Continuing the tales of ancestors from the family of my friend, Heidi Mellings, this time dealing with her great-great-great uncle, Richard Banks Davies, a younger brother of her great-great-grandfather.
Richard was born on 3rd Sep 1860, two years after his father inherited the Moor Court estate and so was born into a very affluent and locally influential family.
In keeping with the wealth and status of his parents, Richard was educated at Charterhouse Public School and then went up to Cambridge in 1879, enrolling at St John’s College. In 1883 he earned a BA. The following year he was ordained as a deacon at the Church of St Mary’s, Nottingham where he became vicar in 1885. In 1886 he moved to the Church of St Bartholomew in Nottingham where he remained for four years.
At this point Richard decided he needed a change of direction and enrolled with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), a missionary society established by members of the Anglican Church within the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, and Dublin, founded in 1857.
Consequently, in 1890, Richard found himself at the UMCA Mission at Magila in German East Africa (what is now Tanzania). However, for reasons unknown, Richard lasted no more than a few months at the mission before returning to England and taking the position of vicar at St James Church in Riddings in Derbyshire where he remained for three years before deciding to try his hand at missionary work again. In 1894, Richard became missionary at the station at Isandhlwana in Zululand where just 15 years before an 1,800-plus force of British troops and African auxiliaries was massacred by a Zulu army.
Evidently, Richard had more success at this station than he had on his first visit to Africa as he remained at Isandhlwana for eleven years. From 1904 to 1908 he was Canon of Vryheid and for the last two years of that spell was also Rector of Eshowe.
Then, bizarrely, Richard set off on his travels again, this time to become missionary in Saltcoats, Saskatchewan… 10,000 miles away! I am guessing this was an aborted position because by the time he arrived in Canada he almost immediately turned round and went back to southern Africa.
Because by 1910, Richard was back in South Africa, as Missionary-in-Charge of St Columba’s Mission in Bulawayo! The following year he moved to Springvale Native Mission where he remained until 1924 when he became Vicar of Mid Illovo, Natal.
In 1914, three days after the outbreak of WW1, Richard married Ellen McLeod, a local South African woman twenty years his junior.
Richard retired in 1930 but when his wife died in 1933 he decided to become an active clergyman again and so obtained a Licence to Officiate in the Diocese of Natal which he retained until his death in 1940, aged 79 from a chronic heart condition.
Continuing stories from the family history of my friend, Heidi Mellings; this time, some short stories about loss in World War 1. I imagine more or less every family in the country suffered loss in World War 1 so these stories are not unusual, but that doesn’t make them any less poignant.
Douglas Charles Earle Marsh
Douglas was the nephew of Heidi’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Marsh. He was born on 19 May 1898 and educated at Lockers Park Prep School, then Winchester College from 1911 to 1916. On leaving school, with war having broken out, Douglas volunteered for the Army and enrolled at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst the month after leaving school, August 1916. He was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) on 30th April 1917.
Initially posted to the Reserve Cavalry base at Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire, he was posted to France in February 1918, just prior to the German’s final throw of the dice to win the war on the Western Front with their massive Spring offensive.
The Germans launched their offensive on 21st March, devastating the Allied front and reserve lines with the biggest artillery barrage of the war, firing and astounding 1.1 million shells in 5 hours! The centre of the Allied position collapsed. They lost almost 20 thousand casualties on the first day and within two days were in full retreat. Desperately, the Allied commanders sought to stem the rout and threw every available unit they could find into the line to counter the German advance.
By the 31st March the German advance was slowing but the situation was still desperate. That day, Douglas’ cavalry regiment was pushed up into the line in front of Amiens, dismounted and acting as infantry, to try and counter-attack the German units in positions south east of the city.
I tracked down the Regimental Diary for the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) and will let it take up the story…
“The dismounted portion of the regiment spent the night in position just south of the THIENNES-HOURGES road. The Gd (Guard) horses were taken back to Bois l’ABBE. At 5am orders were received that the 2nd Cav. Div. would attack and retake the wood (Moreuil Wood) 600 yards south of HOURGES and high ground on NE side of main ROYE road. The 3rd Hussars and Oxford Hussars were the first wave and captured the high ground. The 5th Bde (Brigade) were 2nd wave and captured the northern edge of the wood. The Canadian Bde were the 3rd wave and captured whole of wood and occupied the eastern edge. The Carabiniers were to move up when Canadian Bde had gained their objective and relieve them. The preliminary bombardment started at 8.52am and ceased 9am. The waves advanced as ordered and took all their objectives. The Carabiniers entered the wood at 11am and relieved the Canadian Bde. Owing to the thickness of the undergrowth it took some time to get all Squadrons into their…
…positions. By about 2pm the regiment was concentrated and holding the eastern edge of wood. About 2.30pm the enemy opened a heavy bombardment on the wood inflicting some casualties on the regiments. One squadron of the Oxford Hussars were on the left of regiment and the 6th Dragoons on the right. About 6.30pm one Squadron of the 7th Dragoon Guards relieved “A” Sqdn and later another Squadron relieved “B”
and “C” Sqdns who were pretty reduced in numbers. “C” Sqdn was withdrawn by orders of General Seely into reserve in HOURGES village. The remainder of the regiment moved over to the southern edge of the wood and relieved one Squadron of the Royal Scots Greys. Here it was much quieter and no casualties were suffered. The regiment remained in these positions until relieved by infantry tomorrow morning. Estimated casualties 60 all ranks. Strength of regiment in morning about 110 all ranks.”
Note: the official strength of the regiment was just under 500 officers and men, and by this date they were down to 110.
One of those casualties was 2nd Lt. Douglas Marsh. He was evacuated via the nearest Casualty Clearing Station to No.8 General Hospital at Rouen where a week later he died of his wounds on 8th April 1918, aged 19.
