From Thiepval to Tyne Cot

 

Well I had a very pleasant surprise the other day, and all I can say is “well done to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission”!

If you have been reading this blog for some time you may remember that I have written before about William Neighbour Wakefield, my Great Uncle who was killed in WW1.

Wakefield
William Neighbour Wakefield

For a long time I had been aware of confusion surrounding the date of his death, since the family is in possession of a number of letters with slightly conflicting information.  Was it on the 9th April 1918, as communicated in a letter from the front, or the 12th April as stated by the War Office?  Enquiries by his family finally resulted in a letter from the War Office in July stating “the report that he was killed in action on the 12th April 1918 is confirmed.  The Battalion was not in action on the 9th April 1918”.  At any rate, he was killed in Belgium.

However, at no point was it suggested that he had been killed on 12th March. And yet that is the date that for some unknown reason found its way to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (previously the Imperial War Graves Commission).  When I first started researching William’s war service, that was the date of death recorded on their website, which also helpfully told me that he was commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial near Albert in France.

Although a Woking lad, William found himself in September 1917 being compulsorily transferred to the 8th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment.  His service record indicates that he joined the British Expeditionary Force on 21 January 1918.  The Battalion was at that point part of the 57th Infantry Brigade and using the Unit War Diaries at the National Archives I was able to follow their movements, which led to a memorable holiday in France and Flanders in 2009 during which we were able to retrace their steps.

Having been in France in March, and been involved in the Battle of St Quentin and then the Battle of Bapaume, they were moved across the border to Belgium at the end of that month, eventually joining the front line at Messines.

William Wakefield was killed in action, aged 21, on 12th April at Messines during a successful counter-attack.  The war diary entries certainly give a flavour of the confusion which must have reigned.   The handwritten letter from the front on 22nd April conveying the news to the family states:  “he was killed during an attack on the 9th in Flanders and his death is felt keenly by all ranks because he always showed himself a loyal comrade and a good soldier.  He was buried by his friends after the action near the scene of his death”.  Was the bit about being “buried by his friends” a standard phrase commonly used in order to bring comfort and reassurance to the families?  If the location of his grave was known at the time, then that was obviously not the case some months later when the war dead were systematically being removed to the new war cemeteries.

William Wakefield
Letter from the front

Also in the possession of the family are William’s spurs.  I have no idea how they made their way back to the family, but it is very touching to think that perhaps it was a fellow soldier, a young mate of William’s, who either retrieved them from the body or from William’s personal possessions and was thoughtful enough to think that they might be treasured by his grieving family.  Who brought them to Woking and how is now unknown.

William’s spurs

 

 

As a soldier with no known grave killed in Belgium, William’s name should of course have been on one of the Belgian memorials.  However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission made a mistake and recorded his death as 12th March, at which stage the unit was, indeed, in France.

Following our visit to Thiepval in the summer of 2009, I sent a copy of the War Office letter to the CWGC and they responded by amending the entry on their website www.cwgc.org .  I also at that time sent information about William which is now on the database held at the visitor centre at Thiepval.  (See http://www.greatwar.co.uk/somme/museum-thiepval-visitor-centre.htm for information on the Thiepval Database Project).

With the centenary of William’s death coming up next year I started to put together some plans for revisiting Thiepval and the Messines area.  For some reason the other day I thought I would just look up his entry on the CWGC website.  Initially I was frustrated not to find him, but remembering that ‘less is more’ I gradually took out various search terms including the country of commemoration (which I thought I knew!).  Imagine my surprise and shock, then, when his name came up – commemorated on the Addenda Panel at Tyne Cot!!!

How recently this has happened I don’t know – on the website it also says “The commemoration for this casualty has recently been transferred to this Memorial. However, it will not be possible to add his name to the Memorial immediately. Please contact the Commission before planning a visit, for more information.”  So I have done that and am currently awaiting a reply.  I have also asked whether his name will continue to appear on the Thiepval Memorial.

