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

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

The Wedding Cake

So photos taken at my daughter’s wedding last month continue to appear, via social media, email and memory stick.  The official ones have yet to make an appearance, but it the meantime there are plenty to pore over.

Seeing photos of the cake-cutting reminded me that there is a photo in my Granny’s photo album of her rather splendid-looking wedding cake.  Although the photo is of poor quality it is unusual for being one taken indoors.  There are three tiers and it looks as though there is a fair amount of piping work decorating the cake.   This rich fruit cake was made by ‘Auntie’ Maggie, a friend from Cowfold with whom Granny had been in service some years before.

Emily Mitchell’s wedding cake 1924

A recent discovery has been a rather delicate loose sheet of paper tucked inside Granny’s recipe book on which is written a list of all the ingredients for this very wedding cake together with the costings!  Granny had very helpfully written on this piece of paper at a later stage “my wedding cake, made by Auntie Maggie, 1924”.  The list makes interesting reading:  2 ½ lbs of butter and 2 ½ lbs of lard, 3 lbs of sultanas, 3 lbs of currants and ….wait for it….. 18 eggs!!  The biggest single expense seems to have been 8 shillings for the 4 lbs of ground almonds needed for the almond paste.  All that royal icing we can see in the photo required 6 lbs of icing sugar and another 9 eggs.   The total costing appears to be £2 – 0 – 3, which, according to the Historical UK Inflation Rates calculator, is approximately equivalent to £115 in today’s money.

The wedding cake ingredients

I don’t know how much it would actually cost to make this cake today – it would be an interesting exercise to do the costings but one that I don’t really have time for just now!  What I do know is that it is one of the bigger expenses of a wedding and some of those we saw at the various wedding fairs we went along to cost many hundreds of pounds.

Since the tradition of keeping the top tier for the christening cake of the first child is no longer a thing, fruit cakes are probably less popular than variously flavoured sponge cakes these days.

My Mum made my wedding cake and went to cake decorating classes specially.  My daughter’s cake was a very nice sponge with simple icing and ribbon and, with the addition of a small posy of flowers by the florist, looked elegant.   Who made it?  Not me, not a family friend, but M&S!

Not just any wedding cake…

Happy Anniversary!

Well today is the third anniversary of my family history blog!  I can’t quite believe that I’ve been doing it for so long, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back over the subjects I have written about during that time.

My computer records tell me that this is my 88th blog post.  From the outset I wanted to write about thoughts that occurred to me both while making progress with my family history research and in just normal everyday life, since the topic of family history is never far from my mind. So what subjects have I tackled over these three years?

I’ve written, unsurprisingly, of trips I’ve undertaken with primary research very much in mind.  I started out three years ago writing about our trip to Norfolk to research both the George family of East Dereham and the Muskett family of various locations in that county.  I talked about visiting Norfolk Record Office and the Norfolk Family History Society’s research base at Kirby Hall as well as our tour round a number of villagesI’ve subsequently written about visits to West Sussex Record Office, researching the Mitchell family and The Keep in Brighton, looking at Combridges and Bryants.

There have been other opportunities to undertake what you might call ‘family history tourism’:  visiting West Grinstead in Spring 2017, Staffordshire in May 2017 and Chalvey in the summer of 2017.  More recently there has been our memorable trip to France and Belgium this Spring, marking the centenary of William Wakefield’s death.

I have written about types of resources often used in family history:  wills, newspaper archives and inquests, for example.  Then there have been artefacts which have proved a trigger for a train of thought:  buttons, a doll’s house, Christmas toys, old photos, memorable trees as well as the ‘mystery object’ of early 2017.

A couple of authors, namely Jane Austen and Flora Thompson, have been the inspiration for blogs and I have dipped into a couple of antiquarian books on Sussex, too.

Whilst ancestral occupations is an area that I think I could explore more fully in the future, I have frequently written about other family activities such as gardening, marmalade making and picking winterpicks.

Overall I’m pleased with the eclectic mix and I hope that you, too, have enjoyed the variety and will continue to post your comments.

Now, what shall I write about next….?

The Wedding Day

It’s always exciting to be able to add another name to the family tree, but usually this is a name of someone long deceased.  However, this week I have the thrill of adding someone who is very much alive – my new son in law!

The much anticipated wedding day of my daughter has come and gone and what a joyous occasion it was!  The sun shone (well, let’s be honest, it has for most of this summer) but with air con at the reception venue it was quite comfortable, even if the Church was a bit on the warm side.  It was fantastic to have so many family members and friends there to celebrate with us and has created many memories to treasure.

One of my lasting memories will be my 88 year old Mum standing up to join in with the final dance of the evening – a Circassian Circle!  Fortunately my brother kept a close eye on her.  It was great to be able to catch up with members of my wider family and to be able to note down the names of a recently-arrived little twiglet to add to the tree.  Lovely, too, to see both sets of families mingling and getting to know each other and discovering things in common.

In these days of family members often living a long way from each other, events such as a wedding are important in strengthening the bonds which would have been more naturally there when families lived in much closer proximity.

I thought I’d check through my family tree software for other August weddings, but it seems that this month has not been particularly popular.  However my own parents married in August as did my Great Great Grandfather William Wakefield in 1857.

I don’t have that many wedding photos for ancestors, but there are some lovely ones of my maternal grandparents’ wedding in September 1924.  This one shows the family group, and apparently my Granny (Emily Mitchell) was a little cross that her mother planted herself in the middle of the photo when she felt that was the place of the bride and groom!

Alf and Emily George Sept 1924

No such problems on Saturday – it was all very organized – and though eventually we shall see the official photos, in the meantime it’s great to have so many sent to us electronically.



The small baby in this one is my grandparents’ niece, Mary.  Her granddaughter has just had a baby of her own.  And so life continues and the tree grows!

Getting to know you

Deciding that it was high time I turned my attention to the correct storage of my old books, papers and artefacts, I recently ordered myself a nice big archival storage box and some acid free tissue paper.

I have had in my possession for some time some old books of my Granny’s, such as her illustrated Bible, a copy of On The Imitation of Christ, and various notebooks where she recorded notes from sermons. I have carefully extracted these from the drawer where they have lived for many years, wrapped them in tissue paper, labelled them and placed them in the new box.

One book which I had completely forgotten I had is a small (4” x 3”) book entitled ‘The Keepsake Scripture Text Book’, which had belonged to my Granny’s brother, Uncle Bert Mitchell. Unfortunately I cannot now remember how I come to have this little book, but it is quite possible that it was given to me after the death of his daughter Mary.  Inside the front cover is inscribed “Albert Mitchell – a present from his loving sister Carrie”.  There is no date, but the writing is certainly that of a child.  The book cost 1 shilling.  On each double-page spread through the book there are Bible verses one one side and dates through the year on the other – three to a page.  Uncle Bert used this book primarily as a Birthday Book, but also recorded the dates of family deaths and weddings.  It seems to have been used by him throughout his lifetime:  the earliest date is a death in 1897 and the latest a birth in 1962.  Some of the later entries are, I am sure, written in a different hand, possibly that of my Aunty Mary.  Since Bert was born in 1892 I suspect that the 1897 death was entered in retrospect, but there are a number around 1903/4, so he may well have been given this book around the age of 10 or 11.

The Keepsake Scripture Text Book

In addition to the family events it is interesting to see what else is recorded. There are names of the local gentry and clergy (eg the birthday of Miss Joan Burrell, daughter of Sir Merrick Burrell of West Grinstead).  Other names may be neighbours or friends from the area (Miss Parvin, Mrs Blotting, Mr A Mason, Miss Bacon) and others may be schoolfriends (Willie Myram, Tommy Botting).  When I have nothing better to do, it would be really interesting to try to find some of these names on a census and establish who they might be.

However, other entries record ‘Jan 18 Knepp Castle burnt down 1904’, ‘March 10 King’s Wedding day’, ‘May 22 York Minster 1926’, ‘Aug 4 European War 1914’, ‘Sept 3 II World War 1939’. It is fascinating to see what is included.

Some entries are tantalising: ‘April 15 Uncle Amos died 1900’.  Amos?  Doesn’t ring a bell.  I go to my Mitchell tree on Ancestry, but no Amos. Ok, so which other family?  I try the Philpott tree – yes, there he is, Amos Sayers born 1842, an uncle of Bert’s mother’s, and therefore his great-uncle.  Bert’s maternal grandmother was Eliza Sayers.  This discovery leads me on an interesting path of discovery.  I knew that Amos was born in Ifield, Sussex, near Crawley.  I found him there in the 1851 and 1861 censuses (‘son’ and ‘watchmaker – servant’) before his marriage in 1868.  Subsequently he appears on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses, all in Ifield, where his occupation is given as ‘post messenger’, ‘post messenger and watchmaker’, and ‘postman’ respectively.  It looks as though he may have served an apprenticeship as a watchmaker and then continued to practise that trade whilst also earning a wage as a postman latterly.  I haven’t found his burial, but the Probate calendar confirms his date of death as 15 April 1900.

Entry for Uncle Amos

What I find quite interesting is that a number of Sayers names appear in the book, which indicates to me that these were uncles, aunts and cousins of Bert’s mother’s with whom she stayed in touch. I already knew that the extensive Mitchell family kept in close contact, despite emigrations to the USA and Canada, but now I know that the this was also true of the Sayers family.  I feel that through this lovely little book I am getting to know my Granny’s family and the relationships that were important to them.

I also realise that I have a lot of blanks to fill in on the Sayers tree, so that might be a nice little winter project….when I’m not looking up all those other friends and neighbours from the book….


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.