Private Ted Potterton
152831, 43rd Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force who died on 7 November 1917
Ernest Potterton (known as Ted) was born on 26 March 1890, the son of William and Ellen (nee Granger) Potterton. The Pottertons, who lived at 36 Beaumont Street, Oadby, had six children born between 1882 and 1907, and one who had died in infancy. These were Frances Ellen, Emma, William Henry, Ted, Frank and Eliey. William worked in the boot and shoe industry and Ellen was a home-based glove stitcher.
Ted was a member of the Oadby Rugby Football club and the Working Men’s Club skittle team.
Ted’s service and medical record is particularly detailed about his military service and we can build up a story about his trials while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
In 1913 Ted had emigrated to Canada and worked as a farmer in Deloraine, Manitoba, a grain growing area. At the time of his enlistment he was living at the home of Mrs James Smith. He enlisted on 2 March 1916 into the 79th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Standing at 5’11” with a 43” chest he was unusually tall and strong. He had a ruddy complexion and was heavily tattooed on both arms. Ted also had a squint in his right eye as a result of a childhood injury. His medical examination noted that his eyesight was defective but not sufficiently bad as to merit rejection from active service
Workers threshing grain in Deloraine, Manitoba
Ted sailed from Halifax, Novi Scotia on the SS Lapland on 24 April 1916 arriving in England on 5 May. He transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) on 25 June and landed in France four days later. Ted would have only undergone about 3 months of intermittent training before arriving on the Western Front.
During the late summer and autumn of 1916 the 43rd Battalion were stationed near Bray-sur-Somme.
Rest camp near Bray-sur-Somme 1916
Between September and December 1916 Ted reported twice to the medics for sickness, potential shell shock and defective vision but was returned to duty each time. Possibly because of his weak eyesight but strong physique, he was deployed as a Sapper (general labourer). The war diary for 3 December 1916 records the battalion was in the front line, under trench mortar fire ‘100 new men brought up for work in the rear lines….1 O.R. (other rank) wounded’
Ted received shrapnel wounds to his thighs, neck and head and was evacuated to the 26th General Hospital at Etaples. By 13 January 1917 he had suffered a ‘nervous breakdown’ and was transferred via the
SS Formosa to England and to Netley, near Southampton. This was a branch the Royal Victoria Hospital, which specialised in mental health.
Ted’s service record notes that, ‘This man since his admission to hospital is peculiar mentally- refusing treatment on various occasions has removed his splint and dressings several times and acted in an abusive way to attendants. On the night of 12th instance when I was called to see him on account of his abusive and offensive attitude towards his attendants he attempted to injure himself and an orderly with a clasp knife and was for a short time extremely violent until (morphine and hyoscine granules) had been administered.’
On 25 January 1917 Ted was transferred Shorncliffe Hospital where his ‘dementia’ was further assessed. On 20 February he was examined by Captain Frederick Clindening of the RAMC who concluded that ‘The formation of his head does not indicate a high grade of intelligence, there is also a squint in right eye’.
It was also noted that ‘He is suffering some mental trouble but came in here with wounds on discharging from 2 wounds an left leg and 1 wound on right leg. Irrigated them out and dry dressing. Wounds healed dry dressing. Mentally he has improved and would be considered odd in his ways is able to carry on…..wounds mainly healed (sic).’ Clindening considered Ted fit to be discharged on 1 March and he was transferred to the main hospital at Hastings on 10 March and then sent to convalesce at Woodcote Park Camp, Epsom three days later.
Convalescent wards at Woodcote Park Camp, Epsom.
It was during this period of convalescence that Ted married Caroline Emma Hedges at Christ Church in Epsom on 30 May 1917. He moved to the 3rd Canadian Railway Troops Depot at Purfleet. Ted’s leg wounds were painful, he was unable to march and suffered with constant leg cramps, the scars having adhered to his thigh muscles and he required a stick to walk. This and being ‘about blind in his right eye’, meant that a medical board declared him unfit for duty on 3 November.
He was awaiting discharge when, on 7 November, he descended a train at Pufleet station. An observer noted that Ted was struggling to walk with a stick and as he bade farewell to a fellow passenger, and shook hands with her through the train window, he lost his balance and fell on the track. He was crushed to death under the wheels as the train drew away.
An inquest was held at the Royal Hotel, Purfleet on 9 November 1917. Coroner Charles Edgar Lewis satated that Ted ‘died from injuries received due to his accidentally falling beneath a certain passenger train whilst the same was in motion…’
Private Ted Potterton was Buried with Honour in Epsom Cemetery.
Ted is also remembered on the Oadby War Memorial and on the Oadby Council Senior School Memorial which hangs in Launde Primary School, where his name is recorded as Ernest.
Other Family Members
Ted and Emma’s daughter Teddie Jessamine Potterton was born on 24 April 1918. It appears that Emma Potterton travelled to Canada after the war, possibly to sort out Ted’s affairs. Letters were sent to her c/o Mrs JH Nesbitt 524 John St, Saulte St Marie, Ontario. Emma and Jessamine arrived back into Liverpool aboard the Canadian Pacific ship ‘Melita’ from Montreal on 3 September 1921.
Emma and Teddie lived at 76 Sanders Cottage, Bracken Path, Epsom Surrey. Emma never remarried and died in Exeter in April 1984.
Cottages at Bracken Path, Epsom today