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The Somme 100
Friday 1 July 2016
Today is the 100th anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles in human history - The Somme. The action itself went on from July into November 1916, but the first day alone saw over 57,000 British casualties, almost 20,000 of whom were killed. During the entire battle the British suffered 420,000 casualties, 72,000 of which have no known grave, while the French sustained over 200,000 and the Germans 500,000.
I had a number of relatives who were involved in various bits of action, and I'm currently aware of three who died. These were Thomas Sherriff (age 31, Lancashire Fusiliers, killed on the first day of the offensive, his interesting story is detailed here); Arthur Meffan (age 19, Highland Light Infantry, wounded on 16th July at Longueval, and died on 27th July); and David Howarth (age 36, Manchester Regiment, killed on 7th July when his regiment lost nearly 600 men to German machine-gun fire).

You can read more about my family WWI casualties here, and a list of family WWI participants here.

posted 01.07.16 at 2:43 pm in Family History | permalink | |

Jutland - 100 Years
Tuesday 31 May 2016
It's 100 years since the Battle of Jutland, so I thought I'd reprint this post, originally written for Remembrance Day in 2004, about a cousin of mine who died aboard HMS Invincible on that black day of 31 May 1916 ...

Mark William Cameron was born at Parkhurst Barracks at the beginning of 1884, his father being a Sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders, stationed there after returning from service in Egypt and Afghanistan. His mother was only 18 at the time, and had married his father just five days before he was born.

Mark joined the Royal Navy, possibly inspired by his father's tales of campaigning in exotic lands for the British Empire, and perhaps also by distant tales of his great-grandfather, who had battled Napoleon's forces at Waterloo. As the new century began, he found himself as a Boy, 1st Class, aboard H.M.S San Pariel after stints on the Caledonia, Minotaur and Agincourt. In 1910 he married his cousin Margaret, daughter of his uncle Donald who had served abroad with his father in the 72nd Foot. In 1913, with the British and German Navys trying to outbuild each other as European tensions grew, he was in the Gunnery School aboard H.M.S Excellent, before being promoted to Gunner and joining H.M.S Invincible - the world's first battlecrusier - at its commissioning on 3 August 1914.

"The First World War had begun. In the northern mists the Grand Fleet (21 dreadnoughts, 8 predreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers, 21 cruisers and 42 destroyers) was at its war base in Scapa Flow, under the command of Admiral Jellicoe. Diagonally across the North Sea the German High Seas Fleet (13 dreadnoughts, 16 predreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers, 18 cruisers and 88 destroyers) were assembling in the River Jade under the command of Admiral Von Ingenohl." - V. E. Tarrant.

Invincible was involved in three actions. It had a small part to play at Heligoland Bight later in August, and then in December was involved in a naval battle against Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee at the Falkland Islands. But the Invincible will be forever associated with the Battle of Jutland, on the last day of May in 1916, when at 6.34 p.m a salvo from the Derfflinger penetrated the 7-inch armour and causing explosions in the gun-house, turret and the magazine, rent the Invincible in two, sinking it and killing 1,019 men. There were only six survivors, and Mark Cameron was not amongst them.

A direct hit on HMS Invincible

To boys who had grown up with the heroic deeds of their grandfathers, fathers and uncles, or the gallant officer adventurers in the novels of G. A. Henty, who had read of the brave thin red or khaki lines defending outposts against Zulus at Rorke's Drift, or Afghans at Kam Dakka, and where casualties rarely exceeded fifty on a bad day, or a few hundred on a disastrous day, the Great War will have come as a shock. Over 21,000 Britons killed in the first day at the Somme in 1916, and 6,000 Britons and 2,500 Germans lost to a watery grave at Jutland is a severe lesson indeed.

Mark William Cameron, 13 Jan 1884 - 31 May 1916
posted 31.05.16 at 6:34 pm in Family History | permalink | 1 |

WWI stories: Henry Walter Betsworth Stewart
Tuesday 14 July 2015
One hundred years ago today Henry (aka Harry) W. B. Stewart was killed on the Galipolli peninsular.
He was born on 16th September 1894 in Willowbank Crescent, Glasgow. His family had just a few months earlier moved from Dundee as his father, Samuel Stewart, was to take up a new post as gymnastics instructor at Glasgow Academy. His mother was Betsy Meffan Phillip, eldest child of Andrew Phillip and Betsy Rough.

