The end result in all my WWI research is, by default, going to be sad, sometimes tragic. When the object of your research is a son barely old enough to be considered an adult who is handed a uniform, a gun, a helmet and sent to a foreign country, a lot of the time, it’s not going to end well. It’s the nature of the job, really. Both mine and his.
Today, while Mirinda showed Sharon a few of her favourite things, I was in my office, the live feed for the cricket on my laptop, checking names off the Ewhurst memorial. I found two chaps today whose lives seemed to reflect each other in an odd kind of way.
First of all there was the sad story of Alfred Wallis. Born in 1900, he was only 14 when the war started. When his 18th birthday rolled around, clearly anxious to ‘do his bit’ Alfred went to Guildford and enlisted. He went into the 51st Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.
I can only assume his parents were proud of their only child as he showed them his new uniform, probably giving them a crisp, new salute above a fresh cheeky grin. His father, William the brickmaker, and his mother Mary, waving him goodbye as he headed off for Thetford in Norfolk for his basic training.
Alfred was given his serial number with the indicative TR prefix. This prefix would disappear once his training was complete. Unfortunately his training was never completed. He was admitted to hospital, suffering from an unspecified illness. Whatever this illness was, he never recovered.
He died the day after the Armistice was signed and was buried in the St Peter and St Paul churchyard in Ewhurst. His parents, eventually, joined him there.
The other Ewhurst fellow was quite a bit older than Alfred. His name was Charles Edward Westbrook. Born in Medstead in 1874 then growing up in Prerston Candover, he wound up in Ewhurst after marrying Charlotte Emma Dalton in 1905. Mind you, in a modern twist, they lived together as man and wife for a while first. (The 1901 census has them living in Battersea as a married couple.)
At various times, Charles was a general labourer, a domestic gardener and, most bizarre, a retired police constable. (I have not been able to trace his service with the Metropolitan Police, sadly.) Then, war having been declared, he set out for Cranleigh where he was enlisted into the 4th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment as a private.
All seemed fine for the 40 year old Charles but then, following a medical examination in 1916, he was diagnosed with cancer. This, more or less, put paid to his overseas service and he was transferred into the Labour Corps where he continued to serve as best he could.
Things continued along until 14 December 1918 when he was discharged from the army as medically unfit for active service and sent home. A year and a half later, in 1920, he died at home and, like Alfred before him, was buried in the Ewhurst churchyard. His name was added to the already extant memorial which held Alfred’s name.
It’s difficult to measure a level of sadness. Had Alfred completed his training and headed for France, he may well have survived for a long and happy life. He may also have died tragically by accidentally stepping on a forgotten landmine (this happened to one of the guys I researched today). Charles, as well, could easily have died a senseless death, in some water filled Belgian trench.
Both of them, however, are heroes and no longer merely carved names on a stone block.