We have no known family connections with the National Memorial Arboretum, but it is somewhere that you catch glimpses of on the TV and so we thought that, being in Staffordshire for a few days, we would seek it out.
It is really well worth a visit! The visitors’ leaflet describes it as “the UK’s year-round centre for Remembrance” and the 150+ acres contain more than 300 memorials for both military and civilian organisations. Entry is free and the facilities are excellent, with good parking and a lovely visitors’ centre with shop and café. For the less mobile there is a land train to take you round the key memorials.
I had read in advance that there is a daily act of remembrance at 11am, so on arrival we headed for the beautiful wood and glass chapel for this and for the Welcome Talk, which was a great introduction to how the Arboretum came about and its development. Most of the staff are volunteers and were very helpful.
The Armed Forces Memorial, on the central mound, honours those killed whilst serving since the end of WWII, with striking sculptures. We were struck by how different all the memorials were – some large sculptures, some set in lovely gardens, some featuring buildings (such as that for the Far East Prisoners of War). New memorials are being added all the time. There are wildflower meadows and maturing woodland and a lovely riverside walk.
I thought I’d write of this in a family history blog for two reasons: firstly because you may well know of a recent family member commemorated there by name and secondly because, even if you don’t know of anyone, there are computer touch-screens inside the visitor centre where you can search for names. This is definitely a name-rich site and you may well learn of someone connected to you.
You may, in addition, have a personal connection with a particular regiment. We found the memorial for the Staffordshire Regiment (of which Edmund Oldrieve Greenhill, who I wrote about last time, was part). You can find a list of all the memorials here http://www.thenma.org.uk/whats-here/memorial-listing/
It really was a good day out – we walked miles, enjoyed the peace and beauty of the location, and were moved by the commemoration of so many on one site.
Explaining that at least part of the reason for a half term expedition to that county was to visit a little village where a distant ancestor lived and taught, produced mixed reactions. Fellow family history enthusiasts completely understood the desire to see the place for oneself. Colleagues seemed less convinced. Daughters – well – it was the expected tongue-in-cheek reaction of “the parents know how to have a good time!”
Undeterred, we set off for the tiny village of Church Leigh on the first day of our holiday. We found the little village school easily and decided to park in the village hall car park. Getting out of the car it was my husband who noticed that the building adjoining the village hall said “Old School House”. Ah – that’s interesting. Well the village hall could well have started life as a school too, having those annoyingly high windows. But the old part of the school across the road looked as though it dated from a similar period. So where did Edith Mayne live when she first moved up to Staffordshire from Berkshire somewhere between 1891 and 1901?
Well, a Google search revealed that the village hall was built as the Boys’ School in 1857. The website of the current school indicates that it was also built in 1857 and I suspect that it, too, provided living accommodation originally. The 1901 census shows that Edith was a ‘Certificated Elementary School Mistress – Head’ and was working (and living) at the Girls’ School, Leigh, Staffordshire. Her aunt, Louise Allen, also moved up with her, probably to ‘keep house’. At the Boys’ School across the road, meanwhile, the schoolmaster was one George Greenhill and his 24 year old son Edmund was also working there as an Assistant Teacher.
Although slightly older than Edmund, Edith obviously developed a close friendship with her colleague in the Boys’ school, and on 26 September 1908 they married in Leigh.
The Lichfield Mercury, on 29 April 1910, reported that the managers of Leigh School were urged to “reconsider the desirability of re-organising Leigh School in one department under a headmaster”. This is what appears to have happened, since the 1911 census shows Edmund’s occupation as ‘Head Teacher, Elementary’ and Edith as ‘Assistant Teacher’. Living with them by this time was Edith’s younger sister Annie, who had also apparently decided to pursue teaching as a career and moved to join them as an ‘Assistant Teacher’ in 1905 (source: Teachers’ Registration Council registers on FindMyPast – registered 1 Aug 1920).
It would appear that Edith and Edmund did not have any children of their own – they appear to have dedicated their lives to the children they taught. I had hoped that Edmund was too old to enlist in the First World War, but unfortunately not. His service record unfortunately does not appear to have survived, but I do know that he was a Lance Serjeant in the 4th Battalion the North Staffordshire Regiment, service number 27779. He died on 25 March 1918 in France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site reveals that he is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial just north of Albert. The entry states “Husband of Edith Emily Greenhill of Bleak House, Leigh, Stoke on Trent. A schoolmaster at Leigh School”.
The 4th Battalion was an Extra Reserve Battalion, raised in Lichfield in 1914. I can’t be sure whether Edmund joined up then or whether he waited until conscription for married men started in May 1916. At that point he would have been 40 years old. In the Spring of 1918 the Battalion took part in the First Battle of Bapaume 24-25 March, and this is quite likely when Edmund died.
