A O Montague

A O Montague

Albert Owen Montague (1880-1918)

My name is Albert Owen Montague, although everyone called me Owen, partly because I have a brother who is also called Albert. I was born on June 1880 in North Dean near Hughenden. My father, an agricultural worker, was called Richard and my mother was called Mary Anne but friends called her Annie. There were 8 of us children, which kept my mother busy, and by 1901 we had moved to Wycombe as my father could earn more money working in the furniture trade; Wycombe was famous for its furniture industry. I married Ada in 1905 and we lived in Oakridge Road with our two daughters, Alice (who died 1987) and Ada (who died in 1999). I worked for Allen and Co in the Abercrombie works as a chair maker. In 1909 I had an attack of rheumatic fever which meant I was off work for a short time. It was very painful.

Now when I was a little older, I was charged with using obscene language in Haddenham. I was drunk and wanted to rough up a guy in a pub who was giving me stick. My troubles cost me £1.10s. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time my temper had led to a fine.

Three years afterwards, in May 1915, I signed up to join the British Army. I was 35, officially the oldest age when you could sign up. I was posted to the Gloucestershire Regiment, 14th division. This was a Bantam Battalion, which meant it was for troops who were under the normal regulation minimum height of 5 feet 3 inches – I was only 5 foot tall! The word bantam comes from bantamweight in boxing, which originated from the name of a chicken from a town in Indonesia! We were a strange sight but our height made us more determined and we had a ferocious reputation.

We were training in England until late June 1916 and I was then sent to France. We were in action during the Battle of the Somme at Bazentin Ridge and in a few other places and many of our men were killed. After the battle we received new drafts of men to replace losses but these men were not of the same physical standard as us original Bantams. Finally a medical inspection was carried out and 1439 men were transferred away to the Labour Corps.

Anyway, as time went on my feet started to swell up and if I did any work I very quickly became out of breath. I was sent to the doctor who identified that I had valve damage in my heart which had been caused by the rheumatic fever eight years previously. I was discharged in July 1917 and sent home; I died of heart failure in March 1918. It was considered that my condition had been made worse by the war and thus I was given a military funeral.

One of my brothers, Alfred, was killed while fighting for the Rifle Brigade during the Battle of the Somme. His body was never identified and his name is on the Thiepval memorial.

Researched and performed by Alastair Sledge

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