Lewis Albert Whiting 1864-1943

Parents: John Whiting and Susannah Pilcher.(1)
Born: 17th December 1864 in Chauntry Croft, Haverhill.(1,2)
Baptised: 8th January 1865 at St Mary's Parish Church, Haverhill.(1)
Married: Kate Baynes, 20, spinster of Burton End, Haverhill, daughter of ?, on the 11th October 1890 at St Mary's Parish Church, Haverhill. Witnessed by John and Charlotte Claydon.(3,4)
Children: May Lily Whiting b.1891, Emily Kathleen Whiting b.1902
Died: 8th August 1943 at 14 Chainey Pieces, Haverhill. Buried on 12th August 1943 at Haverhill Cemetery. (5,6)

Bio: On the GRO birth register he is Louis Albert, and this becomes Lewis Albert when he is baptised. It seems that later in life he preferred 'Albert' and 'Lewis' became his middle name. Appearing on the 1871 census at the age of 6, Lewis is living in Chauntry Croft with his parents and siblings. On the next census he is known as Albert and is living in Eden Road with his family, although his father is now widowed. He is working as a tailor.

Shortly before the next census, Albert married Katie Baynes. They were both living in Burton End at this time, and he was working as a factory hand at Gurteen's. The 1891 census sees the newly weds living in Burton End where Albert is a dyer, and Kate a machinist.

At some point they moved to 14 Chainey Pieces, Haverhill. This is where we find them on the 1901 census. They now have a daughter, May, and Albert is working as a general labourer. Kate is a tailoress.

Their second daughter, Emily, was born on 21st October 1902, and the family remained at the same address. The 1911 census shows Albert working as a drabbet weaver, Kate as a clothing worker and eldest daughter May is a domestic servant.

This could well have been the last record we have of Albert prior to his death had he not participated in the First World War. Remarkably, he did this at the age of 50 as part of the Army Service Corps. On 21st September 1915, Albert enlisted at Aldershot as Private 16946 in the ASC on a short service attestation for the duration of the war. This was at a time when the British War Committee had acknowledged the urgent need for labour to support those who were fighting.(5) This source of labour would come from volunteers beyond the age set for combatant service, and those suffering from slight disabilities that prevented them from serving in the trenches. Albert fulfilled all these categories.

Around 60% of First World War service records were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. By luck, Albert's records survived.(6)

Albert gave his age as 47, perhaps he thought 50 sounded a bit too old. His physical description showed him to be 5ft 5 ¼ inches tall, with a chest measurement of 33 inches and a weight of 118 pounds. He was missing the little finger from his right hand, and the 2nd and 3rd digits on his left foot were hammer toes. He had a scar on his right side, and a scar on the left side of his face. There is also a mention of a 'Flat foot - feeble defective'. So, not a fine physical specimen, but deemed suitable for the role of supplying labour for the army.

His records show he embarked from Devonport on 23rd October 1915 onboard the Kinfauns Castle, and disembarked at Mudros, in the Dardanelles, on 6th November 1915. He was posted to the 24th Labour Company. The Dardanelles was the theatre for some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, and although not in the front line, the danger Albert would have faced is evident when we consider that the Royal Edward, carrying the 18th Labour Company to Mudros had been sunk by a German torpedo with great loss of life two months previously. Having said this, Mudros was largely a staging post en-route to the Dardanelles and contained depots and headquarters which was where a lot of the administrative side of Army life took place.(11)

From Mudros, Albert disembarked in Alexandria on 12th February 1916 then travelled from there on the 25th March to Marseille where he arrived on 1st April. He was then posted to section 'C' of the 24 Labour Company in Boulogne on 4th April. Throughout the next year Albert was posted around France and it is difficult to know what this experience would have been like. In August 1917 the 24 Labour Company of the ASC was absorbed into the Labour Corps.(8) Albert was No.307239 in the 268th Area Employment Company. There would have no doubt been dangerous work, and indeed some Labour Corps units ended up fighting as emergency infantry in 1918.

Amongst Albert's records there is a letter dated 7th December 1918 which states 'I am directed to inform you that it has been decided to sanction the release on compassionate grounds of.. Private A. Whiting..in view of his domestic circumstances..' Whether this was standard wording used for demobilisation, or there had been a bereavement in the family is not clear. His wife Kate was still alive, as well as his daughters as far as I know. His parents had been dead for some time.

What ever the reason, Albert was soon back in England, transferred to the reserve and then sent home.

The photo at the top of the page shows a postcard of the officers and men of 24th Labour Company, section 3, A & B sub-sections. It is not clear when this picture dates from, although it was most likely taken before the company left England. We know that Albert was in the 24th Company when he was sent to the Dardanelles, although it is not clear from his records what section he was in at this time. We cannot say for certain he is in this picture, but it shows exactly the kind of company he would have been a part of.

An Army career so late in life must have taken it's toll, but nevertherless Albert lived into his late seventies dying in August 1943. He was buried at Haverhill Cemetery. His wife Kate had died four years previously.

A funeral notice appeared in the South West Suffolk Echo of 21st August 1943: 'The funeral took place on Thursday last week of Mr Albert Lewis Whiting, who death occurred the previous Sunday, at the home of his daughter, Mrs W Brown, 14 Chainey Pieces, Haverhill.
Although deceased had been in failing health for the past year, his death came with unexpected suddenness. He leaves two daughters.

Photo of 24th Labour Company, Section 3, A & B sub-sections. Click on image to enlarge.


(1) Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds, Parish Registers of St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Fiche 578/4/p13 of 37
(2) Birth Register. 1st Quarter 1865, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 421
(3) Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds, Parish Registers of St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Fiche 578/4/p28 of 37
(4) Marriage Register. 4th Quarter 1890, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 1129
(5) http://www.iwm.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.2489
(6) National Archives: WO 363 First World War Service Records. Ancestry.com. British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920 [database on-line]
(7) http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~arrow/18th_labour_company.htm
(8) http://www.1914-1918.net/labour.htm
(9) Death Register. 3rd Quarter 1943, Newmarket District, Volume 4a Page 781
(10) Haverhill Cemetery, Ref. 5594. http://www.haverhill-uk.com/pages/burial-records-137.htm
(11) Thanks to Michael Young, author of Army Service Corps 1902-1918 ISBN:0850527309, for his valuable insights and supply of the 24th Labour Company postcard.