Untold lives blog

80 posts categorized "World War One"

22 December 2020

Soldier’s life saved by Princess Mary's Christmas gift

In February 1915 Private Michael Brabston of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was fighting at Givenchy.  In his breast pocket was the metal cigarette box he had received from Princess Mary's Gift Fund at Christmas.  A German bullet was on target to hit Brabston’s heart but it struck the box and he survived.

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Box 1914 now in Imperial War MuseumPrincess Mary's Gift Fund box containing a packet of tobacco and carton of cigarettes, 1914. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum
© IWM EPH 9380 

A few days later, Brabston was wounded above his left eye and he was sent to Edenbridge Hospital in Kent for treatment.  The matron forwarded the box and the bullet to Princess Mary.  A reply was received from Windsor Castle that the Princess was delighted that one of her boxes had saved a soldier’s life.  The box had been shown to the King and Queen who hoped that Private Brabston would soon recover from his wounds.

Brabston was awarded the Military Medal for his service in France.  On 17 August 1916, he was discharged from the British Army  as being no longer physically fit for war service.  He received a pension of 24 shillings per week.

Returning to his home in Clonmel Ireland, Brabston worked as a labourer before enlisting in the Irish National Army on 26 June 1922.  In May 1923, the Army was rounding-up Irish nationalists.  Sergeant Brabston was with a party of soldiers outside a dance hall at Goatenbridge when a young man approached him, hands in his pockets and whistling.  The two men exchanged greetings.  When the young man casually walked back the way he had come, Brabston became suspicious and followed him.  The man suddenly whipped out a revolver, shot Brabston in the chest at short range, and escaped into the woods.  Brabston died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

Michael Brabston’s mother Mary was awarded a gratuity of £100, paid in 20 monthly instalments of £5.  In 1927 an application for further payment was made on her behalf.  She had relied on her son to help support the family as he used to give her all his British Army pension plus money from his wages.  The claim stated that Mary was getting old, her nerves had been shattered by the sudden death of her son, she lacked nourishing food, she suffered from rheumatism, and she was incapable of earning a living.  The authorities ruled that nothing more could be paid as she had not been totally dependent upon Michael.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leicester Daily Post 28 June 1915; Dublin Evening Telegraph 8 & 9 May 1923
World War I medal card for Michael Brabston available from The National Archives UK
Documents relating to Michael Brabston’s service in the Irish Army are available from Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives 

 

02 December 2020

Wilfred Owen: One Hundred Years of His Poems

One hundred years ago, the first edition of Wilfred Owen’s Poems was published and established Owen as the enduring lyricist of the Great War.  Some of these poems have seeped deeply into the nation’s psyche.  Poems such as ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ are staples of remembrance ceremonies every year.  They resonate through the decades; they expose to school children, via their English literature curriculum, the pity and devastation of war.  Owen’s contribution to our collective understanding of the Great War has meant his words and image have been referred to, or explored, in all sorts of cultural outputs: in biographies, in novels, TV series and film.  He will be forever remembered as one of our greatest war poets and his premature death will always be used as an example of the ultimate sacrifice.

Photograph of Wilfred Owen in military uniform 1916

Photograph of Wilfred Owen by John Gunston, 1916. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence
   NPG P515


Owen’s published poems have been well discussed over the century that followed their publication, but the manuscript drafts of these poems held at the British Library offer even more insights into the motivations and inspirations behind these poems.

These manuscripts held at Add MS 43720 and Add MS 43721 include Owen’s notes, including this fascinating page that collates the themes and threads that run through the series of poems.

Poem notes by Wilfred OwenPoem notes by Wilfred Owen, Add MS 43720. f.2. Friends of the National Libraries: Manuscripts presented by, through or with the aid of:: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935.© The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate . This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

Owen carefully curates his collection through these notes, selecting poems that highlight the themes he wishes to present.  These themes include the inhumanity, the deceptiveness and the impact of war, as well as the idea that future generations will forget the suffering of these men.

