Tag Archives: 1921

CWG: Private James Sanders

Private James Sanders

James Sanders was born on 17th April 1889. One of nine children, his parents were William and Emily Sanders. William worked for a clay company in his home town of Kingsteignton, Devon. He had various roles, including caretaker, inspector and messenger.

William’s son, however, was after bigger things in life and, on 17th July 1907, he enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. James’ service records show that he was 5ft 6ins (1.67m) tall, had light brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.

Based out of Plymouth, Private Sanders signed up for an initial period of twelve years. During this time, and throughout the war, he served on six vessels, including 30 months on HMS Argyll (where he was based for the 1911 census) and more than five years on HMS Colossus.

In April 1919, Private Saunders returned to land. When his initial contract was up, he re-enlisted, this time remaining at the Naval Dockyard in Plymouth.

James’ trail goes a little cold for the next couple of years, although he continued in his role with the Royal Marine Light Infantry. On the night of the 28th March 1921, however, he encountered some trouble. The local newspaper reported on the subsequent inquest.

Kingsteignton Man’s Mysterious Death

At an enquiry held at Teignmouth on Saturday afternoon into the circumstances attending the death of Private James Sanders, RMLI… who was found drowned in the river Teign on Friday, it was stated that deceased and seven other Kingsteignton men on Monday visited Teignmouth to attend a football match, at which Sanders acted as touch-judge.

After the match they went to a public house, where deceased had three or four pints of beer and some spirits, which made him unsteady.

They left to catch a bus, but at Station Road deceased turned back. One of his companions followed him, but could not persuade him to return, so he left deceased on his own to travel back home.

The man considered Sanders was in a condition to look after himself. An open verdict was returned.

Wester Times: Friday 8th April 1921

Private James Sanders died on 28th March 1921, aged 31 years old. He was laid to rest with his father, William, who had died in 1908, in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church in Kingsteignton.


CWG: Private Albert Withey

Private Albert Withey

Albert Withey was born in Frome, Somerset in November 1882. One of ten children, his parents were John Withey, a coal dealer, and his wife Elizabeth. John passed away in 1891, Elizabeth eight years later, which led to Albert becoming an orphan while still in his teens.

Information on Albert’s early life is scarce and, indeed, his trail goes cold until 26th September 1915, when he enlisted in the Army Service Corps, as part of the war effort.

Private Withey’s service records give more insight into his life: he was 5ft 7ins (1.70m) tall, and had varicose veins on both legs. The document also confirms that he had married local woman Annie Louisa Stent on 2nd January 1912. Both attended Holy Trinity Church, and it is likely that this is where they met. Annie was the daughter of a local house painter, while Albert had become a baker; it is probable that it was this work that led him to be assigned to the ASC.

Within weeks of joining up, Private Withey was in Egypt, and it was here that he worked as part of the Supply Corps for the next four years. Albert remained in North Africa long after the Armistice was signed and, in fact, did not return to England until the August after the war had ended. He was officially demobbed on 30th September 1919.

At this point, Albert’s trail once again goes cold, and the next document relating to him is a short notice in the Somerset Standard, two years later, when, “at Pensions Hospital, Bath, Albert Withey, aged 38 years, [died] after a long and painful illness, patiently borne.[Somerset Standard: Friday 27th May 1921]

Albert Withey was laid to rest in the graveyard of the church in which he was baptised and married, Holy Trinity Church, Frome.


Albert’s widow, Annie, was the sister of Bertie Stent, who had also died after coming home from war. Read his story here.


CWG: Private Frederick Cleave

Private Frederick Cleave

Frederick Cleave was born in Chudleigh, Devon, early in 1899, and was one of nine children to Charles and Eva Cleave. Charles worked as a waggoner – for a grocer, according to the 1901 census, and for a stonemason in the 1911 one.

There is little specific information about Frederick’s early life, and even details of his military service are only evident from a contemporary newspaper report of his funeral:

The funeral took place at the cemetery on Tuesday afternoon of Private F Cleave of the 1st Devon Regiment, son of Mr and Mrs C Cleave of Woodway Street, who died at Fermoy Hospital, Ireland… from disease contracted on foreign service… He joined the Army in 1915, and served through the war in France, and afterwards in the Russian Expedition.

Western Times: Friday 14th January 1921

The report suggests a couple of things. Firstly, Frederick was underage when he enlisted – he would have been 16 years old. He would also have been involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict: the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment fought at the Somme in 1916, Arras and Ypres in 1917, and Lys, the Somme and the Hindenburg Line in 1918.

The Russian Expedition mentioned was part of the Allied attempt to intervene after the country’s civil war – actions that were to prove unsuccessful.

