Reading the accounts in the Western Gazette of the Sherborne Urban Military Service Tribunals held during the First World War, one is struck by what appears to be the harsh and bullying attitude of those sitting on the board towards the men who came before them asking for military exemption.  One member of the board was Dr William McEnery (1839-1919). Dr McEnery served as a medical practitioner in Sherborne for 40 years, living with his family at Semington House in The Avenue, he was also a member of the Sherborne Urban District Council and a JP for the County.  Born in County Limerick in 1839, Dr McEnery and his wife Margaret (née Quin) (1843-1905) attended the Catholic Church in Sherborne, where a memorial to them and their son John can still be seen.

At a local tribunal held in Sherborne in July 1916, Arthur Bell, a conscientious objector, appeared before the board.  He stated he had a conscientious objection to taking the life of another man and therefore claimed exemption from military service.  He was questioned by Dr McEnery who asked “If the enemy were on that hill would you go out and fight?”  “No”, replied Bell, “I would rather go to my God with a free conscience.”  Dr McEnery replied “I look upon all conscientious objectors as cowards.”

Dr McEnery’s seemingly harsh attitude towards Arthur Bell should, however, be studied in relation to the sacrifices made by his own family during the war.  Of his eight surviving children, seven were actively involved in war work.  In the Western Gazette on 4 September 1914 there appeared an article entitled ‘A FINE EXAMPLE’, which gave details of the members of Dr McEnery’s family then serving their country.  His eldest daughter Mary Charlotte McEnery (1869-) (later Mother Mary Ursula) spent the war in a convent near Louvain in Belgium nursing the wounded.  Kathleen Ellen McEnery (1871-1955) served as a Red Cross nurse.  Margaret Josephine McEnery (1885-1958), who was house surgeon at the Victoria Hospital in Burnley, served as a doctor in Malta, Salonica and Egypt.  In 1911, his daughter Theresa Anna Maria McEnery (1875-1949) had married George Foster Gretton (1878-1950) who served as a Major with the 7th Hariana Lancers, a cavalry regiment in the British Indian Army.  William Augustine McEnery (1873-1957), who was also a doctor, served as a surgeon with the French Red Cross.  Edward Henry McEnery (1876-1924), who had served with the Dorset Yeomanry in the Boer War, and served with the British Red Cross in France.  Reginald Thomas McEnery (1880-1971) served with the Seistan Field Force and was awarded an OBE.  Dr McEnery himself had placed himself and his motor car at the disposal of the authorities and was busy scouring the countryside for recruits.

John Aloysius McEnery (1877-1914).

Dr McEnery’s third son, John Aloysius McEnery (1877-1914), who along with his brothers had attended Sherborne School as day boys, joined the Royal Engineers in 1896 and took part in the Tibet Expedition of 1903-1904.  In September 1914, John‘s company landed in Belgium with Sir Henry Rawlinson’s Division for the relief of Antwerp.  However, just a month later at 10 pm on 26 October 1914, John was accidentally shot by an Infantry Sentry on the line of trenches at Yser near Zandvoorde.  He body was buried by Captain T. Weeding, 2nd Queen’s Regiment, and Lieutenant Thatcher, RAMC, at about 250 years north-east of the windmill on the Veldhock to Zandvoorde Road, a board with his name on it marking the grave.  News of John’s death appeared in the Western Gazette on 30 October 1914.

John McEnery is commemorated in Sherborne on the town war memorial and at the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart and Saint Aldhelm.  His name is also listed on the Menin Gate Memorial, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942).  Blomfield also designed the Sherborne School war memorial on which John’s name is also listed along with the 221 Old Shirburnians who lost their lives during the First World War.

Reginald Blomfield’s original design for the War Memorial ante-chapel at Sherborne School, April 1920

After Dr McEnery’s retirement from medical practice he went to live with his daughter Theresa and her husband Major Gretton at Diana Lodge, Purton, Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, where he died on 7 September 1919, aged 80.  He was buried in Sherborne Cemetery where the funeral, conducted by the Rev. Father Edmond Grant, was attended by members of his family and a large number of townspeople.

The McEnery memorial, Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart and Saint Aldhelm, Westbury, Sherborne.

Rachel Hassall
School Archivist
29 August 2018

See also: Online Resources for Sherborne School and the First World War

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