Monday 31 December 2018

Radley College archive

When researching a man for my British Army Ancestors Facebook page I stumbled across the Radley College archive which is a collection of digitised photographs and books relating to Radley College in Oxfordshire. There are specific collections of portraits of former students in army uniform but there are also many servicemen to be found in photos like this one, in this case prefects photographed in 1907.

The majority of these men would have gone on to serve as officers in one or more of the British military arms and, blessed with uncommon and therefore easily searchable names for the most part, it doesn't take too much detective work to quickly uncover further detail.

In the image that I have posted above, a quick search on my British Army Ancestors website shows, for instance, that M A (Maurice Astley) Knatchbull-Hugesson served as a second lieutenant with the Grenadier Guards and was KiA in 1916, whilst C W (Cyril Walter) Holcroft served as a captain with the Worcestershire Regiment and was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The archive has been indexed and OCRd as appropriate and will be an invaluable resource, and a free one at that. Well done to Radley College for taking the decision to digitise its archive.

Sunday 30 December 2018

G/8382 Pte Apsley Arthur Stevenson, 1st Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regt)

One way or the other, there's quite a lot of information that survives for Apsley Stevenson whose medals I bought last week. He was born in Kingston, Surrey in 1893 and baptised at St John's Church, Kingston on the 16th July that year. The son of Benden Apsley Stevenson and Sarah Ann Stevenson, Apsley appears on the 1901 and 1911 census returns living with his family at Portland Road, Kingston. By 1911 his widowed mother was the head of the household, earning a living as a dressmaker, whilst Apsley - recorded as Arthur Apsley - was working as a grocer's assistant.

Surviving papers in WO 363 reveal that Apsley enlisted on the 29th January 1916 and that he was mobilised on the 2nd March 1916 and posted to the 3rd Battalion, Queen's. Three months later on the 9th June he was sent overseas, joining the regular 1st Battalion in the line, and less than a month later, on the 3rd July 1916, he was killed in action, almost certainly blown to smithereens in a front line trench.

The battalion was in trenches at Cuinchy and the war diary entry for the 3rd July reads:

"A quiet morning. 'Minnie' very active in left and right company frontages in afternoon and evening. Casualties: 4 killed and 2 wounded. At 10.30pm were relieved by 1st Middlesex and proceeded to billets in Le Quesnoy."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that four men from the 1st Battalion, Queen's died that day. Private Frederick Killick, Lance-Corporal Mitchell and Apsley Stevenson were all killed in action. Frederick Stevens, a career soldier with the battalion, died of wounds and would be buried in Bethune Town Cemetery. Lance Corporal Mitchell would also be buried in nearby Cambrin Military Cemetery but both Apsley and Frederick Killick are commemorated by name on the Loos Memorial. Apsley was originally reported missing and Frederick Killick's death was officially accepted on the 15th July 1916.

Apsley Stevenson is also commemorated on the Kingston-on-Thames war memorial.

Saturday 22 December 2018

22158 Pte Albert Edward Godsafe, 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards

Give me a choice and I'd always take an original ribbon - no matter how tatty, dirty and faded it is -  over a later replacement. I've never particularly rated the Victory Medal, for that matter, but this is one of the nicest examples I've come across and it also has quite a story behind it; far more than I could have imagined it when I bought it at a secondhand market two days ago.

The medal is named to 22158 PTE A E GODSAFE G GDS and would originally have been accompanied by the 1914-15 Star and the British War Medal. This is his story.

Albert Edward Godsafe was born in Latchingdon, Essex in 1884, his birth registered at Maldon in the third quarter of that year (Vol 4a, page 424). He appears on the 1891 (Stanford Rivers) and 1901 (Widford) census returns living with his parents and siblings. His father was an agricultural labourer and, judging by his siblings' places of births, probably moved across the county (and into Kent) seeking work:

1891 Census return; Little End, Stanford Rivers, Ongar, Essex

1901 Census return; Siding Cottages, Widford, Essex

On the 23rd March 1907, Albert married Alice Porter at Stapleford Tawney, Essex and they quickly produced seven children over the next eight years: Alice Mary Godsafe (13th May 1907), Albert Charles Godsafe (1908), Thomas Charles Godsafe (27th September 1909), William George Godsafe (21st June 1911), Beatrice Maud Godsafe (6th December 1912), Albert John Godsafe (22nd March 1914) and Ethel Frances Godsafe (8th June 1915). The 1911 Census extract, below, shows Albert working as a domestic groom and gardener. Alice would have been pregnant with William, but their eldest son, Albert Charles, had died in infancy in 1909.

1911 Census return; 2 Bells Cottages, Stapleford Tawney, Essex

In January 1915, with Alice expecting their seventh child, Albert responded to his country's call and volunteered to join the army. Aged 30 years and six months, he attested on the 15th January 1915 and joined at the Grenadier Guards depot in Caterham four days later. In June that year, his daughter, Ethel, was born, and the following month, possibly as a result of complications during the birth of her child, Alice Godsafe died at the Stanford Rivers infirmary.

With Albert in the army, care of the children appears to have been handed to Albert's mother, Eliza. In November 1915 Albert sailed for France and this was almost certainly the last time that he saw his family and that they saw him because on the 25th September 1916, aged 32, he was killed on the Somme whilst serving with the 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards. Albert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

In November 1916, Eliza Godsafe completed Army Form B.104-77 which was the "Declaration to be made by the Guardian of the Motherless child or children of a deceased soldier in support of a claim to Pension". In it, Eliza - living at Shalesmore Cottage, Stapleford Tawney - acknowledged that she was the guardian of the six orphaned children, although it is not clear what the final award amounted to. The following year, in the March quarter of that year, baby Ethel Godsafe's death was registered. 

