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WW1 Heroes
21 Alfred William Risby
Private: 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles Alfred William was born at Aston Farm Cottages on Saturday the 20th of October 1894, his birth being registered by his grandfather in Tetbury thirteen days later. He was baptised at the Holy Cross Church, Avening on Sunday the 5th of July 1896 and the entry in the Parish Register described his mother, Sarah Ann Risby as a "single woman". She was just 19 years old when she gave birth to Alfred, having been born at Nags Head in 1875 and baptised the same year at Avening. She was the daughter of Alfred Risby, born in Avening around 1840 and his wife, Ellen Townsend who was a Cherington girl born around 1834. Alfred and Ellen were married on Saturday the 6th of December 1862, again at Holy Cross Church. At the time of the 1891 census, the family were living at Nags Head where Alfred was an agricultural labourer, but some time before Alfred William's birth they had moved to Aston Cottages. In the 1901 census, seven year old Alfred William is shown living with his grandparents at Aston, his grandfather's occupation being described as groom and gardener. Despite lengthy searches, no sign can be found of Sarah Ann in that census but we do know that she was living in Weston-super-Mare, having given birth to a daughter registered as Dorothy Agnes Fowles in April 1900. No record can be found of a marriage between Sarah Ann and her husband, Herbert Fowles but they went on to have a further three children, the youngest being born in 1906. For Alfred William, disaster struck in 1904 when his grandfather died, aged 64. He was buried in Avening Church cemetery. However, he continued to live at Aston until January 1907 when his grandmother also passed away, aged 73. She was also buried in Avening cemetery. This brought some action from Sarah Ann who took Alfred back to Weston-super-Mare. Unfortunately, his stepfather wanted nothing to do with him and hence, he lived in lodgings in Weston funded by charity. Some time later in 1907 his plight came to the attention of the National Children's Home (NCH), a charity similar to Barnardos and he was assessed by a local pillar of society on their behalf in December 1907. In the assessment document, Sarah Ann is described as being "physically delicate" and of "very weak character" and Alfred as being "out of control" and likely to "enter into the Prison Class of youths". NCH took Alfred under their protection and he was moved to their London home in January 1908. Both Barnardos and NCH had schemes where orphans and children from deprived backgrounds were sent abroad to Australia, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth to give them a better start in life. These children were known as "Home Children" and on emigration to their new country, were given both homes and work to go to. NCH had a local representative who kept in touch with the child and retained some of the wages earned until the child reached 21, when the accumulated funds were given to him in the hope that this would go towards setting him up for life. Alfred William became a "Home Child" and sailed from Liverpool to Canada, arriving in March 1910, by then aged 15. He worked on farms in the Millgrove and Dundas areas of Ontario. From copies of his letters to his NCH agent, it appears that he had a happy life and he was far from the dissolute child described in his 1907 assessment. In 1914, he acknowledged his gratitude to the NCH by making a donation to their funds and in December 1915 he asked that he be sent his accumulated funds after making a further donation. His letter of that time said that he was about to enlist in the Services and this he did on the 17th of March 1916. He was a volunteer (conscription didn't start in Canada until 1917) and joined initially the 129th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. At the date of his enlistment he was described as being 21 years and five months old, 5ft 3in (162cm) tall, with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh, fair complexion. He gave his religion as Methodist. After basic training, he arrived in England on the SS Olympic on the 30th of August 1916. We like to think that during his brief spell in England, he was reunited with his mother - certainly he altered his will to her benefit at some time. He continued training until December when he was transferred to the 60th Battalion in France or Belgium. On the 16th of May 1917, he was transferred again, this time to the 5th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, part of the 3rd Canadian Division. By this time, apart from the stalemate of trench warfare, the war wasn't going well for England. The submarine battle against the merchant navy was being won by the enemy and so a new effort to take the Belgian ports being used by the Germans was planned. In September small advances were made and General Haig felt that one more push would break the German lines. Passchendaele Ridge was the key to that success. British, Australian and New Zealand divisions were much depleted by the September battles and so, in October, Haig called upon the Canadian Corps, under General Sir Arthur Currie. He was reluctant to get involved but felt unable to refuse