Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Prior to the outbreak of the Great War the sons of men who had worked at sea were almost as likely to join the army as the navy, which highlights the oft neglected fact that in Portsmouth the army had a numerically greater presence than the navy during much of the 19th century. Whether this influenced Arthur Mear's choice of the army is unknown but he was certainly keen to enlist as he must have done so as soon as he was old enough.
Arthur's decision may have been disappointing for his father William J. who had been at sea since before he was 19 years old but less so for his grandfather, also called William, who was a lifelong land lubber. Indeed the older William was born into a family of agricultural labourers at Rolleston, Staffordshire in 1836 and even when he moved south he still remained a labourer, albeit then at the dockyard. His reason for moving to Portsea is unknown but it could have been because he had somehow met Martha Eland Smith who was native to Portsmouth and whom he married in 1861.
Ten years later the couple were living at 7 Broad Street, Old Portsmouth, with their five children, William J., Ellen, Sarah, Alice and Martha. Towards the end of the 1870s William J. left home to join the merchant marine and was recorded in the 1881 census working as a cabin boy aboard the Gloworm, then moored in Portsmouth Harbour. Ten years later the census lists him as living at 43 Hawke Street, Portsea, with his wife Alice and two children, Alice and William. He was still a merchant seaman but no marriage record has been traced.
By 1901 William J had become a 'Marine Fireman' which could have meant that he was a stoker or manned a firetender in the harbour. He had moved, with Alice, to 10 Sun Street, off Britain Street and three more children had been born - Arthur Louis in 1892, Edith in 1895 and Clifford in 1900. The two older children were not then at home. It would have been around 1907 that Arthur Louis struck out on his own and enlisted with the Dorsetshire Regiment.
The 1911 census caught Arthur at St. Martin's Road, Barracks in Dorchester but details of his career thereafter are unknown. The first battalion, of which he was a member, were in Belfast when the Great War was declared but were very speedily shipped to France, landing at Le Havre on 16th August 1914. Arthur was killed in action at the Battle of Bassée in October 1914 having seen much fighting in the two months he had been at the front line. His body was not recovered.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission list Private Arthur Louis Mear (3/6347), 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, died 13/10/1914. Commemorated on Le Touret Memorial, (Panel 22 and 23).
Arthur Mear is also remembered on the Anglican Cathedral WW1 Memorial Cross, and on the Cenotaph. He is listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War', Section X, p153 but the entry is partially suspect as it implies that Arthur was a civilian at the outbreak of the war.
Tim Backhouse
November 2014