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.
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.
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.