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Albert Edward Marshall

Private 31972 Albert Edward Marshall, 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment

Albert was born in 1897, the son of George Henry Marshall and his wife Elizabeth Emma née Kemp. He was the youngest of their six sons; there were also two sisters, one of whom, Elizabeth Emma (1879-1879), died in infancy. The other five were Mary Hannah (1880), Frederick Bishop (1885), Montague George (1890), Walter Percy (1891), and Harry Kemp (1895). All but Albert were born in Newbury, he was born in Wargrave after the family moved there for a few years; they lived in Victoria Road and George worked as a house painter.


Atlas Brewery

The Bartholomew Street frontage of what was once the Atlas Brewery. The Atlas Tap was within the brewery complex, but is is not known exactly where.

George worked at a number of jobs: barman, grocer’s assistant, painter and finally, on the family’s return to Newbury in 1909, landlord of the Atlas or South Berks Brewery Tap in Bartholomew Street. This was probably a managed house (run by a salaried manager), relatively rare in those days when most pubs were tenanted (run by a landlord who pays rent to the brewery). However, the Brewery Tap was a part of the South Berks Brewery site and was, in effect, an off-sales bar for the Brewery, and the brewery would want to keep close control over its operation.


Nothing is known of Albert’s education or employment, though it is very possible that he was employed by the South Berks Brewery as not only his father but at least two of his brothers were on the company’s payroll; Walter worked in the distillery and Harry as a clerk.


He was conscripted into the Army in September 1916 and, after training, was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment in France, which was a part of the 21st Brigade in the 30th Division.  He may have joined the battalion in a draft of replacements following their involvement in the 1st Battle of the Scarpe on 9 April 1917 (a six-month training period was typical) and have seen action during the Battle of Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres). However, no records have been uncovered that shed any light on his service until those covering his capture and subsequent death.


Wiltshire Regiment badge

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

On 21 March 1918 the Germans, using large numbers of troops freed up by the Russian withdrawal from the war, the Germans launched a massive offensive against the British positions on the Somme.  Attacking in overwhelming force the positions held by 5th Army (Maj Gen Hubert Gough) were rapidly overrun. Many battalions fought valiant rearguard actions inflicting heavy casualties on the advancing enemy. The 2nd Wiltshires were surrounded early in the day; isolated in a good defensive position they fought on but, unable to withdraw, the result was inevitable – all but a few men who had not been in the defensive redoubt with their comrades were lost. The headcount of the battalion on 1 April listed the officers killed (1), wounded (4) or missing (17) and gave numbers for the other ranks – 4 killed, 9 wounded and 597 missing.  Most of the battalion had simply disappeared – including the commanding officer Lt Col Archibald Victor Powell Martin – and Pte Albert Marshall.


Obviously a great many of those missing were already dead when their next-of-kin was informed that their whereabouts were unknown. Naturally the families hoped for the best and a postcard from a prisoner of war camp somewhere in Germany. As the German advance had been rapid and overwhelming they had taken thousands of prisoners – there was a greater chance than in previous engagements that a son or husband reported ‘missing’ was still alive.


Families could enquire via the Red Cross for information from the German authorities – however, this would usually take longer than the postcard each prisoner was allowed to send home to let anxious loved ones know he was safe.


In Albert’s case the Red Cross were able to let his father George know that he had been taken prisoner, but had subsequently died in a German military hospital at Avesnes-sur-Helpe on 12 April 1918 and that he had been buried in ‘grave 278’. The cause of death was give as toxic spasm, consequence of wound, but this has been crossed out on his Red Cross record card and tetanus substituted. After the war the dead from each regiment were recorded in a series of publications entitled Soldiers Who Died in the Great War were published by the Stationery Office; Albert’s entry gives his cause of death as ‘died’ – not very informative but this was shorthand for ‘died from causes other than wounds received in action’. This could mean death from sickness, accident or even execution. However, it seems inappropriate in Albert’s case – although his wound may not have been fatal in itself the chances of infection were high and resulted in a great many ‘died of wounds’ entries. It seems that Albert’s misfortune in contracting tetanus from his wound (tetanus is a very nasty way to die) rather than a more common infection like septicaemia or gangrene meant that he was deemed to have died of illness rather than his wound. 


The Red Cross cards relating to Albert are somewhat confusing in regards their communication with Albert’s father; it seems that information was communicated to the family on 30 July 1918 and 23 January 1919 (the nature of the information is unclear).  However, from the local newspaper it appears that the family had an alternative source:


Newbury Weekly News, 1 August 1918 – Local War Notes
Mrs A Marshall, of 7, Sarum-cottages, Enborne–road, has been informed that her husband, Pte A Marshall, 2nd Wilts Regt, who was reported missing since March 21st, is alive although wounded, and a prisoner of war in Germany.


The cruel news of his death on 12 April must have arrived before long after a short period of relief that he was alive.


Some slightly confusing news was printed later that year:


Newbury Weekly News, 12 December 1918 – Local War Notes
The family of Mr and Mrs George Marshall, in addition to the two sons already lost during the war, have now experienced a further loss in the death of their fourth son. There are now two others left, one with the Army in France and the other in the Navy.


Name on Newbury War Memorial

Albert's name on Newbury War Memorial, below that of his brother Harry.

(upper left)

The two other sons lost during the war were Harry, who was killed in action in 1916, and Albert. This item refers to Montague, who signed up in 1914 only to be discharged a few days later. It is possible that he showed signs of mental illness; he died in the County Asylum at Fairmile, near Cholsey, and was buried there on 2 December 1918. Frederick was the ‘one with the Army in France’ and Walter the sailor.


For more information on Albert’s brothers see Harry’s story.


Albert’s remains lie today in grave D.3 at Avesnes-sur-Helpe Communal Cemetery.

 

Locally he is remembered on Tablet 5 of the Newbury Town War Memorial, and also on the roll of honour and memorial board in St Nicolas’ Church.

 

 

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 Died this day:
19 November 1917
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