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 https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org.  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
Wakefield
William Neighbour Wakefield

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 https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/  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

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….

 

Mother to daughter

Well I was going to write a nice little piece aptly timed for Mothering Sunday last weekend, but then events took an interesting turn and I was unable to schedule a blog post for the first time in six months; so my apologies for that!

I had looked forward to a Mothering Sunday spent with my mother and with one of my daughters.  In the event I did see both of them, but we were visiting my Mum in hospital following a fall, fracture, and emergency partial hip replacement.  Not quite how I had imagined the day.

I had mentioned to the Registrar that both Mum’s parents had lived well into their nineties.  Granny was nearly 96 when she died, having lived through two world wars.

A couple of years ago I had an attempt at compiling a matrilineal tree – ie tracing back through daughter to mother.  It’s an interesting exercise, not without its challenges, but fascinating to do.

The earliest female ancestor I could find in this line was Sarah Stridwick, whose daughter Mary Cooper was born around 1688 in Warnham, Sussex, meaning that Sarah may have been born around 1668.  Mary Cooper’s daughter was Mary Knight, also born in Warnham, as was her daughter Sarah Charman, born in 1762.  Sarah’s daughter Harriet Capon was not born until 1800, this time in Capel, Surrey, just across the border.  I recently discovered, in the Haywards Heath Asylum Admission records at The Keep, that Harriet spent the last four months of her life in the Asylum, being admitted due to “senile insanity”.

Sayers, Ifield
Eliza Sayers, born 1825 Ifield, Sussex

Harriet’s  daughter Eliza Sayers was born in 1825 in Ifield, Sussex, again just back across the Surrey/Sussex border, and her daughter Mary Philpott was born in 1853 a little further south in Shipley, West Sussex.  My grandmother, Emily Mitchell, was born 35 years later, also in Shipley, in 1888.

Philpott, Shipley
Mary Philpott, born 1853 Shipley, Sussex

Of these seven women, two were over 80 at death and two more over 90 years of age.

I am happy to say that Mum is making good progress.  I hope the new hip keeps her going for at least as long as her female ancestors!