An Illustrated Family History Archive


Note: This blog constitutes just the family history category entries from my main blog, which you can visit here.

Remembrance Sunday V

Sunday 9 November 2008
If I were to make a little war memorial dedicated to those from my family who died in the First World War (that I am currently aware of - I know there are others as yet unconfirmed), it would look like this...

CAMERON, Mark William
HMS Invincible - 31 May 1916 age 32

EWING, Alexander
14th Bttn. Black Watch - 4 Dec 1917 age 21

EWING, James
3rd Bttn. Seaforth Highlanders - 2 Mar 1917 age 32

5th Leicestershire Rgt. - 29 Aug 1918 age 32

PHILLIP, William
8th Bttn. Black Watch - 19 Jul 1918 age 23

PHILLIP, Alexander
205th Field Company Royal Engineers - 17 Dec 1917

2nd Bttn. Lancashire Fusiliers - 1 Jul 1916 age 24

STEWART, Henry Walter Betsworth
5th Bttn. Highland Light Infantry - 14 Jul 1915 age 20

STEWART, Andrew Phillip, MC
9th King's Own Scottish Borderers - 2 Jun 1918 age 21

You can see a page dedicated on my website here, with Commonwealth War Graves Commission links for each name [update 2018: it currently contains 31 names]. Not all of these men have been fully researched yet, but one of the latest I have learned about is the last on that alphabetical list, Andrew Phillip Stewart, who was the second eldest son of my gg-aunt Betsy. He is also the only relative I know of (so far) who won a gallantry award, the Military Cross.

Andrew was born in Glasgow in June 1896 to Samuel Stewart (a gymnastics instructor and teacher) and Betsy Phillip (who had worked in her father's home-run market garden store before getting married). When the war came he was already a Private in the 5th Scottish Rifles, and after joining the Expeditionary Force worked his way up to Lieutenant in the 9th King's Own Scottish Borderers. As far as his MC goes, I have found the citation in a supplement to the London Gazette from July 1918, but as yet have no real context (or date) for the action...*

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in a difficult rearguard action, when his tactical handling of men caused the enemy to suffer heavy casualties and enabled his own men to withdraw with a minimum of loss. He was wounded just as the last remnant of his command had reached safety."

*Edit: I have since discovered this event took place at Combles on 24 March 1918 and the MC was awarded posthumously.

Andrew was invalided home, and after his recovery he made his way to Ireland where he accidentally drowned while bathing in Loch Corrib on 2nd June 1918. He is buried in the Western Necropolis of Glasgow Cemetery. There is a great photograph of Andrew that I came across in my late great-auntie Jean's photo album, which I saw for the first time a few months ago, showing him wearing one of the emergency issue winter goat-skin coats (also known as 'woolly bears') that were first issued in the winter of 1914-15. His cap badge shows this was taken when he was with the Scottish Rifles.

Through researching Andrew, I discovered that his elder brother, Henry (known as Harry) also died in the war, being killed at Gallipoli, while serving with the 5th Battalion Highland Light Infantry, on 14 July 1915.

This is my fifth annual Remembrance Sunday post, you can see the previous years' entries from 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.

posted 09.11.08 at 10:28 am | permalink at Webbledegook |

About the name Garen

Wednesday 10 September 2008
As you may have noticed, I have a fairly unusual name, and I'm asked the question about where it comes from on a regular basis, with most people postulating that it has Welsh origins due to the way it sounds (it's hasn't, though I probably do have a little Welsh ancestry back in the 1700s by way of some Pritchards).

My mum always told me that she liked the first half of 'Gareth', but not the second, and the second half of 'Darren', but not the first, so she put the two together to come up with Garen (this was 1969). Very recently my aunt told me a different story, that my mum scrambled the letters of her own name (Margaret Anne) and picked out five, producing Garen. Whichever story is true (I think the first) - she made the name up.

