Jane Bungay – the story of a mother.

Jane Bungay had not had an easy life even before the First World War started. Widowed twice, she had lost one child in infancy. Her six other sons would all grow up to enlist in the Army or Navy.

Tragically, one of these grown-up boys died before the war even started. And another lost his life thousands of miles from home and just months after it came to an end.

The conflict meant huge changes at home as well as for the soldiers and sailors at war. Life could be very tough for a widowed mother of serving men. Without her sons living with her, Jane Bungay had to move because she could not afford to pay the rent on her Poole home.

Jane, nee Russell, had been born in the Dorset village of Compton Abbas, the daughter of a farm labourer and his wife. But at the age of just 17 she married a Piddletrenthide-born soldier by the name of Richard Thomas Bagg.

Their first son was born the following year but died before he was two years old.

Another boy, however, would soon be born

Four years after their marriage, the national Census shows that Jane was living with her widowed mother, a sister and her 11-month old son, Walter George in a house in Dorchester. There is no mention of husband Richard being there that day. Could he have been the Richard Baggs [sic] who was doing time in Dorchester Prison on the day of the Census? He, too, had been born in Piddletrenthide and was, at 21, the right age. This man would be back up before the bench for stealing two bushes and a padlock in the following year and sentenced to six months’ jail.

Or was that another man? Could Jane’s Richard Bagg have been serving abroad with the Army? After all, he had enlisted as a soldier and was a Driver with the Royal Horse Artillery.

Jane had another son by him, whom they called Henry. But soon she would be widowed and left to bring up the boys alone.

We don’t know what happened to Richard Bagg. Perhaps he had died while serving abroad?

Whatever occurred, widowed Jane would remarry at Weymouth in early 1889. Her second husband was Henry Bungay and the couple would soon have a baby daughter they called Nellie.

In 1891, the family, including the two Bagg boys, were living in Weymouth. Jane’s new husband was recorded as working as a labourer but, like her first husband, he had seen military action. He served with the Gordon Highlanders and had been decorated, receiving a medal and star and four clasps for his engagement in the Anglo-Egyptian War in the early 1880s.

The couple would have five more children – four boys and another girl, Florence Alberta – all born in Weymouth except one who came into the world in Chester. Was Henry back in the Army and stationed there?

If so, Henry Bungay may still have been serving away from home in 1901 for the Census of that year yet again shows Jane Bungay as acting as the head of the family with no mention of Henry. She was 41 and working as a laundress on her own account.

Ten years later, and the Bungay family had moved to Parkstone, Poole, where they lived in Layton Road. Henry was back with the family, working as a road contractor. Their son Charles, 18, was by now working as a labourer and the second oldest boy, James, 16, was a butcher’s errand boy.

Tragedy, however, came knocking again in the following year for before the end of 1912 Henry Bungay passed away.

Her eldest boy, Walter Bagg, who had joined the Royal Navy, and served on board HMS St George, had also died.

When war broke out, it must have been hard to see her sons answer their country’s recruitment call.  Walter’s brother, Henry Bagg, followed him into the Navy where he served on HMP Europa which received battle honours for her part in the Dardanelles Campaign that witnessed the disastrous battle for Gallipoli.

Two of the brothers, Charles and Frederick, had joined up as Drivers in 1915 with the Army Service Corps – one would later be a prisoner-of-war and eventually repatriated. In time, Frederick would transfer to the North Staffs Regiment. Both would receive the British War, Victor and Medals as well as the 1915 Star.

Jane’s youngest boy was John Francis Reginald Bungay, who had got a job as a railway porter. But he, too, was keen to join up when war broke out and enlisted five months after the conflict began. He claimed he was 18 years and a month old. He lied about his age.

Initially a Gunner with the Royal Artillery, he was transferred to the Black Watch in Scotland where he waited to be sent to the Front, despite being under age.

There, the regiment received an urgent telegram from Parkstone. It was from his mum, Jane and read: ‘I forbid my son, Private John Bungay going on service only 17 years old. Certificate follows. Mother.’

Once he turned 18, however, he was posted to France. During his second spell there, he was hit by enemy fire, suffering a gunshot wound in the buttock and had to return home.

Once again, Jane Bungay contacted the Black Watch Regiment. She wrote: ‘To the Officer in Charge.

‘Re my son, Private J.F.R. Bungay., no 10261 Black Watch.

