Francis Chalmers


16th October 1888 — 25th September 1916

Second Lieutenant, 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment (attached 1st Battalion), was killed in action on the 25th September, 1916, at the Battle of the Somme and is commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Home Life


The extensive Chalmers family hailed from the Portsmouth and Isle of Wight areas. Francis had 30 aunts and uncles and, eventually, 33 cousins. The sea provided employment for the male line: all four of his paternal uncles were seamen, as was his father.

Francis’s immediate family may be most clearly laid out chronologically, with relationship to him as follows:

Father                           Thomas William, b. 1852 Portsea, Hants; d. 1916 Newport, IoW

Father’s 1st Wife         Sarah Ann (née Kingswell), b. 1854 Fareham; m. 1874, Portsea;
d. 1880 Portsea

Half Brother                 Thomas Henry, b. 1875, Portsea; d. 1940 Isle of Wight

Half Brother                  George William, b. 1877 Portsea; d. unknown

Father’s 2nd Wife         Mary Ann (née Orchard), b. 1856 Ryde, IoW; m. 1883 Portsea,
d. 1920 Newport

(Self)                              Francis, b. 1888 Portsea; d. 1916 France                               

Brother                           Reginald, b. 1893, Ryde; d. 1974 Westmorland

Following the death of his first wife in 1880, we find his children Thomas Henry and George William being cared for by their late mother’s parents. Three years later their father would remarry and a further five years on, Francis was born.

On Census day 1891, father Thomas William was not at home with the family but on board the ship Edgar, with four other crew. The special census form for maritime use states that the ship was in home port, ‘Motherbank’ at midnight on Census day. However, Motherbank was not a port, but a safe anchorage northwest of Ryde Pier. Edgar was moored there permanently as a hulk.1 It served as one of Britain’s ten quarantine stations or lazarets.2 3 By law, incoming ships that had visited ports or countries prone to disease had to call at a lazaret to be examined and, if necessary, placed in quarantine before proceeding to port. By 1891, most stations had closed until Motherbank, with its two hulks Edgar and Menalaeus, was the only one left. Within five years, Thomas would find himself paid off, as the article Ryde Quarantine Ships in the local paper of January 27, 1897 was to record:


old Edgar and Menelaus have remained at their last moorings to the present hour. Since last autumn the two vessels named have been taken over again by the Royal Navy, to which they both formerly belonged, as vessels of war on the Ineffective List.4

While Thomas was off-shore, the rest of the family were to be found living in the south of the town at 25 Weeks Road, Haylands, Ryde. Mary (no occupation is listed) is 35 and children Thomas Henry (16) is a Painter’s Apprentice, George William (13) is a Draper’s Apprentice and Francis is an infant of 2. In 1893 the last child of the family was born, Reginald.

In 1901 they had moved a quarter of a mile to 16 Alfred Street. Thomas (48), maritime work having come to an end, is now a self-employed as a Coke and Coal Merchant. Mary (45) is listed as a ‘Plain Needle Worker’ working from home, and the children are Francis (12) and Reginald (7). It was not the norm for a wife and mother to have a trade, so perhaps money was tight.

The final census record, of 1911 shows Francis (22) was living at 21 St John’s Wood Rd, Ryde, with his mother Mary (55), and his brother Reginald (17). Francis, by this time was an Elementary School Teacher, employed by Ryde Education Committee. Reginald was a Carriers Clerk with Pickford’s Ltd.

Thomas cannot be found in the 1911 Census records. Instead we find that he appears in the Lunacy Patients Admission Register,5 having been admitted to the Isle of Wight asylum (Whitecroft Hospital 6) on January 18th, 1908. He was to remain there until his death on 9th September, 1916.

Apart from the suffering of Thomas and loss to the family, the social stigma is captured in this description of the Asylum:

A clock with two dials high up in the tower, was, and is, visible over a considerable extent of the Island: and the saying that someone is Under the Clock as a euphemism for being in the Mental Hospital, has been familiar on the Island through this century.7

Chalmers family group photograph, probably C.1900. Francis’s brother George, (back right) in the RM uniform (Royal Marine Light Infantry: Portsmouth Division) was away with HMS Terrible for the best part of three years from late 1899 to late 1902 (including the relief of Ladysmith and of Peking) so the photo may have been taken when he returned. (Standing, l to r: brother Reginald; brother Thomas Henry; brother George; Francis. Seated: father Thomas William; mother Mary Ann; Emily, wife of Thomas Henry). Image and information courtesy of Robert Chalmers.

Education and Teaching

Ryde was a large and thriving town at the end of the 19th Century. It was a gateway to the island and, as a seaside resort, had a substantial seasonal trade. The size of Ryde’s population in 1901 was 11,043 persons living in 2,697 homes 8. The primary-school average attendance in 1898 was 2,021 in 8 schools.9 At that time, education was compulsory to the age of 11 10.

