Not “Jossa” South London Family (Part 6) – John Charles Jossa

We’re going to finish the Jossa Family Story in more modern times with the story of John Charles Jossa, who was John Felix Jossa’s son, and Jacqueline Jossa’s Grandfather.

A large part of this post is based on stories about his Father posted by John Jossa, Jacqueline’s Father. I hope I have done it justice.

A Plumstead Boy

John was born in 1921 a few years after his Father returned from living in New York USA, and three years after his father and mother married. John grew up with his parents and at 93 Durham Rise Plumstead, with his two younger brothers and two younger sisters.

The Woolwich Arsenal continued to provide direct and indirect work for the whole Woolwich and Plumstead areas and John worked as an Electrical Tester and Inspector, up until the start of WW2. The picture above from 1939 shows the Thames on the left, looking down River towards Kent, Woolwich Arsenal is marked out by the triangular shape next to it, and Plumstead is to the right.


Having a good background in Electrical Engineer, John was a good bet for the most technical of the armed services, the Royal Airforce, and we pick his story up with him in 1941 when he volunteered for the Royal Airforce in and was sent for initial training to Padgate in Cheshire (where his brother Anthony Martin Jossa would follow him to do his RAF National Service in 1950). John’s sister Elizabeth Mary would also join the RAF in 1941 in the Women’s Auxiliary Royal Airforce. It is likely that John may also have been shipped across the Atlantic to carry out flight training in Canada, a much safer environment than the UK.

John showed great ability and rose through the ranks to become a Flight Sergeant Navigator in 101 Squadron flying in Lancaster Bomber DV268 operating out of Ludford Magna, deep in the Lincolnshire Countryside. 101 Squadron was a specialist experimental Squadron, and only took the best of the best initially, so this speaks highly of John’s abilities.

Soon after the camp was occupied by the Bomber crews it was renamed “Mudford Magna” because of the appalling state of most of it after any rain and heavy vehicles traversing it, the low lying Lincolnshire Fenland quickly reverting to marsh like conditions. The Village itself was tiny, only about 200 inhabitants, and outside of the main village street, the surrounding farms and hamlets had no electricity, gas, mains water or mains sewerage, and although these facilities were laid on for the RAF base, the surrounding villagers would not get these services until after the base was closed down, and the various services were redirected to include the civilian population.


Bomber crews lived a bizarre life, on the one hand, whilst they were on the ground in England they could live an almost normal social life, eating regular meals, listening to the Radio, going to pubs in Ludford either the White Hart Inn Hotel run by William Bowen (still open in the Village) or the Black Horse with its Landlady Selina Gilbert at the other end of the main Road through the Village (all of 30 yards apart) socialising with the local girls, in relative comfort.


On the other hand, every time they climbed aboard their planes for an operation over enemy territory they stood a high chance (over 44%) of not coming back, and if their plane was hit there was often little or nothing they could do about surviving, it would mostly be down to good or bad luck, even between members of the same crew. More members of Bomber Crews were killed in WW2 than civilians in the Blitz on London, or civilians that died in the British bombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and Bomber Crews had a higher chance of being killed in action than Infantry Officers did in WW1. As controversial as the bombing of German Cities by the RAF may be viewed by modern commentators, the bravery of the Airmen involved in destroying the Nazi menace in Europe can’t be understated.

So aircrews’ lives consisted of periods of normality interrupted by concentrated periods of extreme danger during which the crews had to remain outwardly absolutely calm. On the one hand the crews were well fed and could go to the local Towns and Villages to drink in the local pub s, on the other whole plane loads of men would disappear the following day, shot down, never to be seen again.

The mental strain of living under such conditions must have been unique. Some bomber crews described the experience as the equivalent of living inside a murder mystery play where, on the one hand life appeared normal, but on the other, you could never tell who would disappear and wind up dead next. Of 101 Squadron Airmen 740 were killed, and of those 96 have no known graves.

The RAF being the most technology dependant of the Armed services very quickly started changing from a very socially hierarchical service like the Army, Navy, and indeed civilian life in the UK, into a technical meritocracy. It was important on a heavy Bomber that the crew were technically competent, calm, and able to work under pressure (i.e. whilst under fire from the ground and fighter planes) the days of the aristocratic Tally-Ho! adventurers was long gone. John Jossa fitted this new meritocracy.

“Lancaster and its bomb load,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 11, 2020,

Lancaster bombers could be manned (operational front line bombing crews were 100% men) entirely by Sergeants (minimum rank to be part of aircrew) or by a mixture of Sergeants and Officers. Whatever the ranks of the various crew members, the Pilot always had the final say irrespective of his rank compared to other crew members. On DV268 all of the crew with John were Sergeants. By the time John Jossa was flying in Lancasters each crew member had a single role, the seven crew were formed of Pilot (Paul Rudolph Zanchi) 19 from Southend, Flight Engineer (Leonard Arthur Crooks) 20 from Grays in Essex, Navigator (John Jossa) 22 from Plumstead Kent, Wireless Operator (Henry Stuart Waller), Bomb Aimer (William Rowand) 23 from Lambeth, Mid Gunner (Dennis William Timms), and Rear Gunner (Alan George Lovesay). Conditions on bombers were “snug” but not as cramped as in fighter planes, as can be seen from the photo of another crew below, John Jossa as Navigator (on the right) would sit just along from the Wireless Operator Harry Waller (on the left).

Airborne Cigars

101 Squadron was a particular target for German attack as a number of planes in that Squadron carried the ABC jamming system. This was a top secret radio system called AirBorne Cigar (ABC). It seems it may have got its name from a codename of “Corona” for Ground based jamming and disruption systems, that morphed to “Cigar” (Corona being one of the biggest manufacturers of Cigars) and went from Ground Cigar, to Airborne Cigar once mounted in Lancaster Bombers, and from there to ABC in official documents.

The system work by discovering the frequency the German Ground Controllers were using to guide the German Night Fighters into position to attack the British Bombers. Once found the German transmissions would be jammed by send a white noise type signal so that the German Night Fighters had to fly blind, and by the later addition of transmitting in German on the same frequency to send the German Fighters to the wrong places, which lead to some heated and bad tempered exchanges between German Ground Controllers, German Night Fighter Pilots, and British Radio Operators swearing at each other in fluent German whilst spreading confusion and misdirection. This role would be taken up by an eighth member of the crew specifically to operate the ABC. Giving that not only fluent German, but colloquial German was needed for this role, these operators were sometimes from German Jewish Families now living in Britain, having fled the Nazis, taking a huge risk if they had to bail out over German held Territory.

The Last Mission

John Jossa’s DV268 25th November 1943

At 5.18 on the afternoon of Friday November 26th 1943 DV268 took off from Ludford Magna Airfield, with its crew of Zanchi, Crooks, Jossa, Waller, Rowand, Timms, and Lovesay. Seven men aged from 19 to 23, little more than boys, with a 19 year old flying the plane. Look at a group of boys/men of those ages now and decide if you think they would have the maturity and courage to risk their lives every week to fight to save Democracy. These men were giants when compared to today’s standards.

They flew from Lincolnshire in darkness, and heded across occupied Europe to the Nazi Heart of Darkness – Berlin. They reached the target unscathed and successfully unloaded their bombs into the heart of the Dark Empire. It must be remembered that at this stage in the war, the tables had turned on the Germans to a high degree, they were on the defensive on many fronts, and having sowed the seeds of terror with the Blitz on London, were now reaping the whirlwind of vengeance from the RAF for all the civilian deaths they had caused. Unfortunately for German civilians this was paid back with interest against them in Berlin and other German Cities, and their Night Fighter crews were equally dogged in their defence of their cities.

As they were leaving Berlin returning from the raid, and despite the ABC in use by planes from 101 Squadron, some German Night Fighters managed to use new radar mounted in the noses of their aircraft to locate 101 Squadron, and went in for the attack. One night fighter cut DV 268 out from the Squadron and went on the attack. Now at night a Lancaster Bomber had some chance of fighting back and taking evasive manoeuvres to keep clear of any attacking faster and more agile German Night Fighters, but there was a high degree of luck involved, and needed the Bomber to evade the fighter long enough for the fighter to need to turn back and refuel or go after an easier target. In trying to shake the Night Fighter off their tail with machine gun fire and evasive action DV268 became separated from the rest of the Bomber Stream.

The pair of Planes, the big and muscular Lancaster DV268 and the smaller agile German Night Fighter flew on across Germany, Sergeant Lovesay exchanging fire as they went, tracer bullets from Lovesay’s heavy machine guns sent long streaks of light past the pursuing plane, but the German was not for turning, and avoiding the incoming fire, used his speed to avoid the tracers from Lovesay’s guns and opened up with his own machine guns and cannon, firing high calibre rounds. Lovesay’s gun compartment was obliterated killing the brave young gunner in the process. Now flying with little sight to the rear of the plane Zanchi put the plane into a “corkscrew” manoeuvre pulling extreme G forces as he plummeted the big plane down in a gut-wrenchingspiralling fall, temporarily losing the German Fighter in the confusion and darkness, a Lancaster being hard to see from above in the dark against the darkness of the blacked out landscape below. They lost sight of the Night Fighter, and relaxed just a little as the manoeuvre seemed to have worked.

As navigator John Jossa now had to work out where they were, having plummeted down to perhaps as low as 1,000 feet, and miles off course, John would now have to recommend a course. John realised that they were low on fuel, and could see exploding German Anti-Aircraft “Flak” being fired at the main Bomber Stream between Cologne and Essen and advised that they head directly for the area taking Flak and rejoin the main Bomber Stream. Paul Zanchi was loath to cross an area taking anti-aircraft fire, but John argued, that on their own they would be a sitting duck for any German Night Fighters or, if spotted, random anti-aircraft guns, and that if they took a longer route to around the Flak, they would not have enough fuel to get back to Britain and would have to ditch in the sea or over occupied territory. A brief but intense discussion took place between the 23 year old Navigator and the 19 year old Pilot, on the best way to get out of their dangerous situation, and perhaps reluctantly, the Pilot turned the Lancaster towards the Bomber stream and the Flak. Ultimately the Pilot’s decision would be final, but in an aircraft where life or death can hang on the slightest error, it is incumbent upon men to speak their mind plainly, irrespective of rank.

Reunited with their Foe

While the discussion on which course to take was taking place in the Lancaster, their deadly foe in the Night Fighter had not given up looking for them. The German Pilot was, for all the fact that he was fighting for the Nazis, a brave and skilful pilot. Having located the DV268, he quietly slipped his camouflaged aircraft a few dozen yards beneath the wounded bomber. In this position his aircraft was invisible to the Bomber crew, by site and shielded from its radar. But the German Pilot could now see the Lancaster fully silhouetted against the starry sky above.

