Discoveries wanting to be found

So, here is the notoriously difficult second blog.

I thought I’d write about those times when I felt a chill up my neck whilst doing genealogy.

I’ve often wondered about why I started this hobby that, in all honesty, became an obsession. Why I stuck at it, particularly at a time when, before the advent of computers, I could achieve very little in a lot of time. The census wasn’t indexed by name, and I would have to have bought a certificate closest to the first year of the decade and hope that a search on that address in the census would be fruitful. The questions that each discovery would generate could occupy my mind throughout my whole conscious day and beyond, and I couldn’t rest until I’d discovered an answer. Sometimes that took years, and sometimes I felt like my hand was led by some spectral force guiding me to an answer when I didn’t expect it. In this digital age the discoveries continue to come, and even though I have exhausted most of my own genealogy, certainly the last six generations or so anyway, I am now getting as much satisfaction from discovering other people’s.

So, is this my doing or was I chosen to do it? Is there something external that drove me and kept pressing the accelerator so that past happenings could be aired, truths could be found and perhaps judged again, and the people allowed to not suffer that final death of being forgotten?

Most genealogists unearth a metaphorical skeleton or two, or rediscover heroes or pioneers, lovers and losers. How many of these discoveries were realised through pure chance as if your hand was held and gently guided to the correct records. Now I’m not religious, and whilst I would like to think that I’d meet all these people I have nosed into once I fall from my mortal coil, I know that the prospect is unlikely. However, I do feel a presence, and perhaps that is just in my heart, where our late loved ones dwell and I have also felt that gentle guidance to my hand or a sudden thought that yields an immediate result.

As a child I knew nothing of my father’s family; there was only him, and he didn’t seem to know a great deal himself, or certainly never spoke much of it. I’d never met his parents who had both died long before my emergence to the world. I was told his father had been killed in the Second World War and I knew his mother had died in her fifties. We had his father’s birth certificate and I knew he had been born in 1893, and it was that which made me wonder about him, and his death. He was too old to have been a soldier, sailor or pilot, and maybe he had died in the bombings of London. It was something I felt strongly that I needed to know.

Walking through the doors of St Catherine’s house, the forerunner of the Family Records Centre, I was immediately over-awed by the panoply of volumes of books. Huge books, each alphabetically and chronologically arranged in quarter years. The atmosphere in the searching rooms was quite tense, and the adeptness of some of the searchers rather impressive. Even then I could recognise whose hearts were in it and whose wallets were in it. I found it hard to take in the amount of information available. Millions of entries in thousands of books recording marriages, each holding its own untold, unique love story, and each death entry a personal and real tragedy.

I searched throughout the 1940s for the death of my Grandfather Victor without success. It had taken me several hours and after a three-hour coach journey and my first single navigation of the tube system, was quite tiring. I was certain I hadn’t missed him, but at the same time couldn’t help wondering if I had. We had always been told he was killed in the war in this country, his death must be recorded. I needed to know. But there was no time to look again.

I returned a year later, and repeated the vain search. I slogged through the 1940s, all the war records, and even into the 1950s (maybe it was a lingering injury he’d died of). Nothing. Dejected and bleary eyed I left the building out into the traffic and mayhem of Aldwych, and tried to remember which way I needed to walk for the tube. I was then suddenly seized by the notion that I couldn’t go home empty handed again. I’d come all this way again and achieved nothing. As if carried, I returned inside and walked up and down the death section with my mind in neutral. Nonchalantly I placed my hand on a random book and then moved it to two books to the right without reading the reference, year or letter on the spine, but regardless pulled out the book and looked through. To both my astonishment and my subconscious expectation, I immediately found the death entry for Victor. 1964. I would never have looked there as my parents’ marriage certificate of 1962 said he was deceased. It was undeniably the right person though and the subsequent receipt of the death certificate and a host of further enquiries, revealed the ‘Skeleton in the cupboard’ that Victor, although being my grandmother’s husband was not actually my grandfather. Victor and my grandmother had separated several years before my father was born. Several records I have found corroborate that. Not least when thirty years later I was sat at my computer, looking at the great online Newspaper archives ( http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) when I was almost shouted at inside my head to look for any articles that Victor appears in. I found him reporting a theft of a tent and that was about it. Then I thought I would just search on his two initials and surname, and bingo, there was an article of a domestic dispute and separation application between him and my grandmother; sixteen years before my father was born. Victor isn’t my grandfather but he features in my story, and I feel he helped me come to the truth. The additional side to this is that I am confident I have discovered who my biological grandfather was, and perhaps I’ll write about that journey in another blog.

