Title - Arthur Robert Cecil Lett

In 1881, the family of Robert and Emma Lett was living at Shirburn Village Cottage, little more than a mile outside the Oxfordshire town of Watlington. Robert - then aged 46 - was a Railway Station Master. (The line to Watlington curiously terminated at Shirburn village.) The couple's eldest son - also called Robert - was employed as a railway porter at age 19 and was to follow in his father's footsteps to become Chief Engineer and Station Master himself. Their next son, Herbert, was a solicitor's clerk at age 16, a profession that the youngest son, Arthur - aged 12 - was due to enter on leaving school. The family was completed by 10-year-old Emma.

Arthur was to become a prominent public servant, progressing from solicitor's clerk to Clerk to the Justices and Clerk to the Parish Council, and eventually to Coroner for South Oxfordshire and Chairman of Governors of Watlington School. He served as a recruiting officer during the First World War and as a special constable during the Second. Arthur's contribution to the life of Watlington was later recognised in the renaming of the lane in which the family's home was situated as Lett's Alley. Arthur and his wife Emily had five children - Arthur Robert Cecil (Artie), born around 1894, Constance (Connie), Dorothy (Dolly), and twins Donald and Geoffrey.

Family of Arthur and Emily Lett in 1915, 29k

Above: The family of Arthur and Emily Lett in 1915.
Standing, left to right: Dorothy (Dolly), Arthur Robert Cecil (Artie), Constance (Connie);
seated, left to right: Arthur Snr., Donald, Emily. Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Barbara Hall.

Artie is remembered as an intelligent man with a pleasant personality and a keen sense of humour. He was educated at King's College, Taunton and enlisted into the ranks of the Oxon. and Bucks. Light Infantry at the outbreak of war in 1914. He was soon discharged to a commission in the 10th (Reserve) Bn., East Lancs. Regt. from where he was posted to the 11th Bn. (Accrington Pals) in June 1916.

Artie alongside his father, Arthur, 26k In the battalion's fateful attack on Serre of 1st July 1916, Artie led forward a platoon of "Y" Company (Chorley Pals) from Monk Trench, 500 yards behind the British front line. In the face of a murderous hail of machine gun and artillery fire, Artie saw Capt. Riley killed in front of him before being hit himself by a machine gun bullet. As shells exploded all around, Artie was courageously helped to safety by 15560 Pte. James Lowe. A few days later, Artie was being treated for his wound at 3rd Southern General Hospital in Somerville College, Oxford.

Artie returned to active service with the Accrington Pals in March 1917 but was invalided home again early in May after being caught in a gas shell bombardment at Oppy-Gavrelle.

Left: Artie alongside his father, Arthur. Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Barbara Hall.

On recovering from the effects of gas, Artie transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer, serving with the R.F.C. and R.A.F. throughout the remainder of the war. After demobilisation, he returned to Watlington to work alongside his father and to marry Laura Mary Tomasina, the widow of an Italian soldier killed in the war.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Artie - despite being aged around 45 - was determined to enlist and was eventually accepted into the ranks of the Pioneer Corps. He soon regained a commission and saw service in North Africa and Italy before being demobilised at the end of the war with the rank of Major.

Artie survived Laura, and continued to live at Watlington until his death around 1972.

© Andrew C Jackson 2001
Email: andrew.jackson@btinternet.com

Compiled from the 1881 Census for Shirburn, Oxfordshire, TNA document WO339/14340, and with the generous help of Barbara Hall.

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