Category Archives: England

The 106 Year Old Postcard

So, just who was the mystery man who sent my Gran a postcard in 1915?  For many years, I have held in a box of family history memorabilia a small item – a postcard.

Life, (bringing up children, and work), prevented me from finding out more about this postcard before now- sent by a stranger to my Gran who, born in 1900 was just 15 years old.  Who was this mystery man, I wondered? Now, in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have no excuse and plenty of lockdown time.

I had often looked at this flimsy piece of history over the years and wondered… And so, at last, I started my research into Pvt. John Harold Polfrey.

As it happens, all the information I needed was on the postcard that my maternal Gran, Edith Bevan had received  106 years ago.

World War 1 was in its second year and during this  ‘War to end all Wars’ citizens, even children, were asked to send to the soldiers at the front gift parcels of random gifts. So, Edith had sent a gift parcel of cigarettes and tobacco to an anonymous soldier serving with the British Expeditionary Force.

In due course, Gran received a reply to her gift.  It was written in pencil on a flimsy khaki coloured postcard addressed to:

Miss E. Bevan,  29 Elliot St.  Devonport.

No County or Country was added but the county was Devon, in England and on the front of the Post Card, is the Censor’s stamp. The first word is blurred, but I assume it reads ‘READ by the censor. There is no stamp, but it is francked [1]  ‘Army Post Office 33’ and the date is 5th Jan 1915.

 

The message reads:  ‘Dear Madam, I have received your gift parcel of cigarettes and tobacco and would like to thank you sincerely. Hoping your New Year will be as happy as you deserve, I beg to remain yours thankfully

Name: Pte. J. Polfrey No. 10089

Regiment (or ship) A Sqdn. ? Hussars? Calvary Brigade

Black dots can be seen on the postcard, and I believe these are the censor blacking out the number of the Hussars and Calvary Brigade, so you would not know where the soldier was serving.  After scanning the postcard and editing with the photos, I think the numbers are 4th Hussars and 2nd Cavalry.  I thought his name was PALFREY but again, with today’s photo scan software, I was able to read it as POLFREY.

John H. Polfrey was born in Fulham, in the southwest of London, England on the 5th of July, 1894 and enlisted on 20th May 1913. He would have been about 19 years old.

He joined the 2nd Cavalry Depot, 4th Hussars (The Queen’s Own).

The 4th Queen’s Own Hussars was a cavalry regiment in the British Army. First raised in 1685 it saw service for three centuries, including the First World War and the Second World War. The Colonel-in chief was Sir Winston Churchill.  The 4th Hussars deployed from Ireland to the Western Front in 1914, remaining there for the entire First World War (1914-18).

They took part in the Retreat from Mons, the First and Second Battles of Ypres (1914 and 1915) and several other engagements. In 1958 the 4th amalgamated with the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and became The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars. [2]

Pvt. John Polfrey would have seen a great deal of action in his young life and was awarded three medals for his services. The 1914-15 Star (or Silver War Badge),  The British War Medal, and the Victory Medal These three medals are also known as ‘The Trio’ **

1914-1915 Star (Silver War Badge)

This collection includes records of British soldiers who survived World War I and were discharged from the ranks for honourable reasons of illness or injury. In September 1916 such men were honoured by King George V with the institution of a special award, the Silver War Badge.  Also known as the Mons Star, the medal is a bronze star with a red, white and blue ribbon, reflecting the French Tricolore. It was issued to British forces who had served in France or Belgium from 5 August 1914 (the declaration of war) to midnight 22 November 1914 (the end of the First Battle of Ypres).   [3] [4]
 
The British War Medal:
The silver or bronze medal was awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial Forces. [3]
 
The Victory Medal:

The British version depicts the winged figure of Victory on the front of the medal and on the back, it says ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919’.  To qualify, an individual had to have entered a theatre of war (an area of active fighting), not just served overseas. Their service number, rank, name and unit were impressed on the rim. [3]

 
Some men sent home after sickness or injury came under the close scrutiny of the public since many were perceived to be shying away from their duties to the country and were treated with contempt and sometimes violence.
 
The 1914-1915 Star (Silver War Badge, that Pvt. Polfrey was awarded) was intended to be worn with civilian clothes.  It had been the practice of some women in England to send white feathers, a traditional symbol of cowardice within the British Empire, in an attempt to humiliate men, not in uniform.  [4]

 

Pvt. Polfrey was discharged on 11 December 1917 and although I searched,  I could not access the reason for his discharge, although receiving the British War Medal meant that he was “discharged from the ranks for honourable reasons of illness or injury”.  So, I concluded the records possibly could have been burnt in the London Blitz of WW2.

After the War in the 1939 Register of England and Wales Mr Polfrey was living in Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, (where, coincidentally, I was posted as a Medic to RAF Uxbridge, Uxbridge, Middlesex in the 1960s). His occupation was a Catering Manager.

In addition, on the My Heritage site, there is a family photo of Mr Polfrey, with the caption ‘Pop receiving the OBE with his wife and daughter’ there is no date, but it looks to be the mid-1950’s. I was curious as to what Mr Polfrey had received the Order of the British Empire Medal for, so further searching provided the following information.
 
“1952 New Year Honours (section Officers {OBE]  John Harold Polfrey, lately Catering Manager, Festival of Britain”. [5]
 

After 14 years of war rationing, which did not end until  4th July 1954, the Festival of Britain opened six years after WW2, on the 4th of May 1951. It celebrated the inventiveness and genius of British scientists and technologists probably in an effort to allow the citizens of Britain to feel that life was going to be better. [6]

What a valuable member of society Mr Polfrey proved to be!

Mr Polfrey died at the age of 92 in May 1986 in Torbay, Devon England, my home county.

RIP Mr Polfrey.

Notes

[1]  https://www.britannica.com/topic/franking

Franking, a term used for the right of sending Letters or postal packages free of charge. The word is derived from the French affranchir (“free”). The privilege was claimed by the British House of Commons in 1660 in ‘A bill for erecting and establishing a Post Office,” their demand being that all letters addressed to or sent by members during the session should be carried free.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/frankin

[2] www.nam.ac.uk/explore/4th-queens-own-hussars

[3 ] https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/first-world-war-service-medals

[4]  https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/blog/2015/12/10/the-silver-war-badge-and-kings-certificate-of-discharge

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_of_Britain

** Acknowledgements

Image of Silver War Badge courtesy of Martin Fore.   greatwar.co.uk/index.htm

https://www.researchingww1.co.uk/ww1-wound-stripes

*** All photos with permission of the Polfrey Family.

An additional informative link:

https://www.researchingww1.co.uk/ww1-wound-stripes

A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One.

A policeman’s lot is not a happy one. When constabulary duty’s to be done, to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one, happy one. [1]

 

Francis Bulford (Front row, 2nd from the left) With Newquay, Cornwall Division 1929/30

(I can’t help but notice their enormous feet!)

My Grampy, Francis Bulford, was born in Devonport, Devon, England on 28th October 1884.

In 1905, he was a 20-year-old seaman in the Royal Navy when he decided to join the Cornwall Constabulary, and on the 1st November 1906, he was appointed to the force as Police Constable number 106. He retired in 1936 with 29 years of service.

After reading various newspaper clippings about the doings of my Grampy, I thought of the above verses by Gilbert and Sullivan as his duties were usually routine, but sometimes they were unusual, or even frightening.

