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David Spencer Whiting 1892-1915


Grave marker for David Spencer Whiting, Embarkation Pier Cemetery. Courtesy of BWG


Embarkation Pier Cemetery, Gallipoli. Courtesy of BWG

Parents:          Frederick Whiting and Sarah Backler (1,2)

Born:               20th May 1892 at 9 Duddery Road, Haverhill (1,2)

Baptised:        15th January 1897 at St Mary's Parish Church, Haverhill (1)

Married:           Ellen Ambrose, 21, tailoress, daughter of Frederick Ambrose, matmaker, deceased, in the Colchester district, 4th Quarter 1914.(7)

Children:         None(?)

Died:                1st October 1915 of wounds at Gallipoli. Buried at Embarkation Pier Cemetery Turkey Sp Mem D 7 / Cem by Beach near No 2 Outpost 16th C Hos Gallipoli (3)

 
Bio:                 David Spencer was born on 20th May 1892 at 9 Duddery Road, Haverhill, the youngest of a large family several of whom had died in infancy. His father Frederick worked at Gurteens. David appears on the 1901 census at 9 Duddery Road aged 8 - the remaining child of the family. The rest of his siblings have left home.
At some point over the next ten years David seems to have moved away from Haverhill because we find him staying with his older sister Margaret Annie Taylor, her husband Harry and their family on the 1911 census at 9 Bomore Road, Notting Hill. He is known as Spencer, here, and is working as an attendant. Attending what, we are not told.

With the onset of war in 1914, David was to join up with the Suffolk Regiment along with many men of Haverhill, and indeed some other Whitings. He was Private no.1982 in 1st Company 5th Battalion.
Roy Brazier's book 'Letters from the Front' describes how David was 'known locally as a fish merchant, cycling each day into the villages to sell his product..'Spencer' Whiting, as he was called, was a footballer for the [Haverhill] Rovers'.(6)
The winter of 1914 arrived and knowing that it would not be too long before he was posted to the front, David married Ellen Ambrose, a Haverhill girl who lived at 12 Waveney Terrace with her widowed mother Annie. Her father Frederick had been a matmaker. They married in the Colchester district, presumably where David was garrisoned. I have not been able to find a record of their marriage at any of the Colchester churches. David and Ellen would have about six months of married life before he would leave to fight.

The 1/5th Suffolks would soon find themselves thrown into the heat of the fighting in one of the most contentious actions of the Great War, the Gallipoli campaign.
On 30th July 1915 the 1/5th embarked at Liverpool and moved to Gallipoli via Mudros.(4)
They landed at Suvla Bay at 2pm on 10th August 1915, which is when David is listed as first entering the Balkans theatre of war.
The battalion disembarked at 10pm and then occupied the reserve trenches on the next day. They spent up to 3pm on the day of the 12th August improving the trenches, and then at 3.30pm received orders for an instant advance of 1200 yards due east. They came under heavy fire and shrapnel and had their first taste of action against the Turkish enemy.(5)
For the first week from the 12th to 19th August, the troops saw heavy action in sweltering conditions with little water. In this period 11 officers were killed, wounded or missing along with 6 gone sick. 178 of the other ranks were killed, wounded or missing with about the same again suffering from dysentry.
After this initial onslaught, the month of September was comparatively quiet, but with a constant attrition of men through illness and sniper fire as the trenches were manned and maintained.
The War diaries record the events of 29-30th September 1915: 'during the hours of 18:30 and 19:30 on 29th inst.The ADJT (MAJOR LAWRENCE), CAPT. DENNIS and SEC LT. KILNER went out and collected from among unburied bodies of original landing force, 35 rifles. Casualties for 24 hours ending 19:00 today (30th) 3 wounded 1 seriously PTE WHITING. Sent to hospital 1 officer (CAPT. R M JACKSON) and 6 other ranks.'(5)

A letter home from David Spencer's friend Private E C Honeyball, who was also injured in this incident, described what had happened: 'I am in hospital wounded. I am feeling well in myself, my wounds are doing well, and there is nothing to worry about. I will tell you how it happened. S.Whiting of Haverhill and myself were sitting in a dug-out about ten yards behind the fire trench having our tea, when one of the Turks bombs dropped right in our dug-out, a piece going through my thigh, and other pieces hitting my wrist and shoulder. The two last named are nearly well and the thigh is doing well. I am sorry to say I think my chum S Whiting died in the night. I heard them say it was a hopeless case, and I heard he died.'(6)

David had been seriously wounded by an exploding shell, and died the next day.

It was not until a few months later that David's parents finally got to hear officially of how their son had met his fate, and a letter came to his father at Duddery Road from a Lieutenant of his company with more details: 'My first letter has apparently not reached you, and must have got lost on the way. I knew your son very well as he was my regimental scout, when I was in charge of that section, and I can tell you he was the best scout that I had, and always very reliable and willing. He was well liked by his comrades and much esteemed by the officers, and personally I was very fond of him and I regretted his loss. I found out details from the officer and NCO's who were on the spot; it was on 30th September last year and the company had been holding a certain trench. Pte Whiting had been washing quite a lot, taking advantage to do so as there was sometimes a shortage of water, and he remarked he must be the cleanest member of the regiment. He was under cover with some mates reading the papers which had just been distributed from headquarters, when a Turkish shell exploded near the dug-out. Pte Whiting was badly struck in the legs, his left leg being much injured, and was attended to at once by the medical officer who gave him morphia. He was most plucky about it, and as he was borne away on a stretcher he called to one of the regiment 'Goodbye Quartermaster, I'll see you all soon.' At the hospital it was found necessary to amputate the left leg, and after being given anaesthetic for the operation on 1st October, he did not come round again. He was buried in the hospital cemetery on the shore quite near Anzac, and marked with a wooden cross made by a comrade.'(6)

It seems David's death was the result of a bad reaction to anaesthetic or shock, although the extent of his injuries may well have made things very tough for him even if he had pulled through.
What happened to David's widow Ellen is unclear. Although it seems likely she would have remarried, there is an Ellen Whiting who was buried at Haverhill Cemetery on 30th January 1973 who at 82 would be around the right age to be her.

Thanks to Mick McCann at British War Graves for the photos.

Sources:         (1) Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds, Parish Registers of St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Fiche 578/4/p17 of 41
                         (2) Birth Register. 2nd Quarter 1892, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 717
                         (3) Commonwealth War Graves Commission, www.cwgc.org
                         (4) The Long, Long Trail. http://www.1914-1918.net/suffolks.htm
                              (5) www.Suffolksoldiers.com, 5th Battalion War diary 1915, http://www.suffolksoldiers.com/diary_details.php
                              (6) 'Letters from the Front - Haverhill 1914-1919', Roy Brazier, 2010, Romary Books, p77, 78 and p102
                         (7) Marriage Register, 4th Quarter 1914, Colchester District, Volume 4a Page 1633