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 paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. 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 paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. 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 paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. 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 paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

When A Hundred Years isn’t Linear


 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

govanweavers2

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.

Strike!

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!”

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

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.

annalopizzo

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.

Standoff_between_militia_and_strikers,_Lawrence,_Mass[1]

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.

Lawrence_Strike_Cartoon[1]

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.

Birdseye_view_of_Lawrence_mill_section_showing_areas_occupied_by_different_nationalities[1]

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.

strikers

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!

Flag-of-hawaii-flying

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!”

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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.

USS_Culgoa

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.

culgoacrew

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.

manilabay

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.

 

Postscript

….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.

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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.

charlie[1]

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.

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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.

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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.

New_England_factory_life_--_'Bell-time.'_(Boston_Public_Library)[1]

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

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Missing Family Members


Sometimes finding individuals who died 150 years ago can be easier than finding those who died recently, or are still alive, but this is exactly what Time Detectives™ are sometimes asked to do.

We were recently approached by a client we have worked with before, a member of the Redknapp Family (yes Harry’s relations) to help track down an Uncle who was believed to have died, but contact with him and his children had been lost over the years.

Finding such records for very recent deaths when you have no details can be problematic, and takes careful research, in this case a trawl of all the Redknap and Redknapp death records up until fairly recently failed to show any positive hits.  This meant that we had to step back into the history of the individual concerned, and then carefully moving forward through marriages and children’s births to pin point the geography of the Family.  In this particular case, we hit upon census, polling, and Merchant Navy records to confirm addresses and relationships over time.

Along the way a picture builds up of a man who travelled the world serving in the Merchant Marine, running the gauntlet of German U-Boats, this allowed us to find him on a ship in New York.  We also found him on the Thames as a Lighterman, that had been a Redknapp Family trade for 200 years (you can read more about the Redknapps on the River Thames here – The Redknapp Family History Part 1; Origins, Redheaded Merchants on the Thames).  So he had a full life, and eventually retired to Essex, his life was fascinating in itself.  merchantseaman

The last area we searched turned up a hit on a funeral service that seemed to fit the identity of the man concerned, but contained very few details of anything other than the funeral service itself, but gave us a rough date to go by.

Once the trail started to dry up, it was necessary to come down to the man’s children, this was made harder as he had daughters, meaning that when they married, there was a name change bringing an extra layer of complexity to the search.  If they disappeared from the records, was it because they married, or because they died?  In this case, one daughter died, and two married.

At this point research has to centre more on old telephone directories, lists of voters, and sometime social media.  The search is helped if the people concerned have middle names, and also if their married names are less common.  Our search took us back to Essex, and to a number of streets across a fifteen year period, gradually narrowing the number of likely people, until we were confident that we had found our client’s relations, and could pass on the information for them to make contact direct, although there is the option of Time Detectives™ making first contact if there is the worry of what the reaction will be, fortunately that wasn’t the case in this instance, the Family had just drifted apart over the years, as is often the case.

Lastly we investigated local Newspapers, and Emergency Service Records, to see if we could find more information concerning our client’s Uncle, and sadly we did.  He had tragically died in an accidental house fire.  This information was passed on to our client.

So a Family reunited and a mystery solved.

redknapfireLFB

 

 

 

Published in: on February 26, 2019 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Liberating Bergen-Belsen


tankgroup

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day

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My Uncles and my Dad served in the Army in World War 2, I was brought up on stories of their adventures, like my Dad, Lenny McNeil, lying about his age to follow his brothers into the War.  Dad served in the Infantry, then as a Despatch Rider (a “DR” or “Don Roberts” as they were nicknamed) in France and Belgium, and then as a driver of all types of vehicles, including a Tank Transporter, which he went AWOL with, parking it up in the back streets of Peckham, when he was meant to be driving it to Dover, so that he could see my Mum before he went overseas. A Copper banged on the door of the little terraced house in Vaughan Road, and told him he had to move it as it was blocking the traffic, so my Dad promptly shoved the keys to the enormous vehicle into the Copper’s hand, and said:
“Here’s the keys mate; you f***king move it.”