Haig, predicting some 16,000 casualties. It had rained every day since the 19th of October and on the 26th, the first attack was made by the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions. The assault was quickly bogged down and they were forced to retreat to within 100 yards of the starting point. A continuation of the offensive was to be made on Tuesday the 30th of October and the 5th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, part of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, was to make an attack, with other Canadian Brigades on their left and right. The attack was to start at 5.50 am. The night had been fine and cool as had the two preceding days and the shell-torn ground had dried somewhat, enabling the men to pick their way around the lips of the shell craters that were full of water. Signalling would be done by Lucas lamp, runners, wire and pigeons. The 5th Battalion's strength at the outset was 25 Officers and 565 men. As was usual, the whole attack was preceded by an artillery barrage and this provoked a similar response from the enemy guns. The troops left their trenches at 5.54 am and progress was steady but slow but most of the objectives were taken by the end of the day. Those on the 5th Battalion's flanks were not so successful, leaving the 5th’s front exposed to fire from three sides. They held out, however, until relieved at 1.35 am the following morning. Passchendaele was finally taken on the 6th of November, but General Currie's prediction of heavy losses was well founded and this was borne out by the 5th Battalion's casualties. They lost, killed, missing or wounded, 400 officers and men during that one day, Alfred William being one of those killed. He died ten days after his 23rd birthday and was awarded posthumously the British Medal and the Victory Medal, both being given to his mother on the 10th of June 1922. He has no known grave but is remembered on the Menin Gate and Rolls of Honour at Millbrook and Hamilton High School. The War Memorial in Avening Church and the tablet on the front of the Memorial Hall now include his name. We have been unable to locate any relatives. We are grateful to Ken Scheffler of Hamilton, Ontario for bringing Albert William to our attention (the search being complicated by the fact that he was William Alfred in Canada), to the local Millbrook newspaper, The Flamborough Review, for their interest and assistance and to the National Children's Home, now Action For Children, for allowing us access to their database and records, despite there being no family connections. His name will be remembered at last in Avening.
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21 Alfred William Risby
Private: 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles Alfred William was born at Aston Farm Cottages on Saturday the 20th of October 1894, his birth being registered by his grandfather in Tetbury thirteen days later. He was baptised at the Holy Cross Church, Avening on Sunday the 5th of July 1896 and the entry in the Parish Register described his mother, Sarah Ann Risby as a "single woman". She was just 19 years old when she gave birth to Alfred, having been born at Nags Head in 1875 and baptised the same year at Avening. She was the daughter of Alfred Risby, born in Avening around 1840 and his wife, Ellen Townsend who was a Cherington girl born around 1834. Alfred and Ellen were married on Saturday the 6th of December 1862, again at Holy Cross Church. At the time of the 1891 census, the family were living at Nags Head where Alfred was an agricultural labourer, but some time before Alfred William's birth they had moved to Aston Cottages. In the 1901 census, seven year old Alfred William is shown living with his grandparents at Aston, his grandfather's occupation being described as groom and gardener. Despite lengthy searches, no sign can be found of Sarah Ann in that census but we do know that she was living in Weston-super-Mare, having given birth to a daughter registered as Dorothy Agnes Fowles in April 1900. No record can be found of a marriage between Sarah Ann and her husband, Herbert Fowles but they went on to have a further three children, the youngest being born in 1906. For Alfred William, disaster struck in 1904 when his grandfather died, aged 64. He was buried in Avening Church cemetery. However, he continued to live at Aston until January 1907 when his grandmother also passed away, aged 73. She was also buried in Avening cemetery. This brought some action from Sarah Ann who took Alfred back to Weston-super-Mare. Unfortunately, his stepfather wanted nothing to do with him and hence, he lived in lodgings in Weston funded by charity. Some time later in 1907 his plight came to the attention of the National Children's Home (NCH), a charity similar to Barnardos and he was assessed by a local pillar of society on their behalf in December 1907. In the assessment document, Sarah Ann is described as being "physically delicate" and of "very weak character" and Alfred as being "out of control" and likely to "enter into the Prison Class of youths". NCH took Alfred under their protection and he was moved to their London home in January 1908. Both Barnardos and NCH had schemes where orphans and children from deprived backgrounds were sent abroad to