One of the pleasures of family history is uncovering the facts behind half-remembered stories, discovering the written records that bear out shared memories (or perhaps just as often, give the lie to spurious family legends).
My grandmother, Ermerlinda Beryl Skinner, nee Cooke (known as Bill), was less than three years old when her father, Walter John Cooke, was posted overseas in 1916, and her memories of him before he left were naturally hazy. However, her memory of his return from war was clear, and she spoke of her shock at meeting her father as if for the first time, when she burst into tears, crying “That’s not my daddy!”
In his absence, her mother had talked often of the strong, brave soldier away fighting in the war, and the distress she had felt when a drawn and ill man arrived back at the home she didn’t even remember him living in was still apparent when she spoke of it eight decades later.
I don’t think Bill ever knew much about her father’s war experiences – like so many men returning from the war, he rarely spoke of it, but she knew that he hadn’t been wounded. So when I started researching Walter’s story, I not only wanted to know what the war had been like for him, but also to find out what had caused his sickly appearance that had made such an impression on my grandmother as a young girl.
Walter John Cooke was born in Manchester in 1885 to John Cooke and Elizabeth, nee Enwright, and married Ermerlinda Mary George in Higher Openshaw, Greater Manchester in 1908. By 1913, when my grandmother was born, they were living in Bristol, where Walter worked for The British Engine, Boiler and Electrical Insurance Company. He is described on her birth certificate as an insurance manager.
As I knew that Walter had served as an ordinary soldier (not an officer), I began my research by a search of the First World War Service Records in series WO 363, which are also searchable at Ancestry.co.uk. As regular blog-readers and family history researchers will know, about two thirds of the original records were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, so I wasn’t hopeful of Walter’s record having survived. However, using a name search of the records, I was pleased to find his record online. Continue reading »