Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Family History - lest we forget

Memories - on this day of all days . . .



"Old" George Bird, born around 1848, around 70 years of age in this photograph, shortly before being discharged early in 1918 through ill health. We often wonder if he was the oldest soldier who ever signed up in WW1.


His son, George Brown Bird, who joined the 'Death and Glory Boys' at 14 to become a Drummer Boy and learned all too soon what soldiering was about when he went to fight in the Boer War.


Taken in 1914, when he had been drafted back from India to the Trenches. He died on the Somme at the end of July in 1916. His body was never found. A brave man, and leader of brave men.

Today seemed a very apt day to do some Family History research, and a forum friend's recommendation of using the War records on Ancestry.co.uk proved fruitful, as we found the documents associated with my husband's great grandfather. His only son had been killed on the Somme at the end of July. Consumed with anger and grief, within a week he had signed up and ended up in Mesopotamia, having fibbed about his age - he said he was 52 when he was actually 68! Despite having Chronic Bronchitis and Hypertrophy of the Heart, he was soon helping on the Inland Water Transport Corps with the Royal Engineers. The photograph we have of him out in Mesopotamia, shows a no-nonsense soldier with piercing blue eyes - and you would never tell that he was only 5 foot and 3/4 of an inch and he weighed only 134 lbs when enlisting - perhaps less by the time he had caught Malaria and been shipped home to Netley Hospital. Gosh, Netley Hospital - which became a country park where I walked the dogs when I lived in Southampton. I never knew then that there would be a family association with it - all I knew was there was the most dreadfully unhappy atmosphere around what remained of the Hospital (they knocked down all 1/4 mile of hospital and just left the Chapel) and I couldn't bear to go near it. I hope it wasn't such an unhappy place when Old George was there.

He had a week in hospital at Cosham some months later, being treated for Scabies with hot baths and special ointment, but the work and his age finally went against him and he was sent home in February 1918 with "Debility". We still don't have a positive time and place of death despite combing the records again and again - he is enigmatic even in death - but my late mother-in-law said that he died not long after her mother went to the Palace to collect her brother's War Medals - probably 1918. He is buried in Bow Cemetery.



Our Maggie . . . looking as if she will never smile again, in her widow's weeds in 1916.


And her husband Bertie, who died on the Somme a fortnight before his brother-in-law. The Army charged Maggie a shilling for the blanket to bury him in . . . My late mother-in-law was just six when her father (Bertie) died. She remembers him looking "like a film star" . . .

We often think of them, not just at this time of year. They are part of our family history and volunteered bravely -when Maggie lost her husband and her brother within a fortnight of each other, her hair turned white overnight. She was left with 4 small children to bring up on a widow's pension, working in a laundry whilst a neighbour looked after the children for her.

My husband's paternal grandfather - he signed up but never got to go to the Front. Instead, he was involved in gas trials, contracted TB and died on English soil.

On this, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we salute you, our fallen.

8 comments:

Greentwinsmummy said...

Goodness BB what a wonderful post,I remember you posting about that hospital.I somewhere....buried in a box in our attic room..have a wonderful photo of my dads uncle Percy,he went to India I believe,I seem to recall the photo set being rather grand & exotic,I must dig it out.
Maggie looks drenched with sorrow :o( How folks felt having gone thru all this & lost so many,when WWII started up beggers belief doesnt it :o(
GTM x x

A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

I love that verse and the bugle sounds as they read it out at our RSL.
Lest we forget....

Goosey said...

What a touching post, real people enduring such awful things. The BBC has been showing a wonderful series about families who were in WW1, have you been watching?

Arlene Grimm said...

How wonderful that you have those great photographs, Jennie. I had a great Uncle who served in Europe in WWI. We are so blessed that he came home. He was a wonderful man.

hen said...

A thought provoking post, just wonderful, thank you.

Bovey Belle said...

I'm glad that this was well received - I can hardly say "enjoyed" . . . I think there can scarcely be a family who didn't suffer the loss of a loved one or friend in WW1. It is important to keep their memories alive, and to talk about them still.

Thankyou for your comments, and keep posting.

Rowan said...

A lovely post for Remembrance Day - how lucky you are to have all these wonderful photographs of your family.

Sian said...

Rather late I know, but I wanted to mention something perhaps quite trivial - but you made me think about family history today.

My husband bears no resemblance to anyone in his family. They are all short, while he is over 6 foot, they are all fair while he is dark but one day many years ago we were looking through old family photographs and found a picture of a great uncle in a very smart uniform. It could have been a snap of my husband. We know very little about him but know that he later died at the Somme.

As you say, there is hardly anyone whose family is untouched by their sacrifice. Poignantly written Mrs B.