Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A death from dysentery in Mesopotamia: Lance Corporal John Gordon Griffin, 16 May 1916

A Royal Army Service Corps cap badge

John Gordon Griffin’s name appears on Budleigh Salterton’s War Memorial and on the brass plaque in the town’s St Peter’s Church. He was born in 1889, in Feniton, near Honiton, later moving with his parents, John and Mary Jane Griffin (nee Capron), to Model Cottage in the nearby village of Talaton.

His connection with Budleigh is that by 1911 he was living in Fore Street with the Sellek family, for whom he worked as an apprentice butcher.  Variously spelt as Selle

k, Selleck or Sellick, the family had numerous members in the business: the antiquary Peter Orlando Hutchinson records in his Journal for 6 October 1887 that ‘Mr Walter Sellek, the Butcher’ had built some cottages in Sidmouth.

John Griffin married Ada Slater in 1913 in St Peter’s Church. His wife was from Stoke –on-Trent; Fairlynch Museum records give her family address as The Island, Tean.    Their son John W. G. Griffin was baptised in St Peter’s in 1914, according to Fairlynch researcher Sheila Jelley, who notes that the family lived in Frewins and that John as a young father  was a keen sportsman.

It seems that the Griffin family may have been some of the first residents of Frewins,  a cul-de-sac of Arts and Crafts-style houses in Bedlands Lane, Budleigh Salterton. Local history researcher Nicola Daniel noted in the Otter Valley Association newsletter of October 2015 that the houses were built on land bought in December 1911 by Miss Ethel Frewin Mathieson of Otterbourne on Coastguard Road. Secretary of the Budleigh Salterton National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society, Miss Mathieson seems to have been a forceful character who intended that the
houses should be for local people with a rent of no more than two and sixpence.

On the outbreak of war John Griffin joined the Royal Army Service Corps; his previous experience in the butchery trade would have qualified him well for this branch of the Army, where he was attached to Supply Details in the 13th Division, according to a record at Fairlynch. The prefix S4 to his service number indicates that he enlisted as a volunteer in Kitchener’s all-volunteer army.

At the time of his death from dysentery on 16 May 1916 he was serving in Mesopotamia – in modern-day Iraq. Amara, the town in Iraq on the left bank of the Tigris,  was occupied by the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force on 3 June 1915 and it immediately became a hospital centre. 

John Griffin was buried in Amara War Cemetery, represented on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website by the above image.  He was 27 years old. Sheila Jelley notes that his wife Ada and their son John returned to her home area of Staffordshire; Ada died there in 1925 when the child was 11 years old.

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum!  Reviews included: 'Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!!' 

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