Rank: Air Mechanic 2nd Class
Regiment: Royal Air Force
Died: 7 February 1919
Newton Poppleford War Memorial
PDF Download: RETTER Albert
Albert was a pioneer. All the other casualties from Newton Poppleford served in the army, but Albert joined the relatively new Royal Naval Air Service. The first powered flight had only been achieved 12 years before.
His father William Retter came from a family that had been associated with the Newton Poppleford for many years. White's Gazetteer of Devon dated 1878 lists a John Retter as a farmer in Southerton and William Retter (presumably Albert's father) as a farmer in Burrow. His wife (Albert's mother) was Rosina; she was born in Newton Poppleford. They had two children, Willie born in 1877 and Albert born in 1885.
In the Census of 1901 William describes himself as a self-employed market gardener and Albert has left the village school and become a "domestic labourer". By the time of the 1911 Census, Albert had married and was living at Occombe Cottage, Marldon, near Paignton, working as a farm labourer. He was aged 26 and was married to Clarrissa, 25.
They had four children: Daisy, Bill, Doreen and Jeffery. A first child had died in infancy. By the time Albert had joined the Royal Naval Air Service, probably around 1915, he was a market gardener in Newton Poppleford, and also the local coal merchant. He has been traced to the RNAS from a chance comment by his grandson Colin, about him having to deal with float planes.
To launch a float plane it was necessary to restrain it until the engines were at full efficiency. This was done by ground crew holding ropes until the release signal was given by the pilot. Frequently this required the ground crew to be in the water. Ground aircraft use chocks. Albert died of pneumonia, probably caused by repeatedly getting wet, and explains why he died after the war.
The RNAS originated as an air arm of the Royal Navy in much the same way that the Royal Flying Corp did for the army. These two branches of the services operated through the war until 1 April 1918 when they were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force. Thus Albert, Air Mechanic 2nd Class, No. F39512, joined the RNAS but is recorded as a fatal casualty of the RAF as No 239512. He died almost three months after hostilities had ceased. He was aged 35. Where he died has not been traced. It is possible that he was the first of RAF ground crew to die and the last of the RAF to die in WW1.
He is buried in the cemetery in Newton Poppleford. The date of his death gives us a clue as to when the Newton Poppleford memorial was put in place. There are no church or village records about this but we can fix an approximate date . It can be noted from an examination of the memorial that Albert Retter's name is not only out of alphabetical order but also squeezed into a small space at the foot of the plaque.
From this it can be deduced that the plaque was already carved before Albert died in February 1919, and his name was then added later. Presumably the cost of the memorial was raised by public subscription and it is to the credit of the then villagers, that the memorial was raised so quickly. In many cases it was quite a long time, even years, before WW1 memorials were erected.
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I was very interested to read about Albert Retter as he was my wife's maternal grandfather.She. Rachel (nee Greenaway) is the youngest daughter and child of Albert's daughter, Doreen, who was born in September 1914. She and her husband, George, moved to Suffolk in 1956 and she died in 1981. My wife still remembers visiting her grandmother, Clarrissa, in Newton Poppleford and still has relations in the area.