This manoeuvre, although dangerous was a deliberate one. The British had their AirBorne Cigars but some Germans Night Fighters had “Jazz Music”. “Schrage Musik” was the German nickname for Jazz, or “oblique/skewed” Music; in this context it referred to a set of upward facing guns at an oblique angle mounted behind the cockpit of some German Night Fighters. These required the Fighter Pilot get his plane unseen under an enemy aircraft, then fire upwards. This was an effective tactic, but if successful, the Bomber above him could quickly disintegrate into an inferno of falling wings and airframe weighing several tons a-piece, enough to reduce the Night Fighter to a burning splintered wreck if it wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way.

German JU88 Night Fighter with Schrage Musik directly behind the cockpit.

AftermathThe first the crew of DV268 knew about it was a terrific thump that rattled the aircraft as shells from the German Fighter tore through the bottom of the fuselage and out through the top. Paul Zanchi was killed instantly, and the badly damaged Lancaster plunged out of the sky. The last thing John Jossa remembered was thinking that they were all going to die, and looking across to see if his friend from South London, William Rowand the Bomb Aimer was OK, then he blacked out in the tumbling chaos of the falling plane. The picture below from Wingleader magazine (see link) is the best representation of such an encounter that I can find.

Aftermath, Heaven or Hell?

The next time John Jossa opened his eyes, he saw a blurry image of white wing shapes floating above him, he thought he was dead and seeing angels in heaven, until Dad knew was waking up seeing white wing shapes above him.  He thought he was in heaven seeing angels, then he heard the angels speaking German, he remembered feeling strangely disappointed.

When the Angels came into focus they turned out to be German Catholic Nuns wearing large white “winged” headdresses (Cornettes similar to the picture below), the height of fashion in Mediaeval times, but now adorning the heads of angels of mercy, acting as nurses. John had been unconscious for three weeks. Instead of waking up in heaven he awoke to the hell of pain. Hiss head injuries had caused his coma, his back was compressed and broken, his skull was fractured in three places, he had a broken jaw, and his tongue was split right down its length. Most of the rest of the major bones in his body were broken.

John Jossa’s son would, many years later, try to work out what had happened between the German Night Fighter blasting DV268 with its Schrage Musik Guns, and the Germans finding John Jossa some distance away from the wreckage on the ground a short time later.

The conclusion arrived at was that John’s seatbelt was wrenched out of its fittings, the momentum of the falling spinning plane then threw him through the Cockpit Canopy, snagging his parachute pack, which burst open, snagged on the wrecked plane, bringing John’s exit to an abrupt halt but causing a number of injuries, before the cords snapped, hurling him away from the stricken plane on impact with the ground.

An irony of his time in hospital was that whilst recovering in there he met and spoke with a German Luftwaffe Night Fighter Pilot, who had had his leg broken during aerial combat. Like often happens in these situations when two men have both put their lives on the line in deadly combat, there was no animosity between the two, and John Jossa described the Night Fighter Pilot as “A nice bloke” just like the men he knew in the RAF. John believed that he may have been the Pilot that shot down DV268.

Dulag Luft Wetzlar

Slowly bringing him back to health the German Doctors, gave him the bad news that he would never walk again.

Once John was well enough to be moved, he was shipped out to Dulag Luft Wetzlar near Frankfurt. This was a new Camp built to house the flood of Allied airmen whose planes were being blown out of the sky every night by the Luftwaffe and German ground defences, in their increasingly desperate defence of their Fatherland. It was set up to interrogate airmen and surreptitiously gather intelligence, and although there were some allegations of torture and mistreatment of airmen, it seems that generally the regime was not unduly cruel.

There were a few Prisoners who were permanent “Staff” in the camp to show the new arrivals the ropes, and keep things running smoothly, but the vast majority of prisoners were just transitioning through, undergoing interrogation before being shipped out to other Prisoner of War Camps. John would have been in good company and waqs preceded in the camp by men such as Guy Bushell (of “The Great Escape” fame) and also Douglas Bader, the famous Fighter Pilot who flew despite having two “Tin Legs” (artificial legs).

The German Staff at Dulag Luft soon realised that threats and physical intimidation didn’t get them very far in eliciting information from British Prisoners, and John still being in recovery from his serious and extensive injuries wouldn’t have been subject to any physical interrogation, rather the Germans had a reputation for using subtlety in Dulag Luft, befriending and engaging prisoners in conversation to see what they could get out of them, before passing them through to other camps. The greatest exponent of this approach in Dulag Luft was Hans Scharff. Only a Corporal, and therefore referred to as “Mr” and in civilian clothes to hide his lowly rank, Scharff used his engaging personality and intelligence to ring many airmen dry of what they knew. The Germans at Wetzlar rarely used physical violence, but would use the threat of handing the airmen over for torture and execution by the Gestapo if they didn’t share with him some secrets such as where their bases were, or technical details of equipment, aircraft, and allied tactics. The Allied Airmen were lead to believe that this was their only hope of avoiding the Gestapo. This behaviour was in breach of the Geneva Convention as it states “ No pressure shall be exerted on prisoners to obtain information regarding the situation of their armed forces or their country.”

Despite this many allied airmen, especially Americans, struck up friendships with various interrogators especially Scharff. The difference between the Americans and British was that the Americans were late into the War, so hadn’t had to stand alone against the might of the Nazis, had not had their home towns and civilian families bombed by the Germans, and therefore had less personal animosity towards the Germans. Scharff was picked up the Americans after the German surrender, and was used to train the American Secret Services on his interrogation techniques, allowed to settle in the States, and retired from Intelligence work to create Mosaics, including the Cinderella Story in Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World Orlando Florida.

Hanns Scharff

It is not clear if John was transferred to another camp, although most prisoners were transferred after interrogation. Being badly injured he may have stayed in the Frankfurt area, and it is entirely possible that he would have been visited by Scharff in Hospital, as Hanns Scharff made a point of visiting injured airmen for his “chats” to see what he could get out of them.

After the War

John was repatriated to Liverpool in England aboard the SS Arundel Castle on 6th February 1945. Although glad to be back, the prognosis for him was not good given his injuries. The Germans had told him he would never work again, and now British Doctors told him that he would never have children.  

John was a fighter, regained the ability to walk, and married Eugenie Rebecca O’Brien and had six children. Eugenie was descended from two Irish Families, the O’Briens and McAlisters, her two Grandfathers having served in various capacities in the British Armed Forces in the Artillery, Marines, and Military Police. The Families One of her Grandfathers had been born in Malta a Major British Army and Naval Base, an Aunt had been born in Cairo Egypt, and she had connections to Canada with many relations living there. Her immediate family came together in Alverstoke and Gosport in Hampshire, an area full of Military and Naval Bases, before much of the Family moved to Woolwich to work in the Royal Arsenal there. The Families were very close, those that stayed in the Woolwich area lived together at 37a Tormount Road Plumstead.

John Jossa never complained about his injuries, and as his son John (Jacqueline Jossa’s Dad) says he was typical of the determination and courage of that generation.

Dunkirk Podcast

Paul McNeil from Time Detectives appears in this great Podcast as a Cockney Marksman at 52 mins in: History Hack Dunkirk

History Hack
Published in: on June 4, 2020 at 10:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Not Jossa South London Family (Part 5)

John Felix 1887-1951

John Felix Jossa (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Grandfather) was the youngest of the Jossa brothers, born in 1887, just two years old when his Mother died, and seven when his Father remarried. John lasted longer at home with his Father and Step Mother than his brothers, right up to the age of twenty-two, and followed his Father’s trade in Engineering. So it seems that John Felix was perhaps, the “well-behaved son”. Being younger, and seeing the scrapes his brothers had got into with the Police, Magistrates, Workhouse, Army, and Navy, he may have had a more measured approach to life.

Despite being a bit less headstrong than his Brothers, John was not without an adventurous side, and on 22nd May 1909 he boarded the SS Philadelphia and sailed for the USA no doubt to escape home, and find a new life in the USA. Eight days later he disembarked in New York. As we have already seen in Part 3, John worked as a machinist, and lived with some members of his Mother’s extended Somers Family. In 1910 big brother Louis, freshly back from the Boer War, joined John and the Somers, living in an apartment with a friend of theirs named John Curran, their future brother in law.

John was a Machinist in a Machine Workshop, Louis was a worker in an Iron Foundry, and John Curran was a woodworker on the Railways, the Somers were working as a Car Inspector on the local Street Railway, and a Telephone Operator.

Their apartment was near 10th Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue at the time, or Death Avenue as the locals called it, because of the high numbers of deaths caused by the locomotives that crossed the roads in the area. To try to cut down on this high death rate “Westside Cowboys” were employed to ride in front of trains to warn pedestrians to clear the way, these men were present riding the streets from 1851 to 1941. One can be seen in the photo below.

Everyone in the apartment with John was English, apart from John Curran who was Irish. English born people were the third largest immigrant group in their block, after “Yiddish” Russian Jewish immigrants (and one Austrian Jewish Family) and Italians, followed by Germans. Almost all the Americans in the block were children living with their immigrant parents. The English don’t really fit the representation of immigrants that are normally associated with New York in the early 20th Century, the English (and they do call themselves English not British) were probably barely seen as “foreign” compared to their more exotic neighbours, so, despite their large numbers, tend to be overlooked in popular US culture.

The 12th Ward of Manhattan were the brothers lived was a poor one, and this was reflected in the diseases that plagued the area, in 1910 it was reported that the 12th Ward was the worst for disease in the whole of Manhattan with 188 cases of Measles (Measles was a killer disease for children in the early 20th Century), 104 cases of Scarlet Fever, 55 cases of Diphtheria.

Back to Britain

In 1912, two Years before the outbreak of WW1, John was working as a Machinist in New York, and had stated his intention to take up US Citizenship. But with the outbreak of the Great War two years later in 1914, John’s loyalty to Great Britain came to the fore. Giving up a comfortable, and safe living in New York, John braved the U-Boats to cross the Atlantic back to England to help as a machinist in Woolwich Arsenal.

Experienced Munitions Machinists were highly sought after for the War effort, and therefore exempt from military service. John lives initially at home with his Father and Step-Mother at 4 Congo Road, both men supporting the War effort, John as a “Turner” and his Father Charles as a Fitter, both skilled trades. Alongside the skilled men “volunteers” mainly older businessmen from other trades, gave their time to work alongside the professional tradesmen, that, as illustrated in the picture below, was remarked on at the time.

In July 1918 John married Sarah Anne Jones a Farmer’s daughter, who had left her Father’s Farm to help the War effort as a munitions worker in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, and was living at Hinstock Road in Plumstead, about 15 minutes walk from Congo Road where John was living.

With most of the able bodied male population away fighting, women stepped up and took to working in munitions to help with the War effort, without their work, the war would never have been won.

