The war had been a hammer wildly swinging into the families of those who were sent to fight, reshaping and defining them for generations to come. The children of the 1850s and 60s grew up with a vision of the British forces as lords of India, heroes of Africa, explorers and defenders of the Great Empire - well, that was the Boys' Own version, anyway. Victorian campaigns would see a handful of British casualties to show for a battle, ten or twenty, maybe a few hundred for a disaster such as Isandlwana or Maiwand. The Boer campaign gave a hint of what was to come, but still nothing could have prepared that generation for what they would be sending their own children into when the ego of Empire boiled over in 1914: banks of machine guns, barrages of shells that fell like rain, gas, snipers, mud, and the sharp end of a bayonet. Twenty-thousand British soldiers were killed on the first day of the Somme alone - industrialised death.
By its end twenty million young lives had been wiped from the face of the Earth, with the roughly 900,000 British dead immortalised in stone monuments in almost every town and village across the land - 205 names are engraved into the memorial on the High Street of my own home town.
A big part of my family history research over the past nearly 20 years has been researching those who served in the 'Great War', and I've currently identified almost 100 individuals within my wider family, many of whom were injured, a handful captured as prisoners of war, and 28 who lost their lives.
For me, it was my great-grandparents' generation who were tipped into the calamity of the conflict. Of my four great-grandfathers only two actually served. My grandfathers' fathers were a teacher and a coal miner, reserved occupations, and they lived on into their 70s. My grandmothers' fathers both joined up: Peter Cameron into the Royal Army Service Corps in December 1915, and Charles Hodgkins into the 4th North Staffordshire Regiment in September 1914. They both survived the war, but died young in the 1920s.
Peter died aged 41, in 1923, after a botched operation on a gastric ulcer. My Gran was just nine when she lost her father. At the time of his passing none of the family knew that another child was on the way, born almost exactly nine months later. Charles died in 1925, aged 34, the day before his little girl's (my Grannie) sixth birthday. The story that came through the family was that he had been gassed during his time in the Dardanelles and had never fully recovered, but my subsequent research revealed something different - gas was not used on the Turkish peninsula, and while it was a respiratory condition - pleurisy and pneumonia - that sent him back home in 1915, it was septicaemia from an oral infection that eventually ended his life.
Most of us are here today because our own forebears survived - only seven out of the 28 fatalities on my family memorial had children - but we all have tales of a much-loved uncle who never came back. Charles' younger brother survived the war, and he had three sisters, one of which, Lottie, married into a family where all seven brothers served, two of whom were killed. A first cousin with the same name, Charles Hodgkins, was killed at Ypres.
Peter Cameron had three first cousins killed in the war, in May, June and December 1916 - each the son of three brothers. Of his own brothers, Peter had three who served - all survived, though one was a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months, and another was severely injured by bullets to the chest and shoulder (he had no children and family lore connected this with his injuries, but I don't know if that's true).
Another family devastated by the war was that of my gg-grandfather, Andrew Phillip. He lost his youngest son to a shell while another was poisoned in a gas attack - but survived. His eldest daughter lost two sons and his eldest son lost one. His older brother lost a grandson - one of four to serve from that family. The stories could go on to fill a book, and there will be yet more to uncover as I continue my research.
As a child growing up the 1970s, it was the Second World War that was closer to home - my parents were born in the middle of it and my grandparents lived through it. I consumed its story through comics and films, and played it out in the school playground and with dolls, plastic soldiers and model aircraft. The family stories of the First World War were barely there at all - whispers, mangled truths, guesses and rumours inferred from the silence of a shell-shocked generation that was fading out of sight.
It was an old Edwardian postcard album that ignited my interest in family history - here were faces I didn't know, many in uniform, the wives and sisters and mothers, postcards that pleaded 'remember me', 'thinking of you' and 'until we meet again'. The emotion, sadness and hope that flooded down through the decades was palpable and helped fuel my drive to understand the effect this scar of history had on the lives of my ancestors.
But if it wasn't for the First World War, I might not be here at all. Great-grandfather Charles, having been sent away from the trenches of Gallipoli, ended up at Whittington Barracks hospital near Lichfield where my great-grandmother, a local farm girl, delivered eggs to the recovering soldiers. Here they met, fell in love and married, and two children, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and even more great-great-grandchildren have been the result.
