This post is the third in the series on the eight men who rang the first peal by members of the Armed Services, following on from the second post on Frederick Augustus Holden.
Stoker 1st Class Alfred Arthur Playle (12 March 1893-1980). Served 8 November 1911-21 March 1917.
Alfred Arthur Playle was born at Barking on 12 March 1893 according to his Royal Navy record, although censuses give his birthplace as Dagenham. He was the second child of George William Playle and Alice Amelia (nee Sparrow) – their marriage had taken place in the Romford registration district in the second quarter of 1889. Their first child, Edith Emily, was born two years later, presumably after the census which shows just George and Alice at Crown Street, Dagenham. The birth of Sissy Elizabeth was registered in the third quarter 1895, she seems to be known variously as Lizzie and Cissie in subsequent censuses. George Isaac was born in the second quarter of 1897.
Ringing first came into the family around 1898 when George William is said to have begun ringing at Laindon, he is also reported to have been present at the opening of a new ring of bells at Rayleigh in June 1898. The bells were largely funded by local freemasons, and the report also suggests he was a mason. The family continued to grow, with John William being born around the same time. By the time of the 1901 census, the family were living at 3 Station Road, Dagenham.
Later that year Emily Caroline was born, Ellen Alice was born in early 1904, and Florence May in late 1905, and Rose Bessie in early 1908. George Playle is said to have started ringing at Dagenham around 1904, and became steeplekeeper soon after. There is not much reported of his ringing until 1907, when he seems to have taken a more active part in the band’s ringing activities, including some conducting. The first mention of Alfred ringing is in connection with a touch of Plain Bob Minor at Dagenham on 12 May 1908, followed by another on 17 May (after evening service), both conducted by his father. On 8 July, both rang in a touch of 360 Double Court Minor, George was conducting once again, this ringing was for a wedding. Then, on 20 September, 720 of Double Oxford. Sadly, late in 1908, Ellen Alice Playle died, aged just four.
On 27 January 1909 Alfred made his first peal attempt, they rang for 2 hours 50 minutes, so were probably not far short of success, but the ringing came to grief. Alfred was ringing the second, the report states, “This is the longest length by all except the conductor. The ringer of the 2nd is not sixteen years of age before March next.” (Bell News, V28, 8 May 1909, p143). No more ringing seems to be recorded until 4 July, when there were several pieces of ringing in relation to services and the parish flower show, and then on an outing to North Weald on 10 August.
A tenth child, Lily Dorothy, was born in early 1910. On 10 April Alfred and his father rang in a date touch of 1910 changes in various minor methods. On 12 June they rang at Holy Trinity, Barking Road, Canning Town. Sadly, Lily died in early 1911, before she was a year old, and before the 1911 census. On Sunday 5 February, Alfred and George rang for Sunday service, morning and evening. At the census, the family were living at 21 Vicarage Road, Dagenham. All the children, including the two who had died, were included on the schedule, but Ellen and Lily were subsequently crossed out. George (42) is shown as a farm labourer (as in previous censuses). The eldest daughter, Ellen (19), was a storekeeper at the telephone works (presumably the Sterling Telephone Works). Alfred (18) was following his father as an agricultural labourer. Cissie (15) was a fitter at the telephone works. George Isaac (14) has left school, but has no occupation. John (11), Emily (9) and Florence (5) were all at school. Rose (3) was too young for school, so presumably stayed at home with her mother Alice (39).
The week after the census, on 9 April, George and Alfred were among the band (both morning and evening) who rang the first touches of Cambridge Surprise Minor rung by the local band in Dagenham. On 18 June the ringing again included Cambridge, among various other methods. On 16 August, the Dagenham ringers went on an outing, by horsedrawn brake, leaving at 8:30am, they travelled the 15 miles to Orsett via Rainham, Wennington, Aveley and Stitford. They spent the rest of the morning ringing at Orsett (joined by some of the locals), and then lunched at the Fox and Hounds. They then travelled to Stanford-le-Hope and rang there. There was going to be a service there at 6pm, so they headed back to Orsett for a little more ringing. After a photo, and a little more ringing, they had tea, and then rang some more. A final drink, and then they set off for home, arriving back in Dagenham at 10:30pm. On 22 October they made the trip to Canning Town again, ringing for evening service there. On 5 November they were back home ringing at Dagenham, now also joined by Miss C Playle – Cissie. Female ringers were still a rarity at this time, with the Ladies’ Guild of Change Ringers not being formed until 1912.
On 8 November Playle joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. He joined for the standard 12-year engagement, he was described as 5’5″ tall, with a 35″ chest, dark brown hair and eyes and a fresh complexion. He went to Chatham for his initial training at the shore base and barracks, HMS Pembroke. He was home on 26 November for Sunday evening ringing, when Cissie rang her first touch of 720 Plain Bob. Alfred was home again on 3 March 1912, ringing for morning and evening services, along with his father and Cissie.
