Bert Burridge was born in the spring of 1893, one of nine children to Charles and Elizabeth. Charles was a journeyman shoemaker from Crediton in Devon, and this is where Bert was born. By the time of the 1901 census, however, the family had moved south to Newton Abbot.
When Bert left school, he found work as a carriage cleaner for the railways; he soon moved out, and boarded with a family in Kingsbridge, in the south of the county.
War was coming to England’s shores, however, and Bert was keen to play his part. He enlisted in the 4th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as a Rifleman on 16th January 1912. His service records show that he stood 5ft 4ins (1.63m) tall, and weighed 121lbs (55kg). He had a fresh complexion, grey eyes, dark brown hair, and a tattoo on right wrist of two crossed hands.
When war broke out, Rifleman Burridge was sent to France and was caught up in the fighting early on. After three months at the front, during the winter of 1914, he contracted frostbite, and was medically evacuated back to England. He was admitted to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Brighton, but died of injuries on 9th February 1915. He was just 22 years of age.
Bert Burridge’s body was brought back to Devon for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Wolborough, on the outskirts of Newton Abbot.
Bert’s headstone also includes a commemoration to his older brother, Frank. Seven years older than Bert, he had enlisted in the Devonshire Regiment as a Bugler when quite young. He passed away in the autumn of 1906, aged just 20, but further details are unclear.
Frederick George Partridge was born on 26th May 1890 in Kingsteignton, Devon. He was one of ten children to clay cutter George Partridge and his wife, Anna. George passed away in 1903, but Frederick left school, and also found work as a cutter, helping to pay his way at home.
When was came to Europe, Frederick was keen to play his part. He enlisted on 18th November 1915, and was assigned to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as a Rifleman. His service records show that he stood 5ft 9ins (1.75m) tall and weighed 145lbs (66kg). He was of good physical development, but had slightly flat feet.
After his initial training, Rifleman Partridge was sent to France, arriving in April 1916. His regiment soon found itself on the front line and, that summer, was firmly ensconced at the Somme. Sadly, Frederick was not to escape injury – he received a gun shot wound to his left thigh on 2nd September.
The wound was serious enough for him to be medically evacuated back to England for treatment. He was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, near Southampton, but died of his injuries on 12th September 1916. He was just 26 years of age.
Frederick George Partridge was brought back to Devon for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church in Kingsteignton.
Edward Phillips Drewett was born on 22nd September 1893 in the Somerset town of Castle Cary. He was one of four children to Richard and Martha Drewett; his mother had been widowed before marrying Richard, and had a child from that marriage, Edward’s half-sister.
Richard was a solicitor’s clerk, but when he left school Edward found employment as a grocer’s assistant. It was this that he was doing when war broke out in 1914 and, in November 1915, he joined up to do his bit for King and Country.
Edward joined the 17th Battalion of the London Regiment as a Rifleman: his service records show that he stood 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m) tall, weighed in at 9st (57.2kg) and was of good physical development.
Rifleman Drewett ended up spending three-and-a-half years in the army, and travelled a lot. After nine months on home soil, he was sent to France, Salonika, Malta and Egypt, spending between four and nine months in each place. By July 1918, he was back in France, and by Christmas that year was on home soil again.
By this point, Rifleman Drewett was unwell, and suffering from nephritis – inflamed kidneys. The condition was severe enough for him to be stood down from the army, and he was formally discharged from military service on 31st March 1919, while admitted to the Bath War Hospital.
At this point, Edward’s trail goes cold. He passed away on 28th August 1919 and, while the cause is unclear, it seems likely to have been kidney-related. He was just 25 years of age.
Edward Phillips Drewett was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home town, Castle Cary.
George Hill was born in Castle Cary, Somerset, in 1868. Documents relating to his early life are hard to pin down and, as his is a common name, it is not possible to identify any parental relationships.
The first document that can be categorically connected to George is the 1891 census. This confirms that he was living in his home town, and was married to a woman called Ellen. The couple had a year-old daughter, Elsie, and were both employed as horsehair workers, getting the material ready for use in upholstery.
It seems that Ellen must have died soon after the census as, in the autumn of 1893, he married Florence Cave, a stonemason’s daughter, who was also from Castle Cary. The 1901 census finds George and Florence living with Elsie, but with two children of their own, Laura and Edward.
By the time of the following census, in 1911, the family had grown again, with two more children, Percy and Doris. George’s eldest daughter was, at this point, working as a housemaid for a family in Winchester, while Laura was employed as a tailoress. George himself was still working as a horsehair curler, a trade he had been in for more than twenty years.
War was on its way, and despite being in his mid-forties, George appeared to have been keen to play his part. Full details are not available, but it seems that he had enlisted by May 1918, initially joining the Somerset Light Infantry, where he was assigned to the 4th Battalion. He was soon transferred over to the Rifle Brigade, however, and was attached to the 22nd (Wessex and Welsh) Battalion.
