Alfred Bail

304620 Petty Officer Mechanic Alfred Ernest Bail, Royal Naval Air Service; later 313606 Sergeant Mechanic Royal Air Force

Born 18th May 1885 in Southwark, London
24th June 1955 in Lake, Sandown, Isle of Wight

Family and Home 1, 2, 3

Alfred Ernest Bail was born in Southwark, the youngest of the five children of Samuel Henry Bail and Elizabeth, née Brades.

His sister Bessie Eleanor Caroline was born on 7th January 1874, his brother Henry Samuel in 1876, his sister Annie Alice Florence in 1882 and his sister Florence Louisa in 1883.

In 1891, the family lived at 112 Hanover Buildings, Horsleydown, Southwark. His father was a Postman, his sister Bessie (17) a Mantle Maker’s Machinist, his brother Henry (14) a Printer’s Assistant and his sister Florence (7) at School. 9 year old Annie was not at home; she was a patient in the South Eastern Hospital, New Cross Road, St Paul’s, Deptford, which was a Fever Hospital.

Preparing to join the Royal Navy 3

In the 1901 Census, 15 year old Alfred was resident aboard the Training Ship Warspite, moored on the River Thames at Woolwich. This was run by the Marine Society to apprentice boys to the Royal and Merchant Navies but, when he joined the Royal Navy in 1903, his previous occupation is recorded as a Gardener’s Assistant.

Service in the Royal Navy 4

On 28th July 1903 Alfred Bail joined the Royal Navy to serve for a period of 12 years. He was 18 years old, 5’ 2” tall with fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He had tattoos of a ship under sail and a heart on his right forearm, and two hearts on his left forearm.

Initially a Stoker 2nd Class, Alfred served aboard the following ships, with the intervening periods spent at HMS Pembroke II, a Shore Barracks at Chatham.

  • 1st September 1903 – 31st December 1903, Stoker 2nd Class aboard HMS Northumberland
  • 1st January 1904 – 9th February 1904, Stoker 2nd Class aboard HMS Acheron
  • 21st June 1904 – 30th June 1906, Stoker 2nd Class aboard HMS Albion
  • 1st July 1906 – 25th February 1907, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Albion
  • 26th February 1907 – 6th January 1908, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Majestic
  • 7th January 1908 – 31st March 1908, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Venerable
  • 1st April 1908 – 14th October 1912, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Thames
  • 15th October 1912 – 30th April 1913, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Bonaventure
  • 24th May 1913 – 21st August 1913, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Actaeon
  • 22nd August 1913 – 6th September 1913, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Implacable
  • 10th October 1913 – 23rd December 1913, Stoker 1st Class aboard HMS Hermes

During this time his character was consistently recorded as Very Good and he earned two Good Conduct Badges

The Royal Naval Air Service – War Service in the UK 4

The Royal Naval Air Service was formed on 1st July 1914 as the air arm of the Royal Navy. Alfred joined this at the start as an Air Mechanic 1st Class. His Naval Service Record indicates that he was based in the UK until 1st October 1916, initially at HMS Pembroke II, Chatham. On 1st June 1915 Alfred was promoted to Leading Mechanic. The other “ship” named for this period of his service was HMS President II, an RNAS accounting base located at Chatham then Crystal Palace and used for Officer Training.

Marriage, a Son and War Service Overseas 2, 4, 5

On 11th September 1915, at St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden, Alfred Ernest Bail, aged 30, a Batchelor, serving in the RNAS married Margaret Eliza Garrett, aged 32, a Spinster of 17 Ringshall and daughter of William Garrett, Bricklayer.

Their son Ernest Roy Bail was born at Ringshall on 16th June 1916.

On 24th July 1916, Alfred gained a third Good Conduct Badge.

On 1st October 1916, Leading Mechanic Alfred Bail departed for East Africa, aboard HMS Manica, a former cargo steamship which had been converted into the R.N.A.S’s first kite balloon ship. Promoted to Petty Officer Mechanic on 15th December that year, he continued to serve on HMS Manica until 21st April 1917 when he transferred to HMS Hyacinth which, according to his Naval Service Record, was at Zanzibar.

The Royal Air Force and the Birth of a Daughter 4, 6, 7, 8

On 1st April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps joined to form the Royal Air Force. Between 1st April and 31st August 1918, Sergeant Mechanic Alfred Bail continued to serve in Zanzibar with the 8th Squadron (RNAS). He then returned to England, completing the remainder of his service as a Sergeant Mechanic at Felixstowe, Poole and Calshot. In Spring 1919, Alfred was registered as an Absent Voter of 17 Ringshall. His daughter, Betty Margaret Bail was born on 14th April 1919.

Alfred was transferred to the Reserve on 20th July 1919 and deemed discharged from the RAF on 30th April 1920. For his War Service, he was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

The Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour 9

The original, pre-Second World War, wording on the left hand panel of the Little Gaddesden War Memorial on the village green reads:

This memorial is erected in honour of the one hundred and thirty six men who went from the villages of Little Gaddesden, Hudnall and Ringshall and served in the war of 1914 = 1918. The names of those who gave their lives for their country are cut on the stones here. The names of those who returned to England are preserved in the Church.

An Addition to the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour 9

The original Church Roll of Honour lists only 119 men; one of those omitted is Alfred Ernest Bail, possibly because his association with the village was the result of his marriage rather than his upbringing. Alfred seems to have had no settled family home after joining the R.N.A.S. and 17 Ringshall was his wife’s address when their son Ernest Roy was born in 1916. His name has been added to the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll of Honour. Alfred’s brother-in-law, Sidney Charles Horn, husband of Margaret Garrett’s sister Daisy Kate has also been added to the Centenary Revision.

Photo of 2018 revised roll of honour
Photo: Michael Carver

Moving Away 1, 2, 7, 10

However, by the time Alfred’s younger daughter Peggy Evelyn was born on 11th August 1920, the family had moved to Middlesex. In 1921 they lived at 25, Fourth Cross Road, Twickenham. Alfred then worked as a Steam Waggon Driver for T W Beach & Sons, Jam Makers at Butts Farm, Hanwell.

Then, by September 1939, Alfred and Margaret had moved again to Cowes, Isle of Wight. By that date he was working as a Sawmill Labourer. Alfred died in Lake, Sandown, Isle of Wight on 24th June 1955.


1. England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions

2. The 1939 Register

3.  1891 – 1921 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcriptions

4. Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services, 1848-1939

5. Little Gaddesden Church Marriage Register

6. British Royal Air Force, Airmen’s Service Records 1912-1939

7. England & Wales, Electoral Registers 1832-1932

8. UK, Naval Medal & Award Rolls, 1793 – 1972

9. Leonhardt, John (ed), 2002, A Century Remembered – a celebration of the Millennium in Little Gaddesden, Rural Heritage Society of Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Ashridge

10. National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858 – 1995

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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson