George Stennett 1874 – 1960
George was born on 15th April 1874 in Stow, Lincolnshire, to William, a famer, and Jane (maiden name not yet confirmed but possibly Parker). The family lived in Billingborough, Bourne in Lincolnshire until at least 1901, by which time George was described as a farmer. He married Ida May Gunson on 28th September 1905 in Donnington, and by 1909 was the farmer at West Court Farm, with two young sons.
A terrible accident happened to Ida in December that year, when she had fainted in front of the sitting room fire when alone and had regained consciousness to find that her dress was on fire. She had rushed out into the farmyard where the wind caused her dress to burn more rapidly and it was only by the prompt action of farm worker Robert Fox, who put out the flames with his coat, that she was considered not to have been burnt to death. She was reported to have been severely burnt around her neck and arms and was unconscious when carried back into the house.
The Dover Express has many mentions of George over the years. He appeared to be a generous man, providing money to send 30 children on a trip to Sandwich for the Children’s Country Holiday Club in 1910. In the same year he was elected on to the Parish Council for the first time and was also an ‘overseer’ for the parish.
In 1911 George sold a stack of clover in an auction to Joseph Fox, another farmer in Coldred. Joseph bought a lawsuit against George as the clover had been guaranteed to be “good and dry” but was mouldy. Joseph wanted his money back. The jury recommended that £40 was paid for loss and damages.
In August 1913, George advertised for an “honest man” to retail milk, eggs and poultry, as well as helping in the yard and garden, and the following August advertised “sound Shire home bred cart horses” for sale.
George attested on 16th September 1915, having been called up, at the age of 35. He gave his job as a farmer and grazier. He was described as 6’ tall, with brown hair and dark eyes. His records state that he had previously served ten years in the 2nd Lincoln RGKMR. He served in the Army Service Corps Motor Transport, service no. M2/121380, being appointed as an unpaid acting lance corporal in October 1915 and then as an acting sergeant in November 1915. He was discharged on 31st August 1916 as “no longer physically fit for War Service”, with his disability being given as ‘mental instability’. The record is too faint to make out more details.
In December 1919, the Dover Express reported a very acrimonious alleged libel action, brought by George against his parents-in-law, Joseph and Charlotte Gunson. This was following statements written in a letter by Mrs Gunson to George’s commanding officer whilst he was in the Army.
The background to the action, given by Mr Joseph of Mowll & Mowll on behalf of George, was that his father-in-law was a wealthy man who had purchased Eastry Court, with George and Ida moving to Westcourt Farm to be near her parents. Mr Gunson had put up £1,500 as surety for the couple. George stated that he had been happy in his marriage until after 1914. He had enlisted that year in the East Kent yeomanry but as he wasn’t an “A1 man”, he had been drafted out of the regiment with a certificate from the Medical Board. He eventually managed to get into the ASCMT and consented that Ida and the boys should go to live at Eastry Court. He felt that his mother-in-law had been determined to alienate Ida from him. In April 1916, Mrs Gunson had written to Colonel Wright, claiming that George was heavily in debt, only thought about shooting and poaching when he was on leave, was lazy and didn’t look after his men, wasn’t a good husband, and was a “most slippery, deceitful, sneakish man”, fond of drink, lustful, selfish and thoughtless. She also accused him of having “slipped out of foreign service”. George had threatened proceedings if his wife and children weren’t returned to him and his father-in-law threatened to withdraw his surety from the bank. It was reported that as a result of this “persecution”, George, a sergeant, had become “temporarily unbalanced” and had spent a period of time in hospital, after which he was discharged from the Army. When he returned, he found that the farm had been sold, as well as his possessions, and his wife and children “taken from him”. There was a suggestion that Mr Gunson had drugged a drink that he gave George, that George had pointed a gun at Ida, and that George was on “affectionate terms” with a young woman. George denied these accusations, as well as that he had “rolled” one of the servants in her bed. Lieutenant-colonel Arthur O’Brien ffrench Blake, commanding the Royal East Kent Yeomanry, had been a major when George had joined up, and stated that George was sober, reliable and attentive to his duty, as well as being liable to be posted overseas at any time. The doctor who had been in charge of the mental ward at Royal Herbert Hospital, said that he had had George under observation for six weeks, and that he appeared to have been “labouring under strain caused by domestic worry”. When Mr Gunson was giving evidence, he said that the family were not on very good terms with George and that Mrs Gunson didn’t go to their wedding. Mr Gunson said that he was on good terms with George and that it would have been better if the letter hadn’t been written. Mrs Gunson stated that her daughter had “lost confidence” in George less than two years into their marriage. Ida said that she couldn’t trust George with the servants or other women. At the next hearing, the verdict was in George’s favour and he was awarded £400 damages.
George attested in the Territorial Force on 11th October 1920 at Dover, giving his previous service details as 12 years in the 2nd Lincoln Regiment (Vol), one year in the REKMR and one year in the ASCMT, service number 121380. His address was 1 Saxon Street, Dover and said he was married, but Ida, who he gave as his next of kin, was living at Eastry Court, her parents’ home. He was working as a clerk when he enlisted. He was discharged on 2nd August 1921 at his own request.
In 1921, George, who was still living in 1 Saxon Street, Dover and working as a farmer, left the UK for Capetown, returning in January 1922. He went out again to the Cape in April that year. The Dover Express reports that he had remarried at Grahamstown, South Africa, to Kathleen Elinor Downs, the daughter of Mr and Mrs W Downs of 1 Saxon Street, Dover on 15th March 1923. She was 25 years younger than him. His brother, Arthur, was the best man. They returned to England on 14th June 1923 on the Grantully Castle from Durban. No record has been found to date of George’s divorce from Ida, however the 1939 Register describes Ida as divorced and living with their two sons at Sackett’s Hill Farm in Broadstairs.
George remained living in Shepherdswell; the Dover Express mentions him at many functions in the village, although there is no mention of Mrs Stennett. He often wrote ‘compositions’ including ‘The Farmer’s Eldest Daughter’, ‘Brambling’ and ‘If The Cap Fits, Wear It’, which he performed at social events in the village. He left the village in 1938, to live in Herne Bay. In 1939, Kathleen was an in-patient at the Kent County Mental Hospital at Chartham, described as incapacitated. George was living in Herne Bay as a divorced retired farmer but again no divorce record has been found to date.
He died in Thanet district in 1960, at the age of 86.