James Frank Morris (usually ‘Frank Morris’) Stevens was born and raised in Chelmsford and married in 1901. The following year he joined the army where he remained until 1910. He then worked at Hoffmann’s but as a reservist was recalled to the army at the outbreak of the war. He survived until May 1917 and was killed not by enemy action but the disease quinsy. His widow and daughter lived in Nelson Road.
James was born in 1881 in Chelmsford, one of eleven children of James Stevens and Elizabeth Mary Stevens (nee Kebby). His father had been born in 1855 in Chelmsford; his mother in 1857 in Hampshire. They had married at St. Mary’s Church, Chelmsford (today’s Cathedral) on 17th November 1878. At that time James’ father was aged 23, employed as an assistant in a soda water factory (there was on in Cottage Place, Chelmsford at the time) and lived in Primrose Hill, Chelmsford. His mother was the 21 year-old daughter of Henry Kebby, a publican, and also lived in Primrose Hill.
James’ siblings (all Chelmsford-born) included: Harriett Kathleen Stevens (born in 1877), Sarah Mary Ann Stevens (born in 1879), Bessie Stevens (born in 1883), Harry Stevens (born in 1884), Harold Valentine Stevens (born in 1888, died in 1926), Grace Gertrude Stevens (born in 1890), Edgar Edward Stevens (born in 1894, died in 1933), Herbert Victor Stevens (born on 11th May 1896, died in 1979) and Edith Evelyn Stevens (born in 1898).
The 1891 census listed nine year-old James living with his parents and five siblings at 6 Park Terrace in Rainsford Road, Chelmsford. His father was a mineral water bottler; James’ sister Sarah was a day girl.
A decade later 19 year-old James was recorded at 4 Park Terrace living with his father and six siblings. James was a glass finisher. His father was a soda water maker; sister Bessie was a kitchen maid; brother Harry was a coach painter; while brother Harold was an apprentice carpenter. Meanwhile, James’ mother and youngest sister were visiting John and Sarah Purkis in West Ham.
James married Elizabeth Ellen Walford at St. Andrew’s Church in Heybridge on 2nd December 1901. At the time James was aged 20 and employed as a fitter. His bride was aged 16. The couple went on to have a daughter, Kathleen Annie Sophia Stevens (1904-2000), but are also thought to have had another child that died in infancy. Kathleen was baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Chelmsford on 2nd March 1902 at which time James was a fitter living at 35 Rainsford Road (later numbered 194).
On 1st September 1902 James, when aged 21 years and three months attested at Chelmsford to join the army for three years, plus nine in the reserve. He had previously worked at Crompton’s Arc Works in Chelmsford. By the time he joined up he had already served in the 2nd Voluntary Battalion of the Essex Regiment. He was described as five feet seven and a quarter inches tall, weighed 131 pounds with a chest of 34.5 inches. He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes, and dark brown hair and was a member of the Church of England.
He initially wanted to join the Army Ordnance Corps, but having changed his mind instead he was posted as Private 1/64579 in the Depot Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.
On 27th November 1902 James transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, before going to its 1st Battalion on 30th March 1904.
In October 1902 James was summoned by his wife to appear before Witham’s magistrates. The Essex County Chronicle reported:
“CHELMSFORD SOLDIER AND HIS WIFE. James Frank Stevens, soldier, formerly of Chelmsford, now in barracks In Leicestershire, was summoned his wife, who lives with her mother Heybridge, for alleged desertion.
The defendant did not appear, and the service of the summons upon him was proved by declaration.
Mr. F. P. Suttbery, of Chelmsford, for defendant, said he took exception to the service. The Army Acts required that where a soldier was summoned for neglecting to maintain his wile, at a court having no jurisdiction in the district where the barracks were situated, the summons must be served upon his commanding officer, and a sufficient sum money lodged with that officer lo pay the soldier's fare to and from the court. That course not having taken, the present summons was invalid.
The Clerk; When the wife laid the information she did not know where her was.
Mr. Suttbery: When the officer went to Chelmsford to serve the summons he found that the man had enlisted. This is unfortunate case. The couple have never lived together since they married. He offered to lake her to his mother’s home in Chelmsford, but she refused, and since then, until he joined the Army, he regularly allowed his wife 6 shillings out the one pound per week he earned at the Arc Works.
The complainant, who said she was only 16 when she married the defendant, carried a baby in her arms. She said her husband had given her nothing since August, when he enlisted.—Mr. Suttbery intimated the defendant would allow his wife the amount stipulated by the laws of soldiers. As a private, the allowance would be three pence. a day. but no doubt the defendant's parents would augment that.
The case was then dismissed, owing to the form service not having been complied with.”
On 31st August 1910, having served exactly eight years, James left the army to join the reserve. He had reached the rank of Corporal. He intended to live at Navigation Place, Heybridge, near Maldon.
The census the following year found James reunited with his wife and daughter, resident at Langford Cross in Heybridge. Aged 29, he was employed as a fitter at an agricultural implement manufacturer - most probably Bentall’s of Heybridge.
In 1911 James’s parents and five siblings were living at 35 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford. His father was an invalid, formerly employed as a soda maker. Siblings Harold, Grace and Edgar all worked at the Chelmsford ball-bearings company Hoffmann’s, while brother Herbert was a baker’s carman’s assistant for the Co-op.
