Lionel Shearn was born in April 1895, one of twelve children to, and the youngest son of, Joseph and Emily Shearn. There were two main industries in Paulton, Somerset, where the Shearn family lived, and, over time, Joseph was employed in both. He began in the boot-making industry – this was his trade when Lionel was born – but, by the time of the 1911 census, he had found work as a coal miner. Lionel, who was sixteen by the time of that document, was also working at the colliery as a carter.
War came to Europe in the summer of 1914, and Lionel was one of the first in the town to enlist. Little documentation remains about his military service, but he joined the Royal Field Artillery as a Driver and, by October was in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Sadly, this is all the information that’s available, as Driver Shearn passed away in a hospital in Portsmouth on 27th October 1914. The cause of his passing is unknown, but there is nothing into the contemporary newspapers to suggest is was anything untoward. He was just 19 years of age.
Lionel Shearn was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the picturesque Paulton Cemetery.
Edward Foster was born in the spring of 1887, one of eight children to Alfred and Eliza. Alfred was an agricultural labourer, born and bred in North Newton, Somerset, and this is where he raised his family.
When he left school, Edward found work in the village as a basket maker, and this is a trade he continued in until war broke out. He enlisted early on, and was assigned to the Somerset Light Infantry as a Private.
His battalion was shipped to India in October 1914, but records are sparse, and it is not clear whether Private Foster also set sail. All that can be confirmed is that he was at home on 21st December 1914, as this is where he sadly passed away from heart failure. He was just 27 years of age.
Edward Foster was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Peter’s Church in his home village, North Newton.
John Thomas Holland was born in 1883 in Tunstall, Staffordshire, and was the son of Jane Holland. Sadly, neither name is uncommon in that area at that time, so it is a challenge to determine any further information about his early life.
John was 31 years old when war broke out and, while his service records no longer exist, he enlisted early on, joining the North Staffordshire Regiment as a Private. He was assigned to the 8th Battalion, and was soon billeted in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.
Sadly, the next information available for Private Holland is a coroner’s report in a local newspaper.
Considerable mystery was associated with the evidence given before Mr Craddock, at the inquest… concerning the death of Private John Holland… now billeted in the town. Deceased was found killed on the railway line near Weston-super-Mare Station on Tuesday. The evidence revealed that Holland left his billet at 8:15am on that day, and announced that he was going to see a doctor. His body was found down the line at 12:30, the legs having been severed. From enquiries, it transpired that Holland had walked along a slip of garden fringing the line at a distance of about two miles from his billet. It was stated that deceased was of sober habits, and that he bore a good character. A verdict of Accidental Death was returned.
Shepton Mallet Journal: Friday 8th January 1915
Private John Thomas Holland died on 29th December 1914: he was 31 years of age. He was laid to rest in Weston-super-Mare’s Milton Road Cemetery.
Bert Mayled was born in the autumn of 1889, the fourth of four children – all boys – to Benjamin and Anna Mayled. Benjamin was a butcher from Somerset, who raised his young family in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare.
The whole family followed in Benjamin’s trade, with all four siblings supporting in one way or another, either through farm work or, in Bert’s case, becoming a butcher as well.
On 6th July 1914, Bert married Catherine Swearse, a builder’s daughter from nearby Axbridge. They married in Catherine’s local church, but settled – albeit briefly – back on the coast.
Bert may even had enlisted by the time of the wedding. While he is noted as a butcher on the marriage banns, within weeks war had broken out across Europe, and he found himself in the North Somerset Yeomanry.
Private Mayled’s regiment was one of the first into the fray – he was soon on the Front Line at Ypres. He was wounded early on, and medically evacuated to England for treatment. Admitted to the 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester, he succumbed to tetanus, contracted from his wounds. He died on 25th November 1914, at just 25 years of age.
Bert Mayled was brought back to Somerset for burial He lies at rest int he Milton Road Cemetery there.
Gilbert Metters was born in Linkinhorne, Cornwall in March 1885, one of four children to William and Emma Metters. William was a farmer and haulier who moved his family to Chudleigh in Devon not long after Gilbert was born.