His first posting was to Porthleven, a small fishing port not far from Helston. His ‘beat’ included the village streets, as well as the surrounding meadows, beaches and cliffs.

During Grampy’s time on the police force, he and his family lived at a three-bedroom rented property in a street known then as “Little Gue” at either number 14 or 15. My cousin Diane tells me her Mum (one of Grampy’s daughters) identified the building some 35 years ago. It was their home as well as the Police Station and the two small windows at street level were then barred.

This was where the cells were. The property is still standing, and the photo shows the modern window frames.

The house in Little Gue Street

Diane also told me about a time early on in his career when he was tied to a rope around his waist and was lowered down the cliffs to bring up a dead body at a place called Hell’s Mouth, on the north cliffs of Cornwall. Even the name sounds frightening.

It was Monday evening, January 1916 and Constable Bulford was doing his ’rounds’ at 10:30 pm when he happened upon a dead body, washed ashore on the rocks at Breageside, Porthleven.

Porthleven 1906

When PC Bulford was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Cornishman, a month later, he described the bodies as follows: [2]

The first body found was a big body, about 6′ 6″ stoutly built, badly cut upon the rocks with no clothing and decomposed, and headless. PC Bulford sent for a stretcher and the local doctor, Dr Spaight.

The next day, Tuesday, at about 9:30 a.m., a second body was found by PC Bulford on the Sithney side of Porthleven. This body was about 5 feet in height, slightly built, with no identifying marks except cuts from the rocks, decomposed, nude and again headless.

The local doctor examined the bodies, but there was no possibility of identifying them or finding the cause of death.

The newspaper suggested that these were two of the crew of the SS Heidrun, a Norwegian collier ship that had departed from Swansea, Wales with coal for Rouen, France. It was wrecked on December 27th, 1915, four miles off of Mullion, with the loss of all 16 hands.

The crew members whose bodies were found are buried at Church Cove, The Lizard Landewednack, Helston, Cornwall. The church overlooks the English Channel, so it seems this was a fitting resting place for these sailors.

Headstone for the crew of the SS Heidrun

(Photo Credit: https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?181509)

Sources:

[1] https://www.gsarchive.net/pirates/web_op/pirates24.htm Opera, The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan

[2] “The Cornishman” 27th January 1916. Newspaper cutting in the Bulford Family archives

Notes of interest about Porthleven, Cornwall England.

Porthleven was the home town of the ‘Dambusters’ Commanding Officer Guy Gibson, and there is a road named in his memory.

http://www.helstonhistory.co.uk/local-people/wg-cdr-guy-gibson-raf-vc/

It is a town, civil parish and fishing port near Helston in Cornwall and was originally developed as a harbour of refuge when this part of the Cornish coastline was recognised as a black spot for wrecks in the days of sail.

Porthleven has exploited its location and exposure to powerful swells to become one of the best-known and highly regarded surfing spots in Britain and has been described as “Cornwall’s best reef break”. Waves often exceeding 6.6 feet (2.0 m), break on the shallow reef that was shaped by blasting the harbour. Kayaking is also popular. RNLI lifeguards patrol the beach during the holiday season. The beach is separated from the harbour by a granite pier, which stands in front of the Porthleven institute and clock tower. When the tide is out it is possible to walk east along Porthleven beach for approximately three miles.

Read more about this wonderful part of Cornwall, England here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porthleven

Two previous stories about my Grampy and his police adventures in Porthleven can be found here;

https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/10/10/all-in-a-days-work/

https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/12/12/plucky-police-constable/

DEAR MIS BULFORD – PART FOUR

RAF Upavon Crest

In the first three parts below, of “Dear Miss Bulford” I describe my [1] entry into the WRAF – Women’s Royal Air Force, [2] the basic training [3] posting to a trade training camp, and this part four, my first posting as a trained Medical Assistant.

  1.   https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/

2.   https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/22/dear-miss-bulford-part-two/

3.  https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/29/__trashed-4/

Arriving in Salisbury, Wiltshire by train, I made my way to the bus station. wearing my ‘best blue’ uniform.  As I was searching for the camp bus,  two army men also in uniform approached me, and asked if I was going to RAF Upavon? [1] I said yes, so they offered me a lift in their car. They were stationed a few miles from RAF Upavon, at the Larkhill Army Garrison.  I accepted their offer. Something I now think was not too wise, but it was the 1960’s. However, they were very polite and pleasant and I enjoyed the ride to the camp. They said they often came to our mess to dance and drink so I would see them in the future,  which I did.

Arriving at RAF Upavon the Duty Officer at the main gate, directed me to the arrival office where I waited for someone to take me to my new quarters. RAF Upavon was small compared to my last posting. Only one block for the WRAF and one for the men,  each side of a parade square. From the window of my new single room-  wow! this was great- I could spot the mess hall.

The sergeant of our block, two-storied as usual but only three or four to a room, came and introduced herself, and offered to take me to the mess for tea. On the way, she told me about the SSQ (Station Sick Quarters)  I would be working at and who made up the staff. There was a  civilian Doctor, who drove up from the Upavon village each day,  a Sergeant, two Senior Aircraft men, and a civilian nurse who was retiring. I was to take her place.

Next morning, dressed in my nurses uniform, I nervously made my way to the SSQ. I met the civilian nurse, Mrs Bowes who showed me her routine. Unlike her, I would be ‘on-call’ a shared duty with everyone else in the SSQ.  (Which was why I had the enviable single room!).

Me at RAF Upavon SSQ

A few months after I arrived I went to the weekly ‘hop’ a Saturday night dance drinks and general fun. There, I met John, who had only just arrived on camp himself. He was an admin assistant and worked in the HQ (Headquarters) for Sir Thomas Prickett, RAF Upavon’s Commanding Officer. He walked me back to my barracks and we arranged to meet at breakfast in the mess, the next morning. We spent the weekend together, getting to know one another walking around the camp and talking about our lives so far.

Saturday night dance. John on the far left, shortly after we met, with SSQ staff Dave and Mick, and me.

On Monday morning, when I went to the waiting room, there sat John! In he went in to see the Doctor. When he came out, his medical notes said ‘Mononucleosis’ (otherwise known as the kissing disease!). We sent him to sickbay and put him on antibiotics. The male nursing assistant stayed the night with him.

After one night in sickbay, John had not improved and now had a high temperature, so he was sent to the RAF Wroughton Hospital [2] by ambulance.  I accompanied him on the ambulance trip. I told him he would be spending time in isolation at the hospital but that we could meet again when he got back to camp. We had a date that night!

Seven days later he returned to RAF Upavon and we resumed our getting to know each other routine.  We would see each other at breakfast, lunch and tea, so we got to know each other pretty quickly and very well. We would take the bus to Salisbury on Saturdays to shop and come back in time for the Saturday dance.  We babysat for the local personnel on the camp and spent our days off, together. We took leave and went to my home to visit my parents and up to Liverpool where John was born to meet his Mum.

One year later, on the anniversary of the day we met, March 2nd 1965, we got married. in Plymouth Devon. John’s Commanding Officer, Sir Thomas Prickett sent us a Congratulatory Telegram, as was usual in the days of snail mail and telephones.

Wedding Day 2 March 1968

Telegram from John’s Officer In Command,  Air Marshall Sir Thomas Prickett and Lady Prickett.