MUNITIONS PRODUCTION ON THE HOME FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 110261) Young female munition workers filling shells in a factory at an undisclosed location. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Many of these women may never have been away from home before, and were thrown into fulltime dangerous work for the greater good. Some lived with relatives and friends in the area, but many lived in local Hotels and Hostels that were specially set aside for their use, as Women Only Establishments, it would appear from reports at the time, that this built a great camaraderie for many such girls and women, giving them their first taste of Independance and social freedom, as the picture below illustrates.

After marriage the couple settled down to live at 93 Durham Rise, Woolwich, just 5 or 10 minutes walk from John’s Father’s House at Congo Road.

Deaths in the Family

However the proximity to John’s father would be short lived, as his Father Charles died on 1st October 1919, was laid to rest on 6th October, and his will was passed through probate on 24th October.

Charles Jossa, the Engineer from Belgium, who had come to England, married twice, and raised five sons, before the death of his first wife, and the subsequent alienation between his sons and his second wife, left an inheritance of £972 6s 11d to his second wife Ann Jossa (Anna Brewer Taylor the Boys’ Stepmother). That amount of money is roughly equivalent to between £250,000 to £385,000 in today’s value. Fairly soon after her husband’s death Anna went back to where she grew up at Quidhampton just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire, and died there in 1924, at 67 years of age, she never remarried. When she died Anna left £154 16s 3d (£26,000 to £51,000 in today’s money) to Mary Jane Hale her widowed sister. Once again this points to a serious family rift between the boys and their Father/Stepmother, other than with John’s brief return before marrying and moving on, there is little evidence of the rift ever being fully healed.

John Felix Jossa, and his wife had troubles of their own. Their daughter Mary Harriett was born in 1919, around the time of John’s Father’s death, but she would be dead by April 1920. The dates of the deaths of Charles Jossa and Mary Harriett, place them squarely in the middle of the Influenza Pandemic.

The Blitz

But not all was bad news for John Felix Jossa and Sarah Ann, the couple would have three sons and two more daughters from 1921 to 1930. John kept to the same occupation of an engineering machinist, at a time when there was continued high demand, especially for munitions workers at Woolwich Arsenal, by 1940 32,500 workers were employed in Woolwich Arsenal. During World War 2 the ordnance factories at Woolwich were targets for German bombs and Rockets, starting in the Blitz in September 1940, there were many raids, and much damage inflicted, during 25 raids 103 workers were killed and 770 injured, forcing some parts of the complex to be moved to other locations.

It seems that John Felix, having seen the adventures and misadventures of his brothers, and having had a few of his own, had decided that the most important thing in life was a stable family home. His and his brothers’ experiences with his Father and Stepmother, the gradual alienation and disintegration of the Jossa Family unit, would have reinforced a psychological need to provide a stable home, and that is exactly what John and Sarah built over many years between the two World Wars and after. The couple would spend the rest of their lives at 93 Durham Rise. John died in 1951 and Sarah Ann in 1968.

There is one more story to tell, this will be of World War 2 and will come in the next instalment.

Not “Jossa” South London Family (Part 4)

In the last instalment Part 3 we saw how Louis “Lewis” Jossa joined the Rifle Brigade and travelled to South Africa and The USA, in this part we see the next younger brother Charles, who also had a career in the armed forces but of a very different type.

Charles Jossa 1883-1964

Charles Jossa, named after his Father, was the fourth son of Charles Jossa and Mary Somers the Publican’s daughter (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Uncle). Mary died when Charles was six years old, and was leven when his Father re-married to Anna Brewer Taylor the Domestic Nurse from Wiltshire. As we have seen, all was not well between the Stepmother and her step sons, and that was no different for Charles than for his brothers, by the age of fourteen Charles ran away from home.

Workhouse Delinquent 1898

On 16th May 1898 Charles turned up in the records of the local Woolwich Workhouse, sent there by a local Magistrate. This was a desperate measure considering he had come from a very comfortable home. There are numerous reasons why a boy of Charle’s age could have been sent to the workhouse, but few that fit his family background, so the likeliest reason is that he had runaway from home and was living on the streets, perhaps living on his wits and causing mischief of one kind or another, which would have brought him to the notice of the local Police and then to the Magistrates. Normally a child with able and settled parents would not be sent to the workhouse, so he may either have claimed to be an orphan or he may have been too wild for his parents to control him.

A week after entering the Workhouse, Charles has let it, but only to be handed over into Police custody. It is likely that he was temporarily returned to his Father and Stepmother, as we haven’t found a record of a court appearance.

The Call of The Sea 1900

His time at home was short and he appears to have taken off again soon after, this time on a fishing boat, this doesn’t last long, as in January 1900 Charles turns up at Portland Dorset (below)at the tender age of sixteen where he is enrolled as a “Boy 2nd Class” in the Royal Navy. We know he had been employed as a Fisherman as this is recorded on his Naval record. We also know that he is only 5ft 2ins with the usual Jossa brown eyes and black hair, his complexion is initially recorded as “Fresh” but once he is and adult it is recorded as “Dark” which would imply that he tanned easily and possibly had a dark stubble.

To be taken on as a Boy in the Royal Navy needed the agreement of his legal Guardians, so his Father, no doubt quite relived to be getting shot of him to somewhere other than the Police or the Workhouse, signed him up for training as a Boy Sailor to be followed by 12 years in the Naval Service. Off Charles went to Portland in Dorset on the South Coast to be trained aboard HMS Boscawen the Royal Navy’s Boys Training Establishment, Boscawen at this date was actually the former HMS Trafalgar.

In July 1900, just over six months after joining the Navy, Charles “Ran” (deserted) from Boscawen, he was recovered from him absence, and continued to serve on the ship through the rest of the year and into February 1901, achieving a promotion to “Boy 1st Class”. From February to May of 1901 he was aboard HMS Minotaur with Very Good Conduct (VGC), May to June 1901 Charles was onboard HMS Agincourt another training ship in Portland.

From Boy to Man

Charles settled down again, and was posted to HMS Prince George in June 1901 which was part of the Channel Fleet, by October of that year Charles was old enough to go from rating as a “Boy” to “Ordinary Seaman”, with a Very Good Conduct (VGC) on his record.

HMS Prince George

That is, until December 1901 when he Ran again. During this four month absence in early 1902 Charles joined the 8th Hussars, took the signing on bounty, then promptly deserted with the money, the Army recaptured him and when they found out he was a Sailor on the run returned him to the Navy on the 17th April 1902. Upon return he was tried and sentenced to a custodial term of Hard Labour (convicts at Hard Labour in Portland below).

After two months of Hard Labour Charles was back aboard HMS Duke of Wellington in June 1902. The Duke of Wellington (below) was the Admiral’s Flagship in Portsmouth Harbour, and tended to perform ceremonial duties like firing gun salutes to passing dignitaries and foreign ships etc. It seems that his erratic record did not inhibit Charles’ opportunity for fairly comfortable postings.

Across the Wide Atlantic

Charles then transfers to HMS Ariadne in July 1902, and is shipped out to Halifax Nova Scotia as Flagship to that Naval Station. During the rest of 1902 Charles steamed aboard the Ariadne to Newfoundland, Quebec, Charlottetown, and then South to Bermuda.

HMS Ariadne in Nova Scotia

Charles seems to be enjoying the life at sea, and receives a Good Conduct citation in December 1903, and stays aboard Ariadne until 10th April 1904. But Charles being Charles, he then receives 90 days hard labour for “breaking out of ship etc”. The picture below is of a Gun Crew on Ariadne in 1903, when Charles was on board, can’t help thinking that the bloke second from right fits the description?

“Cushy” Posting

Charles is shipped back to Portsmouth, where we next find him on another “cushy” posting, this time for 6 months on “Firequeen” the steam tender for HMS victory in Portsmouth harbour (below). This boat is used to transport guests and dignitaries to and from Victory, crew seemed to be as least partly chosen for being young but experienced men, and, based on other men I have traced as serving on this boat, quite possibly, picked for how they looked, as a proportion on them went on to have adventurous private lives. This may not be as outlandish as it sounds, as one of the crew’s main duties was ferrying VIPs and Guests to functions on the Victory, and to various ceremonials and diplomatic engagements in Portsmouth.

Charles was moved to HMS Indefatigable (below) in January 1905, he managed 4 months, was given shore leave shortly before the ship is due to sail to Canada, and failed to return. Charles is recaptured, charged with “Leave Breaking” and is sentenced to another 28 days Hard Labour in May 1905. By this point The Navy’s patience ran out and at the end of his sentence Charles was discharged from service.

So Charles’s Naval record is a bizarre mixture of soft placements, desertions, and Hard Labour, with stable Good Conduct periods in between. This would imply that he is generally a competent Sailor, and very presentable, but may have occasionally gone on a bender while ashore, or possible overstayed his leave in pursuit of female company. This is reinforced by the fact that he is rarely gone for very long, so either the shore Patrol know where to find him, or he drifts back to his ship with a sore head and a smile on his face, probably after his money runs out. The fact that on his longest absence he joins the 8th Hussars, then immediately deserts, bears this out, as it was not an uncommon ploy for experienced “old lags” to join a Regiment, then abscond with their joining bounty payment as soon as it was paid.

Itinerant worker Canada & USA

Fresh out of the Navy in 1905, Charles books passage on a steamship and headed for Quebec in Canada, looking for work as a Labourer. He next turns up in the same year 1905 in Vancouver, and then Seattle with $20 in his pocket, working as a seaman, on board the SS Lake Manitoba of the Western Steam Navigation Company, the documents show that this was his second visit to Seattle. Charles then spends some time in Calgary Alberta, Canada, but left there in 1908 and crossed the US border from Canada at Eastport Idaho, heading for Spokane to work as a Labourer. He seems to have been travelling to wherever there was work and gives his brother Louis’s home in Toronto as contact for next of kin.

US Marine Corps

In November 1909 Charles is in San Francisco California, enlists in the US Marine Corps, and is transferred to Mare Island, the first US Naval Base on the Pacific Coast, and still the only major US Navy shipyard and US Marine training depot on the Pacific Coast in 1909. Charles must have looked like a perfect recruit to the US Marine Office in San Francisco; several years of experience in the British Navy, and an ex-Merchant Seaman who had travelled across the Atlantic and down the Pacific Coast of Canada and the USA, the small, strong, and dark complexioned “Limey”, with arms covered in Naval Tattoos (crossed flags, and clasped hands across a heart) must have presented a very different figure from the fresh faced farm boys who normally went through the Recruiting Office.

This is borne out, as after only 20 days of training Charles is shipped off with a set of other Marines to help establish the new US Marine Base at Puget Sound, Washington, way up North on the Canadian Border. Charles last appears on the muster rolls as “under instruction” for a further two weeks in January 1910.

At some time after his training, Charles skips the US Marine Corps and appears later in 1910 living in an address in Portland Oregon, working as a Labourer.