I already knew that Edmund is commemorated on the Leigh war memorial outside the church, so having taken photos of the schools, we walked round to the church and duly found the war memorial. The Church itself was unfortunately all locked up, which was a shame.
I had previously wondered what happened to Edith after Edmund’s death. It seems that she continued her teaching throughout the time that her husband was away. The Teachers’ Registration Council Registers available on FindMyPast indicate that Edith resumed her responsibilities as Head Mistress in 1916, a post that she was holding at the time of her official registration in 1920. Only a few days before our holiday I had the idea of trying the 1939 Register on FindMyPast. Although I did not pay to view the entry properly, I was able to see that she was still in the Uttoxeter Registration District at that date, living with Annie F Mayne and one other person. Leigh was in the Uttoxeter District at that time. Edith was by then 67 and Annie 53. I then found a death registration for Annie, aged 59, in the March Quarter 1945 and one for Edith, aged 76, in the December Quarter 1948. Since the National Probate Calendar revealed that Edith “of Bleak House, Leigh” died on 29 October 1948, I realised that it was highly likely that she was buried in the churchyard. Accordingly we proceeded to scour the churchyard for graves of the right period and were about to give up the cause when we found the grave just inside the lych gate! I was so thrilled.
The granite headstone reads: “In loving memory of Annie Frances Mayne called to the Higher Life Feb 23rd 1945 aged 59 years. The Communion of Saints. Also of Edith Emily Greenhill widow of Edmund Oldrieve Greenhill who entered into her rest Oct 29th 1948 aged 76 years. RIP.” I wonder who erected the headstone? Maybe surviving relatives of Edmund’s.
Whether ‘Bleak House’ was synonymous with the living quarters at the Girls’ School or a separate house nearby I may never know. The Greenhill seniors were living at the ‘Boys’ School House’ at the time of the censuses in 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. Edmund’s father died two years before him on 15 Dec 1916 “of the School House Leigh”.
My maternal grandfather was Edith and Annie’s cousin and Mum recalls the sisters visiting them in Guildford in the early 1940s – as it turns out not long before Annie’s death. I still have no idea how it came about that Edith moved 150 miles north to teach, but it was a really special day for me to be able to see where these ancestors lived, loved, taught and died. Leigh is a lovely little village, in very pretty countryside, and we enjoyed our Staffordshire expedition.
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.
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.
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 12thMarch. 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.
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.
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 12thMarch, 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This year’s Annual Conference of the Sussex Family History Group happened to be on the first Saturday of my Easter holidays, meaning that for once I was free to attend. Haywards Heath is over an hour’s drive away, but it was a beautiful morning for driving through the Sussex countryside and therefore a pleasurable journey. Unfortunately the local Park Runners had done a take-over of the car park adjacent to Clair Hall, which meant getting my head around the rather hi-tec car park machine across the road. However, that hurdle over, I made it in plenty of time for a coffee before proceedings commenced.
Well I can tell you that it was worth the long drive just to experience Andrew Thatham’s presentation. If you ever get the chance to hear him or to see his exhibition, then grab the opportunity with both hands! (You can find his website at www.groupphoto.co.uk). His talk, entitled ‘A Group Photograph – Before, Now and In-Between’ was definitely more of an experience than a standard talk. Basically he has spent over 20 years researching the lives of the 46 men depicted in one particular WW1 photograph. The photo of officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was taken while they were training on Salisbury Plain in 1915, and included Andrew’s great-grandfather, their commanding officer. The material he collected resulted in an exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015, a book of his research and an extremely moving animated film.
We viewed the half hour film, which, without words, conveys the lives of the 46 men. The concept is extremely clever. There is a continually changing visual representation of the birth and death of the men and the growth of their families, with music clips throughout the period and photographs of them, their parents and then their children and grandchildren, together with constantly changing images of iconic news and happenings of each year. It felt an immersive experience and I could feel myself relating the constantly rolling date counter to the lives of my own ancestors, hearing the music they heard, and wondering at the inventions that were news for them. It was truly moving. An extaordinary achievement.
Later in the day we heard very good and comprehensive talks from Sue Reid on the British Newspaper Archive and from Chris Heather of TNA on records for Railway Ancestors.
I patronised the book stall and sought advice on the best way to conserve our various WW1 family documents. I also found out about the SFHG My Tree project, where members are being encouraged to send in their trees, ideally in GEDCOM format. This will definitely be added to my ‘to do’ list as it is another way of preserving for posterity the research I have undertaken.
Altogether a very worthwhile day out and well done to SFHG for their excellent organisation. http://sfhg.org.uk/
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.
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!).
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!