The mystery of the missing Militia man

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Shrewsbury, August 8th, 1809. WHEREAS Mr. JAMES ATCHERLEY, of Princess-street, Shrewsbury, Jeweller and Cutler, left his dwelling house in the night of 4th day of July last, without informing his family or friends of his leaving the same, and he hath not been heard of since:—a REWARD of TEN GUINEAS will be paid to the first person who shall give information at the Bank of Messrs. Rowton and Morhall, Shrewsbury, where the said Mr. James Atcherley now resides and may be met with; the said reward to be paid as soon as he is discovered with certainty to be the person now advertised for. Chester Chronicle, 11 Aug 1809.

Baptised at Baschurch, Shropshire, on 26 March 1784, James Atcherley was the last of six sons born to gentleman farmer Thomas Atcherley and his wife Hannah (nee Cureton) of Stanwardine. At the time of James’s birth Thomas Atcherley was aged 59, and had only 12 more years to live. He died on 7 April 1796, aged 71, having made a will in which he left his lands and property to his two oldest sons, and £400 apiece to his four youngest. James was to receive his inheritance on reaching his 21st birthday, and he was to receive the interest on it in the meantime.

In the year before the death of Thomas Atcherley, his fourth son William had been apprenticed to John and Edward Hughes, a firm of ironmongers in Shrewsbury. After Thomas’s death, his widow Hannah set about arranging apprenticeships for the couple’s two youngest boys, Edward and James. Edward was apprenticed for 7 years to “Wm. Grifiths” of Wem, a mercer, on 28 May 1796. James Atcherley was placed, at a cost of £42, with Messrs Richards & Morris of Shrewsbury, “Cuttlers”, with whom he started his 7 years on 13 June 1796.

Given that James was a jeweller and cutler in 1809, we might assume that he completed his apprenticeship. There is however evidence which indicates that, at the very least, his time with Richard & Morris was interrupted. On 13 July 1801 at the age of 17, “James Atcharley” of “Basschurch” enlisted at Wellington, Shropshire with the 1st Foot Guards (which in 1815 became the Grenadier Guards).

The fact that James enlisted with the Foot Guards and completed an attestation form does not necessarily mean that he served with that unit for a particular period of time. Barbara Chambers, who has researched the relevant documents, says: “There are attestations for men who only briefly served in the Regiment often only days”. Whatever the length of his service with the Foot Guards, James’ was evidently keen to return to military service afterwards and play his part in defending Britain from the French. (See also An Officer and a Gentleman: Roger (or Rowland) Atcherley.)

On Christmas Eve 1808, James Atcherley, Gent., became an Ensign in Shropshire’s Centre Regiment of Local Militia. The confirmation of this printed in the London Gazette of 20 June 1809 (see above) was almost certainly a correction of an earlier notice, in the Gazette of 15 April 1809, which incorrectly named James as “John Atcherley”. Regiments of Militia had existed in Shropshire (and elsewhere) for some time, but the Centre Regiment of Local Militia was, as far as I can tell, formed as a result of an Act of Parliament passed in 1808. Robert Holden, in his Historical Record of the Third and Fourth Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment (published 1887), wrote about the creation of Local Militias as follows:

In June an Act (48 Geo. iii. c. 3) was passed ‘for enabling His Majesty to establish a permanent Local Militia Force under certain restrictions, for the Defence of the Realm;’ by which a force six times the size of the Regular Militia of the kingdom was obtained by ballot, consisting of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty, who were enrolled for four years, no substitutes being allowed.

One of the chief reasons for the establishment of the Local Militia was, as was well known at the time, the feeling on the part of the authorities that no reliance could be placed on the volunteer force which was then in existence, and had been since the threatened invasion of the country in 1803. Volunteering at that time, though in many cases very hearty and patriotic, was at best never anything else than playing at soldiering. The members of the various corps were only civilians in uniform. Discipline was very imperfect, and at any fancied affront a man gave in his musket and walked off. [...] the volunteers of nearly every county transferred their services to the Local Militia, and regiments were formed strictly under the articles of war.