This particular troop initially served on home soil but was sent to Salonika in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1916. There is nothing in Rifleman Hill’s records to suggest that he went with them, however, and it may be that he had not yet enlisted at this point the conflict. His medal records show that he was awarded the Victory and British Medals, but that these were for his territorial work, rather than anything overseas.
Rifleman Hill served until near the end of the war. He had returned home by November 1918, and it was here, on the 9th, that he passed away from pneumonia. He was 52 years of age.
George Hill was buried in the cemetery of his home town, in the family plot. Florence was also laid to rest there, some eighteen years later, husband and wife together again at last.
Horace Douglas Thompson was born in Camberwell, East London on 23rd April 1898. He was the oldest of four children – and the only boy – to Horace and Elizabeth Thompson. Horace Sr was a grocer’s packer, originally from the village of Gissing in Norfolk.
Details of Horace Jr’s early life are a little sketchy, but it seems that by some point after the 1911 census, both of his parents had died, and he was fostered by his aunt and uncle – Charlotte and Robert Thompson – who lives in Leytonstone. By this point, he was working as a doctor’s errand boy.
When war broke out, Horace was keen to play his part. He enlisted in the 6th Battalion of the London Regiment – also known as the City of London Rifles – towards the end of 1916. It is unclear whether Rifleman Thompson saw any action overseas, but in April 1917 he was admitted to the Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in Newton Abbot, Devon, suffering from acute gastritis, or appendicitis.
Sadly, Rifleman Horace Douglas Thompson was to succumb to the condition – he passed away at the hospital on 16th April 1917. He was laid to rest in Newton Abbot Cemetery; he was days short of his 19th birthday.
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.
Walter Vaine Bromley was born in March 1877, one of seven children to Frederick and Jane Bromley. Frederick was a gardener, and the family lived in Maidstone, Kent. Sadly Jane died when Walter was only two years old; while the cause of her death is not noted, she passed away in the Barming Lunatic Asylum in Kent.
Things must have been tough for Frederick; his maternal aunt, Sarah, came to live with the family to help raise his children, but further support seems to have been needed and, by the time of the 1891 census, Walter was a student at the Kent County Industrial School, which was, in effect, a boys home, near Ashford.
By the end of that year, having left school, he enlisted in the army, joining the Royal West Kent Regiment. He served most of his twelve years’ enrolment in India, although he suffered numerous hospital admissions for dysentery, ague and orchitis (a swelling of the testicles, often brought about by a sexually transmitted bacterial infection), amongst other ailments.
On being demobbed, Walter became a postman; he moved to Gillingham, and was given a round serving the Eastcourt area of the town. A year later, he married Rose Brenchley, and the couple went on to have four children; Ada, Violet, Frederick and Hilda.
Hostilities began, and, in July 1915, Walter enlisted in the 8th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Post Office Rifles). Rifleman Bromley served as part of the Territorial Force for his first year, before being sent to France in August 1916.
His time there was cut short, however, as he received a gunshot wound in the left ankle. William was repatriated to England for treatment, and was eventually medically discharged from the army on 22nd August 1917.
Surprisingly, it seems not to have been the ankle wound that led to Rifleman Bromley’s passing, however. His pension records, instead, give his cause of death as a goitre contracted whilst on active service. Either way, he passed on 9th July 1918, at the age of 41 years old.
Walter Vaine Bromley lies at rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in his adopted home town of Gillingham in Kent.
Walter George Crook was born in 1900, one of thirteen children to William – a gardener – and Elizabeth Crook from Shepton Mallet in Somerset.
When he left school, Walter worked as a printer for the town’s newspaper and, by the time of the 1911 census, he was living with his family in a six-roomed house in the middle of the town.
Walter moved on from the Shepton Mallet Journal, and found employment at the Hare and Hounds Hotel in the town. War was coming, however, and he enlisted in the 22nd (Wessex and Welsh) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.
Rifleman Crook was stationed with his battalion in Salonica, Greece, and it was while he was here that he suffered a cerebral tumour. He was invalided home, and treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, Hampshire. Sadly, he lost his fight, passing away on 30th October 1916, aged just 27 years old.
Walter George Crook lies at rest in the cemetery of his home town of Shepton Mallet.
Walter’s brother Gordon is also buried in Shepton Mallet Cemetery – read his story here.
A third brother, Bertie, was also gave his life in the Great War. The local newspaper had given a touching report on his death in April 1916.