On this 100th anniversary of the Armistice, here's to the memory of those who were sent to fight - on both sides, from all nations; those who came back and those who didn't; to the parents who had to send their children and then read the casualty lists in the local paper and dread the clatter of the letter box every morning; to the sisters, wives and sweethearts who lived on; and to the children who wondered at the dark silences of their parents and grandparents, only to find the answer by being sent to fight in the next world war - hopefully the last generation to have to do so, despite the simmering waters of nationalism and isolationism that threaten to bubble up once more.
Walter is a fairly recent discovery - I'm currently writing the story of my Ewing family (it's turning into something of an epic) where some new research lead me to discover one of my 5xg-grandfather's sisters, previously thought lost, was actually widowed at the start of the 1850s and then emigrated, with her children, to America. While she probably died in Wisconsin sometime in the 1860s, two of her sons moved on to Minnesota and settled and had family there. The grandson of one of these Minnesota pioneers was Walter Henderson.
He was born near Spicer in Kandiyohi County in 1892. After school and some farm work, he ended up in Montana working for the Home Lumber Company, and in September 1917, six months after the US entered the Great War, he volunteered and was assigned to the 362nd Infantry, 91st Division, at Camp Lewis. On Christmas Eve of that year he married, in Washington but to a Spicer girl, and in June, by now a Corporal, he was mobilised with Europe as his destination (his troop train actually passed through Willmar, Kandiyohi, and he was able to see his family again, briefly, before he left).
Walter arrived in England in July 1918, and after a short while they were off to France where they spent their first few weeks in the battle-torn country training for what was to come. What was to come turned out to be hot battle - St Mihiel, where 300 Americans were lost, and then, constantly under the threat of German planes and gas, on to the Argonne and Epinonville. On the 29th September the Division found itself in action at Gesnes, battling enemy soldiers holding the Kriemhilde Line. It was here that Walter lost his life - he was last seen scouting ahead of a ridge occupied by his company.
Walter's grave, along with over 14,000 of his fellow US servicemen, can be found at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery near Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in France. You can see my own family war memorial here.
As you may have read in my previous post, I recently received the results of a DNA test, so my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has now had its haplogroup identified, the relatively rare J1b1 (subclade J1b1a1b) - or if you want to be a bit more romantic about it, the daughters of 'Jasmine'. This reignited my interest in looking at my maternal line to see if I could get back any further than Susanna - maiden name unknown and a 'brick wall' in my research. I think I have, but it's a puzzle, so I'm going to use this article to set out the facts, sort out my thoughts, and show a bit of process along the way.
Susanna's daughter, my three-times great grandmother, was Mary Harrison, born in 1813 in Radmore Lane, Gnosall, Staffordshire. In 1831 she married John Ecclestone in near-by Norbury and they had 13 children over the next twenty years or so. Mary's parents, according to her baptism record, were Joseph and Susanna Harrison (sometimes recorded as Harris) and, while I found six children for them, I could not find their marriage, and therefore had no idea of Susanna's family name.
Often a clue to the parent's antecedents can be found in their children's names, which in the case of Jospeh and Susanna were Benjamin, Joseph, Gregory, Samuel, Mary and Thomas - all born in Gnosall between 1799 and 1815. Presuming Benjamin was indeed the first child, I'd likely be looking for a marriage in the years closely preceding his birth, so perhaps 1797 or 1798, and probably in the local area - the main parishes being Gnosall, Norbury and Forton. Of course none of this is definite - Joseph and Susanna could have migrated into the area from Cornwall, had a previous six children - records now lost, and changed their names to escape a forbidding father-in-law. Going from experience, that would be an extreme rarity - the vast majority of my ancestors in that period married and had children in the same local area their parents came from.
Searching for a Staffordshire marriage with the names of Joseph Harris/on and Susanna within a fairly wide timeframe turned up only one result - Joseph Harrison, a shoemaker, marrying a widow, Susanna Hall, in Stafford in December 1819. Although it's perfectly conceivable they could have had all their children in Gnosall and then moved the seven miles to Stafford to marry, a search for children for this couple turned up five, all born in Stafford, starting with a Benjamin in 1820 - baptised three months after the marriage.
