Richard Frank Choat was a Chelmsford-born stonemason born into a family of builders. He joined the army in 1914 and was killed at the start of the fifth week of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. His home was in Manor Road.
CHOAT, RICHARD FRANK,
Sapper, 82nd Field Company, Royal Engineers
Richard has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, near Albert, Somme, France, on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford, the Moulsham Parish Memorial, St John’s Church, Moulsham, at the Pozieres-Martinpuich crossroads, Bazetin-le-Petit, Somme, and at the London Road Congregational Church, Chelmsford.
He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. The official history written after the war reported:
"No 3 Section of the 82nd Field Company RE, working under the 57th Brigade (19th Division) was engaged under fire in building strong points in front of Bazentin le Petit village during the night of the 29th/30th July. The infantry assisting the section was withdrawn to prepare for an attack next day, but the sappers volunteered to go on with the work and did so, until nine were killed and nearly all the others wounded. In the village there now stands a brick memorial 'To Nine Brave Men'."
In October 1923 Lt Col R F A Butterworth wrote a letter to "Sapper", the journal of the Royal Engineers. As a Captain he had formed the 82nd Field Company in October 1914 and commanded it through the Somme fighting. He wrote:
"Nos 3 and 4 Sections… …had to go up at dusk through the little village of Bazentin to wire in some tactical points gained during the day's fighting. They had two or three men hit on the way up and then for three or four hours they carried on their work under a hellish storm of H.E. and machine gun fire. The work was considered vitally necessary, accordingly Lt. Howlett carried on steadfastly with No 4 Section and C.S.M. Deyermond with No 3 Section till the work was through… …6 killed and 19 wounded out of 40. I added the names of three others, who died with great heroism 'sticking it' in the same way on the previous night, thus making up the tale of the 'Nine Brave Men'. Choat was a first rate carpenter and a most loveable man. Ellison just a boy from a North Country workshop, Vernon a fitter and a fine stalwart fellow………"
Three days later the 82nd Field Company left the area and Capt Butterworth handed over command:
"However I had written to each of the next of kin of the nine men… …adding that I marked the spot… …and would go back some day and put up a little stone to their memory. I had a block of granite engraved in the Divisional workshop… …in November 1917… …we collected bricks from the ruins near by and so constructed our small tribute of affection and respecting to the memory of our nine brave comrades."
The stone reads:
'TO THE MEMORY OF NINE BRAVE MEN JULY 29, 1916 82ND FIELD COY R.E. No 43639 SPR. R. F. CHOAT No 58897 SPR. J. JOINER No 21182 SPR. C. W. VERNON No 47753 SPR. J. HIGGINS No 59287 SPR. W. HAVILAND No 95180 SPR. A. ROBOTHAM No 43609 SPR. C. D. ELLISON No 61876 SPR. F. BLAKELEY No 86972 PNR. F. TREDIGO'
Richard’s cousin, Stanley John Choat, was killed serving with the same unit on 20th September 1917.
Richard’s parents both died in 1942 - his father was aged 74; his mother was 73. A newspaper included the following in a report on the death of Richard’s father in April 1942:
Frank’s mother died the following month.
Richard was born in Moulsham in 1895, the elder of two sons of the plumber Frank Thomas Choat and Edith Miriam Choat (nee Rankin). His father had been born in Chelmsford in 1867; his mother in Gosfield c1868. His parents married in 189 at the Baptist Chapel in Halstead.
Richard’s great grandfather, also Richard Choat, had stared the family building and undertakers business in 1840.
Richard’s only sibling was Jack Arthur Choat (born in Chelmsford in 1899, died in 1965).
The 1901 census found Richard aged five living at 1 Manor Road, Chelmsford with his parents, brother and a 13 year-old servant. His father was employed as a plumber. His father remained at the property until at least 1918. A decade later the 1911 census listed the family of four still at 1 Manor Road. Richard’s father was a plumber for a builder; while Richard was a stonemason.
Richard enlisted at Chelmsford in 1914 and served with the 82nd Field Company of the Royal Engineers which was part of the army’s 19th (Western) Division. He landed in France on 19th July 1915. The division saw action at the Battle of Loos, and the Battle of the Somme. Richard was killed in action by a shell on 29th July 1916 while serving as Sapper 43639.
The Essex Weekly News of 11th August 1916 included the following report:
“Sapper Richard Frank Choat, RE, who was killed by a shell on July 29 while working on a small redoubt just behind the front line, was the son of Mr. Richard Choat, of Manor-road, Chelmsford. Deceased, who was 21 years of age, was previously a Boy Scout. He joined the Army in September 1914, and had been at the Front for 13 months. Deceased’s father has received sympathetic letters from Major E F A Butterworth, commanding the company, and Lieut, A C Dean, his section officer, both of whom alluded in high terms to the manner in which in which deceased always performed his duty.”
The day’s Essex County Chronicle carried the following family announcement:
“Choat. - Killed in action, on July 29, Sapper Richard Frank Choat, R.E., eldest son of Frank Choat, Manor Road, Chelmsford, aged 21 years.”
The same edition also carried a further report on Richard’s death:
“Sapper Richard Frank Choat, son of Mr. Frank Choat, of Manor Road, Chelmsford, was killed by a shell on July 29. Deceased, formerly a Boy Scout, was 21 years of age, and joined the R.E. early in September 1914; he had been at the Front for 13 months. Lieut. A. C. Dean, his section officer, writing to the deceased’s parents, says he was killed instantly. He carried out the Scout law to the last ounce. He was always cheery, never grumbled, and always did his work well. The deceased’s Major says Spr. Choat was a ‘very brave soldier, who earned the respect of everyone.’”