. A young Joseph would have been 17 or 18 when he joined up.
His commanding officer wrote to Joseph’s mother informing her of his death, but just weeks later sent another note apologising for his mistake.
Joseph was recovering his hospital after being shot in his face, chest and buttock.
He returned to Bicester in July 1916 for leave before returning to his unit. He returned to fight in France and was killed in Flanders. The year is unknown.
Arthur joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1914.
Initially he was deployed in the UK guarding bridges and then sent to France. He was killed in Flanders in 1918, just three months before the end of the war. He has no known grave.
Felix joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1914. Initially he was deployed in the UK guarding bridges. He survived the war and died in 1946.
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