When Gilbert left school, he found work as a domestic gardener. By the time of the 1911 census, he was living with his parents, younger sister and Emma’s sister in Old Way, not far from the village centre. On 17th April 1914, William passed away, leaving Emma widowed.
When war broke out, Gilbert was one of the first from the town to sign up. He enlisted in the 8th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, and was soon off to Hampshire for training. Tragically, within weeks of arriving, Private Metters contracted tuberculosis, and passed away in the camp hospital. He was 29 years of age.
Gilbert Metters’ body was brought back to Chudleigh for burial, and was laid to rest alongside his father in the family grave.
The local newspaper reported on Gilbert’s funeral. It suggested that when enlisting “although not one of the strongest, he managed to pass the medical test.” It went on to say that:
He always assisted in every good cause in the town, and was very highly respected. He endeared himself with the officers and men of C Company.
Clifford Day was born on 27th November 1897 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. He was one of eleven children to John and Sophia Day. John initially worked as a general labourer for a stonemason, but by the time of the 1911 census, he had begun working for a gas company. The family, at this point, were living in a five-room house a short distance from the town centre.
Living in a large household, a dream of escape may have fermented in young Clifford’s mind. To see some of the world, he joined the Royal Navy on 3rd September 1913. Given he was only fifteen, he was too young to formally enlist, but he was given the rank of Boy, and set to work.
Clifford’s service papers confirmed that he stood at 4ft 11ins (1.48m) tall, had brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. It was also noted that he had a scar on his forehead.
Boy Day’s service began on HMS Impregnable, when he spent nine months learning the ropes. He moved on to HMS Gibraltar in May 1914, before transferring to HMS Vivid – the shore-based establishment in Devonport – at the outbreak of the First World War.
On 3rd October 1914, Clifford was assigned to the battlecruiser HMS Tiger. He was on board for only three weeks, when he was taken back to HMS Vivid, and sent to the Naval Hospital there. He was admitted with a fractured skull, sadly passing the next day – the 26th October 1914 – at the age of just 16 years old. I’ve been unable to locate any further information about his injury, other than that an inquest found that it was accidental death.
Clifford Day was brought back to Weston-super-Mare for burial. He was laid to rest in the Milton Road Cemetery in the town.
William Frank Sweet was born towards the end of 1897 and was the youngest of seven children. His father, Richard, was a groom and, together with his wife, Mary, he raised the family in the Somerset town of Yeovil.
When William left school, he found work as an errand boy for a tailor; by the time of the 1911 census, Richard was working as a coachman for a hotel, and the family were living in a house on the north side of the town.
There is very little other documentation on young William’s life. When war broke out, he enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry, and was assigned to the 5th Battalion, who were based in Taunton.
Further information on Private Sweet is scarce; given when he died, it is likely that he enlisted as part of the first wave of voluntary recruiting. It is also likely that, when he was training at the Tidworth Barracks on Salisbury Plain, he came down with some illness, and it was this to which he succumbed.
William Frank Sweet died on 4th October 1914, at the age of just 17 years old. His body was brought back to Yeovil, and he was buried on 10th October, the day after his Battalion set sail across the English Channel to join the onslaught.
Albert Rudolph Percy was born in April 1889 in Taunton, Somerset. His parents were William Percy, a draper, and his wife, Elise, who had been born in Baden Baden, Germany. Elise’s background certainly influenced the naming of the couple’s five children, all sons with middle names ranging from Rudolph and Frederick, to Leopold and Felix.
All but the eldest of William and Elise’s children followed their father into the drapery business; after initially doing so when he left school, Albert’s older brother Frederick took holy orders, a following he continued for the rest of his days.
On the outbreak of war 1914, Albert volunteered for military service, leaving his father’s business behind him. Enlisting in the West Somerset Yeomanry, he was shipped off to to Colchester in Essex for training.
While taking two days’ leave in September that year, Private Percy returned home, and, on the first evening complained of feeling unwell. A doctor was summoned and diagnosed spinal meningitis. Albert was swift to succumb to the illness, passing away on 4th October 1914. He was just 25 years old and likely one of the first from Taunton to die whilst on active service.