Canada and WW1

There is then a gap of four years in the records before Charles travels in April 1914 on the Canadian Pacific Railroad from the USA to Toronto Canada. On 4th August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, and on 24th September 1914 Charles walks into a recruiting Office to join the Canadian Army. He states that he has been serving in a Canadian Militia Unit; these were part time Units who mustered and took drill and rifle practice a few times per year, they received some expenses for doing so. In Canada this was almost treated as a hobby by many men, rather than a serious military force. Tellingly Charles makes no mention of his time in the US Marine Corps, reinforcing the likelihood that he had probably parted company with the US Marines of his own volition, and didn’t want to advertise the fact.

We get another glimpse of Charles when he signed up at the Canadian Militia muster at Valcartier Camp, North West of Quebec City. Recorded as 5ft 6ins, dark complexion, brown eyes, black hair 38in chest with 3in expansion, tattoos both arms, and employed in civilian life as a Roofer. Charles signs on as a Cook 1st Class and because of that he receives a guaranteed wage called a “Civilian Wage” supplement, and therefore higher than a normal soldier’s pay, as the Canadian Government believes that highly employable men in civilian life would need an extra incentive to join up.

Being a man with experience in the Royal Navy another cushy appointment came Charles’ way, when he was appointed as a Signaller on the Brigade Staff of the 3rd Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery (CFA), Charles would have been familiar with flag and light signalling from his Royal Naval Training, and handling big guns and small arms, and being a Cook his availability at Brigade Headquarters would be less of an issue than for a normal gunner. Charles is recorded as being in the First Contingent of CFA troops leaving for Europe, when he shipped out in October 1914. Although holding the Rank of Gunner (equivalent to a Private) he is confirmed as Cook 1st Class on pay awards.

Marriage 1915, then to France

Charles was shipped to England, and was at various sites in England for several months, long enough in fact to get married on 28th August 1915 to Lilly Elizabeth Faulkner, a Labourer’s daughter from Barking in Essex. Lilly came from a large Family who all worked in Barking Gasworks and the that Chemical Works nearby it, so Lilly may have been doing War Work either in a Gas Works or in munitions when she Charles. Two days after the wedding Charles shipped out to France. The Honeymoon was short lived, and Charles didn’t get more leave until April 1916. From the date of his Marriage Charles had a proportion of his pay, $20 per month, sent directly to Lillian in Barking.

Being a Cook and Signaller with Brigade HQ Charles would not have been subject to the worst of risk in the Front Line, but he would have faced risk from shell fire and snipers, especially if trying to get supplies up to the troops engaging the enemy.

Leaving the Army and Family Tragedy 1916-1918

On 1st January 1916 the Canadian Government decided to stop the Working Pay Allowance, with the proviso that any troops who had signed up on the basis of receiving it, would be allowed to ask for immediate discharge as soon as a replacement was found for them. Charles took the opportunity to ask for his discharge in August 1916, and was transferred to the reserves prior to shipping back to Canada. However this seems to have caused Charles a problem, as he lodges an official complaint that the authorities should have continued paying him his Working Pay while he was waiting to be formally discharged in Canada.

Be that as it may Charles is past as fit to travel by an Army Doctor, at Shorncliff Barracks in Folkestone Kent, deemed clear of any venereal or other infectious disease (always nice to know) he was shipped back to Canada in September 1916, where after a short delay, he was discharged on 1st October 1916. In the early part of 1917 Charles would have heard from Lillian that he now had a daughter called Julia (named after Lilly’s Mum), her conception lines up directly with Charles brief 8 days of leave in England in 1916. At some stage we know that Charles returns to England, there is no record of his arrival back in the UK. What we do know is that early in 1918 a son is born to the couple, also called Charles George (named after his father and his maternal Grandfather), so the inference is that Charles was back in the UK soon after he left the Canadian Army. Tragically in the summer of 1918 both of the children died, as did Lilly’s Father George Faulkner. Their deaths coincided with the fatal Spanish Flu Pandemic that swept across the world at the time.

Canada Again 1919

No doubt devastated by the death of their children and Lilly’s Father, it must have seemed like the world was falling apart, and no doubt driven by Charles experiences, the couple made the decision to try for a better life in Canada. Seeing the flu pandemic sweep through the country, where up to a quarter of the population were infected, and roughly 228,000 died of the disease, going to Canada would have looked like a good choice to escape it, although the death rate was the same as in the UK given the much smaller population, the infection rate was a little lower due to the less concentrated population density in Canada. The couple reached Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada in 1919, on a ship containing returning US and Canadian ex-servicemen and their dependents, Charles marked as a Returning Canadian and Lilly as a Military Dependent. Charles job title is still “Roofer”. The couple stayed in Canada through the 1920s, and in 1921 their daughter Jessie was born (named after Lilly’s youngest sister).

Back to England 1930s

By 1930 the couple decided to return to the UK, they sailed across the Atlantic once more, first Lilly and Jessie in July 1930 on the Aurania, followed by Charles on the Ascania. The couple with their daughter Jessie move back to Barking, where Charles takes up a job as a Public Works Labourer, doing Heavy Work. The couple stayed in Essex, eventually moving to Ilford, where Charles died in the 1960s and Lilly a few years later in the 1970s.

I wondered how many of their Essex neighbours realised what a colourful and hard life the couple had lead; Lilly who had seen such pain and travelled across the Atlantic and back, to find happiness, Charles, with his self confidence, and his blatant working class Cockney disregard for authority, his dark good looks and tattooed arms. Very few men could say that they had served in The Royal Navy, been given hard Labour by The Navy, ferried dignitaries around Portsmouth Harbour for the Admiral, Joined the British Army in the 8th Hussars, then deserted was recaptured and sent back to The Navy, joined The US Marine Corps in California and Puget Sound, and was perhaps technically still on the run from them, served in The Canadian Militia, and then served in The Canadian Army, as a Signaller, Gunner, and Cook, and had been on the Front in France during WW1!

Some people just see “Old People” and write them off, but behind the wrinkled smile maybe there’s a story of rebellion and adventure just waiting to be found.

In Part 5 we will see what happened to Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Grandfather, John Felix Jossa.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, and Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Not “Jossa” South London Family (Part 3)

Louis (“Lewis”) James Jossa 1881-1951

Cartridge Boys

“Lewis” (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Uncle) was working full time from his early teens as a Cartridge Boy in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder. After his Father’s marriage to Annie Taylor he started showing signs of anti-social behaviour; in 1897 he was caught letting off fireworks in the street and received a court appearance and a fine for his efforts. Having said that, throwing a few Bangers around probably didn’t seem like such a big deal to a boy who risked having a hand blown off any day at work while loading explosives into cartridges. He got a five shilling fine, and no doubt a clip ’round the ear from the PC who nicked him, and probably from his Dad when he got home.

Louis carried on working in the Royal Arsenal, but just being a Labourer there, although regular fairly well paid work, obviously didn’t suit him, perhaps living at home with a new Step-Mother, and normal teenage rebelliousness all contributed to his desire to seek pastures new, and in the Spring of 1899, at the age of 17, he walked into an Army Recruiting Office, and joined his local Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment. We know from the records that he had Brown Hair and eyes, and like the rest of his Family was a Roman Catholic. He was known in the amy as “Lewis” Jossa.

Louis wasn’t a big chap at 17, only 5 feet 4 inches tall and 115lbs (just over 8 Stone) but he was used to handling explosives, was physically fit, and after being drilled at the Barracks for three months, and was most likely a crack shot, as he was soon put forward as a good candidate for The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. The KRRC were an elite regiment who traditionally recruited shorter men, who were considered wiry and fast moving, presenting a smaller target on the battlefield and when used as snipers. In July 1899 “Lewis” joined the Corps. This was an upward move in his Services Career.

Louis spent the first 18 months at home in England then in Cork in the South of Ireland learning Rifle drill, marksmanship, and marching at double time. In December 1901 his Battalion was shipped out to South Africa where the Second Boer War was being fought by the British against the White South African Boers. A Mounted Infantry Company had gone ahead, to be followed by Louis and the Infantry. They arrived at Durban from where they proceeded to Harrismith 200 miles away, in the Newly formed British Orange River Colony.

KRRC in South Africa

The Infantry Battalion’s first job was to build a line of Fortified Block Houses with areas of barbed wire in between, these were manned and defended, whilst the Cavalry and Mounted Infantry attempted to Drive the enemy Boer Units onto the Rifles of the infantry’s defensive positions, effectively surrounding and cutting off Boer Units and forcing their surrender. The Blockhouses and their barbwire stretched for over 3,000 miles. Louis’s position near Harrismith can be seen on the map below the label “DE WET” the name of the local Boer Enemy Commander.

One odd feature of British Soldiers’ humour, was that almost every Blockhouse had it’s own dummy guards and dummy cannon, setup partly as a joke, and partly to draw Boer fire, especially at night, so that the Boers would give away their positions whilst “Tommy Atkins” was safely within the Blockhouse defences.

The King’s Royal Rifles took part in a number of confrontations with the Boers for which they were commended by Lord Kitchener. As the Cavalry Columns drove the Boers towards the Block Houses and Barbed Wire, attacks would take place to try to force a way through.

So it is highly likely that Louis saw a fair amount of action, as he not only received the South Africa Campaign Medal, but also three “Clasps” to denote were he took part, Louis had the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the 1902 Clasps. Louis would stay in South Africa through 1902 and the end of the War.

One notable clash took place when General Christiaan De Wet, the local Boer Commander, successfully tried a new tactic of having his mounted “Commandos” drive herds of cattle into the barbed wire to force a way through, he successfully escaped from British pursuit by employing this tactic, although, such attempts were not always successful, with the British firing from their Blockhouse with tracer bullets, and employing trains mounted with searchlights and Machine Guns to try to intercept the Boer Columns.

At the end of the War Louis and the KRRC were shipped out, and between 1903 and 1905 Louis was back in the UK, then between 1905 and 1907 was stationed in Malta, one of the main British Garrison Islands in the Mediterranean. In 1907 he returned to the UK. It seems that Louis served his time well in the Army, but like so many soldiers, when not in action, the Devil would make work for is idle hands, and on two occasions outside of his time in South Africa he lost his Good Conduct Standing and pay, although on each occasion is was restored.

In 1907 Louis left the Regular Forces and went back to Civvie Street, but still serving in the 1st Class Army Reserves, so attended occasional musters and would have received a small payment as being liable to recall in time of War. At this time he sought and gained permission to settle in Canada whilst in the Army Reserve.

In August 1907 Louis sailed in steerage aboard the steamer Corsican, bound for Toronto, registered as a “City” Labourer (as opposed to an Agricultural Labourer). He didn’t last long in Canada, work may have been had to come by, and within 6 months was heading south to New York to seek work. Some years later in 1910 the British Military would strike him off the reserves list for “illegal absence” from musters, probably completely unaware that Louis was by then living in New York.

