West Bridgford author Robert Hann has written this moving piece about Rifleman Lacey, our WW1 soldier who’s buried at St.Giles.
It must have been the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War 1 which got me thinking about who lies beneath the white WW1 commonwealth war grave in St Giles’s Churchyard, West Bridgford.
The grave is easily spotted as it stands out from the other tombstones and marks the resting place of Rifleman 2952 A.C. Lacey.
When so many of his contemporaries are to be found 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 just over a century ago?
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 didn’t recover from his wounds? 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.
The date on his grave stone indicated he died on the 10th October 1914 – just two months into the start of that epic conflict and before the slaughter of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. Indeed, Rifleman Lacey’s war would have been over even before the combatting armies had properly settled into their respective trenches.
I thought it would be an easy task to find out more information. The local school children had done their bit by laying poppies at his grave. Surely there would be information about Rifleman Lacey in St Giles’s Church or at our local library? I went into the church 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 some time leafing through the many books in the local history section. Whilst I found out about the war memorial on the corner of Musters Road and Bridgford Road which of course also has Rifleman Lacey’s name on it, to my surprise, again I could find no specific details about his life or death and how he came to be buried at St Giles.
I decided to ask for help and spoke to Ursula Ackrill, team librarian at West Bridgford library and Andy Smart of the Nottingham Post who edits and writes the excellent Bygones feature. Andy enlisted the help of Ann Swabey of the National Archives Office. All were really helpful and just a few days later back came the following information from Lacey’s Army Service Records:
Albert Charles Lacey was born on the 15th December 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 10th 1914 in Connaught Hospital, Farnborough, Aldershot.
Rifleman Lacey 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 I couldn’t help wondering how many of them would survive the war?
Albert’s family were also present. 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 know he had volunteered? Did they approve?
He had a safe desk job as a clerk. The life of their beloved only son and brother so suddenly snuffed out …by pneumonia?
And, as the war took its terrible toll over the four long years to come, 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 he 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 irony – Rifleman 2952 Albert.Charles.Lacey was home- ‘back before Christmas’ – to be buried in St Giles’s Churchyard, West Bridgford. One of the first of more than 200 soldiers from West Bridgford who were to make the ultimate sacrifice – but in Albert’s case, he never left these shores.
One thing is certain: Albert did not die in vain. His last, lonely resting place reminds us all, as we stroll past, of the fragility of life and the futility of war.
Rest in Peace Rifleman 2952 Albert Charles Lacey. We, West Bridgford, remember you.
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
SAS Operation Galia is available from Amazon
Rob’s other books are;
Grumblegroar (Winner of new writers uk children’s book of the year 2012) also available from hannbooks.com together with a YouTube audio version
The Legend of Sidney Sneed (star of the mini beast football league) available from Amazon