From a 1990 letterhead

I like my name. It's got five letters to match my surname and has a pleasing stamp. Up until I got on the Internet, I thought it was pretty much unique, though someone told me early on that Elvis Presley's twin brother was called Garen (actually his second name and not the same spelling, Jesse Garon Presely, he was sadly still-born).

When I did get on to the internet (in 1997) I found there were other Garens out there and I experienced something of the feeling that all Johns, Daves and Mikes must constantly have... that my name is shared. Most Garens the world over have an Armenian surname, and this does seem to be where its roots lie, although a number of more recent baby-name websites declare it as French, and that it comes from the word 'guard' (erm, which is garde). A friend of mine who recently had a baby, owned a mammoth book of 40,000 baby names, including Garen, of which it said it was English. I can't help but wonder if they got that from typing the name into Google and coming up with my website and looking at where I lived!

I do know of another Garen native to the British Isles. In the late 1990s I did some illustration work assisting comic artist Tony O'Donnell, and when he had a son around that time, he and his wife decided they liked the name Garen, so it became his too. He's not named "after me", as such (I've only actually met Tony once in person), but I feel honoured, all the same, that my name was the origin.

Update: I have since done a little research into the first name Garen, and here are some stats - from 1837-2005 there were 46 Garen births registered in England, Wales and Scotland; the first was in 1952; there were 4 in the 50s, 8 in the 60s (including me), 12 in the 70s, 7 in the 80s and 11 in the 90s. 33 were in England, 11 in Wales, and 2 in Scotland; 10 of those belonged to people with a non-UK heritage (going by surname), of which 5 were Armenian (the others Turkish, Arabian, Latin American, Punjabi and Hindu).

The signature I use on my artwork - it hasn't changed much in 20 years...

Garen is one of those names people never believe the first time they hear it, so I've always got the script ready to say "it's like Darren but with a G instead of a D", though sometimes I won't bother, and will endure being called Darren, Gary, Gareth or Geraint and on one amusing occasion, Garden. One chap I worked with for a few months even took to calling me Dave because my name just did not compute in his world. The most common mis-spelling is to give it two rs, and it is still sometimes mis-spelt by friends and even family. If I say my own name, Garen Ewing, too quickly, people tend to think my name is that of automobile-songster and pop-pilot, Gary Numan.

One popular use of the name Garen appears to be for fantasy characters in online fiction, as it lends itself to that random interlocking of syllable parts that I know so well from my role-playing game days when I did much the same thing (ah, Dorin Sharpesword, where are you now?) In fact, at the time of writing, the number one Google return is for Garen Muln, a human male Jedi master who "lived during the final decades of the Galactic Republic". Number two is for Garen Boyajian, a Canadian actor (with an Armenian surname) whose "dedication, drive and defiant pursuit of superstardom" I immediately support due to our invisible unusual-name bond (coincidentally, he also works to help raise awareness for Ewing's Sarcoma). As for me, I come in at number four, just after Tarot mistress, Nancy Garen (but I'm not counting the surname). I've seen one female Garen - Garen Thomas, an African-American children's editor and author.

Update: as of Sep 2013 I now come in at number seven, with all the first six (and several after) being for a character called Garen ("The Might of Demacia") from a game called League of Legends.

Despite being one of those names you'll never find on a name-key-ring display in a tacky gift shop, there are a couple of places called Garen. It's the name of a ghost-town to be found on Highway 61 south of Forest Lake, Minnesota, founded in the 1890s. What I find intriguing about this place is that it was born of flame (a cattle-train stop built to placate the local farmers who were the victims of fires started by sparks from passing trains) and it pretty much died by flame (when the old school building burnt down in the 1930s, leaving only a roadside tavern into the 1940s). Garen is also a small town just outside Lindern, Germany ('garen' means 'cook' in German, apparently).

So there you go... though the name has a Western Armenian heritage, in my case my mum just made it up in 1969. Well... you do keep asking!

