The Staffordshire Regiment Museum

The third visit which I was keen to make during our time in Staffordshire was to the Staffordshire Regimental Museum.

Having two ancestors who served during WW1 with the North Staffordshires, I thought that visiting the museum might give me a little background information.  My Great Uncle William Neighbour Wakefield served with the 8th Battalion and Edmund Oldrieve Greenhill (who I wrote about the time before last in connection with our visit to Church Leigh), served with the 4th Battalion.

The museum website (http://www.staffordshireregimentmuseum.com/ ) was very helpful in terms of information for planning the visit.  With the Surrey History Centre having been keen to have digital copies of the WW1 correspondence in the family’s possession, I thought that the Regimental Museum might similarly be interested and so I emailed them some weeks before our visit.  However, unfortunately their eventual reply indicated that they were not able to receive items for a digital archive, which seems a pity.  I then asked whether there was a Battalion history for the 8th, thinking that I might be able to consult it when we visited.  This time one of their volunteer researchers replied, sending me a link to a subscription only website, but at least I could see that, yes, it appeared that there was indeed a Battalion history.

We took care to visit on a Thursday, which was the day that volunteer researchers might be available.  We found our way there with relative ease and found it a nice little museum.  Well-presented displays depicted different periods of history and there was a small shop and picnic benches outside.  Probably the best bit for me was the outside area:  there they had reconstructed a WW1 trench system (with due regard to British standards of health and safety and therefore somewhat more sanitised than some we have been to in France!), which then connected with a German counterpart and then a regimental timeline through a wooded area, with informative noticeboards.  All very well done and I do hope it is well used by school parties as it is a great resource. It did strike us that there were not many other visitors when we were there, especially considering that our visit was during half term.

Staffordshire Regiment Museum
Reconstructed WW1 trench
Inside the trench

 

 

 

 

 

Having looked at all the displays we then enquired at the reception desk about the Battalion history and whether they had a copy which could be consulted.  The volunteer who emerged was very certain that there was no Battalion history,  which was disappointing.  We had our lunch there and proceeded on our way.

Imagine then my frustration when we got back to where we were staying (and therefore wifi) to receive an email from another volunteer at the museum (a reply to one I had sent before we left home), but sent during the time that we were actually at the museum!  This to the effect that they would be happy to make copies from the Battalion history for a charge.  How frustrating!  I replied, expressing some frustration but stating the time frame I was interested in, and very quickly received copies of relevant pages from the Battalion history, for which I am truly grateful.  It gives a little more detail than the unit war diary and will be a useful resource, especially during our proposed visit to Belgium next Spring to mark the centenary of William’s death.

Anyway, that useful visit completed our trilogy of visits in Staffordshire – a county with attractive countryside and one I hope we will visit again.

Staffordshire Regiment Museum

 

Photos and sellotape – not a great combo!

I’m in the process of sorting out three photo albums simultaneously.

After my Dad passed away earlier this Spring we looked for photos of him in his younger days to add to a slideshow for the funeral day.  It was at that point that three photo albums came to light that I don’t remember ever having seen before and which I believe came from his parents’ house.

We found some great photos of Dad as a child and as a young man to scan and add to the slideshow, but subsequently I have felt compelled to take all the photos out of the albums.  Why?  Well they are the type that was so hi-tec back in the seventies – the slightly waxy pages and the film that you smooth back over the photos – but which have subsequently been discovered to be disastrous for the preservation of photos.  The chemicals in the PVC film can damage photos irreparably, so I decided it was best to order an acid free album and to transfer them over.

I suspect that it was my Nan who stuck the photos in.  But what is odd is that the photos are apparently put in randomly – photos from the 1930s all mixed up with those from the 1970s.  It was as if she had kept photos in a shoebox, was given the albums, and then just stuck them in as they came out of the box.  It’s very strange.

Sorting out a whole load of unlabelled photos into some sort of chronological order would be bad enough, but – horror of horrors  – for some reason best known to herself, my Nan put sellotape over a good number of the photos when sticking them in.  Arghhhh.  Why would you do that?!!

Where the sellotape has come off the photos it has left a sticky residue, so I’ve decided that where possible I’ll leave the sellotape on and just trim at the edges.  Where the photos are reluctant to come away from the pages I am using dental floss – gently sliding it under the photo and easing it away from the page.  That’s a tip I learnt when I started scrapbooking and it works a treat.

So gradually I am removing the photos, and temporarily putting them into envelopes for different decades according to my best guess.  It’s a fun, if time-consuming exercise, as I catch once more glimpses of my Grandad’s garden and images of cars, pets and furniture long-gone, but which bring back memories of weekly visits to my Wakefield grandparents after school back in the late sixties/early seventies and Christmas tea with the ubiquitous but distasteful celery and beetroot.

