Daring First World War escapees revealed

 

 

TheGenealogist.co.uk
TheGenealogist.co.uk

With Monday being the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War there are many new records online.

With all the websites highlighting their records for the war that was meant to be “the war to end all wars” we have quite a choice.

So I was looking for something distinct to look at this week.

Luckily I’ve heard from the team at TheGenealogist about some new records that approach WWI from a slightly different angle.

 

TheGenealogist has just released for the first time two million military records that have uncovered the determined Allied servicemen who escaped from First World War POW Camps.

These new records include both officers and other ranks, listing those men who endured the hardships and often brutal regimes as a prisoner of war. It’s an area of the Great War that is very rarely looked at.

The hardship and disease that became rife in the camps made many men look to escape. The Allied Officers, although held in slightly better conditions, also had an unwritten code that it was every officer’s duty to try to escape and many tried and failed.

The new release gives details of the Allied Officers behind the escape attempt at Holzminden Camp, near Hannover in 1918, where a tunnel was dug for 8 months using cutlery as digging tools. 29 men escaped, 19 were eventually caught but 10 got away and returned to England. Their daring escape inspired the prisoners in the famous ‘Great Escape’ of The Second World War.

Holzminden Camp held a number of high profile Allied servicemen. Conditions were harsh as it was used for the most troublesome prisoners, who made regular escape attempts. Prisoners listed on TheGenealogist’s records include Michael Claude Hamilton-Bowes-Lyon (The Queen’s Uncle), William Leefe Robinson (who shot the first German airship down over London and who was kept in solitary confinement for repeated escape attempts) and James Whale (future Hollywood Director of ‘Frankenstein’).

Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, commented:
“Our new unique records are a great resource to track down those First World War ancestors. With our extensive range of military records it’s now possible to find out if your ancestor was a casualty or taken prisoner of war of if they were one of the lucky ones who made it through unscathed. With this being the centenary year of the outbreak of The First World War, it is the perfect time to explore your family tree and discover the war service of your ancestors.”

 

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Records of 60,000 British civilians killed during WWII digitised

Ahead of Remembrance Day, Ancestry.co.uk, has today launched online the UK, WWII Civilian Deaths, 1939-1945 collection, listing the thousands of British citizens killed on the ‘Home Front’ during the Second World War.

 

The records, originally compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, list almost 60,000 members of the British Commonwealth and Empire who were killed as a result of enemy action whilst going about their everyday lives or while at their posts as members of the Civil Defence Services.

 

The majority of the names listed were civilians killed in the aerial bombings by the German Luftwaffe (air force) as it attempted to bring Britain to its knees. These attacks on British cities, which took place from September 1940 to May 1941 are known collectively as The Blitz and led to around 40,000 deaths.

 

Nearly half of those killed in The Blitz (17,500) were Londoners, but several other cities were also badly hit, with Liverpool next worst off in terms of civilian deaths (2,677) followed by Birmingham, Bristol, Hull, Plymouth, Coventry, Portsmouth, Belfast and Glasgow.

 

Among the 59,418 names listed in the records is James Isbister, considered the first civilian casualty of WWII on home soil. He was killed in March 1940, when German bombers attacking Scapa Flow Naval Base, Orkney, jettisoned their remaining bombs over civilian territory as they fled back to Germany.

 

Hundreds of British civilians lost their lives before this point, most commonly in sea disasters when civilian ships hit military mines during the early months of the war. As the war progressed deaths at sea became all the more common, with thousands lost, as Germany used submarines to sink merchant ships in an attempt to restrict supplies to Britain.

 

More than 2,300 Civil Defence Service members also gave their lives whilst on duty, including air raid wardens, home guard, and members of the Women’s Voluntary Services.

 

One of the most notable names in the collection is actor and star of Gone With The Wind, Leslie Howard. He was killed in 1943 when the civilian airliner he was travelling in to Bristol was shot down. Historians have since suggested that the Luftwaffe may have attacked the non-military plane because German Intelligence believed Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be on board.

 

Before the war it was feared a sustained campaign of aerial bombings would lead to more than 600,000 deaths and as a result the 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act forced local councils to make provisions for defence. These varied from a widespread imposed blackout of all lighting from public and commercial buildings to the construction of bomb shelters and provision of gas masks.

 

The government also implemented widespread evacuation of major cities, with Operation Pied Piper responsible for the relocation of more than 3.5 million people – mainly urban children moved to safer homes in rural areas.

Several other famous names of the day can also be found within the digital records, including:

 

  • Albert Dolphin – Dolphin was working as an emergency hospital porter at what is today New Cross Hospital London when a bomb hit the kitchens of the building. A true Home Front hero, Albert rushed to the aid of a nurse trapped in wreckage and protected her as a damaged wall gave way. He was killed saving her life and was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery.

 

  • James Baldwin-Webb MP – Baldwin-Webb, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire and one of the most famous civilians of the day, was lost at sea. In September 1940, whilst travelling to Canada to fundraise for the Ambulance Corps, his liner SS City of Benares was torpedoed by a German submarine. He stayed aboard the ship to assist women and children onto lifeboats before going down with the ship.

 

  • Arthur Bacon – Bacon was a popular footballer, playing as a striker at Reading, Chesterfield and Coventry City – scoring 71 goals between 1923 and 1935. After his footballing career he served as a Special Constable in Derby where he was killed in 1942 (aged 37) during an air raid.

 

Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager, from Ancestry.co.uk comments: “As we approach Remembrance Sunday, it’s important to not only remember those heroes who served and died in conflict but the thousands of ordinary people who lost their lives in Britain and the Commonwealth whilst battling to keep the country running at a very difficult time.

 

“This collection gives people the chance to find out about any Home Front heroes that might be in their family tree, and adds to the millions of military records available on Ancestry.co.uk from the past 100 years and more.”

 

Ancestry.co.uk is providing free access to 3.6 million military records between 8th and 12th November, including WWI Service Records 1914 – 1920, WWII Army Roll of Honour 1939 – 1945, Navy Medal and Roll Awards 1793 – 1972 and Victoria Cross Medals 1857 – 2007. To search for the war heroes in your family tree, visit www.ancestry.co.uk/start_military
 

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So My Ancestor Raced a Sailing Cutter Yacht

British Newspaper ArchiveI have been having a nose around the British Newspaper Archive Collection again this week on its stand alone website as well as its home within the findmypast site.

I was looking for information on a great-great-uncle who died young (30) after a fall from a cliff. While I didn’t come up with a family notice of his death I found an article in the Isle of Wight Observer for May 19th, 1866 under the notices for the Royal Victoria Yacht Club that I found interesting.

After detailing that the Commodore’s splendid yacht had arrived at the station on Tuesday and then listing the twelve yachts on station, having got the important notices out of the way they then add a line or two about the man I was researching.

“It is with great regret that we hear that W.W.F.Hay esq., fell overboard from his cutter yacht the Surge, at Alderney, and lost his life. His remains will be interned tomorrow (Saturday). On receipt of the melancholy intelligence, the flag at the club was hoisted half-mast high.”

Well, their information was not quite correct, as reported elsewhere. William Wemyss Frewen Hay died when he went ashore at Alderney to have dinner with the officers at the garrison there and lost his footing while returning to the breakwater and where his yacht was anchored.

This, however, got me looking for information on the clipper yacht called the Surge and the first article I turned up made me think that she was not such a good racing boat at all. She retired from a race around the Solent having no chance of gaining the lead in August 1865.

Further articles, however, have her mentioned in a good light.. “Some dozen clippers have already been entered including the celebrated Surge (W.W.F.Hay Esq), the Water Lilly, yawl, (Commodore Lord A Paget, MP.) etc” which does not sound like she was an also ran.

I wonder what the yacht looked like and how many crew she required to sail her?

There are also other questions I have about Willaim, who at the time of his death in the May, according to another article, was due to be married in July of that same year. I would like to find out who his bride to be was, but so far no mention of the lady has appeared in my trawl of the newspapers.

As more titles are added all the time this situation may indeed change. I keep coming back to this resource as it is so useful to family historians.


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Census Transcription Error Unearthed A Second Marriage

This weekend I decided to revisit a line in Plymouth that I had only barely scratched the surface of in my research into the family.

