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Albert Duncan

Albert DuncanPrivate Albert Duncan, 2815, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1/4th Battalion

Albert Duncan was born in 1886, in Ossett, the eldest son of Alfred and Lily (nee Vickers) Duncan who were also married in 1886. In 1891, Albert is staying with his grandparents, James and Emma Wadsworth on Bridle Road, Ossett close to the Hammer and Stithy beerhouse. By 1901, the Duncan family living are living at Victoria Square and Albert is working as an office boy. He is the eldest child at 14 years of age. In the household is Thomas (12), Kendall (10), Robert (8), Selina (6), Fred (4) and Harry (6 months). James Duncan, brother of Albert senior (a miner), is also living there.

On the 8th May 1909, Albert Duncan married Gertrude White at Holy Trinity Church, Ossett. At the time of their marriage, Albert was now working as a railway goodsman and was living in South Ossett, whist Gertrude lived at Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett. Their eldest girl, Emily was born on the 6th September 1909 and baptised on the 17th October 1909 at Ossett Holy Trinity Church when the family’s address was Cross Ryecroft Street. In 1911 Albert Duncan and his wife, Gertrude, are now living at Lane End, Flockton with one year-old Emily and one month-old Alice, who like their mother, were both born at Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett. In 1911, Albert is now employed as an Insurance Agent.

In August 1914, Albert Duncan enlisted as a volunteer in the British Army in Wakefield with the 1/4th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and after training, embarked for France on the 12th April 1915. He died of wounds, aged 29, on the 20th December 1915, which were sustained during a German attack on the 19th December 1915. Private Duncan was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but his service record has not survived. The "Ossett Observer" 1 carried this report of his death:

"Among the local soldiers who fell victim of the enemy's attack on Sunday, 19th December was Private Albert Duncan (29), a married man, whose wife and two children reside at 29, Woodbine Street, Ossett. Joining the 4th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, fourteen months ago. He proceeded to the western front with his regiment after about five months' of training. He used to live at South Ossett and was at one time an insurance agent, but for a few years, prior to joining the army worked at Mr. J.W. Smith's mill at Healey. Writing from the trenches under date 17th December, Private Duncan said he was looking forward to a period of rest shortly after Christmas and was in the hope of being allowed a short leave early in the new year. On Tuesday his wife received an official intimation from Lieut-Colonel Haslegrave, stating that he regretted to inform of the death of her husband."

The 1/4th Battalion of KOYLI landed in Boulogne on the 12th April 1915 and on the 15th May 1915, the formation subsequently became the 148th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division. Private Albert Duncan was most probably gassed in the first German phosgene attack on December 19th 1915, near Wieltje on the Ypres battlefield. It was the first time that phosgene was used against British troops (6th and 49th Divisions). More than 1000 soldiers were affected, and about 120 men subsequently died shortly afterwards.2 There was some shelling, but apart from sending out infantry and air patrols to gauge the effectiveness of the gas cloud, the Germans made no attempt to advance.

Albert Duncan with his wife and two daughters

Above: Private Albert Duncan with his wife Gertrude and daughters Emily and Alice circa 1915. On the 22nd December 1917, almost two years to the day that her husband was killed in France, Gertrude Duncan, a widow aged 29 with two young children married William Gelder Binns, aged 47, a widower with two adult children, at Ossett Holy Trinity Church.  William’s first wife Ada, died in 1915, aged 45.  William’s address was Springstone Avenue and Gertrude was still living on Ryecroft Street where she was born. After their marriage William, Gertrude and the girls moved to 25, Woodbine Street, Ossett.

On the 12th September 1931, a 20 year-old Alice Duncan of 32, Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett married Ernest Firth at Ossett Holy Trinity Church. Alice and Ernest Firth had three boys: Donald, Gerald and Keith in the years following their marriage.

On the 9th January 1932, 22 year-old Emily Duncan, of 32, Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett married Sidney Illingworth also at Ossett Holy Trinity Church. Emily and Sidney Illingworth had three girls: Marie, Irene and Maureen in the years following their marriage.

We think that Albert Duncan would have been very proud of his girls and pleased that his wife had been able to make a new life for herself.

Private Albert Duncan is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery 3, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium at grave reference II. B. 4. During the First World War, the village of Lijssenthoek was situated on the main communication line between the Allied military bases in the rear and the Ypres battlefields. Close to the Front, but out of the extreme range of most German field artillery, it became a natural place to establish casualty clearing stations. The cemetery was first used by the French 15th Hospital D'Evacuation and in June 1915, it began to be used by casualty clearing stations of the Commonwealth forces. The cemetery contains 9,901 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 24 being unidentified. There are 883 war graves of other nationalities, mostly French and German, 11 of these are unidentified. There is 1 Non World War burial here.

References:

1. "Ossett Observer", 1st January 1916

2. The Long, Long Trail - The First German Phosghene Attack: 19th December 1915

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site