You can read another blog post about names right here.

My parents and grandparents at my naming ceremony.
posted 10.09.08 at 10:08 am | permalink at Webbledegook |

Exhibition of work by Edyth Higson

Thursday 28 August 2008
Currently running at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery is a small exhibition of art by my great auntie Edyth, this being the centenary of her birth (she died in 1980). I believe it is to run until the end of the year.

Edyth was the eldest child of a coal miner, and when her talent and ambition became evident, the family put their financial resources into sending her to the Royal College of Art in London - indeed, she was the first girl from Doncaster to go there. In the 1940s she ended up in Shrewsbury and married into an artistic family, the Coles. Her husband's uncle Edwin was quite a famous local artist, and I have mentioned him before, with a gallery of his postcards here. Her husband disappeared one day (it is thought he took his own life when the family business foundered), and she lived the rest of her life struggling to make a living, but did survive thanks to her art.

Detail from a theatre scene and a street scene (Doncaster market)

The only work I have of hers is a pencil portrait of her brother, my grandfather, which must date from the 1930s. My grandparents used to have a large oil painting over their fire-place that was by Edyth - a forest and river scene, if I remember correctly, and I was always fascinated at how dark and brooding it seemed. The Doncaster Museums Officer very kindly sent me some photographs of some of the work on show, which includes some of the glass etching she did later on in life. If you happen to be in the neighbourhood in the next few months, why not drop in and take a look?

Edyth (c.1924) and her portrait of my grandfather, Ben.
posted 28.08.08 at 2:34 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |

Edwin Cole

Wednesday 4 June 2008
I have created a quick page to display my small collection of Edwin Cole art - mostly in the form of postcards of Shrewsbury as published by Longforth Wilding & Sons.

My great auntie Edith married Edwin's nephew, Duncan. Edith was an artist herself, attending the Royal College of Art in the 1920s, a financial stretch for her parents which necessitated her brother (my grandfather) having to abandon his dreams of becoming a chemist to join his father in the coal pits. Instead, he ran away from home and joined the army, eventually becoming a Major, and resulting in my mum seeing her school days in places such as Tripoli, Libya and Egypt. Artists, eh!?

posted 04.06.08 at 11:16 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |

Afghan War

Friday 2 May 2008
This will be a bit out of the way from the usual comics subject matter, but I just wanted to mention that my Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80) website is favourably reviewed in the May 2008 edition of the BBC 'Who Do You Think You Are?' magazine.

In fact, it was given 4.5 stars (out of 5), which is jolly nice - the National Army Museum website only got 3 stars. They even sent me a complimentary copy, which doesn't always happen with this kind of thing. Not sure about the "disastrous march from Kabul to Kandahar" - they obviously didn't have time to read my site too deeply, as it was actually considered a great military success.

They seemed particularly impressed with my links page, which I have always felt needs to be much more comprehensive, actually. (You know, it always surprises me when comics creators don't link to other creators from their blogs and comic sites - Google likes you if you're well-connected! - not that that's the only reason for linking to friends and acquaintances).

Back to the magazine - I must agree with their Star Site - The Long Long Trail, especially its invaluable Great War Forum - probably the best World War I resource on the net. Another star site would have been, which has sadly gone off-line recently, probably for good.

posted 02.05.08 at 12:05 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |

Remembrance Sunday IV

Sunday 11 November 2007
This is my fourth 'Remembrance Sunday' entry. Previous years' entries can be read here: Walter Cameron of the Scots Guards, Charles Hodgkins of the North Staffordshire Regiment, and Mark William Cameron of the Royal Navy. This year I will write a little about my two great-great uncles, David and John Bruce Ewing.

David and John were brothers, both born in Dundee to David Ewing, who worked as a lemonade maker in Magdelene Yard Road, and Jane Gray, who came from Errol in Perthshire. David was the eldest, born in 1886, and John was born 1892. They had two elder brothers as well - James (a school teacher) and George (who followed his father in to the lemonade business). There had also been a middle brother, Alexander born in 1888, but he died of meningitis aged just six years old.