One thing to be wary of when searching old records is that you're relying on searching an index that has been transcribed from original documents by people who may have had trouble reading the unfamiliar and variable handwriting of the 17/1800s. This has led to one of my ancestors recorded as Thinford when the original document reads Winifred, the family of Morrisroe being transcribed as Morrison, Mudie as Micdie, Balle as Bailie, and the Youngs as the Trurys, to name a handful. There are mistakes in original documents as well of course - it took me years to find my Higson family in the 1841 census until I searched without the family name and concentrated on the fairly unique grouping of their first names and ages to discover them recorded as Jackson.
To tackle this you can search with more open terms. While many genealogy sites have algorithms that will return known variants (eg. a search for Ann will also return Anne, Annie, Nancy or Hannah) you can also use wildcards, for instance using H*k*n* for Hodgkins to account for archaic and alternative spellings such as Hoskins, Hodgkinson and Hodkins, etc.
Dropping the surname and searching within the expected timeframe for a Jos* marrying a Sus*an* in Staffordshire returns 100 results, rather a lot to examine in detail, but manageable enough to see if anything in the list stands out, for instance an obviously mistranscribed surname or something in the expected locality. While there were a couple within the wider local area (eg. Joseph Howl marrying Susannah Clever in Eccleshall in 1796), there was one in the exact area I'm interested in - Joseph Addison marrying Susannah Rodes at Forton in 1798.
It's not inconceivable that Addison could be a mistranscription of Harrison, so I needed to see an image of the original document, but that did not turn up with the results, just the text transcription from the more general 'England Marriages 1538-1973' database. But I know there is excellent coverage of Staffordshire images at findmypast, and opening the search more widely revealed the Banns record for 'Joseph Addisson' and 'Shusanah Roden' at All Saints Church, Forton. Looking at the image reveals one dashed hope and one raised hope: there's no doubt the name is written as 'Addison', not Harrison ... but one of the witnesses is a Benjamin Harrison - enough to intrigue and warrant further investigation.
Immediately a number of questions are thrown up which point the way to further research. If these are my ancestors, why would an Addison become a Harrison and name his children Harrison? Was he adopted by Harrisons? Was there a debt of gratitude owed to the Harrison family? Did Joseph Addison want to leave his past behind? Was Susanna Rhodes related to influential Harrisons?
A search for other Staffordshire Harrison/Addison relationships turned up nothing (a single marriage in 1873). But then a surprising result - I searched my own family file for any mentions I'd recorded of the name Addison and found that my ggg-grandmother, Mary Harrison (Joseph and Susanna's daughter), had her Will proved in 1890 by her son, Henry, and one Samuel Thomas Addison. The trail just got a little warmer.
There were now four families to research and see if any link would emerge: those of Joseph Addison, Samuel Thomas Addison, Susanna Rhodes, and Benjamin Harrison. I did have burial dates and ages for Joseph and Susanna Harrison (under the name Harris, residents of Sutton), showing - if accurate - that my Joseph was likely born around 1768, and his wife was likely born around 1782.
No obvious birth for Joseph Addison could be found - one in London, one in Norfolk, one in Cumberland and one in Westmorland - not impossible candidates, but unlikely. Next I tried searches for a Joseph Harrison born in the same period in Staffordshire - returning 18 possibilities with one who stood out, born in 1767 to a Gregory and Sarah Harrison in Church Eaton. Church Eaton is just a couple of miles from Gnosall, and my Joseph and Susanna named their third son Gregory - a relatively rare name for the period (between 1780 and 1820, in Staffordshire, just over 2000 boys were named Gregory, compared to roughly 580,000 Johns, 460,000 Thomases, 280,000 Josephs, 172,000 Samuels, and 75,000 Benjamins). Not much else stood out with the Church Eaton Harrisons - I could identify six children in all, but no other names chimed any bells - no Benjamin, for instance.
As for Samuel Thomas Addison, he was a farmer* who lived in the close neighbourhood of Mary and her Ecclestone family. I'd already established there was no local Joseph Addison in the records, but Samuel's family did hail from Gnosall and, it seems, Eccleshall before that. His father was George and his grandfather was Samuel Addison - Joseph and Susanna Harrison named their fourth son Samuel, so that is another point of interest, though it's not as unusual as Gregory.