Francis’s began his schooling at Holy Trinity Church of England School 11. This was in Player Street, within half a mile of their 1891 and 1901 homes, and just around the corner from their 1911 house. Average attendance in 1898 was 100 boys, 87 girls and 82 infants. He was then moved to the newly enlarged St John’s Road School. At the end of his primary education, Francis was employed as a pupil teacher at Bettesworth Road School, probably around 1904. Although the old pupil-teacher system was being run down by the Board of Education, it was still in use as an entry-path into the teaching profession. There is evidence that suggests Francis attended a pupil-teacher training centre at this time (see below). This would have allowed him access to evening classes, augmenting the training that Mr. J.W. Trodd, the Bettesworth School headmaster (1900–1919), would have given him both before and after the school day.

One puzzling anomaly is his inclusion as a ‘Student’ on the memorial roll of Newport County Secondary Grammar School. 12 Since the school was not founded until 1907, when he was 19 years old, this would seem unlikely. However, the new school occupied buildings that had been in use as Newport Technical Institute and Seely Library. This had been built and founded only three years previously and in the 1904–1907 period had been used as a centre for training pupil-teachers for the Isle of Wight. 13

In 1907 he secured a position as an assistant teacher back in his old haunt, Holy Trinity School. He taught there for six years but obviously had ambitions to become fully qualified and have the prospect of promotion, better pay and, perhaps, one day being head of his own school.

Francis sat and passed the ‘Preliminary Examination for the Elementary School Teachers’ Certificate’ exams in 1910. This would have allowed him entry into training college but unusually he continued teaching and studying for another three years. His college Student Record tells us that he had also passed exams in Inorganic Chemistry, Botany, Elementary Physiography, Teachers’ School Gardening, Model Drawing and Freehand Drawing—achieving First Class passes in the last two. These would have been in addition to core subjects. He then passed the ‘Examination for the Certificate’—this qualification gave him a one-year exemption at college as a Certificated Student. Few took this route as it was very demanding on time and energy.

The Isle of Wight Education Committee noted his resignation from his post in September, 1913:

The committee reported the following resignations:— Francis Chalmers, Uncertified Assistant, Boys Department, Trinity Church of England School.14


Winchester Training College

The College as Francis would have known it

Whatever training Francis may have received at the Technical Institute, full-time training was still a prerequisite to professional qualification. He therefore left Ryde and began studying at Winchester Training College, commencing in the early Autumn of 1913 on a one-year course15. He records his early college experience:

We entered College on September 16th with much fear and trepidation; a select band of three We had heard vague rumours of the peculiar climate of Winchester and of the ordeals which newcomers had to undergo, and at first viewed everything and everyone with suspicion… We are now fairly launched on our College career, and so far our stay has been serene and fair. Everyone has done his utmost to make us welcome, and we are looking forward to a year beneficial to mind and body.16

Student life was not as today. Typical for higher education institutions of the time, the timetable was rigorous, rules of behaviour strict and chapel attendance compulsory. Martial Rose’s history of the college17 gives an idea of the strict rules:

The main entrance on the terrace was not to be used by students, nor were they allowed to use the main driveway to the college from Sparkford Road. Students were required to approach the college from lower down the hill and enter through the west door near the Vice-Principal’s study. When on the terrace they might walk on the gravel, but the turf was preserved for the staff.

Lest we gain a distorted and miserable view of Francis in his time there, we continue to read;

On either side of the main terrace entrance was a stone sphinx which received festal paint at frequent intervals, and as frequently both were removed to surprising parts. An early copy of The Wintonian comments, “a concrete stand and iron band now fix them firmly to the land”. But not firmly enough, for they finally disappeared altogether.

Students organised their own events. There were sports teams with regular fixtures on Wednesdays and Saturdays, sports facilities, entertainments evenings, and debates.

Many students also joined the 4th Battalion Hampshire Regiment Volunteer Force (B Company). Provision was made in the college timetable for drill and training. It is not known whether Francis enlisted, but it seems likely (see below).

We know from his later Army record that Henry Martin, College Principal, wrote a testimonial describing Francis as a first-class student.

His obituary in the Isle of Wight Observer18 tells us ‘he studied at Winchester College [sic] and on leaving there received an appointment at a school in Newbury’. The National Union of Teachers War Record 1914–191919 records this as ‘Newbury C.S.’. This was the old St. Bartholomew’s Grammar School, founded in c.1468. By 1914 this had been reconstituted and was classed as a Secondary School under the Board of Education. New buildings had been erected in 1886. The year of Francis’s arrival at his new post there were 120 boys (including 14 boarders). He taught under the headship of F.W. Bowring.

