Albert Whiting 1873-1940

Parents: George Scott Whiting and Mary Ann Wiseman
Born: 14th September 1873 in Haverhill.(11,16)
Baptised: 4th October 1874 at St Mary’s Parish Church, Haverhill.(1)
Married: Ethel Frost, 24, spinster, domestic servant, of Hayes Villa, Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, daughter of George William Frost, coachman, on 29th October 1904 at St John the Evangelist Church, Cambridge. Witnessed by George William Frost and Sidney Whiting.(2)
Children: Ivy Mary Whiting b.1906 died aged 8, Edmund Whiting b.1908, Irene Whiting b.1909, William George Whiting b.1916, Hugh Whiting b.1919 and Albert Ernest Whiting b.1919
Died: of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on 8th January 1940 at 153 Ramsay Road, Forest Gate, Essex.(12)

Bio: Albert’s life featured a military career that involved constant re-invention, spanned almost three decades, involved three forces, three continents, and must have been hard to walk away from when civilian life beckoned. It is largely thanks to his military service records that we are able to trace his story.

Born in Haverhill on 14th September 1873, Albert moved with his family to the Cambridge countryside at any early age. He appears on the 1881 census living in Comberton with his father George, who was a labourer, mother Mary Ann, and brothers James, George, John and Ernest.

At the end of the next decade Albert decided, for whatever reason, to leave home and join the navy. His service records at the National Archives (8) show he gave his date of birth as 2nd February 1874, his occupation as labourer, and birthplace Haverhill. He was 5ft 3ins, his eyes light blue and complexion fair. The description of his hair colour is hard to make out, but seems to be light brown. The name of his father is not mentioned here, and it is not clear why he has given a different date of birth. From later records it becomes clear that this is him, however.

Albert enlisted as a boy cadet on the school ship Impregnable on 19th January 1890(8) before joining the training ship Ganges, based in Falmouth, on 23rd January 1890. Just prior to the 1891 census Albert contracted Pleurisy, and we see him on the census at East Stonehouse Royal Naval hospital where he is listed as a Boy, 1st Class, aged 17. He was entered twice, as he also features on the census list for the Ganges in Falmouth harbour. Pleurisy, an inflammation of the lungs sometimes caused by infection, is given as the reason for his discharge from the Navy on 5th June 1891. His conduct is stated as ‘Very Good’.(8)

Albert’s promising navy career was cut short, and it looks as if he returned to live in the Cambridge area near his family at this point. The camaraderie and discipline of service life must have been something he was drawn to because before long he got restless and decided to join up again.

Up until this point he had been working as a valet, but on 7th July 1893 he joined up at Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire and was attested for the Royal Artillery the next day. His father is confirmed as being George Whiting of 56 Covent Garden, Mill Road, Cambridge. On the Attestation forms he was honest about his previous service with the Navy, and the reasons for his discharge, and this may well have hindered his cause.

He was found unfit for service on 8th July by the recruiting officer at Ely.(10)

No explanation is given for this, although there may be a clue amongst his physical measurements.

Albert’s height was now 5ft 5 5/8, his eyes grey, complexion fresh, and eyes light brown. His chest measurement was 35 inches and 36 expanded.

Healthy chest expansion is between 2 and 5 inches. His was only one inch, and this may have been a legacy of the pleurisy he had suffered from two years previously. Perhaps he had not recovered from it completely.

Having a medical discharge from the navy and then being pronounced unfit to join the Royal Artillery must have been hard for Albert to take, but he was undeterred.

On 26th October 1893, less than four months later, he applied to join the Royal Marines in London. Perhaps he was a little more economical with the truth as far as his medical history was concerned, because this time he was taken on as Private No.1599, Chatham division.(9)

A description of his appearance puts him at 5ft 6ins, with grey eyes, light brown hair and fresh complexion. He now has some tattoos, presumably from his naval days, and they are an anchor on his left forearm, sea under his right clavicle (collar bone), and rings on the 2nd and 3rd fingers of his left hand.

Again, his father is confirmed as George Whiting. George is now living in Trumpington Road, Cambridge.