Hugh was a nephew of another of Heidi’s great-great-grandmothers, Eliza Pater. He was born on 28th April 1888, educated at Bow Durham prep school, Rossall public school, then the University of London and subsequently became a schoolmaster at Durham Cathedral Choir School.
A week after Kitchener’s famous appeal for volunteers just after the outbreak of war, Hugh volunteered and was enlisted into the Royal Fusiliers as a private on 3rd Sept. 1914. He joined one of the “Public Schools Battalions”, one of four battalions all recruited from former public school boys.
Following the dire losses in the British Army in 1914 and early 1915, “young gentlemen” from the Public Schools Battalions were encouraged to apply for commissions to fill the officer ranks. Hugh must have been one such because less than a year after joining up he was gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales’ Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) on 15th June 1915. The 3rd Battalion of the West Yorkshires was a training battalion based in England and, for many, this would have been a most desirable “cushy” home posting, seeing out the rest of the war training those who were off to the Western Front. Evidently, this wasn’t what Hugh Pater wanted and a year later, August 1916, he put in for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, the air arm of the British Army.
Manned, powered flight had only been achieved by the Wright brothers for the first time in history less than 13 years earlier and the armies of Europe were already fighting in aircraft in the skies over the Western Front.
Hugh was sent for pilot training with 37 (Reserve) Squadron at Scampton Camp in Lincolnshire (later, in World War II, the home of the famous 617 Squadron, the Dam Busters). RFC training was often sketchy – inadequate training aircraft and too few solo flying hours allowed for recruits. With the demand for pilots on the Western Front increasing, corners were inevitably cut. On top of this, the aircraft technology was primitive and unreliable. More RFC casualties occurred in training through crashes than in battle on the Western Front and once a pilot qualified and joined an operational squadron the life expectancy for new pilots was less than six weeks.
However, on 14th April 1917 Hugh Pater qualified and received his pilot’s certificate. Tragically, however, Hugh would not make it to an operational squadron.
On 17th April 1917, just three days after obtaining his own pilot’s certificate, Hugh was acting as an observer in an RE8, piloted by 2nd Lt John Manley.
Forward visibility for the aircrew when the aircraft was on the ground was virtually nil due to the angle at which the machine sat. The mechanic assigned to the aircraft on take-off failed to inform the pilot that there was another aircraft, an Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8, crossing their path. Accelerating for take-off, Manley flew the RE8 straight into the FK8, destroying both aircraft and killing Hugh Pater. Manley was injured in the crash but the pilot of the other aircraft, Lt. George Clarke, escaped unhurt.
It was, a week before Hugh Pater’s 31st birthday.
As a footnote, Manley would be killed in France five months later. Clarke survived the war and was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Continuing the family history stories of my friend, Heidi Mellings, this time with what started off as utter confusion. Two cousins, born within a year of each other who both went into the military (being spares, not heirs) with identical names – John Race Godfrey.
The first John Race Godfrey I’ll discuss was the younger brother of Sarah, Heidi’s four-times great-grandmother. This John Race was born 11 March 1790 and entered the brutal world of the Royal Navy on 9 June 1803 at the age of just thirteen. He was taken on board the Prince of Wales, a 98-gun, three-deck battleship and the flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder. This was probably as a favour to the boy’s parents, Admiral Calder being the brother of the boy’s great-uncle by marriage.
John Race Godfrey joined the service as First Class Volunteer, a position reserved for boys usually under the age of sixteen who were destined to become officers. The position gave them sea-experience before they were formally made midshipmen, the lowest officer rank.
On 19 Feb 1805, Vice-Admiral Calder on the Prince of Wales was detached from the Channel Fleet to take the command of the blockading squadron off Ferrol where he arrived on the 1 March. By this time John Race Godfrey was a midshipman. On arrival off Ferrol, Calder maintained the blockade for the next five months until word reached him of a combined French-Spanish fleet returning to Europe from the West Indies approaching his position.
On 15 July 1805, Calder sailed with his squadron 30 to 40 leagues off Finisterre to intercept them. The two fleets sighted each other around 11am on 22 July and Calder made the signal “Engage the enemy”. Calder had 15 ships of the line, two frigates and two smaller ships under his command, against Admiral Villeneuve’s Franco-Spanish fleet of 20 Ships of the line and seven frigates.
After several hours of manoeuvring the engagement began at about 17:15. In patchy fog and indifferent visibility the action became a confused melee. Calder’s flagship had its rudder shot away, thus losing all steering but the British ships forced two Spanish ships to strike before night brought an end to the action.
Daybreak on 23 July found the fleets 27 kilometres (17 mi) apart. Calder was unwilling to attack a second time against superior odds. He had to protect two of his own ships that had been badly damaged and protect the large captured Spanish prizes. Accordingly, he declined to attack and headed northeast with his prizes.
This decision led to Calder’s downfall. Back in England the press tore into him, accusing him of dereliction of duty and cowardice.
Nelson, who had by now taken command of Calder’s fleet in addition to his own force that had returned from the West Indies chasing Villeneuve, was ordered to send Calder home to face charges at the Admiralty. Unusually, Nelson allowed Calder to take the Prince of Wales home on 14 October 1805, rather than putting him on a smaller, faster ship for the journey and retaining the big ship in his line-of-battle. Thus it was that the Prince of Wales, with John Race Godfrey aboard, missed the Battle of Trafalgar fought just a week later.
While Admiral Calder was cleared of the charges of cowardice, he was severely reprimanded by the Admiralty for his decision not to re-engage the enemy on the day after the action at Finisterre and was never given a sea command again.