Eliza Godsafe received £5, 7 shillings and 10 pence as money owing to her son at the time of his death, and later a war gratuity of £7 and 10 shillings. She died in 1948 at the grand age of 96, having seen her surviving grandchildren make it to adulthood, albeit her grandson Albert, like his father before him, had been killed in a world war.

As well as being remembered at Thiepval, Albert Edward Godsafe's name is also recorded on a memorial tablet at the parish church in Stapleford Tawney, Epping (photo courtesy High County History Group).

Friday 21 December 2018

5098, later 322311 Pte Benjamin Balding 2/6th London Regiment

I rarely buy single medals, and yet researching these is no less satisfying than researching a complete group. Indeed, I am coming to the conclusion that researching these - in some cases - single, last-surviving relics of a man's military life can be even more rewarding than researching a group.

I bought this medal and another one like it, yesterday, on impulse. It is named to 5098 Pte B. Balding, 6th London Regt and at the time of buying it I knew nothing about its owner. This is what I have since found out.

Benjamin Balding was born in East Ham in 1896 and was baptised there on the 22nd April that year. He was the second eldest child of George and Martha Balding, brother to George (one year his senior), and Jane (three years his junior). In 1901 and 1911 the family was living at 65 Wellington Road, East Ham. The street has seen many changes over the years but No. 65 is still standing; a typical Victorian terraced house that these days sells as a 2-bedroomed property for around £350,000. In the Google-view below, number 65 is the middle property of these five.

In late 1915, Benjamin married Maud Garbett, one of seven children born to Thomas and Rebecca Garbett of Custom House, south of West Ham. Their marriage was registered at West Ham in the fourth quarter of 1915. 

The 1901 and 1911 census returns record Maud as being 6 and 16 years old respectively and so she would have been about the same age as Benjamin. At this point in time I do not have a precise date for their marriage but I believe it could have been in the second half of December 1915. Benjamin would join the 2/6th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment in January 1916 and I think it possible that he attested under the Derby Scheme in December 1915 and was then mobilised in January 1916. Born in 1896 he would have been in Group 2 of that Scheme if he was single when he attested, or Group 25 if married. Group 2 men were mobilised on the 20th January 1916 but Group 25 men were not mobilised until the 7th April 1916. In other words, if he did attest under the Derby Scheme, he must have done so as a single man in order to have been mobilised the following month.

Benjamin would spend the next year training in the UK and on the 27th July 1916, a daughter, Maud Rebecca M Balding (named after her mother and grandmother) was born to the young couple. On the  26th January 1917, Benjamin arrived in France, part of the original contingent of the 2/6th London Regiment.

No service record survives for Benjamin but the war diary for the 2/6th London Regiment will provide the detail of what happened next. The condensed version is that Benjamin served for the next six months with the battalion before he was killed in action on the 20th July 1917, one week before his daughter's first birthday. His death was reported in the war office weekly casualty list published on the 26th August 1917. Interestingly, whilst Soldiers Died in the Great War records Benjamin's place of residence as West Ham, the casualty list notes Custom House:

Benjamin is buried in the British extension at Metz-en-Couture Communal Cemetery, south of Cambrai. His young widow would later be sent the £2, five shillings and three pence owing to him at the time of his death and, much later still, a war gratuity of £6 in respect of his rank and length of service. An employee of the Gas Light and Coke Company in peacetime, Benjamin is commemorated on that company's war memorial at Twelvetrees Crescent, Bromley by Bow, E3 3TE:

Benjamin's daughter, who of course would have been too young to know her father, would marry Cyril F Page in 1935 and go on to have two daughters of her own, Jeanette E Page, born in 1937, and Pamela M Page, born in 1940. Both girls' births were registered in West Ham and Maud Page would die as recently as 2005, her death registered in Newham.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Armistice & The Aftermath - The Story in Art

The Story in Art

John Fairley

Pen & Sword Books Ltd £25

If you're quick enough and follow the link on this page you'll be able to buy this book for £20 rather than the £30 published price. This is a good 'coffee-table' art book and the format of it permits many of the paintings inside to be shown as full-colour portraits that occupy an entire page. 

If I have criticisms, they are that the ordering of the artwork is a little haphazard and I would also have been more inclined to say less about the artwork and let the art itself do the talking, filling those extra pages with more art. Some of the photography could have been better - I'm thinking of the section devoted to Lutyens and his work - and for that matter not all of the paintings in this book would have made it past my selection criteria. Just because a piece of art depicts scenes from, or personalities connected with, the First World War does not automatically make it good art. 

At the end of the day this is an interesting pot pourri that should probably be in every school library and every civic library, assuming that there are any of the latter left.

Shooting the Somme - Review

Bob Carruthers

Pen & Sword Books - £25

Actually, the vast majority of this book is a re-print of Geoffrey H Malins's "How I filmed the War". The only original content here is Section 1 which takes up a mere 44 pages of the 344 page total. So somewhat disappointing that there is so little background to what has become regarded as iconic footage over the years; and of that background there are a number of pages taken up with an overview of the Battle of the Somme itself. 

If you didn't already have a copy of Malin's book then this would be worth buying. Other than that, much of the information contained in section one - and more besides - could almost certainly be gleaned online.