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 was discussing the First World War with a friend and we were talking about what was important to us personally about the upcoming centenary. We agreed that, with so few people from the period still with us, that some stories may be lost forever. This struck a chord with me as I prepared to write my blog post.
Last year, I inherited the war medals of a Mr Brown, the father of my great-aunt Betty’s best friend, Jenny. Until I started my research all I knew about Mr Brown was his surname so I was curious to know more about the man whose medals I now owned. Mr Brown died in 1967 and his daughter Jenny died in 2002, leaving behind notes on her own research into her family history. Mr. Brown has no living descendants – his story could be lost – and I decided that this blog would be a good place to celebrate his life.
I’ve been researching Mr Brown for only a short while so I know there is still a lot more for me to discover, but I’d like to take this opportunity to share his story so far.
A young Mr Brown (far left) There is no information on the back of the photo but we assume that he is with his father, mother, sisters Jean and Peggy and older brother Adam.
Joseph Vincent Willie Brown was born on 15 March 1898 in San Vicente, Torello, Barcelona. He was the son of Adam Brown and Jeanie Paton who were originally from Paisley, Scotland. His father was employed by J&P Coats, the Paisley thread manufacturers who had factories worldwide. Mr Brown’s birth certificate gives his father’s occupation as a dyer and bleacher but, according to notes made by Jenny, he was a manager in the Torello factory.
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It has been one year since we launched The National Archives’ blog. From the start, our writers and staff have taken a fresh look at a wide range of subjects. Our 223 posts have ranged from information management in the movies to personal stories of the First World War and Titanic, from maps to UFOs. With over 60 published authors from around the organisation, we seem to relish the chance to tell the stories of our work. And people seem to want to read them too – with around 10,000 visitors a month.
"Motor Manufacturing" by Clive Gardiner for the Empire Marketing Board (ref CO 956/258)
So apart from that, why do we do it? For three reasons. First, The National Archives is doing some of the most interesting work around on a whole lot of issues. Our aim is to bring some of this to the people who matter – the users, readers and researchers. We certainly haven’t always been perfect but it is all the more important that we get feedback from users to make our services as good as they can be. Second, because of the financial situation, the best way to get this feedback is not through expensive surveys or focus groups, but through the web and social media. And, third, our role is to bring the most interesting public records and information to light, objectively, and let others discuss them. 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 introduction to First World War research didn’t initially come through looking into my own family. One of my hobbies is bellringing: like so many clubs and social groups the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers created its own roll of honour after the First World War. Much work has been done in recent years to link the names on the roll with Commonwealth War Grave Commission records, but some names were proving stubborn, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious candidate. I realised that I was in a position to help since I could easily look at the available records.
It soon became clear that at least some of the men had been overlooked at the time, their health had broken under the strain of army service and had been discharged as a result, and subsequently died from the same condition. While they qualify for recognition under the terms of CWGC’s royal charter, their names had never been put forward for inclusion on the debt of honour register. I wrote up as much detail as I could find on these men on our old Your Archives wiki (see for example Gilbert Victor Drew) and with help from members of the Great War Forum and the In From the Cold Project I was able to get a few men added to the CWGC register.
Fred Holbrook (from the family photo album)
So, having already honed my research skills to some extent, I then received an email via my Dad from his cousin Jane who had been working on the family history. In particular she was looking for help with her great-uncle (my great-great-uncle), Frederick John Holbrook. She had already found his entry in the CWGC database and his medal index card (WO 372/9/241037). This showed that he had served in 2nd Battalion, Welsh Regiment as Private 30649.
They also reveal one slight discrepancy, with CWGC showing his date of death as 26 July 1916 and the medal card as 23 July. Another discrepancy is that CWGC record his age as 19, but Births, Marriages and Deaths records show that he was born on 5 May 1898, meaning he was just 18 when he died: and since the medal card also shows that he was posted to France on 12 May 1915 he must have been underage when he joined up. Certainly he looks very young in the surviving photo of him, and rather swamped by his uniform.
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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 »
With royal succession in the news, I find myself reminded of the life of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest child. Princess Beatrice was born in the middle of the 19th century, commonly regarded as the Victorian Age because of the towering presence of Queen Victoria who reigned for nearly 64 years, from 1837 to 1901.
Most heads of the surviving royal families of Europe are descended from Victoria and her husband Albert whom she married in 1840. This was a deliberate policy, supported and encouraged by the Queen; she thought, falsely as it turned out, that a Europe linked by royal households related to one another would be a Europe less likely to go to war. As a consequence inherited diseases such as haemophilia were passed from cousin to cousin, who from Spain in the west to Russia in the east took to their sick beds or expired. And in 1914 the cousins and the countries they ruled went to war. But this was all in the future when Victoria married Albert. Together they produced nine children before Albert, worn out and plagued by typhoid, died on 14 December 1861.
Their nine children were Victoria (the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany), Edward or Bertie (who became King Edward VII), Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. I have long been interested in Princess Beatrice, the youngest child, the daughter who was expected to stay alongside her grieving mother in the bleak years after the death of Albert, who was expected to have no life of her own, but who, in the end, did stage a minor rebellion, and married a German prince and established her own dynasty.
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Western tentacles of the Great Western Railway (reference RAIL 936/48)
Edward Thomas (1878-1917), who was killed in action during the First World War, was a poet and essayist chiefly remembered for his poem Adlestrop which recalled the sudden peace and serenity of a village railway station in the days prior to the First World War.
Adlestrop by Edward Thomas
Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
the name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
But was the train due to stop at Adlestrop anyway? Continue reading »
12th (Prince of Wales's) Lancers Group - Photograph from private collection
At The National Archives we are busy planning our programme of activities to commemorate the centenary of the First World War in 2014.
With our unique and extensive collection of First World War records, from the official unit war diaries to medal cards and records of the men and women who served, we hold an invaluable resource for genealogists, historians, scholars and anyone interested in researching the history of this conflict or the people involved.
In this blog series, we will follow a group of volunteers from our staff as they embark on a voyage of discovery to trace their First World War ancestors using records held by The National Archives. At regular intervals over the next two years, each will write a blog to explain what records they have consulted, what they found about their ancestor and how they intend to continue their research in this and other archives. They will also share hints and tips to help others conduct their own research.
We hope you will come with us on the journey to discover our ancestors. With the approaching centenary, at no time has it been more fitting to discover the people behind those old photographs and medals.
As the person overseeing this series, I thought it only fair to be the first to post. Read on to see what I found out about my Tommy…
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