Then shut the door and left the bemused member of the Constabulary staring at the knocker, mouth agape. Needless to say Dad was back in the Transporter’s cab and off down the Old Kent Road to the Coast a couple of hours later. But amongst all these stories of cheeky  working class Cockneys with a healthy lack of respect for authority, sometimes leading to spending time in Military Prisons, there was one story that I never heard until the protagonist had died, my Dad’s older half Brother, Uncle Albert. (Top right in the picture above the swastika flag).  That was his story of the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.

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Albert was the second oldest Brother, his surname was Drew, and he was one of two boys from the marriage of my Grandmother and her first husband, Harry Drew, an Army Deserter and Deal Porter who worked in the Surrey Docks and the Canals of Peckham before World War 1. Deal Porters like Harry carried huge loads of “Deal” or wooden planks, on their shoulders offloaded from barges to be shipped off on horse drawn carts to builders merchants and carpentry shops.  This was a really tricky job requiring skill and massive strength, negotiating narrow walkways between boats, docks, and canals, with a hundred weight of lumber on your right shoulder. Unfortunately Harry missed his footing one day, and was plunged into the filthy water of the Docks and pinned under the weight of lumber he was carrying. He was pulled out alive, but had taken in a lot of the filthy dock water, and he died a few days later from Pneumonia.

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My Nan was left to bring up two sons and a daughter on her own. Things looked up when she met my Grandfather, Arthur Patrick McNeil, a Foreman in a Tin Works, they fell in love and married, he went off to fight in World War 1, and managed to survive, although damaged by gas.  They raised three sons and two daughters, as well as a daughter who died young from a measles outbreak after World War 1.  The boys grew up, and like Arthur, went off to War when World War 2 broke out.

Their adventures formed the background that I grew up with, and each one had their own little twist to their experiences on the battlefield.  Many years later, when I was all grown up, and they were all dead, except for my Uncle Sid, I heard a story from Uncle Sid that had never been mentioned before.  I was speaking with Uncle Sid by phone as he lived in Australia, where he had emigrated to after the War as a “Five Pound Pom”.  Sid lived in a Sidney suburb called Cabramatta, what he called “the wild west” of Sidney because of all the drug gangs and shoot outs there. I mentioned the picture of Uncle Albert on his Tank with the Nazi Flag, and he started telling me the usual funny and exciting stories about Albert fighting his way across France and capturing the Nazi Flag shown in the picture, then appearing on the front page of the Daily Sketch for his efforts. He then dropped a bombshell,  Uncle Sid asked me if I knew that Uncle Albert had helped Liberate Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.

I was quite shocked to hear this, as it had never been mentioned before. The story unfolded that Uncle Albert and his Tank Regiment had been sent to Bergen-Belsen because the Germans had asked for a temporary truce because of an outbreak of Typhus at the Camp. A group of Tanks went fully prepared for a trap (if an officer from HQ told you that it was safe to enter an area, it was always assumed that you were actually going in to the area to see IF it was safe!).  The first Tank took the gates of the camp down by driving straight through them to make sure the Germans inside knew they meant business. They entered what they thought would be some form of Prison, but instead found Hell on Earth.

These were men who were by no means soft. My Uncle had killed at a distance, and close up, they risked their lives every day, he understood that sometimes it was just you or the bloke you were fighting, it wasn’t personal.  Jumping out of their Tanks and forming a perimeter, they were met with heaps of bodies; civilians, men, women, and children, casually stacked like sacks of rags. At first this scene of death was accepted as just a result of disease, but gradually it dawned on the British Soldiers that this was more than that, these people had been starved and worked to death. Still they didn’t quite blame the Germans as there were so many bodies, and it looked as if the German Camp authorities may have just been overwhelmed by the numbers that they couldn’t deal with.

As they moved further into the camp, and saw the arrogance and contempt of the guards for their charges, the Penny dropped, and it became obvious that this was, if not a death camp as such, still a place were the weakest and most defenceless were worked to death, and allowed to die stripped of all human dignity.  The anger in the men began to rise.  Even in battle they had not seen horror on this scale, or with this level of casual sadism.

It is worth saying again that my Uncle and his comrades weren’t soft, they killed for a living, and weren’t particularly bothered by it in the heat of Battle.  They had had a world of compassion knocked out of them by a combination of a hard upbringing in the back streets of South London, and participating in the terror of armed combat, but this was something different.  Such pointless cruelty against people who couldn’t defend themselves was beyond their grasp.