Lt Lionel Clegg was a Great Uncle of mine and was killed on 22nd August 1918 whilst serving in France in the Tank Corps. In the 1990s I had absolutely no photographs of him, and I was lucky enough to find a couple of my father’s cousins who did have a couple of photographs. Armed with those images I visited the archives of The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset. There I waded through their collection of everything 7th Battalion Tank Corps. There were many photographs, and to my delight I found another one of Clegg. He had even signed it, so I know he’d actually held that photograph (such things please genealogists). Whilst I was there, the archivist handed me a book informing me that it was a contemporary work and provided a marvellous insight into conditions waging war in those first tanks. I gratefully took it. It was a first edition published in 1919 ‘The Tank in Action’ by DG Browne. I placed the book open onto the desk I was at, and the pages fell open. I immediately saw the words ‘poor Clegg’. Leafing back a few pages and reading quickly, my heart racing, I read an eye witness account of the death of my Great Uncle. How many family historians get to do that? There had been a family story that Lionel was killed by a ‘stray bullet’ and I was able to inform anyone still interested in the truth, that he had been a victim of the everyday shelling and unlucky enough for one to land at his feet as he camouflaged his tank. I often think about the way that book presented those words to me and how without that, I would probably never have found a first-hand account and discovered the truth.

Finally, in this tale of stories wanting to be discovered is one of my favourites. One of my good friends was turning fifty, a tragedy I suffered several months later, but for his birthday I decided that I would do his family history. My obsession is not really something I have shared much with my friends, and of course there can be nothing more boring than someone telling you about their own family history, and I thought that the best way to make it a topic for discussion was to do his. The trouble with this was that sadly his father had died when he was very young, and he was brought up by his mother and step-father whom he of course considered his dad. This poses a slight dilemma of inclusion to a family historian, and I decided that I would do my friend’s story, and his step-father’s and package it as an account of nature and nurture. I did my friends maternal and paternal lines, and found one or two newspaper articles, and a pub landlord or two (which made my friend happy). Content with having gone back four generations, and finding a story to tell, I set about his step-father’s. The way back was problem free and the delight of an indexed census was as usual my historical sat nav. I started to see some familiar names, and then all of a sudden, an identical name. Some rapid re-checking occurred, before I was able to be sure that my friend’s father and step-father shared the same greatx4 grandfather. They did. My friend therefore knows now that he is blood related to his step-father and step-brother. A wonderful discovery.

In looking at our histories we don’t really change anything. What has happened has happened. Some stories, though, scream out for discovery, and can enrich our present; they can offer that reminder to enjoy the time we have, and value our comfort and those with whom we are lucky enough to share our time with. How those stories are discovered however, never ceases to amaze me.

That, is the joy of genealogy.

Neil

11th December 2016

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My first blog-and a First World War photograph

I have read one or two blogs, and followed them regularly; they become rather like the modern magazine or in some cases the comic. I enjoy writing and seem to be able to communicate better in written form than I can talking.  I have often thought about writing  a blog myself, but wondered if I had anything to say that anyone would find interesting.

One of my greatest hobbies ( some might say obsession) is genealogy. I have done mine and of course continue to do so, and  have also delved into a few of my friends’ family histories. I often find myself in conversation about family history and advising other people how to do it, where they can look for things and some of the marvellously interesting things I’ve found. So of course it was not long before the thinking about what to write about, and the constant talking clumsily about genealogy merged into one thought that I could blog about genealogy. I’m sure a couple of people in the world may find it interesting from time to time; even if one of those people is me.

I am so aware also that there can be nothing more boring than someone else’s family history, so I don’t intend to write out complete chronologies or anything like that.   I thought perhaps I would concentrate upon interesting characters or family units I have encountered while meandering the various histories I have travelled. Perhaps I’ll include some amateur psychology and write about why people become obsessed with family history. Maybe also to talk about some of the walls I have stopped at and how I broke through them and by that I mean how to be creative in your searching, and when to make assumptions and when not to.  I also thought I would be guided by anybody who read this and perhaps was interested in any particular aspect of genealogy.  There are adventures to be had in this nosing into the lives of people long dead. Someone once told about the three deaths where the final death is when the last person ever talks about you. With genealogy no one ever fully dies.

Perhaps this now becomes too long but I thought with this, my first blog,  I would share an article I wrote that was subsequently published in Britain at War Magazine.  Not the actual article, as they changed it quite substantially for the format of the magazine but the story I originally wrote.  It features only one person from my family history, and is about this photograph I had looked at for some while. The story of the men I discovered is worth telling over and over.

7th-battalion

 The Photogaph’s Epilogue.

What do we see when we look at an old black and white photograph of the First World War? Maybe we give a thought to the hardship of the times, the loss of youth and needless death and destruction.  Perhaps we wonder  what they went through and how they suffered; were they scared?  Everyone of them were real, of course, they loved, laughed and lived  like us and, as a Nation, conceivably we are so much more aware of that, now they have all gone.

I often look at each face in a group photograph and wonder about them as  individuals.  Though so many perished, for every British Soldier who died, nine survived.  Survived physically, and often partially, but nevertheless went on to live a life.  We rarely are able to look at the group of men, take a collective of stories, and really understand what the photograph means; who the men were and what they became. Having stared at this particular picture of a group of men for many years, I set out to at least discover parts of their story and try to put a narrative and perspective to that moment in time.

This group of men walked from their billets to stand before the much used backdrop which was placed there in order to add a bit of culture to the reality of the old brick wall. But it really only added shades. The First World War is known to us in black and white; not how they who were there remembered it.  They  saw the war in dirty green.  Dirty green uniforms and tanks in a terrain where natural green was corrupted. Even the blood that flowed from the wounds was not red for long. The grass and hedgerows, long since dead, had laid down it’s chlorophyll in the mud.  This was a khaki war, fought by khaki men; the stumps of the trees and exposed bones of rotting corpses all joining in the monochromed vista.  We have lost little impact by not seeing this war in colour.

Their experiences had made boys grow up fast and their faces are a dishonest representation of their true youth.  Together they were bound by their shared experience and together they posed for the camera, before walking away to their own individual destiny.

Tanks were coming into their own by 1918 and this group of men must have been proud of this progress, and their families probably felt relieved at their relative safety compared to the masses in the infantry. Tanks were at last achieving credibility and the hard fought confidence of the infantry. They put terror into the hearts of the enemy, though they actually offered little protection to the men inside them. Most heavy weapons would pierce their fairly inadequate armour and their engines made harsh environments of the exhaust and petrol fume laden interior. This was the living and fighting place of the crews and  were dangerous places to be when they were shot at. Metal splinters would whizz around the already oppressive atmosphere. Then there were times when even if they thought they were winning, the unreliable engines would give up and the men would be abandoned alone, too far ahead of the infantry for help. This led to many deaths.

This photograph is of officers of the 7th Battalion The Tank Corps and was probably taken early 1918. They were survivors of Cambrai, had seen death and destruction, and  delivered it.  Survival in this war was often subject to luck; often prevented by bravery. The very square foot present in for a specific second could dictate whether you lived or died. It was a murderous war as we know. Random and murderous.  In every briefing in every war an officer must have wondered how many of the men he addressed were dead men walking and of course whether he was too. Similarly the camera recorded men whose time was running out.  How many men died before pictures were developed?

This photograph is no different. Of the five men identified,  one was to die in this war, another in the next.  They walked to the camera as a body of men united in their aim, and walked away to face their personal fate. Each had answered the call, and joined together from a different past, to share a common present, which would lead them to their diverse futures.

