Royal Army Medical Corps, 30th November 1918
Synopsis of Life and Military Service
Born in Reading circa November 1879, Robert was the son of a butcher, Alfred Aldridge and Susan Hopkins.
The 1891 Census has no record for his father Alfred but his mother was still shown as married and that she was a nurse. They had also taken in a boarder, Flora May who was a domestic housemaid, which suggests that they were struggling to make ends meet. It’s possible that Robert’s father had been admitted to the Reading Union Workhouse as an “Alfred Aldridge” died there in 1895 and the 1901 census shows that his mother was a widow. Robert was by now a painter and the family were still taking in boarders; in 1901 it was Charles Mabbett who was an errand boy.
On 24 March 1906, Robert married Matilda Downham in St Giles Church Reading, and they had two children. His occupation at the time was that of a Porter this may have been a Hospital Porter as this was his occupation in the 1911 Census. (Newspaper reports following his death state this was at the Royal Berkshire Hospital).
It appears from his military records that by the time he signed up on 18 October 1916, Robert had become an ambulance porter. He stated a preference to join the Royal Army Medical Corps. A brief description was taken of him. His height was 5ft 5 ½ inches tall and had a chest measurement when fully expanded of 40 inches.
Robert was posted to Netley Military Hospital. This hospital had been built on the orders of Queen Victoria following the Crimean War. The aim was to train army doctors and nurses and to treat military patients. The building was a quarter of a mile long with 138 wards and approximately 1,000 beds. Even so, during the First World War a large Red Cross hutted hospital was built at the rear of the site to accommodate another 2,500 beds. It also housed the first purpose-built military asylum know as D Block. Around 50% of all men suffering from shellshock were treated at Netley.
He transferred to 35 Coy, RAMC based at Latchmere House Military Hospital in Surrey in March 1917 and was recorded as a Mental Attendant on 21 March. Latchmere House was a Victorian mansion taken over in 1915 as a Special Hospital for officers. Issued orders made it very clear that insane officers should be sent to Latchmere whereas psychoneurotic but not insane officers were sent to Palace Green.
Around 10.15 pm on 30 November 1918, Robert was on duty in the Annexe to Latchmere House when he was called by a patient, Lieutenant Sidney Stewart Hume, a former Prisoner of War and RFC officer. Hume had been admitted to the hospital from Netley suffering from delusions and hallucinations. When Robert approached him, Hume produced a revolver and ordered him to put his “hands up”. Robert refused at which point Hume shot him in the face. He died immediately. Hume took the keys off Robert and escaped from the hospital (he was subsequently captured in Hammersmith). Hume later said “I pointed the revolver at the orderly and told him to put his arms up. He was braver than I thought he was, and refused. I then fired. He fell to the ground, and I walked out”.
Robert’s post mortem was held at Kingston Mortuary on 3 December by the Divisional Police Surgeon Dr Pattinson Armstrong and Captain Harvey Baird of the RAMC. The post mortem report stated, amongst other things, that the bullet had entered just above the left eye.
Robert was buried in Reading Cemetery.
According to various Census data, Robert had the following family members :-
- Wife – Matilda Downham
- Father – Alfred Aldridge, born c.1843 at Reading, Berkshire.
- Mother – Susan Hopkins, born c.1844 at London.
- Brother – Frank, born c.1868 at Reading, Berkshire.
- Brother – Alfred, born c.1869 at Reading, Berkshire.
- Sister – Nelly, born c.1871 at Reading, Berkshire.
- Brother – Charles, born c.1876 at Reading, Berkshire.
- Sister – Daisy Aldridge or Dinsdale, born c.1883 at Reading, Berkshire.
Records show that Robert lived at the following addresses :-
- 1881 – 2, Montague Street, Reading St Giles, Reading, Berkshire.
- 1891 – Montague Street, Reading, Berkshire.
- 1901 – 14, Montague Street, Reading St Giles, Reading, Berkshire.
- 1906 – 48, Alpine Street, Reading, Berkshire.
- 1911 – 49, Elgar Road, Reading, Berkshire.
- 1916 – 2 Sherman Road, Reading, Berkshire.
As Robert did not serve overseas he was not eligible for any campaign medals.
Although he is not named specifically on the Reading and Berkshire War Memorial, he is honoured and remembered on it.
Links to Additional Information
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Robert Aldridge.
- Lives of the First World War – Robert Aldridge.
- A Street Near You website – Robert Aldridge.
- Find a Grave – Robert Aldridge.
- WW1 Lives – Lieutenant Sidney Stewart Hume who murdered Robert.
- Imperial War Museum Memorials – Reading and Berkshire War Memorial.
- 1881 England Wales and Scotland Census.
- 1891 England Wales and Scotland Census.
- 1901 England Wales and Scotland Census.
- 1911 Census for England and Wales.
- Find My Past: England and Wales Marriages 1837-2005.
- Find My Past: Berkshire Marriages Index.
- National Archives: WO 363 – First World War Service Records “Burnt Documents”.
- Reading Observer 7 December 1918.
- War Graves in the Old Reading Cemetery (cemeteryjunctionwargraves.org.uk)
- The Guardian: Palace of Pain 21 August 2014.
- None Identified.
- Trevor Torkington