‘Dear Sir, Will you kindly note my correct address as letters from you still go to my former address.

‘Shall be most grateful to hear as to my son’s condition as soon as possible. Thanking you for your kind attention. And hoping to hear better news.’ Signed Jane Bungay.

Private John Bungay survived the war. (He is believed to have later married and lived in Salisbury.) Jane’s other serving sons survived the war, too… including William James,

But, months later, before he was able to leave the Army, he was to die thousands of miles from home.

Soon after war was declared in August 1914, he answered the call and, within days, volunteered to fight. He joined the 5th Dorsets. But within two months he was discharged, considered unfit for service due to his suffering from Phthisis, a form of pulmonary tuberculosis.

His Battalion’s Adjutant then tried to contact him to confirm the date when he first enlisted, according to his Army Pension records. But, by then, he was no longer in Poole.

His mother Jane, wrote back saying: ‘My son, W.J. Bungay is not at home now so cannot say the date he enlisted.’ She signed it ‘From his mother, a widow’.

Then she added: ‘My address is Fernlea, Pottery Road. I had to move from Bournemouth Road as I could not pay the rent after my sons joined the Army.’

No soldier’s mother grew rich on the Army Separation Allowance.

Bungay home. The terraced homes in Pottery Road. Jane Bungay lived for a time during the First World War at 'Fernlea' (now number 3)_

Bungay home. The terraced homes in Pottery Road. Jane Bungay lived for a time during the First World War at ‘Fernlea’ (now number 3)_

William James Bungay was not at home because, by then, he had re-enlisted, in November, this time with the Hampshire Regiment under the name of Private James Bungay.

He was serving on the other side of the world, in India.

During the war years, it seems Jane Bungay had to move a number of times. We know at different times time her address was given as being at ‘Kersley’, Bournemouth Road, Parkstone; in Pottery Road, Poole; in Sturminster Marshall; Queens Grove, Parkstone; and finally at  Fairholme, 14 Commercial Road, Parkstone. (Now demolished, a day centre today stands on the site.)

During the war, Private James Bungay would also serve with the Bedfordshires before being transferred to the 25th Middlesex Regiment.

While other soldiers celebrated Armistice Day on 11 November 1919, James Bungay was not so lucky. A year before, the Bolsheviks in Russia had come into power following a revolution but a civil war prevailed.

And the Allies decided to intervene to protect their interests. James’ battalion was sent east in support of the White Russians fighting the Bolshevik’s’ Red Army and stationed in Siberia.

At first, he had written cheerful letters saying he was looking forward to coming home. But then his mother received a telegram with grim news. It said he was seriously ill from influenza and pneumonia.

He died on 9 February 1919 at Vladivostok, as a result of a kidney infection, pyelitis, according to his Army record.

Bungay, Poole and Dorset Herald Feb 1919

Bungay, Poole and Dorset Herald Feb 1919

He was buried in the Churkin Russian Naval cemetery, 7,500 miles from home. A war memorial stands close by.

Before the end of the year, the British had pulled out.

And what happened to Jane Bungay, the grieving mother? We don’t know. A Jane Bungay married in Poole in 1927. Was she our Jane? She would have been 67 at the time.

All we know for sure is that a year after James died, Jane Bungay received a parcel from the Army containing her son, James’ possessions.

It had been sent back from Siberia…  and contained just two rings.

Private Thomas Duffy and his experience of the Battle of Mons

In September 1914, the Poole and East Dorset Herald carried a lengthy interview with Private Thomas Duffy under the headline ‘Wounded Hamworthy Reservist relates his experiences at the Battle of Mons’. A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project decided to explore further.

According to the newspaper article, Private Thomas Duffy was from Hamworthy and had ‘rejoined’ the Royal Scots Regiment when war began. Hamworthy Parish Church has a memorial board to those who joined up, were wounded, taken prisoner, or were killed in the First World War, but Thomas Duffy is not mentioned.

Family history records show that Thomas Duffy (born 1885) was married in March 1914 to Alice Maud Cobb (born 1889), whose parents were Charles and Annie Cobb of Hamworthy. Other records show that Duffy was born in Edinburgh and enlisted with the Royal Scots while living in Scotland. At some point he left the service and must have travelled to the Poole area where he met, and married, Alice Cobb.