However, John Race Godfrey remained with the Prince of Wales and, under the command of Captain William Bedford, was involved on 16 Jul 1806 when the ships’ boats from the Prince-of-Wales and seven other vessels captured the French 16-gun brig-corvette César from the River Gironde in a hazardous cutting-out operation.
The following year John Race Godfrey sailed with the Prince of Wales now bearing the pennant of Admiral James Gambier as a part of a fleet of 38 vessels for Copenhagen and was present for the siege and bombardment of the city and the capture of the Danish Fleet. Apparently John Race Godfrey served on land during the bombardment of Copenhagen probably either manning guns or bringing in ammunition. And he gained a medal for this service.
After Copenhagen, John Race Godfrey served in a number of different ships. He was finally promoted Lieutenant on 15 March 1815 and on 7 July 1817 married Augusta Maria Marsh, daughter of the late John Marsh, Esq., of Thornbury, Gloucestershire, with whom he had six children.
In 1820 he obtained an appointment in the Coast Guard and after 12 years’ service with them was placed on half-pay, thereafter living on private income.
This John Race Godfrey died in November 1864.
Now, John Race Godfrey, the other one, was born five months before his cousin on 6 October 1789, son of the Rev. Race Godfrey, who was the elder brother of Heidi’s five-times great-grandfather, John.
This John Race opted for a land-based military career, enrolling in the Honourable East India Company’s army on 1 July 1806. Two years later he was made Lieutenant in the 24th Regiment Native Infantry of the Madras Presidency. (The HEIC had three main sub-divisions for its rule in India which it referred to as Presidencies – Bombay, Madras and Bengal – and each had an army made up of European and native troops.)
A blot on Godfrey’s record came in 1811 when he was tried by Court Martial and found guilty of “having acted unbecoming an officer in having entered the garrison in a most shameful and improper manner” (presumably drunk) and was severely reprimanded.
In August 1816, Godfrey was given extended leave in England for three years in which time he married Jane Woodhouse on 15April 1819, the service conducted by John Race’s elder brother, Rev. Daniel Godfrey. The newly married couple must have set off almost at once for India because John Race was reported as having returned to duty on 3 Oct 1819.
The couple would ultimately have ten children, all but one born in India and all of whom survived into adulthood, a rare thing then and even rarer for Europeans in the blistering heat of southern India.
At the end of 1819, John Race Godfrey was appointed Interpreter and Quartermaster in the 2nd Battalion 1st Regiment Native Infantry. It’s interesting to note that the East India Company very much encouraged its European officers to learn the local languages and it is evident from this posting that John Race Godfrey must have been fluent, possibly in Hindi but more likely in Tamil, the most commonly spoken language in the Madras area.
John Race Godfrey was promoted to Captain on 27 March 1821.
When war broke out in Burma in 1824, Godfrey’s unit was involved throughout. This was the principal military campaign the Madras Native Infantry were engaged in. Otherwise, their responsibilities mainly involved maintaining order within the Presidency, thus allowing the HEIC to trade unhindered and to make heaps of money.
John Race Godfrey was promoted to Major on 15 June 1833 and retired from service on 10February 1836, returning to England the following month on the ship, Duke of Argyll.
Godfrey sold his commission and, on his return to England, bought the elegant Northernhay House, near Exeter and lived on his private means until his death in 1855.
Note: Northernhay House was bought by Exeter Council and demolished in 1914. On the site now stands student accommodation for the University of Exeter, called Northernhay House.
Continuing the ancestral stories of my friend Heidi Mellings, this time delving back 500 years…
The thing about wealthy and influential ancestors is that there tends to be a much better record of their lives. This is certainly the case with Erasmus Earle. If he had been a peasant there would have been no record of him but he wasn’t, he was a very wealthy and influential lawyer. Hence, we know quite a bit about this man who was Heidi’s direct ancestor, her 10 times great grandfather! (so, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather… that’s almost too silly and I think this will be the furthest back I can get!)
Erasmus Earle was born in Salle in Norfolk in 1590. Just to give that some context… Queen Elizabeth I was in the 32nd year of her reign, two years earlier the Spanish Armada had threatened England, and William Shakespeare was just beginning his play-writing career!
Erasmus’ father, Thomas, died in 1605 when Erasmus was 15 years old and he was left in the guardianship of his two grand-fathers. He was educated at Norwich Grammar School, after which he attended Peterhouse College, Cambridge in 1609 and subsequently was admitted as Student of Law at Furnivals Inn, London. Later, on April 7th 1612, at the age of 21 he transferred to Lincoln’s Inn.
On 25 February 1616 he married Frances, the daughter of James Fountaine of Salle (a distant relation on his mother’s side of the family) and their eldest son John, the first of six children, was baptised at Salle in April 1622.
From 1635 to 1641 he was a Bencher at Lincoln’s Inn and in 1639 he was appointed Autumnal Lecturer.
Earle was elected Member for Parliament for the City of Norwich in 1640 and became a staunch supporter of Parliament during the English Civil Wars. Such was his reputation, he was appointed one of the Legal Secretaries for the English Parliamentarian side at the Treaty of Uxbridge in 1645.
On the 12th of October, 1648, he was called to the degree of Serjeant-at-Law and became Steward and Recorder for the city of Norwich. When riots broke out in the city in sympathy with the Royalist cause, Erasmus oversaw the trial of the ringleaders and, on Christmas Day 1648, passed sentence of death on several of them.
Following the execution of Charles I, during the Commonwealth, he served as Oliver Cromwell’s own Serjeant-at-Law and continued in the same post under Richard Cromwell, being also a Serjeant to the Commonwealth. He was reputed to have been “esteemed one of the most able Lawyers of his time”.
Following the Restoration in 1660 he took the Benefit of the King’s Pardon, and on 21st June 1660 he was once again called to the position of Serjeant-at-Law “continuing in great reputation and Business to the end of his days . . .”
