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Archibald Molland

29600 Royal Engineers

      Archibald Molland was born in 1886 in Hollocombe in the parish of Winkleigh. His father Richard had married Bessie Ellen Lawrence in 1882 and eventually had five children. Their eldest child was Blanche (born 1882), then came Lawrence (1884) followed by Percy. There then followed two younger brothers, Archibald (1888) and Hadland (1891). Richard had originally come from a family in Ashreigney, his father, James, an agricultural labourer moving to Hollacombe in 1850. Bessie’s parents also came from Ashreigney. Richard had the benefit of an apprenticeship and went on to become a carpenter and wheelwright. This much benefited his very close family whose children were well educated. Blanche became the assistant teacher in Hollacombe School, while Lawrence (Laurie), Percy and Archibald were able to join the General Post Office. While Archibald was growing up, there were many cousins and his grandmother all living around Hollocombe as well as other branches of the Mollands who may have been related. Like his sister and brothers, Archibald attended the Hollocombe School until the age of 14 and following in Percy’s footsteps was employed first at Winkleigh Post Office run by the Postmistress, Mrs. Friend. We have an example of his handwriting dated 1909, a firm clear ‘copy-book’ hand, dating from Hollacombe school, (see documents attached).

      Archibald’s military records were largely destroyed in the London blitz, but we do have four documents relating to his pre-war service in the Territorial army. The Territorial Army was created as a result of the Haldane reforms in 1906, which envisaged a force of 300,000 men in fourteen large infantry divisions, including field artillery and ancillary services, a battalion of cyclists per division, and with the Yeomanry Regiments providing a matching 14 cavalry brigades. The Territorials were designed to be the main force in home defence - to repel enemy coastal raids and deter the threat of a possible invasion if war broke out. Service overseas was intended to be strictly on a voluntary basis. The Territorial Force had come into existence on 1st April 1908, and was initially very successful in attracting recruits, responding both to the national mood regarding German expansion of their fleet following the launching of British super-battleships, the Dreadnoughts, and the fact that the annual camp provided young men with between 8 and 15 days paid holiday which their employers were constrained to permit, though there were many complaints about this in many areas of employment. The invasion scare of 1909 and the popularity of Guy du Maurer’s play ‘An Englishman’s Home’ which opened in London in January 1909, both boosted the idea of the necessity of a well-equipped Home Defence Force. 30,000 recruits alone were recruited in the foyer of the theatre before the scare subsided. The publication of Erskine Childers’ novel ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ in 1903 also had an enormous effect on public opinion.

      Unlike his brother Percy, who had moved on and upwards in the Post Office by taking on telegraphic training in Hungerford, Archibald began as a Post Office clerk in Torrington. At the age of 21 he enlisted in the Royal North Devon Hussars. Only 4 documents have survived of his service.

Document 1 : Attestation.

Archibald joined the Royal North Devon Hussars on 10th November 1910 at Torrington, with the number 610, aged 21years 8 months. He was described as a ‘post-office clerk’.

Document 2 : Medical Inspection Report

This document was opened at attestation and added to subsequently during a soldier’s army career. It tells us that Archibald was fit, 5ft 10” in height, in excellent condition to enjoy his territorial service. He would have learnt, if indeed he did not already know, how to ride and control a horse, the free riding lessons providing a new and exciting hobby.

Document 3 : Statement of Services

A counterpart to the Medical Report, this document also tracked a soldier’s career. We learn of the annual camps that were (and still are today) such a feature of the Territorial Army. Two weeks on army pay, plus legally guaranteed full pay from an employer gave most men their first experience of a ‘paid holiday’ that became fully established after the war. The farmers for the most part resented it, but generally speaking banks and firms including the Post Office regarded it as a form of patriotic contribution to their nation’s defence. Archibald’s annual training took place in early summer: 24th May to 9th June in 1911, 22nd May to 5th June 1912, and something similar in 1913 and 1914.

Document 4 : Military History Sheet

There is no further useful information here.

      Archibald must have been very keen on his Territorial life, promoted to Corporal in 1914. On 12th June 1914 the Western Times reported

Royal North Devon Hussars.

