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  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, 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!




More fun at the fair

This time last year I had a very fruitful trip to the West Surrey Family History Society Open Day, held at Woking Leisure Centre, so on 5 November I went to it again, and this time my husband was able to come along too.

It’s such a big event:  many neighbouring family history societies have stalls as well as local history groups, plus there are organisations selling archival storage products, maps, postcards, books and charts.

West Surrey FHS had their research resources available and I was most interested to look at a map from the A – Z of Victorian London, showing the area where my Bryant ancestors worked as saddlers and harness makers in Belgravia.

I have been enjoying finding out more about the life and works of Flora Thompson this year.  John Owen Smith, local historian and author of ‘On the trail of Flora Thompson’ (among his many published works) was there with his own stall  We had a lovely conversation with him about the local connections of Grayshott and Liphook and bought a book of ‘Walks from the railway’.

We also found out from the folk on the Brookwood Cemetery Society stall how to go about tracking down the grave of my Wakefield great grandparents, who I know are buried there.  This is definitely something to follow up.

“Don’t turn round, but I’m sure that’s Eve McLaughlin on the stall behind you”.  And it was!  There she was staffing the Buckinghamshire Family History Society stall When we lived in Milton Keynes in the late eighties we were members of Bucks FHS and frequently used to go over to Aylesbury on a Saturday afternoon to attend the meetings.  Eve was so energetic and inspirational, and of course she is a prolific author of family history booklets:  ‘Annals of the Poor’, ‘Reading old handwriting’, ‘Quarter Sessions’ etc.  (This year I had the forethought to make a list of the family history-related books that I own in advance of going to the fair, to minimise the risk of buying a book I already have!).  We had a lovely chat with Eve and bought two of her books to add to the collection: ‘Nonconformist ancestors’ and ‘What does it mean – words in wills, inventories, deeds and documents’.

My husband bought a couple of useful-looking Cassini maps of Norfolk, but we looked in vain for ‘My ancestor was a Quaker’.  I think it may currently be out of print.

At the Surrey History Centre stall, the archivist and I agreed that we would both very much like to be able to afford to give up work and spend our time indexing and doing family history!  What a lovely job to have, though.  She had brought with her a beautiful Victorian/Edwardian photograph album of unknown provenance, which had come from a house clearance.  How sad that these are someone’s ancestors and are unnamed.

Imogen on the Surrey in the Great War stall was just as enthusiastic as she had been when I spoke to her last year, but sadly never received the information I sent her then on the Wakefield brothers.  I will resend it to her.

By midday we were glad of a chance to sit down for a bit, and were in for a treat attending the talk given by Myko Clelland on using Findmypast.  His enthusiasm was infectious and I was particularly interested to learn more about the 1939 Register, which I have to admit I have not investigated up till now.

Overall, it was a lovely morning spent with fellow enthusiasts, with the chance to buy products and network with useful organisations and people.  Thank you WSFHS!

West Surrey Family History Society
WSFHS Fair 2016


The Place where I lived

Guildford, in Surrey, holds many memories for me as it is the town in which I grew up.  Last week I had a lovely visit  there, which brought back memories.

A relaxing boat trip on the river Wey from the National Trust site of Dapdune Wharf took us into the heart of Guildford.  The Crown Court stands where the cattle market once was.  I remember my Dad taking me to the cattle market and getting a badge with a David Brown tractor on it!  I think the old Employment Exchange was nearby, and I have the impression of a horse chestnut tree near the bus stop there.  Further along the road was a row of large terraced houses, one of which was our doctor’s surgery, before it moved into its current premises in Wharf Road.  The large Methodist Church which stood on the corner of that road has just been demolished, to make way for more luxury flats I believe.

We passed the Odeon cinema on the boat.  On that site there was previously a sports centre, long before the Spectrum was built.  I remember it opening, and we went there for swimming lessons from school.

Our very knowledgeable skipper on the boat informed us that a building just past the odeon used to be the R Whites factory.  I have to say that I did not know that drinks such as lemonade had been bottled in Guildford before the company’s merger with Britvic.

A little further along was the site of the twin bus stations – one either side of the river.  My bus home from school arrived at one bus station (where the Electric Theatre is now) and I then had to race over the footbridge in time to catch the Alder Valley bus in the other bus station (now a car park).  Oh the times when you saw the bus pulling out while you were still racing down the steps!

The original ford of the river was apparently around about where the old town bridge now stands at the bottom of the High Street.  Some sculptures on the river bank now commemorate Lewis Carroll’s association with the town (the house he lived in is near the castle).

Few shops still occupy the same premises.  Boots is in the same place, though.  I bought my first record there:  Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony!!   I bought that because they used some of the music for a TV series called ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ and I knew my Dad liked the music.  Boots is almost on the corner of Swan Lane, and along there was the shoe shop where Mr Leakey who lived across the road from us was the manager.  Further along was the Doll’s Hospital, an amazing toy shop and THE place to go to spend birthday money.  At the other end of Swan Lane, on the corner with North Street, was a fish shop, and Mum used to buy some coley there to take home for a treat for our cat Whiskey!

