I’m very lucky because I love my job. And on those days when I don’t love my job, I can console myself with the fact that I love where I work. I love what we do, and the people I work with are amongst the most splendid human beings I’ve ever been privileged to call colleagues. But what I love the most are the treasures which lurk amongst our holdings. And it isn’t necessarily the pretty things, the famous things, of which there are many and various. I think that when you’ve worked in archives for a long time, much as any profession where you’re surrounded by such a multitude of interesting things, you can begin to lose your sense of wonder.
When I was on maternity leave last year, at home with our baby daughter, for the first six months or so, I couldn’t begin to contemplate leaving my blue eyed girl with someone else and going back to work. I knew I’d have to at some stage but for that time I’d put work well and truly to the back of my mind. In truth, by the time I’d been away from work for some eight months I was beginning to wonder how on earth I would find my way back in. It wasn’t that my love of archives had disappeared but it was certainly well buried. It was at this stage that I came across someone who wanted to know more about her family history, and seemed genuinely astounded by the basic details I was able to impart using my iPhone and some borrowed wifi. What to me seemed like the work of a few moments was to her beyond exciting.
I should reassure you that my subsequent research has expanded beyond the wonders of FreeBMD, but her emotional reaction to cold hard GRO indexes was something of a surprise to me. For me, fond of them as I’ve become vicariously, they are just names. Names with stories to tell, but still names. I didn’t know them. When I’m lucky, I come across photographs but for most of the names in the tree I’ll never know what they looked like. I’m digressing a bit, but I suppose my point is that we are very privileged to have the tools and skills to be able to access this sort of information with relative ease. (No pun intended.) For other people, new to archives and far less experienced in research, the ability to access this sort of information is thrilling, fascinating. But working alongside such people, it’s reminded me of something that had gone a little cold over the last few years working in archives, and it is that sense of wonder I mentioned earlier. I may feel a sense of satisfaction when I track down an elusive individual but I have stopped squeaking in excitement at a find. Perhaps that’s something I should be sadder about?
And finally, I left off this one until last because, to be honest, I wasn’t much looking forward to researching a name as common as Edward Ford. But here we are. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball in the shape of terribly common names. I am in no way looking pointedly at two of my current family trees in progress.
Edward has, as I expected, been a little tricky to pin down. I looked up his number in Paul Nixon’s brilliant website which tells me that Edward enlisted at some point between 1898 and 1899. Indeed he is in military barracks in Aldershot in the 1901 census. By the 1911 census however, he’s (at least, I am as confident as I can be that it is indeed our Edward) with his big brother George on Millbank Street in Southampton where all the men of the family are working in the local foundry. Edward was awarded the Victory and British medals, and the 14 Star and Clasps. These latter two were applied for by his sister in law Annie in 1919 and the address given is still that of Millbank Street. I’m still working on his family, but there’ll be more.
Arthur Ernest Rousell was born in the summer of 1874 in West Wittering, Sussex. Slightly confusingly, he is listed as a resident of Catford, South London but enlisted in Sunderland, Co. Durham. He was a Lance Corporal when he was killed in action with the aforementioned men of the 1st. Hampshire Regt., and although he was awarded the Victory and British medals and the 1915 Star, his Medal Rolls Index Card notes that his medals were returned. [The annotation reads "medals returned 1743 KR 7998/adt] I also note from the same card that he had arrived in France on June 2nd 1915, so he survived barely six weeks at war.
Arthur was the youngest of at least ten children belonging to James Rousell and Charlotte Napper, born some 20 years after their marriage! In the 1911 Census, he is married with a son, though I deduce his son is more likely to be a stepson as their surnames are different. Once FreeBMD gets it’s act together, I’ll pursue details of his marriage(s) a little further. He lists his occupation as a domestic groom, and was a resident of Camberley.
So, carrying on from yesterday, W. Banfield is Lance Corporal William Banfield (no. 6946), latterly of the 1st Hampshire Rgt but formerly of the Royal Field Artillery. He enlisted at Greenwich and was in France by 21st September 1914. A shoeing smith (or farrier and blacksmith) in civilian life, he was the third son, of nine children, of a John Vincent Newman Banfield and Eliza Seal, both natives of Kent. William, born in 1882, had married Jane Ethel Stanley in 1905 and the 1911 census shows no issue from the marriage. As per most of the others, he was awarded the Victory and British medals, and the 1914 Star. He was killed in action on 6th July 1915 and is buried in Flanders.
And in a similar vein to my previous two posts, I’ve been able to summise a little bit of Richard Partland. He’s listed in both the British and Irish lists of war dead, and I know from those that he was born in around 1887 in Boyle, Co. Roscommon in Ireland. I’ve not yet tracked down his birth, but I will. In 1911 he was serving with the 2nd Hampshire Regt. in South Africa. More to follow later, once I’ve tracked him down further. As chance would have it, I’m actually in Dublin on Monday and Tuesday with time to spend in the archives over there. Watch this space…
So, following on from my earlier post about CSM William Yates, I then shifted my attention to the rest of the list. AT Unwin was actually AE Unwin, more specifically one Alfred Ernest Unwin, a native of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. He was the sixth child of eight, belonging to George Edwin Unwin and Emily Mary White, both natives of Ryde. He was still living at home in the 1911 Census, aged 14 and working as a news boy. His medal card shows that he arrived in France on 12th January 1915 and was killed in action on 6th July the same year. He was posthumously awarded the Victory and British medals and the 1915 star. It seems that he too was unmarried, and sadly his younger brother Frederick was killed on active service during the Second World War.
So, if you aren’t following the My Tommy’s War series on the The National Archives Blog then you should be. The stories coming out of it are ace. And today, Laura posted about one of her forebears, Pte. E Cowdrey who perished on July 6th 1915. He was one of seven men killed that day and Laura threw down the gauntlet when she professed to wanting to know more about the other men who died that way. I had an hour or two to kill today, so I had a quick scoot about to see what I could find.
CSM William Thomas Yates of the 1st Hampshire Regiment was born on August 23rd 1876 in Lambeth, the 3rd child of William Yates and Henrietta Loveless. Both William Snr and Henrietta hailed from the West Country – Henrietta was the daughter of an erstwhile poacher from Burcombe in Wiltshire and William was born in Cheltenham. I cannot find a marriage for William at any stage, and in 1911 he is already serving in the army and posted in South Africa, possibly Mauritius. His medal card states that he enlisted on his birthday, in 1914 and he was killed in action on July 16th 1915. He was posthumously awarded the Victory and British medal, and the 14 Star. As per the aforementioned Ernest, his grave lies in Flanders.