Tag Archives: Spanish Flu

CWG: Private Alfred Wheeler

Private Alfred Wheeler

Alfred Wheeler was born in Binstead, on the Isle of Wight, in the summer of 1886. One of three children, his parents were John, a labourer from the Isle of Wight, and his wife Emily.

When he left school, Alfred found work at the London City Mission in Ventnor. By this point, tragically, both of his parents had passed away, and the young siblings were finding their own ways in life.

The 1911 census found Alfred living with his uncle back in Binstead. His trade was given as a Motor Car Driver for the local Carriage & Motor Works; while he was obviously brought up with a spiritual side, he seems to have had a sense of adventure too.

When war broke out, Alfred was keen to do his bit. He enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment and was attached to the 1st Battalion. Sent to France within weeks of the war commencing, Private Wheeler was awarded the Victory and British Medals and the 1914 Star.

With his background with cars, Alfred subsequently transferred over to the Royal Army Service Corps in the 615th Motor Transport Company. While full dates are not readily available, the 615th were formed in January 1916, so it was likely after this that Private Wheeler moved across. The company were based in Dublin, and it was in Ireland that he saw out the remainder of the conflict.

On 11th July 1919, Alfred married Rose England. She was the daughter of an organ tuner from Bristol, although there is no obvious connection to Clevedon for him. It seems likely, therefore, that the couple may have met around through the church, possibly as Private Wheeler was travelling between Ireland and Hampshire.

Alfred wasn’t demobbed as soon as the war ended, remaining part of the Royal Army Service Corps through until 1920. It was while he was in Ireland that he contracted influenza. Admitted to hospital in Dublin, he sadly succumbed to the condition on 23rd April 1920. He was 34 years old.

Alfred Wheeler’s body was brought back to England. He lies buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard in Clevedon, Somerset.


CWG: Leading Seaman Alfred Davidge

Leading Seaman Alfred Davidge

Alfred Ernest Davidge was born on 22nd July 1882, one of six children to Richard and Ermina. Richard was a boilermaker from Bristol, but brought his family up in the Wiltshire town of Swindon.

Alfred was keen on adventure, and sought out a live on the open seas. In August 1898, at the age of sixteen, he joined the Royal Navy. After serving two years at the rank of Boy, he officially enlisted for a term of twelve years.

Starting as an Ordinary Seaman, Alfred had worked his way up to Leading Seaman by 1905. He continued in this role until 7th June 1909, when he was knocked back a rank for misconduct. He evidently realised the error of his ways, however, as, just over a year later, he was promoted again.

Leading Seaman Davidge’s term of service came to an end in July 1912, and, having been assigned to seventeen vessels during that time, he became part of the Royal Naval Reserve.

Back on home soil, and Alfred set up home in Taunton. He found work as a labourer and, in October 1913, married local lady Louisa Pomeroy. The couple went on to have a daughter, Hilda.

Storm clouds were gathering over Europe by now, and Alfred was soon recalled to the Royal Navy. He took up his previous role, and, after a period of training at HMS Vivid in Plymouth, he was assigned to HMS Suffolk.

Leading Seaman Davidge spent eighteen months aboard HMS Suffolk (during which time the photo below was taken), before being transferred to HMS Columbella in November 1916. His time there was short, however, as he became unwell.

Admitted to the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow with influenza, Leading Seaman Davidge sadly succumbed to the condition on 17th March 1917. He was 34 years old.

Alfred Ernest Davidge was brought back to Taunton for burial. He lies at rest in the St James Cemetery in the town.


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Alfred Davidge
(from findagrave.com)

CWG: Engine Room Artificer Newman Bailey

Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Newman Bailey

Newman Joynt Bailey was born on 1st August 1887, the eldest of five children to Newman Bailey and his wife Anna (née Joynt). Newman Sr worked as a switchman and signalman for Great Western Railway and had been born in Bath. He married Anna (whose maiden name was Joynt, and who had been born in Ireland) in 1885 and, after a short stint living across the county border in Devon – where Newman Jr was born – he settled his young family in Taunton.