By age 16, Harry worked as an apprentice for a shirt manufacturer, but by the time the war came, in 1914, he was working for ship owners J&A Roxburgh. He wasted no time in enlisting, with the 5th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, and in July 1915 he landed with his company at the Dardanelles.

I have not been able to access the war diary of the 1/5th H.L.I., so I do not know the exact details of the battalion's movements on 14th July 1915, the day Harry was killed, except for a report that they were "on general fatigues south of Backhouse Road [trench]". They had seen a fair bit of action in the previous few days, and several men's lives were lost to the deadly Turkish snipers that kept a constant watch on the British positions.

Harry's younger brother, Andrew Stewart, a Lieutenant in the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the winner of a Military Cross, would die in 1918, leaving just two sisters and a brother with their parents (Samuel was stationed at Gailes, training recruits). I've also written about the death of his uncle, Alexander Phillip.

Harry, who had been promoted to Lance Corporal in the short time he served, was just 20 years old. His memorial on the family stone in Glasgow's Western Necropolis states "asleep on Achi Baba".

posted 14.07.15 at 12:41 am in Family History | permalink | 4 |

Remembrance Sunday IX
Tuesday 11 November 2014
My ninth Remembrance Sunday post is a couple of days late this year, but as I was in Germany on that particular day I hope you will forgive me. Today, however, is Armistice Day in the 100th anniversary year of the commencement of the First World War and I'm going to write a little bit about my great-great uncle, Alexander Rough Phillip, also known as Wee Eck.
He was Wee Eck because he was the youngest son (though two girls would come after him) of Andrew Phillip, a stone mason from Inverkeillor, and Betsy Rough, of Kettins. The family was mostly girls - seven in all, with just four boys (though one died of croupe at three years old). You can see little Alex standing on the right, holding his mother's arm, in this photograph of the Phillip family from about 1886, about the time they moved to Dundee.

Alexander had the misfortune to be born in a fateful era - the final two decades of Queen Victoria's reign, whose children were ushered into the brave new twentieth century, then raked into the First World War, only to be torn apart and buried in the mud of Flanders, the sands of the Middle East, and the weather-worn hills of Gallipoli.

Wee Eck followed his father into the masonry business, but when the war blew across Europe he enlisted with the City of Dundee Royal Engineers, soon being posted to the 446th Northumbrian Field Company. In July of 1917 he found himself in the Hindenburg support trenches, and on the first day of August he and another Sapper, Henry Cawley, were killed outright by a German shell as they worked in the Swift support trench, right on the front line near to Chérisy.

His commanding officer, Major C. E. Boost, wrote to his father the very next day, the day his colleages buried him at Heninal ...

"I am very sorry to have to tell you that your son, Sapper Phillips [sic] of this Coy., was killed yesterday by a shell in the front trench system. In your great sadness I feel that it would help to know that your son has done splendid work whilst with the company. His close attention to duty and willingness to do anything that was required of him has earned himself a reputation not only with the men of his section, but with his section officers ... I am enclosing his cap badge which I feel you would like ..."

A fellow engineer, Sapper Thomas Brown, wrote a couple of weeks later to Alex's younger sister, Jemima ...

"I hope you will excuse me for intruding upon your grief, but I thought you would like to hear from one that was not far from your brother when he was killed. Please take comfort in the fact that his death was instantaneous and that he died a steady and true soldier, in the cause of his King and country. I cannot speak too highly of your brother for he and I were the best of pals for the all too short time I knew him, and I always felt he was a man to be relied on. I think the way him and I got on so well together was because we were about the only Scots in this lot, so you know we are a little clannish. As long as we stay here I will see that his grave his kept green for it is a sacred spot to me ..."

Look at the family photo above once again. The eldest child, Betsy, just behind Wee Eck, lost two sons in the war - Henry, at Gallipoli in July 1915, and Andrew, who drowned in Ireland while convalescing from wounds received in action at Combles. The tall chap at the back is John, the eldest son. He lost his boy, Alexander, just a few months after his little brother was killed, in December 1917, and another son, William, was poisoned in a gas attack in April 1918 - and survived. The wider Phillip family also suffered. Andrew's brother, James Phillip, lost a grandson, William, at Meteran, with another of his four serving sons wounded.

Alex's mother, Betsy, whose arm he holds in the photograph, died in 1899, so she would never know the horror of the war and the fate of her son and three grandchildren. His father, Andrew, carried the grief of his family's loss until his death in 1931, at the age of 87. He outlived five of his 11 children.

See my WWI family war memorial here.

Sapper Alex Phillip, Wee Eck, in a family photo and from a news extract after his death.
posted 11.11.14 at 11:11 am in Family History | permalink | 6 |

WWI stories: War Horse
Sunday 28 September 2014
You have almost certainly heard of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel about a farm horse bought by the British Army to serve in WWI. It was later adapted into an award-winning play (which I can highly recommend, though take a box of hankies with you) and later still a film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg.
There is also a war horse in my own family. My ggg-uncle was John Birrell Horsburgh (1865-1940) and his eldest son was John Harvie Horsburgh. John was born on Forfar Road in Dundee in 1892 and, as a teenager, worked in a jute mill. By the time of the Great War he was working as a cab driver and served in the war with the Royal Engineers. After being demobbed he worked as a carter (something of a Horsburgh family specialty) for contractor James Wilson of Malcolm Street, Dundee.

Also starting at James Wilson's, in 1918, was an 11-year-old horse called Darkie. Darkie, so-called because of his handsome black coat, had crossed the Atlantic to Britain in the early years of the war with a French-Canadian Battalion and had gone with them into battle-torn France where he sustained seven injuries to his fore-end, flanks and legs. When the war was over he was bought by Wilson's and was soon teamed up with a carter, my cousin John Horsburgh.

In about 1928 both John and Darkie moved to Tough Brothers, merchants and manufacturers at the Anchor Works in Anchor Lane. Darkie was a 'Belgian type' but had the short neck and powerful shoulders of a Clydesdale. He was an intelligent creature, able to position himself correctly depending on whether he was pulling a cart or a lorry, behaving better than many motorists at traffic lights, able to shift himself out the way of a passing bus upon hearing its horn, and he knew his way round the twists and turns of the Corporation gasworks yard without the slightest guidance needed.

In 1933 Darkie took part in the Broughty Ferry Carnival, and in 1935 he was spruced up and decorated for King George V's silver jubilee. But in August 1937, having never needed to see a vet in all his carting career, he died of an internal ailment. He was about 30 years old and had been at work just the day before. John Horsburgh was inconsolable ...

"... aye, [he was] as cheery at the end o' the week as he wis at the beginnin'. He wis the maist wice-like horse I've ever had onything tae dae wi'."

John himself had married in 1916, to a jute spinner, Elizabeth Anne Williamson. They had five sons (that I know of), though both parents would outlive two of them (James died aged 1 in 1922 and William died aged 25 in 1945). Elizabeth died in 1968, age 73, and John died age 76 in March 1969, just three months before my own birth.

posted 28.09.14 at 11:05 pm in Family History | permalink | 3 |

WWI stories: James Parker Gilmour
Tuesday 16 September 2014
One hundred years ago today James Parker Gilmour was killed at the first Battle of the Aisne.
He was born 21st June 1893 in Loan Street, Anstruther Easter, in Fife, the fourth child of an eventual nine to James Parker Gilmour (1861-1934), a slater, and Mary Henderson Borthwick (1865-1929). In his teenage years he became an apprentice watchmaker, and on 5th September 1913 he enlisted with the 1st Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) at Dundee.

Attached to C Company, James landed in France on 13th August 1914, and a month later he was crossing the Aisne as part of the follow-up offensive against von Kluck's German First Army and von Bulow's Second Army. As the two sides faced each other across low-lying open ground the British started to dig ditches for cover, and these soon deepened and lengthened to become the first trenches of the war.

The Black Watch saw particularly heavy action on 14th September at Vendresse, losing 18 officers and 450 men, including their Lieutenant-Colonel. The 15th, 16th and 17th saw heavy shelling of the British positions.

A newspaper listing of 17th November 1914 reports 2567 Private J P Gilmour as missing, and almost a year later, in August 1915, his parents were still appealing in the press for any news of him, stating he had been reported missing on 14th September, though his death was eventually recorded as 16th September 1914.