Wilfred Owen's handwritten quote from W B Yeats

Add MS 43720, f.9.  Friends of the National Libraries: Manuscripts presented by, through or with the aid of:: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935.© The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate . This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

The manuscript volume also contains quotes from W. B. Yeats’ poems, including this from 'The Shadowy Waters'.  This poem is a telling of a supernatural journey to the end of the world and life, where the narrative seems to disappear into the mist and murk of the imagery.  This quotation precedes Owen’s poem 'The Show'.  In this poem, the narrator seems to float from above in the mist and the dank, watching the trails of soldiers below, all journeying on towards the end.  Owen also admired Romantic poets such as Keats and Shelley, as well as Laurent Tailhade, poet of the Decadent movement whom he had met whilst teaching in France before the war.  He would meet many contemporary poets and writers, including Robert Graves, H G Wells and Robert Ross whilst in recovery from shellshock in 1917.  This combination of influences means Owen’s work finds itself at a number of intersections: between the Romantic and the Modern, the heroic and the pessimistic, and between established and the transgressive.

Draft of Anthem for Doomed YouthDraft of Anthem for Doomed Youth, Add MS 43720, f.17.  Friends of the National Libraries: Manuscripts presented by, through or with the aid of:: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935.© The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate . This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.


However, the relationship that perhaps most influenced Owen’s poetry was that with Siegfried Sassoon whom he met in 1917.  Sassoon assisted and encouraged Owen.  He helped Owen channel the horror of his memories into visual material in his works.  Sassoon’s hand in Owen’s poems can be literally traced through Owen’s drafts.  Sassoon has annotated the poem in pencil.  Sassoon edited this and other poems when Owen showed him his drafts at Craiglockhart Military Hospital in September 1917.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

30 November 2020

Celebrating St Andrew’s Day in the trenches

In December 1914 an Army chaplain serving in France wrote to a friend in Edinburgh who had sent him a haggis for St Andrew’s Day.

‘Will you please accept my best thanks for the excellent haggis you so kindly sent me?  It was duly cooked and enjoyed very much on the day of days.  We even had a taste of the “Auld Kirk” to wash it down, for by a stroke of luck I had ninety-six hours’ leave in the beginning of last week, and took back a flask in my pocket in anticipation.

Scotch whiskiesAdvertisement for Holroyd’s Scotch whiskies in Saul Smiff, A Modern Christmas Carol (London, 1898) BL flickr


You may be sure the Scotsmen hereabouts made the most of the day, and the fact that we are at present far from the sound of guns helped to make matters more lively in one sense if not in another.  I suppose we will be at it again very shortly, but I think we are ready.  My short holiday home gave me a curious sensation.  Folk in the old country seem in a blue funk over an expected invasion, and I believe that you folk in Edinburgh are making strenuous efforts to prevent this.  What beats me is – from whence do you expect the invasion to come?  If our friend the enemy cannot break through our thin line here, how is he to manage to get troops over the Channel?  As for Zeppelins, I have not seen one in my three months or more in this country, and I have been at the front all the time.   But at all events I think you may sleep soundly at night as I do when I know the “Hielanders” are in the trenches.’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company records 

Further reading:
The Scotsman 8 December 1914 British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

 

19 November 2020

Eliza Armstrong’s children

This is a further instalment in the story of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.

Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885 Image © The British Library Board British Newspaper Archive

Helena Goodwyn’s recent post told how the Salvation Army stepped in to help Eliza when she was in financial difficulties following the death of her husband. This post focuses on Eliza’s children.

Eliza Armstrong was married at the age of 21 to Henry George West on 24 October 1893 in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Henry was a widower aged 35 living in Jarrow and he was working as a plumber.  The couple’s first child Reginald Ladas West was born in 1894.  His unusual middle name may perhaps be explained by the fact that there was a racehorse called Ladas which was very successful in 1893-1894.

Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 from Illustrated London News 16 June 1894 Image © Illustrated London News Group British Newspaper Archive


Sadly Reginald died aged 3 of tubercular meningitis in June 1897.  Eliza and Henry had five other children: Alice Maud May, William Frederick, Sybil Primrose, Phyllis Irene, and Henry George (Harry). 

Eliza’s life took another sad turn in February 1906 when her husband died of heart disease aged just 42.  She took in lodgers to help ends meet and places were found in National Children’s Homes for the three middle children.  Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene (just Irene in some records) were sent 300 miles to Stokesmead at Alverstoke in Hampshire.  They are both there in the 1911 census, aged 10 and 8 respectively.  In 1914 the Hampshire Telegraph reported that Irene West from the children’s home had won a Band of Hope prize.

