Who Do You Think You Are?
Surprises From A Service Record
If, like me, you know family members were too young to have enlisted or been conscripted during the Second World War, you may not be aware that National Service was still in place until 1960. So they may have a service record even if they didn’t serve during the war. When my father Garfield Williams was 70, our family offered him a parachute jump as a birthday present, to which he replied that he’d had enough of parachute jumping in his lifetime.
It wasn’t until he died that I found his Soldier’s Release Book and Certificate of Service. He had been called up and then joined the Territorial Army (TA). I applied to the Ministry of Defence for his record as stated in Rob Clark’s ‘Record Masterclass’ article (December), and was astounded at the wealth of information.
Garfield enlisted at Chichester on 7 August 1947 under National Service or peacetime conscription as it was known, which expected all healthy men aged 18–30 to serve in the armed forces for at least 18 months.
On discharge at the end of 1949, my father re-enlisted in the TA for an additional five years until 1955. According to his record, he became a qualified parachutist in 1952.
I am so glad that I applied for his service record, as it has helped explain many photographs without date, name or location, and given me a rare glimpse into his early life.
Jane Evans, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: That’s a very good point, Jane. It’s easy to forget
that National Service was only phased out fairly recently, and that older relatives may well have service records full of interesting details about them.
A Lucky Escape
I very much enjoyed the September issue of WDYTYA? Magazine, especially James Hoare’s article about the Blitz.
My dad had been posted from Scotland to the Kent/London border at the outbreak of the Second World War, and was walking home one evening at the start of the onslaught when the bombing began. He dived under a hedge as a bomb landed nearby, only to be joined by a sow and all of her piglets, who climbed on top of him!
Later on, my parents, who by then were married and living in Bexley, had to take to the shelter during an attack, when my mother remembered that she had left her precious fruit harvest from the garden bottling in the
@RDodsworth1 joined a Twitter discussion about paying a visit to your relations’ graves on holiday
I was pretty ‘happy’ – if that’s the right word – to discover some of my ancestors’ graves in St Mary Cray cemetery as I had heard they had connections with the area.
old wash-boiler and asked Dad to turn it off. Reluctantly, he left the shelter, and in the moonlight headed for the washhouse, just in time to see a family of hedgehogs crossing the lawn in single file, father first, then the hoglets, followed by their mother to make sure none strayed. It struck him that they were abandoning the garden because of the bombing.
My parents moved house shortly afterwards and a week after they left, the property took a direct hit and was destroyed. He always hoped that the hedgehog family’s prudence meant that the animals managed to survive. Scilla Aitchison, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: I love your account of the hedgehog family heading for safety in the moonlight, Scilla. Let’s hope that they did survive the later bombardment.
Medals And Medics
Two articles in the November issue – Simon Fowler’s ‘Focus On’ about gallantry awards, and Steve Thompson’s feature on pre-NHS medical provision – particularly interested me, because I have family history links with them.
One non-immediate award not mentioned was the Meritorious Service Medal. The regimental diary of the 1st/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry lists seven such awards for excellence in support service roles, such as quartermaster, CQMS Lieberman, and medical orderly, Corporal Goddard, the senior non-commissioned officer of my grandfather Major Summerhayes’ medical team of stretcher-bearers. If you’re lucky, a regimental diary will provide not only the full citation for all of the gallantry medals, but other useful appendices that put the citations into context.
Moving on a decade and to pre-NHS medical provision, the daughter of Dr Summerhayes,
who accompanied him on his rounds, described the unofficial and largely unrecorded system of barter economy and charity that supplemented the official provision for patients who could not afford to pay the medical bills in money, but could spare a chicken, or do plumbing repairs for free. The high fees he charged the rich old ladies whose largely imagined complaints he treated enabled him to assist for free at the birth of poor families’ babies. Derek Turner, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: I’m glad you found these topics of interest – and I loved your description of bartering for medical care.
What’s In A Name?