When Newman Jr left school, he became an office boy, but he soon found himself following in his father’s footsteps. He became a fitter for the railways and, by 1910, was living with spitting distance of the GWR depot in the town.

It was here, in William Street, that he set up home with his new wife, Lily Gill, who he had married on 31t July 1910. Lily was the daughter of a Taunton lamplighter, and, to help make ends meet, worked as an ironer at the town’s collar factory.

War was on the way, and in July 1915, Newman enlisted in the Royal Navy. After initial training aboard Vivid II, the shore establishment in Devonport, he was deployed on HMS Blake as an Engine Room Artificer.

HMS Blake was an auxiliary ship designed to provide maintenance support to a flotilla of destroyers or other small warships. With his experience with steam engines at GWR, his knowledge of mechanics would have made him ideally suited to this type of role.

While he survived the war, Artificer Bailey was to be struck down with something much closer to home. In the immediate post-war period, the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the globe, and Newman was to fall victim to it. Admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital in South Queensferry, near Edinburgh, he passed away from the lung condition on 23rd November 1918. He was just 32 years old.

Brought back home, Newman Joynt Bailey was laid to rest in St James Cemetery in his home town of Taunton.


CWG: Corporal Walter Tottle

Corporal Walter Tottle

Walter James Tottle was born in September 1892, one of fourteen children to Charles and Ellen Tottle from Somerset. Charles was a boatman, and they family lived in Salmon Parade along the riverfront in Bridgwater.

When Walter left school, he became an assistant at a market garden; by the 1911 census, he was living with his parents and eight of his siblings, whose jobs included carpentry and laundering. Walter’s younger brother Henry was listed as a ‘rink boy’, helping with skating at the local ice rink.

Walter’s life beyond this is a bit of a mystery. He enjoyed sports and, before the war had been a regular player for Bridgwater Rugby Football Club. He married a woman called Ruth, although I have been unable to track down who she was or when they couple wed.

When war came, Walter enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry and, according to contemporary newspaper reports, Corporal Tottle had served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He was discharged from the army on 13th February 1919, following a severe attack of influenza, but it appeared to get the better of him. He passed away on 5th May 1919, aged just 26 years old.

Walter James Tottle lies at rest in St John’s Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.


Walter’s ‘rink boy’ brother Henry also served in the First World War. He had also enrolled in the Somerset Light Infantry and, as a Corporal in the 1/5th Battalion, he was involved in some of the fierce fighting in the Middle East. He was injured, either in Gaza or Jerusalem, but sadly Henry died of his wounds on 22nd November 1917; he was buried in the War Cemetery in Jerusalem.


CWG: Company Quartermaster Sergeant Robert Roberts

Company Quartermaster Sergeant Robert Roberts

Robert Roberts was born in Liverpool in November 1887 the youngest of two children to Robert and Alice Roberts.

The New World beckoned for the Roberts family, and they set sail for Canada when Robert Jr was just 4 years old. The family settled in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Little is recorded about Robert Jr until October 1911, when he married a Quebecois woman called Edna Webber. The young couple went on to have two children, a daughter, One, and a son, George.

In April 1916, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His trade was noted as a Lumberman, and his record notes that Robert had already served as part of the 95th Saskatchewan Rifles.

Joining the 224th Battalion, Robert was shipped to England in May 1916. He transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps in November, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant, and was assigned to the company’s Base Depot in Sunningdale, near Windsor.

When the war ended, demobilisation was still a way off for a lot of soldiers, particularly those from the Commonwealth. Robert was transferred to Stirling, and was appointed Quartermaster Sergeant (responsible for supplies and stores) for 121st Company.

On 28th January 1919, Robert was admitted to the Royal Infirmary in Stirling with influenza and double pneumonia. Sadly, he passed away just over a week later, breathing his last on 6th February 1919. He was 33 years old.

Robert Roberts lies at peace in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in Bridgwater, Somerset.


There is no evident connection between Robert and Bridgwater, so why this was chosen as his place of rest is a mystery. It is likely that there was some sort of family connection, but that cannot be definitely established.


