A soldier’s tale


Sergeant Alfred Prop died in 1914; he was an army man in the 1st battalion, Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment, regimental number L/8302 and was probably a signalman. On Alf’s war record it baldly says ‘Dead. It is blank for the theatre of war but the ‘date of entry therein’ is 12th August 1914; he died eleven and a half weeks later at Ypres. He served with the Expeditionary Force and was reported missing and assumed killed.  No-one knows exactly how or where he died, not yet, but maybe one day I will find this last piece in his story.

Alfred Prop was born in 1886 in Camberwell, to Mary and Henry Prop. Five years before Alf was born his parents were living at 10, Malt Street in Camberwell. On the census his father is named as William, this however must be an error. His occupation is traveller, whether this means a travelling salesman, or an itinerant worker, or a gypsy is not clear; it is probably a Victorian occupation which has another name today or no longer exists. They had two sons, Henry Ernest born in 1874 and Percival born in 1876, as well as daughters, Florence-Melinda and Lily. Melinda is a very pretty family name, given to many Prop girls.

At the time of the 1891 census when Alf was five years old, he was living with his family at 78, Chatham Street Newington, London. At home was his father Henry who was 47 and an iron dealer, his mother Mary Ann, née Moseley, who had no noted occupation on the census form, and his brothers Henry aged 17,a carman, and Bertie aged nine, and two sisters, Lily, 11 and Florence Melinda,13. Another brother, Percival was in Portsmouth, Portsea to be precise where he had joined the navy.

By 1901, the family had moved to 1, Kingston Street in Newington; Henry had died in 1894 aged fifty-four and Mary was now working, ‘mangling’ which one presumes was turning a mangle in a laundry. It was hard work, but with three children still at home, Alf, now working as a non-domestic coachman, Bertie as a bricklayer’s labourer, and little Alice at school, Mary would have had no choice but to earn a living herself.

Lily had married William John Bramley in 1897, at the age of sixteen, and by the census had two sons, new-born Arthur, and William John aged three. Ten years later her husband was a brush maker and they had three more children, Percival born in 1904, Lily May born in 1907 and one year old Alfred George.

Florence was living away from home now, but does not appear in the 1901 census. Percival himself was actually in Birkenhead with the navy at the time of the census. In 1911, Alf was a signalman in the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment and was a visitor at the home of the Sheath family in Southsea, Portsmouth. He was staying with his sister Florence and her husband William Charles H Sheath, whom she had married in 1902. Alf had a niece and a nephew, Edward William aged seven, and Eleanor Florence aged 1.

As well as his sister Florence living in Portsmouth, it was the home of Alf’s brother Percival and his wife Alice, née Armitage Thompson, born in 1877 in Cambridge. They were living at 8, Prince Frederick Place with their little son Percival Royal, aged 2. Their mother Mary, retired from mangling, was in lodgings, with the Halifax family. She continued to live in Portsmouth for the rest of her long life until she died in 1932, aged eighty-two. Percival, Percy no doubt to his family, served in World War 1 and received the Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.

In 1912 Alf married Kate E M Ward, from Ipswich which is where they lived; it seems they had no children before he died two years later.

There are military records for Alfred, along with his brother, Bertie and his cousin Robert William. Bertie was a private in the same regiment, the 1st Queen’s Regiment, so he may have been nearby when Alf was killed.  Brother Bertie ‘entered’ two weeks later on August 26th 1914 but there is no date for Robert, and whereas Bertie has ‘dis’ for discharged (or maybe dismissed) Robert has nothing. Robert was in the 22nd London Regiment. They all received medals, Bertie and Alf both received the 1914 Star and Victory Medal and Banner… Alf received his posthumously and only served for three months before his death, Bertie survived but maybe he suffered more. Robert received the Victory Medal and Banner but no Stars so maybe he was invalided out.

Bertie never married, although Robert did so maybe one of his descendants has his medals. Robert may have married twice, first Alice E Kiddell who may have died in 1913, just before Robert went to war a year or so later. Then secondly he may have married Rose S Mills in 1920 and had two sons, John G and Robert W, and two little daughters named Rose… no doubt the first Rose died and they named their second daughter for her, another Rose.

I hope some member of Alf’s family remember him, I hope he  is not just another name on the list at the Menin Gate

So why am I interested in the Prop family, who are not connected to my own? Why did I come across Alf and follow his life backwards from his death? The answer lies in his nephew Percival Royal Prop, known as Royal, who was born in 1909. He was a cousin of my dear aunty and godmother, Daphne Arnold, née Randolph; she and her best friend, my mother Monica had always been intrigued by his name.

So it was a random and idle trip through census material which lead me to the Prop family and then to poor Alf. Percival Royal Prop was born in 1909; his parents had married at Alverstoke in Portsmouth in 1899. Percival himself was married three times; firstly to Gladys Lilian Birtwhistle in 1929 in Southampton when he was only 20 and she 21. He and Gladys had a son Robert D R Prop in 1929… so no guessing as to why he married so young! Secondly he married Olive Blanche Jeram in 1934 in Portsmouth; she was nine years older than Royal. They must have divorced but she never remarried and died in Portsmouth in 1970. Royal married for the third time Helen Shearer Newlands in West Bromwich in Staffordshire in 1948. She died in 1988 aged eighty in Nottingham, nearly twenty years after her husband had died.

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