Playle was posted to HMS Vanguard, a dreadnought battleship, on 10 April 1912. She was part of the Home Fleet, based at Devonport. A year after joining the navy, was promoted Stoker 1st Class. On 12 January he and his father rang with the College Youths at St George-the-Martyr, Southwark, it does not appear that either was ever elected a member. On 26 March 1913 he returned to shore at Chatham. It seems his sister Cissie may actually have beaten him to ringing a first peal, she trebled to Bob Minor at Dagenham on 16 April, conducted by their father. She was the first woman to ring a peal for the Essex Association (and was the only female ringing member of the association at the time). Alfred was posted to HMS Endeavour, a survey ship on 6 June. Cissie and their father visited Kent in July, ringing at Milton-next-Gravesend on 12 July. Alfred wasn’t ringing, although both Victor Jarrett and James Bennett who would ring in the 1914 peal did take part. On 4 September, Alfred’s younger brother, George Isaac, followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class, he was just 16, he went to HMS Impregnable, the boys’ training establishment at Devonport. He had also been learning to ring for about four months before joining up. Alfred rang a peal at home in Dagenham on 1 December, it’s not actually marked as his first peal, so it may be he had actually rung one previously which is yet to be found. All three were ringing at Dagenham on Christmas Day, and rang together in another peal at Dagenham on 27 December.
On 8 January came the armed forces peal at Gillingham, Alfred’s first peal on eight bells. He was still posted to HMS Endeavour, which was based at Sheerness at the time. George Isaac was promoted to Boy 1st Class on 14 May 1914, and posted to the elderly cruiser HMS Gibraltar. Alfred remained posted to Endeavour until, with war imminent, he was posted to HMS Leander, an elderly second class cruiser serving as a destroyer depot ship, on 1 August. He probably just missed George Isaac who was posted to Chatham that day. Alfred probably actually served on HMS Esther, originally a surveying vessel (based on a trawler design), which in wartime was to serve as a minesweeper. He transferred to HMS Halcyon, another minesweeper, on 14 November. George Isaac was briefly posted to the Union-Castle liner, Edinburgh Castle, pressed into naval service as an Armed Merchant Cruiser from 17-24 September, and thence to the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath on 25 September. Goliath had been ordered to the East Indies station on 20 September, so it’s not clear exactly when George Isaac physically joined the ship. She was involved in escorting convoys carrying Indian Army troops in the Persian Gulf in October, and then in operations off German East Africa, including the bombardment of Dar es Salaam towards the end of November. From December 1914-February 1915 she was refitted at Simonstown, South Africa, before briefly rejoining operations off German East Africa, and was then ordered to the Dardanelles on 25 March 1915, in preparation for the campaign there.On 21 February 1915, Alfred rang at home in Dagenham for evening service with his father and sister. On 29 March, George Isaac, turned 18 and was rated Ordinary Seaman. Less than two months later he was dead, along with almost 570 of his crewmates, when Goliath was torpedoed on the night of 12-13 May. A memorial service was held at Dagenham on 26 May, followed by halfmuffled ringing. A brief obituary was published in The Ringing World on 11 June, followed by a photograph on 2 July, taken probably not long after he joined the navy, his cap tally reads HMS Impregnable.
Alfred remained posted to Halcyon until 30 June 1916, when he returned to Chatham. He had managed to ring at home on 18 June, halfmuffled following a memorial service for Lord Kitchener. He was promoted to Leading Stoker on 23 September. On 19 October, he was posted to the destroyer, HMS Archer, she seems to have been based at Devonport at this time, as he was carried on the books of HMS Vivid II. He returned to Chatham on 25 November. On Sunday 28 January 1917 Alfred rang for evening service (with his sister and father) while home for a few days’ leave.
At some point in the first quarter of 1917 Alfred married Ellen Williams in the Medway registration district (which included both Chatham and Gillingham). On 21 March 1917 Alfred was discharged from the Royal Navy as a result of “fibroid phthisis” – tuberculosis. As we saw previously with Frederick Holden, TB was rife in the navy due to the living conditions onboard ship, and in the barracks ashore. Despite this, Cissie C Playle was born in the 1st quarter 1918, Betty G in the 4th quarter 1919, George A H in the 3rd quarter 1923, Megan W A in the 2nd quarter 1930 and Barrington I in the 1st quarter 1934 – all in the Romford registration district. However, there does not seem to be any further trace of Alfred ringing. He is not mentioned in the obituary of his father published in The Ringing World on 18 December 1953. Alfred’s death was registered in the 1st quarter 1980, in the Havering registration district.