Five of them signed the photograph, which has made it possible to identify those men. A sixth is my Great Uncle  and it is him with whom the different stories behind this photograph can start.

Lionel Clegg is stood on the left. One of his brothers was an officer in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps, and the other was in the Navy, one other remained at home in Peckham with his four sisters and parents.  One of those sisters had recently moved back to her parents with her own two daughters, her husband having been killed in France in 1915.

Lionel’s father was an Insurance manager and had moved to London in that business from Halifax, and his mother was from Birmingham.  Lionel, having been a clerk in the same insurance company as his father then joined the navy as an Able Seaman.  He failed to obtain a commission in the Navy and applied to transfer on commission to the Army on 17th March 1916 showing his preference to be in the infantry; (I wonder had he applied after July 1916, if that would have still been his choice).  He started his Officer training in Gailes Ayreshire on 5th October 1916, and then was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Heavy) in Pirbright on 4th December 1916 for further training. He was 19 years old. A photograph taken at the time showing him wearing the Machine Gun Corps badge, reveals also the light beginnings of a moustache, which although the fashion, was probably grown in order to provide him with an older face, perhaps hoping for a little Officer credibility.  On 6th August 1917 Lionel embarked at Folkestone to Boulogne and on 25th September he was posted to G Battalion (later to become 7th much to their annoyance) of the Tank Corps and ‘sent to field’.

Stood beside Lionel is an officer who shares another two photographs with him but remains unidentified.  The man next to him is Frank Lee Waine, who was born in 1897 in Dronfield Woodhouse Derbyshire. He was one of 6 children and their father was an elementary school teacher, who quite possibly would have introduced  Frank to the discipline required to be an officer.  He too was originally commissioned into the Heavy Machine Gun Corps, and was subsequently transferred upon the birth of the Tank Corps.  On the photograph Waine displays upon his tunic the Military Cross (MC).  He was awarded this for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the battle of Cambria on 23rd November 1917.  He was ahead of the infantry clearing a large part of Bourlon Wood, but as he drove forward his tank broke down, whilst surrounded by Germans.  He held them at bay until every one of his guns had been emptied or destroyed, and did not leave his tank until it finally burst into flames, forcing him to leave and make his way to safety.

Next to Waine is Birmingham man Albert Ernest Hunt. He had been a gunner in the Machine Gun Corps earlier in the war, and was awarded his Military Medal in 1916, before transferring on a Commission to the Tank Corps.

The final man standing remains unidentified, but the identities of all those seated can be revealed.

On the left is possibly the youngest of the group, Roy Wadeson with the cheeky grin, who was born in 1898. Roy followed his two elder brothers Archie and Maurice into the Tank Corps.  Their father, a solicitor originally from London, had settled his family of 11 children from Barrow-in-Furness to Portsmouth.

The man in the middle is wearing the uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with whom he’d served before his transfer to the Tank Corps and promotion to acting Captain. Bevil Gordon D’urban Rudd had come over from South Africa before the war, having obtained a scholarship to Oxford.  His Grandfather had been the co-founder of the DeBeers Diamond Mining Company with Cecil Rhodes. The photographer shows him wearing the MC which he earned on the 20th and 21st November 1917 during the battle of Cambrai whilst commanding a section of six tanks ‘with exceptional ability’. On the first day he led his section passed the first objective, and when the infantry advance on the left had been stopped by enemy fire, he organised his tanks and pushed them forward beyond the final objective, which drew the fire and enabled the infantry to advance and consolidate.  Having helped to push the line forward more than 7000 yards,  his tanks succeeded the following day in driving the enemy back even further causing them exceptionally heavy casualties.

Sat to the right is Ernest Vincent Wright who was born 12th December 1889.  As Acting Captain he was awarded the MC when on November 20th 1917, again during Cambrai, his tank ran out of petrol, so he went forward on foot with the infantry, and assisted in the capture of the final objective.  Whilst the tanks under his command contributed substantially to the advance, Wright displayed conspicuous gallantry under fire.  He was from Kettering in Northamptonshire, and was the son of a successful boot manufacturer.

