Frederick James Cheal was born in Reigate, Surrey in July 1880. One of six children, his father Francis was an agricultural labourer and cowman, while his mother Ann looked after their children.
While born in the landlocked Home Counties, Frederick appeared to be drawn to a life on the open seas. He enlisted in the Royal Navy on 26th October 1897, for a period of 12 years.
Stoker Cheal served his time on a number of vessels over that time, ships with names like Hannibal, Warrior and Furious. Having completed his service, Frederick was discharged on 28th October 1910.
Frederick’s wanderlust remained, though, and it appears that his discharge was more of transfer. He immediately enrolled in the fledgling Canadian Navy for a period of five years, dividing his time between land-based instruction and service on the HMS Niobe.
War broke out, and Stoker Cheal’s service was extended beyond the initial five-year term. Again, rather than his service coming to an end, he transferred back to the Royal Navy in August 1916.
Promoted, Petty Officer Stoker Cheal was assigned to the HMS Bacchante, an armoured cruiser that served as an escort to the British convoys off the African coast.
Frederick was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital in Chatham, Kent, in early 1919 with influenza and pneumonia. He passed away on 22nd February, aged 38.
He lies at rest in the graveyard of St Margaret’s Church in Rainham, Kent.
Here is where a mystery lies. There is no discernible link between Frederick Cheal and Rainham, other than that is where his widow lives.
A lot of Rose Anne Cheal’s life is sadly lost to time. There are no marriage records to link her to Frederick, and I have been unable to identify her maiden name or whether she was even English (the couple could easily have met during Frederick’s time in Canada).
From her later records, it is evident that she lived in Rainham, just around the corner from the church where her husband is buried. The 1939 register confirms that she was a couple of years older than Frederick; she was born on Christmas Eve 1878. The register also confirms that the couple had two children, Francis, who was born in 1914, and Kathleen, born two years later.
Some mysteries are not meant to be solved; Frederick lived a full life on the open seas, spending 22 years serving two navies. He died in the same way as many other returning soldiers and sailors, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic. He left a wife and two young children, a sad tale repeated countless times across the continent.