Category Archives: Sergeant

CWG: Serjeant-Trumpeter Alexander de Vere

Serjeant-Trumpeter Alexander de Vere

Alexander Johnstone de Vere was born on 10th August 1889 in Murree, India (now Pakistan). He was one of five children to Norfolk-born Alexander Johnstone (also known as John Ralph de Vere), and his wife Dorothea who had been born in Sangor, India. Alexander Sr was a Sergeant Major in the 12th Lancers, and the family returned to England not long after his son was born, settling first in Aldershot, then in Sandhurst.

Alexander’s youngest sibling, George, was born in Cairo, Egypt, so the family was on the move again. Sadly, Alexander Sr died in a nursing home in the city just two years later and, after returning to England, Dorothea passed away in a Holborn infirmary just two years later.

Documents for the de Vere children – Ellen, Alexander, Dorothea, William and George – are few and far between. The 1911 census places Dorothea boarding with a family in Kingston-upon-Thames, where she was employed as a dress maker. The same document records William as a Bandsman in the 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, based at Chanpatia, in Northern India. George, meanwhile, was a schoolboy at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School on the outskirts of Dover. Of the two eldest siblings, however, there is no record.

In the autumn of 1912, Alexander married Emily Louise Collins. Born in Norfolk in 1884, she was working as a servant in a house in Surrey when she and Alexander met. The couple married in Faversham, Kent, and settle down there, their daughter, Dora, being born in the town in January 1915.

Given his family’s military background, it is not unsurprising that Alexander enlisted in the army almost as soon as war was declared. He may have already seen military service, as he enlisted in the 11th Hussars as a Lance Corporal. By 15th August 1914, Alexander was in France.

Lance Corporal de Vere was quickly caught up in the fighting. He saw action at Mons and Nery in 1914, and at Ypres the following year. By this point, he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant Trumpeter, reflecting the musical connection he shared with his younger brother, William.

Alexander remained in France until January 1916, when he was invalided home. He was admitted to Dorchester County Hospital in Dorset, suffering from a cerebral abscess. Despite treatment, he succumbed to the condition, passing away on 17th March 1916, at the age of just 26 years old.

Alexander Johnstone de Vere was brought back to Kent for burial. He was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery.

CWG: Quartermaster Serjeant George Bunting

Quartermaster Serjeant George Bunting

George William Willis Bunting was born in Faversham, Kent, in the spring of 1889. The middle of eleven children to George and Mary Ann Bunting, he was also the oldest boy. George Sr was a labourer in the town’s munitions works, and his son followed suit, and was recorded as a cordite labourer there in the 1911 census.

When war came to Europe, George Jr was keen to play his part. He enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and was assigned to the 343rd Siege Battery. While full details of his service are not available, George’s life was laid out in a newspaper report following his death:

The death has occurred in quite pathetic circumstances of Battery Quartermaster Sergeant George William Bunting, 1st Kent Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery… who, after serving throughout the war, and coming unscathed through more than three years service in France, though he had several narrow escapes, had died of pneumonia at his home, just as he was anticipating return to civil life.

BQMS Bunting joined the Faversham Volunteer Corps (in which his father also formerly served) some seven years before the war, and when was broke out he was at the annual training with the Battery. War service immediately followed and in 1915 he went to France and, except for leave, had been out there ever since until a few weeks back when he returned for demobilisation. He was not feeling at all well when he arrived home, indeed he seems to have been so unwell that when he got indoors he remarked “I’m done.”

His words, unhappily, were only too prophetic, for he never left the house again, pneumonia developing and culminating in his death on February 27th, only nice days after his arrival.

Prior to the war the deceased, who was in his 30th year and unmarried, had been employed at the Cotton Powder Works ever since he left school. At the commencement of his war service, he was a Corporal, but his keenness at his work steadily gained him promotion and eventually he reached the rank of Battery Quarter Master Sergeant. Keen and conscientious himself, he expected the same in others, and it says much for his example and influence that he was held in the very highest regard by the men of his Battery, while to his officers he was a greatly valued NCO.

Faversham News: Saturday 15th March 1919

Quartermaster Serjeant George William Willis Bunting died at his Faversham home on 27th February 1919. He was just 29 years of age. He was laid to rest in the town’s Borough Cemetery.

CWG: Serjeant Frank Ely

Serjeant Frank Ely

Frank Harold Ely was born in November 1889, and was the oldest of four children. His parents were coal porter Frank Ely and his wife, Florence. They were both born in Kent, and raised their family in their home town of Faversham.