Over the years, Erasmus added considerably to the wealth he inherited from his father, adding the manors of Salle, Cawston and Heydon to his estate. He purchased Stinton Hall and King’s Manor in 1643 for the price of £1620. His principal home became Heydon Hall.
Erasmus Earle died at Heydon, September 7, 1667. His wife, Frances died four years later.
An interesting side note during the career of Erasmus Earle is one of witchcraft…
Witchcraft wasn’t on the statute books as a crime until the reign of Henry VIII although the church had considered it heresy for centuries prior. The law went through a couple of revisions over the next seventy years but, following James I’s fascination with the subject, the 1603 Witchcraft Act became the definitive law on the subject. The clear and specific way this act defined witchcraft, and its punishment, supported its subsequent harsh enforcement by the well-known “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, amongst others.
I mention the self-styled Witchfinder General because he was operating in the 1640s in East Anglia when Erasmus Earle was rising to prominence. Although there is no direct evidence of any connection between Erasmus and Hopkins’ activities, he must have been aware of the man.
And then we come to the Lowestoft Witches.
Between the 10th and 13th March 1664, a trial took place at Bury St Edmunds Assizes. Two elderly women from Lowestoft, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender who were both widows, were tried before Magistrates on a charge of witchcraft. Indictments were brought against them, alleging that they had bewitched several people, including children. The trial lasted two days. On the afternoon of Thursday, 13th March, the verdict of Guilty having being returned, the Judge Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, sentenced the two women to be hanged. The executions took place on Monday, 17th March 1664, with neither of the women confessing their guilt.
At the time of the trial Erasmus Earle, then in his 72nd year, was one of East Anglia’s foremost lawyers. His role in the trial is uncertain, but as a Serjeant-at-Law, one of the elite of the legal profession, he was probably one of the “co-adjudicators” who were often appointed to help conduct the business of the Assize.
This trial is important for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it was presided over by Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. Hale, who later became Lord Chief Justice of England, is still honoured as one of the best minds in English jurisprudence – and yet, blinded by the beliefs of his day, he still condemned two old women to death for crimes they could not have committed!
Secondly, the published trial report, based on the notes made by an eye-witness, “The Tryal of Witches”, is probably one of the most comprehensive in England and gives a frightening insight into the way a witch trial proceeded.
Thirdly, it is arguable that without the trial of the Lowestoft Witches and the publication of the trial report, then the infamous witch trials at Salem in 1692 might never have happened. When the Magistrates at Salem were looking for a precedent in allowing so-called “spectral evidence” they consulted “The Tryal of Witches” booklet. Upon discovering that no lesser person than Sir Matthew Hale had permitted this evidence to be used in court, they too accepted its validity and the trials proceeded.
Continuing stories of the ancestors of my friend Heidi Mellings, this time going back to her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (that’s officially the most greats I’ve had in one of these pieces), Daniel Race, born in 1697.
Daniel was reported to have been abnormally small and you can see from his portrait, Daniel was indeed a short-arse, but the question is, why is there even a portrait of him at all?
The Bank of England was established in 1694. There have been 33 Chief Cashiers at the Bank of England and Daniel Race was the Chief Cashier, from 1739 to 1775 and this portrait hangs in the Bank of England Museum.
What was/is the Chief Cashier? You can find the Chief Cashier’s signature on every British banknote. Chief Cashiers have charge of “the banking business and the note issue” and sign banknotes on behalf of the Bank to demonstrate its promise to pay the value of the note for all time. Originally, Chief Cashiers’ signatures were handwritten on each banknote one by one: now the signature is added as part of the design but still appears on each banknote that is printed.
Daniel Race joined the bank in 1719.
In 1729 he married Mary Dewes (or Dewees, it’s unclear) and together they had four children, Mary, Elizabeth, John and Morris of which only one, Mary, would outlive them. (Mary would marry Benjamin Godfrey, the East India Company Captain I wrote about previously.)
In 1739 Daniel became Chief Cashier jointly with James Collier, then held the post jointly with Elias Simes from 1751 to 1759 then solely until 1775.
During Daniel Race’s lifetime, he witnessed the Bank of England moving from Grocer’s Hall to its permanent location on Threadneedle Street, London in 1734. By that time, it had become the largest and most prestigious financial institution in England.
I came across an episode when Daniel was mentioned in evidence at the Old Bailey. In 1738, one of the bank promissory notes to the value of £500 signed by Daniel Race for a Mr John Pye was stolen from that gentleman shortly after he left the bank. It wasn’t long after that a certain Joseph Hodson was arrested for picking Mr Pye’s pocket and tried at the Old Bailey. The Newgate Calendar picks up the story…
Joseph Hodson, 45 Years of Age, born of honest Parents in London, who gave him an Education to fit him for Business, and as to Religion, that he least minded. He never was put to any Trade or Business, but pretended to be a Dutch Trader; but his Business, by which he maintain’d himself and his Wives, was by private Robberies and artful Cheating [love that phrase!]. For this Purpose he dress’d well, and used to frequent Guildhall, the Royal Exchange, Westminster hall, Masquerades, Assemblies and Installations. Wherever there was any Confluence of fashionable People, he was sure to be present. He refused to acknowledge anything relating to the robbing of Mr. Pye of his Pocketbook, tho’ the £500 Note was found upon him.
At this time in England, the Bloody Code was in force, which imposed the death penalty for 225 offences, most of which would deem trivial today. Consequently, Joseph Hodson was found guilty and hanged at Tyburn.
Daniel Race worked for the Bank of England all his life, leaving their service just before he died on 6th October 1775 aged 78 years. His wife, Mary, died the same year.