Looking at Susanna Rhodes, a few more lights go on. Firstly she was born in 1782 which fits perfectly with Susanna Harris's age at death. Her parents were Samuel Rhodes and Mary Bellingham - both first names that were also used for Harrison children. A more detailed examination of her siblings is where things start to get a little more interesting. The Rhodes children were all born in Norbury and married in the local communities of Norbury, Gnosall and Forton. Susanna's immediate older sister was called Frances, and in 1797 Frances Rhodes married one Benjamin Harrison, so this explains his presence as a witness on the Addison/Rhodes marriage - he was Susanna's brother-in-law. Frances died in 1816 at just 39 years old, and it's interesting that three of the Joseph/Susanna Harrison children (Benjamin, Gregory and Mary) all named daughters Frances (aka Fanny).
Of the four other Rhodes siblings, all had their children baptised in Gnosall or Forton, but if you look more closely at the original records - all those born after 1812 (which, thanks to the Rose Act, recorded more detail), whether Gnosall or Forton, show Radmore Lane as the parents' residence. They had children in the same place and during the same timeframe as Joseph and Susanna Harrison. The youngest brother, Edward Rhodes, even named one of his children Joseph, born nine months after the death of Joseph Harrison (though that may have been his father-in-law's name too).
This could all be coincidence! But there are a couple more interesting pieces to place. At first I was not able to positively identify a birth or baptism for the Addison/Rhodes marriage witness, Benjamin Harrison. However, though his first wife died in 1816, he seems to have remarried the following year and can be found on both the 1841 and 1851 census still living at Coton. The 1851 census gives his birth place as Church Eaton - and that takes us back to Gregory and Sarah Harrison who had a son, Joseph Harrison in 1767, and who are, in fact, the only Harrison family having children in Church Eaton between 1740 and 1780. Opening up the search a bit I eventually found Benjamin - transcribed as Benjamin Hornson, but a closer look at the original image reveals it is in fact Benjamin Harrison, son of Greg and Sarah and baptised in April 1765. And for that extra little push, three of the Joseph/Susanna children (Benjamin, Gregory and Thomas) all named daughters Sarah.
Before the conclusion, let's just add in one more little fact. Joseph Addison and Susanna Rhodes published their first marriage banns on October 14th 1798. Eight months later saw the baptism of my four-times great uncle, Benjamin Harrison, first recorded child of Joseph and Susanna Harrison.
My conclusion from all this is that the marriage of Joseph Addison and Susannah Rhodes in 1798 is indeed the marriage of my gggg-grandparents, Joseph and Susanna Harrison. As every good genealogist should, I tried to disprove my theory but couldn't conclusively do that - I can say there were no children born to a Joseph and Susanna Addison (at least not until a couple with the same names had children in the 1840s and 50s in Norfolk) and there are no matching local burials that fit either.
The fact that the married Rhodes children largely lived together in Radmore Lane or very close by, the family names of Gregory, Mary, Samuel, Frances and Sarah, the matching birth years for Joseph and Susannah with their Harrison and Rhodes counterparts, and the Church Eaton connection, with two Harrison brothers (Joseph and Benjamin) marrying two Rhodes sisters (Susanna and Frances) - all little things that, together, hold a fair bit of weight.
In the light of all that, I now believe the name Samuel Thomas Addison on Mary Harrison's Will is a coincidence. In which case, the question remains - why the Addison name on the marriage? I do have a theory, though it's not a strong one ... if you look at the original document image above you see the Banns is written in a different hand to the entry for the marriage below it. The Banns handwriting is less confident and more scrawling than the marriage entry - indeed Susanna's name is written 'Shusanah Rodse'. Perhaps the Banns was written in by the church warden, whereas the curate (Rev. Richard Wingfield) recorded the actual marriage, copying the warden's interpretation of Addison, but correctly reproducing the witness's surname at the time of the ceremony. That's just a theory, I don't know. Perhaps Joseph had a really bad cold on the day of the Banns!
There will always be a part of me that would like something more substantial than all these little jigsaw pieces, because it doesn't add up to a complete picture (but does genealogy ever do that?), and I will continue to try and verify this hypothesis. DNA may help - either in finding Harrison, Wenlock, Rhodes** or Bellingham connections through autosomal results, or through a less likely encounter with a mtDNA match from the maternal line. But, overall, I feel fairly confident that I can now take my mtDNA line a bit further back with a couple more Ms to add in ...
Margaret > May > Minnie > Mira > Mary > Susanna > Mary > Mary ... and my new brick wall: Frances.
Update: * It turns out that Samuel Thomas Addison was a local worthy, and Mary Harrison/Ecclestone was probably a tenant on one of his farms - which could explain his presence on the Will. ** I have since found DNA matches with the Harrison/Rhodes family and further back with the Wenlock line.