Fermoy Military Hospital was part of the British Army’s barracks in the County Cork town; it is likely that Private Cleave had contracted one of the lung conditions running rampant across Europe in the immediate aftermath of the First World War – influenza, tuberculosis or pneumonia. He passed away on 4th January 1921 at the age of 21 years old.

Brought back home, Frederick Cleave lies at rest in the cemetery of his home town, Chudleigh, Devon.


CWG: Private Frederick Gill

Private Frederick Gill

There are parts of AFG Gill’s that are destined to remain a mystery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission give his parents’ names and address – Edwin and Annie Gill of 15 Old Exeter Street, Chudleigh, Devon. Combined with his service number – M2/200211 – this would suggest that the FG in his name is Frederick George, but the initial A remains stubbornly absent.

Frederick George Gill was born in 1898, in the village of Chudlegh, and was one of seven children. His father – Edwin – was a carrier and haulier in the area, and the family lived in the middle of the village.

When war came to Europe, Frederick was keen to do his bit – he enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps as a Private and was assigned to the Mechanical Transport division.

There is very little information on Private Gill’s military service. He was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service, but there is nothing to confirm when he enlisted or if he served abroad.

Private Gill survived the war, but was discharged on medical grounds on 18th November 1919 – he had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis during his time in the army, and was not longer fit to serve.

At this point, Frederick’s trail goes cold. While nothing can be confirmed, it would seem that the lung condition got the better of him – on 3rd February 1921 he passed away at home. He was just 22 years of age.

Frederick George Gill was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home village.


CWG: Bandsman William Pothecary

Bandsman William Pothecary

William James Pothecary was born in Frome, Somerset, on 24th April 1891, one of six children – and the only boy – to Francis and Annie Maria Pothecary. Francis was a groom, and the couple raised the family in Pilly Vale (now Willow Vale) which ran alongside the River Frome in the centre of the town (and which was prone to flooding, as the contemporary photo below shows).

No photo description available.
Pilly Vale flood – 1894
(courtesy of Facebook)

Little further information on William’s early life is available, although it seems he was a keen musician, and took up the oboe at an early age. He joined the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders in 1909 as a Bandsman, and, from later reports, was a talented player.

When was broke out, William was sent to the front, but in 1915, while caught up in the Second Battle of Ypres, he was buried and seriously wounded by a bomb. He was sent to a convalescent came in Ireland, recovered reasonably well and returned to the France, where he served until the end of the war.

Bandsman Pothecary was demobbed in July 1919 and returned to Somerset. The following year, he needed an operation following the recurrence of the issues he encountered following his injury, and all seemed to be going well for a long-term recovery.

William had a relapse in the summer of 1921, and was admitted to Bath Hospital. Sadly, however, he was not to recover this time, and he passed away on 20th June. He had just turned 30 years old.

William James Pothecary was laid to rest in the graveyard of Christ Church in his home town of Frome.


The Somerset Standard gave a glowing obituary for young William:

Death of an “Old Contemptible”

The was, through the fighting is over, still claims victims from the ranks of survivors. On Monday, Mr William James Pothecary, one of the “Old Contemptibles”, died in the Pensions Hospital at Bath from the effects of wounds which he received in 1915. He was the only son of Mr and Mrs FW Pothecary, of Bath Street, and very deep sympathy is felt with the parents and sisters in their great bereavement. Mt WJ Pothecary was an old Regular.

Nearly twelve years ago he joined the 2nd Seaforths. He was a talented player of the oboe, and it was his love of music which prompted him to become a bandsman in the 2nd Seaforths. He had previously been a bugle boy in the old Volunteers, and afterwards a member of the Territorial Band. And at the time of his death he was one of the most valued players in the Frome Town Military Band.

He went to France with his regiment in 1914. In 1915 he was seriously wounded and buried by a bomb. His condition was critical for a long time, but he slowly recovered and was sent to a convalescent camp in Ireland. He remained there for a considerable time, and when he was deemed medically fit he was sent to France a second time. He continued to serve in France until after the Armistice. He was discharged from the Army in July 1919.

Last year it was necessary for him to undergo a very serious operation in hospital. The operation was successful, and it was hoped there would be a permanent recovery. But on Thursday last there was a recurrence of an old trouble, and he was removed to Bath Hospital, where he died on Monday morning.

He was a talented and promising young fellow, and his death is deeply deplored by his many friends, and not least by his fellow members of the Frome Town Military Band.

Somerset Standard: Friday 24th June 1921

CWG: Officer’s Cook 3rd Class Paolo Spiteri

Officer’s Cook Paolo Spiteri

Paolo Spiteri was born in Valetta, Malta, on 25th January 1881, the son of Stephen Spiteri. Sadly there is very little further information on his early life, other than he worked as a cook when he left school.

