In 2014 I was working as usual adding metadata to the photographic images on the Serving Soldier database. The albums, paperwork and ephemera I annotated at the time were donated by the family of the late Major General Charles Howard Foulkes CB CMG DSO (1ST February 1875 – 6th May 1969) to the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, a leading repository founded in 1964.
While adding metadata and keywords to the images the handwritten notes written by Major General Foulkes caught my eye. Underneath a photograph of a not so youthful moustachioed Sergeant were written the words ‘Sgt Rumbelow 4 Platoon A company, 7th RB at Arras March 1916, DCM Gazette 6.6.16.’
I am not a researcher but curiosity caught hold of me and I decided to do a quick internet search firstly to find out what a DCM was (part of the learning curve when working with photographs of the Military so that I can give correct information) then to see if I could find out more about this rather more mature soldier who looked quite hauntingly tired as he gazed into the camera lens.
Upon entering his name, I was directed to a website dedicated to holding information about ‘fallen’ military personnel of Buckinghamshire http://buckinghamshireremembers.org.uk. Low and behold there was a record of Sergeant Rumbelow with details of his name, regiment, where he enlisted, where he died and the location of the memorial on which his name is displayed. I took it upon myself to send an email to the person who ran the website to ask if they had a photograph of Sergeant Rumbelow, in actuality they had all of his information but didn’t possess a picture of him. I forwarded a photograph and was met with a lovely response ‘I just cannot thank you enough for helping me to discover the full details of this brave man, I would never have discovered these extra details’.
My discoveries did not stop there: from the information I had gleaned I then knew that Albert Rumbelow worked at the Royal Albert Hall as a cleaner and hall attendant; he was one member of a quarter of the staff employed at the Royal Albert Hall who volunteered to fight during World War I, enlisting in 1914 at the age of 35 leaving behind a wife and four children. I contacted the organisers of an exhibition planned at the Royal Albert Hall in which I knew that Sergeant Albert Rumbelow was mentioned and asked if they would like a photograph of him. The response was they would because they did not have one.
In the summer of 1916 (we know it was in June) Albert gained the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘Conspicuous Gallantry’. His citation reads that he ‘exposed himself to machine gun and shell fire when going across the open to rescue a wounded man. Later he went under fire to fetch a stretcher’.
Albert was returned to England badly injured and died two months before Armistice Day in a military hospital in Ashford, Kent, at the age of 39. He was one of the few soldiers to be buried on English soil because the government had taken the decision not to repatriate the bodies of those killed in battle. His grave is located in the churchyard of St Peter Parish Church, Aylesford Kent and his name is alongside many others on the War Memorial at High Wycombe Hospital.