Albert G May

Albert G May
Private 299839
735th Company Labour Corps.

The following details have been provided by Roger Panter.

Albert was born and grew up in Cove, Hampshire.  His mother, Rose, was about nineteen and unmarried when Albert was born in the last quarter of 1875 and he was raised by his grandparents, James and Ann May.  Rose married Henry Goodyear in 1881 but Henry died only a year after their marriage; Rose never married again.  Rose and Henry and Albert’s grandparents were all buried in St John’s Churchyard, Cove.

When Albert left school he worked as a general labourer, presumably in the building trade because by 1901 he described himself as a plasterer.  He married Maude Eugenie Cordell in the first quarter of 1906 in the registration district of Hendon and the couple evidently continued to live in north London because in the 1911 census they were living in Harrow Wealdstone.  Albert described himself as a journeyman plasterer ‘working where I can get work’.

Albert and Maude had three children together, Ivy (b 1906), Leslie (b 1907) and Ena
(b 1911).  By the time Albert enlisted in 1915 the family had moved to New Malden, Surrey.

Albert’s service records have survived, albeit in a damaged condition; they show that he enlisted with the Army Service Corps on 15 March 1915 in London.  The Army Service Corps (later the Royal Army Service Corps) was responsible for keeping the British Army supplied with all its provisions except weaponry, military equipment and ammunition.  When war came the BEF in France soon found that the local authorities could not supply civilian men for labouring duties such as helping disembark stores and equipment from ships and so the War Office began to recruit skilled labourers and dock workers to perform these tasks.  The men were formed into Labour Companies of the Army Service Corps, each Company consisting of 6 officers and 530 other ranks. Numbers 1 and 2 Labour Companies were officially formed at Aldershot on 24-25 August 1914 and many more followed with approximately 21,000 men having been recruited for this work by the end of 1915.

After attesting in London, George was sent immediately to the ASC Depot at Aldershot and sailed for France only 16 days later.  Unfortunately the records do not show which company he was with or where he was employed after he reached France.  On 1 August 1917 he was transferred to the recently formed Labour Corps.  The following extracts come from ‘The Pioneer’ website and give a good description of the role and origins of the Corps:

“The initial need for labour units during WW1 had been achieved with some 38 Labour Battalions established in 18 different infantry regiments, and a large number of Labour Companies from other infantry regiments. In addition there were a good number of Labour Companies in the Royal Engineers and the Army Service Corps. All these became Labour Corps companies in the spring and summer of 1917. The Labour Battalions and later the Labour Companies of the Labour Corps carried out a whole range of defence works duties in the UK and in overseas theatres, especially in France and Flanders. These included road and railway building/repair, moving ammunition and stores, load and unloading ships and trains, burial duties and at home agriculture and forestry…………

Although initially considered non-combatants, the British companies of the Labour Corps often performed their duties in forward areas, often under heavy fire. In the spring of 1918 the Corps assumed combatant status for dealing with the last German offensive of March 1918. Throughout the summer of that year the men of the Labour Corps units in the forward areas worked fully armed and some served as fighting soldiers when need arose. However the vast majority of men continued to work in unarmed companies. Life in the Labour Corps could be as bad as that enjoyed by front line troops; they were often under continual shellfire for months at a time. Indeed 2,300 men in the Labour Corps were either killed in action or died of wounds between May 1917 and the end of the war…………..

By the end of the war the Labour Corps had a strength of about 380,000 men stationed in the UK, in France and Flanders, Italy, Egypt and Salonika. In fact the size of the Corps reached its greatest of almost 400,000 in Jan 1919. This

included about 240 Labour Companies in France and Flanders with about thirty to fifty Labour Companies allocated to each of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth armies, with a few kept aside as lines of communication units. There were about the same number of companies serving elsewhere overseas at area, divisional, corps and army level as well as some 400 or so companies working in the UK. In late 1918 and early 1919 there were Labour Companies numbered from 1 to over 1000, with little evidence of their origin. The Labour Corps was disbanded late in 1919.”

Albert was transferred to the Labour Corps on 1 August 1917 and immediately posted to the 714th Company.  He only remained with that company for just over a month, being posted to the 712th Company on 6 September and finally to the 735th Company on 5 October.  There is no indication in his service records of where he was stationed with these companies or what duties they performed.

Albert was admitted to hospital in France on 27 February 1918 with severe pains to the back of his neck and on 6 April was returned to hospital in England, probably in Reading.  He died on 17 May in Section 4, Reading War Hospital from ‘Tubercle of Lung’.  Albert was buried in the military section of Reading Cemetery on 21 May 1918.  Graves in this section of the cemetery are not individually marked and Albert’s name is one of 100 recorded on a screen wall (grave ref. Screen Wall. 72. 16413).