While they were trying to take all this in, shooting was heard, and Albert and his friends found some of the young German guards, many barely more than psychotic teenagers, shooting starving inmates for trying to take Potatoes from a pile behind one of the huts. The damn broke, and Uncle Albert and his friends shot some of the guards, and knocked others out cold with fists and pistol buts. As is always the case with sociopathic bullies, once faced with men who could fight back the Nazi guards suddenly lost their appetite for a fight, and instead bolted to the Camp Kommandant for protection. Luckily for them, some British Officers intervened, and warned the Kommandant that if any more inmates were shot, then the British would line up and shoot the guards on a one to one basis. Despite being flabbergasted that inmates stealing food would be allowed to get away with it, the Kommandant had no option but to agree.

Once the camp was secured, other units came in, and it was deemed sensible to move the Tanks on for good Military reasons, and to make sure Uncle Albert and his mates didn’t risk getting put on a charge for shooting any more Nazis without due process, which was highly likely to happen.  The war was nearly over at this point, but those last few months were pursued by Uncle Albert and his Regiment with renewed ferocity. The young men who had come from the back streets of South London to fight in Europe had been hardened by the experience, but knew that were fighting for the right reasons when they entered Bergen-Belsen.

family backyard

My Dad and his Brothers all came back alive, probably to a great extent by cannily disobeying orders. They supported Millwall all their lives, Uncle Albert even had a trial for the team before the war, but decided that being a bus driver would be a better career choice.  None of them were afraid to use their fists if necessary to stand their ground in Peckham, and I’ve witnessed the bunch of them bundle a violent criminal gang out of a pub on one New Year’s Eve,  and I watched my Dad take on two burglars single handed who were trying to force entry to our house, as I said they were hard men.  But despite all stories I was frequently told growing up by my Dad and his Brothers, what my Uncle had seen made his story of Bergen-Belsen was too horrific to bring back to mind, even for these hard men, perhaps something about what Uncle Albert had seen was the reason he didn’t smile much in photos after 1945, as you can see in the group photo above. I can fully understand why he wanted to forget it, but equally: We never must.

Published in: on January 27, 2019 at 5:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pandemic (Part 3)


The Black Death

In Pandemic Part 2 we saw how the Justinian Plague opened up the former Roman Colony of Britannia to domination by the more plague resilient Sub-Roman “English” of the East of the Island over the less genetically well adapted Sub-Roman “British” in the West of the Island.  Now we shall see the how the Mediaeval Black Death became a blessing in disguise for the Serfs of England who survived it, and was the catalyst that broke the back of Serfdom, freeing up the general English Populace to far greater rights and freedoms than they’d ever known before.

1340s  Worse than Mid-Summer Murders: The Lost Villages of England

vanessacuddeford

A few years back Time Detectives became involved in tracing the Family History of a UK TV presenter called Vanessa Cuddeford. An interesting name, with it’s origin being problematic. It appears to be derived from “Cuthbert’s Foird” Cudde being a nickname for Cuthbert, and on this reasoning we would expect it to have been derived from a village called Cuthbert’s Ford or Cuddeford. However such a place does not exist in the UK. A mystery to start with?
The only clue is a mention of a place called Cuddeford in a mediaeval text from 1301 referring to the De Clyfford Family who held lands and knight’s fees in “Cuddeford and Coombe” and , “Awlescombe” villages. None of these places now exist with those names, but “Awliscombe” is a village outside of Honiton in Devon, and it is therefore likely that there is a lost mediaeval village of Cuddeford in the same area. Awliscombe is about a day’s walk from the Exeter area where we first find the Cuddeford family.
It is very likely therefore that the Cuddeford family, were itinerant peasants without their own surname, who left their home village probably around the 1350s in the aftermath of the Black Death, when the population of England was reduced by a third. Whole villages were wiped out by this outbreak of Bubonic Plague., and once a village falls below a certain level there is little or no work and any survivors leave to other communities, generally within a day’s walk, and it is from this flood of local refugees going on a Journée  i.e. an old French word for a “the amount of travel covered in a day” (Jour = Day) that we get the English word Journey (which literally meant a day’s travel).  This combination of plague, and commercial necessity, emptied many villages across the English countryside, many were abandoned and never recovered, exactly as the Town of Silchester had at the end of the Roman Period (covered in Pandemic Part 2).  The village of Cuddeford disappeared perhaps in the space of a few weeks.