So with the Battle of Cambrai under their belt and the war largely going their way they walked away from the backdrop back to the dangerous reality of their situation. It is often the epilogue that is so interesting in historical books where we found out what happened to the key players.

Frank Waine stayed on after the Armistice and continued in the Tank Corps.  In 1919 he was serving in Finland and the Baltic States where fighting continued related to the Russian Civil War, and during that was awarded a bar to his MC for distinguished service as well as the Order of St Vladimir 4th Class with swords and Bow.  He also was shot through the ankle bringing to an end his first military career. He married Kathleen Simpson in1922 and settled in Leeds where he worked as an opencast mine inspector. He was called up once more in 1940 and very quickly back to his Captain rank in the Royal Artillery. He was in charge of the the 24th Battery at Broughty Ferry, Dundee then spent the remaining years of the war commanding a coastal defence unit in  the Loch  Ewe. His Second World War was comparatively uneventful, though events of the First one caught up with him again. His wife Kathleen died in 1951,as a result of complications she had lived with following her recovery from Spanish Flu in 1918, the epidemic that had killed more than the war did. In1953 Frank remarried and he died in 1974.  He barely mentioned his exploits of the 1917; his son David heard him speak of it on one solitary occasion where he mentioned shooting a German who was climbing up on his tank.

Ernest Albert Hunt married in 1922 back in Birmingham and having lived a full life died on 9th April 1980 aged 83.

In June 1918 Lionel Clegg returned home to Peckham on leave. On the 11th he married Doris Fowler, in Lewisham St Silas Church attracting the headline in the local newspaper ‘Peckham Hero Weds’. By 22nd June he was back in France.

On August 21st 1918 the Tank Corps were really getting into the push to end the war.  The 7th Battalion was primarily interested in Bucquoy and Ablainzeville. Capt Wright was commanding A company consisting of Sections of three tanks each commanded by Clegg and Wadeson who were charged with capturing Ablainzeville.  They did so easily and with little opposition except one machine gun which had kept firing from a ruined house until a tank drove over it following which proceedings degenerated into a hunt for souvenirs.  The Section went toward Aitchet-le-petit, taking out a few machine gun placements in Logeast wood, and travelled the road between Aitchet-le-petit and Bucquoy, rallying in a small copse half way between the two. They settled there for the night as the battle continued to the west for Aitchet-Le-Grand in which coincidentally Roy’s brother won the MC. The Battalion’s Capt Browne back at battalion HQ in Bucquoy become anxious about Wright’s section in the copse beside the road, being so far forward.  So together with Lt Jukes he walked across to bring the tanks back into their Nissen huts, with the others before dawn.  In the cold early hours of August 22nd they woke up the crews and encouraged them to get back before the sun revealed them in the sparsely covered wood. As they left the copse, the road came under a deluge of shelling. Clegg got his tank started first and was ahead of the others and the Section Commander Wright was walking back.  As Browne turned from the road he met Wright the section commander, stumbling about, half blinded by blood from a wound to his head.  Establishing he wasn’t badly hurt he rushed him back and into a trench as Clegg helped his crew camouflage their tank.  As he did so and having after all initially come safely through the journey, Clegg was killed instantly as a shell burst at his feet. He was a month short of his 21st birthday.  His body was recovered a couple of hours later and he was buried in Bucquoy. Two years later he was reburied in Gommecourt no2 Cemetery.  The pension his young widow received helped sustain her life for another seven decades.

Wright, wounded to the head at the same time, recovered and survived the war. He married in 1920 and lived until 1977.

Bevil D’urban-Rudd also survived the war, and despite being seen smoking in the photograph, in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympics he ran to glory, winning a gold medal in the 400 metres, a silver medal in the relay for South Africa and a bronze in the 800 metres.  He became a sports journalist and then editor of the Daily Telegraph, and returned to South Africa after World War two, dying there in 1948 aged 58.