After our marriage, I stayed on in the WRAF and RAF Upavon. After all, what was I going to do in the middle of Salisbury Plain for a job? Besides, I was enjoying my life at RAF Upavon. Here, I was photographed demonstrating a new lightweight stretcher for the RAF Magazine – so light even a woman could lift it!

It was considered very unusual for me to continue in the WRAF, as most girls got married to ‘escape’ the WRAF.  However, I loved it so we applied for married quarters, completely forgetting that John was not 21 years of age yet, so he was not eligible!  Whilst I was certainly eligible being a little older than John,  nobody had ever experienced a married 22-year-old WRAF applying for married quarters before, so my request was denied. We just took in  our stride, but today I would have strongly questioned it.

So, for a few months, we lived on camp in our separate barracks and looked around for a place to rent close by. We were lucky to find ‘Dairy Cottage’ an early 19th century run-down, thatched cottage but rental affordable in the village of Upavon, just a bus ride from the camp. We lived there, for 18 happy months. We did some house painting and a few repairs on the inside. There were pheasants and various birds in the overgrown garden and we had get-togethers with our friends.

Our first home together, Dairy Cottage

The SSQ I was posted to was small and intimate and I quickly learned the routine. The staff were very helpful. I soon realised that I was the only female nurse at the camp. Soon, everyone called me Florence, as in Florence Nightingale! I was flattered. As the SSQ was right in the middle of Salisbury Plain, I was not too thrilled as I am a city girl and this place was very ‘country’.  Still, I made some great friends and soon settled in.

We treated the RAF personnel on camp and the civilians from the Village and so the daily ‘surgery’ was usually full.  We did all the necessary vaccinations for overseas postings and dealt with minor sicknesses. We took and developed x-rays and had our own dispensary, where we dispensed medicines and pills. We had a four-bed ‘sick bay’ for things like flu or contractible diseases. The RAF Hospital Wroughton was an ambulance ride away for more serious problems.

One night I was on ‘call’ and my first problem was at 9 pm. The Duty Officer called to alert me to the fact two Army men were at the guardroom, injured. I opened up the SSQ and waited for them. Both men had injuries. They had been on night manoeuvres and had fallen in the dark.  They undressed and I examined them. One had difficulty breathing so I diagnosed a fractured rib. The other man had the same problem but head scratches and a bloody nose.

As I was dressing their wounds and binding their ribs two more men showed up! At that point, I called the other two medics on camp with an urgent tannoy (public address system) message and they also arrived to assist me.  We sent them by ambulance to RAF Wroughton Hospital.

After our marriage,  John decided to change trades and become an Air Cartographer, so he was posted to RAF Northolt to learn his trade.  I tried for a posting there, but no luck. However, I did get a posting to RAF Uxbridge in the SSQ in the same area. So here we were, John at RAF Northolt and me at RAF Uxbridge! Once again we hunted for accommodation and a few months later, found a bed-sitter in Uxbridge for rent. Now, John was ‘of age’ for married quarters and entitled to payment of the rent until we could get a married quarter home at RAF Northolt. I finished my 6 happy, enjoyable years in the WRAF and found a job at a doctors office in the area until I became pregnant with the birth of our first son. This year we have been married 52 years.

Post Script:  When I told my family where I was to be posted, my Gramps told me, that in WW1, he had been at RAF Upavon for his training as an air gunner. However, HE was –  in his own words – ‘under canvas’ What a coincidence!

[1] A Short History of RAF Upavon 

The station motto was In Principio Et Semper, and translated from Latin means “In the Beginning and Always”. The station crest had a pterodactyl rising from rocks, which symbolised the station’s connection with the early days of flying, and was also a reference to the location of the station near to the ancient monument Stonehenge.

Smaller camps such as these were fully functioning  RAF Stations with small Medical Centres and a few beds plus an RAF Hospital nearby in case of emergencies. The nearest hospital to RAF Upavon was RAF Wroughton a Royal Air Force airfield near Wroughton, in Wiltshire, England, about 4 miles south of Swindon.

RAF stations in post-war England were many, and quite historical as most were built in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, most of them, have now closed or like my posting to RAF Upavon, taken over by the Army.  The station opened in 1912 and closed in 1993 when it transferred to the British Army and became known as Trenchard Lines.

[2] A Short History of RAF Wroughton

RAF Hospital Wroughton was part of the station and stood near the eastern boundary of the site, about 1 12 miles (2.4 km) west of Chiseldon. The RAF General Hospital (as it was known) opened on 14 June 1941 and by the end of March 1944, its bed capacity was 1,000. Wroughton continued as a General Hospital treating military patients, and from 1958 took NHS (National Health Service) cases as well to relieve backlogs in the Swindon area.  Following a visit to the hospital by  Princess Alexandra on 4 July 1967, the Queen conferred the prefix “Princess Alexandra’s” on the hospital on 4 October 1967.

The hospital was the primary destination for returning casualties of the Falklands War in 1982. When the hostages from Beirut were released in August 1991, Wing Commander Gordon Turnbull, a psychiatrist based at Wroughton, with his team, debriefed John McCarthy, Terry Waite and Jackie Mann and provided the counselling necessary to ease them back into freedom.  The hospital closed on 31 March 1996 as part of the Conservative Government’s defence cuts at the end of the cold war. The hospital was demolished in 2004 and the site, called Alexandra Park, used for housing and a conference centre; a memorial commemorates the former hospital.

How to Find Protestant Abjurations in Quebec

Over the past several years, I have posted several articles about the Huguenots, or French Protestants, who came to New France. Once here, many of them signed abjurations, or declarations in which they renounced their faith, and they became Catholic.

The act of ‘’abjuration’’ was the first step to be taken by a Protestant individual. The second step was an act of ‘’confirmation,’’ conducted by a Catholic priest at a local or regional parish or at a regional convent. Guy Perron in his superb blog refers to this subject as Confirmations.

Recently, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) has replaced its online research tool Pistard with a much better search engine, Advitam, https://advitam.banq.qc.ca/ and this has made the task of finding these abjurations and confirmations much easier. The first six entries in the attached research guide were obtained by using Advitam.  See https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/19/banq-advitam/

Through BAnQ Advitam, BAnQ Numérique or BAnQ Ask a Question/BAnQ Poser une question, you can obtain an online download for free within days simply by searching for the ‘’cote #’’ (Shelf # at BAnQ) and an approximate date of an event.

The nine-page research guide attached here   Abjurations in New France   includes links to registers of abjuration, to the bulletin of the historical society of French-speaking Protestants of Quebec, to Guy Perron’s excellent blog, and to a list of books and articles on the subject.

Over the last few years, Genealogy Ensemble has posted three listings of Huguenot Family Names of New France and Quebec. The links to these lists are at the end of the PDF.

  • Huguenot family names listed by the Huguenot Trails periodical of the Huguenot Society of Canada prior to 2002.
  • Huguenot family names issued by Michel Barbeau, a retired genealogist. (Michel Barbeau’s work is highly precise but is a short list in comparison to other sources.)
  • Huguenot family names compiled by myself from books, essays, papers issued over four centuries by leading historians, academics, archivists, authors, librarians in Canada and in France.