When Frank Jr left school, he found work as a bottler, but he had his eyes set on bigger adventures. In January 1908, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. His service records show that he was 5ft 5.5ins (1.66m) tall and weighed 109lbs (49.5kg). Rifleman Ely had brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. He was also noted as having a scat on his right knee.

Rifleman Ely’s early service was wholly territorial, but not without incident: in 1909 he was treated for tonsillitis, two years later, he received treatment for syphilis.

He was also not one to toe the line. In August 1911, he was reprimanded for not appearing at the 6:30am parade. On 9th March 1912, he was severely reprimanded for ‘improper conduct in town, at about 11:35pm’. On 25th September 1913, he was reprimanded once again, this time for irregular conduct – using the officers’ latrines.

When war came to Europe, the Rifle Brigade were soon in the thick of it. On 26th August 1914, Frank was wounded in the hand during fighting at Ligny, France, and was then captured and held as a prisoner of war in Hamelin until the spring of 1918.

Moved to the Netherlands, Rifleman Ely was finally released after the Armistice was signed, and returned to England on 19th November 1918. He was demobbed the following March, but re-enlisted within weeks, was given the rank of Serjeant and was due to be shipped to India to continue his service.

However, while at an army camp in Aldershot, Frank contracted pneumonia. The struggles the previous few years had had on his health proved too much for him, and, on 26th August 1919 – five years to the day that he had been shot and captured – Serjeant Ely passed away. He was 40 years of age.

Frank Harold Ely was brought back to his home town for burial. He was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery.

CWG: Serjeant Albert Woolcott

Serjeant Albert Woolcott

Albert John Woolcott was born in the spring of 1877 and was one of three children to Thomas and Mary. Thomas was a labourer for a spirit company, and both he and huis wife came from Chard in Somerset, which is where Albert and his siblings were born.

When he finished school, Albert was apprenticed to a local iron foundry and, by the time of the 1901 census, he was recorded as being a blacksmith in his own right.

By this point, Albert had met local woman Mary Pattimore: the couple married in the local church on Boxing Day 1901, and went on to have four children, all of them boys. Albert continued with his ironwork: the 1911 census records him as being the blacksmith at Chard’s Gifford Fox & Co.’s lace factory.

Albert played a keen role in the local volunteer movement for the Somerset Light Infantry. Through the town’s Constitutional Club he took an active role in its rifle range and was known to be a particularly skilled marksman. He also played in both the Volunteer Band and Chard’s Municipal Band.

When war came to Europe in August 1914, Albert was already billeted on Salisbury Plain as part of the volunteers, and was promoted to the rank of Serjeant. He was sent to India with his troop – the 5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry – and remained there until April 1916.

By this point, Serjeant Woolcott was suffering from dorsal abscesses on his hands, and was evacuated back to England for treatment. Over the next nine months he was in and out of Netley Hospital on the outskirts of Southampton, where he had a number of operations to try and fix the problem.

Sadly, his treatment proved unsuccessful: Serjeant Woolcott passed away in the hospital on 19th January 1917, at the age of 39 years old.

Albert John Woolcott’s body was taken back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in his home town’s cemetery.

CWG: Serjeant Tom Harris

Serjeant Tom Harris

Thomas Harris – known as Tom – was born on 13th October 1876, the only son of Edmund and Mary Harris. Edmund was an agricultural labourer from the Somerset village of Seavington St Mary, and this is where Tom was born and raised.

Mary had married Edmund in the spring of 1876, but had been married before; she was widowed when her previous husband, Alfred Vickery, died ten years before. They had had seven children of their own, half-siblings to Tom.

Edmund died in the Wells Lunatic Asylum when Tom was only six years old. When he left school, he found work as a farm labourer, but sought bigger and better things, even though he was now the only one of Mary’s children still living at home.

Tom enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in January 1893, and soon found himself overseas. During his sixteen years’ service, he spent seven years in India and six months fighting in the Second Boer War. Corporal Harris seems to have had a sickly time of it, and while in India, was admitted to hospital a number of times for fever, ague and diarrhoea, as well as a bout of conjunctivitis.

When Tom’s contract came to an end in 1909, he returned to Britain, setting up home in Newport, South Wales, where he found work as a sheet weigher at the local steel works.