My paternal grandmother’s father was called Edgar Stephens. His mother was Mary Ann Stephens nee Westlake and her mother was also called Mary Ann. Thus, in the 1851 census I was able to find my 3 x great-grandmother Mary Ann Westlake nee Legg married to Thomas Westlake the Brass Founder and Plumber that I have written about before in relation to his advertisement in the 1852 Plymouth Trades Directory.

Trade advertisement from 1852 Plymouth

I was looking at the 1851census records for Thomas and Mary Ann and noticed that they were both the same age, having been born in 1818.

I then went to find them in the 1861 census and noted that the transcript on TheGenealogist had Thomas’ wife listed as “Clara M Westlake” but as her date of birth was still 1818 I just put this down to an error. Opening the image I could see that the writing was none too clear, giving the transcriber a bit of a job to work out. What it certainly didn’t look like was the Mary Ann, as I had expected it to read.

Popping over to Ancestry.co.uk and the transcription for their 1851 census was given as “Chrisk W “.

Searching the same 1851 census on Findmypast and I got the transcription returned as “Catherine W”. The writing on the census page had challenged the transcribers at all three sites and I can not blame them for their differing attempts to make sense of the entry as I certainly couldn’t.

So what had happened to Mary Ann? Had she tired of her name and changed it to something more exotic? Or had she died and Thomas had taken a new wife, who also happened to have been born in the same year as he and the former Mrs Westlake?

 

I decided to do some detective work and search for a death of Mary Ann Westlake from after the 1851 census and before the 1861. What I found was a number of candidates that could have been my great-great-great-grandmother.

So now I approached the problem by seeing if I could find a second marriage for Thomas and here I can testify to the usefulness of the advice, given by many experienced family historians, to “always kill off your ancestors”.

You see, by having done just this for Thomas, having found his death in the records and then the listing for his probate, I was able to discover that he had an unusual middle name of “Scoble”.

Now I could look for a marriage of Thomas Scoble Westlake and I found just the two in the databases. One was in 1841 to Mary Ann Legg in Stoke Damerel, which is in the Devonport area. The other was to Christian Upcott Harwood in the last quarter of 1859 in Falmouth, Cornwall.

I had the name of the second wife!

Though this asked the question, if Thomas and Christian were wed in 1859, then what had happened to Mary Ann? The records show that in the second quarter of 1859 a death was registered in Plymouth for her, allowing Thomas to take a new wife in the fourth quarter! I will need to order a copy of the death certificate to find out what she died of.

So who was Christian Upcott Harwood? I had looked for her birth or christening without any luck. Then it struck me that perhaps she too was a widow. I now looked for the marriage of a Christian Upcott, leaving the bride’s maiden name blank,  to someone called Harwood and I found one to Samuel Peter Harwood in 1841 in Lewisham. Christian was from Plymouth and he was from Plumstead in Kent. A death occurred in East Stonehouse, Devon in the year 1858 to one Samuel Harwood and I assume it was his widow who married Thomas Scoble Westlake.

 

If you would like more tips on researching your English or Welsh Family History then why not sign up for my tips and a special FREE report using the box below…

 

 

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Old Directory Listing: Hay Edwd.Massey,50Princes’ sq.BayswtrW

Princes' Square, Bayswater, London.
50 Princes’ Square, Bayswater, London.

I’ve just been in West London and so I took the opportunity of a bit of leisure time to find the house where my great-great grandfather lived for a time. This was in Bayswater, way back in 1880.

Having fired up my reluctant computer, something to do with the Firefox update I think (which was making it use 99 to 100% of its cpu to do something or other!) I headed over to TheGenealogist.co.uk and searched their old directories data base.

In the Kelly’s Post Office 1880 Court Directory I found an entry for Edward Adolphe Massey Hay as:

Hay Edwd.Massey,50Princes’ sq.BayswtrW 

I smiled as I noticed that he had lost one of his middle names in the listing as this is something that happens to me all the time!

Switching then to the old maps website http://www.old-maps.co.uk/maps.html I located the street just north of the intersection of Palace Court and Moscow Road in South Bayswater.