It’s possible that some members of his Mother’s extended Somers Family were already in New York, and may have sent Louis word about opportunities there, as in 1910 we find Louis living in an apartment with three members of the extended Somers Family, a Widow with two grown up children, plus Louis’s younger brother John Jossa, and a friend of theirs named John Curran, more of whom later.

Louis was a worker in an Iron Foundry, his brother John was a Machinist in a Machine Workshop, and John Curran was a woodworker on the Railways, while the Somers were working as a Car Inspector on the local Street Railway, and a Telephone Operator.

10th/Amsterdam/Death Avenue NY 1910

Their apartment was near 10th Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue at the time, or Death Avenue as the locals called it, because of the high numbers of deaths caused by the locomotives that crossed the roads in the area. Everyone in the apartment with Louis was English, apart from John Curran who was Irish, and indeed English born people were the third largest immigrant group in their block, after “Yiddish” Russian Jewish immigrants (and one Austrian Jewish Family) and Italians, followed by Germans, almost all the Americans in the block were children living with their immigrant parents. The English don’t really fit the representation of immigrants that are normally associated with New York in the early 20th Century, the English (and they do call themselves English not British) were probably barely seen as “foreign” compared to their more exotic neighbours, so, despite their large numbers, tend to be overlooked in popular US culture.

The 12th Ward of Manhattan were the brothers lived was a poor one, and this was reflected in the diseases that plagued the area, in 1910 it was reported that the 12th Ward was the worst for disease in the whole of Manhattan with 188 cases of Measles (Measles was a killer disease for children in the early 20th Century), 104 cases of Scarlet Fever, 55 cases of Diphtheria.

Despite the challenges, in 1911, Louis married an Irish girl named Elizabeth Curran, the sister of his friend John Curran. They began to raise a Family with Charles in 1912, Louis 1913, George 1916, and Ellen in 1917. Louis had managed to move away from Labouring and was working as an Elevator Operator by 1915, and despite being on the draft for WW1 and having an experience of battle conditions in the Boer War, was never called upon to serve, probably because of his age and lack of citizenship. At the end of the War in 1918 Louis finally applied to become a US Citizen.

By 1920 Louis had returned to being a Labourer, now in the New York Shipyards, perhaps the money was better in the Shipyards, or perhaps work was hard to find? Sometime in the 1920s Louis and Elizabeth’s daughter Ellen disappears from the records, the inference being that she had died as a child. In 1922 Louis took the family North to Elizabeth’s brother’s Farm (Edward Curran) in Edmonton Alberta Canada, it’s not clear if that was for work or a family visit, but we do know that Edward was an ex-soldier who had been given a grant to build a farmstead in the Canadian Plains in 1921, under the “Soldier Settlement” scheme, aimed at bringing British ex-soldiers over to settle in the Canadian Prairies. So it’s possible that if work was in short supply in New York, the Jossa’s moved to Canada to help Edward on the Farm, maybe even to look into setting there themselves.

However, there were still costs involved, so new settlers needed capital to setup, even ex-soldiers needed large loans at times. Whatever the reason, by 1925 Louis and family were back in New York, and Louis had found work as an Electrician. The family’s neighbours are now predominantly Italians, and native born Americans, as well as a few English and Scandinavians, not many people registered as German, as there were some mixed feelings about Germans after WW1.

There was little change for the Family as the as the 1930s arrived, they still lived in the Amsterdam Avenue area, Louis was an Elevator Mechanic, but now his elder sons Charles and Louis were working for a Brokerage Company as a Runner and a Clerk respectively, strangely the younger Louis also appears on the 1930 census on April 1st (9 days earlier) as an ordinary seaman onboard the USS Neches, perhaps he gave up a life on ships in the time in between? Most of their neighbours were now Americans, with a large Irish population, some Canadians and Russians, and a smattering of English, Scandinavian and German immigrants, plus the odd Turk, Hungarian, and a Japanese Cook.

By the 1940s there was still little change for the family, still living at Amsterdam Avenue, Louis still working as an Elevator Operator, Charles their eldest son had left home, while Louis Junior and George were still at home, however the stock market crash that started in 1929 had put paid to their careers ion brokerage, with the value of stocks and shares collapsing, closing companies, throwing thousands out of work, and causing the start of the great depression.

The boys were lucky, they managed to get jobs Louis Jnr now worked as a typesetter on the New York Times, whilst George had got a job through his Dad as an Elevator Operator.

The Jossa’s neighbours were mainly American born, but with notable numbers of Russians, Germans, Irish, English, and a smattering of Hungarians and other East Europeans, and a few Canadians and Scots.

Come the outbreak of WW2 Louis signed up for the “Old Man’s” draft, which was quite an optimistic thing to do given that he was 61 years old by then, but hats off to him for chutzpah. At the time he was an Elevator Operator for Gresham Realty.

After the War Louis and Elizabeth retired to Santa Barbara California where their eldest son Charles had settled.

In Part 4 we shall see what happened to Charles Jossa, and his adventures in the workhouse, Navy, Marines, and Army, across England, USA and Canada.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, and Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Not “Jossa” South London Family (Part 2)

In Part 1 we saw how Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Grandfather Charles Jossa the Engineer left Belgium to find opportunities in Great Britain, starting in the Midlands but eventually settling in Plumstead by the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, where work was plentiful. Charles had married twice, first to an Irish Publican’s daughter Mary Somers, who died young, and secondly to Anni Brewer Taylor, a Domestic Nurse who had come to London from her home in Wiltshire. Charles and his first wife Annie raised five sons, but following his second marriage to Annie Taylor, the relationships with the boys and their Father and Stepmother seem to have broken down. We will now see what happened to his sons.

In this part we will see the two older boys, and then in Part 3 the younger boys including Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Grandfather.

George Augustine Jossa 1877-1897

We saw in Part 1 that cracks began to show when the eldest son George left the family home to go back up North to Walsall and work in his Maternal Grandfather’s Pub, The Greyhound. Like many pubs at the time in working class areas, life for a publican could be challenges, and George and his Grandfather were involved in punch-ups with the worst offenders to keep the pub clear of violent drunks. Sadly George Jossa died, unmarried in Walsall in 1897 at 20 years of age.

Martin Charles Jossa 1879-1943

Martin had also left home and gone “back up North” to Walsall, he had run off with a young woman called Alice Hewitt, unmarried, but living as man and wife. Martin was a Labourer with a Tube Manufacturer, working as a “Puddler” a hot, hard, and sometimes dangerous job, pouring molten metal into moulds during the manufacturing process.

Alice Hewitt was from the little village of Thornham in Kent (modern spelling “Thurnham”), just outside Maidstone, where her Father was a Bricklayer. It isn’t clear where the couple met, but it seems likely that Alice may have gone to London for work.

By 1901 the couple had moved back south to London and in 1901 their daughter Maud Mary Jossa was born in Poplar in the East End that same year. After a couple more years the couple finally married in 1903. But times were hard for unskilled Labourers, and in July 1907 Martin Jossa left Liverpool for Quebec in Canada, travelling in steerage (the lowest class) on the Steamer “Corsican”. It would be over a year later that the couple had saved enough for Alice and seven year old Maud to join Martin in Toronto, travelling 3rd Class onboard the “Empress of India”, again the cheapest travel class, but much better conditions than Martin had travelled in.

Martin and Alice lived in South Toronto, where Martin had come up in the world, finding work as a Machinist, following his Father’s footsteps, and the Family grew, with Charles in 1910. Interestingly, the couple shifted Maud’s birth year in some records to look like she was born after they married, rather than a few years before. In 1913 their third child Octavia was born.

Life had been hard, but worse was to come with the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, the Empire needed men to defend the Mother Country, and in June 1915 Martin signed up at the ripe age of 36. At just 5ft 5ins and 150lbs (less than 11 stone) Martin had Sallow Skin, Brown Eyes and Black Hair. Martin also bore the marks of rough early years with a scar running from his nose downwards across his cheek. He was pronounced fit for service in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on 22nd June 1915, the only other note made by the medical officer were that Martin only had just over half his teeth, eighteen in all.

Martin became a Private in the 59th Battalion (and then the 2nd Battalion) of Canadian Infantry. Martin being slightly older than the average recruit, and showing some aptitude for the hard life of a soldier, was temporarily promoted during basic training to Corporal, and after was shipped out from Montreal to Europe on 13th November 1915. It appears that when in the field his rank returned to Private.

Martin developed a persistent shortness of breath after being pinned down with his unit in a waterlogged trench for several days during an attack, as they advanced during the Battle of Zillebeke in 1916, Martin climbed out of a support trench and took a gunshot wound to his right wrist that knocked his rifle from his grasp, followed by a shell blast that hit the parapet of the trench, knocking Martin back into it, where a mound of Earth, displaced by the blast, buried him alive. Martin was very lucky to survive the gunshot, the blast, and the untimely live burial. He was dug from the earth by his comrades to be sent back behind the lines for treatment.

Destroyed Dugouts

The effects of being shot, blown-up and buried alive were severe. Martin was diagnosed with Neurasthenia, commonly called “Shell Shock”, this debilitating disease gave Martin headaches, dizziness, and a pulse rate of 110-140 when at rest, as well as bouts of incoherent mumbling. Fortunately for Martin for had received both a bullet wound before the shell blast and been buried alive after it; soldiers suffering from shell shock with no physical signs of injury or extenuating circumstances, were sometimes believed to be shaming illness as a cover for cowardice, and were often sent back to The Front to continue fighting in their debilitated state. Martin’s circumstances meant that he was treated more compassionately, shipped from the Field Hospital, first to Hospital in Norwich England, and then back to Canada. He was found to be unfit for service and discharged with a small pension. Despite what he went through, he was one of the lucky ones.

He went back home to his Wife Alice and his three Children. They lived for the rest of their lives in Canada, although Alice did visit London in the 1920s. Martin suffered from some ill-health for the rest of his life in one form or another, and when he died in 1943, his wife successfully claimed a Pension from the Canadian Government, as the breathing problems he suffered from and that ultimately killed him were put down to the damage to his lungs by his time pinned down under enemy fire in a waterlogged trench.

In Part 3 we will see what happened to Louis Jossa.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, and Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Published in: on January 3, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Not “Jossa” South London Family

Part 1 Great Britain: A Land of Opportunity

Jacqueline Jossa is an actress well known for her part as Lauren Branning in East Enders, but her Family is more associated with South of the River than the East End, but that’s not all, there is a whole Family story covering Belgium to Canada, and The USA to France, so not “Jossa” South London Family!

The name itself has a number of separate origins, in Spain, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. But is so rare in the UK that all the Jossa’s in the UK are likely related, with the exception of recent arrivals from the EU.

