It was raw emotion that compelled Albert Edward Arnold to volunteer his services during WW1. At 45 years of age, he certainly wasn’t the typical recruit, but having just received news of the death of his son, the red in his eyes gave him little choice. With anger pulsing through his veins, he stomped to the recruitment office in Stratford, East London, determined to give the Boche a bloody nose. That opportunity, however, was not to come his way.
Albert’s story begins and ends largely in the West Country. He was born on 17th April 1870 in Wear Gifford where his father was a police constable; he was the fifth of nine siblings, all but one of them boys. His father’s job took the family around the county from Dawlish to Appledore and from Buckland Brewer back to Wear Gifford. By 1879, the family arrived in Lustleigh planting roots that would stretch forward one hundred years.
Upon their arrival, five of the children, including Albert, were registered at Lustleigh Board School. Where they lived initially is unclear, although by 1891, following the death three years earlier of father John, the family were occupying Stable House with a practically unified effort to put bread on the table: mother Mary Ann had become a midwife, sister Lucy was a parlour maid, one brother, Edwin, was a Tram Conductor while another, Ernest, was a page – even 11-year old Charles had become an errand boy, perhaps for the neighbouring post office and general store.
Albert, however, had already left home at this point. He clearly had wider horizons and entered the merchant navy and, while his siblings were turning their hands to all manner of trades to support the family, this wanderlust 21-year old had just sailed back from Barbados and was recovering from a sailor’s complaint in the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich. Following his discharge after 73 days, he resumed his seafaring days based in Southampton where he lodged with his future wife and her widowed mother.
Following his marriage to Rose French in 1893, Albert traded in his life at sea for land-based work, becoming a foreman at an iron works in Southampton, and having five children in that city before moving to London’s dockland at Silvertown (although technically in Essex at that time). There, he found work at an oil wharf and went on to have another three children.
One of his sons, also named Albert Edward Arnold, found work at the same oil wharf which, presumably, caused at least some confusion – perhaps even some jollity – among their co-workers; although, with father as a labourer and son as a fitter’s boy, maybe they escaped constant jibing. Any joking, though, stopped with the outbreak of war and the signing up of Albert junior into the Royal Engineers; sadly, his fighting days were cut short when he died of wounds on 9th March 1915.
Despite having a wife and six children at home, the loss of his son and namesake was too much to bear. Perhaps he wrestled with his conscience for a short while, but the following month, on 24th April, he signed up for action. Revenge, though, was not going to come easy as he was deemed too old for front line action and assigned to the 4th Devons: engaged, according to Revd. Johnson’s roll call of all parishioners who served in the Great War, as a “bomb instructor”; the regimental museum, however, believes the likely munitions involved were hand grenades. This is a moot point, though, as the salient fact is that one of these weapons was accidentally dropped by a recruit killing and wounding several, including Albert severely. The date of the incident is unrecorded, but he was discharged from the army on 13th February 1918 and awarded a Silver War Badge.
It is probable that he returned home to London to be with his wife and children which now included a two-year old boy who had arrived during his war service. A year after the repatriation with his family, his wife died; not long after, his health gave way to the wounds sustained in the training incident and he was admitted to Whipps Cross Hospital, where he died on 3rd November 1920.
While his son is commemorated on the Silverton War Memorial, it is in Lustleigh where we find Albert senior’s name inscribed in memory of his war service. This was clearly due to that part of his family which remained in our village, living at Stable House. His mother died there in 1917, but his brother, Edwin, continued in that residence serving the parish, at various times, as overseer of the poor, water bailiff, clerk to the parish council and school manager.
After the war, some of his nephews and nieces (Albert’s children) would often come to stay, including the eldest, Rose, and the youngest, Alfred. When Edwin passed away in 1946, two nieces took up permanent residence at Stable House; Rose Gladys Arnold, Albert’s first-born, died there in 1978 ending the family’s connection with the house. Their connection with the village, though, lives on through the war memorial.
Albert Edward Arnold will be remembered on Tuesday 3rd November 2020, when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour; regrettably, this will be a reduced peel, using only three bells, due to Covid restrictions.
This story draws on various other sources including.
- Keep Military Museum
- Ancestry, Rootsweb & FindMyPast
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission