The fastest milkman in the west

So it turns out that my 3 x great grandfather was a milkman!

I have to say that I was quite excited to make this discovery during our visit to Berkshire Record Office, since it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of my ancestors were ‘ag labs’.

The baptism register for New Windsor records the baptisms of four children to William and Mary Hunt between 1808 and 1815.  Two of these were the twins William and Mary, baptized in May 1808.  The church forms for recording baptisms after 1813 helpfully included space for recording the father’s occupation, and so when John Hunt was baptized in 1813 his father was described as a ‘labourer’.  But in 1815, when he took daughter Ann to church, William described himself as a ‘milkman’.

Now I’m afraid that this did initially conjure up in my mind images of Benny Hill’s legendary Ernie, who drove the fastest milkcart in the west (younger readers may need to google this), but it led me to wonder just what the job of a milkman in 1815 would have been like.

For all the lists of historic occupations available online, I could actually find very little information on the milkman.  One of the most helpful sources of information, however, was ‘the Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor 1852’ available on Google Books. Although this was written almost 40 years after William Hunt was operating in Windsor, it did give me a valuable insight:  “the milkman may be seen trudging along with his can from house to house…with his not unmelodious cry”.  Unlike the modern milkman (and there are still some around), this individual is likely to have produced the milk he sold.  He probably had a small plot on which he kept his cows and then took the milk around door to door using a measuring jug to decant the required amount into the customer’s own container.  With the lack of refrigeration he may even have done this more than once a day.

“Was this more of an urban than rural occupation?” I wondered, as I posted my query about the occupation on a family history society facebook forum.  The family history fraternity is amazingly supportive and helpful and a number of fellow members posted replies, concurring with me that quite possibly at this period those in the countryside had a more ready access to their own milk supply.  One contributor suggested that William was perhaps “an entrepreneur who found a new market in an expanding city”.  I think he is probably right:  the growth of towns in the early nineteenth century must have inevitably led to opportunities in different trades and if William had the means to set up this venture he may have developed quite a reasonable business.

Reasonable enough that his daughter Mary Ann was accepted as a pupil at the Charity School.  The book ‘Windsor and Eton Express 1812 – 1830’ says of the Royal Free School (aka Charity School) “Charity children were carefully chosen by the trustees from respectable working class families” and in 1813 the children had to contribute one penny a week.  A Bible, still held within the family, is inscribed “The gift of the Trustees of the Charity School New Windsor, Berks, to Mary Ann Hunt Aug 13th 1822”.  She would then have been 14, so perhaps that was when she left the school.  She was very fortunate to gain an education at that early stage.

But to return to the milkman occupation, in my hunting for information one other intriguing reference was in the image of JMW Turner’s painting ‘Dartmouth on the River Dart’.  Executed in 1822 (so only 7 years after I know William Hunt was working in Windsor) it shows “the figure of the milkman on his rounds at the right”, according to the Tate Britain information.  If you google the image you can, indeed, make out the figure of the milkman.

No sign of any horse and cart.  I will never know how William conveyed his milk, but without the help of Trigger I guess he was unlikely to have been the fastest milkman in the west – or even in Windsor.

p 24 of the Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor 1852


Lives of the First World War deadline

It was reading that the deadline for submissions to the Lives of the First World War project is fast approaching that spurred me on to at least make one New Year’s Resolution.

Launched in 2014, Lives of the First World War is a centenary project of the Imperial War Museum.  Its aim is to capture facts and life stories of the 8 million plus men and women who were involved in that war with a view to preserving them as a permanent digital memorial which will be free to access.  So far over 130,000 members of the public have contributed information with over 7 million ‘life stories’ added.  But the deadline for submissions is 18 March this year, so time is running out.

My resolution is therefore to upload the war records of all those I have researched before the deadline.

Quite early on in the project I uploaded details of my Grandad Jack Wakefield and his brother William, but despite researching the war records of a number of other relatives I had not so far got round to contributing to their records on this site.  So I made a list of those who were outstanding and decided that last Saturday I really would sit down and make a start.

I remembered finding the uploading a bit tricky before, so I read the instructions before attempting to do anything else (always a good plan!).  Basically, having searched for and found the person you wish to commemorate, you then need to upload or create a link to ‘evidence’ about them before you can add facts.  Though it feels a bit long-winded, I do appreciate that they need water-tight proof of the facts that are being claimed.  You do need to create a free account before you can upload anything.

Finding the right person is a challenge in itself, but is greatly helped if you have the soldier’s regimental number to hand.  I started with William Sayers, who I wrote about here in December.  I discovered that I needed to put # in front of the service number.  Once you have found the right person, it helps to click on the large ‘Remembering’ button near the top straight away.  That way, the individual will be added to your ‘dashboard’ making it easy to go back and add more later.

Clicking on the ‘Evidence’ tab enables you to get started with adding information.  I found myself mostly using the ‘Add External Reference’ button.  With Ancestry open on another tab I was able to go to a previously found service record, medal index card or census return, copy the web link and paste that in together with other information about the evidence.  You can also upload an image in this section (photo or scanned images of letters, for example).

Once you have uploaded the evidence you can then click on it to ‘Add facts from this evidence’.  You now have to think carefully about what that particular piece of evidence really tells you.  For example, a census image does not give a date of birth, but does indicate an age on a given date.  Having added all the facts you can, you then might want to visit the ‘Add to Life Story’ tab and choose to ‘Share a story’.  This is where you can write what you want of family anecdotes or research findings.  You can write up to 5000 characters, but there is the option of adding another ‘story’ if that is not enough.

It did take me most of the morning to upload everything, but I feel that, for the chance to record these family details for posterity, it is worth it.  Later that day I uploaded information for Frank Bookham, the husband of Grandad’s older sister Annie Wakefield.  There are two more I particularly want to do:  Edmund Greenhill and Bert Mitchell, both of whom I have blogged about previously, so I definitely need to schedule some time very soon to do them.

The weblink, if you would like to make your own submissions, is  But don’t forget the deadline of 18 March.

Jack Wakefield
War Memorial Church Leigh
War Memorial Leigh
Alfred George
Frank Bookham
Frank Bookham
Bert Mitchell
Bert Mitchell
William Neighbour Wakefield

It’s twins!

As I suspected, 2nd January was not the most popular day of the year for visitors to Berkshire Record Office, but that was a plus point as far as we were concerned for our first visit to that establishment.  Despite having had very little sleep due to continually coughing at night, we set off for Reading bright and early and had a straightforward journey.  No doubt the car park gets a lot busier on more popular days, but it was definitely a plus to be able to park on site.  Once inside the modern premises we found the usual lockers and friendly receptionist.

I had realised some time ago that a trip to Reading would be needed in order to make any progress with the Hunt family of Windsor since those parish records did not seem to have made an appearance online anywhere.  And which Windsor was also a question to be answered, since there is both Old and New Windsor.

My Great Great Grandmother Mary Ann Hunt had married James Mayne in Old Windsor on 25 Aug 1839 and her father was William.  This much I had already established.  I also had strong reason to believe that she had a brother called William – her eldest son Thomas Mayne (the French Polisher, of whom I have already written) was staying/living with an Esther Hunt and family in Hackney in 1861 and described as a nephew.

After extensive research on the Hackney Hunt family, I have now been able to establish that William and Elizabeth Hunt baptized their son William Edmund in Islington on 16 Jan 1842.  Elizabeth had died by the time of the 1851 census, leaving the Williams father and son living alone with William senior working as a ‘messenger at money order office’ and helpfully giving Windsor as his place of birth.  He then subsequently married Esther (a possible marriage in March Q 1852), moved to Holly Street Hackney, and they had daughters Mary, Martha Edith and Esther Louiza before William died in Sept 1868.  The Probate Index describes him as a ‘Superannuated Messenger in Her Majesty’s Post Office’.  For a long time I searched for William in 1861, since he was not at home in Hackney on census night, before eventually tracking him down with a brother John Hunt (shopkeeper and beerseller, born Windsor) in Wraysbury.

Now Mary Ann Hunt and James Mayne had 4 sons and two daughters Elizabeth and Charlotte.  Elizabeth is my great grandmother.  I knew that Charlotte had also married a Hunt, and it turns out this was her cousin William Edmund.  The marriage entry in 1875 gives her father as ‘William Hunt, deceased, Civil Servant’. Together with their growing family, they lived with Esther Hunt in Holly Street after she was widowed.

So….that’s the background.  Back to Berkshire Record Office where they had returned to work after their Christmas break to find the heating not working, so portable heaters were wheeled into the research area!

We set to work with the transcriptions.  It looked as though both Mary Ann and brother William could have been born around 1808 judging by the census information.  No luck with Saints Peter and Andrew Old Windsor.  But New Windsor came up trumps:  22 May 1808 Mary Ann Hunt daughter of William and Mary.  And an identical date entry for William.  Now this is not conclusive, but a similar entry of siblings gave the actual dates of birth, so, coupled with the ages deduced from censuses, this does rather point to Mary Ann and William being twins.

The microfiche of the actual baptism entry added no new information, but two more siblings were found – John Hunt in May 1813 (date ties in nicely with the John in Wraysbury) and Ann in Aug 1815.

At this point don’t you just pray that you have a family who stuck around in one place to be able to trace them further back?  But no, not in this case it seems.  We drew a blank on a marriage for parents William and Mary either in Windsor or in surrounding parishes and were unable to find either a marriage or a burial for Ann.  Burials for William and Mary were not very conclusive either, so all of that needs more work another time.  The fact that Windsor is so close to both the Buckinghamshire and Surrey borders does make it more problematic!

Now what I didn’t say earlier was that Mary Ann and James’ daughters Elizabeth and Charlotte were also twins.  Well I never!  So Mary Ann had twin daughters and she herself was probably a twin.  But there’s more!  Elizabeth, my great grandmother, had not one but two sets of twins!!  She married David George in 1873 and, following the birth of their daughter Mary in 1875, she had my granddad Alfred and his twin sister Alice in 1878 and then Robert and twin sister Kate in 1882.  However did she manage?!

Elizabeth (left) and Charlotte (right) Mayne, twins born 1845









So do twins run in families?  Well this rather points to it.  Some googling of this question has led me to the information that having fraternal twins in a mother’s family (ie non identical twins) may double the chances of conceiving fraternal twins.  Fraternal twins are from two separate eggs whereas identical twins are from one egg.  A particular gene predisposes some women to “hyperovulation,” or releasing more than one egg during a menstrual cycle .

The run of twins in my family stopped at that point, but I’m rather proud of the new-found information that my grandfather, his mother and his grandmother were all twins!

Happy New Year!

Alfred, Alice and Robert George, taken in 1962







PS  In looking for the above photo of my granddad I read again the accompanying article from the Croydon Advertiser.  It just goes to show that you need to make careful note of the information you already have – the final sentence of the article reads “Their mother was a twin and so was her mother”.

Uncle Will Sayers

“Uncle Will Sayers wore a leather splint on his left arm.  His elbow was injured in the WW1.  He always said that the German doctors had been very good to him.”

It’s amazing what extra information comes out of Granny’s diaries.  It was an entry at the end of January 1940 which raised the topic of Will’s elbow:  “Will in bed again very bad arm”.    Mum and her sister lived with Uncle Will and Aunty Pat in Cowfold for about 18 months during WW2 when the Croydon children had been evacuated.  The reference to Will’s arm playing up led to this extra information about him.

So…I thought:  German doctors?  Did that mean he had been a POW?  I contacted William Sayer’s granddaughter to see if she knew anything of his war service.  She was able to provide the information that he had enlisted in the 5th Royal Fusiliers in November 1915 and had left for France in November 1916.  The following March he went missing.  While out on patrol he sustained his elbow injury and was subsequently taken prisoner.  The information from the family is that a German patrol came across him and put him down a well until they could return and get him to their doctors!  He got back to England in June 1918.

Well!  He was a lucky man indeed.  But I drew a total blank searching on Ancestry for his service record.  As for the Medal Index cards, well William Sayers is a common name so I couldn’t be sure of finding the right man.

My breakthrough came when I turned to The Genealogist.  There I found a list from The Times 9 June 1917:  “May 17 Wounded and Missing R.W. Kent R – Sayers 18663 W. E. (West Grinstead).”  Wrong regiment, but right village and the right sort of date.  It sounded promising.  And then I found an entry from the Daily Casualty list of 12 June 1918:  “Private W E Sayers 18683 Royal West Kent Regiment, Prisoner in Germany, now arrived in England”.  The regimental number differed by one digit, but that could be a transcription error.  Again the date tied in with the information I’d previously received.

So it was rather looking as though at some point William was transferred to the Royal West Kent Regiment, perhaps at a time when they needed more men.

At this point I turned to the International Red Cross records at  to see if there was a card for him as a POW; now that I had a service number to match up I found him easily.

The cards vary enormously in how much extra information is available, but in Will’s case there were a number of other reference numbers on the card which led to other scanned entries, much of which is in German.  The information giving his next of kin as Mrs Alice Mary Sayers of 135 Worthing Road, West Grinstead, was the final confirmation I needed that I had found the right man.  William was in the 10th battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment at the time of his capture.

Information from the POW records

With some welcome help with the language from my sister in law (thank you!), we were able to conclude that he was captured on the Ypres Salient on 20 March 1917.  It looks as though he was then taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at Linselles, south east of Ypres. The records show that he had a gunshot fracture of his left elbow.  Perhaps it was while here that he received the careful attention of the German doctors that he remembered years later.  It looks as though he was subsequently moved nearly 300 miles to a POW camp at Limburg on the Lahn, north west of Frankfurt.

The fact that he was released back to England before the end of the war is interesting.  Sarah Paterson in her book ‘Tracing Your Prisoner of War Ancestors’ indicates that exchanges did take place of seriously wounded soldiers.   Two more documents on the Red Cross site gave additional information about his repatriation:  there was a ‘list of repatriated British prisoners of war arrived in England from Germany 2 June 1918’.  This again gave the information about his fractured left arm.  The second document titled ‘repatriated prisoners of war from Germany’ states that William was admitted to the King George Hospital Stamford St SE1 on 2 June 18 “wounded sev”.  I wonder if this means ‘wounded severely’?

Even with the service number I have not found a service record on Ancestry, but I did track down the medal index card which indicates that in addition to the normal medals he also received the Silver War Badge due to those who were invalided out of the army.

From having been a foreman brickmaker before the war, Will went on to become a postman in Cowfold by the time my Mum knew him in the 1930s.  The diary indicates that there had been ice and then a heavy snowfall at the end of January 1940.  Perhaps Uncle Will had fallen over and that was why his arm was so bad.  But on balance he was indeed a lucky man to have survived his serious injury, been able to return to England to his wife and young son and to have been fit enough to resume paid employment.

William Sayers far right, possibly about 1922

Get plenty of grub in

Finally,  on 22 November 1918, Grandad was on his way home.

At 19 years old Jack Wakefield had been a Prisoner of War in Germany for 7 months, endured meagre food rations, illness and no letters or parcels from home.  At long last the Armistice had happened and the prisoners could go free.

Sarah Paterson, in her book ‘Tracing Your Prisoner of War Ancestors, the First World War’ is very informative on how repatriation happened.  She describes the situation in Germany following the Armistice as “extremely chaotic”.  With transportation in a dire situation and soldiers taking matters into their own hands to try to make their way home, the Red Cross no longer knew who was where. Furthermore, the men were weakened by lack of food which hampered their efforts to get to a channel port.

My understanding is that Grandad and those with him were pretty much left to their own devices to find their way home.  His postcard home postmarked ‘Dover 22 November 1918 5.30pm’ bears a picture of Balatre – La Place.  L’Ecole des Filles.  Grandad wrote at the top “this is my last internment camp” and he has pencilled a cross on the right hand side of the building.  This would seem to indicate that he had been there as a POW – whether he had been moved around frequently during his time in captivity we shall probably never know, but the fact that by this stage he was close to France would have aided his journey home.  Those who were stuck in the heart of Germany had a long wait.

Balatre is today in Belgium, very near the French border.  This spring, on our tour of the battlefields and memorials, we also had time to visit this tiny village.  I had wondered whether any evidence of the school building might remain.  Unfortunately not, but we sat in La Place with its church on one side and war memorial on the other, and took in the fact that Grandad had been there 100 years earlier.  I wished that someone might appear who I could talk to, but the village seemed shut up and asleep.  Then finally an elderly woman emerged from a house.  I rushed over to approach her in my best French.  She was lovely – and most interested in my story.  I showed her the picture of the school and she was able to indicate where the building had been.  She knew people who had been in the village longer than she had and promised to see if she could find out more, so we exchanged addresses.  Subsequently we have corresponded, though she has not been able to find any additional information as yet. But I was so thrilled to have made a personal connection.

Balatre, Belgium
Balatre – La Place

How did Grandad get a postcard of the school?  Did the locals give the soldiers postcards as they left?

Grandad wrote on the card  “Dear Mother, Just a few lines to let you know that I am in dover and shall be home Saturday do not no (sic) what time”.  The aforementioned book describes how POWs returning through Dover went to a Reception Camp at Waterfall Meadow.  They were given a packet containing a pipe and tobacco, cigarettes, toffee, chocolate and biscuits in addition to a hot meal on disembarkation.  Once at Dover, provided the men were medically well enough, they were given their ‘leave and duty’ ration books, a message from the King and a rail warrant to travel home for two months’ leave.

Richard Van Emden, in his book ‘Prisoners of the Kaiser’, says that “by the end of November, fewer than ten per cent of POWs had reached England”.   Grandad was, indeed, fortunate to be among them.  How did his family react when he got home?  There must have been such a feeling of relief to get their son back, but mingled with the grief for the elder son who would never come home.  And quite possibly Grandad did not know of his brother William’s death until his return to Woking.

Did he get the cake that he had been so desperate for in those last seven months?  I hope that, despite the food rationing, the family were able to feed him up.  His final words on the postcard are “Get plenty of grub in for I been starved.”

L'ecole des filles Balatre 1918
L’ecole des filles Balatre
POW postcard WW1
Grandad’s final postcard home
Letter from the King



It would be nice to get a line from dear old Woking

Grandad’s last full letter home from his prisoner of war camp is postmarked Gustrow 14.11.18.  The top of the letter, and therefore the date he wrote it, is missing and I strongly suspect that it was written a good bit before 14th November, especially since all the other letters have a postmark sometime after the date of the letter.

Grandad (Jack Wakefield) says “we are having some lovely weather out here now”, and that it is now 6 months since he was taken prisoner, so I’m guessing it was written in October.  Additionally, my understanding is that once the Armistice had been declared the Germans often just left the POW camps, leaving the prisoners to their own devices.

Grandad obviously had an inkling that the end might come soon as news of the war’s progress filtered through:  “the war seems as though it won’t be long before it is all over.”  Interestingly, he also says “I think I have got over the worst of my prisoners life now”.  We know from the previous letter that he had had a spell in hospital, but surely at this late stage of the war the food shortages would have been at their very worst?

We learn in this letter that he has received no letters or parcels at all from his family while he has been a prisoner.  His early letters were insistent about wanting cake and cigarettes.  I should think it highly likely that the family did send letters and parcels but that the chaos in Germany by this stage of the war meant that nothing got through to him.  He says “It would be nice to get a line from dear old Woking.  I have not had a word since I was taken prisoner 6 months now”.  Despite the cheery tone of the letter, Grandad must have wondered whether his letters had reached home and how his family were faring.  Presumably he still had no idea at this stage that his older brother William had been killed in Belgium back in April.

Jack Wakefield
Jack’s letter home Nov 1918

“Hoping to see you all soon”, he concludes.  And in fact, possibly around a month after writing this, he would, indeed finally be on his way home;  returning to a nation that was reeling from the loss of a generation of young men.  He was a 19 year old, returning home emaciated from months of starvation and having witnessed the most atrocious things.  No wonder he didn’t want to talk about it.

But tomorrow, on Remembrance Sunday, I will be going to “dear old Woking” and, as I lay a wreath in memory of Jack’s brother William, killed on 12 April 1918, I will be remembering too the ordeal Grandad endured as a POW.

We will remember them.

Jack Wakefield

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

It was almost exactly 3 years ago that I first wrote about my Great Uncle Bert Mitchell.  In an effort to submit a reasonable biography for him for the When West Grinstead Went To War publication, I had endeavoured to glean as much information as possible about his involvement in the WW1.

With no surviving service record it took me a little while to piece together, but I managed to discover that Bert enlisted as a Private in the Machine Gun Corps on 2 December 1915. His Medal Index Card helped to a certain extent but it is apparently notoriously difficult to trace the movements of someone in the Machine Gun Corps. Whilst we do not know where exactly Bert served with the British Expeditionary Force, we do know that he was overseas when he sustained a head injury and was evacuated back to England to the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley, near Southampton, for treatment and recovery.

Begun in the 1850s, the hospital was in its day the longest building in Europe!  Seen from Southampton Water, the hospital’s architecture was most impressive, though Florence Nightingale was critical of the design and felt it had not been planned with the wellbeing of patients in mind.  At the start of WW1 the hospital’s capacity was increased through the building of many wooden huts by the Red Cross.

I have known of the Netley connection for many years due to a good number of photos in my Granny’s photo album taken at the Royal Victoria Hospital during the First World War.  One of the photos shows her brother, Bert Mitchell “in theatre”.  After Bert was discharged from the army on 4 April 1918 due to wounds rendering him unfit for further war service, he stayed on at the hospital as a Red Cross orderly making and fitting artificial limbs.  The Red Cross personnel records show that he worked there from June 1918 until June 1919.

Royal Victoria Hospital
Bert in theatre (at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley)

I’ve visited Netley a number of times over the years, aware of the family connection.  So it was with great pleasure a few weeks ago that I was able to visit the chapel again, newly reopened after the extensive conservation work which has benefitted from Heritage Lottery funding.  The chapel is basically all that now remains of the former military hospital and the newly restored chapel is absolutely stunning.  There is an extensive exhibition inside the chapel on the history of the hospital, with a number of interesting artefacts such as a huge ‘iron lung’.  Entry to the chapel and exhibition is free, but you can also pay a small fee to climb the tower for a magnificent view across the park and across Southampton Water.

I was particularly interested to read in the guide book about the Japanese Red Cross nurses who worked at Netley between 1915 and 1916.  Interested because they feature in two photos in Granny’s photo album.  Since the guide book says that they left in 1916, I’m wondering if this could indicate that Bert was a patient there from perhaps quite early on in 1916, meaning that he possibly spent very little time in France or Belgium before being wounded.  It could also mean that he was a patient at the hospital for as much as two years before being discharged in April 1918.

Japanese Red Cross nurses at the hospital






It’s strange to think that my Great Uncle Bert is likely to have attended services in that chapel both as a patient and as a member of staff.  His future wife, Lily Loosemore, also worked at the hospital as a VAD clerk from July 1916.  Separately or together they would have heard the organ played (which is again in good working order), looked up at the stained glass and admired the lofty ceiling.  I very much enjoyed rediscovering my family connection with the hospital and would recommend a visit if you get the chance.    

Work still in progress on the chapel this spring
Inside the newly restored chapel
The chapel organ