A Belgian Engineer

The earliest ancestor that can be linked to Jacqueline via the records is Augustine Jossa, Jacqueline Jossa’s Great-Great-Great Grandfather whose son Charles Jossa, (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Grandfather) was born in Belgium and came to England during the mid-Victorian period.

Charles Jossa was a Machine Fitter, a skilled worker, and came to work in the Industrial Town of Wallsall during the 1870s.

Charles Jossa

Publican’s Daughter

Frequenting the local Pubs, Charles dark good looks had drawn the attention of the Publican’s daughter in The Greyhound Inn, in Upper Rushall Street Wallsall. This was Mary Somers a Catholic Girl and the daughter of George Somers an Irish Publican who ran the Bull’s Head before George changed its name to “The Greyhound”.

The Malt Shovel Oldbury

He had moved the family up from Oldbury where he had run “The Malt Shovel”, frequented by the local Iron Workers, many of them themselves Irish, he ran a tight house and was not a man to be meddled with. The Greyhound could also be boisterous, and Mary’s Father George wasn’t beyond throwing out rowdies when the occasion arose, as in 1874 when one Michael Melville became “Drunk and Quarrelsome” picked a fight with another customer, and found himself slung out by George. So once our Charles Jossa had caught the eye of Mary Somers, it was beyond doubt that he would be doing the right thing by her, and in 1876 the two were married in Wallsall.

Move South

The couple had two sons in Walsall, George 1877 and Martin 1879, before moving to Nottingham, where son Lewis was born 1881. The Family’s stay in Nottingham was temporary, and by 1881 they had made a major move, South, to the Woolwich/Plumstead area of Kent, that would become part of South East London. Charles’ and Mary’s last two sons, the first called Charles after his Father in 1883 and John in 1885 were born in Plumstead, where the Family lived for a while in Walmer Road.

The reason this area was chosen for the move was that London by the South Bank of the Thames was a booming in light industrial work feeding into the heavier machine work around the Shipyards, Dockyards, and Railheads on the River Thames. More specifically the area the Jossas settled in was in walking distance of the Royal Arsenal, the preeminent spot for arms and munitions manufacture in the UK.

The area grew substantially at the time of the Jossas’ arrival, and the social side of life improved for workers in the area with guaranteed employment. In 1868 twenty workers set a Cooperative Society, that provided cheaper food, that grew to over half a million members providing Funerals, Housing, Libraries, and Insurance. In 1886 the workers set up the Dial Square Football Club, renamed two weeks later to Royal Arsenal (nicknamed the Woolwich Reds), entering the Football League as Woolwich Arsenal in 1893 (while the Jossas were living there) the team that would eventually become the modern Arsenal Football Club and move North of The River.

A Labourer could make 22s per week, a skilled man more, and there was always a huge amount of overtime available, with men starting at eight in the morning, and working anything up to 14 hours per day, so even unskilled Labourers could earn good wages if they were prepared to work for it. The problem was that there was an abundance of pubs in the area, where the men would come out from work and spend their overtime pay to slake their thirst, it was the mens’ propensity to drink that decided on how comfortable their families would be; the more they drank the poorer they were. Although there was a plethora of Churches and Chapels in the area, they played little part in influencing the habits of the local men, the only exception being the local Wilson’s Baptist Tabernacle, for the abstemious part of the population. We don’t know how this affected Charles, other than it seemed he kept himself away from the worst excesses of the area, and was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) the Union of the various skilled mechanics in the area, and attended lectures given by the society.

Image result for the royal arsenal woolwich history

The Jossa Family could walk to the hills above Woolwich, and look across the buildings of the Royal Arsenal, at the light green of the Marshes that were used as firing ranges, here frequent flashes were followed by the delayed sound of bangs and crumps from the testing of explosives and artillery shells. These explosions would rock whole streets of houses, and when they went wrong could shatter windows in nearby streets, for which there was no recompense for the local householders. Beyond this were the grey waters of the Thames where the River broadened after its confinement on the way around the bend at Poplar and Greenwich. The red sailed Thames Barges on the River filled with cement to feed the building of The City and Hay to feed the Horses that moved the people and goods around The City all brought up from Kent and Essex. On the far side of The River were the Victoria and Albert Docks on the North Bank, filled with masts and sails, and the black and red funnels of sea-going Ships and Ocean Liners. Good wages, five sons and an ever changing panorama of The City and River, Charles had many things that Families could only dream of in Victorian London

In January 1889, the Family would face a crisis. At only 32 years of age, Mary Jossa (Somers) died and was buried at St Margaret’s Church Plumstead. This left Charles with five pre-teen sons to raise. Charles managed to raise the boys as a lone parent to an extent, but as soon as they were old enough to work, the boys left home to find their own way in the world, suggesting that Charles didn’t have the time, or perhaps inclination or patience to look after the boys once Mary died, and they were old enough to work.

It took Charles some years to come to terms with Mary’s death, but eventually in 1894, five years after Mary’s death, Charles married Anna Brewer Taylor, known as Annie Taylor, the daughter of an Agricultural Labourer from Wiltshire. Annie Taylor had spent time in Hospital as a young girl, and her experience there had inspired her to train as Nurse, and then to find work in Croydon, South of London to work in Domestic Service looking after elderly well do Londoners who had moved to the suburbs. Somewhere between Croydon and Plumstead the couple met and married.

For some years the couple continued to live in Walmer Road in Plumstead. However from 1899 they moved to Congo Road Plumstead which would become their home for the next 20 years. Congo Road consisted of older two story houses built in the mid century, with long gardens, families took the houses then sublet, but Charles was earning enough not to need to and had all five rooms to himself and his family. At the front of the houses were small wooden railings, few flowers in the gardens, but many residents keep, pigeons, chickens rabbits and such small livestock.

4 Congo Road, Plumstead

Stepmoms and Stepsons don’t always get along

Even with a new wife there seems to have been little inclination for the boys to stay at home, and once the younger boys were in their teens, they left home at the earliest opportunity.

George Jossa the eldest son left once his father remarried and went to work back in Wallsall with his Irish Publican Grandfather George Somers, in The Greyhound. George Jossa was named after his Grandfather and worked hard in the with him, he was involved for better or worse, including at least one disturbance where a pair of local drunken ruffians were physically turned out of the pub by the two Georges and with the help of a Policeman, but only after one of the ruffians had managed to punch a barmaid. Sadly George Jossa would die a couple of years later at only 20 years of age.

Other signs of problems between the boys and Charles and Annie showed in small details we can glean from the records. In 1897 Lewis (actually anglicised from Louis) Jossa, appeared for the wrong reasons in the local paper:

Lewis was a Cartridge Boy, that meant that he had received a basic education in the Royal Arsenal, but had moved straight into work, probably from around the age of 14, doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder, easy to see how letting off fireworks in the street would have come naturally to him.

So all was not well in the Family, and we will find out more about what happened to the five sons in the next instalment. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss the next instalment, and give us a like on the page if you’ve enjoyed it so far.

And you can read Part 2 here.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

When A Hundred Years isn’t Linear



The above picture published today by Geoff Hallum on the Hamble River & Its Villages Facebook Page raised an interesting perspective on progress over time.

Exactly one hundred years ago today the children of Hamble-le-Rice, a Village on the Hampshire Coast in England marched up the hill from the Quayside to the Village Square wearing their Sunday Best.  Although the Armistice wasn’t signed for another couple of weeks the people of the UK celebrated on the 19th.

In 1919 most houses in the village did not have electricity, or inside toilets, or bathrooms.  Measles and Flu were killer diseases.  Motor Cars were just starting to more widely available to the better off, with echoes of modern days with Joseph John Sedgewick of the Parish of Hound being fined for “Driving a Motor Car in a manner dangerous to the Public” on Hamble Lane, at the outrageous and lunatic speed of 25 mph (!), he was fined £1.

20 years later the boys in this picture would be Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen fighting in WW2 and many of the girls were tilling the land as Land Girls and working in the Spitfire factories in Southampton, as German Bombers roared up the Hamble and Solent to attack the Spitfire airfield at Hamble and the Factories in Southampton, taking fire from the gun batteries along the Hamble Peninsula and Solent Shores.


25 Years and one day after the Children marched, WW2 was unexpectedly almost ended when a group of German Officers lead by Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb that would injure Hitler without killing him, meaning the war would carry on into another year. Claus von Stauffenberg was executed by the Nazis for the attempted assassination.

Exactly 25 years after the attempt on Hitler, and 50 years and one day after the Children processed through the Village Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.  In only 50 years the world had gone from sailing ships and steamers moving crabs and strawberries along the Hamble River, and drivers being arrested for travelling at 25 mph to the Apollo Moon Rockets.


So the Moon Landing is exactly midway between today and the Children’s March in Hamble. How staggering that relative progress has slowed in the period between 1969 to 2019 compared to 1919 and 1969.  Just think if we’d progressed at the same rate, we could have had colonies on Mars.

Happily some things remain the same, the houses visible in the Children’s picture are still there, one is a bed and breakfast, and the other a small shop, and the Hamble River still flows down to the Solent.


Published in: on July 19, 2019 at 6:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rob Roy McGregor, Three Wars, and the Sinking of The Lisbon Maru (part2)

As we saw in Part 1 The McGregor Family I’ve been tracing isn’t that of the Scottish Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor, rather they were Presbyterian Weavers from Glasgow, Godfearing Govan weavers and Fishers, then agitating street rioting anti-exploitation Calton Weavers as the Industrial Revolution crept in and changed their world forever.

The Glasgow Weavers were Protestant Loyalists to the British Crown, whilst fiercely fighting for their rights, this can be seen in their flag of association pictured below.


Their Trade Association had been established since 1756, before the birth of America as an Independent Nation.  Their motto is that of the Town of Govan “Nihil Sine Labor” and translates as “Nothing Without Labour” and the slogan on their flags reads “For God, King, and Covenant” a strong message for a Labour Society.

The changes that forced the Family to reassess their future in Scotland was amplified by the economic collapse of Scottish Banks, followed by the American Civil War, from which the Weaving Industry in Glasgow would never recover.  Many of the family fled to Massachusetts and served with the Union against the South, returning to life in the Mills as hard as that they’d left in Scotland.


Erosion in pay an conditions over time lead to increased Union organisation and activity in the areas of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania that the weaving McGregors had settled in.   Between 1881 and 1925 there were over 7,000 strikes involving nearly 3,000,000 workers in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, many of these strikes were in Heavy Industries like Mining and Iron Working, but textile factories soon came under union pressure.

The conditions of Weavers and other Textile Workers culminated in the Bread and Roses strike of 1912, in Lawrence Massachusetts, the epicentre of early McGregor settlement in the States.

“As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,

For they are Womens’ children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us Roses!”