Australia, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth to give them a better start in life. These children were known as "Home Children" and on emigration to their new country, were given both homes and work to go to. NCH had a local representative who kept in touch with the child and retained some of the wages earned until the child reached 21, when the accumulated funds were given to him in the hope that this would go towards setting him up for life. Alfred William became a "Home Child" and sailed from Liverpool to Canada, arriving in March 1910, by then aged 15. He worked on farms in the Millgrove and Dundas areas of Ontario. From copies of his letters to his NCH agent, it appears that he had a happy life and he was far from the dissolute child described in his 1907 assessment. In 1914, he acknowledged his gratitude to the NCH by making a donation to their funds and in December 1915 he asked that he be sent his accumulated funds after making a further donation. His letter of that time said that he was about to enlist in the Services and this he did on the 17th of March 1916. He was a volunteer (conscription didn't start in Canada until 1917) and joined initially the 129th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. At the date of his enlistment he was described as being 21 years and five months old, 5ft 3in (162cm) tall, with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh, fair complexion. He gave his religion as Methodist. After basic training, he arrived in England on the SS Olympic on the 30th of August 1916. We like to think that during his brief spell in England, he was reunited with his mother - certainly he altered his will to her benefit at some time. He continued training until December when he was transferred to the 60th Battalion in France or Belgium. On the 16th of May 1917, he was transferred again, this time to the 5th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, part of the 3rd Canadian Division. By this time, apart from the stalemate of trench warfare, the war wasn't going well for England. The submarine battle against the merchant navy was being won by the enemy and so a new effort to take the Belgian ports being used by the Germans was planned. In September small advances were made and General Haig felt that one more push would break the German lines. Passchendaele Ridge was the key to that success. British, Australian and New Zealand divisions were much depleted by the September battles and so, in October, Haig called upon the Canadian Corps, under General Sir Arthur Currie. He was reluctant to get involved but felt unable to refuse Haig, predicting some 16,000 casualties. It had rained every day since the 19th of October and on the 26th, the first attack was made by the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions. The assault was quickly bogged down and they were forced to retreat to within 100 yards of the starting point. A continuation of the offensive was to be made on Tuesday the 30th of October and the 5th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, part of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, was to make an attack, with other Canadian Brigades on their left and right. The attack was to start at 5.50 am. The night had been fine and cool as had the two preceding days and the shell-torn ground had dried somewhat, enabling the men to pick their way around the lips of the shell craters that were full of water. Signalling would be done by Lucas lamp, runners, wire and pigeons. The 5th Battalion's strength at the outset was 25 Officers and 565 men. As was usual, the whole attack was preceded by an artillery barrage and this provoked a similar response from the enemy guns. The troops left their trenches at 5.54 am and progress was steady but slow but most of the objectives were taken by the end of the day. Those on the 5th Battalion's flanks were not so successful, leaving the 5th’s front exposed to fire from three sides. They held out, however, until relieved at 1.35 am the following morning. Passchendaele was finally taken on the 6th of November, but General Currie's prediction of heavy losses was well founded and this was borne out by the 5th Battalion's casualties. They lost, killed, missing or wounded, 400 officers and men during that one day, Alfred William being one of those killed. He died ten days after his 23rd birthday and was awarded posthumously the British Medal and the Victory Medal, both being given to his mother on the 10th of June 1922. He has no known grave but is remembered on the Menin Gate and Rolls of Honour at Millbrook and Hamilton High School. The War Memorial in Avening Church and the tablet on the front of the Memorial Hall now include his name. We have been unable to locate any relatives. We are grateful to Ken Scheffler of Hamilton, Ontario for bringing Albert William to our attention (the search being complicated by the fact that he was William Alfred in Canada), to the local Millbrook newspaper, The Flamborough Review, for their interest and assistance and to the National Children's Home, now Action For Children, for allowing us access to their database and records, despite there being no family connections. His name will be remembered at last in Avening.
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