Daniel was buried at St. Luke’s Church, Old Street in London and the brass memorial to his memory, erected by the Bank of England on the east wall of the chancel of the church speaks of him in the customary fulsomeness of the eighteenth century as “A man of plain appearance and no way assimilated with the Depravity of the Times, in every respect the Man of Business, the Gentleman, the Philosopher, the Christian: eminently distinguished by his extraordinary Virtues and Abilities, uniformly and successfully executed in a large and important Sphere of Action for the interests of the Bank and the Publick.”
In the 1850s, a descendent Frederick Race Godfrey, published a journal in which he stated, “He [Daniel Race] possessed a fortune of £200,000, from which he assisted in many patriotic and benevolent schemes.” Just for information purposes, £200,000 in 1775 would be worth the equivalent of approximately £35 million today.
Continuing the stories from the ancestral past of my friend Heidi Mellings, this time a set a four short pieces about brothers, the sons of William H Wiatt, the merchant and banker with Brazilian connections I wrote about a while ago.
These gentlemen were the siblings of Heidi’s great-grandmother, Helen. They all served in World War 1, three surviving, and the fourth having the oddest coincidence with my own family history.
Frank Helder Wiatt
Frank was born on 26th May 1876 in Liverpool. He was a career mariner in the merchant marine. Although I haven’t been able to trace his early career, we know that he qualified as a 2nd Mate in 1897 and in 1905 he joined the Royal Naval reserve, the Navy’s equivalent of the Territorial Army, a part-time reserve force that could be called upon in time of war. This was a time, of course when the so-called “naval race” between Britain and Germany was just beginning, with the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, an international arms race that would culminate in world war in 1914.
Anyway, back to Frank’s merchant marine career. From his service card I found he had joined the “BISNC” which took a while to work out was the British and India Steam Navigation Company which was a merchant marine company primarily operating in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
However, he left them for a year in 1907 to become 3rd Mate on the Euphrates, a cargo ship operated by the Bucknall Steamship Line.
In May 1908 he was back with the BISNC as 2nd Mate on the Purnea, a cargo ship working out of Calcutta, and operating between Australia and the Indian sub-continent. It was most likely on one of his visits to Australia that he met Annie Watts, a resident of Manly whom he married there in 1914.
Following his service on the Purnea, Frank was promoted to Chief Officer and held a shore posting, based in Calcutta which he retained until he was called into service in WW1 with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant as Chief Officer in HM Troopship Eastern, mostly operating in familiar waters for Frank, ferrying troops from Australia, India and South Africa.
At the end of the war, Frank settled in Australia, living in Warringah, a northern suburb of Sydney, encompassing what is now the uber-trendy area of the Northern Beaches, and was employed as a harbour pilot.
For whatever reason, the couple chose to move to England sometime in the 1920s, residing first in west London and then in Worthing in Sussex. Annie died in Worthing in 1939 and Frank died, also in Worthing in 1967, aged 90.
Harold Comber Wiatt
Harold was born on 11th March 1885 in Brazil, his father being employed by the London and Brazilian Bank and based in Rio de Janeiro. However, on the family’s return to England, Harold was sent to public school and boarded at St John’s College, Hurstpierpoint in Sussex.
Following school, Harold married almost immediately, at the age of just 18 to Mary Sellwood Pink, the 21-year old daughter of a green grocer from Acton and together they set up house in Acton near her parents.
Harold became a clerk and on the 1911 census is recorded as being a Cinematograph Clerk, presumably working for one of the very earliest “cinema” houses as the cinematograph itself had its very first public screening only in 1895.
When war broke out in 1914, Harold didn’t rush to volunteer but the following year, aged nearly 31, he enlisted and joined the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) Infantry. His enlistment papers are among those that survived the Blitz in WW2 so we know something of his physical description… he was 5’9” tall with a 38” chest measurement.
Initially, Harold was placed on reserve but was mobilized due to the escalating casualties in May 1917 and was posted to the HAC 1st Infantry Battalion which by then had been designated as a training unit. After three months he was then posted to 2nd Battalion and he joined that unit in France on 28th September preparing for the 3rd Battle of Ypres, what became known as Passchendaele. On 9th October, Harold would have “gone over the top” for the first time as the battalion was assigned to attack the German trenches in front of the village of Reutal. The objectives of the 2nd HAC that day were to “capture the village of Reutel and gain touch with the 5th Division about Juniper Cottage”, as per the battalion history. The history goes on to say “the whole of the objectives of the attack were secured.” The casualties were Officers: 8 killed & 7 wounded, Other Ranks: 49 Killed, 189 wounded and 42 missing. There is also a note that “Almost all the ‘missing’ were afterwards reported killed.”
In November 1917, Harold’s battalion were withdrawn from the line and were posted to northern Italy to support the Italian Army’s offensives against the Austrians.
However, Harold was to see no further action. On 31st December he was taken ill and treated at the 39th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) at Istrana, north east of Venice. He was diagnosed with nephritis, inflammation of the kidneys. From 39 CCS he was evacuated to 38th Stationary Hospital at Genoa.
From there he was evacuated back to England on the Australian Hospital Ship Warilda, arriving back in England in early February 1918. (As a side note, there was worldwide outrage caused in August 1918 when the Warilda, carrying wounded home from France, was torpedoed by a German U-boat.)
Harold saw no more service and was discharged from the army as medically unfit on 26th July 1918.
Following his army discharge, Harold resumed his career as a clerk and living in Ealing. This seems to have been the case up to his retirement when he and his wife moved to Worthing in Sussex, (perhaps to be closer to his brother, Frank?) They lived there until both passing away within weeks of each other in the autumn of 1957.
