Fred levelled his eyes at me across my dining room table and said:
“You’ve shattered my illusions! I thought I was a Brummie, but now you say I’m a Man of Kent, and a Man of Sussex!”
All I could say was that, he was also a descended from a Soldier who served at the Woolwich Arsenal, so he was also a Gooner, and he cameraman chipped in with the worst accusation of all, calling him a Southampton Scummer, what could be worse for a man who had been a director of Portsmouth Football Club, Pompey fans would be shocked and horrified. I was tempted to use some cockney rhyming slang as one of his ancestors was born in Bristol City, but thought that he had probably suffered enough by then.
So how did we happen to be sitting in my dinning room insulting the good name of ITV’s Meridian Tonight anchorman Fred Dinenage? The story starts with Fred appearing in my living room every evening covering stories across the South of England for Meridian, as all regular viewers do I felt like I knew him without really knowing him at all, and whereas some men just can’t resist a pretty face, I just can’t resist the challenge of an unusual name.
Out came the etymological dictionaries, the surname records, and Victorian encyclopedias, and I tracked the name back to its early roots, which lay in the word Dunnage, meaning the contents and covering of a boat’s hold. This word doesn’t appear in English before 1620, so was of foreign origin, and low and behold, as with many nautical words, it has its roots in Dutch and Low German from the North sea coastline. The term was variously written Dunnage, Donnage, and most tellingly Dinnage, probably from the Dutch word “Denne” for the deck of a boat via “Dennen” to load a boat. The word was taken into English by the sailors from the Southern and Eastern ports that traded with the North Sea ports of the Low Countries and Germany, and given that it appears in writing in the 16oos, it had probably existed in colloquial speech for at least a few hundred years before, back to Mediaeval times, when sea trade boomed via the innovations of the North Sea Cogge Boats, which were sturdy enough to survive the North Sea, broad enough to take large cargoes, and flat-bottomed to allow access to the shallow coastal waters and river estuaries from France to Denmark, taking their cargoes of English broad cloth from the downlands of Southern and Eastern England.
This fitted well, as the most common form of the Dinenage name “Dinnage” was almost entirely found in Sussex, which after the Black Death had reduced the population turned to less labour intensive sheep rearing and broadcloth weaving on the downs, which was then exported via the local ports. A man who was skilled in loading a Cogge Boat to its maximum capacity without endangering the stability of the boat, or causing it to sit badly on the sea and lose speed by a bad distribution of weight in the hold, was a very valuable and sought after commodity. So the name, and the Family, will have originated from Boat Hands, and Dock Labourers in Mediaeval Sussex, where most of the “Dinnages” stayed until the present day.
But Fred’s branch of the family was more adventurous than that. They had moved up from the Sussex coast to Canterbury in Kent, and were living there in the Georgian period during the 1700s. And whilst Fred’s Great Great Grandfather Samuel was a boy the Napoleonic wars were raging across Europe and the rest of the world, and a new innovation in the British Army was developed; The 95th Rifle Regiment. So successful had early experiments with these Green Coated troops proved on the battlefield, that a second Battalion was raised at Canterbury in 1805, and local men flocked to join this elite unit and were duly shipped to Spain and Portugal under Lord Wellington to liberate those countries from the tyranny of Napoleon. These were the originals brought to life in fiction as Sharpe’s Rifles.
Once Samuel “Dinnage” (this was how the army spelled his name) was old enough he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion 95th Rifle Regiment, and we next see him taking part in the last battle of the Peninsular War, the storming of Toulouse in 1814, which was to finally destroy Napoleon’s armies in Southern France , guarantee the freedom of Spain and Portugal, and force Napoleon to step down as Emperor of France, and allow himself to be deported to Elba. The battle of Toulouse was a bloody one with over 8,000 men dieing in the taking of the city.
Samuel was shipped back to Canterbury once Napoleon was gone, and the Royalist Bourbons reinstated in France, but the peace was short lived. In 1815 Napoleon broke his parole, returned to France, and aided by the public hatred for the excesses of the “White Terror” carried out by the Royalists in revenge for their years of subjugation under Napoleon (more French citizens died during this than in the “Red Terror” of the French revolution) the country rose up in support of him. So the 2nd Battalion of the 95th Rifles were embarked again, this time for Belgium. They would face their last battle of the Napoleonic Wars, and it would be the ultimate battle of that conflict: Waterloo!