This last list was compiled from books stored at the Collection nationale within the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal, books and dossiers at BAnQ Vieux-Montréal and books which can be researched online at BAnQ Numérique and through various online sociétés savantes (literary societies) and finally from the online pages of Fichier Origine (www.fichierorigine.com.)

Over the past few years, I have posted a series of research guides to finding Protestants in France. Here are links to my articles about the Protestants who came to Quebec:

Huguenot Refugees, April 2, 2014, https://genealogyensemble.com/2014/04/02/huguenot-refugees/

The Trail of the Huguenots in Europe, the U.S.A. and Canada, April 4, 2014, https://genealogyensemble.com/2014/04/04/the-trail-of-the-huguenots-in-europe-the-u-s-a-and-canada/

Register of Abjurations, Feb, 3, 2015, https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/02/03/register-of-abjurations/

Huguenots – Index of Names, March 6, 2015, https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/03/06/848/

The Protestant Churches of Quebec City, 1629-1759, Feb. 3, 2019,   https://genealogyensemble.com/2019/02/03/the-protestant-churches-of-quebec-city-1629-1759/

The merchants and Fur Traders of New France, part 2, H-Z, May 10, 2019, https://genealogyensemble.com/2019/05/10/the-merchants-and-fur-traders-of-new-france-part-2-h-to-z/

Protestants in Quebec, Dec. 22, 2019, https://genealogyensemble.com/2019/12/22/protestants-in-quebec/

Also of interest: Marian Bulford’s articles about the Huguenots who immigrated to England. After the British Conquest of 1759 at the Plains of Abraham, British Governors James Murray, Guy Carleton, Frederick Haldimand, Lord Dorchester (Carlton) appointed chief justices, judges and a few lieutenant-governors and senior military officers who were at ease in the French language and all of the above were descendants of Huguenot families who had settled in the London region and also in Northern Ireland. These Huguenot administrators and military officers under Murray, Carleton, Haldimand, Dorchester attended the same churches mentioned by Marian.

Marian Bulford, Huguenot of England, Part 1, April 25, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/04/25/the-huguenot-of-england-part-1/

Marian Bulford, Huguenot of England, Part 2, June 15, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/06/15/the-huguenot-of-england-part-2/

For help finding Protestant families s in France in the 16th and 17th centuries, see my series of regional research guides, posted on Genealogy Ensemble in 2019-2020, as well as:

How to Search for Huguenot Ancestors in France, May 20, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/20/how-to-search-for-huguenot-ancestors-in-france/

Huguenot Family Lineage Searches, June 3, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/06/03/huguenot-family-lineage-searches/

Researching Your French Ancestors Online, May 13, 2018, (the attached updated PDF describes how to research in the Archives départementales de France, the country’s 95 regional archives)  https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/13/researching-your-french-ancestors-online/

 

 

 

The Family Genealogist

 

letterpic

The truth is, family genealogists haven’t changed that much over the years. They are still the one in the family with time on their hands and the fierce determination to stick with it through all the brick walls and misinformation and family myth muddles. They still wonder, when all is said and done, if anyone in the future will value their hard work.

Well, I think future generations will care and something happened to me lately to prove it:

The evidence comes in the form of a letter dated only March 3rd, but I know it must be from the 1970’s. It is from a certain Isabel to a Muriel. The type-written missive appears to be the last in a series on the subject of creating a family tree– and, without ceremony, after the “Dear Muriel” salutation, the letter gets right to the point.

“I have found two omissions, Jean Pepler, how could I miss her? and Jean McLeah. I have made Jean Pepler 84a as I found it after I had put in the numbers.”

Jean Pepler is my husband’s great grandmother’s niece. I know this from a family tree I once had on hand, the McLeod Family Tree, and more particularly from about 300 family letters from the 1908-1913 period, letters I long ago transcribed and published in an online book, A FAMILY IN CRISIS.

But, until recently, when I received this 50 year old note, I did not know anything about Isabel or Muriel

Isabel, the genealogist of the letter, discovers another error. “I just found another error in these family notes. The Millers have two daughters. I forgot Annie…I’ll have to correct it before I send it.”

Yes, like all genealogists, past and present, Isabel has poured a lot of energy into her family project and after she’s typed out the family tree, just when she thinks she’s finished, she finds some errors!

Not wanting to retype the whole tree chart, Isabel merely creates an in-between number for Jean Pepler, an esteemed Quebec educator, to use on the summary list at the of her document.

This wonderful letter was sent to me by my husband’s cousin, Debbi who still lives in Quebec. We didn’t know about Debbi either, not before then.

You see, when my husband got his DNA done a few years ago on Ancestry, he immediately discovered two first cousins (whom he knew very well) and a third cousin, Jean, he didn’t know at all.

He assumed this person was a third cousin because he shared 60 centimorgans of DNA with her, the average amount for third cousins. I contacted the woman to confirm the exact relationship.

My husband and Jean were second cousins once removed, related through my husband’s two times great grandparents John McLeod and Sara Maclean of Uig Carnish, Isle of Lewis Scotland. My husband’s great grandmother, Margaret Nicholson and Jean’s grandmother, Isabella Hill, were sisters living around the corner from each other in Richmond, Quebec in early 1900.

mcleod

John McLeod of Uig Carnish Isle of Lewis, Scotland (Crayon Drawing) and his wife Sarah McLean McLeod, tintype.

These days, due to the Coronavirus, Jean is hunkering down with her daughter, Debbi, and they are passing the time exploring genealogy. Debbi saw my years old note on Ancestry.

“ I’m the one who is most interested in family,” Debbi wrote me. “Can you tell me more?”

So, I sent Debbi my compilation of Nicholson Family Letters that contain numerous mentions of Clayton and Isabella Hill. Clayton was a prosperous stone mason in Richmond who lived in a big house on ritzy College Street. Their son, Stanley, is Jean’s father. Their daughter Isabel (Hill Knott) is Jean’s aunt and Muriel (the letter’s recipient) is Jean’s mother, Stanley’s wife.

Isabel and Muriel were sisters-in-law.

Floraa

Flora Nicholson (1895-1978) my husband’s great aunt, with Stanley Hill and future family genealogist Isabel Hill Knott circa 1906

“Were there any other siblings in the McLeod Richmond family?” Debbi enquired of me. “ I’ve heard of Dan and Flora. Maybe a Mary-Jane, too?”

“I think I remember Mary-Jane from the letters, “ I replied. “ There was also a Christie in Illinois and a Sarah in Sarnia. But, I can’t remember any other siblings.”

I then explained to her that I once in my possession a McLeod family genealogy, neatly tied with shoelaces in a sturdy flip-board cover, but I’ve since misplaced it. Sad!

But, only a few days later, checking out some stored data on some random memory sticks, I stumbled upon some gifs of that same McLeod genealogy. (And, yes, we had missed some siblings!)

I emailed the gifs off to Debbi and that’s when she emailed me back a scan of her Great Aunt Isabel’s March 3rd letter from the 1970’s.

“As you can see, it’s the same genealogy. Jean Pepler is there at 84a!” Debbi wrote in the email.

What a serendipitous string of events had to unfold to marry these two documents, once again, almost half a century later!

 

peppler

Isabel’s Pepler page with new info added by a relation.

Today, with electronic communications, genealogists have so many tools at their disposal it is simply dizzying. Isabel’s letter reminds us that in the good old days it could take years and years of correspondence by mail or telephone to build a family tree – and typing it out before the age of White Out and word processors was an especially arduous task.

