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Richard Henry Mitchell was born on February 1873 in Lancing, baptised 2 March 1873 in Lancing’s parish church, St James the Less. His parents were Emmanuel Mitchell and Mary Jane Knight. He had a sister Mary Ann three years older. Mary Ann married William Denyer a carpenter turned builder and lived with her family in Southwick. The 1911 census reveals that Emmanuel and Mary Jane had a third child but as it doesn’t appear in census or baptism records I assume it died as a very young infant.
Richard grew up at Monks Farm Cottages on North Road Lancing. His father was an agricultural labourer at this time and this was Richard’s occupation on the 1891 census. He was then still living with his parents. Richard joined the army in Chichester 26 May 1891. He had had his medical examination in Brighton on 23 May and was passed fit. He was five foot four and half inches tall, weighed 123 pounds with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hour. Distinguishing marks were an anchor tattoo on his right wrist and a mole over his left shoulder blade. On 27 may 1891 he joined the Royal Artillery at Woolwich. A brief summary is his army career is
Home 23/5/1891 to 26/10/1899
South Africa 27/10/1899 to 28/8/1902
Home 29/8/1902 to 22/5/1903
His job in the Royal Artillery was that of a driver. That of course meant driving horses. In more detail he was first in the 2nd Battalion assigned to depot duties. On 14/8/1894 he was transferred to the 41st Field Battery and on 7/9/1894 to the 16th. The 21/4/1894 saw him transferred to the 6th Royal Horse Artillery and 5/2/1897 to the 7th.
He left after his eight years service and on 23/5/1898 he was placed in the 1st Class Army Reserve. But the Second Boer War came along leading to his recall 16 months later on 9 October 1899. During his time in South Africa he was with the Royal Horse Artillery, No 2 Brigade RHA ammunition under Captain John Philip du Cane. Ammunition columns carrying small –arms as well as gun ammunition formed part of every horse & field artillery brigade column and were in 2 portions, the first being horse ammunition wagons and mule buck wagons and the second ox wagons. During the first half of 1890 his ammunition column served some of the major encounters of the war. The first was the Relief of Kimberley. Arthur Conan Doyle in his account of this wrote
‘The force was soon increased by the transfer of the Guards and the arrival of more artillery; but the numbers which started on Monday, February 12th, amounted roughly to twenty-five thousand foot and eight thousand horse with 98 guns-a considerable army to handle in a foodless and almost waterless country. Seven hundred wagons drawn by eleven thousand mules and oxen, all collected by the genius for preparation and organisation which characterises Lord Kitchener, groaned and creaked behind the columns’
Following the Relief Richard’s ammunition column supplied troops at the Battle of Paardenburg 17-16 February 1900, Battle of Driefontein 10 March 1900, Battle of Johannesburg 31 May 1900 and Diamond Hill 11-12 June 1900. In the last ffourteen thousand British soldiers squared up against four thousand Boers and forced them from their positions on the hill. Forty-four years after the battle, General Ian Hamilton opined in his memoirs that "the battle, which ensured that the Boers could not recapture Pretoria, was the turning point of the war". Winton Churchill recognised that the key to victory would be in storming the summit, and risked his life to signal Hamilton.’
Richard was to stay in South Africa until August 1902 but the rest of the war consisted of small encounters rather than major actions. On the 9/5/1903 he was put into the 1st Class Army Reserve again and discharged 22 May 1903. He was awarded the Kings and Queens Medals. He received no clasps for the battles mentioned above. This was because in his role he would not have been in close enough proximity to the fighting as each clasp had a designated geographical area in which a participant needed to have served.
Richard married 1907 Mary Harriet Potter. Mary born 1871 came from a Sompting family and was an elementary school teacher before her marriage. Her widowed father John and brother Fred market garden labourers lived with her and Richard.
In 1911 they were at 2 Boundstone Cottages, Cokeham. He gave his occupation as carter to a coal merchant. His army driving experience would have made him eminently suitable for such work. He and Mary had one child Richard Fred born 1908.
However Richard’s civilian life was cut cruelly short. There was a funeral report for him in the Worthing Gazette 26 Feb 1914 'A Forrester's funeral
‘Members of the Shoreham Court of Foresters attended the funeral of one of their members, who was buried at Sompting churchyard last week. The deceased was Mr R H Mitchell of Cokeham who succumbed to an attack of pneumonia following an operation for appendicitis. He leaves a widow and one child. Mr Mitchell who was 41 years old was formerly a driver in the Royal Horse Artillery, took part in the Boer War for which he was awarded a medal. When he returned to civilian occupation he was employed by Messrs Lisher & Peters and was highly esteemed’.