A. J. Mullett
Service no. 130014
Pioneer, Royal Engineers, 3rd Battalion Special Brigade; formerly 35044, London Regiment
Born in Lambeth; enlisted at Holborn; lived in Lambeth
Died of wounds on 1 July 1916, aged about 21
Remembered at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France
Brother of George Thomas Mullett
Information from the censuses
In 1911 Arthur Joseph Mullett, then a 14-year-old schoolboy, lived at 12 Ely Place, Stockwell with his parents, a brother and a sister. The family had lived at that address since at least 1901. His parents were from Dorset: Henry Mullett, 51, was a horsekeeper for a brewery (a job he was doing at the time of the 1901 census), born in North Matravers; Harriett Mullett, 52, was from Swanage. Emily Mullett, 26, was an ironer for a laundry, born in Lambeth; William Mullett, 23, was a welder for a bus company, also born in Lambeth; Arthur Mullett was born in Battersea. The family occupied 4 rooms. Elizabeth Mullett (in 1901 a laundry machine hand) and George Mullett (in 1901 working as a printer’s boy in the lithography department) had left home.
Information from Terry Reeves
Around March 1916 Arthur would have been transferred from the London Regiment to the Royal Engineers Special Brigade, who were responsible for much of Britain’s offensive chemical warfare effort on the Western Front. Arthur would have been sent initially to Helfaut, some 4 miles south of St Omer, where the Special Brigade had established their expeditionary force Depot. He would have been billeted in one of the surrounding villages as the 3rd Battalion formed up. The unit was a cylinder company responsible for dispensing gas from heavy cylinders which had to be carried into the front line, often with assistance from the infantry, and installed in the front line trenches.
On the night of 30 June/1 July 1916, Arthur’s K Company detachment was tasked to release cylinders containing “White Star” gas, so-called because of the white star emblem on the cylinder. They were filled with a 50/50 mix of phosgene and chlorine. The former had a low vapour pressure and needed a propellant, which was provided by the chlorine which had a higher vapour pressure. The release of this gas was part of a minor operation in support of 2nd Australian Brigade at Ploegsteert in Belgium. The battalion war diary noted the following:
“106116 Cpl R. G. Williams, 1282286 Pioneer A Lewis and 130014 Pioneer AJ Mullett were working in an emplacement, their Tower Respirators were fixed efficiently. A shell burst in front of our parapet and blew a cloud of gas back so that some entered the bay occupied by these men. They all felt a slight irritation and reported to their section commander, who ordered them to go to at once to the dressing station. The two pioneers remained, but later Cpl Williams said that he felt quite well and returned to his work. He was sent back to the hospital at once. All three were dead by the following morning.”
Cpl Williams and Pioneer Lewis are recorded as dying on 30 June and Pioneer Mullet dying on 1 July at No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station.
The report continued:
“The Tower Respirator which each man was wearing throughout the attack is proof against White Star gas.
“It is surmised that respirators must have been temporarily displaced by a shell which is known to have wrecked the emplacement.”
From a technical point of view, phosgene had a delayed-action effect, of anything up 48 hours. Any exertion could bring about tiredness and collapse during that time which fits with the casualties described above.
All three men are buried in Baileull Communal Cemetery. Cpl Williams and Pioneer Lewis side by side and Arthur Mullett just a few graves away in the same row.