Although the Local Militia required men to serve for four years, this was not four years of continuous military service. Militia men continued to undertake their regular employment, but were required to undertake periods of training. Those not attending were, unless “labouring under any Infirmity incapacitating him”, regarded as deserters. Such deserters were required to pay a forfeit of £20 immediately or “be committed to the Common Gaol, there to remain, without Bail or Mainprize, for the Space of Six Months” or until such time as they paid the sum forfeited.

So it was that James Atcherley combined military service with his career as a jeweller and cutler. He did not do so for long however. As we have seen, in July 1809 James left his home without informing his family or friends. He was still missing a month later, prompting the notice which was published not only in the Chester Chronicle on 11 August, but also in The Times of 18 August. The notice concluded:

Mr. James Atcherley is about 25 years of age, 5 feet nine inches high, strong made, and fair complexion. If Mr. James Atcherley should see this advertisement, his relations hope that he will write to them immediately.

It would appear that eventually, James did make contact. The career he had pursued in Shrewsbury was over though. The Salopian Journal of 14 February 1810 carried the following notice:

THE Creditors of Mr. JAMES ATCHERLEY, late of Princess-street, Shrewsbury, Jeweller and Cutler, may receive their Debts on applying to Mr. WILLIAM ATCHERLEY, Ironmonger, or Mr. ASTERLEY, solicitor, in Shrewsbury aforesaid ; and all persons who stand indebted to the said James Atcherley, are requested to pay such Debts immediately to Mr. ATCHERLEY, or they will be proceeded against for the Recovery thereof.
Shrewsbury, Feb. 8, 1810.

The reason for James’s mysterious disappearance is unclear. It seems obvious that he did not wish to continue running his business, but he could have ceased trading without ‘running away from home.’ The pressures which may have driven James away from Shrewsbury – or the attraction that may have lured him elsewhere – will likely always be a matter for speculation.

And while we are speculating, why did James leave the Shropshire Centre Regiment of Local Militia and then join the Worcestershire Regiment of Militia in 1810? His Commission as an Ensign in that regiment was signed on 17 April. It may be that James wanted to be a full time rather than a part time soldier, as the Worcestershire Militia was a Regular rather than a Local unit. He may also have desired a change of scenery. As the regiment was then based at Portsea Barracks in Hampshire, that is exactly what he got.

The Worcestershire Regiment of Militia had been based at Portsea Barracks since at least the beginning of 1810, but on 26 May that year all ten companies moved to Four House Barracks in St Nicholas Street, Portsmouth. Then on 8 October the regiment marched to Portchester (then known as Porchester), where it did duty guarding the French prisoners of war held at the castle there (see image below). To return to Robert Holden’s account of the Worcestershire Militia: “At this period there were about 47,600 French prisoners in England, while 10,300 English languished in the prisons of France.”

The regiment was still at Portchester in May 1811, when a number of the prisoners attempted to escape. Six managed to scale the castle walls, but three of those were captured in the act and the other three were recaptured soon afterwards.

At the end of June 1811 the regiment left Portchester for Weymouth, Dorset, where the men remained until the end of July. Its ten companies then split up and moved to various towns in Somerset, before converging on Bristol at the end of August. There they remained until the end of March 1812 when, along with the Denbigh Regiment of Militia, the Worcester regiment headed back to Portsmouth and Portsea Barracks.

By this time James Atcherley was a Lieutenant, having been promoted to that rank on 23 July 1811 (oddly, the London Gazette recorded this event as taking place two years later). He was also a married man, his wedding to Mary Dixon taking place at the church of St Lucia in the bride’s home parish of Upton Magna, Shropshire on 7 November 1811. It seems that James had finally settled, albeit into a way of life which meant he was regularly on the move. There would be no more mysterious disappearances, but there would be a long and at times eventful military career – including service in France at the conclusion of the Peninsula War.


The church of St Lucia, Upton Magna. Click on the image to view at Geograph.