Isabel did, indeed, take a long, long time researching the tree:

“You should see my desk in the kitchen. At least now I can clean it up, getting rid of all the bits of notes I have gathered over the years.”

Isabel says that she spent three weeks at her kitchen table to type out the seven page genealogy.

“As this is all I have done for the past three weeks, I have no news….This has been hard work and has taken a lot of time but that is something I have plenty of.”

Isabel wasn’t sure, in the end, if she had done a good enough job:

“I find it hard to put in any notes for the younger members. There lives are still in the process of developing, but they can fill in what they find important. There might be even more births.”

And like many genealogists, then and now, she wondered if it was all worth the effort.

“What a job! Probably nobody will be interested because we have to accept that the world has changed.”

Well, it was worth the time and effort, Isabel, I can tell you that. Fifty years later many of us still do care. So, thank you for all the hard work you put into piecing together your (well, our) family tree.

 

 

 

 

DEAR MISS BULFORD – PART TWO

DEAR MISS BULFORD –  PART TWO

With much excitement, my first posting after basic training was to  RAF Halton near Wendover, Buckinghamshire, the trade training school, called the ‘Medical Training Establishment’ where I would start my training as a Nursing Assistant.  I was now known as “J2844104 LAC Bulford” (Leading Aircraft Woman) and would answer a question put to me with the following,  ‘104 LAC Bulford, Ma’am”.  In 1966  when I was 20 years old, and other girls my age were enjoying ‘Swinging London’ and pop groups, I was marching, shining shoes and making bed with perfect ‘hospital’ corners.

RAF Halton Medical Training Establishment Crest

The camp I arrived at was enormous. In addition to the Medical Training Establishment (MTE) where I would do my training, RAF Halton also had on its property the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital, the RAF Institute of Pathology and Tropical Medicine and the Dental Training Establishment, in addition, hundreds of apprentices or ‘boy’ entrants attending the No. 1 School of Technical Training learning to be aircraft technicians, electrical engineering and administration trades.

The handbook below has the crests for these various schools on the cover.  ‘Main Camp’ was where I signed in and then directed to ‘Hospital Camp’ and given an arrival information book (below) with a large map attached to find my way.

After a very long walk to my barracks,  I found the two-story red brick building named ‘Paine Barracks’.  My shared room was on the second floor and again, a long bright room with 14 beds seven on each side. The number of girls who intermittently arrived from all parts of England were all strangers to each other. They were pleasant and chatty, and, after introductions and a sizing up of one another, we started to exchange ideas about what the next stage of our life would be like.

Most of us seemed to be of the same idea;  we came from similar backgrounds after all.  We had left school at 15 years old and wanted to see life and get more education before settling down.   A Corporal arrived to show us the way to our mess hall on the main camp and we all set out for our tea.  Once more, I found the food to be very good, I suppose it does not say a lot about meals at home!   We still had to clean the large dormitory we all slept in, the bathrooms and our uniforms and shoes, but inspections were only once a month and not quite so stringent.

The following day started the next phase of my learning.   We were known as “Course 642, Medical Training Establishment”  We attended the classes every day, once again, marching to and from them.  Our tutor,  Sergeant Constantine,  (Sarge) and various other tutors were assigned different subjects but Sergeant Constantine was our main man.

Sarge taught us anatomy and physiology, first aid, infectious nursing surgical techniques removal of sutures, transfusions,  infusions vaccinations and general examinations. We learned about the body systems, body cells tissues then bones and the skull. Plus, types of wounds the composition of plasma and blood and platelets and the heart and other tutors taught us everything needed to take care of patients, such as care of their body, hair, teeth, intake of food and their general comfort.

With much hilarity, we practised giving each other first-aid, bed baths, and shampooing each others’ hair. Then fittingly,  ‘Last Offices’ were shown and practised. ‘Last Offices’ the laying out and preparation and treatment of the dead. I actually found this very interesting and enlightening, probably because my Granny whom I lived with for a few years had in a no-nonsense way had introduced me to death at a very early age. [2]

We went to the hospital wards a few times a week, to be bullied by the ‘Sisters’ – Princess Mary’s Nursing Sisters were Registered Nurses and officers  – but did they ever teach us well!

In England, in the RAF  all the Senior registered nurses were addressed as ‘Sister’. Not in a religious way, but as a formal address. In civilian hospitals, she would have been called  ‘Matron’ [1]

With our other tutors, we had to learn ‘Passive Defence’  the definition of which is ‘Any action which will reduce the effect of a nuclear biological or chemical attack’  We went into great detail about symptoms and proper treatments.  (Should we be so lucky to survive such attacks!) This was something I had never even thought about, but we still managed to fill whole exercise books of information and treatments and I found this quite scary.

One day, we were taken out to a huge field with bunkers which we were herded into. Once inside this bunker, we were told to take down a gas mask off the wall and put it on.  Sgt. Constantine then set alight a gas bomb. We were ordered to remove the gas mask hold our breath then  – Sgt. Constantine was with us –  walk in a circle three times, before exiting the door.  We did so, but not before some girls were shrieking with fear and crying to be let out! When we eventually stumbled out gasping some of the girls vomiting and with tears falling down our faces we were told this ‘exercise’ was to alert us to a gas attack. Very enlightening. These exercises, we were told, was because should such an event take place, the military would be called upon to assist civilians.

We were taught how to sterilise, prepare and layout numerous treatment trays and instruments everything in those days being metal. In a military hospital, we had reams of RAF forms to learn and ‘civilian’ forms too. Admissions were different for each. We had something called the duties of a ‘Crash Orderly’ Actions to be taken after a military of civilian plane crash, shown in my notebook, below.

I particularly like “Kettle is put on for tea” The panacea of British life!

Many studies for the general care of a patient were performed, and one day, in class, we had a ‘mock’ plane crash alarm in the woods although, at the time, we did not know it was a ‘mock’ It was very frightening and realistic.  Everything we did was recorded in our study books, which I still have. I rooted them out to write this story and I enjoyed reading and reminiscing.  Everything we did I now realise, was extremely thorough, which I will explore in part three.

NOTES

[1] The word “matron” is derived from the Latin for “mother”, via French.  The matron was once the most senior nurse in a hospital in the  United Kingdom before ca. 1972. She was responsible for all the nurses and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital. Matrons were almost invariably female—male nurses were not at all common, especially in senior positions. They were often seen as fearsome administrators but were respected by nurses and doctors alike.

The matron usually had a very distinctive uniform, with a dark blue dress (although often of a slightly different colour from those worn by her direct subordinates, the sisters) and an elaborate headdress.

More recently, the British Government announced the return of the matron to the NHS, (National Health Services) electing to call this new breed of nurses “modern matrons,” in response to various press complaints of dirty, ineffective hospitals with poorly disciplined staff.

Dear Miss Bulford – Part One Basic Training

https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/#like-6570

My Brothers’ Keeper – An Early Introduction To Death

https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/01/14/my-brothers-keeper/

My Grandfather, North Yorkshire and Discobulus

VenusandAdonis

Venus and Adonis by Titian. This Renaissance painting is now at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles but it once graced the Hall of Duncombe Park in Helmsley, North Yorkshire. I know this because of a precious little volume from 1829 I found on archive.org, A Description of Duncombe Park, Rivalx Abbey and Helmsley Castle.