Recently my curiosity got the better of me and I've had my results almost two months now. Since then I've been on a steep but fascinating learning curve. I've used my raw data with a number of third-party tools and databases and I'm beginning to see some interesting stuff.
A number of companies now offer various DNA testing services and their databases are expanding enormously, week by week. Many folk are not necessarily interested in genealogy, but rather in the so-called 'ethnicity results' - a pretty inexact science that offers to tell you what percentage you are in relation to various geographical locations. While the results of these should be taken with a large pinch of salt, they can be interesting and used as a rough guide.
I have a number of results from my own data being uploaded to various testing sites, so let's have a look ... Here's Ancestry's ethnicity estimate for me: Great Britain 39%, Ireland/Scotland/Wales 33%, Europe West 16%, Scandinavia 6% and Iberian Peninsula 4%. You can dig down into these results and see that my Great Britain percentage is largely from the West Midlands and Yorkshire Pennines, and the Ireland/Scotland/Wales result is largely Northeast and Central Scotland. The Europe West area includes France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, among others, but also takes in a chunk of South-East England.
FamilyTreeDNA gives my overall origins at 100% European, breaking it up into 81% British Isles and 19% West and Central Europe - not far off the Ancestry results. DNALand assigns me 100% West Eurasian, of which 91% is Northwest European, 8% is Southwestern European, and 1.1% is 'ambiguous'.
One of the more interesting is LivingDNA who have a very good UK reference set to draw from. They put me at 100% Great Britain and Ireland and break that down as 59.8% Central England, 22.6% Aberdeenshire (this is a wide area, not just the county), 8.4% Southeast England, and then tiny amounts (<3%) from other UK areas.
One thing I was curious about before I decided to do the DNA test was whether any Asian, particularly Northwest Indian, would show up. The reason for this is that I have a rather strong branch of Romani Gypsies in my ancestry (whose ethnic origin goes back to this part of the world about 1500 years ago). However, while waiting for the results I did some reading and realised anything here probably wouldn't show up - the 22 pairs of autosomes that are analysed will have gone through so much recombination that not much can be detected from more than a few generations back.
So how accurate are the above ethnicity results? Luckily I have a good amount of research behind me so I decided to do my own 'ethnicity test' based on the genealogical record, rather than the genetic one.
To discern my genetic make-up I went back five generations to my sixty-four gggg-grandparents and looked at their birth counties. To start with the big picture, I'm 51.56% English and 48.44% Scottish. This reflects the fact that while my mother's ancestry is all English (back to the 1700s), my father's side is all Scottish - with the exception of one Englishman who got very briefly involved back in 1826.
Taking a regional view, that Scots 48.44% is all Mid Scotland - originating in the Tay and Forth areas of Perthshire, Angus and Fife. The English side contains 35.94% from the Midlands, 12.5% from the North West, and 1.56% each from East Anglia and Mid-North. You can see the breakdown at county level in the pie chart below, with Fife and Staffordshire taking the biggest slices.
So the commercial ethnicity estimates are not quite correct at a detailed level, but they're not far off in broad strokes. Ancestry gives me roughly half each on Scotland and England, and the European mainland parts have to be taken as noise (my one French-born ancestor, around the time of Waterloo, had Scottish parents). The same goes for the others, though LivingDNA underestimated my Scots make-up by a fair chunk. One thing's for certain - I am unexotically very British.
Using the autosomal part of the DNA test for genealogy has already proved fruitful. With millions of people in the databases, your results can be compared and close and distant connections flagged up. With this I've been able to confirm a lot of my genealogical research genetically - which is a relief, especially for some of the more complicated relationships I've had to untangle (Gypsy ancestors, I'm looking at you!). I've even been using DNAPainter to start recording which bits of which chromosomes came from which ancestors (eg. a 24cM chunk of my maternal chromosome-14 from the Pritchards).
One match, rather astonishingly, suggested a DNA link with a known 8xg-grandparent, going back about 350 years - my match and I would be 9th cousins. I thought this would be well beyond the reach of autosomal DNA - and it might be, it's possible we could have a closer link on a separate, unrecorded branch of the family. But I read up on it, and it is also a fairly reasonable possibility.
