Douglas Atcherley’s World War One

< More Atcherley stories from World War 1

The army service records of Douglas Robert Atcherley [] reveal a man who served with three different regiments, before, during and after the Great War; a man who went to France to fight for King and country three times during that war; a man who twice received gunshot wounds; and a man who may have been captured by the enemy and held as a Prisoner of War. They also show a man who went absent from his unit three times during his Army career, and a man who had the name Mabel Dorothy Maddocks tattooed on his chest!

Douglas, the first child of Robert Atcherley and his wife Mary (Reynolds), was born at Albrighton near Shrewsbury in 1884 and spent the first 12 years or so of his life in Shropshire. Some time between 1896 and 1901 however, the family moved to Manchester and the 1901 census shows them living at 18 Peel Street East. Douglas, aged 16, was working as a tram conductor.

The 1911 census shows that Douglas had left the family home and was lodging in Failsworth, where he worked as a railway company labourer at Oldham Road. By this time, he had already had a taste of Army life. On 26 July 1904, after leaving his job as a labourer with a mineral water manufacturer in Newton Heath, he had enlisted with the Manchester Regiment’s Militia Corps. His attestation form shows that he had something in common with his third cousin once removed Henry Atcherley: he was slightly flat footed and also had dental problems, having lost no less than 12 teeth. He was drilled on enlistment (presumably on the parade ground rather than in a dentist’s chair) and served for 76 days before being discharged by purchase on 13 March 1905.

Ten years would pass before Douglas returned to military service. On 3 September 1914, just weeks after Britain’s declaration of war with Germany on 4 August, he enlisted as a Private, Regimental Number K20067, with the Kings Liverpool Regiment at Manchester. Over the course of the next four years he was posted to the 4th, the 3rd and the 13th Battalions, back to the 4th and the 3rd Battalions, and then to the 24th and, finally, the 1st Battalion of the KLR. He served in France from 4 March to 19 December 1915, from 13 June to 4 November 1916, and from 17 April 1917 until (as far as I can tell) the end of the war.

According to his Statement of Officer or Soldier as to Wound Douglas received gunshot wounds to the shoulder (whether left or right is not specified) during both of his first two periods of service in France. The first bullet struck him on 30 October 1915 at Neuve Chappelle, while the second hit on 28 September 1916 at Raindrop Trench. A short absence during his time back in England between these two spells of fighting is perhaps understandable. The Statement of Services of Douglas Atcherley shows that he “Forfeited 10 days pay for absence from 8.4.16 to 17.4.16.”

It appears that Douglas was absent from duty again during his final period of war service in France. This was something that I very nearly missed when reviewing his surviving service records. When Douglas completed his Statement … as to Wound form on the 28 December 1918, he was at the P.O.W. Reception Camp at Ripon. Initially I thought this meant Douglas had been captured and held as a prisoner of war, right at the end of the conflict. However I have not found any reference to Douglas in prisoner of war records from World War 1. Was the P.O.W. Reception Camp simply a convenient place for Douglas to be placed at that time?

On 11 January 1919, not long after his return to England and a few months before his Demobilization on 2 April, Douglas married Jemima Aurelia Roberts, daughter of Hugh Roberts (a coach maker, born about 1851 in Wrexham, Denbighshire) and his wife Georgina Maria (Furness; born about 1852 in London). A little over a year after the wedding, on 16 January 1920, Douglas joined the Royal Fusiliers at Bury.

Douglas Atcherley’s service with the Royal Fusiliers did not last long – he was discharged as surplus to requirements on 24 August 1920 – but it was certainly eventful. He served in France from 24 January until 9 June. His service and casualty form includes entries showing that he was deprived of three days pay and forfeited one days pay “for absence from 23:30 hrs 14/3/20 until 21:00 hrs 15/3/20” and was deprived of a further seven days pay (and forfeited another one days pay) for an absence in May when he was at Flesselles (the Somme) with the 39th Battalion of the Fusiliers. Later that month Douglas was admitted to 35 General Hospital at Calais. His medical notes are difficult to read (some things never change!) but they appear to say that he had dental caries. He was invalided back to Britain and admitted to the Royal Herbert Hospital at Woolwich on 9 June. The medical records show that he was in hospital for 60 days, suffering from dyspepsia, and they conclude by saying “Discharge to unit Dental treatment Completed.” On being discharged Douglas returned home to his wife and baby daughter at 3 Hunger Hill, Wardle, near Rochdale.

Back at the beginning of his time with the Royal Fusiliers, the official description of Douglas on enlistment showed that he was 5 feet 4 inches in height (half an inch taller than when he had joined the Manchester Regiment 15 years earlier), that his weight was 156 pounds (up from 130 pounds in 1905, and from 146 pounds in 1915), and that his chest measurement (fully expanded) was 40 inches (an increase of 3½ inches since 1905). His hair was dark (dark brown according to previous records), his eyes were grey (or perhaps pale blue as shown on his Manchester Regiment attestation form), and his complexion, previously recorded as fresh, was said to be dark. There was also a change to the “distinctive marks” which were noted. Back in 1915 his only noteworthy marks were a couple of scars, one on his left eyebrow and the other below his left knee. But now Douglas sported something much more distinctive: the above-mentioned tattoo.

Who was Mabel Dorothy Maddocks? I can find no records of a lady by that name, so her identity is a mystery to me. However the most important names to Douglas at the end of his military career were clearly those recorded on Army Form D 400 (issued when Douglas was discharged from the Royal Fusiliers) – those of his wife (her maiden name being given as Aurelia Roberts) and of the couple’s first child, Marjorie, born on 3 May 1920. To these names a third can be added, that of Joseph Atcherley, whose birth in 1924 completed Douglas and Aurelia’s family.