He is remembered on the Anstruther war memorial, the memorial at the Anstruther Fisheries Museum, and at the cemetery at La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, Seine-et-Marne, on the memorial for missing men with no known grave. He was 21 years old and the first WWI casualty from Anstruther.

See my family war memorial here and war archive here.

posted 16.09.14 at 11:22 am in Family History | permalink | |

Remembrance Sunday VIII
Sunday 10 November 2013
A short one this year - just a link to my family war memorial page which I have updated with brief biographies and photographs (where I have them) of relatives killed in World War I.

For previous years' Remembrance Sunday entries see 2012, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.

posted 10.11.13 at 11:11 pm in Family History | permalink | 2 |

Welcome little one
Tuesday 30 April 2013
Not much blogging recently - I've been very busy with the new Julius Chancer strip. Even bigger news, for me anyway, is that on Sunday my wife gave birth to a little boy.

So, please excuse me if I'm a little slower than usual with emails, work and book orders for a while - I'll try not to be!

posted 30.04.13 at 8:57 pm in Family History | permalink | 11 |

Remembrance Sunday VII
Sunday 11 November 2012
The First World War is generally the main focus of Remembrance Sunday, despite the fact that, unlike the Second World War - seen as a war of justice, it was basically a war of Empire. But then perhaps that is what really lends an extra layer of sentiment to the dead of the Great War - the fact that so many men were sacrificed for the games played by their heads of state.
Whatever, they are seen as 'our glorious dead', heroes revered and venerated at village memorials across the land. Indeed, I have identified thirteen members (so far) of my own family to have died in the conflict of 1914-18, and every one is a tragic tale of a life cut short.

But how about when it's not so clear-cut? This year I will tell the story of one of my distant cousins who died on the first dreadful day of the battle of the Somme, but who - when you know the full tale - you would find hard to fully revere.

His name was Thomas Sherriff, and he was born some time around 1885 to a family of Romany Gypsies, his parents being Hope (aka 'Gypsy Jack') and Trinity (aka Hetty, Genti, Trenetty or even Franette) Sherriff. He'd already served in the Sherwood Foresters alongside his father around the time of the Boer War. I don't yet know whether he saw service in that conflict, but I do know he was imprisoned for seven days for violently attacking a family rival in the marketplace at Wirksworth, in February 1900.

A far more serious offence occurred in January 1903 when Tom was arrested for his involvement in the killing of a policeman. PC William Price had gone to the Sherriff Gypsy camp to investigate the theft of three ferrets from a nearby farm. Things turned nasty and a fight broke out between PC Price and three of the Sherriff brothers, Tom, John and Joseph. Their father, Hope, and a fellow traveller, Arkless Holland (married to Tom's sister, Raini) were also implicated. During the fight, the constable was struck on the head with his own truncheon and the three brothers bolted. Price later died from his wounds and a murder hunt ensued.

After a few days on the run, and two more policemen injured while trying to arrest them, the Sherriffs were caught. Hope and Arkless, held earlier, were acquitted, but Tom, John and Joseph were found guilty of manslaughter and were given fifteen years penal servitude. The brothers never revealed who struck the actual devastating blow to PC Price, but the family story points most strongly at Tom. They were lucky - had the verdict been murder then they would have all hanged.

Joseph died in prison in about 1907. Tom and John can both be seen on the 1911 census as inmates of Portland Prison in Dorset. But, with the First World War looming, it seems they were released early, or perhaps volunteered, into the hands of the army, John into the Notts & Derby Regiment and Tom, at first into the Notts and Derby Regiment, and then the Lancashire Fusiliers. It was with this regiment he found himself on the front line of the Somme on 1st July 1916. At 7.20 am a huge mine was exploded under the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt and the Lancashires charged, only to come under severe German machine gunning and artillery. The regiment lost seven officers and 156 other ranks in the attack - including Tom Sherriff, a small portion of the 20,000 dead the British suffered on that first day alone.

Lancashire Fusiliers at Beaumont Hamel, July 1916.

For the past two years I have been invited by the Romany and Traveller Family History Society to join a delegation at the Cenotaph memorial in London, helping to represent Romanies who served. Sadly I have not been able to make it, and I do always think of the conflicting feelings that surround the sad story of Thomas Sherriff. Tom is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardy, and also on the village memorial at Newbold, Chesterfield. (Out of interest, Tom wasn't the only less-than-pristine family member to serve... another distant cousin, James Veevers, has a war record that brims with notes about drinking, housebreaking and disorderly conduct, all of which eventually landed him in prison for a while.)