Francis in the Army

Francis had military experience prior attending College: he served as a Bombardier in the 2nd Battalion Wessex Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Ammunition Column) from 31st October, 1908 to 1st November, 1912. He was discharged from this service at the completion of term of 4 years. His Army Form E511 records ‘Conduct as Territorial: Very Good’. He is also described as being 6′ tall and having a dark complexion. This former Territorial service makes it highly likely that he would also have joined the Hampshire Territorials while at College.

Francis joined the East Yorkshire Regiment at his own request, on October 26th, 1915, on his Application for Appointment to the Special Reserve of Officers. The choice of the East Yorks may seem strange. His brother Reginald was already serving in the regiment and had persuaded Francis to join him there—this intervention would lay heavy on Reginald’s heart in the years to come as he felt that he had played a part in the ultimate tragedy of his brother’s loss.  Francis’s four years’ experience in the Royal Field Artillery Territorials and his professional status suited him for a Commission. He was allocated to the 3rd Battalion, a Reserve unit intended to train and send men to reinforce depleted Battalions in the theatre of war. After Officers’ Training, Francis received his Commission as 2nd Lieutenant on 29th November, 1915.20 A transfer from the Reserve Battalion to 1st Battalion East Yorks followed.

A Home Visit: Celebrations

Probably taken in 1916 before departing for France. Image and information courtesy of Robert Chalmers.

Francis obtained leave to travel home and marry his sweetheart, Minnie Gertrude Bull, 21 of Ryde. She was an assistant in a Ryde confectionery shop. The wedding took place at St. Michael’s and All Angels, Swanmore, Ryde, on the 18th January, 1916.

The joy at the wedding must have been overshadowed by Francis’s impending return to the Battalion. It is not known if he were to be granted further home leave, but their days together must have been as precious as they were few.

To War: France and the Somme

Francis and the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment landed in France on 13th July, 1916 22In 1916, the third phase of the Battle of the Somme was raging and our attention is drawn to part of it: the battles of Flers-Courcelette and, especially, Morval. The former was the first action in the history of warfare in which tanks were deployed. Although still very few and extremely unreliable,23 they proved their worth and helped break through the German line and achieve gains of two kilometres. Following these early successes, bad weather and supply difficulties brought things to a standstill. The attack was called off on Friday, 22nd September after eight days of fighting.

We may follow the East Yorks from their War Diary (the following are not verbatim):24

Friday 22nd: To follow up the gains made during Flers-Courcelette, the 1st East Yorks were moved up to the front line for an attack on Gueudecourt. They bivouacked in shell holes and disused trenches for the night. Casualties were light, losing one man to shelling during the move and one overnight, with one wounded going to the Field Ambulance.

Saturday 23rd: The men remained in position until nightfall and then dug assembly trenches near Gueudecourt, before falling back before dawn.

Sunday 24th: The day was spent in preparation for an attack. The weather was fine and dry. The Battalion marched off at 11pm to take up a position in the assembly trenches, northeast of Flers. Casulaties: Nil, 5 men to Field Ambulance.

Monday 25th: After a trying march, half of it through communication trenches, the men reach their allotted positions, with Francis’s A Company in the front-line trench. The officers with Francis were his superior, Captain Gossett, and fellow 2nd Lieutenants Rippingille and Cleminson.

An artillery bombardment commencing at 9am and becoming more intense hourly until it became a hurricane bombardment between 12 noon and 12.30pm. The Battalion left its trenches at 12.35pm:— First wave C Company on the left and A Company on the right The Battalion immediately came under very heavy shell, rifle and machine gun fire, but continued to advance up the 1st objective where it found the German barbed wire entanglement untouched by our artillery fire. Here the Battalion was held up the casualties being very heavy.

The men ‘remained there opening fire on the enemy wherever they showed themselves over the parapet’. At nightfall they were able to fall back 1000 yards to an old trench. Battalion strength was found to be 5 Officers and 118 Other Ranks. We know from this total that Francis must have been killed in the afternoon advance in what became known as the Battle of Morval. It was clear by the following day that the forces on the flanks, supported by tanks, had been successful and the objectives had been achieved but Francis did not live to see it.

War diary entry listing the death of Francis Chalmers at The Battle of Morval

The following obituary appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press; Saturday, 7th October 1916


2nd Lieut. Francis CHALMERS, East Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in France on Sept. 25th, at the age of 28. He was formerly a teacher at Holy Trinity School. Lieut. CHALMERS received his commission in November and went to the Front in July. He was only married last Christmas. His wife is residing with her parents at Haylands.

