Herbert Eller died on Saturday 14th April 1917 aged 26. One of “Kitchener’s first 100,000” he had enlisted in August 1914.
Formerly a baker he had been working in South Wales when war broke out but his mother lived in Bicton Street, Barnstaple.
Several of the letters that he wrote home to her, and in which you can hear that he is putting a brave face on the situation, were printed in the North Devon Journal.
In April 1915 he says “it is lovely weather here now; in fact, in the trenches now it is as good as camping out at Saunton, except for the presents the Germans send over to us”. In May he says “if the Germans are not more careful how they fire their guns, I believe they will be hitting somebody before long” and in October reports that “They (the Germans) gave us a lively trip last time in the trenches”. What is not apparent by the tone of the letters however is that Private Eller’s father was himself German.
Carl Hermann Eller, originally from Saxony, was also a baker. In 1891 he, his wife Sarah, and young children Henry and Frederick were living in Hackney, London. He appears in the electoral register living at 154 Well Street, Hackney from 1893 to 1896.
By 1901 the family had moved to Barnstaple, living at Waytown Cottage, Goodleigh Road. Herbert and Stanley Carl had been added by this time and the four children’s birthplaces, Paddington, Kensington, Hackney (Herbert, then aged nine) and four year old Stanley in Charlton, show that they had moved around London prior to their arrival in Devon.
By this time his mother Sarah and young Stanley had moved to 16 Bicton Street where Sarah’s father Charles Eastman, a retired grocer from Streatham, was named as head of house. Looking back to 1891 it can be seen that he and his wife had also been living at Waytown Cottage but as a separate household, perhaps they had divided the property into two, the census states that each household occupied three rooms.
The 1911 Census was the first to ask not only for marital status but the length of the marriage and number of children born to it, both living and dead. Sarah was said to be have been married and this for 25 years, during which she had had 5 children of which 4 survived at that time.A notice in the North Devon Journal of 8th May 1902 announces the birth of a son at 15 Sunflower Road to the wife of CH Eller. Both a birth and death record in the June quarter of 1902 in the name of Edward Richard Eller shows that any happiness was shortlived.
Her husband Carl was not at home on Census night 1911 and searching for him in the online indexes proved unsuccessful so I looked for a death registration and found that his death had been registered in 1944 at the age of 85 in the Devon Central district. I also found a member’s family tree reference to this having been in Exminster, Devon, which is where the County Asylum was situated, and wondered if he had been interred as an alien during WW2.
Then I noticed that in the tribute to Herbert Eller printed in the North Devon Journal it reads “For the widowed mother….general sympathy is expressed…” but patently her husband had not died until many years later. I thought I would browse through the records for Exminster in the 1911 census but could not find Carl so thought to check those for Digby Hospital, then the Exeter City Asylum. Although patients are not listed by name, only initials, and few have places of birth, only occupations, I found at last an entry which read as follows –
CHE Patient 56 Married Pastry Cook Saxon Lunatic. No record of any court case or incident relating to his admission could be found in the newspapers and so my colleague Tim Wormleighton checked the Digby Hospital records, kept at Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter, and found the following –
p.481. Patient no. 1781. Date of admission: 11.05.1907. Age: 48. Married. Occupation: pastry cook. Religion: Nonconformist. Duration of first attack: c5 years. Epileptic: no. Suicidal: no. Dangerous: yes.
Diagnosis: delusional insanity. Supposed cause: unknown. Heredity: one brother committed suicide. The death of another one was doubtful. Physical state on admission: well nourished, muscular man, reddish hair & beard, intelligent look.
Mental state on admission: has the delusion that his wife and his wife’s people persecute him. Is quiet and well behaved. Eats and sleeps well.
The register states – No. 1781. Date of admission: 11.05.1907. Address: 1 Winifred Place, Holland Street, Barnstaple. Transferred: 28.03.1918 – not improved. This was probably when he was transferred to Exminster but those records are closed to the public at the present time.
The case notes from his early days at Digby record brief comments as to his mental state – refusing to take food, wanting to be released, and references to various religious delusions, which may have been put to him as a test at this time rather than being of his own imagination. One cannot help but wonder to what extent the effect of the death of a child, a possibly depressed wife as a result, being a foreigner in a relatively un-ethnic area after the cosmopolitan tolerance of London, and living with his in-laws might have taken their toll. Or whether he ever knew that the son who had followed him into his profession had been killed by his own countrymen?
A year after Carl’s admission to the Asylum, in May 1908, the North Devon Journal records that on the recommendation of the House Committee Sarah Eller was appointed as a night nurse at the workhouse. The Guardians’ Minutes show that this was at the rate of 14 shillings a week but that she resigned the post a month later. In October 1930 the Journal records the issue of an order of possession at the Petty Sessions regarding the unpaid rent for two unfurnished rooms at Bicton Street at seven shillings and sixpence per week. Sarah had not attended court herself but her submission had said I am dependant on the rent for a living. She died on August 2nd 1939 aged 78, then living at Sunnyview, Broadmead Bungalows, Newport, Barnstaple. The death notice says No flowers.
There are no references in the Guardian’s Minutes relating to Carl Eller’s admission, perhaps at this time he was a private patient possibly funded by his father in law. Charles Eastman had died in 1919 but probate on his estate was not granted until September 1939, and then to Henry Charles Eller, signalman, and Frederick Oscar Eller, ironmoulder. Perhaps the effects of £230 represented the Bicton Street property to which Sarah may have had a lifelong interest. Earlier that year, in May 1939, the Guardians had resolved that no orders be made on Sarah Eller (wife), Frederick Eller (son) or Stanley Eller (son) in respect of the maintenance of the patient (Carl Eller), but that the son Henry Charles Eller, be called upon to contribute 4 shillings weekly towards the cost of maintenance. Minutes of 2nd April 1943 record that an account of £6 debited in error against the son, H Eller, be cancelled and in January 1945 the death of Carl Eller on 18th December 1944 is noted.
Henry Charles Eller, aged 21 when his father had been institutionalised but made to pay for his care for many of his own later years, is recorded as having died in the Newton Abbot area aged 67 in December 1953. The death of Frederick Oscar Eller is recorded in the Bromley area aged 73 in March 1962 and Stanley Carl Eller died in the Taunton area aged 70 in 1967.