Fireman Theodore Algernon Drudge of Ventnor Fire Brigade was killed in action with the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment on 16 November 1917 aged 34.

 

Theodore Algernon Drudge was nine years older when he was killed serving as a Private with the 8th Battalion (Princess Charlotte’s) Royal Berkshire Regiment in a district known as The Paddebeek, near Passchendaele, Belgium.

He was born on 25 April 1893, his father Robert Henry Drudge died in the following year. Robert was a well known builder who contributed to the construction of the Ventnor Chest Hospital and later Alexandra Gardens.

Sadly he was to pass away before Theodore’s second birthday of typhoid fever. He had been involved in the dismantling of cottages at the corner of Hambrough Road and Church Street, not far from Alexandra Gardens, and it was suspected that he contracted the fever from the open drain at the site. Theodore’s mother Ann inherited her husband’s share in the Messrs. Drudge and Wheeler building business; in reality a share in a mounting debt following a failed venture in the part-share of six residencies in the area.

A year after Robert’s death the firm was declared bankrupt. So destitute did the family become that when Theodore’s elder brother Harry succumbed to tuberculosis in 1890, his body was removed on a handcart.

By 1901 as a 19 year old he was working as a grocer’s porter. By the time of the 1911 Census he had married Edith Mary (nee Butler) in Sandown (April 1906), with which he had a two year old son Harry. The family lived at 2 Ashley Terrace on Newport Road and Theodore worked as a carpenter-upholsterer for Messrs. Gustars’. When the Military Registration Act was imposed in the spring of 1916, Theodore’s employers twice represented a case for his exemption at the Military Tribunals. When the second of these temporary exemptions was granted it came with a final and absolute end date of 15 October. Five days later Theodore was drafted into the 5th Hampshire Regiment before being transferred to the 6th Platoon, B Company of the 8th Royal Berkshire’s at Romsey and travelling with them to France in June 1917.

At the height of the Battle of Passchendaele he and three colleagues were sheltering in a shell hole when the spot took a direct hit from enemy artillery and all were killed. The Regimental Chaplain wrote the following to Edith; I have been for some time getting definite information of your husband's death and how it all happened. It appears that the company was to make an attack on the afternoon of the 16th, and they took up their places on the previous night, waiting in old shell holes for greater safety. At 7.30 a.m., while they waited - four of them in one shell hole - another shell pitched amongst them and killed them all instantaneously. It was all over before any of them could realize what was happening. It was impossible to move in daylight across the open, and as the attack took place as soon as it was dark, the bodies had to be buried on the battlefield. This we all regret, but there could not be any more honourable place for a soldier to lie who fell in the midst of doing his duty. His soul we commend to the keeping of Our Heavenly Father, who will, I trust, comfort you and yours in this time of great sorrow. Your husband had not been with us such a long time as some of our men, but quite long enough to know his worth, and the battalion will miss him - particularly those with whom he was closely associated.

In another communiqué Theodore’s Company Commander, Captain Fortescue, remarked on him being a man of sterling character who would almost certainly have been promoted to non-commissioned officer.

 

Rest in peace Fireman Drudge.