Paolo saw a life at sea as a good career, and, in August 1901, aged 20, joined the Royal Navy. Over the next twenty years, he travelled the world, serving on more than twenty ships and working his way up from a domestic in the kitchen to an Officer’s Cook 3rd Class.

By 1921, Paolo was based at HMS Pembroke – the shore establishment at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – and contracted pneumonia there. Admitted to the Naval Hospital in the town, the condition sadly got the better of him, and he passed away on 5th April 1921. He was 42 years old.

Officer’s Cook Paolo Spiteri was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery, not far from the dockyard at which he was based.


CWG: Quartermaster Serjeant Percy Macey

Quartermaster Serjeant Percy Macey

Percy George Macey was born in Frome, Somerset, in the autumn of 1889. He was the oldest of six children and the only son to Arthur and Susan Macey. Arthur was a general labourer and domestic gardener from Wiltshire, whose family had moved to Somerset in the 1870s.

When he left school, Percy found work at a local foundry, and, by the time of the 1911 census, was listed as a brass fitter. By this point he had met Winifred Rowe, a labourer’s daughter from Wiltshire, who had found work as a servant to a Frome butcher. The couple married at the start of 1913, and went on to have a son – who they called Arthur, after Percy’s recently deceased father – later that year.

War was coming, and Percy joined the Somerset Light Infantry. Full details of his military service are not available, although at some point during the conflict he was promoted to Serjeant and transferred to the Labour Corps under the Devonshire Regiment. He was awarded the Victory and British Medals, but does not appear to have seen any service overseas.

By the end of the war, Percy had risen to the rank of Quartermaster Serjeant. The end of his life is, however, shrouded in a bit of mystery. He passed away on 15th March 1921 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; although no cause for his death is evident, it seems likely to have been from an illness of some sort, as there are no contemporary newspaper reports to suggest anything out of the ordinary. He was just 31 years old.

Percy George Macey was brought back to Frome; he was laid to rest in the Dissenters’ Cemetery in Vallis Road.


CWG: Petty Officer William Coughlan

Petty Officer William Coughlan

William Henry Coughlan was born on 16th November 1891, one of thirteen children to William and Catherine Coughlan. William Sr was a labourer, born and bred in the East End of London, who raised his family in Hackney.

William Jr seemed keen for a way to improve himself and in May 1909, enlisted in the Royal Navy. Initially given the rank of Boy, this was due to his age; on his eighteenth birthday a few months later, he was formally enrolled in the navy as an Ordinary Seaman.

To begin with, he was billeted at HMS Ganges II, the shore-based training ship in Harwich, Suffolk, but within a matter of weeks he was on board a sea-going destroyer, HMS Antrim.

Ordinary Seaman Coughlan was obviously a keen young man; by the time the Great War broke out, he had served on four further ships, as well as another shore base, HMS Pembroke I. He rose through the ranks to Able Seaman and, by 1915, had reached the role of Leading Seaman.

Most of his service was spent upon HMS Agamemnon, initially in the Channel, but was then moved to the Mediterranean. On the night of the 5th May 1916, the ship was moored in the harbour at Thessaloniki (Salonika). A Zeppelin, the LZ55, made a bombing raid, but when the searchlights caught it, the Agamemnon fired on it and hit the aircraft, breaking it in two. It crashed in the swamps around the Vardar river and its crew were captured.

Leading Seaman Coughlan remained on the Agamemnon, before returning to England in November 1917, where he received further training at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham. He was promoted to Petty Officer a couple of months later, and began three years of shore- and ship-based service.

In the summer of 1921, while again based in Chatham, he contracted pneumonia, succumbing to the lung condition in a matter of weeks. Petty Officer Coughlan died on 26th July 1921, aged just 29 years old.

William Henry Coughlan was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham; within walking distance of the naval base that had become his home.


CWG: Gunner George Trask

Gunner George Trask

George Trask was born on 22nd December 1875 and was the oldest of nine children. His parents were Absolam and Sarah Jane Trask, although it seems that the couple did not actually marry until after their first three children had been born. Absolam was an agricultural labourer and the family lived in his and Sarah’s home village of East Coker, near Yeovil in Somerset.

George was destined for a life of adventure; in May 1894, aged just 18, he enlisted in the army, joining the Royal Artillery as a Gunner. His medical examination sheds some light on his physique. He stood 5ft 7ins (1.70m) tall and weighed in at 144lbs (65.3kg). He had a fair complexion, hazel eyes and light brown hair.

Oddly, in the section on distinguishing marks – recorded to help identification should the soldier be killed – the medic only highlighted a ‘small mole midway between pubes and umbilicus’: it seems unlikely that this was the only distinguishing mark that could have been highlighted.

Gunner Trask’s initial service was spent in England. He served four-and-a-half years on the home front, before being shipped to Malta. After six months on the island, he was moved to Crete for a few months, before returning to Malta in September 1899.

