After decades of wondering about the life and history of my Gran’dad Stevenson, who was killed in the trenches when my Dad was only 11, I was contacted by a lady who had read my blog. She’s part of the Epsom & Ewell local history group. She e-mailed me asking for whatever info I had on Alfred George Stevenson, and has published his photo in a display they’re making down there.
Then, she sent me this – a full history of Gran’dad Alf.
STEVENSON Alfred George, Private. 34230.
12th Battalion Suffolk Regiment.
Died of Wounds 27 September 1917, aged 34.
Alfred George Stevenson was born in 1883 in Groombridge, Sussex (GRO reference: Jun 1883 E. Grinstead 2b 1420, to Amos and Sarah Stevenson (nee Rye). His parents had married in the June 1887 quarter in the East Grinstead registration district. Alfred was baptised on 27 May 1883 at St Michael’s church Withyham, Sussex
The 1881 census, before Alfred was born, shows his family living at Oak Cottage, Withyham, Sussex. Alfred’s 37 year old father earned his living as a bricklayer. His mother was aged 23, and his only sibling Albert William J. was aged two.
Ten years later in the 1891 census, little had changed except that Alfred and brother Albert were now both scholars.
Alfred’s father died in 1897 at the age of 54, and his mother remarried to John Henry Edwards in the March 1899 quarter in the Epsom registration district. They appear in the 1901 census living at 3, Park View, Langley Bottom. (NOTE: John Henry Edwards, bricklayer, died in 1935 whilst living at 122, Stamford Green, Epsom and was buried in plot L199 in Epsom Cemetery on 19 December 1935. Sarah Edwards, widow, died in 1941 in Epsom County Hospital and was also buried in plot L199 in Epsom Cemetery on 6 March 1941.)
In 1901 Alfred was a 17 year old postman living with his grandparents at 1, Oak Cottage, Withyham Road. Grandfather Isaac Rye was a 90 year old, deaf and blind, retired farm labourer and grandmother Theadosia was aged 78. (NOTE: Isaac died in 1904 and Theodosia in 1915).
Alfred married Elizabeth Sarah Spikesman in the December quarter of 1903 in the Epsom registration district. Their son Amos George was born in the early part of 1906 followed the next year by their second son Alfred John. Alfred was born in June 1907 and had only lived for 4 months before being buried on 28 September 1907 in grave B16 in Epsom cemetery.
They appear in the 1911 census living at 6, Signal Terrace, Church Road, Epsom. Alfred earned his living as a bricklayer’s labourer to support his wife, and five year old son Amos George. Also living with them was his wife’s father, 53 year old widower George Spikesman, who worked for the Epsom Urban Council as a carman.
Alfred attested in Epsom on 4 December 1915 into the 10th Battalion Suffolk Regiment, a training battalion. At 32 years of age he was a short man measuring 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 140 lbs, with a chest measurement of 39½ inches expanding by 3 inches. He worked as a builder and gave his address as ‘C/O Cropley Bros., Church Road, Epsom’, a local building firm.
Alfred later transferred to the 12th Battalion Suffolk Regiment, which was in the 121st Brigade, 40th Division. The 12th Battalion Suffolk Regiment was originally raised as a Bantam Battalion, especially for men under the minimum Army height of 5 feet 3 inches tall, but otherwise physically fit. Many short men were eager to join up and do their bit for King and Country but were rejected because of their short stature. The MP for Birkenhead, Alfred Bigland thought that a minimum height of 5 feet 3 inches was alright for a small peacetime army, but at this time of crisis when millions of men would be needed, the minimum height should be reduced. He wrote to Lord Kitchener, the idea was taken up by the War Office, and the minimum height was reduced to 5 feet (later further reduced to 4 feet 10 inches). Several bantam battalions were raised and they were assigned to the 35th and 40th Divisions. Later in the war the idea of bantam divisions was dropped and men were sent where they were needed regardless of height. Alfred may have been assigned to the bantam 12th Suffolks because he was only 5 feet 2 inches tall.
We don’t know exactly when Alfred went to France but he probably landed with his battalion, at Le Havre on 6 June 1916. Alfred died of wounds on 27 September 1917 and is buried in plot I. D. 17. Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt. At this time the third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) was raging but Alfred’s Battalion did not fight in this battle, it was much further south in the Cambrai region, and was probably just ‘holding the line’ before the battle of Cambrai commenced on 20 November 1917. Just ‘holding the line’ was dangerous, shelling, sniping and small scale trench raids continued. On 26 September 21 men from Alfred’s battalion were killed.
Alfred was awarded the British War medal and the Victory medal.
The St Martin’s church Roll of Honour states that:
ALFRED GEORGE STEVENSON, was wounded in France and died at a Casualty Clearing Station on 27th September 1917.
Alfred’s widow Elizabeth married Albert W Ruberry in 1920. The couple emigrated to Australia with Amos George but returned to 10, Signal Terrace, Church Street, Epsom on 11 February 1931 without him. Amos, who was better known as George, married in Australia but returned to England in 1937.
Many years ago, Rosie & I visited Epsom just to look round my Dad’s old home-town. We saw Gran’dad’s name on the Great War Roll of Honour. I even recognised a house in the garden of which, as an 18 month old baby, I played with a china cockerel and saw some soldiers – Home Guard – marching down the track by the house.
On a later visit to Withyham, Kent, we went to the church were Alf & Cis were married.
Yes, I do have a memory which reaches back to when I was that age.