Determining the exact day when William Hope Hodgson was killed is not as easy as one would think.
In most cases, especially those during wartime, the day and time of death is usually carefully noted. This is because, generally, there are either witnesses or evidence that can be used to make such determinations.
Unfortunately, in Hodgson’s case, there are conflicting reports. Some give the day of Hodgson’s death as April 17th, some as April 18th and still others as April 19th.
R. Alain Everts gives this account of Hodgson’s final days:
On the day of 10 April 1918, the Germans launched a big attack, and apparently this put Hodgson in hospital briefly. On the night of 16 April the Battery withdrew, and a Forward Observation Post was set up. The man who volunteered for the Forward Observing Office the next day—17 April—on Mont Kemmel, was none other than W. Hope Hodgson. The details surrounding the tragic death of Hope can now be clarified after nearly 55 years—and in clarifying them some errors regarding his death have been corrected. His Commanding Officer filled in the details—on Thursday, 18 April, he sent Hodgson with another N.C.O. on Forward Observation. On 19 April, Hope was heard from once and then there was silence from him for the remainder of the day. That day, 19 April, William Hope Hodgson was reported missing in action to his C.O. The following day, under continuous fire, the C.O. went to check himself to determine the fate of his F.O.O.’s. He eventually found a French officer who showed him a helmet with the name Lt. W. Hope Hodgson on it—and reported that a British Artillery Officer and a Signaler had suffered a direct hit by a German artillery shell on 19 April and had both been blown nearly completely apart. What little remained was buried on the spot—at the foot of the eastern slop of Mont Kemmel in Belgium. During this period, the C.O. was under continuous fire, and upon his return to base, he confirmed the death of Lt. W. Hope Hodgson, and it was entered on 23 April. The official report was forwarded to England, and most likely it specified that Hodgson was killed the previous week, since it was recorded on the official register in London, and the death certificate rolls, as 17 April. On 24 April the Germans attacked the right flank of the 84th Battery and the following day they launched another large attack. During all this confusion, it is not difficult to see how an error came to be made. In fact the C.O.’s memory for details after 55 years proves to be quite accurate, for on 17 April, no F.O.O.’s were sent out according to the official diary of the Brigade.1
This would seem to be a very straight forward account of the event. On the 18th, Hodgson and another man set up the Forward Observation post. On the 19th, a report is sent in and received. When no other word arrives from the post, the Commanding Officer himself goes in search of his men on April 20th and is told that the two men were literally blown to pieces by a mortar shell on the 19th.
The primary confusion regarding this date comes from two sources: the entry on the death certificate rolls and from Sam Moskowitz’s biographical essay about Hodgson. This would appear to be a case of the former creating the latter.
Pictured below is a photo Hodgson’s military service card which lists his enlistment and death dates:
This notes the date of death as the 17th and is supportive of the claims in the Everts article.
In his introduction to Out of the Storm, Sam Moskowitz quotes Hodgson’s good friend, A. St. John Adcock, describing the events as: “A week or two later, on the 17th of April, 1918, he was killed in action, whilst serving as an observation officer.”2
Moskowitz, although quoting St. John Adcock, himself writes: “Evidence points to the fact Hodgson actually was killed April 19, 1918”.3
It is confusing why, if Moskowitz had such evidence, he would repeat the erroneous date of April 17th that St. John Adcock likely took from the official record. Why present the one date if you believe, and have supporting evidence, that it was a different date?
Unfortunately, misinformation abounds and even more so in our electronic age. Those who are simply looking for a quick answer to a date may take the first they see or what is presented on an official report.
So, let me state for the record that, based on the information quoted by Everts (and which I believe Moskowitz was also privy to), William Hope Hodgson was killed on April 19, 1918.
Please join us in two days for a memorial to Hodgson on what will be the Centennial of his unfortunate death.
1. Everts, R. Alain. Some Facts in the Case of William Hope Hodgson: Master of Fantasy. Soft Books, 1987.
2. Moskowitz, Sam. Out of the Storm: Uncollected Fantasies by William Hope Hodgson. Donald M. Grant, 1973.
For more of Everts’ excellent biographical article, I refer you to this blog entry:
Portrait of Hodgson by Dave Felton, an excellent artist and gentleman!