Albert Perris

Albert Perris was born at Wickham Heath on 21 September 1895, the second son of John Charles Perris and Alice, née Wylder.

The Perris family had been known in the locality since the 1850s, when Albert’s grandfather John had established himself as a livestock and general dealer.  The business was continued by John’s widow Harriett after his death in the 1880s, and then by their son John, who married Alice, the daughter of a Wickham stonemason, in 1893.

By 1901 the family had moved to nearby Hoe Benham, and in 1908 Albert’s father took the tenancy of Hoe Benham Farm, at that time owned by the Sutton Estate, following the death of the previous tenant, Reverend Stephen Batson, the Rector of Welford. 

The family were to live and work at Hoe Benham Farm for three generations, until the Millennium, having by then bought the property.  They are still well known in the Newbury area today; one of Albert’s nephews is Bert Houghton, author of the ‘Berkshire Farmer’ series of books, named after his uncle as the first grandchild.  

Albert attended Stockcross School, as his father had done, then began his working life helping on his parents’ farm.  In his spare time Albert had a love of shooting and horse riding, and being a single man could take every opportunity to follow his pursuits.  He was also very keen on boxing, finding sparring partners amongst the neighbouring Tucker and Stanford families. When Albert went off to war, his gun and boxing gloves were hung on a beam in the kitchen; and when he did not return, they remained undisturbed (despite the temptation they offered to younger members of the Perris family) until his father died in 1949.

The 1911 census shows Albert living at home at Hoe Benham, with his occupation (and also that of his older brother Jack) described as helping their father with the cattle.

Like many of his contemporaries who had experience with horses, Albert chose to begin his military service as a Trooper with the Berkshire Yeomanry, enlisting at Newbury in December 1915, service number 3127.  His decision may have been influenced by the fact that his brother Jack had already volunteered for the Berkshire Yeomanry himself, in October 1914. 

The timing of Albert’s decision is also significant as it shows he joined up under the ‘Derby Scheme’, which gave men an opportunity to enlist voluntarily and choose which branch of the service they wished to enter, before the Military Service Act of 27 January 1916 brought conscription into effect.

The brothers’ unit, the 2/1st Berkshire Yeomanry, had been formed as a second-line (i.e. reserve) regiment in September 1914 for home service.  However, neither Albert nor Jack was destined to stay in the Yeomanry.  Due to the high losses being incurred by the British army in the early stages of the Somme campaign, a general order was given for all reserve Yeomanry regiments to supply 200 men for reassignment to the infantry.  The Berkshire Yeomanry draft was split between the Worcestershire Regiment, to which Jack (who was later badly wounded, but survived the war to return home to Hoe Benham) was sent, and the Royal Berkshire Regiment, which took Albert.

At some point in 1916 therefore, Albert and the other draft members were sent to an Infantry Training Depot (ITD) in France before joining their new units.  Albert was now a Private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, service number 37296.

The 2nd Royal Berks had suffered particularly high casualties as a result of its participation in several actions on the Somme and desperately needed to be brought back up to strength.  Over the summer and autumn months of 1916 the Battalion war diary has many references such as ‘draft of 95 O.R. (other ranks) joined Battalion’, ‘draft of 70 O.R. joined Battalion’ and so on.  One of these drafts contained Albert Perris.

Following the closedown of the Somme offensive in mid-November, the 2nd Royal Berks spent over a month billeted in rear areas, recovering from their losses and restoring their state of efficiency, retraining and receiving further drafts of replacement officers and men. 

On 27 January 1917 the Battalion returned to the front line, relieving the 17th Battalion Welsh Regiment as the Right Battalion in the Rancourt sector.  Their main task at this time was to help hold the line and maintain pressure on the enemy until a major new offensive could be launched later that year. 

The Rancourt trenches were situated to the east of Combles, a large hilltop village about 13 kilometres south of Bapaume in northern France.  Heavily fortified by the Germans, Combles had only been in Allied occupation since 26 September 1916.  Between it and Rancourt, to the north of the road which links them, lies Le Priez Farm, and it was here that Albert Perris died, on Tuesday 30 January, age 21.  The announcement of his death published by the Newbury Weekly News stated that this was as a result of wounds he received in action on the 29th.

The Battalion diary for 29 January 1917 states:  Battalion in Trenches, Right Battalion RANCOURT Sector. "A" and "B" Coys in Front Line, "C" Coy, Support, "D" Coy, Reserve. 2 O.R. killed, 5 O.R. wounded. 6 O.R. to hospl sick.

Although the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission show Albert as still serving with the Royal Berkshire Regiment at this time, and he was clearly still in their immediate area of operations, the story in the Perris family is that he had apparently been recently transferred to the Field Artillery – much to the concern of his brother, who had seen what punishment the gunners had had to endure on the Somme – and his death was probably as the result of German counter-battery fire.  It may possibly have been that a Platoon or Company of the 2nd Royal Berks had been detailed to assist the Field Artillery in some way, e.g. by bringing up supplies or helping to dig in gun positions.

Albert and other casualties from this period were originally buried in the Priez Farm Cemetery, which stood at the southeast corner of the farm.  However, the cemetery was disturbed by later enemy bombardment and many of the graves were severely damaged, necessitating their removal to the Guards Cemetery on the western outskirts of the village, where they have remained in peace. 

Family visitors to Albert’s grave have remarked on the similarity between the countryside around Hoe Benham and that in the vicinity of the cemetery, and that the nightingales sing just as sweetly in the woods about Albert’s resting place as they did in those he knew as a boy. 

Albert’s parents are buried near the yew tree just inside the small gate on the northeast side of Welford churchyard, and on their grave lies a memorial plaque, inscribed: ‘Also in memory of their dear son Bert, killed in action in France January 30th 1917 aged 21 years’.