Private Bruce Withers


Bruce Withers was born in 1883 in Kensington, London, one of eleven children of gasfitter James Sydney Withers and his wife Emily Mary (née Holton). He grew up in Fulham and Kensington, but by the time of the 1911 Census was living at 1 High Street, Wouldham, Kent, where he worked as a servant and butcher. In 1915 he married Nellie Roome, the couple living at 24 Edgarly Terrace, Fulham Palace Road.

Withers was called-up in mid to late 1917 and was sent to the 3rd Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Aldershot (No.37601), where he was attached to the 13th Hussars. In 1917 or 1918 he embarked for France, where he was posted to one of the squadrons of the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, probably E Squadron. This regiment was serving as corps cavalry to V Corps, but in February-March 1918 it was dismounted and converted to a cyclist unit, serving as corps cyclists to V Corps until the end of the war.

In September or early October 1918, while serving with the regiment during the Advance to Victory offensive, Withers was wounded (probably gassed). This was probably on 3 October, when E Squadron was camped east of Epehy, near the German defences on the St Quentin Canal. The squadron war diary recorded:

[1-2 October] Attached 100th Inf Brdge 33rd Division. Sent out a patrol under 2/Lt Downey to reconnoitre Canal de St Quentin ... preparatory to small raiding operations on following night which however never took place.

[3 October] 15 ORs Gassed by gas shelling. Sqdn moved forward to Battn H.Q. owing to report that enemy were retiring. This did not prove to be the case, so Sqdn moved back to previous location and were engaged in afternoon on salvage work.

On 4 August 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.

After the war Withers returned to London, working as a stereotyper. He died of cancer related to his war injuries (see article below) on 25 October 1929 and was buried in the Brompton Cemetery, Kensington.



The jury, at a Fulham inquest on Monday, opposed the view of Dr. R. M. Bronte, the well-known Harley Street pathologist, that gassing during the war did not accelerate a man's death.

The inquiry was into the circumstances of the death of Bruce Withers, 46, a stereotyper, of Edgarley Terrace, Fulham.

The widow gave evidence of identification and stated that her husband had used chromic acid in his work. He was badly gassed during the war and had a cough afterwards. Witness understood that her husband had suffered from the effects of chromic acid poisoning. He became ill in July this year and was an in-patient of the Consumption Hospital. Later witness was told that he was in a very serious state. He came home and was under the treatment of Dr. Ross. He gradually became weaker and died on Friday, 25th ult.

Dr. R. M. Bronte said he had made a post-mortem examination. There were cancerous growths in the glands of the neck and liver and cancer of the lungs. There was no sign of chronic acid poisoning.

The Coroner: Would gassing in the war be liable to cause the cancer?

Dr. Bronte: No. sir. I cannot possibly associate gassing with the the cause of death.

Not by irritation? – No. If it had been tuberculosis that would have been a different matter.

You have seen a good many cases? – Yes.

You have never known a case of gassing to cause cancer? – No.

It is not possible to say what led to this cancer? – It is not possible at present to say what is the origin of cancer.

The cause of death, Dr. Bronte added, was heart failure consequent upon cancer of the lung.

The jury asked to be allowed to retire. When they returned the foreman said it was their opinion that death was due to cancer caused by irritation from gassing.

The Coroner: You know that is contrary to the opinion of Dr. Bronte, who is an expert?

The Foreman: Yes; but we are all of the opinion that once a man is gassed he is always gassed. I think every man who was in the trenches got some of it.

The Coroner said he would accept the jury's finding, which meant a verdict of 'Accidental death.'

(West London Observer, 1 November 1929)