Two local men lost their lives on 13th April 1918 serving with the 14th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment – 31-year-old Private Leonard Russell and 22-year-old Sergeant Robert Alban Wright.
Leonard Russell was born in Meriden in 1886 and was the 7th of the 11 known children of parents William Edmund (known as Edmund, a coachman) and Emma (née Williams) who had married at Meriden in 1873. Two of the children – Harry (1877-1880) and Margery Jane (1893-1894) – died as infants. Leonard was baptised on 6th July 1888, with a note in the baptism register indicating that the baptism was a private one as he was ill. Fortunately, he recovered from the illness and was formerly received into the church on 19th May 1889, when his brothers, Albert (born 1885) and Frank (born c. 1889) were baptised.
The family lived at Tory Row, Meriden from at least 1891 until at least 1911. By 1901, when he was 14, Leonard was working as a gardener, although by 1911 he was listed as a labourer. He must have volunteered for the Army as he first saw overseas service on 31st July 1915.
He was killed in action on 13th April and, having no known grave, is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium. He is also commemorated locally at Meriden.
Robert Alban Wright was born in Bedford on 31st October 1895 and baptised there on 13th December 1895. He was the youngest of the eight children of parents Rev. Alban Henry Wright and Martha Jane (née Moore) who had married in 1882.
The couple set up home in Barbados, West Indies, where Rev. Wright had been working since 1881 as Chaplain for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and Warden of their Mission House. In 1886 he was appointed Chaplain, Tutor and Bursar of the Society’s Theological College, which was known as Codrington College.
In December 1889, he was appointed to a new role as Organising Secretary of the SPG for the Diocoses of Ely and Peterborough, and subsequently returned to England, settling in Bedford as a convenient base for his work.
Four of the couple’s children – Charles Alban (born 1883), Katherine Jane (born 1885), Arthur Alban (1887-1967), and Gertrude M. (born 1890) – were born in Barbados. The remaining four – James Alban (born 1887 in Fulham), Silvester Alban (1890-1927), Helen Margery (born 1893) and Robert, were all born in England.
In the spring of 1896, Rev. Wright contracted a chill, which resulted in a severe attack of rheumatic fever and ague, a complaint he originally contracted in the West Indies. He recovered sufficiently to travel to Margate but was forced to return home, where he died, aged 43, on 16th August 1896.
His widow, Martha Jane, was left with eight young children between the ages of 10 months and 13 years. A fund set up to help the family raised £1,456 19s 8d which enabled the purchase of trustee securities of the value of £1,400 which was projected to give an income of £42 per annum, and the balance, after defraying all outgoings, was deposited in the Post Office Savings Bank at Bedford. The Trustees were empowered “to use any portion of the capital sum, at their discretion, for the advancement of all or any of the children of the deceased”.
Sadly, Martha Jane Wright died in February 1909, when Robert would have been just 13 years old. The 1911 census shows a 15-year-old Robert Wright, born in Bedford, as a pupil at St Edmund’s School, St Thomas’s Hill, Canterbury, Kent (which had changed its name from the Clergy Orphan School in 1897). One of Martha’s executors is listed as Henry George Wright, insurance official, who seems to have lived in Edgbaston, Birmingham in 1911. We think it’s likely that Henry was a relative of Rev. Alban Wright, and, therefore, this could be why Robert moved to Warwickshire between 1911-1914. (Many thanks to researcher Helen for finding Robert on the 1911 census and suggesting the link with Henry George Wright).
Robert Alban Wright must have moved to Warwickshire from Bedfordshire by 1914, as the address he gave on enlistment was Shirley. From his service number of 15/662, It seems that he enlisted with the 2nd Birmingham Pals on its formation in September 1914. He went to France with the Battalion, landing at Boulogne on 21st November 1915.
Sergeant Robert Alban Wright was killed in action on 13th April 1918. He is buried at Merville Communal Cemetery Extension in France, and is commemorated locally on Shirley war memorial. His name also appears on a chair in the Lady Chapel, St Peter’s, Leeds, as well as on Headingley war memorial, and the Birmingham Book of Remembrance in the Hall of Memory, Birmingham. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects gives his next of kin as his sister, Katherine.
If you have any further information on either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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