Friday 22 December 2017

Prisoner of War from Loughborough, died 20th November 1917

Second Lieutenant  98773 Albert William Howard (Bert) Purnell 
Royal Garrison Artillery, 120th Seige Battery
Died of Wounds 20th November 1917, Aged 24.

Albert William Howard Purnell was born on the 19th April 1893 in Cappoquin Parish, Waterford, Ireland. He was the eldest son of Walter Purnell from Trowbridge in Wiltshire and his wife, Alice, nee Knowles.

Walter had taken a job in 1899 as an engineer's clerk at Herbert Morris and Bastert Limited, Empress Works, Loughborough. In 1900 Albert's brother, Howard George, was born in Waterford, Ireland and in 1901 the whole family were living at 41 Queen's Road, Loughborough.

On the 21st January 1902, when Albert was eight, he joined the Loughborough Grammar School. His father was then General Manager at the Empress Works. Albert's second brother, Nelson Bruce, was born in Loughborough on the 2nd April 1906. On the 31st July 1907 Walter became a director of Herbert Morris and Bastert Limited and in December that year Albert was 'top of the class' and his work was 'Excellent'.

Albert left the Grammar School after seven years, on the 30th July 1909, when he was sixteen and in the sixth form. He continued his education in Germany, specifically to learn German and he went on to attend the State University at Köthen (Anhalt). The 1911 census shows that the family had moved to 64 Beacon Road, Loughborough and a third son, Nelson, was then five years old. Albert took his diploma in Engineering at the university and achieved honours in all subjects. He then returned to England in 1913 and joined his father at the Empress Works.

Albert enlisted soon after the outbreak of war and served with the Mechanical Transport Corps, leaving for France in October 1914. The MTC was extremely important in its role of maintaining supply as the armies advanced over difficult terrain. Mechanical Transport Companies were not under orders of a Division although some were attached to a given Division and worked very closely with it. The service numbers of soldiers who served in the Mechanical Transport were usually prefixed with the letter 'M'.

Albert then returned to England and passed through officer training in Bournmouth. Not long afterwards he took up a commission and on the 10th September 1917, in a supplement to the London Gazette, the following appeared:

The undermentioned, from Officer Cadet Units, to be 2nd Lts. :-

19th August 1917
… Albert William Howard Purnell

Aged twenty-four, Albert, known as Bert, left England with the Royal Garrison Artillery in October 1917. He was serving with the 120th Siege Battery attached to the Royal Garrison Artillary and in charge of an observation post close to the front line when he was reported missing on the 13th November 1917. He had become a prisoner of war. One week later, on the 20th November 1917, he died of wounds and was buried in a German cemetery – Winkel St. Eloi Cemetery of Honour.

Bert was identified from the GB list, clothing and cross and he was re-buried in Harlebeke New British Cemetery on the 19th November 1923. The inscription on his headstone reads: "He was the soul of honour."

He is remembered on the Carillon Tower, The Baptist Church, Loughborough and Loughborough Grammar School's Roll of Honour.

© Karen Ette

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