Albert gives his birth date as 10th September 1874, almost a year to the day after the birth date on his baptism record, 11th September. A family bible records yet another birth date, 14th September 1873(15) which we know to be correct from Albert's birth certificate.(11,16)

Starting off at the Royal Marine depot at Walmer, Albert remained there until 13th June 1894. During this time his character and ability are remarked on as being ‘Very Good’. He was then transferred to the Chatham depot until 4th June 1895 when he embarked on the Pembroke which served as a floating barracks. Again, there is a similar appraisal of his performance.

Then on the 7th October 1895, the word ‘run’ is entered in the ‘discharge’ column of his service records. He had deserted!

Admiralty instructions, dated 1913 state: ‘If any person belonging to a ship should absent himself from his duty without leave, and if he should in the judgment of his Captain fail to give a good and sufficient reason for his absence…he is to be discharged " Run " on the actual day on which his absence began..(3)

Initially it is unclear why Albert would have deserted, especially as he was being given a consistently good write-up. In doing so, he was also effectively ending any further chance of a career in the forces. However, it seems that he had a plan up his sleeve and the resourcefulness to be able to take control of his destiny.

Three days after deserting from the Royal Marines, he had adopted the pseudonym Ernest Haslop and signed up at Colchester for the Corps of Hussars of the line. Maybe he had his heart set on the army, after all.

On the 11th October 1895 he passed a medical, with a chest expansion of 2 inches which must have been enough to make the grade. His weight was given as 135 pounds, height 5ft 6 ¼, eyes of blue, brown hair and fresh complexion.

The crucial evidence that could have given him away was his set of tattoos, the description of which exactly matches that given by the Marines. However, there was probably no reason to suspect he was anyone other than who he said he was.

He denied any previous military experience, although he still listed his occupation as valet and his place of birth was correct. The age he gave was about two and a half years younger than his actual age.

Exactly where Albert got the name Ernest Haslop from is a mystery. The fact that on his service record he put his next of kin down as being his supposed brother, James Haslop, of 36 New Wood Road, Birmingham, implies there was someone at that address who was in on the deception. There were Haslops in and around Trumpington where Albert’s family were based, and other Cambridge villages where Albert had grown up. Perhaps they were family friends, or maybe Albert’s elder brother George William who was a footman for a well-to-do family had some connections that proved useful.

Albert joined the 19th Hussars at Canterbury on 12th October 1895. He was Private Ernest Haslop, No.4226.(7)

On 11th November 1896 he left for India, where the 19th were based at Secunderabad. He gained a 3rd Class Education certificate whilst there, and remained in India until September 1899.

The onset of war in South Africa meant that the 19th Hussars would be called into action, and Albert left Secunderabad as part of a detachment of 500 Hussars and 513 horses.(6) They sailed onboard the steamship Pandua from Bombay on 22nd September 1899.(4) They arrived at Durban on 5th October 1899.(5) The 19th Hussars were diverted to Ladysmith and took part in the siege there. Albert saw significant action as the war in South Africa developed. He served there for 3 years 238 days throughout the duration of the wars, finally leaving on 21st June 1903. There is a good account of the regiments activities during the war on the Anglo Boer War Website.

He would receive the Queen’s South Africa medal with clasps for Belfast, Orange Free State, Defence of Ladysmith, and Laing’s Nek, as well as the King’s medal with clasps for South Africa 1901 and 1902. On 16th January 1902 he was appointed Lance Corporal. All this, whilst still going under the name of Ernest Haslop, as the medal lists testify.

When Albert returned to England on 8th June 1903 he had completed his 7 years with the colours which he’d signed up for with his short service attestation. He was now in the reserves for a further 5 years.

It must have been around this time that the deception of ‘Ernest Haslop’ became apparent. His service records show his assumed name is crossed out and replaced with ‘Albert Whiting’. There is no evidence that he was punished for concealing his true identity.

On 24th October 1904 he married Ethel Frost, the daughter of George William Frost, a coachman originally from Yorkshire, and Mary Ann Pamment, of Cambridgeshire. His occupation was given as ‘groom’ and he is named as Albert Whiting here. It seems that Albert and Ethel lived in Chesterton during the early years of their marriage, because children Ivy, Edmund and Irene were all born there.

