Tag Archives: history

CWG: Lance Corporal Albert Adams

Bridgwater (St John’s)

Albert James Adams was born in Somerset in September 1878, the fifth of ten children to Robert and Mary. Robert was a mason, who sadly passed away when Albert was only 11 years old. Mary lived on as the head of the household, and by the 1901 census, she had four of her five sons living with her, three of them also stone masons.

Albert had taken a different route in life, and found work as a postman. He married Annie King, a young woman from Taunton, in 1910, and they set up home in the village of Selworthy near Minehead. Albert was the village postman, and the young couple lived there with their sons – Albert and Robert – and Mary.

When war came, Albert enlisted, joining the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. While his military records are scattered, his battalion served in India and Mesopotamia; during their three years in the Middle East, the 6th Battalion lost twice as many men to illness – influenza, pneumonia, malaria – as to enemy action.

Lance Corporal Adams was not immune to sickness; while I have been unable to unearth exact dates for his military service, his cause of death is recorded as malaria and pneumonia. He passed away on 9th February 1919, at the age of 40 years old.

Albert James Adams lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in Bridgwater, Somerset.

Albert James Adams from Ancestry.com

CWG: Lance Corporal Sidney Turner

Lance Corporal Sidney Turner

Sidney Joseph Turner was born in 1888, the oldest of four children to Sidney and Matilda Turner from Bridgwater in Somerset. Sidney Sr was a carter, while his son became a labourer in a local cement works. Sadly, Sidney Sr died in 1903, when Sidney Jr was 15, leaving Matilda with three other children, one of whom was only 18 months old.

Sidney Jr travelled to get work, and had moved to South Wales to work as a miner by 1909. Here he married Rose Shattock, who was born in Bristol, although within a couple of years the young couple had moved back to Somerset.

Sidney and Rose had a son, also called Sidney, although sadly he died when he was only a couple of months old. Tragically for Sidney, the records seem to suggest that Rose may have died in childbirth, or shortly after, as her passing was registered in the same quarter as her son’s birth.

By this time, Sidney was living in Bailey Street, Bridgwater, a short distance from some railway sidings. This might have driven some determination in him as, by the following year, he was listed as an engine driver. In December 1913 he married his second wife, Bessie Sharman. She was the daughter of a mariner, who had become a machinist in a shirt factory by the time of their marriage.

When war broke out, Sidney enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry, initially in the 12th (Service) Battalion. They landed in France in July 1915 and were there for the remainder of the war. At some point, Lance Corporal Turner transferred to the 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion. Very much a training brigade, it seems that Sidney’s experience of the front line may have proved useful for the upcoming recruits.

Lance Corporal Turner was demobbed on 21st March 1919; his pension record shows that, during the course of his service, he had fractured his tibia and had contracted bronchitis.

This latter condition was to prove Sidney’s downfall, as, within two years, he had succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis and exhaustion. He died on 2nd July 1921, aged just 32 years old.

Sidney Joseph Turner lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.

CWG: Lance Corporal William Parsons

Bridgwater (St John’s)

William Edward Parsons was born in 1890, one of six children to John and Prudence Parsons. John found work in a number of fields, working as a blacksmith, porter, dock labourer and a hobbler (towing boats along the River Parrett) in his time. Throughout this, he lived with his family in the Somerset town of Bridgwater.

William found work as a collar cutter in a local shirt factory, and went on to marry Matilda Mary Temblett on Christmas Day 1913. The young couple went on to have a son – Leslie William – who was born in February 1915. William was teetotal, and played full back for the local rugby football club, Bridgwater Albion.

Sadly, Lance Corporal Parsons’ military records are sparse; he had enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps and was based in Fovant, to the west of Salisbury.

It was while he was on leave that William met his sad fate. On the evening of 5th February 1916, he had seen his parents and had set out to organise a football match in the town. He was walking over the town bridge, when a passer-by heard a splash. He saw a man in the water, who was crying for help, and then disappeared.

William’s body was found in the river a fortnight later close to a local brickyard. He was just 25 years old.

William Edward Parsons lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater.

CWG: Private Fred Hobbs

Private Fred Hobbs

Occasionally I have found that some people are destined to remain hidden. No matter how much research you try and do, details stay lost, and the name on a gravestone will remain just that.