Bertie Crook left school at the age of 13, and went into service with Mrs Dickinson at Whitstone, as a stable lad. He was there a year and then, on account of Mrs Dickinson giving up horses and leaving the town, they recommended him to Lord Derby’s stables at Newmarket, under the Hon. G Lambton. Small as he was, Bertie Crook undertook the railway journey alone, with a label in his buttonhole. He served five years apprenticeship, which expired at the beginning of October . He then tried to join the Royal Field Artillery, but not being tall enough he joined a West country regiment on the 20th October, and left Tidworth Barracks for France in the early part of January. He was in his 21st year, having been born on the 29th July. 1895.
The Hon. George Lambton writes “I was terribly shocked and grieved to hear of the death of your boy… Mrs Lambton and I send our deepest sympathy… I always liked your boy so much when he was in my stable; and I felt sure that with his quiet and courageous character he would make a good soldier. I shall have a plate put up in the stable in memento of his glorious death.”
Shepton Mallet Journal: Friday 21st April 1916
Lance Corporal Bertram Stanley Crook is buried at the 13th London Graveyard in Lavantie, France.
John Henry Armes was born in Cannock, Staffordshire in 1881. One of eight children to Richard and Mary Armes, his father was a colliery worker and labourer. After their mother’s untimely death in 1890, this was a trade into which his three boys – Richard Jr, John and Alfred – followed.
The 1901 census finds John living with his widowed father and working as a coal hewer. A year later, he married Caroline Caldwell and, by the outbreak of the war, the couple were living in Ilkeston, Derbyshire with their growing family of seven children.
Records of John’s enrolment are not evident, but it is likely to have been later in the war, rather than earlier, given that his trade was one of those protected from enlistment.
By 1915, Caroline had given birth to the couple’s seventh child and John had signed up to the King’s Royal Rifles, stationed at the fort in Grain, North Kent.
Rifleman Armes’ pension record shows that he was accidentally killed on active service, and the contemporary media pick up the story.
[He] had been on outpost duty. On coming off duty about half-past seven on Monday morning he placed his rifle in a rack in a hut, and went to breakfast. Another rifleman names John Bathams Olliff, picked up the rifle to unload it, but having trouble with the extractor he took the magazine of the rifle out, and then thinking all the cartridges were in the magazine he pressed the trigger to close the bolt of the rifle, and a shot went off. At that moment Rifleman Armes came round the door of the hut and received a bullet in the chest.
Exclaiming, “My God, Armes is here,” Olliff rushed to his assistance, and Armes said “I am done for. It was an accident.” Medical aid was telephoned for, but Armes died shortly after the doctor arrived.
Est Kent Gazette: Saturday 5th February 1916
An inquest was held, which found that the two Johns were great friends and had asked to serve together. The jury exonerated John Olliff from blame and recorded a verdict of accidental death.
John Henry Armes died at the age of 34, likely without seeing his youngest child. He lies at rest in St James’ Churchyard in the village of Grain in Kent, close to the barracks where he lost his life.
There are a couple of other protagonists in this story.
John’s widow, Caroline, married again later in 1916, to a George Chapman. She went on to live to the age of 77, outliving three of her children and both of her husbands.
John Battams Olliff, who had accidentally shot John, was born in London in 1880. The son of a butcher, he had emigrated to Canada in 1911. John returned to the UK to fight in the war, joining the King’s Royal Rifles in May 1915. Little information about his post-war survives, but it appears that he remained in England. There is no record of him marrying, but he died in 1938, at 58 years old.
When carrying out research on the Commonwealth War Graves, information remains tantalisingly elusive.
Sometimes just you can chance upon one document and the life of the person behind the name is laid out in front of you.
But in the majority of cases, the someone’s history has to be pieced together from a combination of sources.
Henry Harry Trevitic was born in around 1879 in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire.
There are no records of Trevetics in and around that area at that time, nor are there any permutations of his surname – Trevethick or Trevithick, for example.
The first evidence I have found of Harry is on his military service records. He enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifles in August 1897, listing himself as a ‘cycle fitter’. The document asks if the applicant has previously served in the armed forces; Harry’s reply is that he is in the militia – the 4th Worcestershire Regiment.
Rifleman Trevetic’s military career is extensive; his records show continual service in the King’s Royal Rifles from 1897 to his death in 1915. This included three years in South Africa, two in India and eight months as part of the British Expeditionary Force within weeks of the outbreak of World War One.
The 1901 census finds Rifleman Trevetic at a convalescent home in Hanbury, near Droitwich, along with eleven other soldiers. He is marked as a Visitor, rather than a Resident, so it can be assumed that the owner of the home, whose brother is party of the military party, has put them up for the night (or longer).
Harry next turns up in 1902 when, in December, he married Frances Boyes in Southampton. His military career continued, however, and moving to the 1911 census, and Rifleman Trevetic is barracked in Woolwich. He is listed as married, while Frances is also based in the town, in female quarters.
