Private Richard James Spurrell

Reprinted from The Packet, April 7, 2016
by Lester Green

Private Richard James Spurrell

The Spurrell family loses a son

Private Richard James Spurrell was born Sept. 15, 1894 at Butter Cove. He was the second oldest son of Moses and Mary Ann (Stanley) Spurrell.
Richard spent his early life involved in the fishery, helping his family with a variety of chores from catching, cleaning, and salting codfish. When the weather became more favourable, his attention would be occupied with drying of salt codfish.

Richard enlisted in Newfoundland Regiment on July 29,1915, and was assigned the Regimental #1745. His full address was listed as Heart’s Ease, which was the church diocese in the region. The diocese was composed of Heart’s Ease, Gooseberry Cove, and Butter Cove.

He completed basic training at Pleasantville and embarked on a train at St. John’s on Nov. 27, 1915 and headed for Quebec. From Quebec he travelled overseas with a convoy of ships to England.

For the next several months he completed his combat training. His company received orders that they were to report to Southampton and departed on June 25, 1916. A day later he arrived in Rouen, France and proceed to join the 1st Battalion Newfoundland Regiment at the frontline under the command of 29th Division, British Expeditionary Forces.

In his book ‘The First Five Hundred’, first published in 1921 and reprinted in 2015, author Richard Cramm speaks of the heroics of individual soldiers during the different battles. He describes the duty performed by Private Spurrell:

“Private T. Meaney and R. Spurrell were acting as stretcher-bearers and during the most intense German bombardment crossed through the mud, and water of the ‘floating swamp’ several times in an effort to save some of their comrades….”

While retrieving wounded soldiers in the field on Nov. 27, 1916, Private Spurrell received a gunshot wound to his left thigh. He was admitted to 12th General Hospital, Rouen, France.

His father, Moses, received the first telegraph from J. R. Bennett, Colonial Secretary informing him of his son’s injury on Dec. 7. The telegraph continued explaining that the family would be updated upon further receipt of information from payroll and records in London.

Records show that Moses sent a telegraph on Dec. 7, expressing his deep concern about the condition of his son, who now lay in a hospital in a foreign country suffering from gunshot wounds. The telegraph from Hodge’s Cove simply read:

“Sympathy and prayers.”

Between Dec. 7 to 21, 1916, the family received several telegraphs with news that their sons health was improving. The family rejoiced and continued praying for their son’s full recovery.

On Jan. 6, 1917, however, the news shocked the family. The telegraph office received a message. It contained dreadful news and read:

“Regret to inform you Record Office, London, today reports that your son, No. 1745, Private Richard Spurrell, died of wounds on January Fourth at the 12th General Hospital, Rouen.”

Private Richard James, like so many other young Newfoundlanders, would not be coming home.

His family and community would have to mourn without his body and celebrate his memories. His body was buried at St. Sever Cemetery Extension Rouen, France, at gravesite number 67. The family would have to spend the rest of their lives with no gravesite to visit.

In June of 1922, the family acknowledge receiving a memorial plaque, scroll and letter from the king that was sent to he next of kin of all soldiers within the British Commonwealth, whose death were attributable to war.

There was no evidence of other medals received but we can assume that the family would have also received the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Next week: Private Bernard Shaw from the abandon community of Batt’s Cove, near Little Heart’s Ease, enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment. He fought and survived the battle of Monachy-le-Preux in 1917. He returned home to his family on Dec. 21, 1918 aboard the S.S. Corsican.


Royal Newfoundland Military Service Record

Private Richard Spurrell #1745

July 29, 1915: Enlisted and signed Attestation Papers signed at St. John’s.

Oct. 27, 1915: Entrained St. John’s to Quebec and continued overseas.

May 24, 1916: Signed enlistment papers for second time at Ayr, Scotland location of Newfoundland Regiment Depot.

June 25, 1916: Embarked Southampton for British Special Force at Rouen, France.

Nov. 21, 1916: Private R. Spurrell, stretcher-bearer wounded while rescuing soldiers injured in the “swampy fields.”

Nov. 27, 1916: Admitted to 12th General Hospital Rouen, France of gunshot wound to left thigh.

Dec. 3, 1916: Confusion about condition of Private R. Spurrell. Some files state seriously ill and others improving of gunshot wound left thigh.

Dec. 7, 1916: Telegraph from J.R. Bennett, Colonial Secretary, to Moses Spurrell informing him of his son’s wound.

Dec. 8, 1916: Improving health reported by 12th General Hospital, Rouen.

Dec. 11, 1916: Telegraph sent from Moses Spurrell to his son “Sympathy and Prayers.”

Dec. 12, 1916: Telegraph from J.R. Bennett to Moses Spurrell that his son’s health Improving.

Dec. 21, 1916: Private Spurrell’s health is listed as “Dangerously ill” by the 12th General Hospital Rouen. Copy of the Cablegram sent to Governor St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Dec.23, 1916: Telegraph sent to Moses Spurrell listing his son’s condition as seriously ill from J.R. Bennett.

Dec. 24, 1916: Medical report for week-ending 24 of December at 12th General Hospital Rouen list Private Spurrell’s medical condition as “Still Dangerously ill”.

Jan. 4, 1917: Private Spurrell is listed as “Died of his wounds at 12th General Hospital, Rouen, France.”

Jan. 7, 1917: Two Telegraph sent by J.R. Bennett to Moses Spurrell and Reverend W.A. Butler informing them of Private R. Spurrell’s death.

Jan. 29, 1917: Letter from Colonial Secretary, J.R. Bennett to Moses Spurrell expressing Government’s regret over the loss of their son.

Feb. 3, 1917: Confirmation of Gravesite at St. Sever Cemetery, Extension Rouen, Grave no. 67.

June 21, 1917: Letter to Moses Spurrell confirming his son’s burial site at Rouen, France.

Mar. 7, 1918: Pay Voucher for $108.10 payable to Estate of Richard Spurrell.

June 1922, Memorial Plaque receipt signed by Mrs. Moses Spurrell, next of Kin. (Note: The Memorial plaque was accompanied by a scroll and letter from the British King.)

In addition to the Memorial Plaque all fallen soldiers would have received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. However, there is no reference to these two medals in his files.

Private Richard Spurrell has served his country faithfully and carried conducted heroic rescues of men fallen in battle but gave his own life after serving his King and Country for total service of one years and hundred and sixty days.

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