Son of Mr. John Furnell and Mrs. Emily Jane Furnell, of Townsend Cottage, Chitterne, Wiltshire, and husband of Mrs. Kate Fanny Furnell (nee Tuck), of 59, Antrobus Street, Congleton. They were married at St Mary's Church, Punton, Cricklade, Wiltshire, in December 1906. He had one child, Clarrie Furnell. He also had three sisters, Eliza, Agnes and Rosa Furnell, along with brothers, Joseph, Harry and William James Furnell.
He was among the first to volunteer for service on the outbreak of war enlisting in the Territorial Army with the 1/7th Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment in 1914. He was at the time a popular member of the Congleton Police Force. His rapid promotion in the Army was a fitting recognition of his many soldierly qualities. Captain Furnell, was appointed a member of the Congleton Borough Police Force in 1906.
He was a native of Wiltshire and served in the Wiltshire Constabulary prior to coming to Congleton. Before joining the Police Force he served in the Army with the Wiltshire Regiment. He was recommended for the Distinguished Service Order and later mentioned in despatches.
The 1/7th Battalion arrived from Palestine in June and it seemed that its experience would make it ideally suited to open warfare that had replaced the stagnation of the trenches. The Regimental History notes, however, that they had no experience of gas, so they were slow to recognise gas shelling. This caused casualties which troops accustomed to gas would have avoided. Orders were received on the 21st of July to move to the front line, then at Parcy Tigny, some 7 miles south of the French town of Soissons. These were quickly followed by orders that the Battalions would attack from Parcy Tigny on the 23rd of July. The 34th Divisional History records In the most favourable circumstances this would have been difficult for any troops. But, for a newly constituted Division, composed of troops which had not yet been in action in France and which had just completed a trying move by rail, bus and route march, it was a severe test. The country was entirely new. There was no time for reconnaissance. There were no organised trench systems on either side. The enemy's positions were never more than approximately known until they had been captured. The Regimental History says that the country was looking at its best. The battlefield was a stretch of ripe corn, surrounded by glorious forests ". The advance was planned to begin 20 minutes after a rocket signal, but the order did not reach the signal station until late and even when the rocket was fired, it was not visible to the troops. However, orders managed to be conveyed by telephone and radio. The intention was that the 1/7th Battalion would capture Reungny Wood and the 4th Battalion would overlap them and secure the village of Hartennes. The 1/7th Battalion started the attack but it was hard going. The standing corn meant that the Lewis guns (light machine guns) had to be fired from the hip. However, an advance of some 1200 yards was made under heavy machine gun fire, but the objective was not captured. The Cheshire's dug in for the night but suffered severe casualties from shell, machine gun and gas. On the 24th a further advance was made but casualties were suffered from the " friendly fire of British artillery shells falling short. The next day was spent undertaking small patrols to harass the enemy. The Cheshire's were relieved from the front line on the night of 27/28th but were held as reserve troops for a further advance on the 29th. The main attack had stalled by about 22:40 hours and the Cheshire's were ordered forward, it was about 02:30 hours before the attack started with the objective of capturing the hamlet of Grand Rozoy. Shelling was heavy and there were accurate German snipers placed at Grand Rozoy. At some time during the engagement on the 23rd of July, Private Fred Lomas was killed, along with another Congleton Soldier Private Frank Stubbs. Private Leonard Starkey was killed by gas poisoning on the 26th of July and Private Thomas Trueman killed in action on the 27th of July. Captain Walter Thomas Furnell was seriously wounded and was admitted to the No 2 Red Cross Hospital Rouen where he died on the 31st of July 1918.
Extract from the Congleton Chronicle 1918.
Official news has been received by Mrs. Furnell, of Antrobus Street, Congleton, of the death of her husband, Captain Thomas Furnell of the Cheshire Regiment. A telegram was received by Mrs. Furnell on Wednesday informing her that her husband was lying dangerously ill at No 2, Red Cross Hospital, Rouen and later in the day she journeyed to London, en route for France. Sometime after her arrival in London, however, she was officially notified of the death of her husband which occurred at 23:15 hours on Wednesday 31st of July 1918. The sad news was received in Congleton on Thursday with profound regret for Captain Furnell had a host of friends in the town and his untimely end closes a career which was full of promise. In this, her great bereavement, Mrs. Furnell and her little daughter will have the deepest sympathy of all.
Writing to his wife on the 26th of July 1918, he stated that he was fit and well, “I guess you will be feeling a little bit anxious as you have heard we have been having another bit of a smack at Fritz. I am sorry to say that ex Colour Sergeant W. Joynson's son Willie, was killed. It was hard luck. I will write to his father in a day or so if I can manage. There were also 3 more boys from Congleton Stubbs, Buglawton, Lomas, Rood Hill and Trueman of the Rocks. We were rather unfortunate in Congleton this time. Casualties were not so heavy, but it was hard luck. On the 29th of July, Captain Furnell writes again to his house, stating that he had just one minute to write in and he was then fit and well. On the 31st of July, Mrs. Furnell received the following letter from the British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. Your husband was brought to this hospital in a serious condition, wounded in the left arm and leg. He sends you a card and tells you to cheer up and look forward to the time when he comes home. On the 1st of August, Mrs Furnell received the following letter from the Chaplain,
Dear, Mrs. Furnell,
You will have heard the sad news by this time that your husband passed away at 23:15 hours last night. The doctor and nurses did all they could to relieve him and he underwent an operation yesterday afternoon. He stood this very well and dictated the enclosed letter to you at 19:15 hours when he was quite clear in his mind and evidently had no idea that he was so near the end. I cannot tell you how grieved I am for you. You have been called upon to give up so much. May God comfort and console you in your bereavement. Your husband's remains will be buried in the Cemetery of St Lews with full military honours tomorrow afternoon at 14:00 hours. Letters seem very cold and poor, but believe me, you have my deepest sympathy.
In the letter he dictated for his home shortly before his death, Captain Furnell referred to his operation and said apart from this he was pretty well alright. He thought it possible that within a month he would be able to travel and come to England. This was not to be, however, for within a few hours of this, his last message home, he passed away. In Congleton, where he had many friends, who had followed his career with interest, his death is deeply regretted and to Mrs. Furnell and her little daughter the deep sympathy of all will be extended in this their great bereavement.
Further eloquent testimony to the splendid character of Captain Furnell is mentioned in the following letter received by his widow during the week.
France, 2nd August 1918.
Dear, Mrs. Furnell,
I am sure no words of ours can express the deep regret and sorrow we feel at the loss of your husband who we have known so long and respected so much. His hard and conscientious work which naturally brought its reward to promotion, only goes to prove what a fine character we have lost. His devotion to duty was only exceeded by his devotion to God, therefore it is to Him we must trust and leave the lesser, knowing that He does all things for the best. It may be a little consolation to you to know your husband is buried in a large cemetery at the base and was carried to his last resting place by the undersigned Sergeants of his own Battalion and there were about eight officers present. Three volleys were fired by 100 men of the regiment to which he belonged and the Last Post which was sounded by the Bugler brought to a close the career of a fine officer and gentleman. Please accept our deepest sympathy in your bereavement.
F Spencer, Sergeant D. Company. R. E. Dale, Sergeant A. Company. P. Alcock, Sergeant B. Company. Laithwood, Sergeant C. Company. R. Byrom, Sergeant C. Company. J. W. Tatton, Sergeant D. Company.
Cheshire County Memorial Project would like to thank John and Christopher Pullen for this information on Walter.