Loss and sacrifice on the Home Front, 1914-1918
Today’s blog post, using the Military Service Tribunal papers from MH 47, will look at the emotional impact of the First World War on the Home Front. We will specifically see how the shared experiences of military service, loss and sacrifice affected individual households and the local communities they formed a part of.
97 years ago, on 25 May 1916, compulsory military service into the Army was extended from single men and widowers without children to cover all men – single and married – aged between 18 and 41, and who had been resident in Great Britain since 4 August 1914. This extension of conscription was a result of the continued difficulties of manning the army due to the number of casualties overseas.
The story of John Gordon Shallis is one of the many interesting finds from our MH 47 pre-digitisation work. Mr Shallis appealed for exemption from military service on grounds of domestic hardship, having lost four of his brothers during the war. John’s mother is described as a “cripple” on his appeal form, having broken her leg, and his father was away carrying out Home Defence duties with the Territorial Force. This left John as the only son left for the family.
The first of John’s brothers to lose his life was George Victor Shallis, a member of the Merchant Navy. George was on board the armed merchant ship HMS Viknor when it went down off the coast of Northern Ireland on 31 January 1915. The Admiralty case file in ADM 116 reveals that the Viknor most likely struck a mine having been blown off course by bad weather. George is listed as a Steward, with his wife and their address listed under Next of Kin (see image, below).
Entry for George Shallis found in Admiralty case file for loss of HMS Viknor (ADM 116/1442)
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The approximate position of ‘C’ Company, 2/18 London Regiment on 1-2 May 1918. Detail from a sketch map within the unit war diary. (Reference: WO 95/4670)
Frederick William Beament, my great grandmother’s younger brother, fought in the British Army during the First World War. He died on 2 May 1918, aged just 21.
Frederick in his army uniform, with his mother, Elizabeth. (Private collection)
In researching this blog post for our My Tommy’s War series, I had two major advantages. Firstly, I already knew some information about Frederick. Much of this knowledge had been passed down through successive generations of the family and other details had been researched by relatives on my father’s side more recently. Secondly, I already knew about some sources at The National Archives that would be likely to help me find out more about Frederick, because advising people about records held here is part of my job.
Who was Frederick?
Frederick was born on 23 June 1896 in Holborn, in central London, the youngest of at least eight children. His father, George, died when he was very young and his widowed mother, Elizabeth, brought up the younger children alone. Like his father and many of his siblings, Frederick started work in the printing industry when he left school. In the 1911 census, when he was 14 years old, his occupation is stated as ‘reading boy’ for a printing firm.
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I was quite pleased when I was given the opportunity to contribute a post to the ‘My Tommy’s War’ series as it gave me a a great excuse to resume some research my family started a decade ago.
Frederick W. King and family c. 1918 (from private family collection)
I’m not sure when I first found out that my Great Granddad King, my mum’s paternal grandfather, was killed in the First World War. It’s one of those things that it feels like I’ve always known. I remember taking his medals in to primary school to show the class when we were studying the world wars. As a child I felt sad that my lovely grandad, who was just six years old when his father died, had never really known his father. Some years later my mum showed me a precious album of photographs of the King side of the family which featured the photograph on the left. It shows my great grandparents with their three sons. My granddad, the youngest, is on the right. We think it was taken shortly before great-granddad went overseas and I think you can see the fear and worry in their faces. My mum had learned some details of her granddad’s story from her grandmother. She knew that before the war he worked as a bus conductor and was involved with the Labour Party. She also knew that he was injured while serving abroad and that her grandmother had visited him in hospital in the UK before he died. We were keen to try and find out more. This is the story of how we, two amateur family historians, researched our Tommy’s war.
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Ernest Butterworth (photo from private collection)
Ernest Butterworth was my maternal great-grandfather, born in 1877, the son of John Butterworth and Susan Butterworth, nee Jackson. He was the second youngest of seven children and born in Wardle, a village near Rochdale in east Lancashire, in the Rossendale Valley. His parents, like many in the area, worked in the cotton mills, his father was a cotton loom jobber and his mother a cotton weaver.
Rossendale towns, with a ready supply of fast flowing water, were ideal for cotton spinning and local mills by river banks were a common feature in the 19th century. At its peak, the area was producing some 68 million pounds of yarn and 210 million yards of cloth each year. Ernest was himself a Cotton Operator by the age of 13. By 1901, he was a Stone Quarry Man, and the family had moved to Whitworth, a small town situated between Bacup and Rochdale. Ten years later, the 1911 Census records him as returning to the occupation of Cotton Weaver, living in accommodation with only two rooms in the nearby village of Shawforth with a wife, Isabella, and five children. They would go on to have eight in total children, born between 1904 and 1915. Continue reading »
I am going to start this blog post by asking a few questions. If faced with compulsory military service today, what would be the impact on our own individual lives? Would we need time to settle our domestic responsibilities before being able to serve? Would it be in the national interest for us to stay in the employment, training or social role which we currently hold? And what personnel would businesses and industries require to ensure the continued support to our local communities, especially the young and elderly?
Fortunately for us in Britain today these questions are purely hypothetical but 97 years ago (give or take a few days), on 27 January 1916, the British Government passed the first Military Service Act, meaning compulsory military service for every British male aged between 18 and 41 who was either unmarried or a widower without children. Exemption could be granted from this conscription into the military forces with a Tribunal system established to hear applications and appeals at local district or borough level, County appeal and a final Central appeal level in London.
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My First World War Tommy was not in the army, or any of the armed services, but he was called Tommy, and he died for his country. His name was Thomas Cross, and I know a great deal about his death, but very little about his life, except that he was my great-great grandfather. He has no birth certificate, because he was born in Ireland before the start of civil registration there, and although the birth certificates of his children give the date and place of his marriage to my great-great-grandmother, there is no trace of that in Irish civil registration either. He only appears in one census, 1911, because he was a merchant seaman, and was away at sea for all the others.
Medal card BT 351/1
Like many other merchant seamen he was caught up in the war, and when he died in 1917 he was around 52 years old, older than most men in the fighting forces. His ship, the Ermine, had been commandeered by the Royal Navy as a Fleet Messenger, and sank in August 1917. Continue reading »