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Archibald John Fergusson

Corporal S4/058605 Archibald John Fergusson, MSM, 23rd Railway Supply Depot , Royal Army Service Corps

 

The Newbury war memorial records the surname as FURGUSSON.  This is an error, almost certainly introduced when the stone name tablets were replaced by the current bronze tablets in 1950. The order of service for the 1922 unveiling ceremony includes the layout of all the name tablets – this has the name spelt correctly.

 

Archie was born in Newbury in 1885, the eldest child of John Fergusson and his wife Emma. John was a draper, originally from Argyll in Scotland, who had settled in Newbury some years before his marriage to Emma. He had a shop at 53 Bartholomew Street before moving to London Road, next door to the Cross Keys, around 1880. In 1891 he moved again, to new premises at 15 Craven Street.

 

Army Service Corps badge

The badge of the Army Service Corps,

as used on a CWGC headstone.

The family’s 1891 census entry is the only one in which Archie’s mother Emma appears. She was evidently around in 1885, when Archie was born and for the births of his two siblings; Henry Alexander (Alex) in 1887 and Emma in 1889. No record of her has been found after the 1891 census; she does not appear to have died, there is no death registered in England or Wales and John continues to record his status as married rather than widowed.

 

Following his schooling Archie entered the family business as an assistant in the shop, running errands while beginning to learn the trade. In 1910 John died, leaving the children, by now all young adults, effectively orphaned as their mother was not in the picture.  Alex had already struck out on his own, emigrating to the USA in 1909, Archie remained in Newbury where, by 1911, he was boarding with a family in West Mills and working as a ‘brewer’s traveller’. It is not known where Emma was on census night.  The fact that his lodgings were almost within touching distance of the premises of the South Berks Brewery Co. Ltd does not mean that they were his employers, at this time there were still four significant brewery companies operating in the town. However, South Berks was the one with the widest distribution area and, hence, the greatest need for travelling salesmen.

 

When war broke out Archie waited for a while before he enlisted in late 1915. He served in the Army Service Corps – generally speaking a safer option than the infantry. His service number, S4/058605, indicates that he was recruited into the Corps’ supply arm (hence the ‘S’) of the 4th Kitchener Army (‘4’). This was a UK based training organisation formed around a group of six infantry divisions (30th to 35th) and should not be confused with Fourth Army in France.

 

Rails depot

A railhead 'somewhere in France'. Fodder for the

millions of horses in use by the army used up a

largeproportion of the available transport.

Archie’s service record did not survive the fire in 1940 that destroyed most of the Great War soldiers’ records, so it is not possible to trace his service from recruitment to death. All that is known is that he was serving with the 23rd Railhead Supply Depôt in late 1918.

 

The rôle of a Railhead Supply Depôt is pretty much what it says in its name; most of the supplies to the British armies along the Western Front were brought into French ports and distributed by rail to a series of Railhead Supply Depôts along the front.  From here materiel would be distributed to Divisional Refilling Points, usually by rail or motor transport. Onward distribution to the men would be through a combination of light railway, motor transport, horse and cart, and mule. The final stretch would often be on the backs of the men themselves.

 

Name on Newbury War Memorial

Archie's name on Newbury War Memorial

(middle right)

In November 1918, shortly after the fighting ended Archie came down with influenza.   He was admitted to No 3 Casualty Clearing Station at Caudry where he died on 30 November. The particular strain of flu that he succumbed to is known as Spanish Flu, it killed millions worldwide in 1918. It has been estimated that the total death toll from 1917-1920 was over 50 million.

 

Archie was buried in grave II.D.7 at Caudry British Cemetery close to the hospital where he died.


Locally he is remembered on Tablet 11 of the Newbury Town War Memorial.

 

Family


Archie’s brother Henry Alexander (Alex) emigrated to the USA in 1909 travelling on the SS St Paul to New York. According to the passenger list he was intending to continue his journey as far as Chicago, but he stopped in New York. He served in the US Army during the Great War, but only for three months (September to December 1918) and probably didn’t leave the States. He married in New York in 1919 and remained in the city raising a family there.

 

The third sibling, Emma, left Newbury and, for a while at least, settled in Strachur in Argyll, very possibly with a member of her father’s family. Archie made her sole legatee of his estate and it was Emma who chose the epitaph for his headstone – an old favourite – Peace, perfect peace.

 

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 Died this day:
19 November 1917
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