CWG: Able Seaman Alfred Walters

Able Seaman Alfred Walters

Alfred Charles Walters was born in March 1900, one of six children to Alfred and Sarah Walters from Bridgwater, Somerset. Alfred Sr was a labour in a brickyard, and the family lived in the centre of the town.

When war broke out, Alfred seemed very eager to be involved. Lying about his age (giving his date of birth as 26th August 1898), he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve. Training in Portsmouth – on HMS Victory II, HMS Excellent and HMS President III – he was assigned to the SS Tanfield.

The steamer was heading out of London en route for Bombay and Karachi in April 1918, and was making its way west through the English Channel. On 15th April, it was located and tracked by the German U-Boat UB74, under the command of Ernst Steindorff. The German fired a torpedo, which hit and crippled Able Seaman Walters’ ship. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, and the Tanfield managed to limp back to port.

Little else remains of Able Seaman Walters’ military life. In February 1919, he was admitted to the Dreadnought Seaman’s Hospital in Greenwich, suffering from influenza and bronchial pneumonia. Sadly, he succumbed to the disease, passing away on 20th February 1919. He was just 18 years old (although his military record and gravestone give him as 19).

Alfred Charles Walters lies at peace in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.


CWG: Private Roland Roberts

Private Roland Roberts

Roland Roberts was born in September 1896, one of three children – all boys – to Albert and Minnie Roberts.

Minnie, who was originally from Yeovil, had married Walter Shury, a Londoner, in 1874, and the couple had six children together. Walter then went on to have four children with Alice Norwood, and the couple married in 1898. Minnie, meanwhile, had met Albert Roberts, who was from Dundalk in Ireland, and, while no marriage seems to be confirmed, the couple had three boys, including Roland. (It is pure speculation, but as Minnie’s maiden was also Roberts, this might have provided a good enough cover for any divorce or re-marriage.)

Albert had been a Band Sergeant in the 4th Hussars, and continued that passion by becoming a music teacher Travel was also definitely in his blood: the couple’s first child, Willie, was born in South London, Roland was born in Somerset, and his younger sibling, Glencoe, was born in Penzance, Cornwall. Albert’s musical success led him to become bandmaster for the Penzance Town Band. Sadly, it was not all positive for him; in 1901, Minnie passed away, and in the same year, Willie also died, at the tender age of six.

It was the military that drew Roland in, and, in 1910, aged just 14 years old, he enlisted in the Coldstream Guards. According to the following year’s census, he was stationed at the Ramillies Barracks in Aldershot, and held the rank of Boy.

Differing from the naval rank of the same name, lads of 14 or over could serve in any regiment as musicians, drummers, tailors, shoemakers, artificers or clerks, and all were ranked as boys. It seems likely, therefore, that his father’s enthusiasm for music served him well.

When war broke out, he was of fighting age, and, as part of the “Old Contemptibles”, he was involved in the Battle of Mons, the first major confrontation for the British Expeditionary Force.

During the war, Private Roberts took part in some of the most severe fighting on the Western Front, was wounded three times, as well as being gassed. He was also recommended for the DCM for gallantry in action.

He transferred to the Labour Corps, and spent time doing land work in Somerset. It was here that Roland met and married Gladys Pyne, whose family was from Bridgwater, and the couple tied the knot in March 1918.

Sadly, it was during this war service that Private Roberts contracted influenza and pneumonia and he passed away as his in-laws’ home on 10th November 1918, the day before the Armistice was signed. He was just 22 years old.

The local newspaper reported on Roland’s continued gallantry in its article on his funeral:

[Roland] held the medal of the Royal Humane Society for saving a woman’s life.

He was also the hero of an incident that occurred in Bridgwater a few weeks ago, when he succeeded in checking the career of an infuriated bull through pluckily catching the animal by its horns.

His disposition was always most cheerful, and although suffering from his [war] wounds a good deal, he never complained.

The Cornishman: Wednesday 27th November 1918

Roland Roberts lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his adopted home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.


