Private, M/2/102147, Royal Army Service Corps
Died at Warrington Hospital, 11 October 1919, aged about 26
Buried in Forest Row Cemetery, Grave 931

The grave of Albert Henry White in Forest Row cemetery

Albert Henry White died exactly 11 months after the Armistice, and in an English hospital, but is still considered a victim of World War I and is commemorated as such at Forest Row. He was born in Cricket St Thomas in Somerset on 23 January 1893 and baptised in the church there on Easter Day — 2 April. The register names his parents as Charles and Mary Ann White and gives the father's occupation as a whitesmith. However, the 1881 and 1891 census returns and several baptisms all call him a blacksmith.

Albert was part of a sizeable family: Frederick, Edith, and Sidney were all baptised at Cricket St Thomas before Albert, and William followed a year later. Maurice was born in Rousdon in Devon, where the family must have moved in the mid to late 1890s. This move was presumably a step up, as the family was enumerated in 1901 at the West Lodge Rousdon and Charles was now a mechanical engineer. The whole of this piece of the census is devoted to the workers on Rousdon estate. In 1911, still at West Lodge, he gave his occupation as estate engineer, but by then Albert Henry had left home and was boarding at 9 Belmont Road, Exeter, and working as a hot water fitter.

Albert made his oath and signed the declaration to the attesting officer at Exeter on 1 June 1915 but was home until 3 April 1916 when he seems to have been sent to France with 341 Company. He gave his address as 6 Jubilee Terrace, Sidmouth, and his age as 22 years 5 months. His occupation was recorded as Mechanical Driver. He signed the form in a clear hand. It seems he needed a reference, probably to confirm his value as a driver and mechanic. This was provided on notepaper headed:

The Old Lifeboat Garage, Sidmouth,
                          May 24th 1915
          To E.C.DEAN
        Motor Cars for hire
   Repairs of all kinds   -  -  -   Petrol and oils

and reads:

This is to certify that Albert White was in my service 2 years. I found him honest and sober. Good driver.
                                                                      C Dean


His father also submitted a brief career resumé, although some of it is too faded to read. It begins:

On leaving school at 14 years of age worked with his father (estate engineer to Sir Wilfrid Peek Bart, Rousdon, Devon) as assistant in the estate workshops for 2 years then going as motor lad to Sir Wilfred P...

Sir Wilfrid Peek was later High Sheriff of Devon. L Diment of Diment's Motor Garage, Station Road Seaton, official repairer to the R.A.C., also weighed in on Albert's behalf:

This is to certify that Albert White was taught to drive a car together with twelve months' tuition on car...machinery. He proved himself a capable driver and I always found him very obliging, straightforward and honest.

Also amongst the papers is an 'Application for the special enlistment of a Recruit' with the request that he be enlisted in the R.A.S.C. Mechanical Transport Regiment, where his driving skills would be key. He is described as 22 years old, 5' 4" tall and weighing 9 stone. He had a 35" girth and expansion of 2". The 'reasons for recommendation' part of the form is damaged, but it is possible to read:

A respectable, intelligent...

He was presumably also both patriotic and financially astute, as he invested £3 2/- in War Savings Certificates. 15/6 would buy a £1 certificate, and the return was expected to be high.

The company conduct sheet records:

Certified no offence whilst serving in this unit.

However, on 23 July 1918 he was punished for speaking improperly to an NCO. This appears to be a lone offence, though.

Netley Hospital — postcard [1]
(Click to enlarge)

Maybe he was ill for some time, as he was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire, on 4 December 1918. Patients were issued with a postcard (see above) so that they could write home to their families. However, on 11 November 1919 a telegram was sent to the Officer in Charge R.A.S.C. Woolwich Dockyard:

Regret to report death here today m/2/102147 Pte A H White R.A.S.C.
relatives advised. Warspital Warrington

With typical army efficiency, time of death was recorded — 8.30 a.m., and a long type-written form also had to be completed following a home death, and included tick boxes for next of kin to receive a telegram, a letter and 'their Majesties' message of sympathy'.

This Home Deaths form was sent to the authorities from the Lord Derby War Hospital in Warrington. Cause of death was recorded as Encephalitis and Epileptiform Convulsions. Encephalitis occurs when the brain becomes inflamed, often as a result of an infection, but can also be linked to immune system problems. One of the symptoms is seizures, and while today the illness can be treated with antibiotics, these were not available in 1919.

A statement listing his relatives had to be completed for army records in 1920 and shows that Albert had remained unmarried and had no children. By this time, his parents, Charles and Mary Ann, were living at Bower Hill, Plaw Hatch in Sharpthorne. Their four surviving sons were all living in London, which may explain their move from Devon. Their daughter Edith, though, was a war widow, living at Charminster near Dorchester. Mary Ann had to sign a declaration to the effect that the information given was accurate, and it was countersigned by W G Newham, vicar of Forest Row, who had conducted the burial service on 16 October 1919.

The Register of Soldiers' Effects shows that Albert's possessions, which went to his father, amounted to £52 2s.2d. His father also signed the Forest Row Memorial Book.

Pam Griffiths


1) Image courtesy of Netley Hospital [^]