When the First World War broke out, David (a book keeper at Keillers) and John enlisted together at Dundee on 5th November 1914, David being given the number 1692, and John 1695, and both going in to the Royal Army Medical Corps. While I know David was placed with the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance, I am less certain about John as less paperwork has survived, and while it is possible they went in to the same unit, they have different embarkation dates: David on 4 May 1915, and John 1 May 1915.

The 3rd Highland Field Ambulance, as part of the 51st Division, saw action at Festubert in June 1915, the Somme in July 1916, and Beaumont Hamel in November 1916. It was also at Ypres late in 1917, but in February of that year David had been discharged as medically unfit due to dysentery. John, who had also served in France, was discharged in March 1919, suffering a 'broken denture'.

At the moment, I know little about the brothers' lives after the war. Neither of them ever married, and in fact I believe they lived together sharing a flat in Dundee for the rest of their lives - John dying around 1957 (no date for David as yet). Almost exactly a year ago I happened to get in touch with a medal collector who had one each of David and John's WWI medals. He generously offered to give me first refusal should he ever wish to sell them, which he very recently decided to do, and they arrived just a few days ago... a timely acquisition for Remembrance Day.

I did have another great-great uncle who served in the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance, not related to the Ewings, but also from Dundee - Robert Leishman Cameron. He was captured by the Germans and was kept as a prisoner of war at Stammlager Parchim and Stammlager Friedrichsfeld... but that is a story for another day.

Above: John and David Ewing with their mother, Jane, sometime in the 1930s, and David's 1914-15 Star with John's Victory Medal (their other WWI medals are missing).

posted 11.11.07 at 11:00 am | permalink at Webbledegook |

Remembrance Sunday III

Saturday 11 November 2006
It is quite surprising, I think, that many people do not know what their grandparents or great-grandparents got up to in the First World War. I had no direct ancestors killed in action, but have written before of my cousin killed at Jutland, and my great-grandfather who died a few years after his service at Gallipoli.

Today I will write a little of my gg-uncle Walter Cameron, who served in the Scots Guards in France.

Walter was born in Glasgow in 1891, and by the time the Great War broke out, he was working as a carter in Dundee (his family had moved there when he was 8 or 9 years old). In January 1915 he joined the Scots Guards, and was sent to France to join the 2nd Battalion in late October. The next few months saw him in the trenches around Ypres until July 1916 when the Guards Division was moved towards the Somme. On the 10th September his battalion was sent to Bernafay Wood and Ginchy where they assisted in the capture of the orchard and took over 70 German prisoners after advancing through shelling and machine-gun fire. It was most likely in this action that Walter was wounded by a gun shot to the chest and shoulder, and was sent back as a casualty. Walter was back in England a month and a half later, and served with the 3rd Battalion until he was finally discharged in London in February 1919. In September 1918 he had married a Brighton girl, Louise Miller.

Walter had never liked the fact that he didn't have a middle name (as most of his brothers and sisters did), as it meant his initials were W.C. His marriage certificate displays the mysterious appearance of the middle name of 'Ronald', the only time it was ever used. My great-uncle Peter told me that in his later years, Walter kept a secret whiskey bottle in the garden shed, where he would escape to when Lu got on his nerves a little too much! Walter and Lu never had any children, and Walter died in 1971, aged 80.

Of Walter's brothers, Peter (my g-grandfather) and David Cameron served as drivers in the Royal Army Service Corps, while Robert Cameron served in the Army Medical Corps - probably also as a driver (ambulance) - and was taken a prisoner by the Germans.

posted 11.11.06 at 10:44 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |

Romany routes

Monday 6 March 2006
One thousand years ago, or thereabouts, some of my ancestors left India and spent 500 years crossing Europe, and reached England roughly in the 1500s, where they were known as 'Little Egyptians', soon shortened to Gyptians, then Gypsies (and some were hanged for it, too). I remember my mum making vague references to her dark hair coming from a "true Romany" strain of the family, but I only learned its truth about five years ago when I started researching my family history for myself.