Mary died of senile decay and cardiac failure in May 1910. She was 74 years old, and sadly passed away in the Chard Workhouse, in similar circumstances to her late husband.

In October 1913, Tom married Ada Long in Chard. She was the daughter of a shopkeeper, and the couple set up home in South Wales, where Tom was still working.

War, by now, was closing in on Europe, and Tom wanted to use his previous experience to serve his country once again. He enlisted on 20th August 1914 in Newport, joining the Devonshire Regiment as a Private, although he was quickly promoted first to Corporal and then to Serjeant. His service records show that he was 5ft 8ins (1.73m) tall, had blue eyes, brown hair and a tattoo of a Spanish girl on his right forearm.

After a year on the Home Front, Serjeant Harris was sent to Egypt in September 1915. On the way out, he contracted a severe cold, which left him deaf in his left ear. He was also suffering from varicose veins, which left him in pain in his right leg. He was treated for both conditions, and put on light duties for three months.

In November 1916, Serjeant Harris was supporting a food convoy when it came under attack. Buried in sand and wounded, he was laid up in a hole for two days and nights before help came. He was initially treated for shell shock in the camp hospital, but was eventually evacuated to Britain for treatment.

The incident had put too much of a strain on Tom, and he was medically discharged from the army in April 1917. While his medical report confirmed that the general paralysis he was suffering from was a result of the attack, it also noted on six separate occasions that he had previously suffered from syphilis, suggesting this may also have been a contributing factor to his mental state.

Tom was discharged initially to an asylum in South Wales, before returning home to Ada. The couple were soon expecting a child, and a boy, Sidney, was born in February 1918. By that summer, however, Tom’s condition had worsened enough for him to be admitted back to the Whitchurch Military Hospital in Cardiff.

It was here that Tom passed away, dying from a combination of chronic phlebitis – an extension of the varicose veins he had previously complained of – and general paralysis on 8th August 1918. He was, by this point, 41 years of age.

Tom Harris was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest – finally at peace – in Chard Cemetery.

Serjeant Tom Harris

CWG: Serjeant John Ive

Serjeant John Ive

John Tucker Ive was born on 30th January 1882, one of eleven children to George and Emily Ive. George was a stone dresser from Harefield, Middlesex, and this is where the family were born and raised.

John was evidently after a life of adventure and, on leaving school, he enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. There is little documented about his military career, but he was based in Devonport and spent a couple of years in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

When he returned to England, John met Amy Ethel Staunton, from Stonehouse in Devon. The couple married in 1905 and went on to have a son, also called John, the following year.

When his military service came to an end, John found work as a butler, and he and Amy were employed by the same household. John Jr, meanwhile, was brought up by his maternal grandmother in Plymouth.

Global conflict was on the horizon, by now, and John soon felt the need to play his part once again. He rejoined the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and was given the rank of Serjeant. He was shipped to France in August 1914, where his battalion fought at Ypres and at Mons, and he was injured during both battles.

By the time the conflict ended, Serjeant Ive had transferred to the regiment’s Labour Corps; at the start of 1919, he was preparing to be discharged from the army, but contracted pneumonia. Admitted to the Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, Hampshire, the lung condition sadly got the better of him: he passed away on 24th February 1919, at the age of 37 years old.

John Tucker Ive was brought back to Devon for burial; he was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Wolborough, Newton Abbot.

Two of John’s brothers also died in the conflict.

Private George Robert Ive served with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. He died at Gallipoli on 28th June 1915, at the age of 34 years old.

Gunner Edward Ive served with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He died in the Persian Gulf on 1st May 1916, aged just 30 years old.

CWG: Serjeant William Syms

Serjeant William Syms

William George Syms was born in in the spring of 1889, the oldest of two children to George and Rose Symes (both spellings are recorded). George was a postman from Devon, and the family were born and raised in Highweek, Newton Abbot.

When William left school, he followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a postman in his home town. Life was not without its ups and downs, however, and the 1911 census record him as an inpatient, convalescing from an unknown illness in Exmouth.

In the summer of 1913, William married Amelia Oliver, a gardener’s daughter, who also from Highweek.

When war broke out William was eager to play his part, and enlisted in the early months of the conflict, alongside a number of his colleagues. He joined the Royal Engineers, and was assigned to the 1st (Wessex) Division Signal Company. He was sent to France on 22nd December 1914 and was involved on the Front Line from early on.