Picture credits. Extract from London Gazette, issue 16268, 20 Jun 1809, page 909 used under the Open Government Licence v2.0. Portchester Castle: image from The Graphic and Historical Illustrator, volume I, page 260, published 1834 and therefore out of copyright. The church of St Lucia, Upton Magna: photo © Copyright Geoff Pick, taken from Geograph and adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.


References

[1] Chester Chronicle, 11 Aug 1809, page 2. Also published 25 Aug 1809, page 1.
[2] Baschurch, Shropshire parish register covering 1784. Entry for James Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[3] MIs at Baschurch All Saints (3): In Respectful Memory of THOMAS ATCHERLEY of Stanwardine in the Fields who departed this Life April 7th 1796 Aged 71 Years.
[4] Transcript of will of Thomas Atcherley of Stanwardine in the Fields, proved 20 Oct 1797, from copy obtained from Lichfield Record Office, by Barbara Lang.
[5] The National Archives, Kew, item references IR 1/67 page 159 and IR 1/68 pages 32 – 33 (Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books). Copies viewed at Ancestry – Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811.
[6] Regimental Archives of the Grenadier Guards: 1st Foot Guards Attestation papers, volume R194. Abstracted information from page 225 on James Atcharley, by Barbara Chambers, viewed at Findmypast.
[7] Barbara Chambers (undated), 1st Foot Guards Research. At: British Army Research Napoleonic Wars (website, viewed 29 Mar 2015).
[8] London Gazette, issue 16268, 20 Jun 1809, page 909.
[9] London Gazette, issue 16247, 15 Apr 1809, page 523.
[10] Robert Holden (1887), Historical Record of the Third and Fourth Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment.
[11] Jacqui Reiter (2013), The Local Militia Act of 1808. At: English Historical Fiction Authors (website, accessed 29 Mar 2015).
[12] The Salopian Journal, 25 Mar 1812, page 1.
[13] The Times, issue 7752, 18 Aug 1809, page 1.
[14] The Salopian Journal, issue 838, 14 Feb 1810, page 2.
[15] London Gazette, issue 16442, 8 Jan 1811, page 57.
[16] J Davis (1810), The Royal Military Chronicle. Volume 1, No. 1, page 323. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[17] London Gazette, issue 16819, 30 Nov 1813, page 2409.
[18] Upton Magna, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1811. Entry for James Atcherley and Mary Dixon. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M04773-1, Film 0510680 IT 5, 503536.
[19] The Salopian Journal, issue 930, 20 Nov 1811, page 2. “MARRIED. … At Upton Magna, Lieutenant J. Atcherley, of the Worcester regiment of Militia, to Miss Mary Dixon, of Haughton.”


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Roy Atcherley Vosper’s World War One

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< More Atcherley stories from World War 1

Updated 7 March 2015.

The name Atcherley, mentioned in connection with flying, usually brings to mind Richard and David Atcherley of the RAF. There was however another bearer of the name who beat the famous flying twins into the air, and into battle, back in the days before the RAF even existed. Though Atcherley was not his surname he was a distant cousin of Richard and David, and his life in the air was, like theirs, not without incident.


A reconstructed FE2B, like that flown by Roy Atcherley Vosper during World War One.

When Rose Goldup Atcherley was born in 1871 she was given her mother’s maiden surname as a ‘middle name’. 25 years later in 1896 Rose married a man who had received his second forename in the same manner: Harry O’Donoghue Vosper. So we can, at least in part, understand why Rose and Harry’s son was called Roy Atcherley Vosper.

Roy was born on 4 October 1898 at Brighton in Sussex. He was Rose and Harry Vosper’s only child, for within a few months of his birth Rose passed away at the age of 27. Harry married again in 1902, to Norah Eleanor Broomfield. Norah presented the family with a daughter, Kathleen O’Donoghue Vosper, in 1903, by which time the Vospers were living at Ashford in Kent.

Harry Vosper’s job in brewing took him, with his wife and children, back to his home town of Plymouth. The 1911 census shows Harry, Norah, Roy and Kathleen living there at 109 Mount Gold Road. Harry, now a brewer’s manager, could afford to employ a live-in domestic servant.

