Herbert Jeffrey Chequer

Gunner Herbert Jeffrey Chequer, drowned at sea 31st December 1917, age 28 years.
Photograph from the Great Western Railway Magazine

Herbert Jeffrey Chequer was born in Wootton Bassett in about August 1889. His father was Henry Lewis Chequer and his mother Annie, nee Titcombe. He had one older brother, Henry John Chequer. His mother died in 1891 when Herbert was a year old. That same year Herbert’s father remarried to Elizabeth Hill, who had until recently been working as a servant in London. In 1901 the family were living on the High Street, probably at number 109, which was owned by W E Chequer.

At some point over the next ten years Herbert’s father disappeared to London. By April 1911 Herbert was living with his stepmother Elizabeth and her spinster sister Fanny, in Bright Street.

In the 1911 census and in the Great Western Railway magazine Herbert is recorded as a wagon painter. In his 1915 attestation he described his trade as GWR wheelwright. On 25th May 1912 Herbert married Elsie, née Curtis, at the Congregational Chapel, Cricklade. Elsie was a domestic cook for Edward Radbone the Wootton Bassett grocer. They had one daughter, Lilian Elsie Ethel, who was born in Wootton Bassett on January 9th 1915. Some time between January and December 1915, Herbert and Elsie moved to 10 Handel Street, Gorse Hill, Swindon.

Herbert enlisted in on December 11th 1915 in Swindon and joined the Royal Garrison Artillery (78142). Herbert’s Army statement form confirms that his father Henry had been missing for some years and that his mother was dead. Herbert served at home from the 11th December 1915 to 11th September 1916.

On 12th September 1916 he went out to France with the 172nd Siege Battery. He was wounded by gunshot on 22nd May 1917 and was sent to the 1st Canadian General Hospital in Etaples from which he was invalided home on 26th May 1917. When he had recovered he again left England on 10th December 1917 attached to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

Herbert was drowned at sea age 28 on 31st December 1917, aboard the Osmanieh, a mail steamship which had been hired by the British Royal Navy as a troop transport ship. The Osmanieh hit a mine in the entrance to Alexandria Harbour in Egypt. Osmanieh sank quickly taking with her three officers, 21 crew, one medical officer, 166 other ranks and eight nurses. The Herald reported that Gunner Chequer was a bright, cheery fellow, and that his old comrades would mourn his death.

Herbert’s body was recovered and buried at Alexandria Hadra War Memorial Cemetery with the inscription, chosen by Elsie, “Thy will be done”, grave reference A 144. Note that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show his name incorrectly as Hubert.

On May 10th 1918 Elsie wrote a poignant letter:

Dear Sir, I am writing to say that I am returning things which I know for certain did not belong to my husband as he never smoked in his life, but purse, disc and coins did belong to him. He was wearing a belt and watch which I should be more than pleased to have if sent to you. The belt he made himself worked with Royal Garrison Artillery guns and flags lined with leather. I am sir, yours faithfully, E Chequer.

Herbert was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He is remembered on the Carriage and Paint Shop memorial plaque which can be seen at the former GWR Works, and is listed in the GWR Magazine.

Herbert’s brother Henry John Chequer was working in Wales in 1911 and married Margaret Jones there at the beginning of 1914. He joined up in December 1915 and served in the Prince of Wales’s Volunteers (South Lancashire) Regiment. By 1915 he was living in Birkenhead, and was living in Elgin Street, Birkenhead, at the time of his death in 1940. Herbert’s stepmother Elizabeth Chequer died in Swindon in 1937. Herbert’s daughter Lilian died in 1958 and was outlived by her mother Elsie, who died in 1977.

Herbert’s father resurfaced in 1920 at 1 Ayr Cottages, Uxbridge, with a woman going under the name of Elizabeth Chequer. This may have been Elizabeth Buchanan, who certainly had his children, or Eliza Ogbourne, for whom I have found a possible bigamous marriage in 1926.

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