Sunday, 26 December 2021

Arthur Vellensworth 1899 - 1918


Chauny Communal Cemetery showing the Special Memorials along the wall
(with permission from the WW1 Cemeteries website)

Arthur Vellensworth (a very distinctive name!) is not commemorated on any war memorial in Barnsley that we are currently aware of.  He is remembered on a special memorial stone in Chauny Communal Cemetery Extension in France as his grave was lost. In the photo above the row of stones backing onto the boundary wall are all 'special memorials' commemorating men whose original graves have been lost. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website notes that 'The Extension was made after the Armistice for the burial of remains brought in from the battlefields of the Aisne and from [...] smaller cemeteries in the surrounding countryside'. There are over 1,000 war casualties recorded on the CWGC website for the Chauny Communal Cemetery Extension.

His birth was registered in Barnsley in Q1 1899 (Q1, the first quarter, generally means Jan/Feb/Mar although children born in December were often not registered until the following year in which case they were included in Q1 too). His family had only recently moved from Whitwood Mere near Castleford as his brother Charles Edward, only two years older, had been born there. His father Charles was a glass bottle worker. I am aware of other Castleford Glassworks moving to Barnsley at this time, so I assume Barnsley's glass works must have been expanding and attracting workers to move here. In the 1901 census return the family was living at 53 Tune Street, and in 1911 they were at 15 Pindar Oaks Street.

The family still had strong ties to Whitwood Mere as when his mother Eliza died in 1907 she was buried in Whitwood Mere from a Barnsley address, given in the burial register as 53 Tune Street.

Arthur would have been 19 years old in late 1917 or early 1918. Under conscription men were deemed to have enlisted at eighteen, and were called up for service in age groups (unless granted an exemption)  but they didn't serve overseas until they were 19, however by March 1918 Arthur was a prisoner of war. He was officially reported missing in May, and it took a while for the news that he was alive to filter back to Barnsley. So he had been sent to the front as soon as he was 19 and captured very soon afterwards. 

In November 1918, less than a week after the Armistice, his family discovered he had died in a prisoner of war camp on 4th August.  They placed the following death notice in the Barnsley Chronicle.

Barnsley Chronicle 16 November 1918 p.4 (with thanks to Barnsley Archives)

Now the confusion sets in. His family thought he had died in Bremen, in Germany and when Arthur's father, Charles, gave details of the family for the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission)  Cemetery Registers, he reported what the War Office had told them. The form he completed is available for download on Arthur's CWGC entry page. On the form his father wrote 'Died in Breman Camp 4th Aug 1918. Buried in Military Cemetery Cessieres, Germany, so I was informed from the War Office', but his remarks were crossed out. Charles' address at the time was still 15 Pinder Oak Street just as it had been in the 1911 census.  Note that he says Cessieres is in Germany, when it is actually in France. Was this his mistake or the War Office's? Or did it simply mean that at the time Arthur was buried Cessieres was in German hands?

Charles Vellensworth's comments on the IWGC Cemetery Register form

Bremen is about 700km away from Cessieres - so goodness knows why or how the War Office told Mr Vellensworth that was where Arthur died. I suppose we will never know how this confusion arose. 

His International Red Cross records note that he was captured on 28 March 1918 and died at Cessieres of 'Internachrung mit Darmstohungen', which I have tentitively translated as 'internal danger with intestinal discomfort'. Possibly appendicitis, colitis or Crohn's Disease??

Arthur Vellensworth's Red Cross record (from Find My Past)

The records also gives his home address, birth place and date - Barnsley 28 December 1898. This fits with the registration of his birth in the first quarter of 1899. Using an online date calculator that gives his precise age at death as 19 years 7 months and 7 days. 

Further information can be found in the additional documents on Arthur's entry on the CWGC site. The Imperial War Graves Commission recorded, in 1923, that, having been 'killed in action 1918', he had  been 'buried at the time in  Premontre Communal Cemetery' but that his grave was now lost. On the setting up of the Chauny Communal Cemetery Extension he was included in a 'Kipling Memorial' in a 'Memorial Cross Plot', and this was presumably later replaced by the Special Memorial Gravestone mentioned at the top of the page. Note the alteration where Kipling is struck out and Spec added. 

Another of the CWGC additional documents from Arthur's entry

Arthur's death at Cessieres whilst a prisoner has been proven by the Red Cross records - so why would the IWGC think he was killed in action and buried at Premontre? No reason for this assumption is recorded.

Google Maps Cessieres to Premontre

According to Google Maps the distance between Cessieres and Premontre is 9.1km or about 5.6miles. That seems like quite a large distance to make a mistake about. Cessieres is not on the list of small cemeteries which were gathered into Chauny Communal Extension, but the CWGC page for Chauny states that Premontre and a German Cemetary at Suzy were amongst a number of even smaller places where the graves were lost. A search for Cessieres online brings back the information (on Wikipedia) that the communes of Cessieres and Suzy were combined in 2019 and the commune is now called Cessieres-Suzy.
Was Arthur buried at the Suzy cemetery which was obviously adjacent to Cessieres? Could there have been a mix-up in the records in 1923 for the 26 men known to have been buried somewhere in the area which resulted in his being recorded as having been originally buried at Premontre? Is there a man in the collection of special memorials at Chauny whose family think he was killed in action at Premontre but his memorial states that he died a prisoner at Cessieres/Suzy? Given the 1,000 men listed at Chauny there are rather too many records to search to check out a hunch (at this time).

This final image is from the official casualty list in January 1919. It states that he was previously missing, then died a prisoner of war in German hands.

Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry) 21 January 1919 p. 31

So why is he not commemorated on a memorial in Barnsley?

Arthur's father died in 1925, but he had two brothers who lived until after the Second World War, who remained in the Barnsley area, and a sister who went to live in Leeds.  Did they doubt his death? Did they think there was so much confusion that he might yet turn up and come home? Was the action of having his name included on a local memorial a step that they were just not willing to make at that time?

If there are any Vellensworth family members in Barnsley that can shed any light on this puzzle I would love to hear from them. 

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