It seems likely that Harry was then, as he was in September 1916, West of England Manager for Samuel Allsopp & Son Ltd. Within five years of the 1911 census being taken, the Vosper family had moved out of Plymouth to Furze Croft at nearby Elburton. Meanwhile Roy Vosper, now aged almost 18, had completed his education at Plymouth College and was working as a junior clerk for Anglo-American Oil Co Ltd. He had also been training with the Plymouth OTC (Officer Training Corps) for two years. All this information was provided by Roy on Army Form B.2512 – the Short Service Attestation form completed by those enlisting with the Army. The Great War was still raging, and Roy was determined to do his duty.

Initially posted to the Army Reserve as a Private, Roy Atcherley Vosper joined the Inns of Court OTC on 29 December 1916 (rank Private, service number 10263). Roy had set his sights on a higher rank however and on 6 March 1917 he completed form M.T.393A, an application for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit. His preference was to serve with the Infantry, his unit of choice being the Royal Sussex Regiment. The suitability of his “moral character” and education having been certified by the acting Head Master of Plymouth College, and his fitness for military service being confirmed by an army medic, Roy’s form was despatched to the War Office on 12 March 1917.

Over the course of the following month, something inspired Roy to aim even higher – in a very literal sense. On 9 April 1917 he signed another M.T.393A form, in which he stated that his preference was to join the Royal Flying Corps. To the statement confirming that he was fit for military service, the following words were now added: in accordance with the Special Standards of fitness for the Royal Flying Corps, recommended by the Royal Flying Corps Medical Board.


Quickly accepted by the RFC (the cap badge of which is shown above), Roy was attached to its School of Military Aeronautics at Reading. He was discharged from the Inns of Court OTC “on being appointed to Commission in the General List (RFC)” on 16 May 1917. This appointment was published in the London Gazette just over three weeks later:

War Office,
9th June, 1917.
REGULAR FORCES. …
The undermentioned cadets to be temp. 2nd Lts. (on prob.) : —
General-List (R.F.C.)
17th May 1917. …
Roy Atcherley Vosper. …

Roy was ‘Gazetted’ again on 26 October 1917, with a notice that he had been confirmed in his rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps with effect from 29 September. A little over three months after the successful completion of his probationary period, on 6 January 1918, Roy embarked on a ship along with 23 other officers of the RFC’s 58 Squadron to join Britain’s Expeditionary Force in Europe. More officers from the squadron, including Major J H S Tyssen, left by air to join these men four days later.

On 1 April 1918 the Royal Air Force when it was formed from the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service, creating the world’s first independent – and at that time its largest – air force. Roy Atcherley Vosper became a part of this new fighting force, as a full Lieutenant. It was however as a 2nd Lieutenant that Roy was, on the very day the RAF was established, recorded as being involved in an accident in which his fellow officer Lt H C Hyde was injured. His plane, an FE2b, had undershot and struck a ridge on landing after taking part in a bombing raid near Douai.

The life of an RFC/RAF pilot during the Great War was perilous and often short, but Roy somehow survived – even when he was captured by the enemy. By the summer of 1918 he was a Lieutenant with 149 Squadron and was again conducting bombing raids, at night, over occupied France. After carrying out one such raid on 18 July 1918, piloting FE2B serial number D3779 and accompanied by a Lieutenant A Smith, he failed to return to base and was reported as missing.

Lieutenant Roy Atcherley Vosper’s FE2B was one of nearly 140 British aircraft which the Germans claimed as having fallen into their hands on the Western Front during the month of July 1918. The other machines were 14 Sopwith single-seaters, 1 Sopwith two-seater, 40 Sopwith Camels (single-seaters), 9 Sopwith Dolphins (single-seaters), 1 Bristol, 2 Handley-Pages, 1 “large fighter” (Groszkampfflugzeug), 27 S.E.5 single-seaters, 20 D.H.4. two-seaters, 1 D.H.5 single-seater,  5 D.H. 9 two-seaters, 14 B.F. two-seaters and 1 R.E. This list shows something of the variety of aeroplanes the RAF was using as part of the war effort, and also gives an indication of their vulnerability. The photo below shows an FE2B after its capture by German forces.