The Dorset Church of England Parish register has a Thomas Powell Duffy being baptised on October 18th 1914 at Hamworthy to Thomas and Alice Maud Duffy. Their son died just a month later and is buried in Hamworthy cemetery. At the time, the family were living at 2, Seaview Terrace, Hamworthy – hence the Hamworthy connection in the newspaper headline.

The Battle of Mons was the first battle involving the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the German Army. It took place from August 23rd to 26th 1914.  Initially, the regulars of the British Army were very successful against the conscript army of Germany; however, the French were falling back and the German army was considerably larger than the BEF. Although Sir John French, commander of the BEF, wanted to maintain their gains he realised that it was inevitable that the BEF would become isolated and surrounded – there was no option but to withdraw.

Private Duffy gave a wide-ranging impression of the first few weeks of the war when he talked to the local newspaper in September 1914 after being invalided home. On arriving in France, they had marched around 35 miles every day for three days to get to Mons where they arrived on August 22nd ‘very fatigued’. The following day they were told to ‘fall in’ and marched around 2 miles to find themselves in the middle of a battle. Duffy described being near a tree that was hit by German artillery and then by rifle fire. After a while, he decided that ‘he was in an unpleasantly dangerous position’ and moved a short distance away. While Duffy was eating ‘a biscuit with some jam’ he turned to discover a Captain Henderson taking a photograph of him and several others, oblivious to the shells that were flying around. Duffy and his fellow soldiers were under attack from lunchtime to nearly 9pm in the evening when the enemy made sporadic attacks until just after midnight. They had been under fire for 12 hours.

Duffy said that ‘the Germans are absolutely no good with a rifle’ – the Germans themselves commended the quality of British rifle fire finding it at times so rapid they thought they were facing machine guns. However, he found that the German artillery were ‘quick and accurate’ and ‘were good shots’. Duffy is remarkably candid in his interview about the fighting and the loss of men. While the Royal Scots hadn’t lost anybody at Mons, 350 men were lost at Amiens. He claimed that only 120 out of 1,200 men answered at a roll call of the Gordon Highlanders.

 He describes the fighting that occurred and how they were outnumbered by the enemy 4 to 1. They eventually fell back under artillery fire and found themselves so worn out they were allowed an hours rest. At one point they hadn’t eaten anything between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning while having to march over 30 miles. Duffy commented on the welcome the French civilians gave them and that ‘they were exceedingly kind to us on the march’. It was at this point Duffy dislocated his foot and was sent on a long journey back to Le Havre in a railway carriage along with dozens of wounded. Arriving back in England he was sent to Netley Hospital, Southampton, and then was given two weeks sick leave in Poole. He said his wife ‘had wanted for nothing’ while he had been away and he hoped to return to the front very soon and have ‘another cut’ at the enemy.

The WW1 Pensions Ledgers and Index Cards have Private Thomas Duffy being discharged from the Royal Scots on October 4th 1916. His Silver War Badge Record states this was because of ‘sickness’. These badges were given to ex-servicemen who had been discharged because of ill health so that they would not be accused of cowardice when seen wearing civilian clothes. The 1919 Electoral Role has Thomas and his wife living at Suvla Cottage, Hunger Hill. The choice of name of the cottage is interesting as Suvla Bay was part of the tragic Gallipoli campaign and one wonders if it was named after the conflict.

Cottages at Hunger Hill from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Cottages at Hunger Hill from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Life under the waves

The first British submarine was launched in 1901. At the beginning of the First World War, Britain had around 60 submarines, 168 officers, 1,250 men and limited idea of what to do in a battle as they had never been in conflict. They rapidly became a potent force and during the war sank 54 enemy warships and U-boats and 274 supply vessels. The cost was, however, tremendous with around a third of those who joined the submarine service losing their life. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes what it was like being in a submarine and the fate of a few of the Poole submariners.

All submariners were volunteers and on interview they had to show they were ‘capable of sustaining a considerable amount of bodily strain’. An understatement! The clothes they wore were usually the ones they had on a fortnight earlier – the smell was described as ‘most revolting’. The lack of fresh air meant the crew suffered nausea, headaches and lethargy which could affect decision-making. They also suffered from sleep deprivation relying on, typically, 4hrs a day. Submarine commanders were under special strain as any decision they made could be fatal. Broken bones and concussion were common when a submarine was thrown about in a stormy sea. There were no doctors on board and the only first aid was provided by the crew themselves. If seawater entered the batteries, the submarine would fill with poisonous chlorine gas.

