Monday, October 20, 2014

20682 Lance Corporal Albert Henry Selby, Royal Engineers

Albert Henry Selby was born in Brighton on 24th April 1895 and was the oldest child of Albert and Lydia Selby.  The 1901 census sees the family living at 17 Portland Street, Brighton.  The household comprised: Albert (head, aged 36, a private soldier in the infantry), Lydia (aged 32), Albert (son, aged five), Nellie Selby (daughter, aged three) and Emma Selby (daughter, aged two).  Albert and Lydia’s seven year old niece, Minnie Biggs, was also in the house along with three male boarders. 

At some point before October 1910, the family must have moved from Brighton to Chailey.  That was the month that Albert junior left his employment as assistant blacksmith with Burtenshaw of Scaynes Hill (22nd) and enlisted two days later with the Royal Engineers at Haywards Heath.  He was 15 years and six months old. 

On attestment (as a boy), he gave his parents’ names and noted his home address as Holford Cottage, North Common, Chailey. Nellie and Thomas [William] Selby (born in 1901 after the census was taken) were recorded as siblings.  

His attestation paper notes that he was five feet three and a half inches tall, had brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion.  Distinguishing marks were noted as brown moles on his neck.  His employer attested that he had known Albert for approximately one year and finished by stating, “I had a good reference from his last employer… I have found him a good lad [at] work civil and obliging.” 

The first few references on Albert’s service record all relate to education certificates.  On 26th November 1910, Education – Third Class is recorded; on 24th March 1911, Education – Second Class. On 19th July that year, he passed his 60 yards swimming test. 

On 19th January 1912 it is noted that he is at Chatham, still a Boy, attached to K Company, Royal Engineers.  On 20th November 1912 he was raised to the fifth rate of Engineers’ pay whilst under K Signalling Company having passed instruction as a telegraphist.   

On 18th February 1913 a character reference appears and his rating for “honesty, sobriety, intelligence” is recorded as “very good”.  He was posted to the ranks and mustered as a D Telegraphist (office) skilled on 24th March and exactly one month later posted to the ranks on attaining 18 years of age. 

Over the next 17 months he was posted to a number of different companies within the Royal Engineers but seems to have remained in Chatham.  In April 1914 his character report was updated with, “No change.  A very promising man” but in June he was “admonished” for neglect of duty (although what duty he neglected is not stated) and reduced to 4th rate of pay. 

Albert Selby went abroad almost immediately war was declared, arriving in France on the 14th August 1914.  On 17th September he was restored to 3rd rate of Engineer pay “in consideration of his excellent work on active service.” 

Chailey Parish Magazine records Albert in its first published roll call in October 1914, noting him however as “Arthur Selsby”.  Although “Arthur” was corrected to “Albert” by the time the December issue was published, the parish magazine would continue to mis-spell his surname as Selsby.  

On 9th July 1916, Albert was appointed paid lance-corporal and on 30th of that month joined K Cable Section. He continued his work with the Royal Engineers in France and Belgium until 12th April 1917 when he died of wounds at Number 33 Casualty Clearing Station.  A telegram (undated) was sent to Albert’s parents in Chailey: 

Regret to inform you Officer Commanding 33 Casualty Clearing Station France reports 13 April 20682 A H Selby RE died 3.50pm 12th April, shell wounds multiple. 

On Friday April 27th 1917 the East Sussex News also reported his death (and also spelt his name incorrectly).


We regret to report the death of 21 year old L/Cpl Albert Selsby of Signals Section RE, the son of Mrs Selsby of North Common. L/Cpl Selsby joined the army six and a half years ago, went to France in August 1914 and was involved in the Mons Retreat and the battles of the Marne and The Aisne.  Writing to his mother the Colonel stated, “I deeply regret to have to tell you your son died of wounds this afternoon (12 April).  I saw him shortly before he passed away and it may be little consolation to know he was not in pain.  He asked me to write to you.  He did not realize that his case was hopeless and so he did not send any messages.  I can’t tell you how much I regret his loss.  His work out here has been invaluable and I was bringing his name to the notice of the Corps Commander, with a view to his getting official recognition.  He set a very high standard by his devotion to duty, and I can only say it is a loss to the Company which will be difficult to replace.  Please accept my sincere condolences…” 

In May 1917, Chailey Parish Magazine added his name to its roll of honour (still mis-spelling his name as Selsby).  The following month, an effects’ form listed out the pathetically few possessions sent back home to Albert’s parents: photos, leather belt, letter, cotton bag. 
Albert is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery in what was originally designated the railway dug-outs burial ground.  His grave reference is VI.D.6.  Both Soldiers Died in The Great War (SD) and The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) note his unit as ”A” Corps Signal Coy. H.Q., Royal Engineers and his number as 20682 although CWGC gives his rank as lance-corporal while SD notes acting lance-corporal.  CWGC gives the additional information that he was a “Native of Brighton. Son of Albert and Lydia J. Selby, of Holford Cottage, North Common, Chailey, Lewes.”

Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry. My thanks to Colin Roberts for the photo of Bethune Town Cemetery.

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