At first, Roy’s fate was unknown. The Roll of Honour published on 12 August 1918 included him among the men listed as missing. The first of two casualty cards created by the RAF in connection with Roy’s disappearance included the words “No news” in the Remarks column, and underneath, in pencil, was written “Is he alive”. He was. A further Roll of Honour published on 21 September 1918 included Vosper, Lieut. R. A. in the list of those who were “Previously Missing, now reported Prisoners.”

Roy’s capture by German forces had been publicised by them in their French-language ‘newspaper’ Gazette des Ardennes on 26 July. This showed that he had been brought down unwounded on 19 July 1918. The news was communicated to Roy’s family by the Red Cross on 13 August. I imagine they were very relieved to learn that Roy was alive, but also more than a little concerned that he was in enemy hands.

In October 1918 it emerged that Roy had been captured at south-west Armentieres in France, and that he had been transferred from Karlsruhe to Landshut. This information was taken from a document supplied by the Germans, which showed Roy’s “Off. Gef. Lager” (Gefangenen Lager: prison camp) as Karlsruhe, but with that place crossed through in red and with Landshut written, also in red, above the entry. The POW camp at Landshut, in Bavaria, was a castle: the prisoners were confined within the grooms’ quarters. Whether Roy was present, or took part, when an attempt to dig an escape tunnel was made (only to be discovered by the Germans on 8 September 1918), I do not know.

By the middle of November 1918 Roy had been transferred to another camp, at Kamstigall, near Pillau. Then in East Prussia, Kamstigall now lies within Russia and is known as Baltiysk. Roy and the other British officers held there were repatriated to Leith, in Scotland, aboard the SS Russ. Arriving there on 13 December 1918, Roy was probably sent to a reception camp in Ripon, Yorkshire, before being allowed home.

The Great War was over, but Roy Atcherley Vosper’s career in the Royal Air Force was not. With effect from 12 September 1919 he was granted a short service Commission as a Flying Officer. Another RAF casualty card recorded that Roy received slight injuries on 22 September 1920, while conducting  a radiator test during a reconnaissance flight up to an altitude of 10,000 feet. Roy was then with 31 Squadron in India and flying a Bristol Fighter, registration number F4424. It was recorded that the incident was “Not due to negligence or misconduct” on Roy’s part.

Roy was injured again on 15 October 1921. Still with 31 Squadron, he was again flying a Bristol Fighter (E2334), which he was ferrying “from Cawnpore to Peshawar”. This incident, according to a note written on the casualty card in red ink, was “Recorded under ‘casual flying’”. Roy was promoted one more time, to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, with effect from 1 July 1926, but on 12 September that year he was transferred to the Reserve. He finally relinquished his Commission on completing his service on 12 September 1930, and was permitted to retain his rank.

Although his exploits in the air have been overshadowed by those of his better-known relatives, Richard and David Atcherley, Roy Atcherley Vosper deserves recognition as one of the first officers of the RAF, who risked his life for his country in the skies above the Western Front.


Picture credits. Reconstructed FE2B: photo by Philip Capper; taken from Wikimedia Commons, adapted and used under a Creative Commons licence. Captured FE2B: public domain (copyright expired) image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Royal Flying Corps cap badge: photo by CharlesC; taken from Wikimedia Commons, adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.


