Ernest Webber was born on 19th April 1897 in Newton Abbot, Devon, although there is little further documented about his early life
The 1911 census records Ernest as being at the Scattered Home in Newton Abbot. This was, in fact, the Greenaway Home for Boys, part of the town’s Union Workhouse. It was run by a Mrs Louise Foote, had 22 ‘inmates’ and was located on the Highweek Road.
The following year, however, Ernest found a way to better himself, enlisting in the Royal Navy. His service records confirm that he joined up on 9th October 1912 and gave a physical description of him: he was 5ft 5ins (1.65m) tall, had fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He was also noted as having a scar on his left index finger.
As he was below the age for full service, he was given the rank of Boy, and was sent to HMS Ganges, the naval base in Ipswich, Suffolk, and HMS Impregnable, a training ship, for his initial instruction. Some talent seems to have been unearthed as he was soon promoted to Boy Telegraphist.
In August 1913, Ernest was assigned to the battleship HMS Conqueror. He spent nearly two years on board and, during that time, came of age. Now formally inducted into the service, he was given the rank of Ordinary Telegraphist, before being promoted again – to the full role of Telegraphist – in April 1915.
Two months later Telegraphist Webber was transferred to HMS Phaeton; over the next year, he spent time on two further vessels, before being assigned to HMS Victorious in April 1916. With this assignment came a further promotion: Ernest was now a Leading Telegraphist.
In the summer of 1917, Ernest moved again, this time to HMS Vivid, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport. At this point, however, he had fallen ill, and was medically discharged from duty on 5th September 1917, having contracted tuberculosis.
At this point, Ernest’s trail goes cold. He returned to Newton Abbot, but the events of the next year are lost to time. All that can be confirmed is that he passed away, presumably of his lung condition, on 11th December 1918. He was just 21 years of age.
Ernest Webber was laid to rest in the graveyard of All Saints Church in Highweek, near Newton Abbot.