Albert Rudolph Percy lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in his home town of Taunton, Somerset.
Arthur Henry Lee was born in April 1895, and was one of five children. His parents were Arthur and Hannah (or Annie) Lee, and the family lived in the Chard area of Somerset. Arthur Sr worked as a ‘twist hand’, operating the machines in a lace factory and, when his son left school, he too found work in the same factory.
There is little documented about Arthur’s early life. When war broke out, however, he was quick to enlist, and joined the Somerset Light Infantry as a Private. He was assigned to the 5th (1st Reserve) Battalion, and was stationed at Mansfield House.
Sadly, Private Lee’s military service was not to be a long one. As happened with lots of young men from different parts of the country coming together in large numbers, illness and disease spread quickly in the military encampments,
Arthur was not immune to this and was admitted to the Military Hospital in Taunton with meningitis. He passed away on 7th December 1914, aged just 19 years old.
Arthur Henry Lee lies in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset.
Henry Thomas Underhill is one of those people whose lives are lost to time. Details of his early life were difficult to track down, but snippets helped unlock some of the mystery.
In late October 1914, a number of Somerset newspapers gave the following report:
Soldier’s Sudden Death
The West Somerset Coroner held an enquiry at Taunton Barracks on Saturday afternoon relative to the death of Private Henry Thomas Underhill, aged 44, of Street, which took place on Wednesday [14th October 1914].
Deceased was talking to Private TF Davis on a landing in the barracks, when he reeled and, throwing up his arms, fell heavily to the ground, his head striking the floor.
Major Stalkartt, RAMC, was at once summoned, but he found that life was extinct. He afterwards made a post mortem examination, which revealed fatty degeneration of the heart, with a fracture of the bae of the skull. The doctor considered that death was due to heart failure, and that the skull was fractured in falling to the ground.
The deceased was accorded a military funeral at St Mary’s Cemetery the same afternoon. He was an old member of the Somerset Light Infantry, which he recently re-joined on account of the war.
Wells Journal: Friday 23rd October 1914
Private Underhill’s pension record confirms that he was married to a woman called Mary Ann and that the couple had had a daughter, Beatrice Kate Lavinia Underhill, who had been born in December 1906. While searching for Henry directly drew too many variables to provide any certainty, his daughter proved the key to unlock his story.
Henry Thomas Underhill was born in the summer of 1860. One of nine children, his parents were William Underhill and his wife Elizabeth, who was also known as Betsy. William worked as a clerk for a button maker, and the family lived in Birmingham, which, at the time, was in Warwickshire.
When he left school, Henry found work as a ‘brass tube drawer’, making the metal tubes, using a die. He found love too, and, on 13th March 1881, aged just 20, he married Emma Howner. The couple went on to have a son, Ernest, in 1889 although, from the documentation about him, it seems likely that he passed away when only a toddler. Further tragedy was to strike Henry, when Emma also died in 1890, aged just 30 years old.
It may have been around this time that Henry found a focus in military service; he does not appear in the 1891 census and the next set of documentation for him dates from 1900.
It’s at this point that Henry married for a second time. Mary Ann Kelly was seventeen years younger than her new husband, and was the daughter of a carpenter from Solihull. Her father, Michael, had died when she was only a teenager, and she lived with her mother, Lavinia, helping to support her.
Henry’s previous experience with metalwork – and probably his time in the military – found him employment making gun components. The 1901 census finds him and Mary living in Yardley, to the east of Birmingham, with Lavinia and Mary’s younger brother William.
This was obviously a suitable and convenient arrangement; the next census, in 1911, shows the family still living together. By this time, Lavinia was still the head of the household, and shared her home with daughter Mary, Henry and four-year-old Beatrice; son William, his wife Ada and their new-born son, William. Making up the household on Census Day was a visitor, Amy.
War was on the horizon, and this is where we return to the initial new report about Private Underhill. It is likely that Henry had re-enlisted – or at least been called back up – as soon as hostilities broke out. Sadly, his service was not to be a long one, as he suffered the fatal heart attack within a couple of months of the start of the war. Private Underhill was 54 years old at the time of his death.
Henry Thomas Underhill’s body was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset.