Joseph William Oaten : 1914-1942


East Lambrook man dies at El Alamein

Willow Cottage, Owl Street, is marked with a red dot

Joseph William Oaten : Private 5680319 1/7th Battalion The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey)

Joseph William Oaten was born in Willow Cottage, Owl Street, East Lambrook in 1914. His father was James Oaten, a farm labourer, and his mother was Martha Ellen Oaten nee Walden, a kid-glove machinist. He had 5 siblings – Frederick (known as Ben), Edward, Constance, Margaret and Evelyn.

Joseph worked at the Parrett Works, Martock. In the middle of the 19th century this complex of industrial buildings included a foundry and engineering workshops, flax and hemp production and makers of rope and twine. By the 20th century, when Joseph was working there, it had been taken over by Sibley’s Engineering Company, with some buildings occupied by G.H.Smith, makers of rope, twine and matting – in which Joseph was employed.

Joseph enlisted in the army in the Second World War, and was sent to the front in North Africa as part of the 8th Army. He sent letters and postcards home, and received letters back from his family, usually with some delay as the army was constantly on the move.

Knowing it might take some time, Xmas greetings were sent well in advance. This postcard from Joseph to his brother Ben was probably sent in October 1942.

This is the front of the postcard. It shows Joseph with an image of his girlfriend, who lived in Cornwall.

Joseph took part in the second battle of El Alamein in North Africa. On the night of 23/24 October 1942 the battle commenced with a barrage from more than 800 heavy guns. British sappers, followed by infantry and tanks, advanced to clear paths through minefields. For a while it seemed that the enemy might bring the British attack to a halt. However, on 2 November Rommel signalled to Hitler that the battle was lost.

195,000 Allied troops took part in the second battle of El Alamein. 48,000 were killed and 9,000 wounded.

Joseph was initially declared missing and it was not until October 1943, a year later, that he was declared “killed in action”

This letter from Margaret Oaten to Joseph was sent to him in March 1943. The family were under the impression that Joseph was still alive, as they had recieved his postcard at Christmas. In fact he had been killed in October 1942. They were not officially notified of his death until a year later. Margaret’s letter was returned to them un-opened.

Amongst the collection of letters and postcards belonging to Joseph Oaten was a box with a signet ring inside – with a photograph of Joseph encased in glass on the top, like a cameo. Ray Oaten, his nephew, thought the ring may have belonged to Joseph’s mother or father. Or his girlfriend in Cornwall, who never married.

A short film : Ray Oaten talking about his Uncle Joe