Private Fred Hobbs is one of those people.

He was born in around 1891; he enlisted in the 1st/5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Private Hobbs’ service records are not available, but he was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his actions.

His pension record gives Mrs Ellen Louisa Hobbs as his next of kin; there is no confirmation of whether this was his mother or his wife – research has uncovered nothing to identify either.

Private Hobbs does not appear in the contemporary media – this would seem to suggest nothing out of the ordinary about his passing.

All we know for certain is that Fred Hobbs passed away on 12th June 1920, aged 29 years old. He lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in Bridgwater, Somerset.

CWG: Staff Serjeant William Coggan

Staff Serjeant William Coggan

William Reginald Coggan was born in Twerton, near Bath, at the end of 1882. His father, also called William, was a railway guard, and with his mother, Annie, he would go on to raise nine children, six of them girls.

William Jr became known as Reginald, presumably to avoid confusion with his father. He didn’t follow his father onto the railways, but found a way to serve his country. In the 1901 census, he was working as a baker for the Army Service Corps, and was based at the Stanhope Lines Barracks in Aldershot (along with more than 1800 others).

Ten years later – by the time of the 1911 census – William had left the army but continued his trade. He was listed as a baker of confections in Glastonbury, was living above the bakery with his wife of four years. I have been able to find little information about his wife, Kate, other than that she came from Dublin.

William Coggan’s former bakery in Glastonbury, Somerset.

William’s life becomes a little vague after the census. A newspaper report confirms that he had served in the South Africa war (1899-1902), and that he had seen five years’ service in France. The report – and William’s pension records – confirm that he had continued in the Army Service Corps, gaining the rank of Staff Sergeant.

William had died in Ireland, and his death registered in Fermoy, thirty miles to the north of Cork. The report confirmed that:

Nothing is yet known of how he came by his death, although a request was made for a post-mortem examination.

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser: Wednesday 11th August 1920.

I can find no further information about his death and, unusually, his Pension Record gives the date, but not the cause. Staff Sergeant Coggan died on 29th July 1920, aged 38 years old.

William Reginald Coggan’s body was brought back to England for burial. He lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in Bridgwater, Somerset.

CWG: Private Walter Taylor

Private Walter Taylor

Walter Henry Taylor is one of those people whose details are difficult to track down. From his pension card, he is recorded as having been married to a woman called Lilla Rhoda, and that they had a daughter, Joan Valeria, who was born in April 1916.

Walter’s war grave confirms that he was a Private in the Essex Regiment; his pension records also support this, showing that he was assigned to the 6th Battalion, then the 10th Battalion. The two troops were positioned in different locations during the conflict – the 6th fought the Turkish, including involvement at Gallipoli, while the 10th was based on the Western Front.

An article in the local newspaper – the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser – reported his death, confirming that he passed at the War Hospital in Preston, Northampton. He had been in service for more than a year, having previously been employed by Redwood & Sons in Taunton. The newspaper went on to report that Private Taylor had been suffering from ill health and had been hospitalised in both France and England.

The name is a fairly common one, and my usual resource, Ancestry, wasn’t bringing up anything concrete around him. There are no definitive birth or marriage records and the censuses I have been able to locate do not convince me that they relate to the name on the gravestone.

There is a Walter Harry Taylor, who was born in Bridgwater in 1883, one of ten children to Henry John Taylor and his wife Emma; Henry was a sailmaker, while Walter went into boot making.

The 1911 census picks up this Walter in St Pancras, London, where he was working as a boot trade shop assistant, while boarding with a dressmaker called Minnie Adelaide Lloyd.

While these seem likely candidates for Walter, there is nothing to definitively connect the documents to the man being researched. What potentially sways it, is that Redwood & Sons (Walter’s pre-service employer) were a boot and shoe dealer.

Sadly, the only other definitive documentation of Walter’s life is that he passed away on 14th July 1918, from a kidney sarcoma. He was 35 years old.

Walter Henry (Harry) Taylor lies at rest in the St John’s Cemetery in his presumed home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.

CWG: Private Frederick Hobbs

Private Frederick Hobbs

Frederick Hobbs was born in December 1886, the fourth of ten children to William and Martha Hobbs, from Bridgwater in Somerset. William was a mason, and all of his children seemed to be good with their hands. Frederick went on to become a plumber’s apprentice, while his siblings worked as a mason, a dressmaker and a carpenter.

