An Old Coathamian – Not Forgotten

Frederick Louis SHIRLEY (former surname Schwenk)

No. G/93870 Private, 30th (Works) Battalion,
Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment).

Born 27 July 1876,
Died 1 August 1918, aged 42 years.

Buried in Reading (Caversham) Cemetery,
Grave 2. C of E. 2619.

The 30th and 31st Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment, called Works Battalions, were specially created by Army Order for the enlistment of naturalised British subjects who were of enemy alien parentage. These battalions remained in England, where they were involved in various labour duties in support of the war effort. Private Shirley died at home in Reading and an inquest revealed he had had a long-standing heart condition which caused his death.

Frederick Louis Shirley was born Frederick Louis Schwenk, the son of Frederick and Karoline Schwenk, German nationals who had settled in Coatham in the 1870s. Their two children, Gertrude and Frederick, were born in Coatham and they became naturalised British citizens. Frederick’s father was ‘a teacher of foreign languages’ and his elder sister Gertrude became Coatham Grammar School’s music and preparatory class teacher, serving on the staff from 1890 to 1930. Frederick Louis joined the school in September 1887, when he was 11, and stayed until December 1891, when he was 15. Apprenticeship and employment in the local iron industry followed before he went to India in 1905 to work in The Bengal Iron & Steel Works as a mechanical engineer. He returned to Britain in 1911, having spent seven months en route in the USA. In 1912 he was working in Northern France, and then the following year he became General Manager of a copper works in Briton Ferry, Glamorgan. In 1916 he became a full member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, still using his German name. He had married Helena Coith in 1913, but at the time of his death his surname given was Shirley, and he and his wife lived at ‘Whitsands’ 16, New Road, Reading. In January 1918, his sister also adopted the surname Shirley. His parents were still alive at the time of his death and there is a family grave in Redcar Cemetery.