Albert William Mitchell was the only son of Emma and William Mitchell, a carpenter, who in 1901 were living in Park Place. In 1901 William was 36 and Emma 42, while little Emma (away from home on the night of the census) was 5, Albert 4, Alice 3 and Ethel J. was 2. A very old photo of that time, in the Winkleigh House Scouts archive, shows the family group at that time, and is included on the site. By 1911 the family had moved to Paradise Cottage. Emma, now 15, had left school and was listed as being in domestic service, Albert was 14, Alice 13 and Ethel 12. Thus when the was came Albert was only 17, too young as yet to enlist.
Albert's military documents were destroyed with so many others in the London Blitz, but we have his medal card, which is most helpful. We also have a series of priceless photos, originally belonging to Alice Mitchell, Albert's sister. Deanne Whitaker had them in her possession and most kindly presented them to the village archives. They were passed on into the care of the Winkleigh House Scouts, Janet Daynes and Gordon Fisher, who made them accessible to this site. We, therefore, have been able to attach a series of photos showing something of Albert's early life, his enlistment and subsequent war service. Together with the unusually informative medal card, we can put an outline of the story together.
As a young boy Albert (usually called Bert) had joined the Winkleigh Boy Scouts, a troop founded by the Rev. Ottley, the curate. A photo shows him as the troop trumpeter, together with his cousin Henry (Harry). A second photo of the whole troop shows Bert and Harry with their trumpets, the Rev. Ottley on the right. Harry was the son of Grace and John Mitchell, the blacksmith living on the Eggesford Road. Harry's story is written on the Roll of Honour. Our next photo is of Bert with his bicycle, aged about 16 or 17. Still too young to enlist in 1914, Bert volunteered as soon as possible for the Devon Territorials, enlisting on 29th October 1915. Harry and his younger brother Percy had either joined before August 1914 or on the outbreak of war, and were already in India when Bert began his training in early November 1915. Bert would have been put into the 2nd/6th reserve battalion, (see the attached list of Devon Battalions) and after initial training to await a draft of reinforcements for Mesopotamia, and a posting into the 1st/6th.
The attached story of the 1st/6th Devons gives us an outline that could well reflect Bert's experiences. It is unlikely that he would have reached the battalion in time for the disastrous battle of the Dujailah Redoubt (March 8th 1916). On the other hand, photos of Bert in India show him wearing a wound stripe on his left sleeve, the wound confirmed by his medal card and subsequent photos of his life showing his arm clearly damaged then and after the war. Since after Dujailah the 1st/6th did not take part in any real action, it is indeed possible that Bert was present at the battle. The medal card records that his right forearm was fractured, which could have been the result of a bullet wound. In May 1916 the 1st/6th left the 36th Brigade for the Line of Communications, guarding and defending from marauding Arabs key points that led upstream from Basra. Fresh drafts were received from the 2nd/6th (from India) in May, June and July 1916. Sickness and exhaustion had taken their toll of the battalion. Only 7 officers and 180 men remained reasonably fit for guard duty requiring 147 each night. On August 13th, 1916, a burial party visited the battle site of Dujailah; 20 bodies were buried and their identifications secured. In September the battalion moved to Sheik Saad and in October to Amara, at which time it totalled only 9 officers and 276 other ranks. By February 1917 new drafts had brought the battalion up to over 950 strong. If Bert had indeed been wounded at Dujailah it is most likely he would have been sent to India for convalescence, hence the photographs of Bert in India showing his wounded arm.
The battalion's task was now to protect the light railway that ran from Sheik Saad to the Shatt al Hai. Here they stayed well away from General Maud's campaign to advance to Baghdad and beyond, confining themselves to protecting the railway, collecting battlefield salvage, and having occasional brushes with Arab marauders. In April 1917 there was a move to Shaiba on the Euphrates, west of Basra, with many personnel moving to India to recover from sickness, or for periods of leave. Life was far from comfortable at Shaiba, with temperatures in July and August reaching a maximum of 124 degrees.
Bert's medal card reveals that he was sent home and demobilised on 12th December 1917, probably as a result of sickness and exhaustion. The 2nd/6th (the reserve battalion) were posted from India to Basra, Mesopotamia, in September 1917, landing there on 14th, and in fact remaining there for the rest of the war. Bert, obviously with a reduced medical grading and unfit for line duties, was as an alternative sent back to the UK for demobilization.
We thank Rod Northcott for these photos of Albert W Mitchell. Besides the various photos of Bert in India, either convalescing or at least enjoying spells of leave, Harry sent photos home as well, to his own family and to Bert's sister, Alice. There are in addition photos taken after the war, Bert with his 2 sisters, Alice and Ethel, and one of Albert and his family. During the war, Alice became nursemaid to the children of Rev. Nesbitt at the Rectory, and a delightful snapshot shows a happy moment of her at the seaside with little Geoffrey Nesbitt.
We hope that in the future more information will come to light regarding Bert's story, and in particular the circumstances in which he was wounded and his later life in Winkleigh. There is no doubt that all his family, his relatives and indeed the whole village must have been very proud of him.
1st Nov 2017