Quite coincidentally, I have just read that today (20 May 2017) sees the opening of the CWGC Centenary Exhibition at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.  http://www.cwgc.org/news-events/events/launch-of-exhibition.aspx The exhibition runs until November, so I must definitely pay a visit.

So now I have another location to factor into the itinerary next spring.  And hopefully I’ll be able to see William’s name on a memorial to the missing in the country in which he fell.  Well done Commonwealth War Graves Commission – and thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

A Walk round West Grinstead

(OS Explorer Map 134)

My visit to the exhibition at Partridge Green a few weeks back made me think how lovely it would be to explore some of the footpaths in that area, and dry weather over the Easter weekend was a perfect opportunity to do so.

We drove over to West Grinstead and parked at what used to be West Grinstead station, just off the A272.  The platform  and station sign are still there, the line having now become the Downs Link walking and cycle path which eventually ends at Shoreham.

West Grinstead station
West Grinstead station

We walked north on that path for a little way, before bearing off to the left through some beautiful bluebell woods en route to Newhouse Farm.  From there we headed south, crossing the A272, and walking straight through Park Farm.  This is now the setting for a number of exclusive-looking houses, but somewhere amongst them must be the house where my great great grandparents, Thomas and Eliza Philpott, lived.  At this point I was particularly excited  – Granny’s other Grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, was a woodman on the West Grinstead estate, and as we passed lots of coppiced woods I could imagine that perhaps he had once worked in those woods – they were beautiful, with bluebells, primroses and orchids. 

We joined Green Lane and continued to cross West Grinstead Park.  The house itself is long gone, but my ancestors would have been very familiar with the terrain.  A couple of women were tending to some sheep in a pen.  On enquiry I learned that they were South Downs Sheep – a most attractive breed, with their lovely, woolly round faces.

South Downs sheep

 

Park Stews WG

 

 

 

 

The Park Stews which we crossed presumably once supplied fish for the big house.

As we headed towards the B2135 we had a lovely view of the Steyning Road Lodges, where my Granny had lived.

Steyning Lodges WG
West Grinstead church

 

 

 

 

 

Crossing the road, the path rose to a crest, from where Chanctonbury Ring was clearly visible.  I had never realised that before.  West Grinstead church then came in sight, and we entered the churchyard through a rear gate.

Within a few moments I was able to locate the grave of my great grandparents, William and Mary Mitchell, due to its strange shape.

Grave of William and Mary Mitchell
Interior West Grinstead church

 

 

 

 

 

The Church being open was an added bonus, (Easter flower arranging being in progress), so we took the opportunity to look inside.  I had forgotten that the pews had the names of the properties on them, presumably where families paid to have that particular seat.

Crossing back over the B2135 the path then cut across the corner of West Grinstead Park, past another copse with beautiful bluebells, and came out onto Park Lane. Thomas Mitchell might have walked that path on his way to Church. The footpath the other side heading due East rose to rejoin the Downs Link path, where we turned north to arrive back at the station car park.

We had planned to have lunch at the Green Man at Jolesfield (my Granny’s father’s cousin George Mitchell had been the licensee there at one time), but despite advertising ‘bar meals’ outside, the choice of food seemed to be rather ‘gastro’ and with no staff in evidence to serve us anyway, we abandoned that idea and went down to the Partridge at Partridge Green where we enjoyed a very nice bar meal.

The Green Man, Jolesfield

It was a very pleasant walk and the opportunity to walk the paths trodden by my ancestors, appreciating the landscape they knew, was very special.

Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference

This year’s Annual Conference of the Sussex Family History Group happened to be on the first Saturday of my Easter holidays, meaning that for once I was free to attend.  Haywards Heath is over an hour’s drive away, but it was a beautiful morning for driving through the Sussex countryside and therefore a pleasurable journey.  Unfortunately the local Park Runners had done a take-over of the car park adjacent to Clair Hall, which meant getting my head around the rather hi-tec car park machine across the road.  However, that hurdle over, I made it in plenty of time for a coffee before proceedings commenced.