A submarine crew rarely changed members so they became a close knit community. Also the confines of a submarine meant that distinctions of rank meant very little. Despite the high risk and unpleasant working condition, the informality and comradeship, plus the excitement of being involved in something different, made the prospect of being in a submarine attractive to some men.

In contrast to the surface fleet, not many Poole men served in submarines. Hedley Alexander Grant, whose parents lived in Parkstone, died in October 1918 when the L10 submarine was sunk in the North Sea. He was a messenger boy when he joined the navy in January 1913 for 12 years when he was 18. The L10 was commissioned in June 1918 from the Dumbarton shipyard of William Denny and was used to stop German vessels mining the sea. It had a crew of 38 and was armed with four bow and two beam torpedo tubes, as well as a 4in deck gun. On October 3rd 1918, L10 came across a group of German destroyers in the Heligoland Bight and torpedoed the German ship S33. However, the submarine, for some reason, suddenly surfaced and was sunk by the other destroyers. All those on board died.

Charles Trickett, from Branksome, was a coal loader before he joined the navy in March 1912 as a Stoker 2nd Class. He served on several ships and was promoted to Stoker 1st Class in 1913. His service record is unclear but he may have joined the submarine service at the end of 1916 as he was attached to HMS Maidstone, which was a submarine depot ship. There is a record of him serving on HM Submarine E32 towards the end of the First World War. Charles Trickett was on HM Submarine L55 (Lucia) when it failed to surface on June 9th 1919. The submarine was part of the Baltic Battle Squadron and was fighting on the side of the Baltic States during the Russian Civil War. It is believed that after firing on two Bolshevik destroyers it entered into a British minefield. The Soviets claimed it had been sunk by one of its destroyers. They raised the submarine several years later.

Able Seaman George Miles, from Hamworthy, was also attached to the submarine depot ship ‘Maidstone’, and served on HM Submarine E19. HM E19 was part of the Baltic submarine fleet that sank several German merchant ships with the aim of disrupting the trade in iron ore. The 9th September 1915 issue of the local newspaper reported that Miles and the rest of the crew had been awarded the St George’s Cross by the Tsar of Russia. Submarine E19 was destroyed in April 1918, along with six other submarines, by their crews to stop them being captured by German troops who had landed in Finland. George Miles served in the navy during the Second World War.

Able Seaman Frederick Fudge, whose mother lived in Wallisdown, died when HM Submarine D 6 was sunk by the German U-boat UB 73 off the coast of Ireland on 24th June 1918. Two survivors were taken prisoner. Fudge had been a butcher’s boy before he signed on with the navy in February 1914 for 12 years.

Albert Joseph Miller was born in Branksome and joined the Navy in October 1914 when aged 18. He started his naval life as Boy 2nd Class and was promoted several times becoming Leading Telegraphist in April 1916. He was wounded in an action off the Heligoland Bight on August 28th 1914 while on HMS Fearless. He was on HM Submarine E50 when it was lost in the North Sea on January 31st 1918.

There were several classes of British submarine but the K-class submarines had a particularly bad reputation with only 18 being built but were involved in 16 accidents, several collisions, and one sank on trial. They were steam-powered when on the surface to enable them to travel fast in support of the fleet. However, shutting down a boiler and lowering two small funnels increased dive time and the likelihood of leaks. An even more significant problem was that the K-class was 339ft long (compared to the L-class at 239ft) but only had a maximum operating depth of 200ft. If the submarine dived at an angle of 30o the stern would be at the surface and the bow nearly at maximum depth. The reputation of the class was so bad that they were referred as the ‘Kalamity’ class.

The local newspaper reported on the loss of submarine K5 in late January 1921. It was with four other submarines (K8, K10, K15 and K22) while on manoeuvres with the British Atlantic Fleet when it failed to surface. Fifty-seven men lost their lives. It had gone down in 85 fathoms of water but as the salvage vessel could not go more than 30 fathoms a rescue was impossible. There was Poole connection to the loss. Lieutenant B.J. Clarke was an officer on K5 and had been second-in-command on the captured German U-boat U107 when it came to Poole in January 1919 for a charity fund-raising event. He had been accompanied by his wife and son on the visit and ‘much sympathy’ was felt by those in Poole who had met them after hearing about his death. See an earlier blog ‘German U-boats in Poole Harbour’ 

U 107 on Poole Quay

U 107 on Poole Quay