I then wrapped up warm, got out my A-Z and set off with digital camera to find, photograph and generally get an impression of the surroundings that once my great-great grandfather had called home.

The house was now part of a hotel and was one of a road of houses all designed to look the same, with at least 5 stories above the ground floor and a strange protruding 4 story frontage above their front doors.

I love walking down streets that my ancestor’s have pounded in their time. As I do it I try to imagine what it must have been like in their times when the motor car would not have claimed the street outside their front steps, transistor radios would not have been blaring and the aeroplanes flying overhead would not have been heard. Instead the clip clop of hansom cabs, that prevailed until 1908, would have been in their place.

Princes' Square garden.
Princes’ Square garden.

Around the back I discovered a pleasant communal garden of the sort that is common in London and noticed that the design of the rear of the property was much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

If you would like to try to find your ancestor’s in the London Directories then check out the data sets at TheGenealogist.co.uk

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Small Errors In My Great-Great Grandfather’s Will

I am a bit of a pedant and so I got slightly annoyed recently with a number of small inaccuracies that I found in a copy of a 1908 will and have wondered if the solicitor for my great-great-grandfather knew him at all and whether my ancestor actually read the will that he signed three months before his death!

Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth, Devon.
Captain Henry Thomas Thorne on the GWR Dolphin, Dartmouth.

 

I have got hot under the collar because I had sent off for my forebear’s will. The story is that recently, while looking around the Ancestry.co.uk site, I discovered, within the National Probate Calendar for England & Wales, a listing for my 2x great-grandfather Henry Thomas Thorne. I was aware that he had died in 1908 in Dartmouth, Devon, but until then I had no idea that he had left a will. He was the son of a boatman and one time cordwainer from Dartmouth. Henry had moved, in his youth, to Portsmouth to work in the Royal Naval dockyard as a ropemaker.

It was here that he met and married his wife Ellen Malser, the daughter of a Master Mariner if the records are to be believed. Henry and Ellen soon moved back to Dartmouth where Henry obtained a job, in 1864, as the steersman of the railway ferry that crossed the Dart from Kingswear to Dartmouth. He was to eventually became the Captain of the steamer, called the Dolphin, that replaced it.

Henry Thomas Thorne spent 40 years working on that vessel and even had the privilege of sailing King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra across the Dart, when they came to lay the foundation stone for the Royal Naval College. From that time on the townsfolk nicknamed Henry “The Admiral”, according to sources that I have read.

With the details, from the National Probate Calendar, I was able to download a form (PA1S) from the Government’s Justice website and send off my cheque to the Postal Searches and Copies Department, which is in Leeds.

http://hmctscourtfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetForm.do?court_forms_id=739

When the will arrived, on my door mat, I was somewhat confused to find that it contained some interesting errors.

Henry Thomas Thorne was listed as a retired “Ropemaker”, an occupation that he had pursued in his youth in Portsmouth. But surely, with 44 years as the steersman and then Captain of the railway steamer across the Dart, it would have been more appropriate for the solicitor to have identified him as a retired mariner? No matter, I thought, and read on.

Next Henry appoints his wife Helen, along with the solicitor to be executors.

Helen, I wonder, who was this wife called Helen? It was, of course Ellen.

The will goes on to mention his “free-hold house situate at Victoria Road, Dartmouth, which had me looking on a map as all his census records show him living on South Ford Road and his death certificate mentions Fernleigh. From the map I can see that a Ferndale is an extension of South Ford Street and it overlooks Victoria Road. Using Google Street View I could see that Ferndale was not navigable by the Street View car and is a sort of walk rising up the hill. So perhaps I can assume that his house at Fernleigh was indeed in the area of Ferndale, but was it on Victoria Road?

He bequeaths money, in trust, to his daughter Florence Melzer Thorne. She was named after her mother’s family, Malser and not Melzer. In fact she was actually named Ellen Florence Malser Thorne, but I digress!

So it is a lesson to us all to take what is written down in any record that we find, even a will, as not necessarily being completely accurate. Check several sources before you can be sure of any fact.