Well I can tell you that it was worth the long drive just to experience Andrew Thatham’s presentation.  If you ever get the chance to hear him or to see his exhibition, then grab the opportunity with both hands!  (You can find his website at www.groupphoto.co.uk).  His talk, entitled ‘A Group Photograph – Before, Now and In-Between’ was definitely more of an experience than a standard talk.  Basically he has spent over 20 years researching the lives of the 46 men depicted in one particular WW1 photograph.  The photo of officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was taken while they were training on Salisbury Plain in 1915, and included Andrew’s  great-grandfather, their commanding officer.  The material he collected resulted in an exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015, a book of his research and an extremely moving animated film.

We viewed the half hour film, which, without words, conveys the lives of the 46 men.  The concept is extremely clever.  There is a continually changing visual representation of the birth and death of the men and the growth of their families, with music clips throughout the period and photographs of them, their parents and then their children and grandchildren, together with constantly changing images of iconic news and happenings of each year.  It felt an immersive experience and I could feel myself relating the constantly rolling date counter to the lives of my own ancestors, hearing the music they heard, and wondering at the inventions that were news for them.  It was truly moving. An extaordinary achievement.

Later in the day we heard very good and comprehensive talks from Sue Reid on the British Newspaper Archive and from Chris Heather of TNA on records for Railway Ancestors.

I patronised the book stall and sought advice on the best way to conserve our various WW1 family documents.  I also found out about the SFHG My Tree project, where members are being encouraged to send in their trees, ideally in GEDCOM format.  This will definitely be added to my ‘to do’ list as it is another way of preserving for posterity the research I have undertaken.

Altogether a very worthwhile day out and well done to SFHG for their excellent organisation. http://sfhg.org.uk/

SFHG; Andrew Tatham
SFHG Conference

 

 

Surrey In The Great War

So I’m making progress with the New Year’s Resolutions!

Some weeks ago I uploaded the stories of brothers William and Jack Wakefield to the Surrey In the Great War website, and I am happy to say that they have now been moderated and are available to view online at www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk.  Click on ‘People’ and you can then search for both of them.  I didn’t find it the most intuitive of processes, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to upload any images for Jack at the time.

Surrey In The Great War

However, I had a lovely and very detailed email back from Dr Kirsty Bennett, Senior Project Officer.  She wanted, quite rightly, to check a number of sources with me and the ownership of the images I did send.  I have now sent her a photo of Jack Wakefield (my Grandad) and hope that this will appear as his profile photo in due course.

She also wondered whether I had digital images for the POW letters from my Grandad to his parents, written in 1918.  This led me to double-check what I already had images of and which I had merely transcribed.  Over the last couple of weeks I have photographed all the documents I could find:  the POW letters, the letters from the War Office and from the North Staffordshire Regiment subsequent to William’s death and many other family birth, marriage and death certificates that  I don’t think I’ve ever seen before (and at least a couple that I paid good money to get hold of from the GRO some years ago, not knowing that they were already in the family’s possession!  There’s a learning point there!).

Letter from William Wakefield while in training 1917

I am now in a position to send in a number of items for Surrey History Centre’s digital archive of WW1 material so that they are preserved for posterity.  Just a little more work to do there, and then I will perhaps pluck up courage to take another look at the IWM Lives of the First World War.  I uploaded information on Grandad’s WW1 service a couple of years ago https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/4574929, but I remember it being a tortuous process, with text boxes being not nearly big enough so that I had to break it all down into a number of sections.  I know I’ve been putting off tackling another submission – I wonder whether the process of uploading will have been streamlined at all?