Wilfred Thompson Wiatt
Wilfred Wiatt was born in Brazil on 28th May 1882. By the time the family had moved back to England, Wilfred, aged 18, on the 1901 census was recorded as being a clerk. In 1908 he married Elizabeth Rickards who was eight years his senior and was, as their marriage certificate states, the daughter of a “Gentleman” living in the well-to-do Mill Hill Park area of Acton in West London.
They had a daughter, Ethel, on 22nd March 1914.
When war broke out it isn’t clear when he enlisted as his attestation papers have been lost but we know he served with two separate units during and after the war, initially as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and, after gaining a commission, as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC)… or as the rest of the army knew them, “Rob All My Comrades” and “Run Away Someone’s Coming”!
He first saw active service on the Western Front in France, posted there on 19th August 1917. Thereafter, I’m afraid the records seem to be lost, however it seems that he elected to stay on in the army at the end of the war for a few years, finally obtaining his discharge in 1923 whereupon he resumed his career as a bank clerk.
Wilfred’s wife, Elizabeth, died in 1936 and three years later he married again, to Edna Gale, the daughter of a butcher. They lived in Esher in Surrey until Wilfred’s retirement when they moved to Torbay in Devon where Wilfred died in 1978.
Charles Barrington Wiatt
The last of these short pieces concerns the eldest brother, Charles, born in Liverpool on 3rd April 1875. Like his younger brother, Frank, he was destined for a life at sea in the merchant marine but also like his brother he signed up for the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR), enlisting in that service on 1st July 1892, the same year as he first went to sea as an apprentice for the Milton Stuart Ship Company of South Shields.
Four years later, Charles qualified as a Second Mate in the merchant marine on 9th January 1896 and gained regular promotions in the RNR – Sub-Lieutenant on 22nd February 1899 and Lieutenant on 29 May 1909. On his service record the standard phrase “With sobriety and attention” is used repeatedly to describe his conduct of his duties.
In 1903, Charles married Maria Sherman whose family, like Charles’, had South American connections, she herself being born in Lima, Peru. They had one child, Stuart Dudley Sherman Wiatt, born in 1905. Meanwhile, in his “day job” by 1909 Charles was employed by the Red Star Line as Chief Officer aboard the SS Marquette, a liner that operated between Antwerp and North America, usually New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
Charles remained with the SS Marquette until the outbreak of war on 4th August 1914 whereupon he was immediately drafted into the Royal Navy with a berth aboard HMS Latona which he joined on 28th August. The Latona was a cruiser that had been re-classified as a specialist mine-layer in 1910. In 1914 it was part of the mine-layer squadron attached to Second Fleet.
It is an odd coincidence that a Leading Seaman on the Latona was my great-aunt’s husband Herbert Rogers who had been in the navy since he was a boy and slowly risen through the ranks.
Now, it’s quite possible that on a ship with a complement of 300 officers and men the two of them would have had very little to do with each other, if anything. However, on 8th March 1915, several of the officers and crew of the Latona were transferred to a newly commissioned mine-layer, a converted Canadian liner, called the Princess Irene. Among those transferred were both Charles Wiatt and Herbert Rogers, so I think they had to have known each other.
Also transferred was the officer in command of the Latona, Commander Thomas Hector Molesworth Maurice, who became second-in-command of the Princess Irene. On 8th May 1915 the Princess Irene, together with another mine-layer laid a minefield northwest of Heligoland laying 472 mines. Each mine encompassed approximately 145kg of high explosive, usually TNT or amatol.
I mention this detail because of what happened next.
On 27th May 1915, Princess Irene was moored in Saltpan Reach, on the Medway Estuary in Kent, being loaded with mines in preparation for deployment on a another minelaying mission. At 11:14am, she exploded and disintegrated… nearly 70,000kg of high explosive going up. A column of flame 100m high was followed a few seconds later by another of similar height and a pall of smoke hung over the spot where she had been, reaching to 400m. A total of 352 people were killed, including 273 officers and men of the ship’s crew, and 76 dockyard workers who were on board Princess Irene assisting with the loading. On the Isle of Grain, 3km away, a girl of nine was killed by flying debris, and a farmhand died of shock. A collier ship 800m away had its crane blown off its mountings and a part of one of Princess Irene’s boilers weighing over 30kg landed on the ship killing a man who was working on deck.
Wreckage was flung up to 30 km away, with people in Sittingbourne being injured by flying debris. Gruesomely, severed heads were found at Hartlip 12 km away and on the Isle of Grain.
A Court of Inquiry was held into the loss of Princess Irene. Evidence was given that priming of the mines was being carried out hurriedly and by untrained personnel. A faulty primer was blamed for the explosion.
Continuing the stories from my friend Heidi Mellings’ family history… this time it’s a nautical tale.
Benjamin Godfrey (Jr.) was Heidi’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (phew, that’s a lot of greats) and was born in Exeter on 12th July 1720, the eldest son of Benjamin Godfrey, the owner of a cooper’s business in the city.
But Benjamin Junior had no intention of following his father in the barrel-making business. Instead, he left home to follow a career at sea and joined the HEIC – The Honourable East India Company – the most powerful commercial organisation in the world which, in the mid-18th century, accounted for over half of the entire world’s trade! They focused on basic commodities and dominated the trade in cotton, silk, indigo dye, sugar, salt, spices, saltpetre, tea, and opium!
When Benjamin served “John Company” as it was known, it was at the height of its power, to all intents and purposes ruling vast tracts of land in the east – setting and administering laws, levying taxes and it had its own army. It was General Clive, leading Company forces, that defeated the French at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to secure British rule in India that would last for 200 years. That was how powerful the Company was.
That power extended to its ships. Although East Indiamen were intended to carry goods, they were also well armed to defend themselves against pirates and could be fitted out during time of war to carry as much firepower as Royal Navy ships of equivalent size.
