Remembrance: Day One

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They ask me where I’ve been,
And what I’ve done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who knows it wasn’t I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands…
Though I must bear the blame
Because he bore my name.

Back, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1915).

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of this eleventh month, 93 years ago, the Great War was brought to an end by the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany. Millions of people died in this first World War. Many of the names of those who gave their lives are inscribed on gravestones or memorials, and printed in Rolls of Honour. Miraculously, the surname Atcherley appears in neither stone nor print amongst the ranks of those who fell. Those Atcherleys who went to war were somehow spared from death – they all came back, most likely (as the poem above suggests) with memories of sights, sounds and deeds that we can barely imagine. In this week of remembrance, I will be telling the stories of some of the Atcherleys who served their country and survived the war. I will also be writing about some of their kin who were not so fortunate.

Sisters of mercy

It was not just the Atcherley men who served their country during the Great War. Recently I learned of the wartime service of Mary Elizabeth Hope Atcherley (usually known by her third forename, Hope) and her sister Hester Mary Eleanor, thanks to digitised copies of the magazine of The Queen’s School in Chester which have been digitized and made available online [1, 2]. Hope and Hester, daughters of Richard Topping Beverley Atcherley and his wife Caroline Mary Wynne (Foulkes), were ‘old girls’ of The Queen’s School and members of The Queen’s School Association of Past and Present Pupils. During the First World War they were members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment from at least 1915 to 1918. The Voluntary Aid Detachment had been created in 1909 by the British Red Cross society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem [3]. Following the outbreak of war in 1914, its volunteers acted as nurses, cooks, clerks and even as ambulance drivers. Hope carried out her VAD duties in Chester, while Hester went to London. The 1916 edition of their school’s magazine reported:

Another member who has come into contact with the hardworking and patriotic girls of the W.A.A.C. [Women's Auxiliary Army Corps] is Hester Atcherley who is now one of the “V.A.D.’s” at the Endell Street Military Hospital, London. She says : “We have two W.A.A.C. wards and I am in one now; it is really quite interesting; the girls are real bricks, they have been through such a lot.” [2]

Endell Street Military Hospital, which operated from May 1915 until the end of 1919, was staffed entirely by women and run by suffragists Dr Flora Murray and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson [4].

Finding Private Atcherley

Service records for the Atcherleys who took part in the Great War are hard to come by, as most of the documents became casualties of the Blitz of World War Two [5]. Fortunately, medal index index cards held by The National Archives (scanned copies of which form part of the TNA’s Documents Online collection and also one of Ancestry’s many record sets) provide the names of most of the Atcherleys who served [6, 7]. One or two of the names cannot be assigned with certainty to specific individuals. John Atcherley, for example, was a Private and later a Corporal (Regimental Number 10339) with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI). He entered the war on 2 November 1914 and so received not only the British War Medal and Victory Medal (examples of which are pictured below) but also the 1914 Star with Clasp and Roses. His name appears, as one of the members of the KSLI who were wounded in 1916, on the War Memorial at Newport in Shropshire [8].

This suggests that John was a resident of Newport, or that he enlisted there, but given that there were two young Atcherley men named John who were probably living in the Newport area in 1914 this does not confirm his identity.  The young John Atcherleys were both living within three or four miles of Newport in 1911, and just two miles away from each another [9]. One was a son of Henry Atcherley and was born at Knutton in Staffordshire on 21 September 1893; the other was a son of Henry’s brother Samuel Atcherley and was born at Forton in Staffordshire in 1896 and baptised there on 27 December that year [10, 11, 12].

Brothers in arms

Both of these younger John Atcherleys had brothers who joined the KSLI. John, son of Samuel, had a brother named Henry. This Henry Atcherley enlisted in 1915. Later in the war he transferred from the KSLI to the Devonshire Regiment. Some of his wartime records have survived and so I will be saying more about him in Remembrance: Day Two.

Meanwhile (and somewhat confusingly) John, son of Henry, had a brother named Samuel who had joined the KSLI several years before the outbreak of war. He was discharged from the Army in 1916, before the war ended, and it is only this week that I have found out why (see Remembrance: Day Four). Another brother, named Thomas (born 1899 at Childs Ercall) was probably the Thomas Atcherley who joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Private and later transferred to the Royal Berkshire Regiment [6, 7].

