Albert Whiting 1885-1958

Parents: Edith Whiting, father unknown.
Born: 20th July 1885 in Haverhill.(1,2)
Baptised: 8th November 1893 at All Saints Church, South Acton.(2)
Married: Nellie Wingrove, spinster, on 17th August 1907 in Brentford.(3,4)
Children: Edith Elizabeth Whiting b.1907
Died: 1958 in Ealing.(7)

Bio: Albert was born on 20th July 1885 in Haverhill.(1,2) He was the illegitimate son of Edith Whiting, and we have no clues as to who his father was. In 1887 Edith married Elijah Barrett, also of Haverhill, and the couple moved down to London at some point before the next census.

On the 1891 census, Albert is seen living with his grandparents David and Elizabeth Whiting at 27 Burton End, Haverhill. He is at school at this point.Albert must have moved to London around 1893 as he was baptised at All Saints, South Acton on 8th November 1893. His mother's status is given as single here, and her residence as 3 Hanbury Road. This is presumably a reference to her condition at the time of Albert's birth. His date of birth is given in the margin of the entry.(2)

He can be seen with his mother and stepfather Elijah at 3 Hanbury Road, Acton on the 1901 census along with a lot of step brothers and sisters. In the household are Elijah Barrett, 35, a navvy, Edith, 33, Albert, 15, (known as Barrett here) who is working as a van boy with the Great Western Railway, Emily, 12, Esther, 10, Laura, 8, James, 6, Ethel, 4, Charles, 2, and George, 3 months.

Albert Whiting married Nellie Wingrove on 17th August 1907 in Brentford.(3,4) Nellie was the daughter of Robert and Eliza Wingrove. He was a navvy/labourer originally from High Wycombe, and his wife was local to Acton. Nellie was born on 4th April 1887 and baptised at St Mary, Acton, on 8th September 1895.(5)

On the 1911 census, we see Albert and Nellie living at 6 Mill Hill Grove, Acton. It seems that commonly they were known as Barrett, but officially as Whiting. Here, their surname is given as Barrett. Albert is a ground labourer, and Nellie is a charwoman. They have one daughter Edith, who was born on 6th November 1907 in Ealing(6,4) , and the census tells us they had another child who had died young. As far as is known the couple had no more children.

When war came, initially Albert would not have been called upon to join up. However, as the conflict escalated in the years that followed married and older men were being drafted and he found himself answering the call. At the time he joined up, the family address is given as 13 Priory Road, Acton. His service records mention his occupation as 'munitions'; he may well have been working in a munitions factory. He is referred to as a labourer elsewhere on the records.

Albert joined the Durham Light Infantry as Private no.6517, attesting at Acton on 10th December 1915, and mobilized on 17th August 1916.(4) A physical examination reveals he was 5ft 3ins with a 39 inch chest. As well as getting his marriage and child's birth details from the service records that survive, we also get to find out about what happened to him and where he served.

From 19th August 1916 Albert served at home with 'B' company, 2/6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. His number was transferred to 251335. The unit would be stationed at Colchester from March 1917. It was during this time he was confined to barracks for two days for being late on parade on 5th September 1917. The 2/6th moved to Frinton later in September.(11)

On 5th April 1918 Albert landed in France to join the BEF at the front line. His service records suggest he was switched to the 1/6th Battalion.

Little could have prepared him for the intense fighting that would follow almost immediately. The Germans launched an offensive targeting what was effectively a 'quiet sector' where several battle-formations were recuperating, including several divisions of Portuguese troops.

An account of the activities of the 6th Battalion edited by Capt. R.B Ainsworth, M.C, gives a fascinating insight into the action at the Battle of the Lys or the Fourth battle of Ypres that Albert found himself thrown into:

'On debussing just west of Bethune, the Battalion marched through the town to billets at Beuvry, which was about four miles behind one of the quietest sectors on the British front. Here a draft of about 400 men arrived, and preparations were being made for a relief of the 55th Division near La Bassée. These arrangements, however, were not carried out, and after a few days the Battalion moved by a short railway journey to Estaires, where it occupied billets in the town, all the officers—except the Commanding Officer, Adjutant, Transport Officer and Capt. Cardew—being in one billet, the Convent. At this time Estaires, though a very short distance behind the line, was a flourishing town.

After a quiet day and night, alarming rumours of the second German offensive spread, and the next night there was a "stand-to." The day following, the officers and a few N.C.O.'s reconnoitred a line of posts in support which were to be occupied in the event of an attack, and in the evening instructions were received for a relief of the Portuguese Division, which was holding the line, the relief to take place the night after (9th April).

On the night of the 8th April, there was another "stand-to," and at 4 a.m. the threatened attack commenced with a heavy bombardment of the town. One of the first shells burst in the Convent, and all the occupants with two exceptions became casualties. The men, however, got out of their billets in safety, and the highest praise is due to the N.C.O.'s, who gave valuable assistance to the three surviving Company Officers in getting the Battalion into its battle positions in the Cockshy, Marais East and West, and Drumiez posts. Amongst the officers killed in the Convent were Capt. G. Kirkhouse, Capt. J.F.G. Aubin, D.S.O., M.C., and Lieut. C.L. Tyerman, all of whom had seen much service with the Battalion.