Napoleon had managed to split the allied forces, separating Blucher and his Prussians, from Wellington and his Allied British, Germans, Dutch and Belgians. After forcing Blucher and the Prussians to retreat, Napoleon faced Wellington, but on ground of Wellington’s choosing near the village of Waterloo. The battle would, in Wellington’s words, be “A damned near run thing.” The British units were spread across the field to bolster the morale of the rather skittish Dutch and Belgian troops, and much tooing and throwing took place over the two fortified positions which dominated key positions on the field, the French Heavy Cavalry dominated the field breaking like a wave against the solid allied squares, who holding their nerve, cut them down in swathes, as Wellington said when asked if he thought that the French Cavalry came up well, he dryly replied “..and they went down well also.” during this time Samuel Dinenage and the 2nd 95th Rifles were held in reserve, being finally moved up to support the crucial left flank of the Allied lines alongside the Foot Guards and the 52nd rgt. This was to prove crucial, as the French overran the strongpoint on the allied left centre, and Napoleon then ordered his never beaten elite Imperial Guard to advance in column and break the allied Foot Guards on the left flank. With drums beating and flags flying, the Battle hardened Imperial Guard surged forward muskets at the ready. But Napoleon had not reckoned on Wellington’s cunning, he had ordered the Foot Guards to lay down in the corn field they occupied to conceal their position and protect them from French artillery fire, now he gave the order, “Up Guards and at ’em!” the British Guards sprang up in a perfect line, just 50 yards from the advancing Imperial Guard and unleashed a withering fire that stopped them in their tracks. Surprised, shocked and bloodied, the Guard hesitated, and in this pause the Commander of the 52nd regiment wheeled his troops and the 2nd 95th with Corporal Samuel Dinenage, round the flank of the Imperial Guard column, unleashed a massive volley to their open flank, and then charged them as the British Guards hit them in the front, putting them to flight. This had never happened before, the whole French army gasped in amazement, to see their finest troops in full rout from the shouting red coats and the green jacketed rifleman with Corporal Dinenage amongst them. This was the beginning of the end, as the French wavered, Blucher and his Prussians arrived riding full pelt bare-headed at the French, pursuing them across country and wrecking havoc. The Battle was over, the carnage had been massive, one in three of the Rifle regiment had fallen, the rest were exhausted.
The war was over, Napoleon was sent to St Helena in the South Atlantic to while away the rest of his days, and Samuel Dinenage’s Rifle Battalion settled down to occupy France and make sure there was no further chance of Napoleon or his followers rising again to throw Europe into chaos. The life for the occupying army was good, billeted with French Families friendly relations and fraternisation was common, especially as British soldiers, unlike those of most other nations, including the French, had been subject to heavy penalties including the death penalty, under Lord Wellington not to pillage, rape, or rob the local populace, so British Gold paid for food and lodgings, making them quite welcome guests, and any household containing British Soldiers was sure to be safe from any vigilantes looking for revenge at the end of the War. It was in this situation that Samuel Dinenage, now Sergeant Dinenage met his wife to be Felicite Amable Pinnin from Versailles. Samuel was tall, literate, brave, and earning a reasonable living, a good catch for a young woman prepared to travel, and on 9th December 1815 the pair were married by The Reverend Charles Dayman, the occupying force’s Chaplain at Versailles.
Life for an army wife was an itinerant one, and their progress can be traced by the births of their children, Florence in Rosult France (between Versailles and Waterloo) in 1816, followed by Hannagh, Sophia, and Samuel between 1819 and 1824, all born in Ireland, where Samuel had been transferred with the Rifle Brigade. Samuel was now a Recruiting Sergeant, travelling in a small team signing up young men to serve the colours, and earning a very lucrative income with the bounties for each man recruited.
However Samuel was posted back to England in 1829 and living there until about 1834 when he was discharged from the army after about 20 years of service. He received a pension from the army, moved back to his home town of Canterbury, and being able to read and write, rare among working men at the time. found employment as a Merchant’s Clerk. This move spelled the break up of the family, the children going their own ways; Samuel the eldest son had died in infancy, the older girls married Butchers and a Fisherman settling initially in the East of London before they all moved to Gravesend where they raised their families.
