Two local men serving with the Coldstream Guards were declared missing on 29th October 1914 – Corporal Albert Henry Britt, of Elmdon Heath, and Private William Joseph Gascoigne of Hampton-in-Arden.
Albert Henry Britt (1879-1914) was a veteran of the Boer War, having joined the Coldstream Guards as a regular soldier on 16th January 1900, according to De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour. He appears on the 1901 census, aged 22, as a soldier living in Chelsea Barracks. De Ruvigny (who records Albert’s rank as Private) notes that he served in South Africa from 7th November 1901 to 4th October 1902, being awarded the Queen’s medal with three clasps for his service.
Whilst still a regular soldier, Albert married Rose Etherington in October 1905. Although the marriage took place in Windsor, banns were also read out by Canon Hayter at Elmdon Parish Church, recording that Albert Henry Britt was a bachelor, living at Wellington Barracks, and “formerly of this Parish”. His bride was recorded as Rose Etherington, spinster of the parish of Clewer St Stephen, Windsor. The banns, together with many Warwickshire and Birmingham parish registers are on the Ancestry website (available free of charge from computers at any Solihull Library, using your Solihull Library Card).
Ancestry also has Albert Britt’s medial index card, listing his rank as Private and confirming his service with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 11th September 1914. He would have originally enlisted in 1900 for a term of seven years with the Colours, followed by five years in the reserves. It is unfortunate that his service record does not appear to have survived, as this would give exact details of his movements and discharge from the Army, but it is likely that he became a reservist in January 1907, meaning he would have been in the reserves until January 1912. He obviously re-enlisted very shortly after war was declared in 1914, and he would have been aged 35 at the time of his death in 1914.
Having been discharged from the Colours in 1907, he had returned to Elmdon Heath by 1911, appearing on the census as a bricklayer’s labourer, and living with his wife and four young children aged between three months and five years. Albert and Rose went on to have two more children, causing Rose some hardship after Albert’s death was confirmed at the beginning of 1916.
Rose appealed in the Solihull Parish Magazine, February 1916, for any work doing cooking or cleaning, saying that she had help during the day to look after her six young children, so was available for work. Albert himself had been the eldest of at least seven children, so it is possible that help with childcare was available to his widow from his extended family. One of the children – Albert Edward Britt (aged 9) – was sent to Canada in 1920 via Middlemore Homes as a British Home Child.
Albert Britt is commemorated locally on war memorials at Elmdon and Solihull, as well as on the Menin Gate memorial in Belgium.
William Joseph Gascoigne (1889-1914) is also commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial, having also been killed on 29th October 1914, aged just 25. He is also commemorated on the war memorial in Hampton-in-Arden, the village in which he was born in 1889 to parents Clement Ellis Gascoigne (a greengrocer from Oxfordshire) and his wife, Eliza Jane. On the 1911 census, he is listed as a Private in the Coldstream Guards but was living with his brother in Hampton-in-Arden so it’s likely that he was on leave from the Army at this time.
It’s not known exactly when he joined the Army, although it must have been sometime between 1907 and 1911. At the time of enlistment he was apparently living at Canley, Coventry, according to Soldiers Died in the Great War. He could have been discharged from the Colours before 1914 but, based on his age, it seems probable that he was at least a reservist by the time war broke out, so would have been called back up for service very quickly. His medal index card gives his Qualifying Date as 12th August 1914, just one week after war was declared.
The 1st Battalion suffered considerable casualties at Gheluvelt on 29th October. The Regimental history records it lost all the 11 officers present and only mustered some 60 men at the end of the action. More than 180 other ranks were killed, wounded or captured. The Commonwealth War Graves website lists the deaths of 139 men from the Coldstream Guards on this single day. Four days later, after reinforcement, the Battalion almost ceased to exist, having again been reduced to no officers, and only 120 men.
If you have any information about Albert Henry Britt or William Joseph Gascoigne, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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