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Alfred Perrin

Private 16253 Alfred Perrin, 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment


Alfred Perrin was born, according to his entries in the 1911 census, in West Bromwich, Staffordshire in 1877/8. This cannot be confirmed because there is no such birth registered. Indeed, there is no clear record of Alfred’s existence until he married Alice Townsend in Newbury in 1904, giving his full name as Alfred Matthew Perrins. 


At the time of the 1911 census Alice and he were living with her parents, William and Dinah Townsend, at 1 St Stephen’s Place, London Road, Newbury. St Stephen’s Place is long gone, but it comprised a terrace of cottages stretching south behind the houses fronting on to the London Road a short way west of the Park Way junction.  Also in the household were three of Alfred and Alice’s children: Charles Matthew (1907) and Joseph Edwin (1909) and Reginald George (1911) – Reginald was only two weeks old and as yet unnamed, he is listed as ‘The Baby’. The 1911 census was the first to address the issue of infant mortality, asking householders to provide information about the number of children born to a marriage and the number surviving/deceased.


The Perrin family entry includes the information that the marriage had lasted six years and resulted in six children, one of whom was deceased. From birth registrations it is evident that they had only had four children by this date! The fourth Perrin child was Alfred William, their firstborn, whose birth was registered in 1905. The other two children must be Frederick James Townsend (born 1900) and Frances Mary Townsend (1903) – illegitimate children of Alice. Were they Alfred’s children?  It is impossible to be sure, but their absence from the household in 1911 strongly suggests not.  Young Frederick was in a Dr Barnardo’s Home in Epsom, Surrey; Frances does not appear in 1911 census indexes - she may have been adopted and listed under another name, or she may be the dead child referred to. The former seems more likely; Alfred William is also missing from the 1911 indexes and Alfred and Alice named their next child Alfred. While it is not unknown for a family to have two sons with the same first name it is uncommon, reuse of a name more commonly follows the death of the first so named.


The Perrins moved to 22 Northcroft Lane where Alfred is listed in local directories from 1913. More children arrived: Alfred Edward (1913), Alice Maud (1915), Leslie (1917) and John (1918). Leslie and John both died soon after birth and Joseph at the age of seven in 1916.


Alfred was not in the rush to join up as soon as the war began in August 1914, but it was not long before he heeded the call to arms – he enlisted into the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 31 December 1914 and went off to war. He did not qualify for the 1914-15 Star, which was awarded to all men who served in any theatre of war in 1914 or 1915 (except those awarded the 1914 Star). This means that he did not go overseas until 1916.


Berkshire Regiment badge

The regimental badge of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, as used on CWGC headstones.

In France he served with the regiment’s 6th Battalion, which was in and out of the line in several spots along the Somme front during the first six months of 1916. On 1 July 1916 the 6th Berks went over the top on the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme.  However, this was not a story of men walking futilely into withering machine gun fire. The 30th Division, of which the 6th Berks formed a part, carried out a very successful attack around the village of Montauban.


Alfred was invalided out of the army on 24 August 1916. It is quite possible he had left France before the assault on Montauban because it usually took some time to determine whether a man’s sickness was a permanent or temporary impairment to duty. No doubt there were diseases that would lead to a rapid discharge – discovery of advanced tuberculosis for instance – so he may have been there on the big day.


Whatever the cause of his discharge, Alfred was out of uniform and returned to his home in Newbury. In 1917 he applied for, and was awarded, a Silver War Badge – an emblem worn on civilian clothing to indicate that the wearer had ‘done his bit’.


He did not live long, dying in Newbury in April 1918. He was buried in grave 235 at Shaw Cemetery on 16 April 1918.


Name on Newbury War Memorial

Alfred's name on Newbury War Memorial.

(top centre)

Alfred’s name is remembered on tablet 2 of the Newbury Town Memorial and on his headstone in Shaw Cemetery.


The presence of his name on the town’s war memorial is testament to his wife’s belief that her husband was a victim of the conflict, but the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission does not include him in its ‘Debt of Honour’ roll which lists all officially recognised casualties of both World Wars. Sadly, Alfred’s service records were destroyed in a fire in 1940 (as were most such records) leaving insufficient evidence to make the case that his name should be added to the Debt of Honour roll.


An addendum to the story was the birth in 1921 of another ‘son’, Arthur D. Alice never remarried and she died aged 83 in 1963.

 

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19 November 1917
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