As it happens, my father’s  paternal ancestors are from Helmsley, today a picturesque market and tourist town on the River Pye in the Ryedale District.

helmsley

Duncombe Park  was once an imposing structure in the Doric style built in 1718 overlooking Helmsley Castle not far from Thirsk where the vet who inspired All Creatures Great and Small worked. It was the seat of the Earls of Feversham.

My grandfather, Robert Nixon (1890-1967), was born to Robert Nixon Sr. and Mary-Ellen Richardson.

helmsleynixonhouse

This stretch of very unimposing row houses is where the Nixons lived in 1911, according to the UK Census.

abbott'swellcottge

Mary-Ellen was from nearby Rievaulx, a village famous for its cathedral ruins. She was born in this quaint cottage, Abbot’s Well. Her dad was a tailor.

RobertCENSUS

According to this census, Robert Nixon Sr. was a delver in a quarry in Rievaulx in 1911.

The same census page says my grandfather, Robert Jr.  21,  was a footman, likely at Duncombe Park. Robert was a strapping 6 foot 4 inches tall. The gentry liked their footmen to be fine physical specimens, but this was not always a good thing if Nixon family lore can be counted upon.

According to an English ‘auntie’ of my  father’s, the daughter of ‘the local earl’ went ga-ga for young Robert back in the day, so the love-struck girl’s powerful father sent him away, far away to Malaya.

I have no picture of Robert, but I recall seeing one decades ago and he looked like my dad, Peter.  So here’s a picture of Peter in 1958 holding our new puppy, Spotty, a coonhound. My father was also 6 foot four inches tall.

father

This myth might be true, as employment in Malaya was only offered to young men from well-off families, not delver’s sons.

I see that the sitting Earl of Feversham had four daughters, but they were much too old for Robert. Maybe it was Feversham’s granddaughter who fell in love with my strapping grandfather. I hope so, because I like this family myth. This is a Vanity Fair pic of the Earl from Wikipedia.

Lord Feversham 1829-1915

According to travel records, my grandfather, Robert took a boat to Malaya (willingly or unwillingly) in 1912 to work at Batu Caves Estate in Selangor, just outside of Kuala Lumpur.

He returned to England after WWI to marry my grandmother, Dorothy Forster, from County Durham, whose father was an itinerant Primitive Methodist preacher posted in Helmsley between 1912 and 1914.

MRsDOROTHYNIXON

Dorothy followed him to Malaya in December, 1921 and my dad was born ten months later on October 24.  Robert later became Manager of the estate. Both my grandfather and grandmother were interned at Changi Prison during WWII.

According to the 1829 book, Duncombe Park was  home to a treasure trove of classical paintings, among them the Titian shown at top, but also a Da Vinci, a Reubens, a Rembrandt  as well as Discobulus, described as ‘the finest statue in England.’

My grandfather never did get to see these great works of art in person because most were burned in a fire in 1879.  Back then, some of these paintings were worth five thousand pounds.

The Discobulus and the DaVinci work were lost in the fire but Titian’s Venus and Adonis was saved to eventually find its way to California and the Getty Museum.

Duncombe was rebuilt in the Baroque Italianate style and used as a backdrop to the 2012 British mini-series Parade’s End, with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I love that mini-series, so it is all very appropriate.

Duncombe

Dunscombepark1

A Trip to England in 1842

When Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) and his father, Stanley Bagg, of Montreal, visited England in 1842, they were combining business and pleasure. The business involved selling property that SCB’s maternal grandfather had owned in Durham, England, and the pleasure involved a whirlwind tour of London, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as visits with various great-aunts and great-uncles who still lived in England.

It was a good time for a trip: SCB had just finished a four-year apprenticeship with a notary and could now practice as a notary himself. It made sense to travel before he opened his own office.

A few months after his return to Montreal, SCB wrote to his cousin in Philadelphia, outlining the trip. Unfortunately, he did not include any details or impressions of their adventures, but the list of places they visited sounds exhausting. Passenger rail services were expanding in England at the time, but much of their travel would have been done by horse-drawn coach.

Crossing the Atlantic, however, was fast. The age of the trans-Atlantic steamship had arrived in the 1830s, and SCB wrote, “We made the passage to Liverpool from Halifax in the incredible short space of nine days and six hours, which was I believe the shortest passage ever made across the Atlantic. From Liverpool we went to London, thence to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, York Darlington, Durham, Stockton, Sunderland, Newcastle, Shields, Tynemouth, Otterburn …. ”1

As they moved north to Scotland, they passed though many small towns, including Lesmahagow, and they explored both Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the way back to London, they stopped in Carlisle, in the north of England.

After a few days in London, they crossed the Channel to France, where they visited Boulogne, Paris, Versailles, Le Havre and several other spots before returning to London. SCB wrote, “We left London shortly afterwards for Ireland, and having visited Kingstown, Dublin and Kilmainham, returned to Liverpool, where … we embarked on board a steamship and after a boisterous passage of 14 days arrived at Boston exceedingly gratified with our tour.”2

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral (jh photo)

Anchor-maker William Mitcheson, brother of SCB’s grandmother Mary Mitcheson Clark, lived in London, and the Baggs visited him there. While in County Durham, they visited more Mitcheson relations, including Mrs. Dodd (Mary Mitcheson’s sister Margaret) near Ryton, and Mrs. Maugham (Mary’s sister Elizabeth) at Sunderland.

It is clear that the visit to Durham was the highlight of the trip, but not because of the business they finalized there. In fact, SCB did not mention it at all in his letter. When SCB turned 21 in December, 1841, he gained control over the properties in Montreal and Durham that he had inherited from his grandfather John Clark (1767-1827). (He was just 14 when Clark died, so his father acted as executor of the estate until SCB became an adult. The property in Durham was generating rental income, but SCB wanted to sell it. In a notarized document dated after their return to Montreal, SCB’s father listed the sales of three properties in Durham.3

Meanwhile, SCB was interested in ancient legends, old coins, Norman castles and the like, and was enthralled with Durham. More than 20 years later, he presented a lecture to the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal on “The Antiquities and Legends of Durham.”4

He described the legend surrounding the founding of Durham city by 9th century monks. When Danes attacked England’s northeast coast, the monks fled their monastery on the Island of Lindisfarne with the miraculously well-preserved body of their former bishop. Eventually they built an abbey at the future site of Durham city and buried him there. Today, that bishop is remembered as Saint Cuthbert and pilgrims still visit the abbey church, Durham Cathedral.