We know nothing of Benjamin’s early life, but in 1757 he married Mary Elizabeth Race, daughter of the Head Cashier of the Bank of England. Together they would have three sons.
However, we know a considerable amount about Benjamin’s later career as, by 1759, he had risen through the ranks to become one of the HEIC’s captains. He took command of the 3-deck East Indiaman “The Duke of Richmond” on 29th November 1759 at Blackwall Yard on the Thames where the ship had just been launched. The Duke of Richmond had a gun-deck length just shy of 138 feet and a burthen of 767 tons. (Note: Burthen was a traditional measure of the carrying capacity of a ship with an imperial ton being the equivalent of a “tun of wine”, a tun being the largest size of barrel.)
The Duke of Richmond took on cargo in The Downs, a safe anchorage between North and South Foreland, near Dover and set sail from there on 21st February 1760. She sailed south, round the Cape of Good Hope and then east across the Indian Ocean. First stop was Benkulen, a 300-mile long strip of land on the south-west coast of what is now Sumatra in the possession of The Company which she reached on 24th July 1760. A month later, on 27th August 1760, the ship arrived at Kedah in what is now the north-west part of the Malay peninsula. From there she sailed south to Malacca further down the Malay peninsula, arriving there on 16th September 1760.
From there Benjamin took his ship north-east across the pirate infested South China Sea, past Hong Kong to Whampoa, (now Huangpu, a suburb of Guangzhu) in China, arriving there on 19th April 1761 and remaining there for two months.
After that I would guess the ship went on a three-month anti-pirate cruise in the South China Sea because on the 15th December 1761, the ship was back in the Pearl River estuary at Second Bar, a safe anchorage 20 miles from Whampoa, presumably to take on cargo in preparation for her return trip to England. The ship stopped off at Malacca, arriving there on 14th January 1762 then re-crossed the Indian Ocean, rounding the Cape of Good Hope but this time continuing west out into the middle of the south Atlantic to stop off at St Helena on the 24th April 1762. Then she began the final slog north-east back to England, arriving in Plymouth on 14th July 1762 and finally returning to Woolwich on the Thames on the 3rd August having been away for two and a half years. Benjamin would remain at home for the next eighteen months but on 20th February 1764 he took the Duke of Richmond south again, calling at St Helena on 27th March then set off eastwards, back round the Cape of Good Hope and across once more to Benkulen, arriving there on 7th July 1764. From there he sailed to Batavia (now Jakarta in Indonesia) arriving there on 9th December.
Sadly, while still in Batavia, Benjamin was taken ill and died in the town on 1st February 1765. The following day, he was buried in the graveyard of the Dutch Church there. He was 44 years old.
Months later, his death was reported in the London press.
Continuing with stories of my friend, Heidi Mellings’ ancestors….
Octavius was born in 1852 and was an older brother of Mary Marsh, Heidi’s great-great-grandmother, and sibling of “Tap” Marsh who I wrote about recently. Like his brother, Octavius studied medicine but rather than go into the army as his brother did, he became a doctor in Newport, Monmouthshire, describing himself on the censuses as a “General Practitioner in Medicine and Surgery”.
In 1881 he married Clara Gething, daughter of the Newport harbour master and together they were to have five children, Violet, Godfrey, Octavius, Dorothy and Mary. Octavius, continued as a doctor in Newport throughout his working life and then retired to the countryside, buying Bryngwyn Manor, Raglan.
So far, so ordinary… but here’s where it gets a bit more interesting. We’ll talk a little bit about the eldest daughter, Violet Antoinette Marsh, born on 26th Feb 1882.
I haven’t been able to trace how she met her future husband but on 29th January 1913, aged 28, she married Elidor Ronald Campbell (Elidor!?!?…) in a fancy society wedding at Holy Trinity Brompton, in Knightsbridge, London.
By 1913, Elidor’s father was deceased but his name was recorded on their wedding certificate, Frederick Archibald Vaughan Campbell, with his “Rank or Profession” stated as “Peer of the Realm”.
Elidor was the second son of the 22nd Thane and 3rd Earl of Cawdor, an ancient Scottish family seat (and sounding like something from “Lord of the Rings” at the same time).
The 3rd Earl had been a politician representing a constituency in Carmarthenshire in Wales where his family owned large estates.
The enormous medieval mansion Golden Grove, just outside Llandeilo, was their principal Welsh home and I could imagine it might have been possible for a prominent doctor in south Wales to have been introduced to Cawdor at some political or social event.
Elidor, being the “spare” rather than the “heir” was trained in a profession and was a lawyer and barrister.
The couple had a son in 1916, Elidor again….(!), incidentally, in the same year that Elidor’s cousin, Lt.-Col. John Vaughan Campbell of the Coldstream Guards won the Victoria Cross during the Battle of the Somme.
Then, in 1918, the couple moved to America where Elidor had a position attached to the British Embassy in Washington, although their census records of 1920 and 1925 had them living in New York (perhaps that was a more exciting place to live than with the politicos in DC). The couple remained in the US for nearly ten years before moving back to England when Violet had their second child, Fiona, in 1925.
It would seem that the couple lived the full “Tatler” high society lifestyle, Violet appearing in society magazines of the period like this one here.
Violet lived to the age of 93, passing away in 1975.
Continuing the research into the family history of a friend, Heidi Mellings. Thomas Alfred Perry Marsh was born on 23rd Feb 1856, a younger brother of Mary Marsh, Heidi’s great-great-grandmother.
From his initials, he was known as “Tap”.
He was destined for a medical career and, following school, attended University College Bristol where he had a dazzling record, sweeping the board in terms of academic prizes – Clark Scholar in Surgery, Sanders Scholar in Medicine and Haberfield Prize Winner in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics. He continued his professional qualifications at St. George’s Hospital, London.