The 1911 census found him living in Polden Street, Bridgwater with his mother and youngest sibling, Florrie. William, however, was living round the corner in Bath Road, with three of his other children, Clara, Tom and George. Both of Frederick’s parents are listed as married, which adds to the confusion of them being in separate houses.

Frederick enlisted with weeks of was being declared; he joined the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and, after a year on home soil, his troop was shipped to France. This wasn’t the end of the Private Hobbs’ journey, however as, within a couple of months, he journeyed on as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, finally arriving in Salonica, Greece, in November 1915.

Private Hobbs has only been serving for a month when he was admitted to the Hospital Ship Asturias in Alexandria, with lacerations to his cheeks and eyelids. The initial report seemed to suggest the wounds were as a result of gunshot, although a more detailed report later confirmed that the injuries were caused by barbed wire.

While in hospital, Frederick’s urine was found to include a high level of sugar. He also confirmed having lost a lot of weight in recent months, but could not confirm when this had begun. He was diagnosed with diabetes, and was evacuated back to England for treatment for both his injuries and his illness.

The damage to his left eye healed, but he was left with significant ptosis, or drooping of the eyelid. When it came to his diabetes, specialists back in England determined that, while it could not be put down to Private Hobbs’ service, it had definitely been aggravated by it. He was deemed no longer fit for military service and furloughed in June 1916, with a follow-up report confirming this three months later.

Sadly, whether Frederick’s life returned to normal is not recorded. It seems likely, however, that the diabetes got the better of him, and he passed away on 25th November 1916, aged just 29 years old.

Frederick Hobbs lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.

Frederick’s younger brother Herbert Hobbs also fought in the Great War. He enrolled in the Royal Marines Light Infantry and fought on the Western Front. Caught up in the Battle of Gavrelle Windmill, he was one of 335 Royal Marines to be killed in that skirmish. He lies buried at the Arras Memorial in Northern France.

CWG: Corporal Wilfred Gillson

Corporal Wilfred Gillson

Wilfred Allen Gillson was born in 1888, the fourth of nine children – and one of eight boys – to George and Emma Gillson. George was a coachbuilder from Cornwall; Emma, whose maiden name was Allen, came from Derbyshire. The family were living in Torquay by the time Wilfred was born.

In 1895, George had moved the family to Bridgwater in Somerset, presumably as railway works had dried up in the coastal Devon town. By this time his oldest son, also called George, was working as a compositor, keying text for a printer. Wilfred was still at school, but his other two older siblings – William and Albert – were both working with their father, working on railway coaches.

Wilfred was also to follow in his father’s employment, and the 1911 census found him living in Bristol, boarding with the Cridland family, earning his keep a a carriage painter.

He joined up within weeks of war breaking out, enlisting in the Worcestershire Regiment on 20th September 1914. Private Gillson readily proved his worth, and was promoted to Lance Corporal after three months, and Corporal within a year of enlisting.

Corporal Gillson’s promotion coincided with his shipment abroad, and he served on the Western Front for eight months. Returning to England in March 1916, he subsequently transferred to the Devonshire Regiment, before being moved to the 4th Reserve Battalion in the spring of 1917.

Things were not right for Wilfred; he was reprimanded for neglecting his post on the night of the 26th May that year, before being medically discharged with neurasthenia in August.

The root of the matter is detailed in his discharge report; he was hospitalised at Neuve Chapelle in February 1916, suffering from shellshock, and it seems that he never really fully recovered.

Sadly, at this point Wilfred’s trail goes cold. He passed away on 10th November 1918, aged 30 years old.

Wilfred Allen Gillson lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in Bridgwater, Somerset.

There are a couple of additional notes to Wilfred’s life.

During the war, Wilfred’s youngest brother, Thomas, fought with the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was involved in the fighting in France, but died from wounds on 10th June 1918. He was just 18 years old, and is buried at Aire-sur-la-Lys, not far from Boulogne.

Given that Wilfred was one of eight brothers, all of whom would have been of fighting age during the war, it is lucky – although still a tragedy – that only he and Thomas died as a result of the conflict.

Sadly, Wilfred’s mother, Emma, passed away in the autumn of 1914, at 57 years of age. It might be a blessing, however, that she was not alive to see two of her sons suffer so.

