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Clement M. Cahill
34919  Army Veterinary Corps






      Clement Cahill was born in October 1880 in Denmark Hill, Camberwell. His father, William Cahill aged 30 is described in the 1881 census as a medical student, who had been born in Alahabad, India. His mother, Alice E.P. Cahill had been born in London. Information from the medical registers of 1889, 1897 and 1901 kindly supplied to us by the archivist of the B.M.A. show the progress of William Cahill’s career. He was trained at Guy’s hospital, London, where he qualified as a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1888. By 1891 William, now able to describe himself as a Physician Surgeon, was living in a boarding house in the Paddington area, next door to a retired surgeon. By 1889 he had moved and was living at 15 Victoria Street, Brighton, and in 1897 at 89 Norfolk Road Littlehampton. In 1901 he had moved again and was now living in Tonbridge, Kent.

      In 1891 Clement, a schoolboy, was living with his parents in the Paddington Boarding house. In 1901, 20 years old, and as an only child of a fairly wealthy family, he was still living with his parents in Tonbridge, but with no occupation, entered in the census as ‘living on own means’. It may have been as the result of recklessness that on 26th April 1902, aged 22, he married Beatrice Agatha Hyman aged 31 at the Registry Office, Hendon, Middlesex. Beatrice, described as a governess, had been educated away from home. In 1891 the census records that Beatrice, 10 years old, and together with her brother Lionel aged 11, had been placed in a boarding school in Eastbourne. Following the marriage, sometime in the years between 1902 and 1911 Clement and Beatrice moved to Boulogne where their son Ivan Patrick was born on 5th September 1911. A second child, Dulci Mona, was also born in Boulogne. We have no record of how or why Clement and Beatrice left Boulogne to come and live in Winkleigh, where their address is recorded in his army records as ‘The Cottage’, a house that had originally been built by the Dunnings family living in Townsend house, for their grandmother.

      It seems, however, that Clement, who apparently was working as a horse dealer, was anxious to join the army. Although we know that he was dealing in horses and had his own stable, he registered on the enrolement document that he had no trade or calling. His application was not entirely successful, because by this time he had lost a great deal of his hearing. He was examined for the army on 1st August 1916 at Hammersmith Road, prior to conscription. Although his physical development was recorded as good, his eyesight was poor and a hearing test revealed that he could hear a spoken voice only up to two feet away. As a result, at this first enlistment he was rejected. He was recalled on 19th June 1917 and rejected a second time. His third recall took place on 3rd March 1918, when he was finally enlisted on 22nd March at Woolwich. A rather plaintive letter has survived in his army records, dated 12th February 1918, after he had received his third set of call-up papers.      

‘The Cottage
Winkleigh
Devon

Feb.12, 1918

Dear Sir
Having been called up several times and on each occasion sent home, I should be most grateful to you if you could see me and tell me if I shall be wanted this time. I have done my utmost to get into the army and have applied to the War Office but they could give me nothing, I suppose on account of my deafness and last time I was called up I was told I should not be wanted, and note I have a thoroughbred mare in my stable registered and all arranged tomorrow, and only myself to look after her and seven others out at grass. This is the reason I am writing and I can’t turn her out for another 6 weeks. I have never been before any tribunal and should not like to do so. I thought that if I am really wanted the Colonel would arrange perhaps with the Remounts to take the one mare and then I am free and still most anxious to join up only I don’t want to sell my horses and lose a lot of money, (I have already done it once before) to find myself sent home the following day. I trust that you will not think that I am trying to get more time. I write because I am in a fix about the horse that I have in the stable and I feel if the matter is put before the Colonel he will help me out better than any tribunal. I should be most grateful of a reply as soon as possible.
I am, yours faithfully,

Clement M. Cahill ’

      Whatever happened to his mare, Clement was finally enlisted (described as a Roman Catholic) at Woolwich on 22nd March 1918, medically B3, a low grade that would certainly exempt him from service overseas. His report included:      

‘This man is not suitable for infantry. He has had a great deal of experience with horses and recommend posting to the army veterinary corps for which he is most suitable.’