Just past Debenhams is the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, where I have been many times.  I don’t know whether or not it is still there, but there used to be a marker on the wall of the alleyway nearby that marked the height of the floodwater in 1968.  I do remember that flood.  I was 6.  I remember being taken down to the area called Weyside, near where PC World is today, to see the flood.  And I remember photographic negatives hanging up to dry in our garage at home, being what Dad had managed  to salvage from the flood waters at his work: British Aerospace at Brooklands.  I’ve found a link to some great photos of the flood taken by Alan Edwards on flickr at

In those days all the buses also had a bus conductor, who wore a ticket machine across one shoulder and a leather money bag across the other.  They called out the names of the stops (such as “Weyside”) as you approached them, and rang the bell to signal to the driver to stop.  How times have changed.  I’ve just downloaded an app to my phone, to enable me to buy a bus ticket in Brighton next week!

Well it was a lovely, relaxing boat trip and a trip down memory lane too.

River Wey at Millmead
River Wey at Millmead
Town Wharf, Guildford
Town Wharf, Guildford
Dapdune Wharf, Guildford
Dapdune Wharf, Guildford


The Battle of the Somme

The recent commemorations of the start of the the WW1 Battle of the Somme, both in France and elsewhere, have deservedly had a lot of air-time on TV.  I found it very inspiring in particular to watch the ceremony held at Thiepval and to see that so many people cared enough to make that journey and to be there to mark the occasion.

We were fortunate enough to be able to visit Thiepval a few years ago.  It was very moving to see for the first time the name of my great-uncle, William Neighbour Wakefield, inscribed on the huge Lutyens memorial.  This was, of course, built to commemorate the missing of the Somme.  Ironically, my great-uncle was nowhere near the Somme when he was killed in action on 12 April 1918.  He was in Belgium at the time and it was an administrative error which led to his name being on the Thiepval Memorial rather than on the Menin Gate at Ypres (which we have also visited).  Nevertheless, on our return home I submitted information and a photograph to those who compile the information for the database available in the Thiepval Visitor Centre and felt pleased that I had been able to contribute in this way.

Of the many projects underway during these years of commemoration of the WW1, the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War   is a fantastic initiative.  Over seven and a half million life stories have now been uploaded to the site by members of the public.

Many projects are also underway at county level, and Surrey has recently launched Surrey in the Great War . When I first met the enthusiastic team behind this project I was inspired to send them some information on the Woking Wakefield brothers.  Unfortunately the total lack of acknowledgment rather dampened my enthusiasm for sending in anything further, but I should probably now put that setback behind me and see what else I can share now that the website is up and running.  Perhaps I’ll make that a summer project!

It is many years since I last visited Surrey History Centre, but we did so on 2 July for the screening of the film ‘The Battle of the Somme’.  This film was hugely popular when it was shown in UK cinemas in 1916:  many watched it in the hope of spotting a loved one.  Now the film has been remastered by the Imperial War Museum, with a new music score by Laura Rossi which works incredibly well with the silent film.  The screening was preceeded by a talk by Dr Emma Hanna of the University of Kent and the Gateways to the WW1 project , in which she gave very useful background to why and how the film was created and how it was subsequently viewed.  Although some of the scenes were staged before or after the event, the scenes of wounded men and German prisoners cannot fail to have an impact.  Despite the fact that we know it is a sanitised version of conditions, the film nevertheless conveys something of the life of the troops both behind and on the front line and is therefore of great interest to those of us with personal connections to those who fought on the Western Front.

I would certainly recommend seeing the film if you can – you can find out more at

Thiepval Memorial
Thiepval Memorial

The West Surrey Family History Society Fair

West Surrey Family History Society
Photo from the WSFHS facebook page

I hadn’t been to a Family History Fair for some time.  Despite not particularly having Surrey ancestors, the Fair being organised by West Surrey Family History Society at the end of October promised to be the biggest in the South , so I thought I’d go along.

It was a grand day out and very worthwhile.  The ‘Ask an Expert’ tables were a good idea, and I queued to speak to someone regarding dating an old photograph.  He was able to give me some ideas to pursue.

Two of the three family history societies that I belong to were there (Sussex and Oxfordshire), so it was good to have a chat with them and peruse their publications.  I was pleased to be able to buy a copy of the CD of the first 40 years of Sussex Family Historian, the journal of the Sussex Family History Group.  Dipping into that should keep me out of mischief for a while!

On the Oxfordshire stall I found a booklet ‘Abandoned, Apprenticed and Boarded Out’, containing details of Neighbour ancestors from Lewknor.

I was most interested to chat with the very enthusiastic people on the ‘Surrey in the Great War’ stand and will definitely be following its progress and sending them the information on the two Woking brothers (see the last two posts).

I spoke to the people at the Guild of One Name Studies and at the British Association for Local History, before heading to the talk entitled ‘Breaking down brick walls’.

This talk turned out to be less about breaking down brick walls than about getting the most out of The Genealogist program, but it was useful nonetheless.  Mark Bayley definitely knows his stuff and was very clear in his delivery and I made a note of a number of things to follow up.

I would quite like to have known about the car parking charges beforehand and I do think that WSFHS missed a trick in not being more proactive about promoting membership of their society to the many visitors to the fair, but I came away with a number of purchases as well as new lines of enquiry. A grand day out – thank you WSFHS!