In his 1866 lecture to the Numismatic Society, SCB opened up about his feelings on the trip. He recalled, “The first time I had the privilege of attending a divine service in Durham Abbey, I was enraptured with the sweet and masterly chanting, unsurpassed in the empire. My father and I obtained seats in the choir. The service was exceedingly impressive, so much so, that …. whenever the portion of the Psalter chanted upon that occasion recurs in the services of the church, it carries me back in imagination to the first service I attended in the venerable abbey of my mother’s native city.”4

This article was also published on Writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “A Freehold Estate in Durham,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 3, 2019 http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2019/05/a-freehold-estate-in-durham_92.html

Janice Hamilton, “Mary Mitcheson Clark,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 16, 2014, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2014/05/mary-mitcheson-clark.html

Janice Hamilton, “Mary Ann (Clark) Bagg,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Nov. 29, 2013,   http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2013/11/mary-ann-clark-bagg.html

Janice Hamilton, “The Mitcheson Family of Limehouse,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-mitcheson-family-of-limehouse.html

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg’s Difficulties,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 10, 2014  http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2014/01/stanley-baggs-difficulties.html

 Sources

  1. Letter from Stanley Clark Bagg to Rev. R. M. Mitcheson, Dec. 6, 1842, probably transcribed by Stanley Bagg Lindsay; Lindsay family collection.
  2. Record in a passenger list of Stanley Bagg and S.C. Bagg travelling from Liverpool to Boston aboard the Acadia. Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts, Monday, Sept. 19, 1842, issue 1921;) 19th Century Newspapers Collection, special interest databases, www.americanancestors.org (accessed April 18, 2019.)
  3. Joseph-Hilarion Jobin, “Account and mortgages from Stanley Bagg Esq to Stanley Clark Bagg,” 8 October 1842, notarial act #3537, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
  4. Stanley Clark Bagg, “The Antiquities and Legends of Durham: a Lecture before the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal,” p. 21, Montreal, 1866. https://archive.org/details/cihm_48731/page/n4 (accessed Dec. 27, 2019)

 

A Moody Chef

My Uncle was born second to the eldest daughter in a family of 11 in Cornwall, England.

My Dad never spoke of him, and I had no idea of his existence until I started to research the family tree, adding the family and my unknown Uncle.

Who was he? All I had was the fact he was born in 1909.

My parents divorced when I was seven years old, and I had no contact with Dad’s side of the family after that event. However, my cousins, whom I met about eight years ago, were none the wiser although cousin Diane did speak of a family argument and the eldest son leaving the family home never to return or to be heard of again. EVER!

It was still a shocking event in the family.

What that argument was about I will never know. Many of the other children were not even born when he left. Nobody seems to have any photographs of him, either.

After researching a few sites, I found out he was married at 21.  I cannot find any children yet, but Uncle  died on the 13th of June, 1940 at age 30.

I was shocked to find he had died so young. Immediately, because it was the beginning of WW2 in England, I assumed he died in the Blitz, as so many in that area of London had, and his death certificate states he died in Pimlico which I knew was, like many other areas of London, badly bombed.

When I retired, I took the time to find out the reason he died so young. I decided to purchase his death certificate. When it arrived, it stated he had died of coal gas poisoning.

Thinking again of the war my first thought was he had died of gas poisoning. How awful! Then common sense prevailed. Of course not! Gas poisoning only happened in WWI, so I took a few deep breaths, and re-read the death verdict.

‘Coal Gas Poisoning; Did kill himself while of unsound mind’  Certificate received from WB Purchase Coroner for the County of London. Inquest held 17th June 1940.

Ah, so he had actually gassed himself poor Uncle! What on earth made him do it?

Gas was and still is, a common source of heat in England. Most homes including ours had gas fires. The gas then was coal gas, a very dangerous substance. You turned the tap on let the gas flow, and then lit it whereupon there was a loud POP! My Mum was always nervous about lighting it.

You had to be very careful that the fire, when the gas ran out, was turned off before you ‘fed’ the gas meter with shillings to re-establish the gas flow. Otherwise, you had odourless colourless gas flowing into your home and not realising it. Once a month the ‘gas man’ would arrive open and empty the meter and count the coins at the kitchen table. Depending on the amount of gas used, we would usually get a rebate of coins which were then fed back into the gas meter.

Photo Credit: Pat Cryer, with permission and thanks.

Committing suicide with a gas fire was easy, you just turned it on and did not light it. People accidentally died after forgetting to turn the tap of the gas flow off and feeding the meter, thus gassing themselves. Later in the 1950s a safety tap was added.

Because Uncle’s death was unusual a post mortem had to be conducted.

I reasoned that if he committed suicide, then there was a coroner’s report, which would be reported in a local newspaper. After hours of researching the newspapers of the area, I found what I was looking for.

Because this site is a subscription site, I only had access to this page and the text, so I had to re-write the copy [1]

A MOODY CHEF

A Pimlico Tragedy

The Westminster coroner (Mr. Purchase) held an inquiry at the Horseferry Road.

Coroner’s Court Monday into the death of […..]  (30) a chef, 79 Cambridge-street, Pimlico, who was found gassed there.

On Thursday morning. William McColl, 8 Rugby-street said he was a friend of the deceased. “He was in good health,” said witness. ‘and was in work. He was very moody.

Whenever I asked him what was the matter he would say’ Don’t take any take notice of me. I am a funny guy’

He had never said that would take his life and did not look the sort who might. He was in no trouble of any kind.

Faustina Alvarez. 79 Cambridge-street Pimlico said deceased had lodged there for three months.

On Wednesday night last week, he put threepence in the gas. The next morning witness’s wife got worried about him and witness went upstairs and knocked at the deceased’s door. There was no answer.

On opening the door witness saw deceased lying the floor by the gas ring.

PC. Elliott, 4138. who was called, said he saw the deceased lying on the floor with his head resting on a gas ring. He was dead.

The gas tap was turned on, but the supply had been exhausted. Dr. M. Hains, who made a postmortem examination, said the death was due to asphyxiation from coal gas poisoning.

Herbert Rehm. chairman of Rhem Brothers.Ltd., said the firm had eight licensed restaurants in London, […]  was employed at a branch at Buckingham Palace-road.

He was a very efficient employee, but very moody. The coroner said it seemed that in one of his moods, the deceased took his life. He recorded a verdict that the deceased took his life whilst of unsound mind.

When I was told by my cousin Diane, that the family never heard from him again after the death certificate arrived, I let them know of the circumstances of his death and we realised the reason nobody in the family had ever heard from him again. We cousins were sad for him.

‘Depression’ was not a word used in those days but obviously, that is what he suffered from.

One day, I hope to find if there were any children and so, like any genealogist who hits a brick wall, I keep searching.

Sources:

[1] Whether you are a researcher, historian or you simply want to know more about Britain’s history, take this opportunity to search The British Newspaper Archive – a vast treasure trove of historical newspapers from your own home.

Source: A Moody Chef | Chelsea News and General Advertiser | Friday 21 June 1940 | British Newspaper Archive

(2) Gas Meter Photographed in Blaise Castle Museum  https://www.1900s.org.uk/1940s50s-heating-gas.htm

With many thanks to Pat Cryer, whose website https://www.1900s.org.uk is a valuable source of information on the social life of wartime Britain. Pat allowed her photo of an old gas fire, similar to the one in the story, to be used. Thank you, Pat.

 

To the Lighthouse – Part 1

A fictional homage to my father – and his northern English genealogy

whitehaven to st bees cliff walk

Plaque at St. Bees (from http://josweeney.net/the-cliff-path-from-st-bees-to-whitehaven/ 7 miles to Whitehaven but this is the start of a 192 mile Coast-to-Coast walk that will take you all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay in North York.

(Sound Effects)  heavy breathing, feet pounding earth.

I am Peter N F Nixon, scholar at St. Bees Prep School in Cumberland, and I am running, running away back in time.  So stated the boss-eyed academic in the school library last evening, the guest lecturer from the Northern England Geological Society.