CWG: Driver Ernest Wood

Driver Ernest Wood

Ernest James Wood was born in 1891, one of ten children to Alfred and Charlotte Wood. Alfred was a carpenter and machinist for a timber merchant, and, by the time of Ernest’s birth the family lived in Bridgwater, Somerset.

When hostilities broke out, Ernest was quick to enlist. He joined the Royal Army Service Corps in September 1914. Driver Wood was assigned to the Horse Transport Depot Company at Park Royal in London, and there is a note of him being injured on 29th July 1916. Sadly, little else of his military service remains.

In January 1916, Ernest married Hilda Williams. She was the same age as her new husband, and was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth, who were also from Bridgwater.

The trail of Driver Wood goes a little cold after that. He was demobbed om 6th January 1919 and on the release form declared that he was not medically unfit as a result of his military service.

Frustratingly, the trail goes totally cold at that point. All we know for certain is that Ernest died on 2nd March 1919, two months after leaving the army. There a no records confirming a cause of death but, as he does not appear in any contemporary newspapers, it is likely that the cause was not unusual; perhaps one of the respiratory conditions going around at the time, such as influenza or pneumonia. Whatever the cause, Ernest was just 28 years old when he died (his headstone is based on an incorrect date of birth).

Ernest James Wood lies at peace in the St John’s Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, in Somerset.

CWG: Serjeant Major Charles Willcox

Sergeant Major Charles Willcox

The early life of Charles Willcox is a bit of a mystery. From fragments of information, we can determine that he was born in 1893 and had a brother called Edmund and a sister called Beatrice. His mother was a Mrs S Willcox, who, by the early 1920s was living in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Piecing together the tiny pieces of information online, it seems likely, therefore, that his parents were Frank and Sarah Willcox. Frank was a cabinet maker and upholsterer, he and Sarah were from Bridgwater in Somerset, and they had eleven children.

By 1895, Frank had moved the family from Somerset to Cardiff; Charles was the last of the siblings to be born in England. The family did eventually move to South Africa – alongside Sarah, both Beatrice and Edmund lived and died there in their later years.

Back to Charles and, once the Great War started, he was quick to enlist. He joined the Somerset Light Infantry in August 1914, and had a narrow escape in October of that year. The Bridgwater Mercury reported that he was in the trenches and had had a near miss when his backpack was hit by a shell.

Corporal Willcox was wounded at Ypres in November, when a piece of shrapnel hit him in the shoulder, went through the lung and had to be cut out of the centre of his back. He was expected to make a full recovery within a year. Charles was also awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions in the battle.

In September 1915, Sergeant Willcox received another award; the Russian Cross & Order of St George; the Bridgwater Mercury noted that Charles was the first man from the town to be awarded both this and the DCM. The town’s mayor also subsequently presented him with a gold watch and chain on behalf of the town.

Promotion continued for Charles, and, by 1917, he had been elevated to Company Sergeant Major. He was heavily involved in recruitment for the Somerset Light Infantry, and it is likely that, standing at a strapping 6ft 4ins (1.93m) tall and weighing in at 17st (107kg), he would have been the perfect advert for the battalion.

When the war came to a close, things quietened down for him. A keen sportsman – he played rugby for Somerset – he had been a gym instructor in the army, and had taken up boxing around 1912. He entered a novices’ boxing competition in Southampton in December 1919, and found himself up against Seaman Merrilees, from the HMS Hearty.

In the fight, Charles received a body blow and a blow to the jaw, he fell to the floor, landed awkwardly and was knocked out. Attended to by doctors in the sports club, he was sent to Charing Cross Hospital when he did not regain consciousness after a couple of hours.

At the hospital, bruising was reported to Charles’ eye and cheek, but no skull fracture was found. They operated on him, two pieces of bone were removed, and a large clot on the left-hand side of his brain discovered. Sadly, the operation did no good, and Charles died that afternoon, the 4th December 1919. He was just 26 years old.

His death was recorded as concussion and a cerebral haemorrhage, attributed to the fall he had had in the ring. An inquest was held, although one report suggests a verdict of accidental death, while another states excusable homicide by misadventure.

Charles Willcox lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater in Somerset. His gravestone remembers that he lived for sport, died for sport and always played the game.

Image from wembdonroadcemetery.com