This strike made National headlines, when, after a statutory reduction in working hours for Mill Workers, the Mill owners reduced their wages, and strikes followed.  The Authorities brought in Militia and turned fire hoses on strikers in the freezing streets, strikers fought back by braking Mill windows.   A confrontation between Police and Strikers lead to a Policeman being stabbed and Anna LoPizzo a female Striker being shot dead by a bullet to the chest, despite eye witness testimony, the local authorities tried unsuccessfully to frame three Union officials for the killing, and after a short period of incarceration they were freed when evidence showed that they were not involved in the riot.


On a grander scale there was a conspiracy by a Mill Owner and various other parties to have dynamite planted on Union premises, this failed when a building contractor who had witnessed the discussion of the plan, came forward to testify to what he had seen, however he never took the stand before a Grand Jury, as he died, conveniently, by “suicide” shortly after receiving the summons.

Eventually troops were called out on the streets, and there were standoffs and violence between strikers and fully armed soldiers.


The situation finally got taken into Federal Courts when parents of strikers attempting to send their children to safety by train with friends and relatives in Philadelphia and New York, were brutally attacked by the Police had their children dragged off of the train to be forced to stay, in many cases, without food at their parents’ homes in Lawrence.


This was the last straw, and federal intervention, and Union steadfastness, alongside the exposure of the various illegal attempts to set-up the Unions for crimes they did not commit, swung public opinion in the strikers favour, and improved conditions were won.

For the McGregors in these uncertain times, the family were affected in different ways.  The family had lived through, and undoubtedly took part in the Calton Riots in earlier generations in Glasgow, and there was no doubt a fine tradition of dissent, and Unionised fighting for rights going right back to the 1700s, so there is little doubt in my mind that at least some of them were active in the various strike activities they encountered in the USA.  The core of the Family stayed in weaving, but some moved to other areas where conditions were better, some continued in specialist tasks like Tapestry Weaving, but mechanisation and a massive influx of cheap labour from Italy and other parts of Europe and even Syria, deskilled Weaving jobs and depressed wages.


McGregors On The Move

Some of the McGregors wound up in Philadelphia, and it looks as if James McGregor may have been active in the strikes, as we find him living under a false name (he had adopted his Mother’s Maiden name of Craig) in Rhode Island for sometime, before eventually returning to Philadelphia many years later.  He took this as far as marrying and raising a family under the false family name of Craig, so it is likely that he may have been in fear of persecution by the authorities as well as the risk of finding himself blacklisted.


A game of International Chess by US vested interests

These uncertainties in the Weaving Community forced some members of the McGregor Family to seek more peaceful occupations, and in the case of the Submarine Commander Rob Roy McGregor’s Father, Francis “Frank” Alexander McGregor this meant joining the US Navy on 29th June 1891, at Fall River Massachusetts.  Frank was 5ft 4ins, with Blue Eyes, Reddish Hair, and a Freckled Complexion, he just about made it in having slight knocked knees, and was skinny being four pounds under the official minimum weight for his height, although this was waived when he was signed up. He was sent to Recruiting Station St Louis for training.

Frank would join at the perfect time to see some foreign travel, in his case to Cavite in the Spanish Colony of the Philippines in 1898, accompanied by a tattoo of the US Flag on his Right Arm.  Frank’s trip was a result of the blowing up of the American Warship Maine in Havana Harbour, the spark that ignited the Spanish American War.

Spain had been losing power on the world scene since the Peninsular War in the early 1800s when The leader of the British forces in the Spanish Peninsular, The Duke of Wellington, assisted by Portuguese and Spanish Guerrillas, had thoroughly defeated Napoleon’s forces in Spain. Years of civil strife followed, fuelled by the Anarchist movement in Europe. Late in the 1800s Spain gained some stability, but the previous weakness at the centre of Spanish politics and the successful overthrow of Spanish rule in Mainland South and Central America had encouraged liberation movements in far flung colonies, notably Cuba, The Philippines, and Guam. Most of these places had been under Spanish rule for 400 years, and Cuba in particular was thought of as a Province of Spain by the Spanish rather than a colony (a parallel to the British attitude towards Ireland).


At the same time there was a movement to expand America’s interests on the World Stage by a number of powerful men in American public life, the US had already mounted an illegal invasion of Hawaii in 1893, that came about because of civil unrest instigated by a fifth column of US Sugar Planters and Missionaries living on the Island agitating over a period of decades. The US invasion, unsanctioned by the US Congress, and therefore to all intents and purposes illegal, was hastened by the fact that the Hawaiians had leaned towards Great Britain for protection in the past, to the point where the British Government had provided troops and ships in 1843 to protect the Islands from the French, honourably pulling out after a few months when the danger had past, in stark contrast to the US approach in the following decades. The legacy of this Hawaiian-British relationship is defiantly proclaimed in the Union Jack flag still flying in the corner of the Hawaiian state flag!


After the invasion the Monarchy of Hawaii was replaced with a puppet Republic largely controlled by US Commercial (Sugar) interests, but this was too precarious for the expansionist forces in the USA, and in 1897, shortly before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, an attempt to officially annexe the Hawaiian Islands was put before congress and defeated, the defeat in part driven by pressure from the signatures of 21,000 native Hawaiians protesting at the attempt to rob them of what little sovereignty they had left, but a year later, given the likelihood of war with Spain, the US desire for a naval base in the North Pacific was too tempting a prize to be left un-stolen, as the USA would badly need a stopover point for resupply en-route to the Spanish possessions in the Philippines if they were to consider an invasion. So all pretence of protecting the independence of Hawaii was dropped, and an annexation bill was passed, effectively robbing Hawaii of any chance of independence and self determination.

A confrontation with Spain was guaranteed when ships from the newly developed and highly powerful US fleet were dispatch to various Spanish areas of interest, culminating with the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbour killing over 260 of her crew. At the time the blame was firmly placed on a Spanish mine by the US authorities, but later investigations point towards an explosion caused by the poor quality coal used on the ship which gave off a high flammable gas in in the area of the ship’s ammunition magazine. Whatever the cause, the sinking of the Maine ensured that War would be the likely outcome with the Americans adopting the slogan “Remember The Maine, to Hell with Spain!”


Explosion Aboard the Battleship Maine, Havana Harbour

Frank McGregor turned up as a Gunner on the USS Culgoa in 1898.  Now the Culgoa was an interesting ship, built in Sunderland on the North East Coast of England, she was sold to the US in 1898, and Frank was part of the first American Naval Crew.  The Culgoa was the epitome of Anglo-American friendship.  Although Great Britain was technically neutral in the Spanish American War, it sold the Culgoa to the American Navy as a modern refrigerated merchant ship rather than a commissioned Naval Vessel, which meant that she could buy meat from ports of the British Empire and without technically breaking British Neutrality, she was also capable of producing and transporting Ice.


All this despite the fact that she had a US Navy Crew (pictured below) and Guns, including Gunner Frank McGregor.  Frank steamed aboard Culgoa whilst she plied her trade between Cavite and Manila supplying the American troops with meat and ice.


The War  took very little time and few casualties on the American side. The main Spanish garrison in Manilla had little stomach for the fight after seeing their slightly antiquated fleet sent to the bottom of Manila Bay by the vastly superior US Fleet, and offered to put up a token resistance just to save face, as long as the US forces didn’t allow their Filipino insurgent allies take control of the town or molest the surrendering Spaniards. There was some confusion, and some units of US soldiers were involved in heavy fire, but overall the “attack” went as planned.


If anything it went too well, as, now in possession of the Capital, the US Government decided that rather than handing the Philippines back to the Filipinos, they would replace the Spanish themselves and rule the country as a colony. It was no surprise that the Filipinos didn’t take to this idea, and immediately opened a guerrilla war against American forces as they had for many years against the Spanish. The war was barbaric on both sides, fought in the jungles and villages of the Philippine Islands, and was a foretaste of conditions in Vietnam 60 years later. However, the US forces were so well armed and provisioned that it was a forgone conclusion that they would eventually overrun Filipino resistance.

Culgoa was officially commissioned into the US Navy during this period of the American-Filipino War.  She was refitted in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, and made a number of trips to Brisbane Australia, also part of the British Empire, to purchase meat and other supplies for the American troops in the Philippines. It looks likely that Frank was a member of the crew during this period.  Culgoa sailed back to the States, to New York via the Anglo-French controlled Suez Canal in 1901, and was temporarily decommissioned, this ties in with Frank’s known movements, we find him back in the states getting married in Washington in 1902, to Lydia Schmidt, a local girl, the daughter of German settler immigrants.  By 1904 the couple are in Rhode Island where their first two sons are born.  By October 1906 Frank has retired from the Navy and by 1910 is living with wife and kids in Seattle on his Navy retirement pension, which must have been hard.  In 1907 their third son Rob Roy McGregor, the Submarine Commander, who would sink the Lisbon Maru was born in Seattle.


The First World War.

Come the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the USA increased Naval recruitment in response to events in Europe.  This gave Frank the opportunity as an experienced Naval Gunner to find employment back in the Navy in Seattle.  He would stay in the Navy throughout the War, reaching the rank of Chief Gunner in 1918.  At the end of the War and through the 1920s, Frank continued working in the Naval Office of the Line based in New York. He died in 1934.

By 1917 John William McGregor, Frank’s youngest brother, followed Frank’s example, joined the Navy in 1917 and moved to Charleston South Carolina in service as Naval Quartermaster.  He spent most of his wartime career in convoys between the US, Ireland, England, and France, transporting supplies to American troops in Continental Europe.  he left wartime service in 1919, but was still working as a Chief Accountant in the Navy in the 1920s.  He would die in 1924.

The Vagaries of Chance and Choices that affect History.

So Rob Roy McGregor was brought up in what had become a Naval family, despite having no previous Naval connections, coming from a staunch Protestant Unionised Family of Lowland Scots Weavers.  The course of the American Civil War and its affect on the transatlantic Cotton trade, had lead the surly and riotous Calton Weavers to leave Glasgow and travel to Massachusetts and then Pennsylvania, fighting for their rights against a system that was stacked against them in the New World, before seeing a better option in the US Navy where their careers blossomed, and the family thrived to the present day.

It was a series of world events, and choices of economic necessity that would all lead to Rob Roy McGregor finding himself looking through a submarine periscope at a Japanese military convoy, and giving the order to fire his torpedoes that would sink an armed Japanese Transport Ship the Lisbon Maru, and set off a series of event that would culminate in my search for the families of both survivors and of the crew of his submarine USS Grouper.



….and in a happy coincidence I can report that just prior to publication of this update, our efforts to track down the McGregor Family have been successful.  I hope that my humble contribution to their family story will be appreciated, enjoy.



