Jack Soley

Name: Jack Soley 

1890- 1917 

Place of Birth: Arlesey

Occupation: Lunatic Asylum attendant previously Abel Seaman

Division: Navy

Regiment: Unknown 

Rank: Unknown 

Buried: Unknown 


Person(s) placing the cross on behalf of the Arlesey Remembers You Project: Oliver Jenkins-Warr

Jack Soley: Arlesey’s Man of Mystery?

By Sam Ward

Listed on the Arlesey Roll of Honour for 1914-1918 is the name J. Soley.. but who was the man behind the name? It turns out J. Soley is a bit of a mystery!

It is thought that the “J” stands for Jack and that Jack was the Uncle of two long-standing Arlesey residents, but very little seems to be known about the man himself.

From the birth registers it would seem Jack was in fact registered at birth as William Jack Soley in the Biggleswade District between July-September of 1890.

Searching through the census records from 1891 reveals there was only one Soley family living in Arlesey at this time – a husband, wife and 2 children. William George Soley was born in 1866 in Ealing and was employed at the Three Counties Asylum (now Fairfield Park). William married Rose Annie Thomason (born 1867 in Arlesey) in 1888 and at the time of the census they had 2 children: Rose Elizabeth M Soley, born 1888 and William J Soley, born 1890. The family were living in Asylum Road, now known as Hospital Road.

Ten years later there appears to be no record for William J Soley or a Jack Soley. William and Rose are still living in Asylum Road, Arlesey with William in employment as an attendant at Three Counties Asylum. They have four daughters living with them. The hand written census are very difficult to decipher but checking the records against the Soley births registered in Biggleswade, the daughters would seem to be (Rose Elizabeth) May Soley born 1888, Beatrice Ivy L Soley born 1891 and baby Tomine Blanch Soley born 1900. In the census Tomine actually appears as Jonnie! The remaining daughter has been recorded as Birde in the census but from her age, this is most likely to be Emily Isabel Soley, born in 1896. Besides the absence of William Jack, there is also another son (Harry Arthur Soley, born 1893) and a daughter (Florence Dorothy G Soley born 1894) unaccounted for.

In the 1911 census there is a William Soley, born 1891 in Arlesey living at the Royal Naval Barracks, in Chatham, Kent. His occupation is listed as Able Seaman. The Soley family are now living at 30 London Road. William, age 44, is a widower living with his 3 daughters (Emily, Beatrice and Tomine) and is employed as an officer at Three Counties Asylum.

So we know that William Soley (AKA Jack?) was in the Navy, based pre-war at the Naval training base in Chatham. What happened to him after the 1911 census?

The National Archive based at Kew has a naval service record for William Jack Soley, born 22 May 1890, Arlesey, Bedfordshire. It lists the vessels William served in from 1908 to 1913, including HMS Impregnable, Goliath, Victoria I, Achilles, Pembroke I, Hearty, Victory I and Yarmouth.

The last entry for 25th Feb 1913 says he was invalided out of the Navy due to tubercle of the lung (Tuberculosis).

I have been unable to find any trace of William/Jack in the Naval records for WW1 despite going through the full list of Naval Casualties from the War. An ex-Arlesey resident provided the Arlesey Remembers team with the information that Jack (William) was drowned in Scotland in the Scapa Flow after being sunk by German submarines in 1917 while serving on the HMS Pembroke.

I turned to the Internet to find out about what Naval ships/battles took place in the Scapa Flow in 1917.

During the war Scapa Flow (off the coast of the Orkney Islands) was the main base for the British Grand Fleet. The base was reinforced with minefields, artillery, and concrete barriers because of the fear of German submarine or destroyer attacks. I can find no records suggesting a German submarine attack on Scapa Flow in 1917 or of a ship called HMS Pembroke being in Scapa Flow during this time.

The HMS Pembroke was the name for the naval training base in Chatham, Kent – where William Soley was in residence at the time of the 1911 Census. On 3rd Sept 1917 four Gotha bombers crossed the Channel and bombed Thanet, then Sheerness dockyard and finally Chatham. A bomb hit the glass roof of the naval base resulting in the death of 136 naval ratings, mostly as a result of injuries caused by the glass splinters. A memorial to the fallen is erected in the Naval section of the Woodlands Road Cemetery in Gillingham, where most of the dead are buried. Again, searching these records has not located the final resting place of Jack.

In one final twist in the tale a search through the death records highlighted the death of a Jack Soley, in 1917, registered in Biggleswade. Not wanting to waste the opportunity to possibly finally solve the mystery of Jack, I sent off for a copy of the birth certificate. It reads as follows: 1917 DEATH in the Sub-district of Stotfold, in the County of Bedford.

16th November 1917 at 30 London Road, Arlesey, Jack Soley, male age 26 years. Occupation – Lunatic asylum attendant. Cause of death Phthisis, Certified by J. Langley MD. Informant was T. Soley (sister) present at the death, 30 London Road, Arlesey. Registered 16th November 1917, Herbert J Crooks, Interim Registrar.

How does this information fit in with what we have discovered so far? Firstly, in the 1911 census the Soley family that William “Jack” Soley is part of were living at 30 London Road, Arlesey – father William in employment at the Three Counties asylum. We know William Jack had a sister called Tomina. Most tellingly the naval records had shown William had left the Navy as a result of contracting TB. Phthisis (the cause of “Jack’s” death) is described in the medical dictionary as “wasting, the general term applied to the progressive enfeeblement and loss of weight that arises for tuberculosis diseases of all kinds, but especially from the disease as it effects the lungs”.

So this death certificate would suggest that this man was the William Jack Soley born in Arlesey in 1890, and part of the Soley family who lived at 30 London Road. Jack Soley did indeed die in 1917 as suggested by a local man, but not as a result of a German submarine attack but from a wasting disease caused by the TB he had contracted five years earlier.

The big question still remains – why is J. Soley commemorated on the Arlesey memorial if he did not take an active part in the war?

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