While the details of his early life are pretty scarce, those surrounding his passing are much more in depth. Because of the circumstances, an inquest into his passing was ordered into his death; this included four pretty in-depth witness statements.
In January 1914, Rifleman Trevetic was appointed as an assistant to Captain Adjutant Makins in Winchester. In August of that year he was shipped with Makins to France and remained his servant.
On 14th September, Captain Makins was badly injured, and Harry helped carry him to the church in the village of Soupir in France, which was acting as a dressing station.
In Makins’ own words “there were 300 wounded closely packed, occupying the whole of the floor space. The groans and the smell, night and day were most distressing. Fresh wounded were constantly being carried in and dead carried out. Shell fire was constant and the general conditions were such as would severely try a highly strung man. During all this time, [Rifleman Trevetic] was my only attendant.”
Makins was moved to various hospitals in France, always accompanied by Rifleman Trevetic and eventually invalided home. Given the seriousness of Captain Makins’ injury, he was permitted to bring Harry back home with him.
On 1st March 1915, Captain Makins was passed fit for general service, and rejoined his battalion, along with his servant. Conscious that he may be sent back to the Front at any point, he warned Harry to be prepared for France again.
Captain Makins’ testimony takes up the tragic story.
On March 9th, he came to me and asked if I would see the Doctor on his behalf privately. He told me that every since his time in the dressing station at Soupir, his nerves had been ajar, and that he could neither eat nor sleep. He asked whether I could get the Doctor to do something for him, as he feared if he went sick in the ordinary way, he would be passed unfit for the front, and be unable to accompany me there, which he was very keen on doing.
Later in the day he came to me and asked me to take no notice of what he had said in the morning, that as a matter of fact he had taken to drink, which was the true cause of his trouble, and that he was entirely giving it up and would be right within a week.
His whole manner was strange and he appeared under the impression that I had discharged him. This was the first intimation I had of any strangeness in his manner.
Being busy I did not pay the attention to it that perhaps I should, more especially as I knew him to be a thoroughly sober and reliable man.
The following day he called me as usual.
About 8:30 am I was called from the mess and asked to proceed to my room at once. On arrival, I found the door locked, and various Officers’ servants outside. The key was on the inside of the door but so turned that the body of Rifleman Trevetic could be seen through the keyhole lying on the floor.
I broke open the door and found Rifleman Trevetic shot through the heart, my revolver lying by his side. The revolver contained one empty shell, I cannot say where this was obtained. There were a few rounds of ammunition in the room, but the marks did not correspond nor am I able to trace any similar ammunition in the Fort.
Captain G Makins’ statement, Inquest from Rifleman Trevetic’s service records
Three other servicemen gave statements into the tragic events of that day, and all summed up Harry’s demeanour in the same way as Captain Makins.
Rifleman Trevetic has throughout his service to me, been a model servant, and had during my time in hospital not only been invaluable to me, but also to the hospitals themselves. He was very happily married, and constantly spoke affectionately of his wife and as far as I can tell, was in no financial difficulties.
Captain G Makins’ statement, Inquest from Rifleman Trevetic’s service records
The inquest found that his death was self-inflicted and “at the time he shot himself he was temporarily insane, and that his mental condition was clearly caused by what he saw and went through when on Active Service in France, and that there was no other contributory cause.”
Temporary insanity, shell shock, war neurosis, combat stress, cowardice; however it was badged Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly recognised these days, but was frowned upon in the Great War.
Sadly, while appearing eager to accompany his superior, it seems that the thought of actually returning to the Western Front was so terrifying to Rifleman Trevetic, that he felt there was only one route out. He was 36 years old.
Harry Trevetic lies at rest in the quiet graveyard of St James’ Church on the Isle of Grain, metres from the fort where he ended his life.
Harry’s widow Frances lived on. Whilst there was no mention of her husband’s death in the newspapers of the time, she received a handsome war gratuity and a pension that reflected Harry’s long service. She went on to marry again in 1917, to Jack Finch, a Sergeant in Harry’s battalion.
Given the stigma around mental health in the early twentieth century, and, it is amazing that the documents have survived as part of the Harry’s military records. The inquest into his death was carried out within days of his passing, and I find the findings of the report forward thinking in the way that it was written.
Harry was obviously a man who experienced way more than his mind was able to cope with – the trauma of that dressing station must have been so much worse than he had seen before during his two decades’ military service. But the report is clear in that it apportions blame for his death on the fighting and bloodshed in France; this was clearly out of character for Harry, and it was his experiences in the field of battle that drove him to his death.
What is less clear is how much Frances was told of his death. While the inquest was decisive, suicide was as much of a stigma as shell shock at that time. Would the King’s Royal Rifles have be honest with her about how he died? Or, while they where internally open, would they have pulled ranks around their own and protected Frances from the truth and themselves from rebuke?