The other ongoing question mark is over tracking down the grave of William and Jack’s parents in Brookwood Cemetery.  We found their burial numbers easily at Surrey History Centre back in February and went straight to the cemetery office, where a very helpful lady was able to identify broadly which plots they might be in but said that finding the precise location would take a little longer.  She took my email address to get back to me….and nothing has been forthcoming.  I have since emailed them twice, but no response whatsoever.  This is disappointing – so near and yet so far.  Never mind – onwards and upwards!

 

 

When West Grinstead Went To War

Over a year ago I wrote of what I knew of Bert Mitchell’s involvement in the WW1.

He was my great uncle, born on 1 Aug 1892 in West Grinstead, and I remember him as I was 7 when he died.  It was an interesting challenge to research him as his is one of many service records that has not survived.

His ‘On War Service 1915’ badge was probably issued for his Red Cross volunteer work during the early part of the war  and finding Bert’s regiment and service number on his medals enabled me to find the matching Medal Index Card. Bert enlisted as a Private in the Machine Gun Corps on 2 December 1915.  Although I do not know exactly where he served, I do know that he was overseas when he sustained a head injury and was evacuated back to England to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, near Southampton, for treatment and recovery.

Following his discharge in 1918 Bert worked as a Red Cross orderly at the Royal Victoria Hospital, making and fitting artificial limbs. Photos in my Granny’s photo album are a tantalising glimpse of his work there.  Later he worked for Pedestros Limbs Department in Southampton and subsequently at Roehampton.  I was intrigued to watch a recent episode of Call the Midwife showing families of children affected by Thalidomide receiving help with artificial limbs at Roehampton.

Having discovered that the West Grinstead Local History Group were putting together a publication on the role of people from that parish in WW1, I submitted to them what I had researched of Bert Mitchell’s life.  This weekend I had the joy of attending the group’s exhibition to mark the launch of the book ‘When West Grinstead Went To War 1914 – 1918’.

An excellent display with photos and commentary was complemented by various WW1 artefacts.  All those mentioned in the book were plotted on a large map of the parish.  I enjoyed chatting with several members of the research group, showing them my tree and my Mitchell write-up.  I also discovered a link with a lady who had travelled all the way from Cumbria to be there.

When West Grinstead Went To War
Displays at the Exhibition ‘When West Grinstead Went To War’

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as service outlines of the men from the parish who served, there are articles in the book on Aviation in West Sussex during the war period, on the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and on Food and Agriculture.

Many congratulations to Dorothy, Norman, James, Colin, Mike and all those who brought the book to fruition – an amazing achievement!

Copies of the book can be ordered by contacting westgrinsteadlhg@gmail.com

 

 

Well there’s a coincidence!

I mentioned in my New Year blog that my intention, having packed up the George files temporarily, was to return to my Wakefield research and in particular to my Grandad, Jack Wakefield, and his brother William, both of whom fought in WW1.  I have had in mind to upload their stories onto the Surrey In the Great War website www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk.

In revisiting this website for the first time in a while, I discovered through my ‘person search’ for William Wakefield that not only does his name appear on the Woking Town War Memorial, but it is also on a board at the Maybury Centre (formerly Maybury School), commemorating ‘old boys’ who fell in the First World War.  Now this was news to me.  I looked up the location of the school and realised that it was a short walk from the family’s home in Church Street, Woking (the house now replaced by a multi storey car park).  I found the website for the Maybury Centre, which seems to be a thriving community centre, and wondered how I could get in there one day to see the board for myself.

And then one of those strange coincidences happened.  I checked my diary for the location of a workshop I was due to attend on early dance, and which I had booked onto some weeks previously.  You can probably guess what I’m about to say next.  Yes!  The workshop was to be held at the Maybury Centre in Woking!!

I went armed with my camera and, once inside, pushed open a few former classroom doors until I found the room with the war memorial board on the wall.  I was just so thrilled both to see it and to be inside the school that my Great Uncle attended and (I was now surmising) my Grandad and his siblings had probably also attended.

