Monday, 9 February 2009

Wartime romance

Maternal grandparents – Percy Edwin GALE & Jessie MACKENZIE

There are two quite romantic stories surrounding the courtship and marriages of my mothers’ parents, Percy and Jessie.

Grandad Percy was born in 1886 and was a career army man, serving in the Northumberland Fusiliers. At the outbreak of WW1 he was sent to France with the Territorial Forces and spent almost all of the next 4 years there on the blood fields. One exception to this was when he was repatriated to London to recover from what we believe was a gas attack. It is at this time, according to family legend, that he fell in love with my grandmother.

The story goes that granddad was temporarily blinded by the gas and fell in love with the voice of one of the nurses – my grandmother. He would keep her at his bedside as long as he could just to hear her voice. When his sight was restored he fell in love all over again and the two began courting.

Unfortunately, Jessie’s father was not at all impressed with his daughter stepping out with a common soldier and actively discouraged the romance. Such was the strength of his opinion that when Percy and Jessie married at Trinity Church St Marylebone on 9th September 1916 they did so in secret.

Percy then went back to the front to see out the end of the war.

Jessie must have worn her father down or perhaps he relented when Percy was promoted; an officer would have been a far more suitable husband for his only daughter. Whatever the circumstances, he was present when his daughter and Percy married again at St Clement Danes Church on 3rd August 1918. Both Jessie and Percy broke the law when they declared themselves to be “bachelor” and “spinster” on this marriage certificate. How fortunate Jessie didn’t fall pregnant between her two weddings!

I used to love the pure romance of this story when I was growing up and for me the only story which surpassed it was that of my parents courtship during WW2.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Hussar & the Second Afghan War

Maternal great-grandfather - Edwin GALE

Edwin Gale was born on 25th September 1853 at 2 Anglers Gardens, Islington. He was the eldest child of William (an illiterate seaman) and Sarah (nee Baldock) Gale. Just three months after his 17th birthday Edwin enlisted as a groom in the 10th Hussars, having previously served in the 1st Middlesex Militia.

On 31st October 1878 Private Edwin Gale embarked for India and arrived in Afghanistan on 20th January 1879.

Edwin arrived during what was the “Second Afghan Campaign” which took place between 1878 and 1880. This conflict was sparked by the growing need for Britain to hold and defend its Empire, particularly in the face of Russian expansion to nearby Tashkent, Samarkand and Khiva. By the time Edwin’s regiment arrived in Afghanistan the major battles for the Khyber and Bolan Passes had been fought and Kandahar was once again tentatively in the hands of the British forces.

However, the fierce warrior tribes who inhabited this region ensured that Edwin’s time in Afghanistan would not be easy. Rioting Afghan soldiers sacked the British residency in Kabul in September and the approach of winter lent an urgency to the situation as both sides attempted to win and hold the best position. By early October tensions had flared into full-scale battle at Charasiah, just outside Kabul with the British again claiming victory.

As Edwin’s time in Afghanistan drew to a close, Amir Yakub Khan abdicated and threw Afghanistan into further chaos. The fierce Battle of Sherpur was fought on 23rd December 1879 and it is likely that this was the last conflict Edwin encountered in Afghanistan. He arrived back in England on 22nd March 1880.

After his tour of duty Edwin settled back to military life in England. On 15th January 1885 Edwin married Louisa Kennett, an agricultural labourers daughter from Lyminge, in the Parish Church in Cheriton, Kent. They had at least 6 children whose birthplaces attest to the mobile life of a soldier; Percy Edwin born in Aldershot, Lionel Sidney in Hounslow, Albert Victor in York, Charles E in Cahir Ireland, and Mabel Olive Lily and Arthur Vernon born in Edmonton.

On the 22nd June 1901 Edwin was discharged from the army with the rank of Squadron Sergent Major Rough Rider. He had earned 6 Good Conduct Badges as well as the Afghan Medal. Edwin died at the age of 77 on 17th September 1930.

Physical descriptions part 2

Maternal great-grandfather Edwin GALE

Born 25th September 1853 in Islington, Edwin was the eldest child of William GALE, a retired seaman, and Sarah BALDOCK, daughter of a London brewer.

At the age of 18 Edwin begins what is to be a life-time career in the army and it is from these enlistment papers that we get a physical description of our great-grandfather.

Edwin was a relatively small man at only 5’5 ½ tall with a modest chest measurement of 37”. His complexion is described as “fresh” and he has grey eyes and dark brown hair. Touchingly, his discharge papers from 1901 remark that Edwin’s hair is now “dark brown turning grey”, his chest measurement has expanded to 40” (middle-age spread perhaps) and he has grown to a full adult height of 5’ 7”. It is possible to imagine also that Edwin had a slight limp; the result of a “fracture of the right leg” during his service that may have begun to trouble him as he got older.

No photos have yet been discovered of our great-grandfather but at least from his army service record we get an idea of how he may have looked in life.

Dressmaker ?

I read an interesting article recently that talked about the 1881 & 1891 census & that prostitutes, particularly in London, often gave their occupation as “dressmaker”. I had a chuckle at this as we have a “dressmaker” in our family tree.

Maternal great-great-grandmother Janet (Jesse) Cochran Smith was born about 1837 in Ayrshire Scotland and married William Cunningham Bontine Hamilton in 1855 in Greenoch where they raised all 11 children. On various censuses through the decades Janet lists her occupation as “dressmaker”. I suspect Jesse had no formal training but rather, like many women, did sewing from home to help supplement the family income – particularly important when there were 11 small mouths to feed!

Jesse’s husband William died of consumption in June 1885 and the following February her daughter Annie (our great-grandmother) married John Mackenzie; a merchant seaman from Dingwall. Sadly Annie died in 1895 leaving her husband with 3 young children – our grandmother Jessie only 5 years old. It is possible that her daughters’ ill-health/death prompted Jesse to move all the way from just outside Glasgow to London as on the 1901 census this is where we find her – not living with her widowed son-in-law who had remarried by this time but with her youngest son William and his wife Agnes.

At the ripe age of 64, Jesse is still working as a…….."dressmaker”.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Physical descriptions

Paternal grandfather Ivor James MANSELL

A second cousin in Stockton, Betty Wherly, wrote to me in 1998 & passed on a description of grandad Mansell and his sister Eliza (Betty's grandma) as given to her by her mother, another Eliza Ann. According to Eliza her Uncle Ivor was very tall and slim, well groomed and quietly spoken. In contrast her mother Eliza Ann was slim, small and dark-haired - "very Welsh in fact".

It would seem that Ivor and Eliza were very close and Eliza was "very proud" of her older brother. In fact Eliza named one of her daughters Ivy after her brother Ivor. When their parents George and Eliza Mansell had both passed away, Ivor and Eliza Ann looked after their younger siblings and in fact on the 1901 census we see Betty's 23 year-old gran Eliza as the head of the household with siblings Rhoda (21), George (19), Tom (17) and Annie Maud (9) living with her. Newly married Ivor was probably with his wife although so far I have not found him on the 1901 census at all.