By the 1850s Samuel and Felicite had moved to Woolwich Barracks where Samuel had been re-employed by the Army as a Barracks “Serjeant”, a Chelsea Pensioner in a more or less administrative and training role, where he may help with the new recruits, but would not see any combat in the field, given that he was in his 50s this was a good position to hold. By 1855 he had died of the dreaded “White Plague” (TB) leaving Felicite to be taken care of as a seamstress living with her daughters and their families.
Present at Samuel death was his remaining son William Henry Dinenage. He had left home at the tender age of 17 to join the newly formed Ordnance Survey in Southampton. Impetuous and adventurous as his father had been, William Henry married a young girl from Liverpool, Jane Breeze. he was employed as a “Computer” by the Ordnance Survey, calculating distances and heights of landscape features, and was paid 6 shillings a day, a very good wage, even if he wasn’t needed every day, by comparision a labourer received about 9 shillings a weekat this time. He had obviously inherited his Father’s charm and persuasiveness, as he joined the Ancient Order of Forresters, and took to selling their life Assurance policies to the mariners’ families who lived in Southampton, rising to be secretary of the local branch, where he made his name after being sued by the wife of dead mariner, to whom he had refused assurance payments because of irregularities in the membership of her husband, this case lead to a change in law regarding Assurance Societies, bringing in better arbitration for dependants of the deceased. William and Jane also had tradgedies of their own to deal with as both a son and a daughter died in infancy in the 1860s.
But overall William Henry was sucessful, and well connected, making his living between the Ordnance Survey, Accountancy, and the Order of Forresters, in the early 1870s he decided to take over an Inn in Southampton which would prove his undoing; the business failed, and he was declared bankrupt. This was the beginning of a difficult period for the family, the family broke apart, William Henry moving to the Industrial Midlands in the mid 1870s to become a Clerk at a Colliery, they struggled, and a son born in 1876 died shortly after birth, but they survived. The younger children went with them, most of the elder children married and stayed in Southampton except for one of the boys who moved to Lincoln. The other boys were a mixture of charm, brawn, and brains, like their father and grandfather; he two sons who stayed in Southampton went to sea working as 1st Class Stewards, the boys who went to the Midlands with their parents went into accountancy and Electrical Engineering, a New Technology, that offered great opportunities to the talented, whilst one son became a Railway Goods Guard. The girls married men in good solid working class jobs, such as house painters and Railway guards. But the stigma and shame of their Father’s Bankruptcy still haunted the family, the children commenting on their background in Southampton.
William Henry Dinenage and his wife Jane’s story ends in Walsall. Both lived well into their 80s, Jane bore William 14 children the eldest William Edward being 30 years old when the youngest, Edgar Breeze Dinenage (Fred Dinenage’s Grandfather) was born in 1881. Their life had been eventful and full of ups and downs, but what we can say is that William Henry never gave up, he pursued any opportunity that life through onto his path, and despite failure and tragedy he always pushed on and did the best for his children.
Meanwhile back in Southampton as the new century came in, James Richard Dinenage (Fred Dinenage’s Grand or as we would say Great Uncle) had a stroke of luck, so well regarded as a Ship’s Steward, he managed to get a place on the ultimate Passenger Liner; The Titanic. His family must have been overjoyed when they got the news, this was a major achievement, how tragic then, when news reached the family that the ship had gone down after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. They would have waited anxiously for news, but after several days when all the survivors had been accounted for, and the recovered bodies had been identified, there was still no news of James. Eventually there was no possibility of his having survived, despite the lack of a body, and he was declared dead, lost at sea. He left a young son and a widow who had already seen one child die in infancy, their plight was made worse by the ship’s owners, who immediately stopped the wages of their crew from the point that the ship went down, leaving the family destitute. No doubt some help came from the Forresters and the family in Walsall, as James’s young son Richard John survived until the ripe old age of 83 living in Romsey Hampshire.
Back in Walsall Fred’s Grandfather Edgar Breeze Dinenage married Emma Louisa Smith, and rose from an Electrical Apprentice, through a qualified Journeyman Electrical Engineer and Armature Winder, to end up as a Company Director of an Electrical Engineering Company.
His son (Fred’s Father) Aubrey Dennis Dinenage) lived in Erdington in the Midlands, before eventually retiring to the Portsmouth area, which is how Fred Dinenage came to be back in Hampshire 100 years after his Great Grandfather had left under a cloud of Bankruptcy for the Midlands, and nearly 150 years after his Great Great Grandfather fought at Waterloo.