Annual Competitions A good entry and excellent scoring, despite a grusty wind and variable light, marked the Royal North Devon Hussars' annual meeting on the Anchor Wood range, Barnstaple, yesterday.

      Cpl. Molland scored 59 points in the Colonel’s Challenge Cup, for the best score over 600 yards.

      When war came on 4th August Archibald was at once ‘embodied’, that is he was now subjected to permanent military service for the duration of the war. As yet, in the first few weeks the territorials were still regarded as troops only for home defence, but by mid-August they were asked to volunteer for possible overseas service and in the general national enthusiasm the vast majority were only too anxious to do so. Those that were rejected on medical grounds or refused on personal grounds to do so were formed at once onto second line units, ultimately of course to be compelled to serve overseas but initially used to train the floods of recruits that were clamouring to serve.

      By August 1914 the North Devon Hussars were billeted in Exeter as part of the 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade. The Statement of Services tells us that a mere 7 days after the outbreak of the war Archibald was discharged on 11th August, as ‘medically unfit’. Without knowing further details, this seems curious but perhaps he was not entirely A1 by 1914, and in those early days only the fittest were expected to actually go to the front. Volunteers had come forward in huge numbers, and some were rejected. However by the end of 1915 the supply of recruits was drying up and the qualifications were far lower. The Derby scheme was an attempt to register men for call-up, but it was not successful, and the threat of conscription had to be faced. It was introduced in March 1916. By volunteering before this date, Archibald still had a chance to choose his unit and clearly it was his intention to enlist in the Signals Corps of the Royal Engineers, the early origins of the later Royal Corps of Signals.

      Interestingly, his brother Percy had enlisted in the Royal Engineers ‘L’ Signal Company telegraphic section on 19th April 1915, having been especially invited to do so. (A full account of Percy’s war and death is included on this site in the Memorial Cross section.) It is possible that Archibald was following Percy’s example.

      A large number of family postcards written between various close family members have survived. These include one from Percy dated Hungerford 6.7.1914 to his niece Iris, (Lawrence’s daughter) aged 2 and signed Percie (a spelling he used on the Postcards from when he was 20), ‘Make the most of Uncle Arch’, he writes, ‘because you won’t probably see him for some time’. We do not know what this refers too, possibly Archibald’s 1914 summer camp about that time, or just before. The surviving postcards, in sequence, reveal the outlines of the story which begins early in 1916.

Early days in in France
To Miss Iris Molland Victoria Tce Ottery St Mary Devon.
Postmark Field Post Office 20.04.1916
[Stamped as having been passed by the censor, F. Edwards]
Kind Regards from Uncle Arch

16th September 1916 to Lawrence

To Mr L. Molland 4 Victoria Terrace Ottery St Mary Devon
Postmark Field Post Office 16.09.1916
[Stamped as having been passed by the censor]
Dear L/ Everything points to something better as regards Torrie, that is how I read it from your letter recd this today. Tell B’ch to be careful & prudent & do not leave Braunton unless everything else hopeless.
Did you get my last letter with information as you required also voucher detached from I. Rate Rls? [sic]. Read my letter carefully & note points emphasised. Kind Regards to D & Iris
Yours A [Archie] Give me your position A..

      It seems that Archibald was using a code to reveal where he was to the family. Sadly, we do not have any letters.

Archibald was possibly near Baileul (see later card) 11th November (1916) but this particular card could have been bought anywhere
Guerre 1914 – 1916 80 –[word erased] (Somme) – Basilique de N. –D. de Brebieres (cote Est)
Apres plusieurs bombardements par les Allemands.
The Basilica after several bombardments
[Written in blue pencil “? If you can’t read French it says the wind caused all this ? 11.11
At the top, left hand, the pencil writing says “ eight tons”]

      (Brebieres is a farming and light industrial town located 12 miles (19 km) east of Arras on the N50 road, at the junction with the D44 and D307, by the banks of the Scarpe river. The area is best known for growing potatoes.)

MONT NOIR pres BAILLEUL (Nord) – Le Château
No Postmark, no date. Sheila Molland thinks it is of the same vintage as the previous card from Archibald – might have been enclosed with something else.
X Sleep here in the tower [ X directly below the B in Bailleul]
Circle with dot in centre, Back view [ bottom, centre of picture]
It is bigger than it looks here A.
Sent to M & P (Mother and Percie ?)
Yr Brother Arch

      Bailleul is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is located in French Flanders near Lille, in the arrondissement of Dunkirk. The Chateau is still in existence. A very imposing building, it would have certainly been a headquarters, either of a Corps or Division. A photograph of the Chateau at the time appears on this site.