References

[1] Birth of Rose Goldup Atcherley registered at Islington, September quarter 1871; volume 1b, page 337.
[2] Marriage of Harry O’Donoghue Vosper and Rose Goldup Atcherley registered at Brighton, September quarter 1896; volume 2b, page 343.
[3] Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Devonport, Devon baptism register. Entry dated 3 Jun 1875 for Harry O Donoghue Vosper, parents Amos and Charlotte Vosper. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[4] Marriage of Amos Vosper and Charlotte O’Donoghue registered at Stoke Damerel, September quarter 1873; volume 5b, page 533.
[5] Birth of Roy Atcherley Vosper registered at Steyning, December quarter 1898; volume 2b, page 273.
[6] The National Archives, Kew, item reference WO 339/86168 (2/Lieutenant Roy Atcherley VOSPER Royal Flying Corps). Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue. Information transcribed from digital photos supplied by Lee Richards of Arcre, to whom I extend my grateful thanks.
[7] Death of Rose Goldup Vosper registered at Brighton, March quarter 1899; volume 2b, page 168; age given as 27.
[8] Marriage of Harry O’Donoghue Vosper and Norah Eleanor Bloomfield registered at Rye, March quarter 1902; volume 2b, page 14.
[9] Birth of Kathleen O’Donoghue Vosper registered at West Ashford, June quarter 1903; volume 2a, page 925.
[10] 1911 census of England and Wales. Piece 12972, schedule 127. Head: Harry Vosper, 38, married, brewer’s manager, born Devonport, Devon. Wife: Norah Vosper, 32, married, born Burgess Hill, Sussex. Son: Roy Vosper, 12, born Brighton, Sussex. Dau: Kathleen Vosper, 7, born Ashford, Kent. Servant: Annie Gowland, 17, single, general domestic servant, born Dover, Kent.
[11] London Gazette, issue 30123, 9 Jun 1917, page 5716.
[12] London Gazette, issue 30352, 26 Oct 1917, page 11010.
[13] The National Archives, Kew, embarkation lists for RFC officers held within correspondence files from AIR 1/362 to AIR 1/407. Details from database at airhistory.org.uk, Royal Flying Corps People Index.
[14] Air Force List, April 1919, column 354. Copy viewed at National Library of Scotland website.
[15] The National Archives, Kew, item reference AIR 1/854 (casualty report). Details from database at airhistory.org.uk, Royal Flying Corps People Index.
[16] Royal Air Force. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 22 Feb 2015).
[17] No. 149 Squadron RAF. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 22 Feb 2015).
[18] Royal Air Force Museum item ID OC0244669, object CC2_24585 (Casualty Card, R. A. Vosper. Copy viewed at RAF Museum StoryVault.
[19] Flight & The Aircraft Engineer, No. 512, 17 Oct 1918, page 1169. Copy viewed at Flight Global Archive.
[20] Flight & The Aircraft Engineer, No. 503, 15 Aug 1918, page 910. Copy viewed at Flight Global Archive.
[21] Flight & The Aircraft Engineer, No. 509, 26 Sep 1918, page 1087. Copy viewed at Flight Global Archive.
[22] Prisoners of the First World War, ICRC Historical Archives (website): Index cards for R. A. Vosper.
[23] Prisoners of the First World War, ICRC Historical Archives (website): item P.A. 37206.
[24] Amanda Rebbeck (2008), Tunnelling to freedom. In: Wartime, issue 44, pages 64–65. Electronic copy viewed online at Australian War Memorial website.
[25] Peter F Robinson (2008), Ernest Maxwell Robinson. At: Ninety Years of Remembrance (BBC website, accessed 22 Feb 2015).
[26] Kamstigall Repatriation. At: Great War Forum (website, accessed 22 Feb 2015).
[27] German P.O.W. Camps. At: Great War Forum (website, accessed 22 Feb 2015).
[28] Royal Air Force Museum item ID OC0244670, object CC2_24586 (Casualty Card, R. A. Vosper). Copy viewed at RAF Museum StoryVault.
[29] London Gazette, issue 31548, 12 Sep 1919, page 11469.
[30] Royal Air Force Museum item ID OC0244671, object CC2_24587 (Casualty Card, R. A. Vosper). Copy viewed at RAF Museum StoryVault.
[31] Royal Air Force Museum item ID OC0244672, object CC2_24588 (Casualty Card, R. A. Vosper). Copy viewed at RAF Museum StoryVault.
[32] London Gazette, issue 33178, 2 Jul 1926, page 4324.
[33] London Gazette, issue 33202, 17 Sep 1926, page 6035.
[34] London Gazette, issue 33660, 11 Nov 1930, page 7179.


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