Still, as well as Tom's fellow convict, John (also known as Uriah, wounded in 1917), other Romanies of my family served in the First War: Henry Holland, also with the Notts & Derby Regiment, was wounded on eight occasions in France, the final time, in Sep 1916, seeing him invalided to England before he died at home, in Aug 1918, from complications connected to his wounds; Charles Duffield (aka Hodgkins) was with the North Staffordshires and died at Ypres in July 1916; Perrin Dennett served with the Notts and Derby Regiment in 1918, though stayed in England.

Although my direct Romany-related line had ended their travelling ways in the 1870s or 80s, several descendants also fought in the war - my great-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins fought with the North Staffordshires in Gallipoli (see his story here); his brother Edward was also with the regiment (though a different battalion); their cousin Ernest Sherriff served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and then the Royal Garrison Artillery; and his brother, Horace, joined the Durham Light Infantry (though did not fight abroad).

This has been my seventh Remembrance Sunday post, though the first for two years. You can see the previous entries here: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004. My family war archive can be found here, and my online family war memorial here.

posted 11.11.12 at 1:44 pm in Family History | permalink | 2 |

Post Christmas
Friday 13 January 2012
A little late, perhaps, for a post-Christmas blog entry, but January has got off to a busy start, workwise, so finding the time to write has not been easy (same old story!).
I had a nice quietish Christmas and took some days completely off for the first time in, oh, a long time. I decided to do some family history research, which I haven't spent any proper time on for at least a couple of years or more, and I found some good stuff and cracked a research mystery that has been something of a brick wall for twelve years.

When I mention I enjoy researching my family history a common reaction is surprise that someone so young (ahem) should be interested in a hobby that is generally regarded as the preserve of the retired. I love history, and I love doing research, but the catalyst in this case was a postcard album that my mum inherited from her mother when she died. It had belonged to my great-grandmother, and looking through it mum and I agreed that it might be fun to research some of the people the cards were written to, many of them long-forgotten and now unknown family members. Sadly, my mum died not long after, and the postcard album ended up with me permanently.

A few years later I decided to begin researching my family history and started gathering information from various relatives. At that time a lot of research still had be done by going to the Family Records Centre in Islington (for birth, marriage and death records and census returns) and the National Archives at Kew (most commonly for military service papers). I spent a lot of time with index cards, microfiche readers and gazettes, searching through lists and taking notes. Things are so much easier now! All those indexes and, indeed, many of the original records, are available and searchable online - what a difference. It's great that it's easier, and you can do so much more with database searches, but I must admit the sense of discovery is somewhat lessened when you're not 'out in the field', and you miss sights such as the American lady I saw at the FRC once, who had come to England especially to search the 19th century census returns, and sat at the microfilm reader in full Victorian dress to get into the part.

My gg-grandfather, Andrew Phillip (1843-1931), a stone mason, and his family in about 1888.

Discovering and learning about my family history has been a revelation. There are some who just can't understand the fascination, but I find it odd that many people just about know who their grandparents were but nothing beyond that. Knowing the story of how I came to be here, both genetically and geographically, having a 'history-map' of the people and movements that combined to put me, my brother and my parents on the earth, and knowing not just the depth of my background, but the width as well (6th cousins!). It's a big picture that I'm glad to be aware of and I've been able to find the truth behind some well-worn family stories as well as learning a lot about life in the past in general

In my family I've discovered tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, nurses, firemen, artists, Gypsies, actresses, musicians, thieves, murderers, paupers, servants to publicans and peers, teachers, footballers, chimney sweeps, farmers, labourers, coal miners, clerks, shopkeepers, makers of cities, roads, ships, shoes, hats and fancy boxes, drivers of trains, trams, taxis and horse-drawn carts, preachers, vicars and, I'm sorry to say, one less than admirable Catholic Priest (very distantly related, I stress!).

One resource that has opened up relatively recently are newspaper archives. With this you can delve into the actual detail of life, beyond names, dates and occupations. Unfortunately, it's usually the bad news that gets reported - deaths and criminal activity especially, but they do, it has to be said, make for some of the most fascinating stories.