A closely related branch of the Atcherley family had three brothers who went to war together. Robert Clifford Atcherley (born 1890 in the parish of Ercall Magna), Eric Graham Atcherley (born 1891 at Waters Upton) and Major Cecil Atcherley (born 1894 at Rodington), were sons of William Henry Atcherley and his wife Charlotte Emma (Shakeshaft). All three joined the Royal Engineers and later entered France on the same day, 26 August 1915 [6, 7]. It appears that Robert and Eric had enlisted together, their Regimental Numbers being 48161 and 48160 respectively. Robert was a 2nd Corporal who later transferred to the South Staffordshire regiment, where he held the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Eric, a Corporal, remained with the Royal Engineers and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Judging by his Regimental Number (50174) Major Cecil Atcherley must have enlisted some time after his brothers. His name must have caused some confusion and a certain amount of hilarity amongst his fellow soldiers (though possibly not amongst his superiors). He held the rank of Lieutenant Corporal and later, like Eric, became a Sergeant. Whether he claimed superiority over his brother by virtue of the fact that he was in effect Sergeant Major Atcherley is a matter for conjecture!

The final representative of the Atcherleys who were descended from those who farmed in and around Ercall Magna parish, and who fought in World War One, was Douglas Robert Atcherley, son of Robert Atcherley. Douglas, who had served briefly with the Manchester Regiment in 1904-5, enlisted with the Kings Liverpool Regiment in 1914. Surviving records indicate that his service was not without incident, and form the basis for a separate article: Remembrance: Day Three.

There was another Thomas Atcherley who fought in the Great War in addition to the one described above. This Thomas was descended from the Atcherleys of Stanwardine, and more specifically from the branch of the family which became established in Swindon. A son of Edward Richard Atcherley and his wife Elizabeth (Weeks), Thomas was born at Swindon in or just before 1879 [13]. By 1914 Thomas was already a very experienced soldier, having joined the Wiltshire Regiment in 1898. Surviving records show an eventful career which included service in the Boer War; sadly though it seems that no documents relating to Thomas’ service during World War One itself remain [14]. His medal index card however indicates that he served with three different regiments during the course of the conflict: the Hampshire Regiment, the Wiltshire Regiment and the Royal Engineers [6, 7].

For King and Empire

Charles Hedley Atcherley was also descended from the Atcherleys of Stanwardine and also fought in the Great War. Prior to the war he had emigrated to Canada, but after the outbreak of hostilities he joined the Fort Garry Horse Regiment, which later became part of the 6th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. A Lance-Corporal, Hedley (as he was known) was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal as a result of “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.” See An Atcherley in Canada for the full story.

Hedley was not the only Atcherley who had emigrated prior to 1914 but came to the defence of his homeland (and its Empire) after war broke out. Jack Rowland Atcherley was born in London in 1890 but later made his home in Australia. In 1914 he enlisted with the 13th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force at Brisbane. The treatment he received for his war wounds was later to be blamed in court for a post-war crime. That court appearance was not the first nor the last of Jack’s troubled life, as I will recount in Remembrance: Day Six.

The final name in this roll call of Atcherleys who served in the war of 1914-18 belongs to a distinguished member of the Marton branch of the family. Llewellyn William Atcherley, CMG, CVO, of the Army Service Corps had an important role to play in the war effort and by the end of the conflict had risen to the rank of Major General. His achievements did not end with the cessation of the war and they are recalled in a fitting finale to this series of articles: Remembrance: Day Seven.

We will remember them

Although none of the Atcherleys named above were killed during the Great War, the same cannot be said for some of the soldiers who were sons or grandsons of Atcherley women. In Remembrance: Day Five, published on Armistice Day, I will remember those who fell: Henry Palin, Edward Henry Steventon, Tom Atcherley Pugh, Thomas Henry Benbow and Edwin Benbow.


[1] Miss Clay (ed.) (1916), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, June 1916.
[2] Miss Clay (ed.) (1918), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, June 1918.
[3] A Woman’s War – World War 1.
[4] Jennian F Geddes (2007), Deeds and Words in the Suffrage Military Hospital in Endell Street. In: Med Hist. 2007 January 1; 51(1): 79–98.
[5] British Army: First World War soldiers’ papers (The National Archives website).
[6] Documents Online: First World War Medal Index Cards (The National Archives website).
[7] Ancestry: British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920.
[8] Shropshire Star: Not forgotten – Newport’s war dead.
[9] 1911 census of England and Wales.
[10] Birth of John Hatcherley [= Atcherley] registered at Wolstanton, December quarter 1893; volume 6b, page 90a. Staffordshire Birth Index ref WOL/56/063. Death of John Atcherley registered at Wrekin, December quarter 1980; volume 30, page 0459; date of birth given as 21 Sep 1893.
[11] Birth of John Atcherley registered at Newport, December quarter 1896; volume 6a, page 754.
[12] FamilySearch: Baptism of un-named male Atcherley.
[13] Birth of Thomas Atcherley registered at Highworth, March quarter 1879; volume 5a, page 11.
[14] Ancestry: British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920. (TNA document series WO 364: Soldiers discharged to pension.)

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