      An aural report dated 26th August 1918 at Sutton Mandeville showed that both eardrums were badly damaged, and his tonsils were chronically inflamed and needed removal, but that he was fit for home service, graded B3 and ‘unlikely to improve’. Clement had given his age as 32 years and 2 months, when as we know he was in fact 37 and 5 months. He was certainly anxious not to be rejected a third time. The document records that together with his wife Beatrice as his next of kin, he recorded his son Ivan as Ivan Patrick, with the surname Garfield crossed out and Cahill added afterwards in brackets, born in Boulogne. Here is a minor mystery: perhaps Ivan was not his natural son. Clement’s army pay would have included a child allowance for Beatrice, but no birth certificate for Dulcie Mona was produced. The muddle over this continued. A letter from Beatrice is preserved, dated April 1st 1918, presumably in reply to one she had received from the O.C. of his unit. The handwriting and grammar are very poor, and in parts the writing is illegible - strange for a person who was once described as a ‘governess’.

‘The Cottage
Winkleigh
N.Devon

Friday April 1st 1918

Dear Sir

I am sorry to have reply you for a reply to your letter you sent me ago, but I replied to write to say and to send my marriage certificate which I enclose together with the birth certificate of my son Ivan Patrick. I have stated that I am not making any claim for Dulcimona (sic) but continue to receive letters asking for her birth certificate …….. Also explained fully to the Sergeant at Woolwich, and he promised to see to the matter.

Yours truly
Beatrice H. Cahill ’

      No birth certificate was produced and a note dated 19th April 1918 on the enrolment document confirmed that no extra allow could be made, to add to his army pay, Corps pay 4th rate, of a mere 6d a day

      Despite his letter requesting that a remounts depot would be suitable for both himself and his mare, there seems no doubt that that army had soon discovered that he had little knowledge of horses, other than buying and selling, and possibly riding them. In the letter that he wrote when he received this call to rejoin this time, he not only says that he is still most anxious to join up, but also lists all the reasons why he might be rejected on this occasion. One could wonder whether he did really want to join or just prove that he was not suitable and so not be troubled again.

      Clement was posted instead to serve in the Army Veterinary Corps, with the army number 34919, and on March 27th 1918 he was on his way to the West Riding Division Veterinary Hospital at Swathling, to serve as a farrier. Leave was granted on 29th May 1918 (but without benefit of a free travel warrant). On 22nd June 1918 he was posted to Fovant, Wiltshire. When the 1914-1918 war broke out, there was a need to find accommodation for the New Army. In many areas, training and transit camps were established for troops leaving for, and returning from, the battlefields in northern France. One of these areas was the village of Fovant, in Wiltshire and its neighbours Compton Chamberlayne and Sutton Mandeville. The villages and the fields in the shadow of the chalk downs became a military camp, complete with barracks, a hospital, parade areas, shooting practice ranges, a camp cinema and YMCA huts. A military railway was constructed to serve the camp, branching off the main line railway from London to the southwest.

      Then, on 22nd August 1918 Clement was transferred to Sutton Mandeville, Fovant, with the reference of a clean conduct sheet. From there he went on 30th August to Swathling (today spelt Swathyling), Fovant. However, on 31st August 1918 he was transferred to the Labour Corps with a new number 646578, and on 17th September he was sent to the 446 Agricultural Labour Company at Exeter. Of course this was much nearer home, so it’s possible that he might have requested the move for personal reasons, though we have no evidence. Clement was finally demobilised on 1st April 1919 at Fovant, having signed a disability form to register that his disabilities were not the result of his army service. Sadly, Clement does not seem to have received the War or the Victory medals given to every soldier. There is no extant medal card in his name, although his casualty document is clearly stamped ‘medal’. Clement’s Protection Certificate (to prove his demobilisation to any authority) was issued on 1st April 1919 at Fovant (his first posting) rather than at Exeter.

      Clement’s story shows how hard the Army had to struggle as the war dragged on to enlist every single man possible to replace those serving at home to be posted overseas. In Clement’s case he might or might not have been willing to serve, but given his medical condition it was almost impossible to find him a useful job. The army took care to secure a signed certificate (dated 27th March 1919) on his discharge that his health had not been impaired by his service, so that no pension was due. Clement died aged 52 on 20th October 1932 at Stockland House, Soutrh Zeal, South Tawton, Devon, leaving in his will £6758.2s. 4d. to his wife Beatrice.

16 July 2011

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