Richard Freer Somerville voluntarily attested in February 1916, seeking absolute exemption. A smallholder, and “more use to his country” producing food, he was the only son of a widowed mother. A common enough exemption request but this case was unusual.
Somerville’s father was killed in 1897 leaving him, a baby, and his mother Clara. By 1901 they lived with her uncle; she was his housekeeper. By 1911, she is still there while Somerville, now 15, boarded at school in York, suggesting a good education to set him up in life.
Clara was “very nervous and cannot live alone”; Somerville had to support her as other relatives would not. If he enlisted she would “become chargeable to the Guardians or the asylum”. His 21st birthday in July 1917 would yield a £1000 legacy, which would support her if he died. However if he died sooner, she would get only £100, the rest going to her in-laws.
Somerville’s application was dismissed, going to the Appeal Tribunal in March 1916. His appeal stated Clara was now in delicate health, suffering giddiness and memory loss, unfit to live alone and “accustomed to live in comfort.” The tribunal disagreed about Clara’s hardship but granted exemption to October 1916 – well before his 21st birthday.
In September he sought another temporary exemption, which failed despite Clara now suffering severe breakdowns as well as a recent stroke. His case was dismissed in November.
Shortly before Somerville’s 1917 call-up, his solicitor sought a review 3 times, even asking to speak to the Tribunal personally. Each request was refused. Did the War’s progress cause the change from February’s temporary exemption to September’s firm refusal? The intervening Battle of the Somme put Military Representatives under great pressure to get men enlisted.
Somerville joined the RFC within days, transferring to the RAF as Motorcyclist/Private on 1 April 1918. He and Clara moved to Farnborough, so he continued to look after her.
Further research shows Somerville sailed to Canada in 1920, returning later because of Clara’s health. They both sailed to Australia in 1922 and, in 1924, back to Canada. A death notice shows a Clara Ellen Somerville dying in British Columbia in 1948, and Somerville died there in 1983. So he did achieve his legacy and looked after her for the rest of her life, via lengthy sea voyages.
Researched by Joanne Aston, volunteer with the Grounds for Appeal project