William Frederick was placed at Edgworth children’s home in Lancashire, a ‘farm colony’ where boys and girls were trained in practical skills.  Many were sent to Canada.  In March 1912 William sailed from Liverpool with 90 other boys in the Dominion to Halifax, Nova Scotia. William became a farm hand in Ontario.

Eliza gave birth to five more children between 1907 and 1915: Reginald West in May 1907 (no father is named on his birth certificate) and four with Samuel O’Donnell, a lead worker - Francis Maurice, Frederick, Minnie, and Norman.

In January 1915 William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He arrived back in England with his army unit in August 1915 and went to fight in France in May 1916.  William was wounded in the right leg at Passchendaele on 31 October 1917.  He was sent back to Colchester for hospital treatment.

From August 1916 to his discharge in July 1919, William assigned 10 dollars of his pay to his mother.  He returned to Hebburn and married Eliza Carr in April 1919.  The couple moved to Canada and later to the USA.

Newspaper report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917Report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917 British Newspaper Archive

In February and March 1917, Harry West (12) and his brother Reginald (9) appeared at a juvenile court after stealing purses by pickpocketing.  They had run away from home, sleeping rough and eating in cocoa rooms.  Eliza had searched for them night and day.  She asked that her sons be taken away, although they had a good home, because she could do nothing with them.  As the boys had several previous convictions for petty theft, it was decided to send them to Wellesley Training Institution until they were sixteen.

Poor Eliza’s troubles did not end there.  Just weeks later, on 19 May 1917, Samuel O’Donnell died aged 49.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Jarrow Express 2 July 1897, 23 February 1906, & 30 March 1917; Shields Daily News 24 February & 27 March 1917; Hampshire Telegraph 17 April 1914
Stokesmead National Children’s Home 
Edgworth National Children’s Home 

Canadian immigration record for William Frederick West
Canadian Expeditionary Force papers for William Frederick West 

Previous blog posts -
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eiiza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

 

07 April 2020

India Office Family History Search

The information included in the India Office Family History Search website is taken from a card index which used to be available only at the British Library.  The card index was compiled by members of staff at the India Office Records from the mid-1970s onwards to meet the growing interest in genealogy.  Only a small proportion of the biographical sources available in the India Office Records has been incorporated into the index but it is a very good starting point for researchers and is free to access.

Sepoy Bengal Light InfantrySepoy of the Bengal Light Infantry from John Williams, An historical account of the rise and progress of the Bengal Native Infantry, from its first formation in 1757, to 1796 (London, 1817) British Library shelfmark T 35392 BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We have been adding data from the Bengal General Orders (IOR/L/MIL/17) on gallantry awards and pensions for Indian soldiers.  Pensions were granted to invalid soldiers, and the relatives and next of kin of soldiers killed or dying from wounds received in action might be admitted to a family pension.  For example, in 1825 the mother of the late Kamahjut Singh, a Sepoy in the 68th Regiment Native Infantry, was admitted to a pension. The following details are recorded about her:
Claimant: Bheekoo, aged 60 years 0 months.  Claimant's height: 4 feet 11 ¾inches.  Caste: Rajpoot. Claimant's appearance:  Has no particular marks, but very aged in appearance.  Location: Kurkah, Okurru, Behar.  Relationship to the deceased soldier: Mother.  Admitted: 24 Dec, 1825.  Amount of pension: 2 12.  Payable: For life.  Desires to draw pension at Dinapore.  Paid by Pension Paymaster.

We have also recently started adding data taken from newly catalogued papers in the Accountant General records relating to family pension funds for European personnel.  There is an entry from the Madras Military Fund for the splendidly named Gabrielle Antoinette Marie Fidèle Dubois de Moulignon de Chastelles, daughter of Louis Antoine Dubois du Moulignon de Chastelles and Maria Gabrielle Fidèle de Grivel.

One very useful feature of the India Office Family History Search is the opportunity to search by keyword as well as by name.  It is therefore possible to investigate causes of death from diseases such as cholera and from natural disasters such as earthquakes.  Searches on place names can reveal interesting lines of enquiry and links.  A check on Cheltenham shows that the town was very popular for retirement amongst East India Company and India Office overseas officials, especially military officers and their wives.

