Private Alfred Thomas Urry

Regiment: 1/4th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment.
Service No.: 34965 (formerly: 6730, Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment)
Date and place of birth: 7 February 1899 in Up Marden, West Sussex
Date and place of death: 26 July 1918 (aged 19) near Jaffa, Palestine

Alfred Urry was born in Up Marden, but was brought up in north London, before returning to Treyford after his widowed mother re-married in 1908. He enlisted as a 16-year old and served at the front before being found asleep on duty and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. After his mother reclaimed him, he returned to England before being posted to Palestine, where he drowned when his platoon were removing weeds from the fast-flowing River Auja.

Family background

Alfred was born in Up Marden on 7 February 1899, the first child of Alfred Urry (1862 – 1903) and his wife, Ellen Rose née Collis (1873 – 1956).

Alfred senior had been born on the Isle of Wight but by 1899 he was living in Hendon, north London where (aged 37) he married Ellen Collis, who was 12 years younger. Ellen had been born in Up Marden, the daughter of Thomas Collis and Mary Ann Stillwell.

Within a month of the marriage, Ellen returned to her parents’ home, where Alfred junior was born on 7 February. Alfred was baptised at St Paul’s Church on Kilburn Square, Willesden on 28 May 1899. A second son, Douglas, was born at West Hampstead on 24 July 1900 and, at the time of the 1901 census, the family were living at 8 Kingsgate Road, Hampstead, where Alfred senior was described as an “office clerk”. Alfred senior died in December 1903.

On 12 January 1908, Ellen re-married to Harry Stillwell (1867 – 1939) at St Simon’s Church in Paddington. Harry, presumably a relative of Ellen’s mother, was born at Eartham, the son of Henry and Eliza Stillwell, originally from Up Marden.

Ellen and Harry Stillwell returned to Sussex shortly after the marriage and their daughter, Phoebe, was born at Walderton on 22 August 1908. By the time that their second child, Ronald, was born in May 1910, the couple were living at Underhill Cottage, in the village of Treyford. In the 1911 census, Harry is described as a forester’s labourer. On Lady Day 1912, the couple moved to 26 Philliswood, near Hooksway, on the southern edge of Treyford parish, where their third child Ellen was born in July, followed by Elsie in January 1914.

Military service

Alfred enlisted at Chichester on 4 November 1915, joining the 9th (2nd Reserve) Battalion of the Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment as a private. On his attestation, he gave his age as 19 years, although his correct age was 16 years 8 months, and his height was 5 feet 4 inches.

After his initial training, he was sent to France on 4 May 1916. On 6 July 1916, he was found asleep while on sentry duty; at his trial on 10 July, he was convicted of “sleeping at his post when on active service” and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. After the news of his imprisonment reached his mother, she wrote to the regiment on 27 September, “claiming” her son out of the army on the grounds that he was under age, enclosing his birth certificate. Within two days, Private Urry was immediately removed from the front line and, on 24 October 1916, he was returned to England and transferred to the 2/1st Battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment, based at Darlington. On 9 April 1917, the conviction against Alfred was quashed as he was under age and instructions were issued that all records of the trial must be expunged.

On 21 May 1917, Alfred was again in trouble with authority, when he was sentenced to 28 days detention for using obscene language to a superior officer and not complying with an order. On his release from detention, he was transferred to the 25th Training Reserve, before a further transfer on 13 October 1917, when he joined the 4th Reserve Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.

On 19 March 1918, he was posted to Egypt as a member of the 1/4th Battalion of The Norfolk Regiment. It was not long before he was yet again on a charge when, on 29 May, he was unshaven on the 9:00 parade, following which he left behind his trenching tool when moving off to work. As a result, he was Confined to Barracks for 10 days.

On 26 July, the battalion were based at Castle Bridge, north of Jaffa in Palestine on the River Auja (now the River Yarkon). At 16:00, his platoon were engaged on cleaning weed from the river under the command of 2nd Lieutenant F.R. Hooker. The platoon were extended across the river at a ford, to collect weeds that were floating downstream. At this point, the water was about waist deep. After the platoon had been in the water about five minutes, Lieut. Hooker heard a shout and, looking round, saw a soldier being borne down the stream struggling. Lieut. Hooker ran down the bank and dived into the water fully clothed in an attempt to rescue the soldier without success. Other members of the platoon also dived into the river in an attempt to rescue the soldier but after 30 minutes, no trace could be found of the missing man, now identified as Alfred Urry, and the search was called off.

At the subsequent enquiry under Lieut. Colonel P.M. Torkington, it was held that Private Urry was “accidentally drowned” and that every reasonable action was taken and that no one was to blame. Lieut. Hooker was commended for diving after the man with his clothes and boots on.

Death and commemoration

Alfred Urry’s body was subsequently recovered and he was originally buried at Sheikh Munis Hill Cemetery, five miles north-east of Jaffa, near where he was drowned. His body was later re-interred at Ramleh War Cemetery, approximately 16 miles south of his initial burial.

He is commemorated on the Elsted & Treyford war memorial, now in St Paul’s Church, Elsted.

Other family members and subsequent family history

Alfred’s stepfather, Harry Stillwell, enlisted as a sergeant in the Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1914, aged 47, having previously served in the Royal Fusiliers for 18 years between 1885 and 1903 (including 3 years with the West India Regiment), where he also saw service in Egypt and East and West Africa. Although he only signed on for one year, he remained with the Royal Sussex Regiment throughout the war, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant. He spent the last year of the war  serving with the Army Provost Service Corps and was discharged in July 1919.

Ellen and Harry remained at No 26, Philliswood until about 1927. Harry is believed to have died in Croydon, Surrey in 1939 and Ellen died in Horsham, Sussex in 1956.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project