CWG: Private Albert Bellringer

Private Albert Bellringer

Albert George Bellringer was born in April 1889, the youngest of three children to Charles and Sarah. Charles was a sawyer in a local timber yard, and his son followed suit.

Little detail of Albert’s early life remains, but he married Elizabeth Burge in December 1909, and the couple went on to have three children – Albert Jr, Cecil and Charles.

Albert enlisted when war appeared inevitable, joining the Somerset Light Infantry in June 1914. When his training was complete, his troop – the 2nd Battalion – were shipped off to India, and this is where Private Bellringer spent the majority of the war.

Distance from home and family made some soldiers act in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. On 15th August 1917, Albert was admitted to hospital with a venereal sore. He was then admitted to the Dinapore (now Danapur) Station Hospital on 2nd December 1917, “in a very excited condition. He was childish, silly and had grandiose delusions”.

Things were not going well for Private Bellringer’s health. He was transferred back to England for treatment on the Hospital Ship Wandilla – this was torpedoed on the journey home, although the device failed to explode. While on board, he was seen to be “exalted in his ideas, and to have physical signs of GPI [General Paresis (or Paralysis) of the Insane]”.

The ship arrived back in England on 25th April, and Albert was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, Hampshire. The medical report again showed that “he was foolish, demented and [that] the physical signs of GPI were marked.”

Moved to Dykebar Hospital in Paisley – a mental health institution – for specialist attention, Private Bellringer was eventually discharged from the army. Medical grounds were the reason for his dismissal, and his last day of service was 5th July 1918.

Sadly, however, Albert’s health faltered; he was transferred again, this time to the Somerset and Bath Asylum in Somerset, and it was there that he passed away. Albert George Bellringer died on 5th December 1918; he was 30 years old.

Albert lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater.

So, what was the cause of Albert’s illness and death? His initial hospital admission identified a venereal sore, and, based on his subsequent decline, it is likely that this was syphilis. One of the last symptoms of the disease is mental illness – insanity – and so this underlines the probably diagnosis.

However, mental illness only usually appears on average 10 to 30 years after the STI is first contracted, and then only if it is not treated (which, given that this would have been Victorian England, is it likely not to have been).

What this suggests, therefore, is that Albert contracted syphilis before the war, probably before his marriage to Elizabeth, and he may not have been unfaithful while serving in India.

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