While any chunks of DNA passed down from that long ago would be vanishingly small, it is also true that ancestors that far back will - if their lines survived into modern times - have thousands and thousands of descendants. So the chances of any one person having recognisable DNA from that long ago are tiny, but the huge number of possible carriers makes it likely it has survived intact somewhere (see Genetic Genealogy and the Single Segment).
It's still early days for my analysis of all these matches, and while I have yet to break down any of my personal research 'brick walls', a number of tantalising clues have been thrown up in a few places (the Worrilows from the little village of Haughton in the 1600s are definitely trying to get my attention!).
Apart from our 22 autosomes, we also have either an X and Y chromosome (if we're male) or two X chromosomes (if we're female). And we have mitochondrial DNA - this comes only from our mother, while the Y comes only from our father. Analysis of these can tell us about the paternal edge of our family tree (which usually also includes our surname back into history), and the maternal edge of our ancestry - our mother's mother's mother's mother, etc.
Y-DNA can give you your male line haplogroup - for me it's R-L21 with a subclade of R-S3058. The R haplogroup is extremely common and has its origins in Central Asia, possibly around 27,000 years ago. About 18,000 years ago haplogroup R1b formed, mutating and moving into Europe. Another 'ancestor' of my haplogroup is R-M269, the most common Y-DNA lineage among European males. R-L21 is several steps below this, a signature of a Bronze Age people, the 'Atlantic Celts', and common today in the populations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Coming further down the line, my subclade of R-S3508 (also romantically known as R1b1a2a1a2c1g4) is approximately 3,800 years old.
I was actually able to analyse a little bit further and get an estimated sub-subclade of R-S190, a haplogroup whose members would share a common ancestor about 1,850 years ago and is a marker for a group known as the 'Little Scottish Cluster'. My earliest known Y-DNA ancestor is one James Ewan/Ewing, born around 1765, probably in Perthshire, so it's all pointing in generally the right direction. (Update: new test results from 23andMe have confirmed R-S190 as my haplogroup.)
My mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) comes to me from a woman named Susanna - I don't yet know her surname (update: it's Rhodes), but she was probably born in Staffordshire circa 1780. I can say something about her maternal ancestors though, as they gave me my mtDNA haplogroup: J1b1 (subclade J1b1a1b).
J1b1 is most common in Britain and Ireland but is still quite a rare haplogroup, being found among only 1.2% of the English population. If you've ever read Brian Sykes' 'The Seven Daughters of Eve', the imagined matriarch of this group is known as Jasmine. She probably lived somewhere along the Euphrates in what is now Syria about 45,000 years ago, and is thought to be among the early adopters of agriculture. The subclade J1b1a1b is probably just over 4,000 years old.
Learning about DNA and analysing my genetic fingerprint has been fascinating in these early weeks of having the results, and I'm sure there's a lot more to come from it yet.
George, born in 1898, was the third of four boys, sons of James Jervis, a steam roller driver, and Alice Mary Ecclestone. The family came originally from Staffordshire but moved to Epping in Essex around 1890. For the war George joined the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment and on 5th April 1918 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported him "seriously ill with gunshot wounds in the thigh".
While the 9th Essex were involved in an intense conflict on the 5th April, it is perhaps more likely that he was wounded at the end of March, probably during the severe fighting of the 27th around the town of Albert by the River Ancre. George died of his wounds at the British depot at Etaples on 8th April 1918. Just under a month later his parents received further devastating news when their second-eldest son, Clifford, was reported as wounded and missing. It turned out he had been taken prisoner and, happily, he survived the war.
Stewart John McHardy (also b. 1898) has had a brief mention before, in a post relating to the death of his cousin, Alexander Maxwell Smith (killed in April 1917). Both their fathers were killed in train accidents, Alexander's being struck down on the line outside Rosemount, near Blairgowrie, in 1927, and Stewart's falling from a train en route to Rosario in Argentina in 1916.
His father had moved out to Buenos Aires in about 1890 and, after starting out in farming, had graduated to the laying out of tennis courts and athletics pitches, later going into business as a sports outfitters and even branching into sales of Ford motor cars. Stewart had worked for his father, but a few months after his death he returned to the UK (he was born in Dundee) to enlist, arriving in London on the Highland Rover in October 1916 and joining the 7th London Regiment - 'The Shiny Seventh'. A year later he was commissioned Second Lieutenant and in early 1918 he was attached to the 2/19th London Regiment at Jerusalem. At the end of April they saw heavy action against the Turks at Es Salt in Jordan, and it was here that Stewart was killed in action.