My g-grandmother Minnie Alice Lees (1887-1943, centre - it was her postcard album that started all this off) at Blackpool with her best friend Millie Norman and Millie's sister, c.1912.

This Christmas I learned what had happened to a gggg-uncle, Robert Ewing, who had previously disappeared from the records as a 10-year old flax winder in Dysart. It turns out he went on to become the captain of his own ship and ended up being thrown into a stormy ocean and drowning off the coast of Syria when he was 32. Another one to add the the tragic Ewing family deaths.

The wife of another gggg-uncle, Henry Higson, I knew had died at age 37, but I had no idea how until a fairly lurid newspaper article revealed that she cut her own throat in front of her children at breakfast one morning - very shocking stuff. The fact that her brother was in an insane asylum was enough, it seems, to explain her tragic actions at the inquest. Knowing this sad story has made me want to now find out what became of the three daughters who witnessed it and were 12, 10 and 4 years old at the time.

The most 'sensational' story was the 1903 murder of a policeman committed by three Gypsy brothers who each received fifteen years in prison. One of them came out to fight in World War One and was killed at the Somme.

My ggg-uncle Donald Cameron (far left, 1852-1926), a piper with the 72nd Highlanders with whom he marched from Kabul to Kandahar in 1880.

My most exciting find is far less sensational and more personal - and would no doubt bore you to death if I explained it in any detail! Since 2000, when I started, I've been trying to break through a wall to discover who the parents were of my ggg-grandmother, Eliza Sherriff. I have finally found the answer. It's been a long and torturous route to make the discovery - but that's what makes it so rewarding; finding the clues, one here one year, one there another year, until a door is finally unlocked and a whole pile of new questions and puzzles is revealed. It's hugely enjoyable.

This link will show you the family history category blog entries on this blog, and this link will take you to my little family history website.

posted 13.01.12 at 3:28 am in Family History | permalink | 7 |

A little one
Wednesday 30 March 2011
One week ago my wife gave birth to a little girl.

So if I'm a little slower with emails, if work takes a little longer over the next few weeks, and if I'm a little behind in getting orders out, I hope you'll understand why. Thanks, as ever, for your patience and support!

P.S. I've just noticed that this is my 500th post (on this incarnation of the blog, anyway).

posted 30.03.11 at 7:51 pm in Family History | permalink | 12 |

Remembrance Sunday VI
Wednesday 11 November 2009
Well, this is being posted on actual Armistice Day rather than Remembrance Sunday, but it's here to keep up the tradition. Unfortunately I have no time to research and write-up a new post this year, so I'll just link to the previous years' entries for those who haven't seen them before.
In 2004 I did a write-up of Mark Cameron, killed at the Battle of Jutland. In 2005 it was Charles Hodgkins, who served at Gallipoli. In 2006 I wrote about Walter Cameron, wounded in France with the Scots Guards, and in 2007 it was brothers David and John Ewing, both of the Royal Army Medical Corps. For the 90th Anniversary, in 2008, I wrote about MC-winning Andrew Stewart, and also presented a memorial list of my nine known relatives who were killed in the Great War.

From The Rainbow Orchid volume II, Julius Chancer in the trenches at Gallipoli, partly based on the experiences of my own great-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins.

posted 11.11.09 at 10:19 pm in Family History | permalink | |

Ninety years
Tuesday 11 November 2008
As it's the 90-year Armistice anniversary, I thought I'd do one more little WWI remembrance entry.

The above postcard was written from my great grandfather while he was on service in Germany in 1919 as a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps. He was writing to my gran (second from the right) when she was 6 - she died just last year, aged 93. He addressed it to "My Bonnie wee auburn haired lassie, Maggie" and says:

"Well my Hen, can you read yet? Have you learned anymore songs? If so I'll be needing you to let me hear them all when Daddy gets home. You'll be having rare fun now. No lessons and play all day. Ta ta xxx Daddy."

Peter McDougall Cameron returned to civilian life later that year to work as a chauffeur in Dundee. Sadly he died only four years later when a routine operation on his appendix went wrong. His last son, David, was born a few months later.

posted 11.11.08 at 11:00 am in Family History | permalink | |

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. 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 in Family History | permalink | |

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 in Family History | permalink | 4 |

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