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Arthur Sheppard of Mark

Arthur John Sheppard was born and lived in the village of Mark near Highbridge. He joined the Army in 1916 and was later posted to France where he was captured by the Germans and became a Prisoner of War after only nine days at the Front.

Arthur was the youngest child of William Sheppard (a master boot-maker) and his wife Charlotte of Porch House (now known as ‘Willow Dean’), The Causeway, Mark. Before he joined the Army he lived at home with his widowed mother. He was employed by his brother Ernest Sheppard in his baking business and also worked independently as a carpenter and joiner. His military records stored in London after the First World War were amongst those that survived the blitz of World War Two.  

Arthur Sheppard was a fairly small man. Family memories suggest that although he never had a strong constitution he was a very agile person. He was twice examined by the Army Medical Board to assess his physical suitability to enter the army. His military records show that on the 8th December 1915 he was examined at Weston-super-Mare. He was considered as medically unsuitable for army service due to his ‘Physique Unfit’ classification.  He was then aged 26 years, measured 5’5’’ in height, had a chest measurement of 33’’ with expansion up to 2” and weighed 8 stones 8lbs.

Nine months later, in September 1916, Arthur attended a second medical examination, this time at Taunton. In the meantime his weight had fallen to only 8 stones but on this occasion he was classed as B2 (second grade of fitness) and was therefore passed as physically suitable to join the army. It was noted on his medical record that he wore dentures.

 On 6th November 1916 at Weston-super-Mare Arthur joined the 20th Training Reserve Battalion and became known as 218543 Private Sheppard A.J.. Initially he was sent to Bath and was billeted at No 1, Prior Park Buildings, Prior Park Road, Bath (his name and the address of the billet is inscribed inside a book ‘Morning Star’ by H.Rider Haggard that he took with him). He then went to Aldershot  for training and in October 1917 was posted to the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) in France to serve as a Rifleman in the Somme area of the Western Front. 

He was at the Front for only nine days and was taken prisoner at the village of Peronne. The Germans made a salient (bulge in the line) over a hill which became black with men. They overwhelmed the British troops and Arthur Sheppard was one of hundreds captured at this time by the Germans and taken prisoner.

Records show that Arthur was sent to Limberg Prisoner of War Camp in Germany (about 50 miles north-west of Frankfurt) but it is not known how the journey from France was made.  

No letters survive from Arthur’s time at Limberg. However some details about this period in his life have been passed down through family memories- there was little to eat at the Prisoner of War camp –thin soup and black bread made from beans. Food in Germany was in short supply and the captors were not much better off themselves. Arthur being a baker was delegated to cut up the bread for about 25 men using an all-metal knife but the bread was so hard that he developed a callus on his hand. He brought home the knife as a souvenir. 

Arthur Sheppard was re-patriated on 10th December 1918 and left the army in March 1919. His records show that he applied for and was sent the British War and Victory medal.  On his return home he decided not to go back to bakery work but did continue with carpentry and joinery. He also undertook erection of hay sheds. He took his own life in May 1924 and was buried at the Methodist Chapel at Mark Causeway.

The story of Arthur Sheppard was sent to us by Janice Legg.

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Published 2 years ago by Project Officer - Somerset Remembers

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