The month following Clegg’s death Roy Wadeson was once again thrown into the thick of action.  On September 30 1918, near Sancourt, he met one of his tank commanders, Sgt Duddridge who informed him that his tank was ditched 500 yards in front of the infantry and the men were trapped there by heavy machine gun fire. Roy set off to try to help, along with the Sgt who was desperately worried for his men and a runner Private Hilton. They reached the tank (crawling) and found it had fallen into a pit onto its side. Upon reaching the tank and finding it empty a German machine gun opened up on them. They had little cover and their only choice was to run 50 yards to an earth mound. As they started the dash Hilton was immediately killed, and Duddridge, shot through the body, fell to the ground just short of the mound as Wadeson reached it. Roy made several attempts to reach out to Duddridge but the machine gun fire was intense and relentless. As all his desperate attempts were repelled he watched helplessly as Duddridge died. With only himself to look out for he managed to crawl slowly away, and was just beyond the fire, when a gas shell exploded in front of him exposing him to a take a lung full of noxious mustard gas. Notwithstanding his gasping for breath he managed to get back to his lines and collapsed in exhaustion. For this Roy was awarded the MC. There was talk of Duddridge being awarded the Victoria Cross, but after the recommendation no more was heard of it.

This was ironically the last action members of 7th Battalion Tank Corps experienced in the First World War.

Roy Wadeson left the army in 1920 as a Captain.  He returned to education and studied at the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall, graduating in 1923 as a Mining Engineer.  He then worked all over the world particularly across Africa.  He married in 1929 and then in 1936 settled temporarily back in England where his son was born.

As the Second World War started Roy was the manager of a lead and zinc mine near Zagreb in Yugoslavia. He packed his wife and son off home and stayed behind to flood and destroy the mine to prevent the Germans from taking it over. The way out of Europe was by now a difficult affair and so he travelled to Africa and reached  Egypt where he, now in his 40s,   joined the 8th Army as a Major in the Royal Engineers.

In 1942 he was captured at Sidi Rezegh and was a POW first in Italy and then in two German camps. As a mining engineer and clearly a man of adventurous spirit he was in great demand with the escaping committees.   He escaped on several occasions and was sent to PG5 at Gavi which was the Italian equivalent of Colditz. After the surrender of Italy he was moved to Oflag VII B and then to Oflag VIII F, a camp for officers in Czechoslovakia.

In 1944 at Oflag VIII F, Roy and Capt. Hugh McKenzie escaped from the camp to contact the resistance in advance of a planned mass escape. They managed to get out dressed as German Officers.  Their contact, however, a man called van Zouco, turned out to be a double agent and the two escapers were caught by the Gestapo.

Roy, having survived the horrors of the First World War, and bravely re-joined the Army at an age when he wouldn’t have had to, was tortured and murdered by the gestapo along with McKenzie. The German story was of course that they had simply been shot whilst escaping. The bodies, no doubt in order to hide any evidence of their beating, were cremated and the ashes were sent to Brunswick camp in Germany.

After the war they were re-buried in the British War Cemetery in Brunswick but the records were lost and the graves are unnamed. Roy’s son Tim, who followed him into mining engineering in more peaceful and successful time, managed to find copies of the records and convinced the commonwealth War Graves Commission that the two unmarked graves are in fact those of his father and Hugh McKenzie but to this day the struggle to have the graves marked continues.

So walking away from that backdrop having had their group photograph taken, each man walked to a different end; each carrying with them the legacy of the their experiences, each a victim of their time, and each hoping that their suffering would enable those who would come after them not to suffer.

A post script to the above is the fact that in July 2016 graves were finally dedicated to Roy Wadeson and Hugh MacKenzie.  This was the result of a dedicated and long campaign by Roy’s son Tim, who had researched the final days of his father’s life and the whereabouts of his body.  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-war-2-servicemens-grave-rededication

So there we have it, my first blog. All that I found out by investigating the past. You can do that for your people and find out what made you too.  Keep reading this blog and hopefully you’ll discover different ways of doing so, and some of the interesting people I am preventing suffering their final death.

Have a nice week.