Wednesday, 12 April 2017

An Eltham story, Albert Bertie Annett , labourer, soldier and mystery

Albert's mark in 1911
I don’t suppose I will ever really be able to bring Albert Bertie Annett fully out of the shadows.

He was born in Eltham in 1880, worked as a farm labourer, served his country in the Great War and died in 1937 aged just 57.

Nor would I ever have come across him were in not for an entry on a census return for 1911.  In that year he was living in one room at 5 Sherrard Road and he left his mark as witness to the truth of what he had declared on the census return.*

Name, age and status
And it was that simple cross which drew me to him and made me think there might be a story to tell.  At first I thought he must be illiterate.

Now we will never know what twist of fortune dealt Albert that bad card.  He was born a full ten years after the 1870 Education Act which established the principle of elementary schooling for children between 5 and 12 and during the year that attendance became compulsory.

That said there were always exemptions especially in rural areas and especially at busy times like harvest. Nor was such schooling to be free until 1891 so I suppose it is just possible to see how Albert slipped through the net.

The White Hart in 1909
But his parents were not agricultural workers they ran the White Hart in the High Street and just five years after he left his mark he seems to have signed his Attestation Papers when he enlisted in the army.

I suppose in the space of the five years he might have had learned to write, or it was just possible that in the April of 1911 he had sustained an injury which made him unable to fill the form in.  At this stage I do not know.

Extract from Albert's Attestation Papers
But there is much we do know about him.  His army records describe him as “5ft and 3¾inches tall, weighing 111 lbs, with a sallow complexion, and blue eyes and brown hair.

He was passed as fit and posted to the Royal Medical Corps and remained in Britain for the duration of the war. In 1919 he signed on for another year before being discharged in the September of 1920.

After that he lived at various addresses, first in Court Yard and later in Charlton and always a lodger in someone else’s house.

It is not much go on, and it may be his parents and siblings will reveal more.   There were six children and all of them except the eldest who was born in Eltham. The first was born in Surrey in 1878 and the second in Eltham a year later.  There the trail goes cold.

Occupation  and birth place
I know the family were in Eltham by 1879 and had yet to take over the running of the pub which was in the hands of John and Sussana Bennett but that is all.

And the story almost never got this far because on that 1911 census return the enumerator had mispelt Albert’s surname which led me off on a fruitless journey, saved only by looking again at the entry written by

Mrs Bristow on his behalf.  It was difficult to read but eventually led me to both an earlier census return, along with his military records and a list of addresses from the electoral roll.

Such are the vagaries of official forms.

Pictures; the White Hart from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, and extracts from the 1911 census  Albert's military record from the National Archives &

*Kingsdene that house on the corner of Sherrad Road and other stories,

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