Entrance of Parramatta River c.1802Entrance of the Parramatta River, New South Wales from George Barrington, The History of New South Wales (London, 1802) British Library shelfmark 9781.c.12. BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Exploring with the keyword Australia brings back 50 hits for people from a variety of sources including application papers for military and civil posts, pension fund records, memorial inscriptions, registers of baptisms and marriages, and ship journals.  Some examples are:

Convicts Daniel Sutherland and Mary Springate died at Port Jackson in October 1792 having arrived on the ship Royal Admiral.

William Grant Broughton worked in the Accountant General’s Department at East India House 1807-1814 and was subsequently ordained. He became Bishop of Australia in 1836.

Mary Stirling*, whose father James was the Governor of Western Australia, was born at sea on 11 October 1832 and baptised at St Helena nine days later.

Sister Emily Clare of the Australian Army Nursing Service died of pneumonia on 17 October 1918 aged 28 and was buried in Deolali Government Cemetery.

Time to start hunting!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Family History Search 

*The name is spelled Sterling in the St Helena baptism register and transcribed as such in the India Office Family History Search.

 

01 January 2020

A New Year card from MI5

This New Year Card was sent 100 years ago to Sir Malcolm Seton of the India Office by Colonel Sir Vernon Kell and the staff of MI5.  They wished him a happy and peaceful New Year for 1920.  The main message on the card is 'To Liberty and Security 1914-1919. Malevolence Imposes Vigilance 1920'.  The Great War had ended recently but threats to peace and stability continued.

New Year card MI5 1920

MI5 Greeting card from the Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E 267/10B Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

We wish our readers a happy and peaceful New Year 2020.

 

22 October 2019

Indian military widows

The terrible plight of the widows of Indian soldiers in the period before, during and after the First World War is revealed in a file from the India Office's vast military archive.

The earliest document in the file dates from March 1913, but the outbreak of war in the following year brought the issue to the fore.  A letter of 26 February 1915 from Viceroy Lord Hardinge to the Secretary of State for India Lord Crewe attempted to lay down rules for the granting of military pensions:

(i) The widow must be proved beyond doubt to be in straitened circumstances  ... Absolute destitution not to be a necessary condition for the widow of any person above the rank of a private soldier.

(ii) The deceased husband must have performed really good service ... Other considerations to be taken into account  ...will be (a) the rank subsequently attained, (b) the character and conduct of the deceased, and (c) the length of his service.

(iii) The date of marriage will be an important consideration. We propose that the rules should not ordinarily include widows who married after their husbands had retired ...

Indian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886 from the album of George Michael James Giles Photo 104032 - detailIndian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886, from the album of George Michael James Giles - detail from Photo 1040/32 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is understandable that Imperial bureaucrats in London and New Delhi felt the need to formulate guidelines to deal with such matters, but the contrast with the appalling suffering touched upon in many of the cases cited throughout the file is stark.  Umrao Bi, thought to be aged about eighty, was the widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Shaik Imamuddin, and in June 1914 she petitioned the British Resident at Hyderabad for assistance, stating that her husband's Mutiny medal had been lost during a flood in 1908.  The previous month Amir Bi, aged 95, widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Azmuth Khan, applied for an allowance ' ... so that she may endure the remainder of her life without experiencing the pangs of hunger’.

The dismal theme is continued in a list of 9 June 1916 which provides brief details of 55 applications for compassionate allowances, with 26 containing the simple words 'Woman was destitute'.  The majority were widows of soldiers who had served on the British side in 1857-58.  Qamru Bi '... was 80 years of age, and was begging for a living’.  Hasharat Bi '...earned about Rs. 4 per mensem by sewing, but she was getting old and was partially blind’.  Firdaus Begum '...had a small income of about Rs. 2 per mensem out of which she had to support 2 female relatives.  She had incurred a debt of about 500’.  The children of several petitioners were themselves too poor to support their mothers.      