My ancestors in this line stopped travelling and settled in about the 1860s, and most of the facts about them had been forgotten by the time I started looking into it, but I wrote an article about what I did discover and it has just appeared in the latest issue of the excellent Romany Routes, the magazine of the Romany & Traveller Family History Society (Vol. 7 No. 6, Mar 2006). It's a much more detailed version of a brief online piece I wrote here.

posted 06.03.06 at 6:04 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |

Remembrance Sunday II

Sunday 13 November 2005
This time last year I wrote about a cousin of mine, Mark Cameron, who was killed at Jutland in 1916. This year I will detail someone closer in the family, my great-grandfather Charles Hodgkins.

Charles was born in 1891 in Uttoxeter and had worked as a labourer before enlisting on the last day of August 1914. He was assigned to the 4th North Staffordshire Regiment and sent to Guernsey for training. Almost a year later he was finally sent on active duty when he was drafted into the 7th Battalion and ordered to Gallipoli. Earlier in the month the 7th had seen fierce fighting at Hill 'Q' which was "one of the fiercest fights of Gallipoli. Every inch of ground was disputed with bayonet and bomb." By the time Charlie arrived they had moved forward to Sulajik where a long period of trench warfare commenced, most of the work consisting of digging forward, wiring and patrol work. Captain Missen records that "heat, sand and flies accounted for nearly as many lives as did the bullets and shells of the enemy". During this month Charlie got pneumonia and was sent to Malta for convalesence, then finally back to England by December where he was sent to Lichfield Military Hospital at Whittington to recover. It was here, sometime in 1916, that he met his future wife, Minnie, a local farm girl who brought eggs for the soldiers there. Charlie was lucky, in a way. A month after he left the 7th Battalion were subject to lots of trench flooding when icy water would sweep through with no chance of escape for the men, many of whom were drowned. The trenches remained waist-deep in water for some time.

Charlie was discharged from the army as he was no longer fit for service. He became a baker's boy in Lichfield, married and had two daughters. But his strength was always diminished, and in 1925 he died when an oral infection got the better of him, aged just 34.

posted 13.11.05 at 7:40 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |

Things my mother told me

Wednesday 1 June 2005
Once, when I was about 12, I started peeling an orange and then proceeded to take off all the excess pith. "Don't do that", my mum said, "you need your vitamin P". So, since then, I've tended to leave the pith on my oranges and satsumas, and eaten it, thinking "ah... getting some vitamin P".

A few years ago I noticed my wife doing the same thing, peeling off the pith. "Don't do that", I said, "you need your vitamin P". After a couple of minutes of her laughing her head off and casting grave doubt on the existence vitamin P, she went back to de-pithing her fruit. "But my mother told me", I protested, "it must be true!". Ellie replied, "she must have been pulling your leg...".

When I was much younger, about 7 or 8, I asked my mum what 'shampoo' meant. "Well", she began, "it means 'not-real-poo'. Anything's that's a 'sham' means it's not real, and you know what poo is!". I was in my twenties before I actually thought about this and realised I may have been a bit gullible there (in fact, I believe the word is Indian in origin, an import along with verandah and bungalow etc..).

Anyway - I just decided to look up vitamin P (finally)... and it does exist! It is a bioflavonoid:

"Bioflavonoids are found in the white material just beneath citrus peel, as well as in peppers, grapes, pine bark, onions, garlic, blue and red berries, green tea as well as buckwheat."

So she was right on that one, but mum had quite a sense of humour, and I do wonder what other things she told me that might not have been the exact truth. I'm off to eat some pine bark.

posted 01.06.05 at 5:45 pm | permalink at Webbledegook |
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