Many of us who live in West Bridgford will have been deeply affected having seen the commemorative crosses which have been laid out on the Croquet Lawn to remember the 504 service personnel from Rushcliffe towns and villages who gave their lives in World War One. West Bridgford author Rob Hann tells more of the stoty here.
203 of those crosses belong to men who originally hailed from West Bridgford and who now have their names inscribed on the war memorial at the junction of Musters Road and Bridgford Road.
One of those is A.C. Lacey who happens to be the only one of the 203 to be buried in his hometown churchyard of St Giles. His distinctive white gravestone is easily spotted as it stands out from the other tombstones and is inscribed “2952 Rifleman A C Lacey Kings Royal Rifle Corps 10th October 1914”. The date of Lacey’s untimely death, a mere two months from the start of the declaration of war and well before the slaughter of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele, also brings a sad irony in that Rifleman Lacey was the very first of the 203 West Bridgford casualties to die in the conflict. Indeed, Rifleman Lacey’s war would have been over even before the combatting armies had properly settled into their respective trenches.
Given so many of his contemporaries were to end up buried in a corner of a foreign field (or worse, have no known resting place), how, I wondered, did Rifleman Lacey come to be buried in my local churchyard?
My first thought was that he may have been part of the British Expeditionary Force which reached France in the early days of the war. Perhaps he had been wounded in battle and was brought home to have his wounds treated but succumbed to his injuries? An alternative explanation could have been that he meet with an accident while undergoing basic training and never got to the killing fields of Flanders.
I decided to investigate and look for further information. The local school children had done their bit by laying poppies at his grave. I went into our lovely ancient church of St Giles and had a good look around. Apart from a book of names and a commemoration plaque, I drew a blank. I paid a visit to West Bridgford library where I spent time leafing through the many books on local history. To my surprise, I could find no specific details about Lacey’s life or death and how he came to be buried at St Giles.
After seeking help from Andy Smart of the Nottingham Post who edits and writes Bygones feature I found the following archive records:
“Albert Charles Lacey was born on the 15thDecember 1894, in London and was buried on October 15th, 1914 at St Giles Church, West Bridgford, aged 20. His parents’ address was given as 124 Holme Road, West Bridgford. His employment at the time of joining up was given as simply ‘a clerk’. He joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps on 7th September 1914, a mere five weeks after war had been declared. Albert was the only son of William George and Prothezer Mary Lacey”.
The records also show he had a sister – Ethel Mary at the same address.
Like so many others of his age, in the early stages of the War, young Albert had bravely answered his country’s call to arms at the first opportunity. He was probably excited at the prospect of going abroad to fight. He would have been told it was a great adventure and the opportunity of a lifetime. He wouldn’t have wanted to have missed out, thinking, like so many others, that the war would be over by Christmas.
Albert, in common with all new recruits, would have had to undergo basic training before being shipped out to France. In the case of the King’s Royal Rifle Corp, this would have included weapons training, target practice, marching drills, route marches, PT and cross-country running. Albert was young and fit and had been in the Boy’s Brigade and the Nottingham Boat Club before enlisting so he would have been unlikely to be phased by the physical fitness requirements.
So, how was it that a mere 5 weeks after he joined up, Albert’s war was over?
On joining up, Albert would have also entered a very different world to that which he had been used to. He would have mixed with many other young men, in crowded dormitories, sleeping rough and getting soaked to the skin in an attempt to harden the new recruits up for the conditions which lay ahead. The concentration of these young men in the run-up to winter would have created ideal conditions for the spread of disease and illness. Of course, in 1914 there was no penicillin or other drugs which might have assisted recovery or prevented infections from spreading.
The army records show Rifleman 2952 A.C. Lacey died of pneumonia on October 10th1914 in Connaught Hospital, Farnborough, Aldershot. From there he was brought home to West Bridgford for burial. Andy Smart dug out an article from the Nottingham Post archives(see box)which reports on Albert’s funeral. He had a great turnout – his army pals, friends from the Boat Club, the local Boy’s Brigade (where he had been a member) and assorted other local dignitaries including members of West Bridgford Council, all turned up.
But given the rhetoric at the time and the pressure on young boys and men to volunteer, I couldn’t help wondering whether some of the lads who attended his funeral, far from being dissuaded, would have been actively encouraged to follow young Lacey’s example to join up for King and Country?
In St Giles’s Church I noticed a poignant memorial plaque in to Lieutenant P.N. Cooper of the Sherwood Foresters who died in France July 6th1916 aged 21 on which is inscribed the following touching tribute:
“Given by his parents in recognition of the benefit and happiness he derived from the Boys Brigade.”
Had Lieutenant Cooper been a friend of Albert Lacey when both were members of the 8thNottingham Boys Brigade in their formative years?
And what of Rifleman Lacey’s rowing club friends? How many of them do we find now commemorated on the plaque which adorns Trent Bridge and records for posterity the names of over 55 members (including Lacey) of the four Nottingham rowing clubs who never returned from the war?
We can only imagine how the shocking news of young Albert’s death, when it came, would have affected his mother Mary, father, William and Ethel, his only sister? Did they even know their Albert had volunteered? Did they approve?
Albert had a safe desk job as a clerk. The life of their beloved only son and brother so suddenly snuffed out …by pneumonia?
As the war took its grim toll over the four long years to come and unwanted telegrams and letters from the front arrived bringing the tragic news to the other 202 West Bridgford families whom we now know would have been affected, did anyone come to feel, in the strange twisted logic of the time, that Mr and Mrs Lacey were in some respects, ‘lucky’ to be able to mourn their son at home when so many never made it back at all and that Albert had had a relatively peaceful death when compared to the horrors awaiting so many others at the western front?
Whatever, the circumstances, the result was the same. By a wicked twist of fate Rifleman 2952 Albert Charles Lacey was home- ‘back before Christmas’ to be buried in St Giles’s Churchyard, West Bridgford, the first of so many more who would be so deeply mourned by their friends and families.
One thing is certain: Albert did not die in vain. As we today stroll past his last resting place in St Giles’s Churchyard his gravestone reminds us all of the fragility of life and the futility of war.
Rest in Peace Rifleman 2952 Albert Charles Lacey. We, West Bridgford, remember you.
This is a poem Rob wrote in tribute to Rifleman 2952 Albert Charles Lacey:
Eh up – it’s me. Rifleman 2952 Albert C Lacey
Volunteered in September 1914, I may have been a bit hasty
“It’s all right Mum” I said, as I picked up rifle and pack
“It’ll be over by Christmas, I’ll come right on back”
I joined the Kings Rifles to fight ‘Kaiser Bill’
I did basic training and learned all the drills
Target practice, fixing bayonets – pretending to kill
I was out in all weathers and caught quite a chill
but before it had got going, my war was all over
I was back in West Bridgford by the middle of October;
“You’re lucky” some said to my Mum through her grief
To mourn your son here must bring some relief?
Over here! Rifleman 2952 Albert C Lacey
St Giles’s churchyard, beneath dandelion and daisy
Here have I lain for a century and more
To remind passers-by, of the fragility of life and futility of war
© Rob Hann
Rob Hann lives in West Bridgford and is the author of SAS Operation Galia, a prize-winning book about a daring second world war SAS Operation behind enemy lines in Italy and involving Rob’s Father – see www.hannbooks.com