Date of birth: 5th October 1904
Parents: Charles Edward and Minnie (nee Ashby) Jennings
Wife: Florence Jennings nee Radbourne
Address: Budbrooke Barracks, Nr Warwick
Occupation: Career soldier with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Augustus was born on 5th October, 1904 and baptised two months later on 4th December at New Bilton church, near Rugby in Warwickshire. His parents were Charles Edward (1869-1907) and Minnie (nee Ashby, 1870-1952) and his father was employed as a Storekeeper at that time.
The 1911 Census shows that Charles was no longer alive (having died in 1907) so the head of the family was Minnie. The family were living at 23 Lawford Road, New Bilton. Augustus was the youngest of seven children. His siblings were Fanny Elizabeth (b 1893), Maud Minnie (b 1895), Doris May (b 1896), Charles Henry (b 1898), Florence Alice (b 1901) and Elsie Irene (b 1903).
Augustus got engaged to Florence Radbourne while he was a corporal (the picture above was taken on his engagement) but he wanted to get his third stripe before marrying. In 1930 (Q4) Sergeant Jennings married Florence in Rugby District (probably New Bilton), when she was 21. The couple had two daughters, Pamela and Diane. Pamela was born in Alexandria in 1933/4 some 9 months after Florence joined Augustus there on a troopship carrying several wives. Their daughter Diane was born in Warwick in 1937, shortly after the family had returned from duty in India to Budbrooke Barracks in 1936. The family lived there in military quarters until Augustus went to France, when Florence and the two girls moved to Rugby to live with her parents.
Augustus’ daughter, Diane, remembers her mother saying ‘I was married at 21 and widowed at 31′ and that people would say she should marry again but she never did. Instead she brought up the two girls on her own, working in an office, which she hated, then training as a teacher, cramming a three year course into just over a year. She loved teaching.’
There is a grave at Esquelbecq in Augustus’ honour.
Diane Norton-Jennings now lives in Portsmouth with her son and has been campaigning for Augustus to receive a posthumous award for his act of bravery at Wormhout.
Rank & Number: Warrant Officer Class lI (CSM), 5099997
Regiment/Service: Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Date of death: 29th / 30th May 1940
Cause of death/Battle: Killed in a massacre in a barn at Wormhout during the retreat to Dunkirk
Commemorated/Buried: Esquelbecq Military Cemetery
Awards: Long Service Good Conduct medal
Commemorated locally at: Rugby War Memorial
Augustus Jennings was a career soldier, joining up when he was just 17 and serving first in Egypt and India. In 1936 he returned to England to live with his wife Florence in military accommodation at Budbrooke Barracks, Warwick.
Their daughter, Diane, tells us “When my father was despatched to Belgium in 1939, my mother, sister and I moved to my grandparents’ house in Rugby. I was too young to remember my father very well, but my mother said that before he returned to the front after a short leave over the new year, he told his father-in-law, ‘Look after the girls; I’m not going to get out of this one’.”
In May 1940, Augustus was the Company Sergeant Major with a unit of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment holding back overwhelming German forces in order to allow 330,000 British troops to be evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk. They had been ordered to ‘fight to the last bullet’. At Wormhoudt near Esquelbecq in France, when they had run out of ammunition, they surrendered, expecting to be sent to a POW camp. But their captors were soldiers from the elite Waffen SS ‘1st SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler’. Nearly 100 British and French soldiers were herded into a small barn. Some were shot, then grenades were thrown into the barn. When the first grenade was lobbed in, Sgt. Maj. Jennings threw himself on top of it to protect the others and was killed instantly. The SS troops then machine-gunned the barn. Eighty-nine were killed but six survived and were taken to hospital by the regular German soldiers. Further information about the Warwick men killed in the Wormhoudt/Esquelbecq massacre can be found here.
For more than 3 years, Florence knew only that her husband was missing. Confirmation of his death, as ‘Killed in action’, came at the end of the war in a letter also stating the cost of having his name on a gravestone in France. According to Diane, “My mother was furious. She was struggling to bring up two daughters alone. She had received the service scroll from the King sent to all the troops, and just one medal, The Long Service Good Conduct Medal. The truth about the massacre emerged only in 1988 when the survivors began to talk about it and the media took an interest. Diane has campaigned to be given the campaign medals that her father was due and has taken the occasion of this year’s anniversary to write to the MOD Minister for Veterans, asking why the family did not receive any campaign medals and seeking a posthumous bravery award for her father.
- Unlocking Warwick Research Group
- Diane Norton – Augustus’ daughter