Chearsley man’s quest to learn more about his father’s efforts in World War One

A collection of photos from the family's journey
A collection of photos from the family's journey

A Chearsley man went on an emotional journey to learn more about his father who won a medal for gallantry during World War One.

Alan Mitchener was joined by his two sons David and Daniel for what proved a thought-provoking trip to Cambrai to find out more about the life of Alan’s father Sapper Albert Mitchener.

The journey was the family’s way of celebrating the life of their father, and to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of World War One.

On December 6 1917, Albert Mitchener, a signaller in the Royal Engineers volunteered to repair a telephone cable across a shell holed, muddy battlefield under heavy enemy fire.

The wire, which was in the air, was broken above a waterway, and Albert repaired it standing up on a barge over the canal.

He commented that there were “bees buzzing around”, referring to machine gun bullets rather than actual bees.

For this outstanding act of bravery, Albert was awarded the Military Medal.

Speaking to Alan about when he won the medal, Albert said that it was “a silly thing to volunteer” but it was necessary to enable a message to be sent to the “Inniskillings”.

A captured German had told Albert’s brigade that the “Bosche” were about to attack the 10th Royal Inniskillings Fusiliers, a battalion in a vulnerable position, and Brigade HQ needed to re-establish communication lines to let them know so they could be prepared for it.

Albert was very close to surviving the war unscathed, but the day before he was due to go on leave, in late October 1918, back to ‘Blighty, he was wounded by a shell splinter.

This took place when he was repairing communication lines while under a heavy hostile barrage.

However, because of a German counter attack taking place immediately after his injury, it took Albert some days before he got to a regimental aid post. Unfortunately, gangrene had set in and his arm was amputated in the middle of his upper arm.

Albert’s son and two grandsons went to the exact location, near Cambrai, where he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery, and shared a glass of cognac in the rain.

The battlefield is now a peaceful sugar-beet field, on the outskirts of the rebuilt large village of Ribecourt, which was also a flashpoint battle in the Second World War.

Alan Mitchener said: “We shared a toast to Albert and his comrades, who endured so much.

“On the Sunday we went to the front line, and consulting the war diaries, tried to visualise what Albert and his colleagues did and went through.

“It was very difficult to imagine the well cultivated and peaceful countryside with the horror of industrial war 100 years ago, a long time ago but short for some memories and legacies.”

On Albert’s return to ‘Blighty’, he worked hard to pass an exam to become a clerical assistant in the civil service and rose to become an executive officer.

He married Maud Edith and they had two sons Laurie and Alan.

Albert died in 1976, aged 80 with four grandchildren.