Faded photos are rejuvenating faded memories, but I hope that my efforts to preserve the photos now will ensure the memories live on.

(The Institute of Conservation has a very helpful factsheet on care of photos at https://icon.org.uk/system/files/documents/care_and_conservation_of_photographs.pdf )

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

Of Buttons and Buckles

Being a firm believer in keeping things in case they one day come in useful, it is probably no surprise for you to learn that I have a considerable button collection.  I have the spare buttons in their clear little plastic packages, carefully saved from garments going back donkeys’ years.  I did have a phase of attempting to label them, so that I knew which garment the button belonged to, but the trouble is as the years go by you do wonder which particular pair of beige trousers this specific button belonged to.  Was it a pair that went to a charity shop a couple of decades ago? Quite possibly. And then there are the buttons that were cut off clothes before being thrown out altogether.

However, some of my buttons did indeed come in useful for a project I completed just before Christmas.  It was also a great opportunity to use up some of my equally large collection of fabric off-cuts.  I decided to make a ‘twiddle rug’ for my Dad for Christmas.  Now, I already had a knitting pattern for a ‘twiddle muff’, but I somehow didn’t think that would work for him.  But a bit of hunting around on the internet revealed designs of ‘twiddle rugs’ (sometimes also called ‘fiddle rugs’) – basically a lap rug with lots of things attached to fiddle with.  People with dementia and associated conditions (my Dad has Parkinson’s, so some days are more lucid than others) can often be seen fiddling with their clothing or bedclothes, so a twiddle rug gives them something else to play with and can offer stimulation.

Basically I made a patchwork of variously textured fabrics and backed it with a lightweight fleecy material, attaching buttons to fasten, buckles to slide, a zip, a pocket, a large popper and dog motif.  I also sewed on his initials.  It’s no great work of art but it was made with love for a dear father.

Twiddle Rug
Twiddle Rug

I already had the button tins that had belonged to my aunt (my Dad’s twin sister) and my cousin.  As I was on the lookout for particularly large buttons, Mum now also gave me my Nanny Wakefield’s button tin (my Dad’s mother – Lily Wakefield, nee Bryant).  I think it’s fascinating to look at some of these buttons and wonder what kind of garment they came from:  the obviously sixties buttons, the little shell buttons, toggles, covered buttons and downright ugly buttons.  What stories they could tell of the past! But they were all kept by someone in case they came in useful.

And come in useful they have.  I don’t know for how long Dad will be able to make use of the twiddle rug, but I enjoyed making it and allowing some of these old buttons and buckles to see the light of day once more.

Buttons and buckles from Nanny Wakefield's button tin
Buttons and buckles from Nanny Wakefield’s button tin

 

New Year’s resolutions

 

This time last year I decided that my New Year’s resolution would be to complete my George family write-up.  Well, I’m pleased to report that, despite the difficulties of the year, I did achieve this goal, and a number of family members received a copy for Christmas.

It documents the George family of East Dereham from my earliest proven ancestor David George, born around 1786, through two more generations born in East Dereham to my great grandfather (another David George) and his move south to Croydon and his marriage and family there.  I’ve included my hypothesis that John George and Ann Gallant were the parents of David George senior, but, despite many years of research, I have been unable to prove this.  I’ve also included as an appendix what I know of the family of Astey George, buried inside East Dereham church, but with whom I believe my own family has no connection.

George family of East Dereham

Although a family history is never finished, I do think that it is good to bring everything known so far together and to disseminate what is known among wider family members.  It has already produced a new snippet of information from my aunt and a small family-related artefact from my Mum.  I will also send a copy to Norfolk Family History Society at Kirby Hall in Norwich.  All of this will hopefully mean that, even though there are loose ends, what I have been researching for getting on for 40 years (I did start in my teens!) will not be entirely lost if something suddenly happens to me.

george-family-write-up-2

I was interested to read in this month’s Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk  of various contributors’ family history-related resolutions for the coming year.  It is heartening to know that even a professional researcher like David Annal has decades-worth of papers waiting to be organised!

This year, once I have finally tidied up the George papers and filed them away neatly, I plan to re-visit my Wakefield research.  In particulary I want to update my research on my grandfather Jack and his brother William, both from Woking, who were in Flanders in 1918 at the same time, though in different regiments.  One was killed and the other was captured, and I want to be able to upload their stories onto the Surrey In the Great War website www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk and also the IWM Lives of the First World War.  It would also be great if I could locate the graves of their parents in Brookwood Cemetery, and I gather there might be a finding aid at Surrey History Centre to help with this.

So that’s the plan.  No doubt I will get sidetracked along the way, but that’s the fun of family history, isn’t it?

Happy New Year!