John was born in Worth, Sussex, on 30 October 1897, his birth registered in East Grinstead. His mother Mary (May), nee Bailes, (right) was born in Northallerton in Yorkshire in 1863. She married wealthy Leicestershire farmer Sheldon Kestin and had five children but Sheldon died aged 38, leaving Mary a widow at the age of 31. She later appears to have had a long- term relationship with John Longwill. He was born in Ayrshire in 1841 and by the age of 30 was farming 470 acres in Argylshire. By 1881 he was farming 450 acres of prime grazing land in Leicestershire. Mary had two children by him, John and a daughter born in 1902 and named Jean after John Longwill’s mother. Independent means By the 1911 census, Mary is described as ‘of independent means’ and is living with three daughters at Top Hill House, Withyham. John was at boarding school in Haywards Heath and later attended Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells. He was later a member of the Inns of court Officer Training Corps and on 14 June 1916 was admitted to 5 OTC at Cambridge. Because of his Scottish connections, he applied for a commission in the 3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, giving his address as Watch Oak. In this case it was given as in Ashurst and in later documents as Langton Green. Blackham seems to have not existed as far as the post office was concerned! He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant on 22 November 1916
and was in France on 10 January attached to the 2nd Battalion. According to the Battalion war diary he was attached to Divisional HQ as Intelligence Officer, later as Lewis Gun Officer Spring Offensive The Spring Offensive which began 21st March 1918 pushed back the British and Commonwealth forces. The Germans employed their youngest, their fittest and their best soldiers in a headlong dash to punch through the Allied lines, to capture the railhead at Amien and then turn right and capture the channel ports and deny access to the American forces who would swing the balance and win the war.
Faced with overwhelming force the British retreated in order, frantic order it must be said. The line buckled but never broke. The German forces reclaimed land that was laid waste during the Somme battles, the bloodstained territorial gains of 1916 were lost in weeks. But the Germans outpaced their supply machine. They ran out of food and ammunition. Their men were exhausted, their losses huge. Then the tide turned. John was wounded by shrapnel in the upper arm during the bitter fighting for the defence of La Bassee Canal on 18 April 1918. He was evacuated to the UK six days later. He never rejoined the 2nd Battalion. There is a link below to a graphic description of the battle in which John fought. After recovery, he applied in October 1918 for a commission in the Indian Army but was not successful. His military career continued, he disembarked Constantinople on 31 August 1919 and joined the 12th Battallion for the final months of recovery work after the Salonika campaign. He embarked for UK 30
December 1919 and was demobbed at Ripon ten days later. He was entitled to the Victory Medal and British War Medal. Unlike other ranks, officers needed to apply for their medals. John eventually applied in November 1924. Blackham football We know from cuttings in the Kent & Sussex Courier that John returned to Blackham after the war and in 1921 was captain and a defender in the football team and also played cricket for Ashurst. He moved to Beeches Farm in Butcherfield Road, Hartfield. In 1928 he married Lucy May Jones and their daughter Wanda was born in 1930. John crops up in a few items in the local press – a couple of times being fined for driving without a licence – mainly about his work on Hartfield Parish Council. On 9 August 1940, with Britain again at war with Germany, an advertise- ment appeared saying that, the farm having been let, there was an important sale of live and dead farming stock on behalf of Mr J Kestin ‘who is joining H.M. Forces.’ We have no details of his service in WWII but know he survived the conflict and finally died at Victoria Hospital, Lewes on 19 May 1956, aged 58.
John Longwill Kestin
Wounded in one of the final bloody battles of the First World War
Thanks to Frank Wiltshire for another professional piece of detective work
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