James’ time on the army reserve was due to end on 31st August 1914, but on 23rd March 1914, when living at 10 Railway Square in Chelmsford, he agreed to re-engage and stay on the reserve for a further four years. On 6th August 1914, as a reservist he was mobilized and rejoined the army from reserve,
STEVENS, JAMES FRANK MORRIS,
Acting Serjeant, Foot Police, Corps of Military Police
(formerly of the Leicestershire Regiment, and the Essex Regiment)
In November 1914 the Essex County Chronicle contained a story entitled ‘Chelmsford Sergeant’s Pluck:’
“CHELMSFORD SERGEANT'S PLUCK. CARRIED WOUNDED COMRADE FOUR MILES.
Corpl. Frank Stevens, son of Mr. James Stevens, 35 Rainsford Road, and formerly employed at the Hoffmann Works, has just been promoted Sergeant in the 2nd Leicester Regiment. Mr. Stevens has two other sons in the Army.
The Sergeant, writing to his wife in Nelson Road, Chelmsford, says:—“Do not waste your money getting anything, I have got plenty of everything, all from here. I have got four pipes and about 1lb. of tobacco, three pairs socks, two thick singlets, and four boxes of matches.
We had a very tight corner to get out of on Sunday, I will tell you all about it when get home. I brought 23 men out safe. We lost a few men missing, and all hope that they are safe. It was very hot, and God put everything in the right way for us or we should have all gone up.
Don't worry, as I am safe, and I thank God for it. I know He leads me right road out.
I carried a wounded man out of the firing line for 4 miles, and got him to hospital alright. The enemy are still on the run. We shall soon be in Germany, and that will about finish it.
Now don't send anything until I write for them, as we are getting plenty everything." On a postcard he says: "We have just had another Sunday fight, and are besting them all along the line. Will you send me a pair of thick gloves?”
In January 1916 the Essex County Chronicle reported that James’ parents had five sons, three of whom were in the army, and two employed on munition work.
James subsequently transferred from the Leicestershire Battalion to join the Military Police in the spring of 1917 only six weeks before his death, which occurred on 13th May 1917 from the throat disease quinsy at Le Havre Military Hospital. At the time he was serving as Acting Serjeant P/6072 in the Military Foot Police of the Military Police Corps.
On 14th May 1917 his widow received a telegram from the Military Police’s records office announcing his death:
“RMP 1222. Regret to inform you report received states no P/6092 Sergeant F Stevens M.F.P. died on 13th May 1917 at Havre of Quinsy.”
Today James lies at Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime in France (grave: Div. 62. I. C. 8). At the time of James’s death Le Havre contained three general and two stationary hospitals, and four convalescent depots, and presumably James died in one of them.
The Essex County Chronicle reported:
“Sergt. F. M. Stevens. Act.-Sergt.-Major, Military Foot Police, who died from quinsy in Le Havre Military Hospital, was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Stevens, 35 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford, who have two other sons serving, one being wounded. The late Sergt. Stevens leaves a widow and one daughter. He was formerly employed in the hardening shop at Hoffmann’s.”
On 25th May 1917 the Essex County Chronicle reported:
“Sgt. F. M. Stevens, M.F.P. reported last week as having died from quinsy at Havre Military Hospital, France, was the husband of Elizabeth E. Stevens, 14 Nelson Road, Chelmsford. The late sergeant leaves an only daughter. The deceased soldier was called up at the outbreak of war, and went out to France with the Leicester regt., with the first Expeditionary Force. Sgt, Stevens was transferred from the regiment six weeks previous to his death to the M.F.P.”
During 1914 James’ wife and child moved from Railway Square to 15 Nelson Road, Chelmsford; a short street that ran parallel to Rainsford Lane. It has since been redeveloped as Andrews Place.
The same edition carried the following family announcement:
Stevens. - Sgt. Frank Stevens. May 13th 1917, at Le Havre Military Hospital, France, aged 36, the dearly loved husband of Elizabeth Stevens, 14 Nelson Road, Chelmsford. Mrs. and Miss Stevens return their sincere thanks for the kind expressions of sympathy shown.”
On 2nd October 1917 the following effects of James were posted his widow by the army: Letters and cards. photos, 3 pipes, 2 pocket notebooks, belt, shaving brush, razor strop, wristwatch and strap, tobacco pouch, 2 razors in cases, leather wallet and 1 gold ring (9ct.).
James is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and by the Chelmsford Parish Great War Memorial in Chelmsford Cathedral.
On 23rd November 1918 the Essex County Chronicle mentioned one of James’ brothers in a report:
“Pt. Herbert Victor Stevens, Hertfordshire Regt., son of Mrs Stevens, 35 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford, was one of the band of that regiment which delighted the inhabitants of a re-captured French town by playing the
Marseillaise. Writing home, he says; "It is impossible to describe the moving spectacle. French folk who had never heard an Allied band before were ecstatic. Old folk cheered, and not few were in tears; one young woman sobbed with joy. I can assure you most of us felt a lump in our throats the sight of such emotion and joy."”
The 1918 register of electors listed James’s widow at 14 Nelson Road, Chelmsford, a street west of Rainsford Road which was later redeveloped as Cramphorn Walk. His parents were listed at 35 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford.
James’ father died, aged 67, in September 1919. His profession prior to his death was bottler. His mother died in March 1925.
James was a cousin of Albert Henry Berry who is also commemorated by the Civic Centre Memorial.
James’ widow died at 71 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford in 1929, aged 44.