By Victoria Doran
When Albert Edward Shepherd’s War Grave marker was first found in St Bridget’s Church Yard, it seemed likely that he was someone who had died in a hospital facility in the area and just happened to be buried there. For what was an Australian Munitions Worker doing in West Kirby? He is not recorded on the Grange Hill War Memorial or any other Memorial in the area.
However thanks to the information held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Australian National Archives, and to the efforts of Les Shearer of Tasmania, the truth has been discovered, and ‘Bert’ Shepherd revealed as a man of parts with very real connections to West Kirby. Indeed, descendants of some of his siblings still live locally.
Albert Edward Shepherd , known as ‘Bert’ to his family, was born in late 1880 in Toxteth Park, Liverpool, the third son and fifth child of the eight children of James Shepherd (1847 – 1888) and Elizabeth Wilson (1851 – 1931) who survived to adulthood. James Shepherd was a house painter born in Liverpool, and Elizabeth Shepherd, born in Birkenhead, was the daughter of a shipwright. They married on 30 October 1869 at St Michael, Toxteth Park. At the 1881 census the family was living at 4 Ouse Street, Toxteth Park.
Around 1886, the family moved to West Kirby and their youngest child was born there in 1887. The first tragedy of Bert’s life was the death of his father early in 1888. By 1891 his mother was working as a laundress to support her large family, and they were living at Brook Terrace, West Kirby. Bert was, of course, still at school. By 1901, Elizabeth, who was illiterate at the time of her marriage, had moved to Norton Road, West Kirby and was working as a house cleaner. By now, only the youngest child Rebecca Thereza was still living with her. By 1911 she was entirely alone and again doing laundry work.
Meanwhile Bert and younger brother James moved in with their eldest brother William and his young family at 44 South Road, West Kirby. By 1901 Bert was working as a joiner. On 26 November 1903 Bert married Mary Jane Mackay at St Bridget, West Kirby. Mary Jane was born in Askham, Westmorland, but had been working as a housemaid at 14 Park Road, West Kirby. They had no children of their own, but seem to have adopted a girl born about 1904 in Dublin, who they named Isabel Winifred Shepherd. The second tragedy of Bert’s life was the death of Mary Jane at the beginning of 1908. From then on Bert and Isabel Winifred made their home at 43 Kingsley Street in Birkenhead with the family of his immediately older sister Elizabeth and her husband James Hilton Page.
From his munitions worker records held by the Australian National Archives in Melbourne, we know that Bert originally worked as a house joiner, but later went to sea as a ship’s carpenter. Presumably his seafaring was after Mary Jane died. On 6 December 1911 he arrived in Australia as an immigrant, leaving Isabel Winifred with his sister Elizabeth. Initially he worked as a joiner in the Melbourne area, but by 1914 he had moved to Tasmania as he was on the Electoral Roll there. He mainly worked on building houses, including one for himself.
In 1916 he married Bertha Elizabeth Atkinson (1882 – 1969) who lived in the Launceston area of Tasmania all her life. Their only child, Frederick George James Shepherd, was born on 28 February 1917. This photo was taken shortly before Bert returned to England under the Australian Munitions Worker scheme, which he applied to join on 27 July 1917. Under this scheme the Australian Government paid his wife 22 shillings per week whilst he was away. It is understood that he had already tried to join the armed forces, but was rejected. Determined to make a contribution to the War Effort, he arrived in Liverpool on 2 October 1917.
Initially he was sent to France, but by January 1918, having been hospitalised with a poisoned finger, he applied to work in a ship building yard where his previous experience would be more useful. By 12 February 1918 he was working at Clover & Clayton’s shipyard in Birkenhead as a joiner. On 10 August 1918 he was no longer required at the shipyard. By 9 September 1918 he was once again in employment, this time as one of about 2,000 civilians building a Motor Transport Depot at Salthill, Slough, Berkshire under the auspices of the War Office.
From the report of the inquest in the Slough, Eton & Windsor Observer dated 14 December 1918, we know that on the afternoon of 6 December the building collapsed and Bert received a major head injury from which he died on the way to hospital. His brother in law, James Hilton Page, attended the inquest and arranged for his body to be brought back to West Kirby for burial at St Bridget.
As a postscript, a Lancastrian work colleague, James Bernard Conlon, promised the dying Bert that he would to go to Tasmania and tell Bertha exactly what happened. Not only did he do so, he married her in 1923.
Birth: December 1880 in West Derby, Liverpool
Death: 6 Dec 1918 Motor Transport Depot, Salthill, Slough, Buckinghamshire
Addresses: 4 Ouse Street, Toxteth Park (81); Brook Terrace, West Kirby (91); 44 South Road, West Kirby (01); Bangor, Lilydale, Bass, Tasmania (14); Rosevears, West Tamar, Tasmania (17)
Unit: Australian Munitions Worker Number: 3451
Commemorated: Australian War Memorial; St Bridget, West Kirby graveyard
Sources: Census: 81, 91, 01; CWGC; PR; newspapers; family; Australian National Archives
***this post originally appeared on An Imperishable Record: The People of North-West Wirral and the Great War. As West Kirby was located in Cheshire at the time of the First World War, we thought it a good idea to repost it here with Victoria Doran’s permission***