Maybury School
Maybury School
War Memorial inside Maybury School
War Memorial inside Maybury School

Would any records still exist for Maybury School?  The online catalogue for Surrey History Centre indicated a reference for a log book, so Half Term was then a great opportunity to visit to check it out.  The staff were really helpful and I was soon looking at the Boys’ School Log Book for 1880 to 1975 (reference 8101/2/2) whilst my husband got stuck into the Punishment Book for 1908 to 1975 (8101/2/5).  I reckoned that the Wakefields moved to Woking some time after 1907 and before 1910 (when the youngest child was born in Woking).

The log book was fascinating but there were unfortunately few names of pupils and no Admission Records.  Outbreaks of measles, mumps, chicken pox and scarlet fever were common occurrences. The school was regularly closed for Empire Day, Sunday School treats and the circus coming to town.  The oldest boys (perhaps those about to leave) had medical inspections and the County Nurse was also a frequent visitor to check for body lice, with boys often being sent home because of this.  Once the First World War started there were staffing issues as various teachers were called up and collections were taken both for the Red Cross and for the Surrey Prisoners of War Fund.  On 10 December 1919 the entry read “school closed this afternoon for the opening of the memorial to the old boys of the school who fell in the Great War”.

Maybury School
Old Boys of Maybury School who fell in the Great War

The Punishment book, however, was more fruitful in terms of names.  On 1 October 1912 a boy by the name of Wakefield in Standard 2 received “2 stripes” from Mr Painter for “continual inattention” and then on 16 November 1914 J Wakefield in Standard 3 received 2 stripes again, this time from the Headmaster, for “constant trouble”.  Well, I think that both of these refer to Grandad, Jack Wakefield.  He would have been aged 13 and 15 at the time and quite possibly felt he had outgrown school by this time.  His older brother William was working by the time of the 1911 census and no doubt Jack felt he wanted to be out in the world too.

After our visit to the History Centre we drove to Walton Road, to the location of the butcher’s shop where both brothers worked before the war.  Although the property has been replaced by a block of modern flats, many of the terraced houses from that period survive and give an indication of how Woking would have looked in the early twentieth century.

Oh, and if you get the chance to take part in a workshop on early dance (16th and 17th century), be warned that it’s quite energetic!

 

My mystery object

I mentioned in my New Year blog post that my recent write-up of the George family history had resulted in my Mum presenting me with a  small family-related artefact.

It was as a result of my discovery that Len Lansdowne, my Mum’s uncle, had worked for Dunn & Co in Croydon as a sales assistant in the early part of the 20th century.  She recalled, and promptly found, the item pictured here.   It is 2.5 inches/6 cm long, the lower part curves in both directions,  and it bears the inscription “Britain’s Best Bowlers by Dunn & Co”.  But what is it? I have to say, I am mystified!

I decided to post my query on the Norfolk Family History Society facebook page.  Family Historians are so helpful to each other and I was grateful and encouraged to receive a good number of comments and replies.  Suggestions have included a shoe horn (not big enough, and the two-way curve doesn’t work), a button hook (no hook), a ‘rounding jack’ for re-shaping a bowler hat (sounds plausible) or a smoking pipe ream (could also be possible). I googled ‘rounding jack’, but all the images are for a much larger implement.  Pipe reams seem to vary a lot in style, but I could see it might work in that function.

Someone else suggested contacting a hat museum, and lo and behold I found there is such a place in Stockport, so I have emailed them to see if they have any ideas.  The fact that it has the company’s name inscribed on it might suggest it was some sort of promotional item, but I do feel that the strange shape means it must have had a specific use.

I have also emailed the details to Family Tree magazine and gather that my query will appear in either the April or May edition, so I’m looking forward to any further suggestions that might generate.

Other than that I’m at a loss what to think about it, so if you have any bright ideas do leave a comment!  I continue to be intrigued by my mystery object.

Dunn & co mystery object
Dunn & Co mystery object