Rob Roy McGregor, Three Wars, and The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (Part 1)

The Lisbon Maru

As anyone will know who has read these pages recently, I have been helping a Documentary Film Company to research the descendants of the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese armed Merchantman being used to transport captured Commonwealth personnel in WW2, that was sunk by US Submarine Grouper without knowledge of its cargo of prisoners.  As part of this research I have also been tracing the descendants of members of the Grouper’s crew  in the USA.USS_Grouper;0821405

Doing such detective work always brings up some interesting finds, and reinforces the overwhelming part that chance plays in historical events, ranging from an ancestor taking a ship going one way rather than another, or macro-events in world history having an influence on micro-decisions in Family History, that generations later put various players into contact with each other on the world stage or the field of battle.

One such story was with the tracing of the descendants (still ongoing) of the Skipper of the Grouper, Rob Roy McGregor.  Rob Roy McGregor was a brave, highly skilled and intrepid submarine Commander, winning three Silver Stars for sinking and damaging more than 36,000 tons of enemy shipping in the Pacific during WW2.  RunSilentRunDeep

He eventually retired as a Rear Admiral, and acted as Military advisor on the film Run Silent, Run Deep, starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

However the quirks of history that put him in that submarine on the fateful day go right back into his Scottish Ancestry and make for interesting reading, including three wars but NOT, alas, his namesake Rob Roy McGregor the Highland Outlaw!

NOT Rob Roy McGregor The Outlaw!

One of the sad things about family history from a professional point of view is that people seem obsessed with finding someone famous in their Family Tree, to the point of fantasy.  Ignoring both evidence, and lack of evidence, connections are made on the back of wishful thinking and a need to feel a connection to someone “important”.  This was brought to the fore in the McGregor Family research where everyone seems to want to be descended from the Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor.

Having looked into the Family Tree, I can honestly say that there is no evidence at all for a direct descent from the Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor to the Submarine Commander Rob Roy McGregor.  The family of the Submarine Commander first come into the historical as Lowland Scots living in Govan from the 1600s, as McGreggars, a different etymology, a different area of Scotland – way further south than the Outlaw, and at best only a tenuous link to the Clan name to connect them, which by definition, is not the same as a name that has a genetic relationship with the surname (anyone could take a Clan Name, it was an act of social or political allegiance to a particular leader, not necessarily a sign of a genetic relationship).

17th & 18th McGreggars

185_a_18[1]Govan where these McGreggars came from, was on the Southbank of the Clyde and would in future generations become part of Glasgow. During the 17th and 18th centuries it was a Lowland Coal and Iron Mining area, families not engaged in mining  worked as Weavers making cloth for women to turn into clothes for the menfolk working in the mines, and for selling on to more densely populated areas such as Barony on the North of the Clyde (later to become the core of Glasgow) and to Edinburgh.

We know our McGreggars plied their trade as Weavers in this area for many generations, becoming skilled hand loom weavers, mainly supplying the local demand, alternating with Salmon Fishing in the Clyde when times were hard in the Weaving Industry.  During the 18th Century Weaving was mainly a limited home based activity, and Scotland would lag slightly behind England in Industrialising.


Not so “Bonnie” Prince Charlie

In 1745 parts of the Highlands rose in rebellion against the Hanoverian Crown of Great Britain, but contrary to popular myth, this rising was not universally followed by Scots.  It was especially unpopular with three main groups, the mainly Presbyterian Protestant Working Classes of Lowland Scotland, the City dwelling Middle Class Commercial interests who feared disruption to trade, and the Lowland Political Upper Classes who held their positions subject to the British Crown.  Glasgow in particular was very unsupportive of Bonnie Prince Charlie and what they considered his uncivilised and ragged arsed Highlanders. It can be safely surmised that the McGreggars would have been hostile to the uprising being both Lowlanders and Protestants.


After having a request rebuffed by the Burghers of Glasgow for substantial sums of money to support his cause, Bonnie Prince Charlie blew through Glasgow, coming in like a warm wind, trying to win the Gentry over with Balls and Socialising, but left like a cold breeze, having failed to win new friends.  Frustrated that he couldn’t raise substantial sums of money from the Town, he demanded that the Town provided his men with new cloth outfits to replace the weather worn cloths they had arrived in, effectively raising a tax paid in cloth and garments against the local people, which would have hit the McGreggars as weavers and providers of cloth.  This wasn’t forgotten in Glasgow, and the Town subsequently provided a Militia that fought for the British/Hanoverian Crown against the Jacobites in a number of engagements.

As the 1700s progressed, rebellion was put down, and Georgian Great Britain became pre-eminent.  The main problems faced by the McGreggars was ensuring their living standards were kept up, as by the late 1700s a Master Weaver could earn up to £100 per year (over £170,000 in today’s money), these profits were driven by demand for good cloth in the North American Colonies .  Journeymen weavers like the McGregors could earn a good wage, but in the 1780s Master Weavers operated a cartel, and began to suppress the wages they paid to the journeymen weavers they employed.

This came to a head in 1787 when the Journeymen Weavers rioted in Calton, breaking their Masters’ machines and burning the contents of cloth warehouses.  Unsuccessful attempts by Glasgow Council to suppress the riots with local law officers made the panicked Council call in Regular Troops, the 39th Regiment of Foot, who although called The East Middlesex Regiment, had an elderly Colonel from a Scots family and was mainly comprised of Irishmen.  Given that Great Britain had lost her thirteen Colonies in America a few years before, and riots had caused havoc in London a few years before, riots were always severely reacted to, so a Magistrate “Read The Riot Act” and when the Weavers still refused to disperse, the troops opened fire killing three rioters and wounding many others.  The small number of casualties is an indication that the Troops didn’t exactly have their hearts in it, being mainly Irish with a Scots Colonel, and had little appetite for shooting unarmed civilians, other than to make sure that the civilians in question didn’t look to exercise violence in their direction.  Various other outbreaks of riots were subsequently dispersed by the troops with no fatalities.


Early 19th Century Weavers and Industrialisation

The coming of the 19th Century brought more intensive weaving practices to Govan with a Silk Mill being erected in 1824, and Steam Power coming in to the Mills to enhance production.  The days of the Hand Loom weavers working from home were numbered as more and more skilled workers were drawn to the Mills.  The downside was the loss of independence, a gradual depression of wages, and once Steam power was introduced to drive the weaving looms, a greater element of industrial danger.

Glasgow in the early 1800s showed a pattern of gradual deterioration for the Weavers, more Riots flared against low wages and automation pitching small scale weavers against the factories and their workers, but all such risings were quelled by the military, to the advantage of the Factory owners.  The situation became bad enough for the Government to give paid assistance in 1820 and 1821 for Glaswegian Weavers to emigrate to Canada.  The McGreggars changed their name to fit the more common form of McGregor, and held on in Glasgow.  The Calton Weavers developed a reputation for violent disorder.

By the 1840s the situation became particularly bad for the Weavers, with low wages, and job pressure during the Irish Potato Famine in the late 1840s, when the Factory owners were able to take in many Irish Immigrants on low wages.  To make matters worse, some factory owners made a point of mainly employing women and children as they could pay them less than men.  Despite this the McGregors still managed to get by, but were feeling the pinch.  In addition sectarian rivalries began to grow as Irish Catholic Immigrants  vied with Scots Protestants for jobs and living space.

The McGregors were by the 1850s and into the 1860s spread across, Calton, Barony, and Gorbals whole families of McGregors working in the factories with parents working as Hand and Power Loom Weavers, and Cotton Yarn Dressers, and older children working as “Twisters”.  Even before compulsory education was introduced, the McGregors adhered to their Presbyterian Roots, unlike many Weavers they ensured that their younger children all received an education.  However the McGregors must have felt increasingly alienated and marginalised in the strange new Glasgow they now lived in.  The Population had quadrupled in 50 years, and living conditions became overcrowded and intolerable.


The Impact of the American Civil War

When the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861, it not only raised the curtain on hostilities between the states that would last until 1865, but as a by-product of the North’s blockade of the South, the war collapsed the cotton weaving trade across Great Britain, almost to the point where Great Britain considered entering the War on the Confederate side to break the blockade (it was only the issue of slavery that prevented this).

In Glasgow the Cotton Weaving Trade had already been hit by a world financial crisis in the late 1850s, to be followed by a 90% drop in raw Cotton imports in the 1860s.  This wiped out the small scale hand loom weavers, and forced the big factories to lay off hundreds of workers.  To make matters worse, the authorities in Scotland took a different view to the English when it came to granting temporary relief to the able bodied unemployed, in England it was usually the case that the unemployed could receive some food and shelter for them and their families via the workhouse, or even temporary “outdoor” relief which didn’t require being in the Workhouse, and as bad as the reputation of the Workhouses were, they did temporarily ward off starvation.  By contrast in Scotland many authorities by a strict and penny pinching view of the rules, refused to give any relief to unemployed able bodied men or their families.  This caused a crisis, and lead to a partial relaxing of the rules, especially as many philanthropists donating directly to help the poor, throwing opprobrium on the inaction of the Scots’ Civic Authorities.

annan thomas old B20090 12[1]

Such a collapse for the McGregors, meant at best hardship, and at worst destitution and starvation.  Any working members of the family could support those not working for short periods, but unemployment going on for years was something the family couldn’t survive.  By the end of the American Civil War, the Cotton factories in England had found other sources for Cotton, notably from Egypt, and the Northern US Cotton Mills had survived by temporarily switching to Wool and turning out Military Uniforms for the Northern Armed Forces.  Unfortunately the Cotton Factories in Glasgow made little use of the first source, and couldn’t adapt to the second, and so never fully recovered from the collapse in the Market.

Leaving for America

The McGregors were left with few options if they wanted a reasonable standard of living.  Perhaps the most adventurous and most risky was emigration to America.  It was this option that a number of the Family members went for.

Archibald arrived in 1854, and found work in Lawrence Massachusetts as an Operative in a Weaving Mill.  He would be listed on the Union Military draft of 1863.

Helen McGregor married Currie Anderson in Glasgow, Currie followed his Brother-in-Law Archibald, arriving in the States in 1859 as a Gas Fitter, before joining the 4th Battalion Massachusetts Infantry in 1862. Before returning and working as an operative in a Lawrence Mill.

Still Pictures ID: 64-M-191 Rediscovery number: 06989 06989_2008_001

By 1860 Moses McGregor was a Weaver in Andover Massachusetts.

James was in Portsmouth Massachusetts in the 1860s, he married Ann Craig in Lawrence Massachusetts in 1867 and worked as a Mill Operative.

All of these McGregors raised families in Massachusetts.  So the American Civil War, unlike the Jacobite risings, had a direct impact on the trajectory of the McGregors, both in affecting their job opportunities in Scotland, and their settlement in the USA, as well as pitching some of the family into actual fighting.

It is no accident that the McGregors made for Massachusetts, and Lawrence in particular, as the settlement along the Merrimac River had been built as a commercial enterprise with trade in mind.  By the eve of the US Civil War, Lawrence was a bustling manufacturing hub, with Factories lining the riverside.


In Part 2 we will see how our line of the Family progressed from James McGregor and Agnes Craig.






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