The Dale Brothers

Robert Dale (3 June 1886 – 21 February 1917) and Arthur Dale (21 May 1889 – 21 February 1917)

The story of the Dale Brothers is the first in my series that will already be known by some people locally as it has been well documented over recent years.  In fact Robert Dale’s daughter lived in the village in one of the thatched cottages opposite the church until not so long ago.

Robert and Arthur were the younger sons of Ephraim and Eliza Dale who were married in St Mary’s Church, Tattingstone in 1868.  Altogether they had a family of twelve and ten children were brought up in the village, the other two died very young.

In 1911 Ephraim and Eliza were 71 and 66 respectively and had been married for 45 years.  Being the younger sons Robert and Arthur were still living at home with them somewhere near the Wheatsheaf.  Robert was a warrener, a keeper of a rabbit warren, a job that doesn’t exist these days, and Arthur was a carter in the building trade.  However by the outbreak of war in 1914 Robert was married to Ellen Baldwin with two daughters.  Arthur also had two daughters but there is no evidence that he actually married Minnie Lay of Bramford their mother and sadly she died in Barham Workhouse in 1913 … so no happy ending there.

The brothers actually enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on the same day in September 1914 and even had consecutive Regimental Numbers – 2839 and 2940!  Robert was a Corporal and Arthur a Sergeant.  First they served on the Western Front before being sent to Salonika in Greece.  Sadly they also died together.

Arthur was coming back home to re-marry and Robert who was to be best man delayed his leave so they could travel together.  They left from the small port of Stavros on a transport ship the SS Alberta but the morning after it left the ship hit a German mine and sank within minutes.   Following the tragedy, at a court of inquiry, it emerged that the ship was not on the correct course, the issuing of lifejackets was chaotic and no “abandon ship” stations had been arranged.

It was through the research efforts of a great grand-daughter of Arthur Dale 84 years later that the mistakes leading to this tragedy came to our attention.

Eliza Dale, who had been widowed when Ephraim died in 1915, had five sons and four grandsons serving in the War.  Although her three elder sons survived, 1917 was not a good year for her family as one of the four grandsons, Jack Dale, also died in October that year.  Jack was just 19 when he was killed in action in France.  Another grandson, William Alfred Cullum, had died the year before in Mesapotamia in the Persian Gulf.   There was a newspaper article from the time with pictures of Eliza and those five sons.

Now, from a recent local newspaper article, the story goes that Arthur was on his way home to re-marry and in my piece on the brothers for the Tattingstone News I’ve kept that line.  But it is just possible that it is a myth and this is why I think that.  In all my online research and time spent looking through records at the Suffolk Record Office, there was no evidence to be found of an imminent marriage for Arthur – no banns in any local churches for instance and nothing seems to be known about his intended bride, not even her name.  Then it dawned on me that the Rev’d Elliott didn’t mention a word in his obituary to Arthur in the Liber Vitae book about a forthcoming wedding and that surprised me because surely if it was true, he would have said something?  I’m happy to be proved wrong of course so if anyone has any info on this then I’d love to hear it.

Bringing the story up to date,  a few years ago Jennifer Jones of Copdock, who has spent years researching and visiting the war graves of the 83 WW1 fallen from the Samford Benefice, received a call from Robert Dale’s daughter Florence “Jimmy” Cook answering her appeal for information from relatives.  Jimmy was the oldest of Robert’s daughters and he is said to have nicknamed her so because he really wanted a son … and the name stuck!  Jennifer was able to fill in some very important, previously missing, gaps in Jimmy’s family history and it turned out to be a very emotional experience for both ladies.

Because the Dale brothers were lost at sea they have no known grave but they are commemorated on the Mikra Memorial in Greece as well as the Tattingstone memorials.

It’s always nice when there’s a happy ending and despite the tragedy in her life, Ellen Dale, Robert Dale’s widow, married William Spurling in 1919 who was said to be a “lovely” man.  William was the brother of Alfred George Spurling another of the Tattingstone fallen who died a few months after the Dale brothers in April 1917.  Ellen and William had one child William Arthur born in 1921, known as Arthur to the family, and after his father died in 1952 he and his mother lived in the left hand of the thatched cottages.  This piece of information comes from Mick Cook, son of Robert Dale’s daughter Jimmy, and they lived in the right hand thatched cottage.

(Thanks to Jennifer Jones and Jean Austin for the War Grave information, also the EADT.)