Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembering Wives and Mothers

The person I knew in my close family who most affected by World War 1 was my maternal grandmother, Ethel Jane Pusell but across the sea in England a mother, Sarah Jane Busby, was sharing Ethel's grief. 

I wrote the following article for a local family history society's newsletter but as that has a very limited audience and I put a lot of effort into the post I am publishing it here on Remembrance Day.

Bertie Chatfield aka John Williams
While those who served at the front had horrific physical and psychological injuries many of their kith and kin who were left behind suffered emotionally. Two women who never met were affected by the war activities of Bertie Chatfield, his mother, Sarah Jane Chatfield (nee Busby), and his wife, Ethel Jane Pusell. Sarah Jane, a widow, lived in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire while my Grandmother, Ethel Jane lived in Cobar, NSW. 

Bertie, who was born in Wellingborough in 10 December, 1888, was working as a miner in Cobar when he enlisted in May 1916. He was an interesting chap who enlisted in the Australian Army under the pseudonym, John Williams, as he had deserted the British Navy from HMS Cambrian in Sydney in 1912. He had previously worked in a colliery in England so that experience and Cobar’s distance from Sydney and the British Navy probably encouraged him to seek work there. 

Ethel Jane Pusell, the daughter of James Pusell and Mary Jane Aspinall, was born in 1899 in the small hamlet of Thompsons Creek near Burraga, New South Wales. The Pusell family moved to Cobar in the early 1900s, no doubt for Ethel’s brothers to gain employment in the newly opened mines.

Ethel married Bertie Chatfield (who was named John Bertram Chatfield on his marriage certificate), at the age of 15 and six months later gave birth to her first child, John William (Billy) Chatfield. When 25 year old miner, Bert Chatfield, set off to war as John Williams he left behind his pregnant 17 year old wife and young son, Billy. On his attestation papers Bert had named Jane Williams (ie Ethel his wife) c/o Mrs Pusell as his next of kin.

Sarah Jane had five sons in the services, Arthur was killed in action in France on 9 May 1915 so she was concerned for the welfare of her surviving sons..

Bert probably did not hear that he had become a father of a daughter, Nellie, who was born on 4 April, 1917 and lived for just two weeks. I wonder if Nellie's birth was premature or if she died of some other cause. Ethel had always told me that she had lost twin girls; although there is no official record of two births I have a copy of a family letter that confirms this.

I do not know when Ethel heard of her husband's fate but on 24 July, 1917 she wrote the following letter to the Army. 

I cannot imagine how bewildered my grandmother, young Ethel, must have felt when she received news that her husband was Missing in Action and subsequently listed as Killed in the Field. He was reported as missing in action on 3 May 1917. A Court of Enquiry held in the field on 4 December 1917 found that he had been "Killed in the Field".

Sarah Jane reported in the local Wellingborough News that Bert was missing. She must have been heartbroken at the thought of losing another son. 

Northampton Mercury, June 15, 1917

When Bert’s death was confirmed Sarah Jane enlisted the help of The Red Cross to find details of Bert's death. Bert's file contains a number of statements from soldiers who were at the front with him. As Ethel was listed as Bertie aka John Williams' next of kin I wonder how Sarah had received news of his death.

It appears that Bert or Jack as he was known to fellow soldiers sustained a severe injury to his legs and was left in a shell hole by his mates, they retreated and when they returned he was nowhere to be seen. 

Ethel had received the devastating news by 19 February, 1918 when she wrote to the Army to see if any personal effects belonging to Bert had been found. Ethel whose handwriting was nothing like that in these letters and whose composition skills were poor must have had someone in the family write these two sad letters for her. 


I have visited the memorial in Wellingborough on which Bert Chatfield’s proper name is inscribed below that of his brother, Arthur John Chatfield

Wellingborough War Memorial

I have also travelled twice to France to visit the Australian Military Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux and see the panel on which John Williams’ name is inscribed. Standing there on a winter's day when the biting wind was howling across the plains I shed a tear for Bert and Ethel and Sarah Jane and the thousands of young men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries. 

Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery, France
Hopefully it was some consolation to Sarah Jane that three of her sons returned from the front. 

Ethel was married at 15 and had lost two children and a husband by the time she was 18. The effect of these events on her must have been enormous. After the war The Chatfields asked Ethel and Billy to come and live with them in England but she declined. I presume that Ethel lived with her parents until she met her second husband, my grandfather Frank Duncan. She was blessed to have supportive parents and a strong family network to help her through these tough times.

Lest we forget.


Lilian's Tree said...

Beautiful, Jill.

Joan said...

An interesting and different view. Nicely. done.

Crissouli said...

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Thank you, Chris

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