(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Elandslaagte', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
Albert was born in around September 1871 in Islington, London. His father was called William and his mother was Mary. He was their oldest child; his siblings were Ada, Florence, Frederick and Alexander. William was a carpenter, and in 1881 the family lived at 18 Cardale Street in Islington. They were members of the Church of England.
The Army recruited boys from the age of 14 to serve as drummers, buglers and trumpeters. This may have seemed like a good opportunity to Albert, he joined the Manchester Regiment on the 23rd March 1886, giving his trade as 'musician'. He was given the service number 1378. When he enlisted Albert was 4 feet 6 3/4 inches tall and weighed 74 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, hazel eyes and light brown hair.
Albert was classed as a 'boy' until his 18th birthday. During this time he would have had music lessons and a more general education, as well as military training. He was kept under stricter supervision than adult soldiers. He served as a member of the Permanent Staff of the 4th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment until he reached 18. This was a unit of the Militia, made up of civilians who trained for a short period every year. The Permanent Staff trained recruits and ran the unit outside the training period. Albert served as a Drummer for the 4th Battalion. He was based at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne during this time.
On the 1st October 1890 Albert was sent to join the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, based in Ireland. He had been granted an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay during 1890, but he had to forfeit this between the 2nd September 1891 and the 23rd May 1892. His Good Conduct Pay was increased to 2d per day exactly 3 years later. By this time he was a member of F Company.
The 1st Battalion were stationed in Limerick, Ireland during 1894, and on the 24th October of that year Albert married Katherine Supple at St Patrick's Church there. He converted to Roman Catholicism in order to marry her.
Albert had left Ireland by March 1895. After spending some time in Preston, Lancashire the 1st Battalion moved to Aldershot in Hampshire during early 1896. Albert and Katherine's daughter Ada was born there later in the year.
Albert had been promoted to Lance Corporal on the 13th June 1896, and he was promoted again, to Corporal, on the 11th February 1897. He obtained a 2nd Class Army Certificate of Education on the 1st December 1896. The 1st Battalion left the UK for Gibraltar in November 1897.
Tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and in August 1899 the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. Albert sailed to Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October.
The British tried to stop the Boers from capturing Ladysmith. Albert was present at the Battle of Elandslaagte on the 21st October. This was the first battle of the war in which the Manchesters took part. Although a victory it had no strategic or tactical importance and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege.
Early in the siege Albert was tried by a Court Martial for 'conduct to the prejudice' of good order and discipline. On the 9th November he had been ordered to relieve soldiers in a position at 7:00am, but did not do so until 9:50am. He was convicted and sentenced to be reduced to the rank of Private. He also forfeited 1d per day of his Good Conduct Pay, which until then had been 3d per day. This sentence was carried out on the 14th November 1899.
Albert and the 1st Battalion fought hard to stop Boer attempts to take the town, and would attack Boer artillery to stop it from shelling their positions. By the end of the siege food was in short supply and disease was widespread. The British relief force reached Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900.
After Ladysmith the British Army tried to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. Albert took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so Albert stayed in South Africa.
One year after his Court Martial Albert's Good Conduct Pay was restored to 3d per day. He continued to serve in South Africa until the end of the war on the 31st May 1902. The 1st Battalion was to stay in that country until March 1903, but Albert left them on the 1st November 1902. He had decided to leave the Army after 16 years and 240 days. After a short time at the Regimental Depot he was finally discharged on the 17th.
When he left the Army Alfred was 31 years old. He had grown to 6 feet 6 inches tall. He intended to live at 6 Rufford Street in the King's Cross area of London, and to work for the Corps of Commissionaires. This was a company who provided doormen and security guards. It was made up of former soldiers.
By 1911 Albert was no longer working as a Commissionaire. He is listed on that year's Census as a hospital porter. He and his family were living at 24a Samuel Lewis Buildings, on Liverpool Road in North London. As well as Ada, Albert and Katherine had had Alice in November 1906, Kathleen in September 1908 and Louisa in September 1910. Later they would have Agnes in July 1912 and Charles between April and June 1914. Sadly Louisa died in Croyden between July and August 1917.
The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Albert rejoined the Manchester Regiment on the 11th September. He was given the service number 2941. After training with the 3rd Battalion in Cleethorpes, Albert was sent to France to rejoin the 1st Battalion on the 6th July 1915.
Albert will have fought with them during the Battle of Loos, during September and October. The 1st Battalion was sent to Mesopotamia, now Iraq, in December 1915, but Albert did not go with them. He was transferred to the 2nd Battalion. Albert fought with them until January 1918. He is likely to have fought on the Somme between July and October 1916, as well as at Francilly-Selency in April 1917 and in the Nieuport area of Belgium later that year. We don't know whether he was wounded, or left the 2nd Battalion for another reason, at any point.
By January 1918 Albert was no longer fit enough to serve as an infantryman. He was transferred to the Labour Corps on the 12th January 1918. This unit was made up of men who were still healthy enough to work behind the lines.
Albert was given the service number 510451. He served with an unknown Labour Company until May, and then moved to 101 Labour Company until early June. On the 2nd he transferred to 862 Army Employment Company. These units were all involved in a variety of construction, excavation and repair work in the rear areas.
On the 2nd October 1918 Albert returned to the UK. It would appear that he was no longer well enough to remain in France. He was assigned to a Leave, Casualty and Compassionate Office until he was well enough to be assigned to a unit. The war ended on the 11th November, and Albert was sent to the London District Labour Centre on the 11th December. He was still not well enough to serve, and on the 10th January 1919 he was discharged from the Army as 'no longer physically fit for war service' due to severe rheumatism. We don't know whether this illness was the reason for his earlier transfers.
Albert was awarded a Silver War Badge with serial number B104067, to show that he had been honourably discharged.
We don't know what Albert did after the war. He lived at 56a Samuel Lewis Buildings during the 1920's, and joined the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association (OCA). After the Second World War Albert became a frequent attendee at events held by the London Branch of the OCA. He took part in the Ex Servicemen's Royal Review held in Hyde Park on the 5th July 1953 to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second.
In late 1955 Albert went to live at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. Albert was 'happy and proud' to live at the Hospital, he felt 'he was back in the Army'. He was increasingly ill, but to his great joy he was able to visit the Regimental Depot one last time that November for the Regiment's Reunion Dinner. He and the 2 other Chelsea Pensioners from the Manchester Regiment were guests of honour.
Albert died in Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital, next to the Tate Britain Gallery, on the 22nd March 1956. He was 85 years old. His daughter Mrs A Mills (we believe this was Agnes) was very grateful for the wreath sent by the Regiment, and for the presence of Arthur Stafford, who represented the London Branch of the OCA at his funeral. Arthur's medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
Albert's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment later that year.