Postmark Statte 01.01.1916-17
1614, Statte-lez-Huy – Le Port
To Mr L Molland Ottery St Mary Devon New Years Day
Shall soon be able to write you, hope all are alright. Best luck for new year. Passing through here.

      Archibald is clearly on the move, leaving Bailleul. Statte is a suburb of the Belgian town of Huy in the province of Liege, lying along the river Meuse, at the mouth of the small river Hoyoux.

      With the help of the cards we can surmise at least part of the story. Archibald enlisted in the Royal Engineers Signal Corps because no doubt he knew that his interests and his talents (to say nothing of his safety) lay with the signals corps of the Royal Engineers. His connections with the Post Office were obviously most important here. His medal card is misleading: there is no mention on it of his receiving the Mons Star, which seems to show that he was not in France in 1914-15. However, the North Devon Journal for 23rd December 1919 carried the following news:

‘Mr. A. Molland of the Post Office, Torrington was the recipient of the Mons Star, after being demobilised for six months.’

      There had therefore been some dispute about Archibald’s entitlement to the medal, and typical of the Molland family they persevered in the request. From this we can date Archibald’s arrival in France to the last days of 1915. Our first post-card, 20.04.16 could have been sent from his first posting. The coded post-card from 16th September 1916 indicates a change of area which could be seen as a move to Bailleul, possibly relating to the undated card when passing through Statte near Huy. After that, of course, we have nothing. Demobilisation about six months from 23rd December (see the newspaper report) would give us his return to civilian life in June 1919.

      He did not take long to get married. In the 3rd quarter of 1919 Archibald married Ellen Hooper, (3rd Quarter, Torrington). His name is mentioned in the North Devon Journal of 9th January 1919. The couple began their married life in Torrington. On 20th November 1919 he is reported to have attended in Torrington the funeral of Mr. Richard Ebsary. Ellen is described as Ebsary’s niece.

      Again, we can put together a sequence for Archibald and Ellen’s first years together. Pre-war it seems that he was a post-office clerk in Torrington. He returned there to his old job at the time when he was applying for the Mons Star. The Post Office staff there was generous enough to present Archibald with a wedding present:

North Devon Journal, 28th August 1919
Mr. A. Molland, for many years an esteemed clerk at Torrington Post Office, was presented by the staff with handsome clock on the occasion of his marriage. Mr. Long (the Postmaster) made presentation in felicitous terms, Mr. Molland suitably acknowledging.

      We can recall that it was in Torrington that Archibald first enlisted in the North Devon Hussars in 1909, so presumably he was living there then. However, the appointment that was available for him next was at the Plymouth Post Office where Sheila has told us he was working by 1920, and where he stayed until his death. He was a pillar of the community and must have been very well respected. The Western Morning News reported on 21st April 1927, for example, that the Plymouth Post Office staff organised for Easter that year an egg collection for two Plymouth hospitals, the Homeopathic hospital and the South Devon and East Cornwall hospital. Archibald was prominent on the committee that collected nearly 2000 eggs. Sheila has pointed out that whatever was wrong with him at his discharge in 1914 from the Hussars, his fitness could not have impacted on his life too much.

      Ellen died in 1932 aged only 36. Two years later, in 1934, he married Adelaide M. Smith, in the Parish of St.Pancras, Plymouth. His first wife gave him two sons, Ralph born in 1923 and Cyril born in 1925. Archibald died in 1953 in Plymouth aged 67, and it was Ralph who dealt with his effects.

      We are immensely grateful to Mrs. Sheila Molland for offering us all her research into the histories of Percy and the whole Molland family. Several years ago she was able to ‘rescue’ the stack of postcards that remained of a voluminous range of Molland family correspondence, and thus we have been provided with this valuable insight into Archibald’s war, which owing to the destruction of most of his military records would otherwise have been forever lost.

17 November 2012

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Medical Report

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Archibald Molland

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