In this case I wondered if the solicitor was new to the area. However a check of the census, in 1901, shows me that he would have been 33 in 1908 and had been born in the town. As such he would have, no doubt, been ferried across the river by my 2x great-grandfather on any occasions that he had need of catching the GWR train as Dartmouth had no railway lines itself. He must have been familiar with the character called The Admiral, who had been in the same job on the water from before the solicitor’s birth!

 

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Researching family in Jersey, part 6: using the rates listings.

There are not many places where the contribution you make to property rates is public knowledge, but Jersey is one of them.

In Jersey rates are paid in two parts: one part is paid by the owner of the property (the foncier rate) and the other is by the occupier (mobilier rate). There are sets of rate books in both the Archive and the Coutanche Library covering about a century up to 1965, plus some more recent data as well (ask for Taxation du Rât)

Jersey Taxation Du Rat BooksThese aren’t the easiest of documents to use, because the listing is an alphabetical list of ratepayers in each vingtaine (a vingtaine is a subdivision of a parish; the smallest parish (St Mary) has two, while St Helier has seven).

Ideally you need a detailed map of Jersey and a lot of patience – but the listings can be very rewarding. They will indicate whether someone owns a property or not: they can also indicate something about the condition or size of the property (someone paying 5 quartiers of mobilier rates a year is going to be living more modestly than someone paying 20 quartiers a year. It’s also indicative, at least to some degree, if the person you are researching is not on the list of ratepayers – that would indicate someone who was probably in a shared tenement and fairly low down the pile (because this became a lot less common as slum housing started to be replaced in the 20th century). Some of the parishes also published lists of people with dog and/or gun licences alongside their rates.

The existence of the rates books is also very handy in tying movement down. I knew that my wife’s family moved from one address to another between the 1891 and 1901 censuses: the fact that they suddenly started paying rates in 1896 or so pinpoints the move more exactly. Equally, my second cousins had a hotel in Grouville, but they disappear from the rate books in about 1905 – only a year after the owner (to whom one of them was married) died.

Property owners have to acquire their property, and next time we’ll be looking at what you can get from Jersey’s land registry system. Until then – À bétôt!

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

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Average London Property in 1910 Valued at Just £14,000, Compared to £430,500 Today

Recently I have seen that Ancestry.co.uk has launched on-line the Land Tax Valuations from 1910 London. Now we all know that property goes up and down, with most home owners expecting that the long term trend is up. Well this data collection reveals that the historic values of some of the capital’s most famous streets and landmarks from just over a century ago and no surprises that they were lower then than they are today.

Originally the records were compiled in 1910, from across the UK as part of David Lloyd George’s 1910 Finance Act and later refereed to as the ‘Domesday Survey’. The reason behind the government gathering this information was as a means to redistribute wealth through the assessment of land value.

What do the records contain for family historians? There is a listing of the owners and occupiers of the properties and it includes the address, value and annual rental yield for the properties in London in the early 20th century.

The average 1910 property could be purchased for a price tag of just £14,000, it would seem – almost 3,000 per cent less than today.

Of particular interest are the values of famous landmarks included in the collection. The Bank of England; worth a mere £110,000 in 1910, the Old Bailey; worth just £6,600, and Mansion House; which contrastingly was valued at an impressive £992,000. St Paul’s Cathedral also features, but without a valuation as it is listed as ‘exempt’ from tax.

Perhaps more surprising is that the media-hub Fleet Street, was then home to numerous newspapers from outside of London including the Liverpool Courier, Yorkshire Evening News and the Newcastle Chronicle! A property on Fleet Street cost an average of £25,000 in 1910, compared to £1.2 million today.
The records provide us with a valuable snapshot of the ownership of land at the beginning of the 20th century. It may help those with ancestors who appear in the collection to find out more about their forebears respective financial situations and the lives they led a hundred years ago.

Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones, whom I interviewed recently at Who Do You Think You Are? Live about their website, comments: “These records are especially useful as a census substitute for people tracing their London ancestors who may not have been captured in the England and Wales 1911 Census.

“The collection offers a fascinating insight into our capital at the beginning of the 20th century – a time when Britain was on the verge of major social, political and economic change.”

The collection complements the extensive census records, ranging from 1841 to 1901, already online at Ancestry.co.uk.

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