Southern, Albert Edward Rainbow. Died 1st Jul 1916

Albert Edward Rainbow Southern was born in early 1883 in Rugby, the fourth of ten children and baptised on 13 May 1883 at Saint Andrew’s Church, Rugby, when his family had recently moved from one of the Tank Cottages in New Bilton, to 1009 Old Station, Rugby.

Albert’s father, William, was born in about 1852 in Rugeley, Staffordshire, and in 1881 was a [railway] fireman. Before 1891, he had been promoted to become an engine driver. Albert’s mother, Caroline ‘Carry’ née Rainbow Southern was born in about 1853, more locally in Pailton, Warwickshire, and her marriage with William was registered in Rugby in early 1876. In 1901, William Southern was no longer an engine driver, but now a labourer, although probably still with the L&NW Railway as he was working for the company as a ‘tube cleaner’ in 1911.

Albert Southern became a soldier and enlisted into the Northampton Regiment, and is understood to have served for some time in South Africa. The 2nd Battalion sailed for South Africa in October 1899, and formed part of 9th Brigade. The Battalion was involved in actions at Belmont, and Enslin in November and in early December near Graspan, all with comparatively low losses. In the autumn of 1900, the Battalion was in the south-west of the Transvaal, moving to the Central Transvaal in early 1901.

However, by April 1901, now aged 19, Albert Southern, assuming that he had indeed been in South Africa, had returned to England, and was enumerated as a Private in the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment, stationed at the Verne Citadel, in Portland, Dorset. This is today a high security prison, but Verne Citadel was then a heavily defended artillery fortress overlooking Portland harbour. Another source suggests that from 1900-1901, it was the 3rd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment that was at Verne, however, the 1901 census returns confirm the presence of the 2nd Battalion and it was in the process of being replaced by the 4th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, which had already arrived.

By 1911 Albert had had left the army and was enumerated back in Rugby as an ‘Ex Soldier’, and was lodging at the White Lion, at 20 York Place, Dunchurch Road, Rugby. This was behind Frosts, the printers at the top of Dunchurch Road.

When the First War broke out, and with recruiting stepped up, Albert Southern rejoined the Northamptonshire Regiment, as Private No.17672, on 24 March 1915. He had been working as a weaver, and was living at 77 Windsor Street, Rugby. When he rejoined, he was aged 31 years 11 months and was 5ft 4in tall. His military career is recorded in detail in his Service Record which is one of the few that have survived. This has details of his postings, at home, in France, back home and then back in France. Despite, or perhaps because he was an ‘old sweat’, his discipline was perhaps far from ideal, with many minor offences, but the record also shows evidence of ill health, mainly resulting from his asthma, which possibly resulted from the poor living conditions at the Front. At various dates his Service Record showed him with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions of the Regiment.

In the first three days after his enlistment, Albert was posted first to the Depot, presumably still in Northampton, and then on 27 March 1915 to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion. The 3rd Battalion was then at Portland, which Albert would have known from his earlier military service, and then moved to Gillingham, Kent in May 1915, where on 24 July 1915, Albert was ‘absent from 8.45am parade’ and the next day ‘was absent from answering his name when a defaulter at 8.15am’. He received two days Confined to Barracks (CB). He was absent again on 27 July receiving three days CB. Then on 9 August he was absent for three days, forfeiting seven days pay (possibly later reduced to two or three days) and receiving two days CB. Then on the 13 August he was both ‘I. Absent from bathing parade at 5.15pm’ and ‘II. Stating a falsehood to be an NCO’, and received another seven days CB. The latter offences were dealt with by the 3rd Battalion officers.

Perhaps they had enough of him! – or reinforcements were needed – but after 153 days ‘Home Service’ on 25 August 1915, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion in France, and joined them on 2 September. He was then in France for 205 days, but not without incident.

The 2nd Battalion had been in Alexandria, Egypt on the outbreak of war and returned to England, landing in October 1914. It moved to Hursley Park near Winchester and initially came under command of 24th Brigade in 8th Division which had been formed by bringing together regular army units which had been stationed at various points around the British Empire. The 8th Division moved to France in November 1914, as a badly-needed reinforcement to the BEF and the 2nd Battalion landed in France at Le Havre on 5 November 1914.

Having been posted to France on 25 August 1915, Albert Southern would have missed the Battle of Auber’s Ridge in May 1915 when the 2nd Northamptonshire Battalion was in the northern pincer attack with 24th Brigade and took heavy casualties in the catastrophic attacks and where a number of Rugby men died.

On 18 October 1915, the 24th Infantry Brigade was transferred to the 23rd Division in exchange for 70th Brigade. From about 14 September, the 23rd Division took responsibility for a front line sector between Ferme Grande Flamengrie to the Armentieres-Wez Macquart road, this was just south of the Belgian border and some 10km. north-west of Lille and included the front at Bois Grenier. They remained in this area for a considerable time until end January 1916.

