Sunday, June 14, 2015

124445 Gunner Thomas John Funnell, Royal Field Artillery

Thomas John Funnell was born at Chailey in 1881, his birth registered at Lewes in the December quarter of that year.  He appears on the 1891 census of England and Wales living with his family at North Common, Chailey.  The household comprised Alfred Funnell (head, married, aged 41, a grocer born in Newick), his wife Harriet Funnell (nee Simmons, aged 43, born in Chailey) and two children: Edward A (aged ten, born in Bolney) and Thomas. 

He appears on the 1901 census as a 19 year old wheelwright’s assistant living at North Common with his parents.  Edward (an agricultural labourer) is recorded at the home of his uncle and aunt, Edward and Alice Simmons of Middleton Farm House, Chailey village. 

On 12th December 1905, Thomas married Ellen Louisa Thompsett (a widow) at Chailey Parish Church.  Three children are recorded on his surviving army service papers: Thomas John Funnell (born at Wildfields Farm, Chailey on 4th October 1909), Caroline Mary Funnell (born at Wildfields Farm on 7th January 1911) and Winifred May (born on 10th March 1913 at Compt Hill, Chailey). 

Chailey Parish Magazine notes in January 1916 that he has attested and his name appears in an official list of the B reserve under Lord Derby’s Scheme.  He was obviously employed by Jesse King on Chailey Green (probably as a carpenter or wheelwright as noted in the census return of 1901) as his army file contains a letter from Jesse King to the military authorities, releasing Thomas from his employment.  The letter is dated  11th April 1916. 

Thomas enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery at Woolwich on 14th April 1916 (although his service reckons form the previous day when he attested at the RFA Depot number 4 and was postred to Woolwich).  He was given the army service number 124445.  His Short Service Attestation Form gives the information that he was married, 34 years old, five feet eleven and a half inches tall and had a deformed fifth toe on his right foot.  His home address is given as Wildfields Farm and his next of kin as Ellen Louisa Funnell. 

On 17th April 1916 a certificate of trade proficiency at Woolwich certified that Funnell had “been tested in the workshops of RM Repository Ordnance College, Woolwich and proves himself a Skilled Wheeler.”  Ten days later he was duly appointed Wheeler and posted to the 20th Reserve Battery, Royal Field Artillery.  Five days later he was in France. 

In June 1916, Chailey Parish Magazine reported that Thomas was with the Divisional Artillery Column (DAC) in France.  On 26th December 1916 his surviving army service papers confirm that he was posted to number 4 section of the 6th DAC. 

By 15th April 1917 however, Thomas was back in England and would not return to France.  From what Chailey resident Reg Philpott says, it would appear that he had been gassed although this information does not appear in his papers.  He was posted to a reserve brigade of the RFA (5/c) on the date of his return to England and subsequently posted to the depot at Ripon (August 1917).  From there, he was posted back to 5/c Reserve Brigade (in October) and then to the 395th Ammunition Column (in January 1918).  On 18th April 1918 he was posted again, this time to Reserve Brigade 2/a and was finally discharged from the RFA’s 8th Reserve Battery as physically unfit on 5th December 1918. 

On 6th December he was awarded a weekly pension of  8s/3d from 6th December 1918 which was to be reviewed after 52 weeks. 

Reg Philpott, born well after the First World War ended, clearly remembers that Tom Funnell had been gassed and told me, “My mother took me down the Common to walk to see him.  We went upstairs and he was laying in bed with a little saucer with powder in it.  He used to light this with a matchstick and sniff it.  Was it called Ridleys?  He had Winnie, Carrie and Jack.  Jack was in the Airborne in this war, with the gliders.  Mum went to see him because she knew his wife – Nellie Oden.  Her father was a blacksmith / wheelwright I believe.” 

Thomas Funnell may be related to the Edgar H Funnell or Henry Edgar Funnell who also appears on these pages.  He was a cousin of George Thomas Simmons who also served his King and Country during the First World War.

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