George completed his initial term of seven years’ service, and elected to remain to complete a full twelve years of enlistment. As part of this, he was transferred to the Caribbean, spending two years stationed in Bermuda, before moving on to St Lucia for a further two years. By December 1905, Gunner Trask was back home in England, and it was on home soil that he remained.

Back in Somerset, George extended his term of service for another four years. Settled in his home village, he married Elizabeth Garrett on 27th December 1908; the couple would go on to have three children: Ethel (born in 1910), Lilian (1911) and George Jr (1916).

Gunner Trask’s military service continued apace. Reassigned to the Royal Garrison Artillery, he was posted in Portsmouth up until the outbreak of the war. He was awarded a third Good Conduct Medal in addition to the once he had received in 1900 and 1904.

At this point, details of George’s military service become a little hazy. He achieved 21 years’ military service on 29th May 1915 and was a further Good Conduct Medal. At this point, with the war raging, he period of duty was extended again, until the end of the conflict.

At some point during this time, he was assigned to the Royal Artillery’s School of Experimental Gunnery in Shoeburyness Essex. Sadly, there is nothing to confirm his exact role there, although, given that he was in his 40s by this point, it is likely that he acted as more of a mentor.

And it is here that the story comes to an end. Gunner Trask is noted as passing away in the Military Hospital in Shoeburyness on 31st October 1918, though there is nothing to confirm the cause of his death. He was 43 years of age.

George Trask’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. Having travelled the world with the army, he was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in his home village of East Chinnock.


George’s son George was to follow his father into military service.

Working as a press operator for a plastics company, he married Gwendoline Harper in Southend, Essex in April 1940. There is no record of whether he had enlisted at this point, but is seems likely that he had.

When the Second World War broke out, he joined the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. After initially helping in the defence of England following the British Army’s evacuation from Dunkirk, late in 1941, he was sent first to Egypt, then to Singapore to help strengthen the garrison there.

Early the following year, the 4th and 5th Battalions fought in the defence of Singapore, before the island surrendered to the Japanese army. At this point, Lance Corporal Trask found himself a prisoner of war.

The prisoners were put to work building the Burma railway, and suffered great hardship at the hands of their captors. Many succumbed to illness, and George was amongst them, dying from beriberi on 18th December 1943. He was just 27 years old.

George Reginald Trask was laid to rest in the Chungkai Cemetery in Thailand, 100km west of Bangkok.


CWG: Rifleman Arthur Langdon

Rifleman Arthur Langdon

Arthur William Langdon was born on 23rd December 1882, the son of Rose Langdon, from the Somerset village of Chiselborough. While Arthur’s father is lost to time, Rose married Frederick Hockey in 1886, and the couple went on to have three children – half-siblings to Arthur.

Arthur was destined for a life of adventure, and in 1902, at the age of 19, enlisted as a Rifleman in the King’s Royal Rifles, a career that was to last more than a decade.

On 13th April 1903, Arthur married Florence Beatrice Druce, who was also from Chiselborough. Noticeably absent from the marriage certificate was the name of the groom’s father; he was simply marked as ‘unknown’. The newlyweds would go on to have a son, also called Arthur, the following year.

Rifleman Langdon was soon destined for service overseas, however. After 18 months in South Africa, he returned to England for a year. He was sent to India for four years; it is likely that Florence went with him, or at least that Arthur returned home on leave during this time, as two further children – Henry and Reginald – were born in 1907 and the summer of 1910 respectively.

Arthur returned to England in February 1910, and remained on reserve home service – supplementing his income by working as a gardener – until the outbreak of the First World War. During this time he and Florence had two further children, Frederick, born in 1912, and Ivy, born just a month before war broke out.

With the start of the conflict, Rifleman Langdon was send to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. After five months on the Western Front, he had a brief respite back in England, before being shipped back to France in May 1915, and on to Salonika in the Balkans that November.

Rifleman Langdon did not stay in Greece for long, however. Within a couple of months he was back in England and on 14th April 1916, he was discharged from the army on medical grounds. Sadly, details of the cause of his exit from the army are not detailed.

Arthur was not one to rest on his laurels, however, and continued work as a gardener and labourer. Military life wasn’t far away, though, and in June 1918, he enlisted again, this time joining the Royal Air Force as a Private.

Initially based at Long Sutton, Arthur moved to Edinburgh Castle in March 1919. Full details of his time there are lost, but he remained in Scotland until being demobbed at the end of April 1920.

Details of Arthur’s life back on civvy street are not available. All that can be confirmed is that he passed away on 28th February 1921, at the age of 38 years old. Arthur William Langdon was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Margaret’s Church in the Somerset village of Middle Chinnock, where his widow now lived.


Arthur William Langdon
Arthur William Langdon
(from ancestry.co.uk)