THE BRAVE OR­PHAN

Rick Kit­son traced his wife’s an­ces­tor, and found him to be man who over­came his dif­fi­cult child­hood to be­come recog­nised for wartime brav­ery…

Your Family History - - Contents - By Rick Kit­son Rick has pur­sued his­tor­i­cal re­search for 15 years since re­tir­ing. He has five grand­daugh­ters, and en­joys writ­ing, photography and his al­lot­ment.

Rick Kit­son tells us how his wife’s or­phaned an­ces­tor was dec­o­rated for brav­ery.

We knew lit­tle of the life his­tory of my wife’s ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Arthur Al­lom (1895-1960). Fam­ily rec­ol­lec­tions in­cluded him be­ing dec­o­rated for brav­ery in World War 1, and be­ing at the Bat­tle of St Quentin. His peace­time jobs in­cluded brick­maker, coalminer, and cinema man­ager.

Us­ing the usual route of cen­sus and birth and mar­riage records, we es­tab­lished that Arthur’s fa­ther Ed­ward was a brick­maker, born in Tip­ton, Stafford­shire. Arthur had an older brother, Ed­ward, and two younger sis­ters, Amy and Maud. In 1891, Arthur’s fa­ther was a brick­yard labourer, then a brick­maker ( jour­ney­man) when Arthur was born, and by 1901, he had be­come a brick­maker man­ager. This ap­pear­ance of progress was, how­ever, frag­ile. The fam­ily moved to Shot­ton Col­liery in County Durham, where the coal mine had re­opened in 1900, and the nearby brick­works in 1905. But in Jan­uary 1910, Arthur’s 45-year- old mother, Emma, died of can­cer. In May the same year, his fa­ther also died, from a brain haem­or­rhage, aged 47.

So by 1911, Arthur and his brother and sis­ters were at the fam­ily home with a house­keeper, with both Arthur and Ed­ward work­ing at the brick­works. It was a heav­ily-pol­luted en­vi­ron­ment, with the smoke from the mine, the coke ovens and the brick kilns all con­tribut­ing. How­ever, there was smoke and fire of a dif­fer­ent na­ture else­where in 1914, as con­flict erupted in Europe.

WREOCROLRDDWS AR 1

To find out about Arthur’s World War 1 trav­els, we first tried the (in­com­plete) ser­vice and pen­sion records, WO363 and WO364, from The Na­tional Ar­chives, but with no re­sult. We did, how­ever, get a good copy of his Medal Rolls in­dex card from An­ces­try.

This showed that Arthur was in the Royal Field Ar­tillery (RFA). Var­i­ous searches then helped us to un­der­stand some of the hand­writ­ten en­tries on the card. Un­der ‘Rank’, ‘Dvr’ meant that Arthur was a driver, which made sense be­cause we knew he had a favourite horse (there were six horses in three pairs to pull a gun train, with a driver to each pair). ‘LBmdr’ was Lance Bom­bardier, af­ter his pro­mo­tion. ‘XMM’ in blue, fol­lowed by ‘LG’ and a date, meant that he was awarded the Mil­i­tary Medal - and this was an­nounced in the Lon­don Gazette on 29 Au­gust 1918. We ran a free search on www. thegazette.co.uk and found the en­try.

War diaries told us that Arthur’s Bat­tery sailed from Southamp­ton on 24 May 1915, landed in Le Havre, and then en­trained for North­ern France. The men were soon in ac­tion, and at the end of June they were at Ypres in Bel­gium. Over the next two years, the Brigade was heav­ily in­volved in the fiercest fight­ing around Ar­ras, Fri­court, Messines, Pass­chen­daele and the Somme.

With re­gard to the Bat­tle of St Quentin, RFA 46 Brigade was in­deed at Es­signy, near St Quentin, in early 1918. In March, there was a ma­jor Ger­man of­fen­sive which over­ran the Brigade’s po­si­tions, and a war diary

note recorded that on 21 March, ‘at about 11.30, Cap­tain His­cock MC (Mil­i­tary Cross) ar­rived at Brigade head­quar­ters and re­ported that his Bat­tery (A) had been rushed and cap­tured’.

Vis­i­bil­ity was bad, and all Bat­ter­ies had been un­der ex­tremely heavy bom­bard­ment, in­clud­ing gas. The shell­fire ceased and Ger­man sol­diers sud­denly ap­peared out of the fog. We do not know whether Arthur was at the gun em­place­ment that was over­run, or at the ‘wagon lines’ fur­ther back. Many other po­si­tions were lost with their per­son­nel and guns, and so the Brigade with­drew and re­formed. Later in the year, they were in north­ern France and twice in Au­gust, sol­diers in A Bat­tery were un­der fire and wounded in ac­tion.

At the end of Au­gust 1918, Arthur was awarded the Mil­i­tary Medal ‘for Brav­ery in the Field’ and un­der fire. Ci­ta­tions to de­scribe the act of brav­ery were not pub­lished, so al­though we do not know pre­cisely how Arthur Al­lom got his MM, it is clear that he was both very brave, and also for­tu­nate to sur­vive all those years of fierce con­flict and heavy ca­su­al­ties.

POST­WAR LIFE

On his re­lease from the army, Arthur worked as a coal miner, and mar­ried Cather­ine Lane in 1921. A year later, the birth cer­tifi­cate of their first child, Au­drey, recorded that he was now a cinema op­er­a­tor. Arthur and Cather­ine would go on to have a son, Quentin (named af­ter the bat­tle?!), a daugh­ter, who died soon af­ter be­ing born, and another son, Peter.

Arthur first took on the lease of the Em­pire Theatre in Shot­ton Col­liery at the end of 1921, and then the lease of the Theatre Royal in 1925. In 1926, how­ever, the min­ers be­gan a long strike in protest against pay cuts, and his busi­ness lost heav­ily. He sold the lease of the Em­pire to raise cash, but in 1928, he could no longer keep the busi­ness go­ing and was made bank­rupt, as I found through re­search­ing Findmypast’s Bri­tish news­pa­per col­lec­tion. He con­tin­ued to work as the man­ager - but not the lessee - of the Theatre Royal, and in 1930 was or­gan­is­ing box­ing events there. In 1931, Ram­say MacDon­ald vis­ited the theatre to ad­dress the min­ers ahead of a forth­com­ing Gen­eral Elec­tion.

At some point, Arthur moved his fam­ily from Shot­ton to Nor­ton, a pleas­ant vil­lage near Stock­ton- onTees, which was the fam­ily’s ad­dress at the time of the 1939 Reg­is­ter. Af­ter be­ing ill for some time fol­low­ing a brain haem­or­rhage, Arthur died in 1960; his wi­dow, Cather­ine, died 15 years later.

A war diary note recorded that on 21 March, Cap­tain His­cock re­ported that his Bat­tery had been rushed and cap­tured

Arthur Al­lom with his grand­daugh­ter Su­san in 1953

Arthur’s Medal Rolls in­dex card was found on An­ces­try

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