Albert re-enlisted in section ‘D’, 1st class army reserve on 14th October 1907. We are given Albert’s boot size, 7-2, helmet size, 6 ¾ , chest measurement 37 and waist measurement 34 ½ . He describes his preferred choice of service, and this gives us a clue as to the duties he had been used to in the hussars. He is willing to be attested to serve ‘as an officer’s groom, or as a driver, either in the cavalry or in any other arm of the service.’ His distant cousin Joseph Whiting, a similar age to him, had been a driver in the Royal Field Artillery.

The 1911 census shows Albert and Ethel living at 9 Homerton Street, Cambridge. Albert is a porter working at a furnishing shop, and they have three children Ivy, Edmund and Irene. Later that year Albert re-engaged once more in the section ‘D’ reserves as a lance corporal in the 19th Hussars on 14th October.

The onset of the First World War meant that Albert was called to serve again.

He was stationed at home from 5th August 1914 to 17th December 1916 in the 14th Reserve Cavalry regiment, before being transferred to the Gloucester Regiment and given number 37741. It looks like he was in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion which undertook duties with the Thames and Medway Garrison.

It was during this time that he and Ethel had a son, William George.

On the 27th April 1917 Albert was transferred back to the 19th Hussars. Then, on 21st October 1917 Albert was placed in the Royal Field Artillery, 58th Division and rapidly promoted to the rank of Sergeant No.246327. He was posted at various dates during 1918. It seems likely he was in France for the closing stages of the war, although the records do not make this clear.

In 1919 Albert saw his service in the armed forces finally come to an end and on 12th March 1919 he was transferred to Class Z Army reserve.

He received the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service during WW1.(13)

Shortly before his discharge, Ethel gave birth to twins Hugh, and Albert Ernest on 14th February 1919.(16)

Military service had dominated his life, and Albert possibly found it hard to adjust to the different routines of civilian life as a family man. He found work as a carpet planner, which is the occupation given on his father’s probate records.

He remained living at 153 Ramsay Road, Forest Gate with Ethel and his young family, several of whom were born during and just after the war. Twenty years passed, during which time he would have seen his family grow up and start lives of their own.

The 1939 Register taken on 29th September 1939 shows Albert and Ethel living at 153 Ramsay Road. Albert is a retired carpet planner, and sons William George and Albert are living with them (17).

Sadly, Albert took his own life on 8th January 1940.(12) Why he decided to take this tragic course of action is not clear. The thirty years he spent in the navy, marines, hussars and field artillery must have been packed with more action than most people fit into a lifetime. Perhaps retirement and civilian life proved too much of a contrast. It may have been that the onset of another World War disturbed him.

He died as the result of a gunshot wound at 153 Ramsay Road, On his death certificate the coroner records ‘gunshot wound self-inflicted, balance of mind disturbed’.(12) Probate of £424 11s 6d was granted to his widow Ethel on 1st April.(14)


(1) Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds, Parish Registers of St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Fiche 578/4/14 of 37
(2) Marriage Register, 2nd Quarter 1893, York district, Volume 9d, Page 43.
(4) The Dundee Courier & Argus, Saturday, September 23rd 1899, pg.5, issue 14429.
(5) The Daily News, Friday, October 6th 1899, issue 16703.
(6) The Graphic, Saturday, October 21st 1899, issue 1560.
(7) National Archives, War Office: Soldiers documents from Pension Claims, WO364/4646
(8) National Archives, Royal Navy Registers of Seaman's Services, ADM/188/220, image 290.
(9) National Archives, Royal Marine's Service Records, ADM/159/47, image 480.
(10) National Archives, Soldiers Discharge Records, WO97/4155/9, Findmypast online collection.
(11) Birth Register, 4th Quarter 1873, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 420
(12) Death Certificate, 1st Quarter 1940, Essex South Western District, Volume 4a, Page 395
(13) British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920,
(14), National Probate Calendar (index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
(15) Jenny Henson
(16) Sue Benning
(17) 1939 Register, Ref: RG101/1115E/010/20,