The sum allocated by the British authorities to cover all successful applications for relief between 1915 and 1927 was capped at a miserly Rs. 1500 per year.  Although more money was made available through the establishment of the Indian Army Benevolent Fund in September 1927, eighteen months later its administering Board had made a mere 197 grants out of 1160 applications received.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/7/12143

 

05 September 2019

A librarian’s death on Lake Onega - Roger James Chomeley

The British Librarians’ memorial at the British Library records the names of 142 persons who died during the First World War.  Two died after the signing of the Peace Treaty at Versailles on 28 June 1919.

Captain Roger James Chomeley M.C. of the Cheshire Regiment died during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.  The Allies began to withdraw their forces from North Russia in June 1919, but it was a long, drawn-out process.  Chomeley was drowned on Lake Onega on 16 August 1919, aged 47.

Steam tug Azot captured from the Bolshevik forces on Lake Onega  1919Steam tug Azot captured from the Bolshevik forces on Lake Onega, 1919 © IWM (Q 16793)

A naval court of inquiry reported:
‘Captain R. J. Cholmeley was on board the Russian steamship Azod, one of the lake flotilla, on Lake Onega, and on the night of August 16, 1919, he was washed overboard while overhauling machine guns which were required for action at daybreak the following morning.  The vessel was heavily laden, and there was a very heavy sea, hence this imperative duty was most dangerous.  The court considers that Captain Cholmeley sacrificed his life in the execution of his duty’ (Brisbane Courier 20 February 1920).

Studio photograph of Roger James CholmeleyRoger James Cholmeley, lecturer in Classics, The University of Queensland, c1910?  Fryer Library Photograph Collection

Roger James Cholmeley was born at Swaby, Lincolnshire in 1872, the son of the Rev. James Cholmeley and his wife Flora Sophia. He studied at St Edward’s School in Oxford, before gaining an open classical scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, graduating in 1894.  He afterwards taught at Manchester Grammar School and the City of London School.  Roger married Lilian Mary Lamb in Oxford on 12 August 1896.  They had one daughter Katharine Isabella born at Wimbledon in 1903.

Having already served with the East Surrey Volunteer Corps, Cholmeley enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry at London in March 1900.  He served in South Africa until June 1901. He obtained a commission and, on his return to the UK, continued to serve with the volunteers and the Territorial Force.

In 1901 Cholmeley published his edition of The Idylls of Theocritus.  He returned to South Africa in 1905 to take up a post as professor of Latin at the Rhodes University College at Grahamstown, where he also acted as librarian.  In 1909 he moved to Australia, teaching classics at Scotch College, Melbourne.  In 1911, he was appointed to a lectureship in classics at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, combining teaching with sorting out the University Library.

On the outbreak of the First World War, Cholmeley once again offered his services.  He was initially employed as a military censor in Australia, a post using his considerable knowledge of French, German, Russian, Dutch, and Greek.  He was rejected by the Australian authorities for active service, so in June 1915 he sailed to the UK where he obtained a commission in the Cheshire Regiment.  Chomeley wrote the preface to a revised edition of his Theocritus on the voyage over, lamenting the war’s interruption to scholarship.


Cholmeley's preface to his new edition of The Idylls of TheocritusCholmeley's preface to his new edition of The Idylls of Theocritus shelfmark 2280.d.10 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Despite his age, Cholmeley served with the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment on the Western Front, being wounded twice.  In September 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions as brigade intelligence officer.

After the Armistice, Captain Cholmeley was posted to Northern Russia.  In expectation of his return from military service, the University of Queensland promoted Cholmeley assistant professor of classics, but he died before he could take up the post. 

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
Damien Wright, Churchill’s secret war with Lenin: British and Commonwealth military intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-20 (Solihull: Helion, 2017), pp. 75-85.
Ian Binnie, 'Captain Roger James Cholmeley, MC', Moseley Society History Group
The Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 20 September 1919, p. 9
Brisbane Courier, 20 February 1920, p. 2
J.M.S., 'Roger James Cholmeley', The Classical Review, 34 (1920), pp. 76-77
R. J. Cholmeley (ed.), The Idylls of Theocritus (London: George Bell & Sons, 1901).
R. J. Cholmeley (ed.), Principiorum Liber (London: Edward Arnold, 1910).
R. J. Cholmeley (ed.), The Idylls of Theocritus, new ed. (London: George Bell & Sons, 1919)
Albert C. Clark, Journal of Hellenistic Studies, XLI (1921), pp. 152-154

 

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