CWG: Driver Stanley Pearce

Driver Stanley Pearce

Stanley Arthur Robert Pearce was born in September 1895, the fourth of five children to Edwin and Rosetta Pearce from Bridgwater, Somerset. Edwin was a painter and sign-writer, and it was in the creative trades that his children followed.

Stanley’s eldest brother Clifford became a gardener; his next oldest Edwin Jr was a mason’s labourer; while his older sister Dorothy became a cardboard box maker. By the time of the 1911 census, when Stanley was 16, he was listed as a painter’s errand boy, presumably helping out his father.

War was on the horizon, and Stanley was keen to do his bit. In October 1914, he enlisted, becoming a Driver in the Royal Army Service Corps. Assigned to the 662nd Heavy Transport Company, he was based in London. There was still time for visits home, however, and the local Bridgwater newspaper reported on an ASC football match in which Driver Pearce was involved in October 1915.

By this time, Stanley had met Flossie Vickery, from nearby North Petherton. The couple married the following year, and had two children, Ada and Geoffrey.

In 1916, Driver Pearce’s battalion was shipped off to Salonica in Greece, as part of the British Expeditionary Force in the Balkans. While there, he contracted malaria and dysentery, and was evacuated back to England for treatment in September 1918.

Driver Pearce recovered well enough to enjoy a month’s recuperation, but fell ill again, with a recurrence of malaria, combined with influenza and pneumonia. He was admitted to the Brook War Hospital in South East London, but sadly not recover, and passed away on 10th November 1918, a day before the Armistice was signed. He was just 23 years old.

Stanley Arthur Robert Pearce lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater.


Stanley’s older sister Dorothy – the cardboard box maker – contracted influenza around the same time as her brother and, tragically, died just five days after him. The siblings were buried in a joint funeral at the cemetery.


CWG: Private Edward Gane

Private Edward Gane

Edward Lionel Gane was born in 1899 and was one of eight children. Known as Lionel, he was the son of Edwin and Joanna Gane, and lived in the quiet Somerset village of Ditcheat. Edwin began life as a pig dealer, but by the time of the 1911 census, had changed direction and become an insurance agent.

Joanna passed away in 1915, and this may have been the impetus Lionel needed to find his way in the world. He enlisted in the Wiltshire Regiment, joining the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s brigade.

The battalion – a depot and training unit – were initially based in Devizes, before moving to Dorset and then Kent. While there is no confirmation of when Private Gane enlisted, it would have been by September 1917, which is when the battalion became part of the Thames & Medway Garrison.

The end of the war marked another ending for the Gane family. Edwin passed away on Armistice Day – 11th November – and further tragedy was to follow, as Private Gane contracted influenza and died less than two weeks later.

Edward Lionel Gane died in a military hospital in Malling, Kent, on 24th November 1918. He was just 19 years old. He lies at rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in his home village of Ditcheat.


CWG: Private Henry Mees

Private Henry Mees

Henry Edward Mees was born in Shepton Mallet, in June 1888. Henry was one of six children, and lived in Somerset with his father – Frederick and his mother Emma. Frederick was a gardener who worked as a groundsman for the local cemetery.

After leaving school, Henry found work as a clerk for a local auctioneer. Of his two brothers, the elder has found a trade in carpentry, while his younger sibling helped his father.

Henry’s service records are scant; he enlisted in the Labour Corps, although there is no confirmation of when this happened. Private Mees joined the 615th Home Service Employment Company and was based in England.

The HSE Companies categorised the employment of the men serving with them, whether they were cooks, caretakers, clerks, policemen, butchers or telephone operators, and used the men to the best of their skills. It is likely, therefore, that Private Mees continued in his clerk role, albeit in a different line of work from auctioneering.

Sadly, few further details of Henry’s life remain documented. He is listed as having been admitted to the War Hospital in Bath, and he died from influenza on 10th November 1918. He was 30 years old.

Henry Edward Mees lies at rest in the cemetery of his home town, Shepton Mallet, sadly tended by his father as part of his day-to-day job.