Wednesday 9 March 2011

A/200935 Pte Arthur Gilbert Sewell, 21st KRRC

I interviewed Arthur Sewell at his home in Galleywood, Essex in December 1982 when he was 91 years old. He was born in Galleywood on 12th May 1891 and was working as a storeman for Baddow Brewery when he attested under the Derby Scheme in December 1915. He was then aged 24 years and seven months and was called up on the 8th February 1916, joining the 3/6th Essex Regiment. He was given the number 5962. He was later transferred to the regular 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment and given a new number, 40474.

"We were moved from Chelmsford to Warley and then to East Ham where we were billeted in private houses. Then we were transferred to Wendover in Buckinghamshire where I completed most of my training. We arrived in France in mid 1916 and were training at Etaples for a short time before being moved up to the Somme.

"The trenches were awful, there's no getting away from it. You were up to your knees in mud and once it got under your skin it was weeks before it would come out again.

"You'd have a dug-out with old iron and bits and pieces and you'd go in there providing there hadn't been a gas attack. Our cookers used to get shelled and bust up and many a time we had to make do on cheese and bully beef. I remember one day we had a hard biscuit and a raw kipper.

"We'd go over the top having shelled their trenches and they wouldn't be there because they'd retreated. Then they'd shell us and even if we got back safely we'd hear the wounded out there and some of us would have to volunteer to go back through the barbed wire and get them.

"We'd have to go out on listening duty and it was the daftest thing. You could hear the Germans laughing and singing but we couldn't report what we heard because we couldn't speak German.

"In the trenches we'd do two hours on the fire-step, four in the trench and then rest. One occasion when it was bitterly cold and snowing I covered myself with blankets which froze solid on me. You can't really explain to anyone what it was like, you had to be there."

Fortunately, as I discovered this evening on Ancestry, water-damaged papers from Arthur's service record survive in WO 363. He was posted to the 3rd Essex Regiment on the 28th September 1916 and posted immediately to the 2nd Battalion on the same day. On the 11th September 1916 he was transferred to the 21st King's Royal Rifle Corps and given the number A/200935. Arthur recalled this number when I met him and also recalled his original attestation date as 15th December 1915 although his papers show that he actually attested four days earlier than this.

On 1st April 1917, Arthur Sewell was wounded. He recalled, "We were repairing a little opening in the parapet and although we didn't take much notice of it at the time, there was a sniper opposite it. On the occasion that I happened to be leading, he fired and I got a bullet which went through my chest and down into my arm, wrecking my nervous system. I was very lucky not to lose my life. The buckle on my braces directed the trajectory of the bullet and if it had gone the other way it would have been in my heart. They carted me off to a Canadian hospital at Boulogne and I was in there a month before being taken to Blighty. They said that I'd be near home in London but I found myself in Scotland where I stayed for nine months until I had my operation. I left there on Christmas Eve 1917 and was then transferred to Chelmsford hospital. I had electric treatment for four years and was finally pensioned off in 1921 after I had my final exam at Chelsea."

Arthur's service record confirms that he was admitted to Edinburgh War Hospital on the 26th April 1917 and that he was discharged on the 6th December that year, his home address given as Lower Green, Galleywood, Chelmsford. He was discharged from the army on the 27th December 1917 and was awarded a pension of 27 shillings and sixpence, reduced to 22 shillings after four weeks.

During my short time with Arthur Sewell, the only time I met him, he mentioned, "my mother received a letter saying that I'd been wounded and then another to say my brother had been killed."

Searches on Find My Past reveal that his brother was William (or Willie) Sewell who was killed in action on the 19th May 1917 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers. Like Arthur who was one year older, Willie had previously served with the Essex Regiment. His Essex Regiment number - 33190 - suggests that he probably joined up a little earlier than Arthur. William Sewell has no known grave and is commemorated on Bay 6 of the Arras Memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes that he was 24 years old and was the son of Arthur Peter and Lilian Sewell of Lower Green, Galleywood, Chelmsford, Essex.

Arthur Sewell, who lived in Galleywood all his long life, died the year after I met him. His death was recorded in the December quarter of that year.