Henry Atcherley’s World War One

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On 13 November 1915, in the Shropshire town of Wellington, the physical condition of Henry Atcherley, of 68 Trench Lane was assessed by a Medical Officer.  Henry, a driller employed by C & W Walker at the Midland Iron Works in nearby Donnington, was found to be 24 years and 6 months old, and 5 feet 6 inches tall. His chest, fully expanded, measured 34½ inches and he tipped the scales at 128 pounds. He was of ‘good’ physical development and declared “Fit for Service in the Field at Home.” The M.O. also noted that Henry had a “Tendency to flat foot” and “Several decayed teeth. Needs dentist.”

Henry Atcherley was one of my granduncles, the first child of my great grandfather Samuel Atcherley and of his first wife Mary (nee Austin). Like his father Samuel, Henry was born at Sidney in the parish of Kinnersley (nowadays Kynnersely); he was baptised in the parish church on 10 May 1891. The family did not remain at Sidney for very long however. Samuel was a labourer and moved to wherever he could find work. By 1893 when Henry’s sister Fanny was born, the family was living at Wappenshall in Wellington parish. Three years later Samuel and Mary’s third child, John, was born at Forton in Staffordshire. Just a few months after this happy event, tragedy struck when Mary, wife of Samuel and mother to Henry, Fanny and John, passed away. She was only 29.

Following Mary’s death it appears that Henry was looked after by his maternal grandparents, John and Margaret Austin. He was staying with the Austins (at Hoo in the parish of Preston on the Weald Moors) at the time of the 1901 census, and was also with them (at 68 Trench Road in Wellington) when the 1911 census was taken. By this time, aged 19 (or 20, according to the census) he was working as a fitter’s labourer in an engineering works.

Following his medical assessment in 1915, Henry enlisted with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry as a Private, Regimental Number 44039. It seems however that he was not actually mobilized until 22 May 1918. After this long wait though, things moved fast. A week after mobilization Henry was posted to the KSLI’s 3rd Battalion. He had barely had time to celebrate his marriage to 21-year-old Dorothy Louisa Hurdley, who was named as Henry’s next-of-kin and left behind in Wellington as her new husband began active service. Within weeks of her wedding, poor Dorothy faced the the very real possibility that she might become a war widow.

The emblem of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, from a KSLI war grave.

By the end of October 1918, Henry was in France. Almost immediately after his arrival he was posted to the 1st Battalion of the KSLI. On 31 October however he was transferred to the Devonshire Regiment and received a new Regimental Number, 32811. A little over a week later on 8 or 9 November 1918 – just days before the war ended – he was wounded in action and taken to Number 9 General Hospital (at Rouen in France).

Fortunately, Henry’s injuries were not serious. The records appear to show that he rejoined his Battalion in January 1919, and on the 29th of that month following an examination in the field he signed Army Form Z 22 to confirm “I do not claim to be suffering from a disability due to my military service.” A few days later he embarked at Le Havre and on 5 March 1919 he was demobilized at Exeter, whereupon he was transferred to the Reserve.

From Exeter, Henry returned home to Wellington where Dorothy was no doubt waiting anxiously. She did not lose her husband until 1953, when Henry passed away, in Shropshire, at the age of 62. Dorothy lived for another 31 years and was 87 years old when she died in 1984.

Although Henry had originally stated, after the end of the Great War, that he was not suffering from any disability as a result of his war service, on 30 June 1919 he signed another copy of Army Form Z 22. This followed a further examination by a doctor in Wellington and this second Z 22 showed that Henry had suffered shrapnel wounds to one of the fingers of his left hand and the big toe of his right foot. Both wounds had completely healed. The doctor recorded: “Has full use of both members but complains of swelling of toe after days work.” For these minor war wounds, Henry received a one-off gratuity of £25.

Although I can’t be certain due to the quality of the handwriting on the relevant part of Henry’s Medical History form, it appears that Henry received another benefit from his war service. My interpretation of the handwriting in question, dated September 1918, is “Upper denture 9 teeth inserted.” It seems that Henry may have received the dental work he needed!


Picture credits. KSLI war grave by the author.


References

[1] Ancestry: British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920. (TNA document series WO 364: Soldiers discharged to pension.) All WWI service information taken from this source.
[2] Birth of Henry Atcherley registered at Wellington, Shropshire, June quarter 1891; volume 6a, page 753.
[3] Kinnersley, Shropshire baptism register covering 1891. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives.
[4] Birth of Fanny Atcherley registered at Wellington, Shropshire, December quarter 1893; volume 6a, page 709.
[5] Birth of John Atcherley registered at Newport, December quarter 1896; volume 6a, page 754.
[6] Forton, Staffordshire baptism register covering shows, on 27 Dec 1896: [blank] | Samuel & Mary | Atcherley | Islington in Forton | Labourer. Copy viewed at Staffordshire Records Office. FamilySearch record.
[7] Death of Mary Atcherley registered at Newport, Shropshire, June quarter 1897; volume 6a, page 471; age given as 29.
[8] 1901 census of England and Wales.
[9] 1911 census of England and Wales.
[10] Marriage of Henry Atcherley and Dorothy L Hurdley registered at Wellington, Shropshire, June quarter 1918; volume 6a, page 1518.
[11] Death of Harry Atcherley registered at Wellington, Shropshire, June quarter 1953; volume 9a, page 212; age given as 62.
[12] Death of Dorothy Louisa Atcherley registered at Oswestry, June 1984; volume 30, page 180, reg no 684; date of birth given as 21 Mar 1897.


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