I was surprised to see your editor agreeing with Anne Peacock’s letter in the November issue, suggesting that the marriage of John Walker to James Andrew was an error in the register. While I agree that errors can occur in parish records, I see no reason why this entry should be assumed to be in error because of the use of ‘James’ for a female; as the date of this entry is 1687 there seems to be nothing particularly remarkable in this.
I have come across a will written in 1638, in which a father left £40 each to his daughters Ann and James, and EG Withycombe in The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names notes that names that “appear in Latin with feminine endings, eg Philippa, Nichola, Alexandra, Jacoba… were in fact baptised and called Philip, Nicholas, Alexander, James”. To these should be added Johan, the earlier form of John, which was used equally for both sexes, although it was later replaced by the differentiated John/Joan.
Withycombe mentions other names commonly used for girls including Gilbert, Aubrey, Basil, Eustace, Giles, Edmund, Simon and Florence. To these names I can add Timothy which – at least in Sussex and Surrey, where my ancestors lived – was used for two girls to every boy before the mid18th century, and Dennis, which was then used much more often for girls than boys.
In the 20th century, Shirley, Beverley and Hilary have moved across this invisible gender border leaving some men stranded on the wrong side of the name divide in their later years.
In conclusion, name usage and fashions are ever-changing, and when researching ancestors it is important not to be misled by modern usage when apportioning a gender to a name.
Julie Martin, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: Many thanks for putting me straight on that, Julie – it’s important for us to remember that names we have grown up with as gender-specific were more fluid in the past.
On The Hunt for Missing Siblings
I read Sarah Williams’ excellent article ‘Give your research the WDYTYA? treatment’ (December) and wanted to share my thoughts.
My nan always said that my grandad had 16 siblings. He died in 1948, so no one could ask him. She was still alive when I started putting together my family tree, but no one thought to ask her.
Carol Ann Landsberg praised the BBC One series My Family, the Holocaust and Me with Robert Rinder It was an excellent production, which brought home the horror of what was allowed to happen but was personalised too.
Long after Nan died, I asked Mum if she would like me to find out more about her dad’s siblings. Mum only knew about two aunts and her father, so where were the other 14? Their surname was Jones, so not easy to trace.
I hired a local genealogist, and I found one child on the 1901 census and the professional researcher found a few more. Sadly, all had died young, mostly under two years old. It seemed an incredibly large loss of children for just one family.
Mum and I searched the local archives in Hanley and Salford, and found another child who had died young. We found burial records and visited the local cemetery, where an official paced out where the children had been buried (six in one grave), plus Mum’s grandfather. There were four sites in total, with no headstones to mark the graves. We laid a yellow rose on each.
On the 1911 census, my great grandfather recorded that 16 children had been born alive, with three still alive. If there was a 17th child, perhaps it was stillborn.
Mum is sadly no longer with us, but since her passing the General Register Office has added the maiden names to mothers in its online birth registrations and I have found one more child. In total, I now know the names of 12 children born to my great grandparents. The missing children still elude me, but I’m continuing to look for them. Beverly Thomson, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: What a sad story – that is a lot of children to lose. It is sometimes comforting to feel you have borne witness to family lost before their time. We hope you find the elusive ones.
Lost And Found
Thank you so much for the ‘Focus On’ about Victorian shipwrecks and how to find the various records (December). It has enabled me to find a missing sailor who I now know was drowned in 1874. Poor lad was only 20 and had been married two years so he left a young wife, but fortunately no children.
I was interested that although there was £1 19s owing to his estate, it does not seem to have been paid. I have another member of the family who I believe was lost in the wreck of the Northfleet. His name appears among the dead but I believe the passenger lists have been lost, so I only have the death list to go on. If only we could go back and pick up the web of information that linked our ancestors together. Did his family know he had been lost? A terrible tragedy, but now I understand that shipwrecks were very common. Thank you for a very informative magazine. Brenda Crowcroft, by email
EDITOR REPLIES: I’m glad you found the article useful. Sea travel was clearly a risky business!