He was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons on 28th April 1881. For a short time he was house surgeon at Weston-Super-Mare hospital but then elected to join the army and was gazetted Surgeon on 29th July 1882, joining the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley.
A couple of years later he was posted to India, based in Madras and was then attached to the British force engaged in the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War of 1885-87, being the surgeon attached to a battery of field artillery. He was present at several engagements near Nyngyam and Yemethen.
By 1894, he was stationed at the garrison in Gibraltar and was promoted Surgeon-Major on 29th July 1894.
In 1897, Thomas married Cecelia Bacquera, a Spanish lady from a Malaga family who he presumably met while stationed in Gibraltar.
On 4th Nov 1899, at the outbreak of the 2nd Boer War, he sailed to South Africa on board the “SS Kildonan Castle” where he took charge of the No. 3 Stationary Hospital, set up at De Aar, a strategically important junction between Cape Town and Kimberley. Before the set-up of the hospital was completed it was inundated with wounded from three actions in rapid succession.
Then, with conditions at the hospital still very poor, and coinciding with Lord Roberts’ offensive in Orange Free State, enteric fever (or typhoid as we know it now), broke out.
It was at this point that Thomas’ own health broke down and he was evacuated to the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein to recuperate. However, once there it was discovered he had contracted typhoid himself and he died there on 22nd May 1900, aged 44.
He was buried in the hospital cemetery.
In his obituary in the British Medical Journal it was said:
William Trevor Gibbs enlisted in the British Army on 28 May 1942 at the age of 34. Here is his attestation card.
From this I identified that he was assigned to the Royal Artillery and located his Royal Artillery Tracer Card which at first glance, and indeed second glance looks like hieroglyphics. But there are some very helpful people on the interweb and a chap on a WW2 forum translated it for me.
So it translates as:
28/5/1942. 206 Heavy (Mixed) Anti-Aircraft Training Regiment 6/10/1942. 573 Battery, 172 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment 18/12/1944. 608 Battery, 183 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment 9/6/1945. 232 Army Troops Company Royal Engineers 21st Army Group. X(vii) List X(vii) was the standard code for “Officers and Men Seconded”
5/6/1946. Class ‘A’ Release Y/7 List (Y7 was the code for a “Standard Release” after service)
That enabled me to start tracking down the unit histories to come up with a more or less complete story for William’s service.
On enlisting, William was assigned to a training unit, of Anti-Aircraft Command, namely the 206th Heavy (Mixed) Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Training Regiment.
As a side note, the “Mixed” designation refers to units that integrated women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service into the unit’s personnel. I suppose it’s quite comical now, but while ATS personnel operated searchlights, range finders and sound detectors and even aimed the anti-aircraft guns, army rules meant that only men were allowed to fire them! Bless…
The “heavy” designation also referred to the type of guns employed by the unit. The units in which William served used the Vickers Quick-Firing 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun that had a crew of seven to operate it and could fire its 13kg shell to 30,000 feet.
Following his training period he was assigned to his first operational unit…
573 Battery, 172 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment
This unit was formed at Woodthorpe House, Nottingham in August 1942 from Territorial Army troops and female ATS personnel. William joined on 6th October 1942. It served in and around Nottingham as anti-aircraft defence through until being disbanded in 1945.
However, William was transferred before that to…
608 Battery, 183 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment
183rd (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment was an air defence unit of which two-thirds of its personnel were women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The regiment was heavily engaged in Operation Diver, defending England against V-1 flying bombs in 1944.
Following D-Day, once 21st Army Group had captured Brussels and Antwerp, these cities became targets for V-1s launched from within Germany, and anti-Diver or ‘X’ defences had to be established around those cities.
Anti-Aircraft Command’s experience had shown that specialist equipment to augment the guns was required to deal effectively with V-1s, but 21st Army Group’s mobile HAA units did not have experience with this equipment. Hence, in December 1944 the first overseas deployment of Mixed HAA units began, and 183rd (Mixed) HAA Regiment was one of those selected.
It was at this point that William Gibbs was transferred to the unit, 18 Dec 1944.
The regiment arrived at Antwerp in January 1945, taking over Mk IIC 3.7-inch guns in bitter weather and were immediately in action against the onslaught of V-1s.
The Antwerp ‘X’ defences under 80 Anti-Aircraft Brigade to which William’s unit was attached, involved an outer line of Wireless Observer Units sited 40 miles (64 km) to 50 miles (80 km) in front of the guns to give 8 minutes’ warning, then Local Warning (LW) stations positioned half way, equipped with radar to begin plotting individual missiles. Finally there was an inner belt of Observation Posts (OPs), about 20,000 yards (18,000 m) in front of the guns to give visual confirmation that the tracked target was a missile. The LW stations and OPs were operated by teams from the Anti-Aircraft regiments, usually ATS personnel. Radar-controlled searchlights were deployed to assist in identification and engagement of missiles at night. The success rate of the X defences had been low at first, but after the arrival of Mk IIC guns and experienced crews from AA Command the results improved rapidly, with best results in February and March 1945. The number of missiles launched at Antwerp peaked at 623 a week in February and in the last week of action the AA defences destroyed 97.5 per cent of those reaching the defence belt.
The war in Europe ended on VE Day, 8 May 1945. 183rd (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, was disbanded on 25 May.
232 Army Troops Company Royal Engineers 21st Army Group
At this point, on 9 Jun 1945, William Gibbs was transferred out of the Royal Artillery and into a specialist unit of the Royal Engineers, readying to ship out to South East Asia where the war against the Japanese was still on-going.
This unit specialised in the capture of river crossings and making them safe from traps, mines and bombs. However, before the unit sailed, the war ended with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and so William remained in Europe.
William was discharged from the army on 5th June the following year.