When the news of the death of Francis arrived on Tuesday, 3rd October, 25 it must have been a severe blow to his mother Mary. Difficult at any time, it reached her only two weeks after she had been told of the death of Francis’s father, Thomas, in the Asylum 26. It is possible that Mary was herself by this time a patient in the same lunatic asylum: a later army form dated 19th February 1917 lists the asylum as her contact address.

Francis is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France 27. He has no known grave. His name is also recorded on memorials at the following localities: Carisbrooke Castle County War Memorial; County Secondary School War Memorial, Newport; Borough War Memorial, Ryde; All Saints Church War Memorial, Ryde; and St Michael’s Church War Memorial, Ryde.

Reginald served out the war and later took holy orders in the Church of England, eventually becoming a Canon of Leicester Cathedral (1954–65). He died in 1974. We are grateful to his grandson Robert who gave additional family background and copies of photographs.

Researcher and Author: John Vickers


[1] End-of-life vessels no longer able to sail.

[2] A lazaret, lazarette or lazaretto is the correct term. Lazarets could be ships at permanent anchor or land-based facilities. All British lazarets were ships. Some also fumigated incoming goods and mail from areas prone to disease

[3] The British lazarets were: Moray Firth; Firth of Forth; White Booth Roads (Hull/Grimsby); Medway; Motherbank; Plymouth; Falmouth; Milford Haven; Mersey; and Firth of Clyde

[4] Isle of Wight Observer

[5] UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912

[6] Closed 1992. It was also known for a time as Isle of Wight Mental Hospital.

[7] A History of the Isle of Wight Hospitals by E. F. Laidlaw

[8] Population data from

[9] School data from Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, 1898

[10] Raised from 10 years under the 1880 Elementary Education Act. The new Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act of 1893, raised the minimum leaving age to 11. This was amended in 1899 to raise the school leaving age to 12 years of age.

[11] G. Junnaway, headmaster (as at 25th October, 1915). (Source: Army Records)

[12] Now Carisbrooke College

[13] The Technical Institute never really functioned as planned. Instead, its rooms became the home of the Island pupil-teacher centre’ Roy Richardson. See sources for reference.

[14] Reported in the Isle of Wight Times, 11th September, 1913

[15] Most students were on a two-year course but Francis was there for one year only, 1913-1914.

[16] The Wintonian

[17] A History of King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1840-1980 by Martial Rose, p.69

[18] Isle of Wight Observer – Saturday 07 October 1916, Page 2.

[19] National Union of Teachers War Record 1914-1919, National Union of Teachers, 2002. Naval and Military Press Ltd.

[20] Supplement to the London Gazette, 29th November, 1915. Page 11912

[21] Minnie Gertrude Bull (b. Spring 1887 in Gosport, Hampshire; d. 7th April, 1940 in 13 Mitchells Road, Haylands, Ryde, IoW)

[22] Recorded on his Medal Index Card

[23] Winston Churchill, who had championed the tank’s development, complained, “my poor ‘land battleships’ have been let off prematurely on a petty scale”

[24] The National Archives’ reference WO 95/2161/2.

[25] Isle of Wight Observer – Saturday 07 October 1916, Page 2.

[26] UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912

[27] Pier and Face 2 C


Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018]

British Newspaper Archive (1913). Isle of Wight Times, 11th September, 1913, p.5 [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

British Newspaper Archive (1916). Isle of Wight Observer, Saturday 07 October 1916, p.2. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

British Newspaper Archive (1919). Isle of Wight Observer, Saturday 06 December 1919, p.4. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 July 2018]

Kelly’s Directory (1898). Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire & Isle of Wight, 1898. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

Kelly’s Directory (1911). Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire & Isle of Wight, 1911, p.714. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 July 2018]

Laidlaw, E. A History of the Isle Of Wight Hospitals: Whitecroft Hospital. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

London County Council Staff (1920). London County Council record of service in the Great War 1914-18, London: London County Council

The National Archives. 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment War Diaries. WO 95/2161/2. London

The National Library of Scotland (1896). Hampshire & Isle of Wight XCI.SW (includes: Ryde). [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

The National Library of Scotland (1909). Hampshire & Isle of Wight XCI.SW (includes: Ryde). [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

Newport History. (2017). The Street History of Newport, Isle of Wight. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

Rose, M. (1981). A history of King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1840-1980. London: Phillimore

Ryde Social Heritage Group. (2017). Mrs Minnie Gertrude Chalmers. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

Supplement to The London Gazette. (1915). London Gazette. 29th November, 1915, p.11912 [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

A Vision of Britain through Time (1911). 1911 Census, England and Wales: Population tables, Ryde. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]

Vickers, J. The University of Winchester Chapel Memorial Rail image.

Wightpedia. (2017). Schools. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec 2017]


University of Winchester Archive “ Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.