The Hanham Story

Hanham is the incredible story of three brothers who fought in the First World war and their family. Inspired by the purchase of a tobacco tin at auction it tells the story of three brothers and their struggle to survive the turmoil of war and horror of the trenches. At home their eldest sister Kathleen tries to support a family soon ravaged by the conflict and maintain a grip on her own complicated life…


In 2015 my father, a battlefield guide, military historian and retired soldier himself, purchased at auction a tobacco tin that saved the life of a young man while fighting during the First World War. The lot though turned out to be much more than this rare piece of history and the story of three Hanham brothers and their family was revealed…

A letter from Stuart to his youngest brother Basil in August 1911. Their love for one another is clear to see and the printed letter head shows the address of the Hanham family at the time of writing.

Pictures from the pre-war training of the Kensington Battalion. A ‘Territorial’ unit part of the 4th London Infantry Brigade their commitment was much like the reserve units of today. Both Stuart and Basil were territorial soldiers before the war, Eric joined the battalion when war was declared in August 1914.

Camp of the 4th London Infantry Brigade, Crickhowell 1913.

Camp of the 4th London Infantry Brigade, Crickhowell 1913.

When war was declared in August 1914 the Kensington Battalion began their training for war. The pictures below are of the Kensington Battalion training on the streets of Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, their base until sent to France in November of 1914.

The sense of adventure is palpable in all of their correspondence from this time.

Postcards, one addressed to Eva and the other Kathleen, from Eric in the summer of 1914 and a message Stuart sent to Eric during the same summer.

Postcards, one addressed to Eva and the other Kathleen, from Eric in the summer of 1914 and a message Stuart sent to Eric during the same summer.

At nine we left the old parade ground. We had a great send off all the way through Abbots Langley...
We went via Hunton Ridge to Watford. We got there at 11am. It was rather a rush towards the end as we were a little late, and in consequence our packs got more than a trifle heavy!
— Stuart Hanham, Abbots Langley 3rd November 1914

In November the Hanham boys set sail for France with The Kensington Battalion and took their place on the line with regular units of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The Hanham brothers kept diaries until such times that soldiers were not allowed. From home their family sent newspaper cuttings, letters and good wishes to the boys at the front.

The left half of the Battalion are going to the firing line tonight for three days... The Roads are in a frightful state, we passed through a town in absolute ruins, the houses are burned or shelled down, and there are bomb holes in the street big enough to bury a pony and cart. The enemy are playing search lights on us so that it is necessary to lay flat in the muddy road, to avoid detection. It is a dreary sight to see the ruins of hundreds of houses standing out like ghosts.
— Eric Hanham, on his way to the front line 18th November 1914

Letters from their mother Eva help to shed light on how difficult life would have been like for a mother with three sons fighting at the front. Very often we focus on the soldiers and their letters home when those left behind, women like Eva and Kathleen, had to continue to live their lives in constant worry and fear. A fear that grew with every new offensive and the onset of a ghastly winter.

Kathleen, as a young actress busy with her own complicated life, had to juggle her day to day struggles with unending concern for her brothers at the front and worry for her ageing mother. Her story, and the story of women like her, is often forgotten amid the horror and scale of the Great War but they are important in understanding the effects of the conflict on society, a society that would be forever changed.

I am safe in saying it has rained almost continuously for, at least, a fortnight. I think it really must be longer than that I have thought about my dear boys in those muddy trenches, and have prayed that God will be pleased to protect them and keep them safe from harm and bring them safely back.
— Eva Hanham, in letter addressed to Stuart 16th December 1914

So much of writing a story like Hanham is in the finite detail. Big events and key dates shape the narrative but the characters only reveal themselves when you look between the lines and through the words. This letter from Eric to Basil is an indication toward his jovial character.

A comical letter from Eric to Basil, complete with cartoons.

A comical letter from Eric to Basil, complete with cartoons.

How do I find out what happened to them?…

Order your copy of HANHAM HERE.

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