Monday, 23 July 2012

Henry Robert Armitage (1870-1946), soldier

Henry Robert Armitage was a son of William Armitage (b1841), who was an elder brother of my great grandfather Robert Melton Armitage (1846-1910).

William (b 1841 in Leeds) and Kate (b 1847 in Pimlico, Middlesex) Armitage had five sons and one daughter. Henry Robert Armitage was their eldest child, born on 21 June 1870 in Dover. He was named Robert Henry Armitage at birth, but all the records of him as an adult give his name as Henry Robert Armitage. William served as a soldier between 1861 and 1883. The places of birth of his children show where he was posted at the time. The 1881 census shows William (aged 40) and Kate (33) Armitage living in Artillery Barracks, Colchester St Giles, Essex with their children Robert Henry (aged 9, born Dover). Thomas William (7, born Ireland), Robert Melton (6, born Woolwich) and Ellen (2, born Colchester). It seems that William’s family moved with him when he was posted to a new location and that Henry grew up in army accommodation.

It is perhaps not surprising that Henry also became a soldier, as did at least two of his brothers. The Ancestry website has his army record. Henry joined the Royal Artillery as a boy soldier on 21st October 1886 when he was aged 16 years and 3 months. He was promoted to Gunner on 21 June 1888 (his eighteenth birthday) and to Bombardier in September 1889. He served in the UK until 1890 when he was posted to India. In November 1891 was convicted of drunkenness and reduced in rank to Gunner. He was promoted back to Bombardier in 1893. He was posted to Aden in 1894 and to Gibraltar in 1895. Soon after his arrival there he was tried for another offence and reduced in rank to Gunner. He returned to the UK in 1897 where he was discharged on 5 December 1898, having served 12 years.

On 2nd February 1899 Henry re-enlisted in the Royal Artillery signing on for 7 years with the Colours followed by 5 years in the Army Reserve. His age was given as 28 years 6 months, height 5 feet 10 ¼ inches, weight 167 lbs. He was not married, had blue eyes and black hair. Henry was sent to South Africa in  December 1899, where the Boer War was in progress. He was promoted to Bombardier in April 1900 and was posted to China as part of the China Expeditionary Force in July 1900.

The China Expeditionary Force was sent to deal with the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. China then was militarily weak and various Western countries saw it as a country ripe for exploitation. The Boxers were anti-western Chinese. They murdered Christians and destroyed Western property. The Chinese government sided with the Boxers and declared war on the Western Allies on 21st June 1900. A siege of Westerners in Peking started 20th June 1900 and continued until 14th August when an American / British / Russian / Japanese force of 20,000 men arrived. The rebellion was defeated and a peace protocol signed 7th September 1901.
 Henry was promoted to Corporal in September 1900 and posted to India in August 1901, where he remained for the next 6 years. He was promoted to Sergeant in August 1901. In July 1903 he agreed to extend his service to 12 years with the colours. In February 1904 he was tried by court martial for being absent without leave. He was found guilty and his rank reduced to Corporal. He committed the same offence in October 1904 and was again court martialled, this time his rank being reduced to Bombardier. Henry was posted back to the UK in 1907 and was discharged (at his own request) from the Royal Garrison Artillery on 4th May 1908 aged 37. His character was described as very good and his intended place of residence was North Lodge, Kensington Gardens (his father’s address). Henry’s total army service to this point was 21 years 139 days.

On 8 November 1910, Henry (aged 40) married Edith Ann Waite (aged 28) at Kensington Register Office. Edith was a widow whose maiden name was Cook and who had married Alfred John Waite (a store keeper) in 1901. They had a daughter, Edith Elsie Rosetta Waite that year. Alfred died in 1908. Henry and Edith had 5 children, all born in Kensington. They were William Henry (b1911), George Charles (b1912), Ellen Kate (b1914) and twins Joan Kathleen and Betty Ellen (b1918). Both the twins died in January 1919, possibly of influenza – an epidemic killed many people at this time.

The 1911 census shows Henry (aged 40, an army pensioner gatekeeper) living at 117 Portobello Road. Also in the household were Henry’s wife Edith (30), his step daughter Edith Waite (9) and son William (not yet 1).

Henry enlisted again on 2nd September 1914 soon after the outbreak of the First World War. By this time he was 44, rather old for a fighting soldier. All his service during the war was in UK Artillery Depots. He was immediately promoted to the rank of Corporal in 1914 and promoted to Sergeant in 1915. Henry was discharged 21 February 1919 as no longer fit for war service due to emphysema and chest catarrh. His character was stated as very good and he was awarded a pension of 34½d a day (ie £52 9s per year, equivalent to about £8,000 now, estimated in relation to average wages) with increases when he reached the ages of 55 and 65.

After the war, Henry and Edith lived in Peel St, Kensington. Electoral registers show their address as 59 Peel Street from 1918 to 1923 and 63 Peel St from 1924 to 1930.

The 1921 census shows Henry (aged 51), William (10), George (8) and Ellen (6) at 59 Peel Street. Henry was a general clerk in the War Office, Whitehall. Edith is not shown on the census return with her husband.

The family moved to 38 St James Square, Shepherds Bush in 1931. The 1934 Electoral Register shows Henry and Edith living at 38 St James Square with their children William and George. They were still there in 1939 but the road had been renamed St James Gardens. The registered voters at the address were Henry, Edith, George and Ellen Armitage (who would have been too young to be listed in 1934).

Henry died on 15 January 1946 aged 75 at 38 St James Gardens. His occupation on the death certificate is given as retired Commercial Clerk. The cause of death was cardiac failure. Henry’s wife Edith was present.

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