By the spring of 1915, he was fighting at Ypres, and was badly injured, fracturing both legs and suffering from the effects of being gassed. Serjeant Syms – as he was by then ranked – was medically evacuated to England for treatment. He was admitted to the Auxiliary Military Hospital in Manchester, but died of his injuries on 12th May 1915. He was just 26 years old.

William George Syms’ body was brought back to Devon for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of All Saints Church in his home town of Highweek. Tragically, he was never to see his son, also called William, who had been born just two months before.

CWG: Serjeant Frederick Flint

Serjeant Frederick Flint

Frederick Charles Flint was born in the summer of 1872 in Bath, Somerset. He was the oldest of seven children to tailor Frederick Flint and his wife, Mary Ann.

Tailoring, however, was not a career that Frederick Jr wanted to follow and, in November 1890, he enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Over his twelve years’ service, he was posted to India and South Africa, gaining clasps for the Punjab Frontier 1897-1898, Relief of Ladysmith, Tugela Heights, Orange Free State, Cape Colony, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 and 1902 and the King’s South Africa Medal.

He returned to England in 1902, when he found employment as a postman back in Bath. He met Florence Novena Fishlock and the couple married at St Michael’s Church in Bath on 5th February 1905, before moving to nearby Radstock.

Frederick remained with the Post Office until the outbreak of war, when he again listed for duty, re-joining the Somerset Light Infantry. While he did not serve overseas, Serjeant Flint took on a training a mentoring role on Salisbury Plain. Suffering from tuberculosis, he was formally discharged from the army on medical ground in August 1915, and returned home.

The next few years proved challenging for Frederick, as his illness left him incapacitated. He was nursed through by Florence, but eventually his body could take no more. He succumbed to the condition on 28th March 1918, at the age of 45 years old.

Frederick Charles Flint was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Nicholas’ Church in Radstock. Florence passed away ten years after her husband; she was laid to rest in the same plot in the summer of 1928.

Serjeant Frederick Flint (from

CWG: Serjeant Howard Parker

Serjeant Howard Parker

Howard Edward Parker was born in the summer of 1895 and was one of six children to Edward and Anna Parker. Edward was a tailor from Castle Cary, Somerset, and is was in his home town that he raised his young family. When he left school, Edward worked as his father’s clerk.

War was on the way, however, and Edward was keen to play his part. Unfortunately, details of his military service are limited, but from what little remains, it’s possible to piece some bits together.

Edward joined the Army Ordnance Corps at some point before June 1918. During his time in the army, he rose to the rank of Serjeant, but it is unclear whether he served on home soil or abroad.

The only other certain information is Serjeant Parker died in Southampton on 21st December 1918; the cause of his passing is unclear, and there is nothing in contemporary newspapers to suggest anything out of the ordinary. He was just 23 years of age.

Howard Edward Parker’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the family grave in Castle Cary Cemetery.

Serjeant Howard Parker

CWG: Sergeant James Owen

Sergeant James Owen

James Alfred Owen was born on 4th August 1877 and was the middle of three children to James and Sarah Owen. James Sr was a woodman from Herefordshire, who had moved the family to Radnor in mid-Wales.

James Jr’s early life has been lost to time, but by the time he turned 30, he had emigrated to Canada. He settled in the west coast town of Prince Rupert and found work as a salesman. On 28th January 1910 he married Hattie Whidden: the couple went on to have three children – Annie, Louisa and Dorothy.

War was coming to Europe, and James wanted to play his part for King and Country. He enlisted on 4th December 1915, joining the 103rd Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. His service records show that he stood 5ft 9ins (1.75m) tall and weighed 156lbs (70.8kg). His physical development was recorded as ‘average’, he had a ruddy complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. It was also noted that he had a birthmark in his left groin and his teeth were poor and required attention.

Private Owen departed for England in July 1916 and was assigned to the Oxney Camp in Hampshire. He was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant and, over the next few years, he remained in England. He was primarily based in barracks at Bramshott – also in Hampshire – though did spend time in Seaford in Sussex.

Sergeant Owen survived the war, but was admitted to the Ripon Military Hospital on 8th February 1919, having contracted bronchitis and malaria. The hospital didn’t have any specific expertise in contagious diseases, so it is likely that his move to Ripon was one stage of his move back to Canada.

Sadly, the conditions proved too much for James. He passed away on 17th February 1919, at the age of 41 years of age.

James Alfred Owen’s body was brought to Castle Cary in Somerset, where his sister Eleanor lived with her family. He was laid to rest in the town’s cemetery.