On 9 October 1915 when ‘in the field’ Albert was charged with, ‘1. Reporting sick without a cause when wanted for digging. 2. Smoking whilst on sentry’ – he received ‘10 days field imprisonment No. 1’. He also suffered from asthma, this being noted on his record on 31 October; 6 November, and a decision was presumably made to treat him in England as he was first transferred to Etaples; then on 15 November ‘Class A, joined Havre’.

A few days later, on 19 November 1915, he was at ‘home’ but was charged with ‘Having ball ammo in his trousers when parading …’ and he lost three days’ pay. Then an entry dated 28 November noted ‘To Front’. In December ‘in billets’ his offences continued … 5 days CB on 7 December for a now illegible offence; on 8 December ‘absent off guard mounting’ – 5 days CB; on 14 December ‘Losing by neglect his haversack’ – 3 days CB and an illegible note, possibly relating to its replacement. Then on 30 December he was ‘Unshaven on parade’ – 2 days CB. In his favour, at least it was recorded that there had been no cases of drunkenness! These offenses were during the ‘… dreadful winter in the trenches’, and on 6 January 1916, Albert was again ‘unshaven on parade’ and given seven days CB.

On 12 February he was admitted to ‘70 FA’ [?Field Ambulance] with ‘brownish catarrh’, and on 9 March he was classed as ‘sick’ and admitted to hospital with asthma and bronchial catarrh. He was transferred to Rouen on 12 March and then again back to England on 16 March, being posted to the Depot on 17 March 1916, on which date he was admitted to the ‘War Hospital, Clopton, Stratford-on-Avon’ with ‘Bronchitis’. Eleven days later, on 28 April, he was passed ‘fit for duty’ by the ‘Officer in Charge’. After his discharge, he was granted ‘furlough’ [leave] from 29 April to 8 May 1916 and on that date he was posted back to the 3rd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, until 30 May. He had spent a no doubt welcome period of 44 days in UK.

Albert would thus have missed the actions from 21 May 1916, when the Division was defending against the German attack on Vimy Ridge, although the action was more intense to its right. The 23rd Division was relieved by the 47th (London) Division on 11 June.

When Albert Southern was posted back to France on 31 May 1916, he was posted to the 1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, which was in the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division. The Battalion had been in France since landing at Le Havre on 13 August 1914. Albert was now some 100kms or more further south than on his earlier French posting.

One service record entry suggests that Albert was then transferred in the field to the Essex Regiment on 26 June 1916. However, his formal records still recorded him with the 1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. This was in the lead up to the Battle of Albert, which comprised the first two weeks of the Battle of the Somme.

On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Anglo-French infantry attacked on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme and from the Somme north to Gommecourt, 2 miles (3.2 km) beyond Serre. Whilst there were some successes on that first day, in the area from the Albert-Bapaume road to Gommecourt, the British attack was a disaster, and this was where most of the approximate 60,000 British casualties of the day were incurred.

Albert Southern was posted as ‘Missing’ on 1 July 1916, during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He had been back in France only 32 days. His father was ‘notified’ on 11 July 1916. His body was never found and it was presumed that he had ‘Died on or since’ 1 July and that he had been ‘Killed in Action’.

It was nearly a year later, on 30 April 1917, that his ‘next of kin (father) [was] notified’ formally of his death. An official letter dated 3 September 1917 instructed that any effects and his medals should be sent to ‘Mrs Carry Southern, 77 Windsor Street, Rugby’, and a letter dated 19 November 1921 noted that she was ‘his mother and sole legatee’. For some reason his mother had taken over these formal duties from his father. Albert was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal which were sent to his mother.

Albert Southern is remembered on Panel Reference: Bay 7, of the Arras Memorial, which commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and had no known grave. Generally the missing from the Somme were remembered on the Thiepval Monument, but the Northamptons were fighting toward the north of the Somme action, so this may have been an administrative matter.

Albert’s youngest brother Sidney Harold Rainbow Southern, M.M., was with the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and later with the Shropshire Light Infantry, attached to the 1st /1st Battalion, Herefordshire Regiment. Sidney was also killed in action, on 4 September 1918.


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This article on Albert Southern was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, May 2015.

[1]       Edited from:

[2]       Verne Citadel on the Isle of Portland was started in 1847 as a camp for prisoners building the Portland harbour breakwaters, and was extended during the 1860s, to house 8 RML guns with calibres up to 12″. For further information and photographs visit:

[3]       See:

[4]       See report on ‘Rugby Remembers’ for the Battle of Auber’s Ridge and the Rugby casualties on 9 May 1915.

[5]       It returned to 8th Division on 15 July 1916 after the battle of the Somme.

[6]       Field Punishment was introduced in 1881 following the abolition of flogging, and was common during WWI. It consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs and attached to a gun wheel or fence post, for up to two hours per day. During the early part of WWI it was often applied with the arms stretched out and the legs tied together, giving rise to the nickname ‘crucifixion’.

[7]       The 1st Battalion of the Essex regiment were also in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

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