WW1 in Egypt
In the August issue, it was wonderful to read
the book review on Tracing your Great War Ancestors: the Egypt and Palestine
Campaign. As most First World War books tend to focus on France and especially the Somme, this review made interesting reading especially as my grandfather, Albert Wheeler, took part in the Egypt and Palestine campaign.
Albert Wheeler (1888-1964) worked for the Midland Railway as a railway fireman and married my grandmother Nelly Clarke in 1908.
The family story goes that July 1915 while having a drink, Albert was offered the King’s shilling; as he wanted to continue drinking he thought it would be a good idea. When he had sobered up by the next day, he had the task of telling his wife that he had enlisted. Nelly wasn’t happy as she was eight months pregnant with her fifth child.
Albert joined the Worcestershire Regiment as he was born in Eckington, Worcestershire then he was transferred to the 1st Garrison Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Baby George was born on 3 August 1915 and Albert was posted to Egypt on 20 August 1915.
In 1917, Private Albert Wheeler was transferred to the Royal Engineers and was posted to the Railway Operating Division as he was a skilled locomotive fireman. Albert helped to build the Kantara Military Railway and stated that he was the first man to drive a train through Palestine.
While in Egypt, Albert was involved in fighting with the Turks; the British West Indian Regiment ( BWIR) was also involved in this campaign. One day while fighting, Albert was just about to be shot when a BWIR soldier saved his life by killing the Turk first. Albert never forgot how grateful he was to that soldier for saving his life. Albert finally made it home to England in October 1919 and had five more children, my mother Joyce, the ninth child, was born in 1929.
The story did not finish there, my Jamaican father, Iran, came to England in 1954 to make a new life for himself. He met my mother while they were both working at the Co- Op Albert Street, Birmingham.
At this time, most West Indians found it hard to find work, a home or even to be accepted. My grandfather said that he had no problem with my parent’s relationship as he always said that if it wasn’t for that West Indian soldier then he wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale!
As for the book, I have asked my son to buy me a copy for my birthday in August. I can’t wait to read it and find out more about my late grandad’s time in Egypt. Audrey Ryan Editor replies: What a great story! I hope that the book helps you with your research.
Memorial mistakes set in stone
On your letters page in the August issue, you asked if any readers had come across errors on monumental inscriptions. I have come across many instances where the date of death on a civil death record does not correspond with date of death recorded on a monumental inscription. The website rossand cromartyroots.co.uk is an amazing resource of photos and transcriptions of monumental inscriptions for burial grounds throughout Ross and Cromarty, Scotland. I have compared the dates of death found on some of these headstone images with those in the Statutary Registers on scotlandspeople.gov.uk and found discrepancies for at least 28 of my relatives. Many differ by only one or two days; some vary by a month. More than ten have a different year of death recorded. One MI records the place of death as over 50 miles from the place of death recorded in the statutory register. The majority of these differences seem to occur on headstones where several family members are listed together; some of whom died many years apart. Presumably, over the course of time, people’s memories faded and dates became muddled. Sheila Davis by email Your editor asked the question does anyone else know of a mistake on gravestones – well, I have noticed one. My 2x great grandfather Thomas Ward was baptised on the 6 March 1831, however on his gravestone at St David’s Church in Airmyn near Goole it gives his birth date as 31 January 1832. Perhaps he was born on the 31 January, but not in 1832. Steve Ward, Scunthorpe. Editor replies: Thank you for sending in these letters. Clearly just because it’s written in stone, doesn’t make it true!
Your article on circus ancestors was a good taster of a subject that has kept me amused for 50 years. Steve Ward sets out some helpful information to those seeking information but in my opinion misses out a huge source namely www.circusfederation .org. The collections database is worth a visit to the above. Federation Mondiale du Cirque is under the patronage of HSH Princess Stephanie of Monaco. I do hope that you might add this information to your next issue so that readers can be better informed. Christopher Stone by email Editor replies: We’re always happy to inform our readers. Glad you enjoyed the article!
David Cross’s letter in your summer issue asks if any other readers have experienced parents so determined to have a child by a certain name that they repeated it three times. My great great grandparents Jacob and Lydia Jackson, had a large number of children, and named all their sons beginning with ‘J’. They were nonconformist farmers who favoured biblical names. Their second and third sons, both named Josiah, died tragically as infants, but they persevered and still named son number four (who survived) Josiah. This was not a family name until that time, although my grandfather and others since have been baptised with the name. Janet Hall by email Editor replies: I hope their fourth Josiah lived to a ripe old age.
How to solve your name puzzles
My ancestor Reuben Wheeler appears as Ben Wheeler or B Wheeler in the census and we had great difficulty finding him when he moved from Bristol to South Wales and then to Yorkshire. Finding his sister, Priscilla, gave us the lead that we needed.
John Daniel writes in the August issue about someone mishearing the name Henry and writing Emily, thus changing the gender of the person being registered as well as the name. Surnames can be even more difficult, as illustrated by the question from Ian Treen in your August issue relating to the different spellings of names. My problem arose because the surname was misheard rather than just misspelt. Part of the answer to Ian Treen’s letter, given by Geoff Young, was the strategy I used in searching for my husband’s ancestors. Their surname was Alexander and I knew they lived in Bacton, Norfolk but I could not find them in the census for 1841, 51, 61 or 71. I might have given up if I thought they had been missed off one of these but not all four. I eventually decided to find them by using the first names of the husband and wife, Matthew and Elizabeth, restricting the search to Bacton and they appeared, with all of their children named and with the right ages; places of birth matching; everything just right. However, the surname was shown as Saunders. Alexander and Saunders probably sounds very similar if spoken with a strong Norfolk accent! Cathy Millwood by email
Editor replies: Searching by family groups using just first names can be very useful. Excellent advice, Cathy.
Tragic news reports
I’d read about how much others had learnt from the growing numbers of newspaper archives online and always been a little envious of the detail people had gained, so I decided to sign up and search for myself.
There have been family stories about how my great uncle James Harrison had died as a boy but no one seemed to know much about it.
All my family had said was that he drowned in a pool near the family cottage in Staffordshire. All I knew was his name and that he died in the 1930s.
What made it even more tricky is that his father James Harrison and his grandfather James Harrison all died in Stafford within three years of each other. I went round in circles trying to find out more about what happened to young James. It is only when I read about the depth of the British
Albert Wheeler was saved by a BWIR soldier
Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre in Lambeth, London, in the 19th century
James Harrison who drowned aged 11