See my family war memorial here.
I have just finished writing a 6000-word article on the part of my family history that relates to the city of Lichfield - a piece 18 years in the making as it was an Edwardian postcard collection from Lichfield that came into my possession in the 1990s that started me off down my own genealogical rabbit-hole. Lichfield was my Mum's birthplace, so it has been the story I most wanted to uncover, and is the most interesting to me personally. Some of that Lichfield history relates to the Lees family of Haughton in Staffordshire, and it is one of these Lees that is the subject of this post.
Charles John Lees was born in Richmond Road, Derby, in December 1884. His father, John Lees (1857-1940), worked as a coachman and groom, and his mother was Eliza Jane Reeder (1851-1923), from Norfolk. He had one sibling, a brother, George William Lees, two years younger (1886-1960). Charles married Lucy Flower, the daughter of an iron moulder, in 1909, and a year later they had a daughter, Doris. In 1911, aged 26, Charles was described as an 'engineer's pattern storekeeper' - custodian of the moulds for use in an iron foundry. Two more children would follow - Herbert, in 1913, and Hilda in 1915.
Not long after Hilda's birth, with the flames of war now burning hot, Charles enlisted at Derby with the 16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, also known as the Chatsworth Rifles. They landed in France in March 1916 and saw fierce fighting at the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele and more. In October 1917, after heavy action at Shrewsbury Forest and during some downtime at the Wakefield Huts Camp at Locre, in between a number of matches of inter-platoon football, Charles wrote an informal (but official) Will, leaving everything he owned to Lucy. By now he was a Lance Corporal.
Just over a month later, in November 1917, the regiment found themselves serving several duties in the Polderhoek section near Gheluvelt (West Flanders). The action was consistent but not heavy, with 2 or 3 casualties from the unit a day. The Battalion war diary for the 19th November is typical for the month and reads ...
"The day was fairly quiet - intermittent shelling along the Menin Road and vicinity. Snipers were active from direction of Lewis House. Machine guns were very active at night traversing the front line and all approaches to the front line. 2 killed."
One of those two killed was Charles John Lees, dying on the day of his wife's 32nd birthday. The other was Private Henry William Blackwell, age 36. Whether either of them died from the shells, the snipers or the machine guns, I don't know.
Lucy would live on until the end of 1970, dying in Derby aged 85. Their three children would all marry, with the youngest, Hilda, dying in 2007, aged 91.
Today, 26 April, sees the 100th anniversary of the death of Alexander Maxwell Smith, age 24, and the son of my ggg-auntie Ann (née Rough). Alex was a private in the 9th Black Watch and was killed during the regiment's attack on Cavalry Farm, near Guemappe, during the Battle of Arras. His father, John Robb Smith (also Ann's cousin), was killed ten years later after being struck by a train at Brucefield Bridge, Blairgowrie. John's brother-in-law, George McHardy, was also killed in a train accident after he fell from an express train in 1915, in Argentina. And his son, Stewart John McHardy, was killed in Egypt in April 1918 while serving with the 7th London Regiment.
April 1917 also saw the death of 2nd Lt. Andrew Smith Birrell of the 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers. The son of a school teacher, he was killed in action to the north-east of the River Scarpe during the battle of Arras, on 9 April 1917. His grandfather was my gggg-uncle, Andrew Birrell (1838-1907).
Going back a little further, and March 2nd 1917 was the date of death of James 'Jimmie' Ewing, a private in the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders with a rather tragic backstory. When he was just eight years old, his father, Alexander Ewing, a grocer by trade, took his own life by laying down on the tracks in front of an express train. His mother died of old age during the war, in 1916. Almost exactly a year later, James himself was dead - he developed meningitis after recurrent shell-shock on the front line, and was buried with his parents in his home town of Burntisland. Three weeks later his elder sister died of heart failure, leaving just one sister, Isabella, from the whole family to see out the war (she died in 1954, having never married).
That's not the end of the 1917 family casualties, but it takes us up to April. See the family war memorial for further details.
And while you're in a history mood, check out my fellow comic writer Jason Cobley's new blog (and book in the making) on his distant relative, Robert Gooding Henson of the Somerset Light Infantry, who was killed at the Battle of Arras on 22nd April 1917. Jason's just been out to Arras to see his gravestone.
I have 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).
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.
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.
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".