Sunday, October 19, 2014

301785 Leading Boatman Alfred Thomas Mitchell, HMS Devonshire

Alfred Thomas Mitchell was the third eldest child in a family of nine children (eight of them boys). According to his surviving Naval papers, he was born on 15th June 1884 at Haywards Heath, Sussex although census returns for 1891 and 1901 give his place of birth as Hortsed Keynes and Lindfield respectively. His parents, Charles and Emily Mitchell, were married in 1880 and by the time the 1881 census was taken they were living at 1 Upper Birchland, Newick. Both were aged 22 with Charles (born in Lindfield) working as an agricultural labourer.

Ten years on, by the time the 1891 census was taken, Charles and Emily were living at what looks like Plummers Den Cottage No 1 in Lindfield and had five children: Charles Mitchell (aged nine), Henry J Mitchell (aged eight), Alfred Mitchell (aged six), John Mitchell (aged three) and Albert Mitchell (aged eleven months).

By the time the 1901 census was taken the family was still living at the same Lindfield address but there were now more brothers – and a sister. New arrivals and their ages in 1901 were: Elsie Mitchell (aged seven), Walter Mitchell (aged five), Wallace Sidney Mitchell (aged four) and Maurice Gilbert Mitchell (aged nine months). Alfred and Albert Mitchell do not appear on the 1901 census at the family’s home address. They were at the house of William and Mercy Plummer in Plumpton. Alfred, aged 16 is noted as a grocer’s porter; Albert, aged ten, is recorded as a schoolboy. The two boys were nephews of William and Mercy Plummer: Mercy Sophia Plummer was the half sister of their mother, Emily.

Alfred Mitchell was a career sailor who joined the Royal Navy at Portsmouth on 28th October 1902 for a period of 12 years. He was five feet, four inches tall, had light hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. It was noted that he had an operation scar on his right hip and one on the inside of his right knee. He gave his occupation as baker. Interestingly, on the 1901 census, Alfred’s 13 year old brother John Mitchell is noted as a baker so perhaps the two brothers were working together by the time Alfred decided to join the Navy. He was given the number 301785 and the rating of stoker 2nd class. His subsequent (extensive) service record looks like this:

28th October 1902 – 31st March 1903: HMS Duke of Wellington II
1st April 1903 – 1st May 1903: HMS Nelson
2nd May 1903 – 6th May 1903 – HMS Duke of Wellington
7th May 1903 – 18th May 1903 – HMS Revenge
19th May 1903 – 31st May 1903 – HMS Duke of Wellington II
1st June 1903 – 17th May 1904 – HMS Exmouth
18th May 1904 – 28th May 1906 – HMS Prince of Wales
29th May 1906 – 31st July 1906 – HMS Victory II
1st August 1906 – 30th September 1906 – HMS Excellent
1st October 1906 – 8th October 1906 – HMS Victory II
9th October 1906 – 7th October 1910 – HMS Mercury
8th October 1910 – 25th January 1911 – HMS Fisgard
26th January 1911 – 30th June 1911 – HMS Mercury
1st July 1911 – 19th September 1911 – HMS Arrogant
20th September 1911 – 14th October 1912 – HMS Bonaventure
15th October 1912 – 23rd June 1913 – HMS Maidstone
24th June 1913 – 5th September 1913 – HMS Dolphin
6th September 1913 – 17th September 1913 – HMS Victory II
18th September 1913 – 24th October 1913 – HMS Assistance
25th October 1913 – 18th December 1913 – HMS Vivid II
19th December 1913 – 31st July 1914 – HMS Western Penarth
1st August 1914 – 18th May 1916 – HMS Albion
19th May 1916 – 17th September 1917 – Vivid II
18th September 1917 – 10th April 1919 – HMS Devonshire
11th April 1919 – 31st August 1919 – HMS Penarth
1st September 1919 – 19th January 1923 – HMS Brixham

During his career, Alfred Mitchell was promoted several times:

19th July 1906 – stoker 1st class
11th August 1910 – acting leading stoker
19th January 1911 – leading stoker
19th January 1912 – stoker petty officer
1st August 1914 – stoker petty officer
1st class 8th December 1918 – leading boatman

On 20th March 1914 he had opted to extend his term of service with the Royal Navy to 20 years and during his long career he was also awarded three good conduct badges (on 27th October 1905, 25th October 1910 and 24th October 1915). He passed educationally for stoker petty officer on 19th January 1911 at the expiration of three months’ Mechanical Training Course. The rating of leading boatman was a Coastguard rating so it appears that Alfred Mitchell finished his career in the Navy with the Coastguard. His character was rated as consistently good, with his ability ranging from satisfactory to superior and excellent.

Alfred Mitchell’s brothers Albert, Henry, John, Wallace (Sidney) and Maurice, also served during the First World War. All of them survived. Their distant relatives, the Plummer brothers were less fortunate. Albert, Alexander and Owen Plummer all lost their lives.

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