“If you take the coastal path,” he said, “from St Bees Head to Whitehaven Lighthouse,  it is as if you are going back in time as the youngest rocks are at Seacote. Early Triassic Age, just 250 million years old.”

Funny how I remember that. I was preoccupied with next week’s big rugby match against the tough cads from the colliery. The geordies.  The coal miners. I attended the lecture only because I knew there’d be a fire lit in the library. Although it’s my right as head prefect to sit on the radiator in my freezing dorm room (with windows always open) it is slim consolation this early in spring.  I could see my breath as I crossed the quad last night to get to the library.

Yes, funny how the geology lecture is all coming back to me as I run and run back in time along the windy coastal path to the lighthouse at Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast where the seabirds are engaged in their noisy mating rituals.

I am leading a penal drill with a few miscreant lower classmen who flung their gas-masks out the window to celebrate the war with Hitler being over.  Who told them the war was already over, just a few months after it was declared?

I am the house prefect and it is my duty to drill good sense into my younger charges’ heads by making them run long distances, whatever the season.  It’s no punishment for me – mickeying-off like this – or for most of them, to be honest. We are battle-hardened prep school pupils here at St Bees. Classes in the morning and sports in the afternoon, every day, rain or shine or snow.

We all wear short pants at St. Bees. It’s our uniform. I run and run and run in my short pants.17 years old, 6 foot 3 and a half  and still in short pants.

myfatherugby

Senior XV Rugby 1938-39. Webpage of the Old Beghian Society (see link below). My father is top row, 4th from left.  The scarf must represent his house.

I’m far ahead of the pack.  Truth be told, I am no leader of men. More of a loner at heart. So, I leave the kids to their own pace. I get no pleasure in being a prefect.  I don’t like minging on them. I don’t look for trouble or for a reason to cane.

Let’s see, what else did the lecturer say? “ North of St. Bees there are carboniferous-age coal outcrops and limestone outcrop, south of St. Bees permo-Triassic red sandstone. Moulded through the eons by glacial processes. Glacial means slow, doesn’t it?  Very slow.

I want it all to slow down. This war, despite the rumours to the contrary, is just starting. I can sense it. I am to turn 18 soon. I will have to sign up.

I am running back in time to slow things down, geologic time, historical time – but at a good clip, leaving my younger charges behind. I am one of the school’s finest middle distance runners, but the county record holder at javelin. Vice Captain of the Senior Rugby. I can swim with the best of them, but it’s golf I really enjoy, though, alone on the links of our school’s golf course.

I am running, running into the past.

The Normans, the Norse, the Anglo-Saxons, the Romans, the Briton Voltadini and the Celtic Brigantes tribes. Castles up, monasteries down, crusades to the east, crusades to the north. Saint Bega, for whom our school is named, founding the religious site about 1000 years ago by fleeing a forced marriage in Ireland. Or so the story goes.  And then 100 years later the Lord Egremont, the Norman, building the Benedictine Priory, the town parish, over it.

All around me there are fossilized strips of former medieval field systems and other remnants of the ghostly, gory, glorified past. It all weighs one down. Wouldn’t it be nice to live somewhere new with no past, no history, no weight?

If I never hear another lecture on Emperor Hadrian and his infernal wall I will be thrilled.  That meandering  Roman monument has only unfortunate connotations for me. I can still hear my grandfather, the Reverend John Forster, a self-educated farmer’s son, berating me at 6 years old for slacking on a long walk, “You are no Border Reiver, no bairn of mine if ye can’t walk the 7 miles from Brampton to the Birdoswol Roman Fort.”

Wouldn’t Gramps be surprised to see me now, one of the school’s most respected athletes, as I run and run, away, swiftly back in time with the myriad sea birds swirling over head riding the fickle coastal air currents coming off the Irish sea on the rugged, austerely beautiful coast of Cumberland, at St Bees Head?

This place is truly in my blood. I have border reiving ruffians on both sides of my family tree, my mother’s Forster and my father’s Nixon side. Brave scoundrels and fearless outlaws, they were raiders of cattle and sheep at the Scottish border in late medieval  times and beyond. Grandfather Nixon bragged about some outlaw Nixons hanged at Carlisle Castle back when he was a boy.

Geologic time, historical time, genealogical time, family memory and family myth.

It was my first week at St Bees. Mr. McFayden, the history teacher, asked me what my middle initials N.F. stand for. “Nesfield and Forster, Sir,” I replied, embarrassed to be singled out. “Ah, Nesfield, he says. “You are then descended from Dagobert, the Merovingian Prince who married Imagne de Nessfield, a Saxon landowner. By the 17th century they were living in Yorkshire. You are then related to William Andrews Nesfield  who designed the gardens at Castle Howard and Kew.”

I wrote home to my mother, in Malaya, all bristling with pride but she failed to take the bait. “Your great-grandmother, Anne Nesfield was the cook in the home of a Yorkshire solicitor, I think.”

Oh, the sin of pride.

Her father, John, socialist and pacifist – and a despiser of comfort  and weak grandchildren– taught her well.

Yes, I can see and hear the seabirds swirling and dipping overhead, over those formidable yet fragile orange sandstone cliffs, home to many colonies of breeding gulls: razorbills, cormorants, guillemonts, fullmars and kittiwakes.

It’s the start of nesting season.  I run and I am comforted by the birds’ loud squawking. I do love nature, her apparent simplicity here on the wild Cumberland coast; not like the bountiful Malayan landscape where I spent my first five years, as my father is a rubber planter, where there was so much fabulous flora and fauna to admire- and to fear – where I once confronted a leopard cat while tricycling near the tennis courts with my little sister.

St Bees. Wikipedia. Photo by Doug Sim

I am running, running back in time which is better than going forward in time.  It is May  9, 1940 and war was declared in September, 1939. The beach is cordoned off with barbed-wire. They have installed radar at the Whitehaven Lighthouse and barrage balloons in the town. I’ve lost 2 stone with the rationing.  New students from London are pouring into St Bees, because they feel it is a relatively safe place to be.  But, everyone over 18 has had to register for this war.  I turn 18 in October.

I am far ahead of the pack now and I like it that way. I am a loner at heart, not a leader of men. And I will soon have to sign up.

I really doubt the war is already over. I suspect it has just begun.

my father and denise

My father and his sister, Denise, in 1978, sent to England to go to school in 1926, as many colonial children were. She was the one who told me the story about the leopard cat.

 

PeterNixonandme

January 1954

 

To Be Continued..

To the Lighthouse Part 11

 

School boy lingo, specific to St Bees (apparently)

 

Minging: Prefect looking for trouble

Boss-eyed: cross-eyed

Mickeying off: to run away

Geordies: Miners

Cad: village boy

 

 

 

Resources :

 

http://www.st-beghian-society.co.uk/Picture%20Gallery.htm

St. Beghian Society Magazines

 

http://josweeney.net/the-cliff-path-from-st-bees-to-whitehaven/

7 Mile Walk from St. Bees to Whitehaven with many wonderful photos of the Cumbrian Coast.

 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/47/a3856647.shtml

Growing up in WWII Cumbria BBC

 

https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/29816760.pdf

William Andrews Nesfield bio

 

Border Reivers and Sir John Forster

https://wwwborderreiverstories-neblessclem.blogspot.com/

The Geologic Story of West Cumbria

http://www.westcumbriamining.com/wp-content/uploads/26-Geological-Story_C.pdf