The morning was misty, and beyond the fact that the Portuguese were being driven back in confusion, nothing definite could be ascertained as to the situation. The first reports which reached the Commanding Officer (Major T.B. Heslop) were to the effect that three Companies (W, X and Z) had been completely overwhelmed, and that two of his three Company Officers, Capt. Cardew (killed) and 2nd Lieut. Railton (prisoner) were casualties. The remainder of the Battalion, however, under Lieut. A.N. Brown, held its ground till the afternoon, when it was forced to withdraw to the railway near La Gorgue.

At dusk, orders were received to cross the river Lawe and to hold the Western bank. This withdrawal was successful, and the opportunity was taken to reorganise the Battalion, which was divided into two companies, one under Lieut. Brown, with Sergt. P. Finn, M.M., and Sergt. Field; and the other under C.S.M. T. Sordy, M.C., with Sergts. Bell and Cooper. The strength of the Battalion was now barely 100, and when touch had been established on the flanks it was found that it was holding a frontage of about 2,000 yards.

Assistance was therefore asked for, and a company of the Corps Cyclists and a company of the 7th Durham Light Infantry were attached. The latter were sent to fill a gap on the right flank between the Battalion and a Battalion of the Black Watch (51st Division). It was now about 10 a.m. on the 10th April, and the enemy had renewed his attack and gained a footing in Lestrem. From this, however, he was driven by the 7th Durham Light Infantry company, but further to the south he had pressed back the Highlanders.

Orders were then received to withdraw in a N.W. direction to the line of the Lys canal, the company of 7th Durham Light Infantry being moved over to the left flank to fill a gap which had been caused by the readjustment of their line by the 5th Durham Light Infantry. Meanwhile, the 8th Durham Light Infantry, which was in rear, was ordered up to occupy the line between the right flank of the Battalion and the 51st Division.

The new position was being fairly well held when it was reported that the 5th Durham Light Infantry on the left had been forced to retire. Both flanks being now uncertain, the Battalion was withdrawn towards Merville, under very heavy machine-gun fire. A stand was made on the outskirts of the town, but before night the fighting was taking place in the streets of the town.

The next day the retirement continued towards the Forêt de Nieppe, and a line was taken up near Le Sart. By this time the strength of the Battalion was very small, and with the remnants of the 8th Durham Light Infantry, a composite battalion was formed under Lieut.-Col. P. Kirkup, M.C. Eventually, all were withdrawn from the fighting, and moved to the grounds of La Motte Château, where they came under very heavy shell fire for a short time. For a few days longer they remained on the western edge of the Forest and provided working parties on new trenches in the forest itself on a line in front of the Rue des Morts. At the end of this time they were taken out to billets at Cohem, near Wittes, where they remained for about a week reorganising and cleaning. Here Lieut.-Col. F. Walton, M.C., returned and took over command of the Battalion from Major T.B. Heslop, who was subsequently awarded the D.S.O. for his services whilst in command. Other honours gained in the Lys battle were the Military Cross by Lieut. A.N. Brown, the bar to the Military Cross by C.S.M. T. Sordy, M.C., the D.C.M. by Sergt. P. Finn, and Military Medals by Sergts. Bell and Cooper.

Having now shared in two great battles within a month, a rest was confidently expected, and very soon orders were received to move by 'bus to Lapugnoy, near Bethune, to entrain for an unknown destination, though rumour suggested somewhere near Paris.' (12)

It was during this period of action that Albert Whiting was taken prisoner. If you click on the picture of the service records at the top of the page you will see that he was reported missing during the days from 9-14th April which coincide with the action described above. At the start of the extract it is mentioned that 400 men had just been drafted into the strength of the unit. It is likely that Albert was one of these soldiers.

We know very little of Albert's time as a prisoner of war except that he managed to get a postcard back to 'blightly' on 28th April 1918 which confirmed his captivity at Friedrichsfeld P.O.W camp in Germany. Whether he was wounded or not is not clear. Supposedly one of the better camps, Albert would most likely still have experienced something akin to hard labour during his stay. Luckily for him, the war was drawing to its close and he would spend approximately 6 months as a prisoner of war before peace came.

He returned to Depot on 24th November 1918 after the Armistice had been signed, and he was eventually demobbed on 22nd February 1919.

Albert received the British War and Victory Medals.(13)

Albert returned to 13 Priory Road after the war, and would live there for the rest of his life. His daughter Edith married Thomas Linthwaite in 1929.(10)

Electoral registers show that Albert remained with Nellie at no.13 until 1958.(7) Albert died in the second quarter of 1958.(8)

Nellie lived until 1972, dying in the Brent district.(9) The date of birth from the death register matches her baptismal entry exactly.


(1) Birth Register. 3rd Quarter 1885, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 590
(2) London Metropolitan Archives, All Saints, South Acton, Register of baptisms, DRO/056, Item 003
(3) Marriage Register. 3rd Quarter 1907, Brentford District, Volume 3a Page 378
(4) British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920, National Archives, Wo363,
(5) London Metropolitan Archives, Acton St Mary, Register of Baptism, dro/052, Item 011
(6) Birth Register. 4th Quarter 1907, Brentford District, Volume 3a Page 136
(7) London Electoral Registers, 1832-1965.
(8) Death Register. 2nd Quarter 1958, Ealing District, Volume 5e Page 99
(9) Death Register. 2nd Quarter 1972, Brent District, Volume 5a Page 717
(10) Marriage Register. 2nd Quarter 1929, Brentford District, Volume 3a Page 369
(12) The Story of the 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, France April 1915 to November 1918, Edited by R.B. Ainsworth, M.C.,
(13) British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920