1300s A Mongol Khan decides the fate of a West Country Family

Mongols

The plague had originated in the Black Sea Steppes when the Genoese fortified trading post of Caffa was besieged by the angry Khan of the Mongol “Golden Horde” in punishment for the Italians ignoring his authority. Things took a turn for the worse when the plague erupted in the camp of the besieging Mongols, and in order to avoid both further infection of his own army, and to spread the infection among the Genoese, the Khan had the bodies of plague victims loaded onto his catapults, and hurled over the walls into the city. This is likely to be the first reliably documented case of Biological Warfare in History!

kaffaFleeing from the siege, the plague, and the Wrath of Khan, the Genoese put to see in their remaining galleys and headed off across the Black Sea to head back via Byzantium to Genoa. But the plague was with them, on some ships the entire crews died before reaching home, and large Genoese Galleys manned by blackened corpses drifted like ghost ships for some time on the Black Sea.
The few that did make it back, brought their diseased bodies, and flea infested rats with them to spread the plague in the major trading port of Genoa. Within months it had spread across the Mediterranean, and on to France, where a ship from Bristol was loading up with wine in a port in Gascony, one of the West Country sailors became infected with the plague here, and by the time the ship reached port in the coastal village of Melcombe in Dorset, he was badly sick, and the plague now taking the Pneumonic form spread on the breath, he brought the infection into the Kingdom of England, for good measure the ship sailed on to it’s home port of Bristol, ensuring that the plague would also have an entry point there.

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The plague averaged about a mile a day in its spread, the little village of Cuddeford lay immediately in its path from two directions, it would have taken about two months before the first signs of coughing and swellings at the armpits and groin would have manifested themselves in the village, and by the autumn of 1348 the Church graveyard would have been full, and by the winter there would have been corpses in the cottages, village lanes, and fields. There would not have been enough able people left to bury the dead. On average three quarters of people who came into contact with the disease caught it in it’s aggressive form, half of these died. That’s on average, however in small villages with many people marrying locally and effectively having little diversity in the gene pool, it was apparent that whole villages were dying out through lack of resistance.

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Every European alive today who had ancestors in Europe at the time of the plague is descended from someone with a degree of natural immunity, all others died out.  So who was left? In our case, Vanessa’s ancestors had enough immunity to survive and flee the dying village of Cuddeford for a thresh start elsewhere. We know they did this as their surname bears their heritage, i.e. the place they came from, not where they lived when they acquired the name. There is no point in calling everyone in a village by the village’s name, this only happens when they leave it for somewhere else.
The Cuddeford name, like many in England, therefore, in a very real way, owes its origins to a Mongol Khan’s attack on a Genoese trading outpost in the South of Russia.

1300s -1600s The End of Serfdom

As the workforce in many areas had been wiped out, the small rag-tag band of survivors from the village of Cuddeford, now called “The Cuddefords” named after the village they had fled, suddenly became a commodity in great demand by landowners, . Although against the Law at the time for peasants to leave their home Parish and seek work elsewhere, many peasants fled their home villages and could find work for landowners who offered higher wages to those willing to relocate and risk the law in doing so. Once in the new area, these peasants would have been called by the name of their old village for identification purposes, and this would eventually have become their surname, especially once they were being counted for the Poll Tax in the 14th and 15th centuries and required a surname to be identified for tax purposes.

peasantsploughing2Although it would take some time and a peasant’s revolt in the 1380s to help achieve it, the Black Death, thanks to the Khan of the Golden Horde, would ensure that peasants in England would no longer be serfs, but would be free men and women. This the Cuddefords would be after walking for a day heading for the City of Exeter, finding their way barred by the panic stricken burghers of the city, afraid to admit more plague victims, they made it to the village of Ide just outside the City of Exeter, where landowners with a more pragmatic mind realised that if they weren’t dead from plague now, then they probably never would be, and were very welcoming of a fresh family to gather the hay and thresh the corn on newly inherited lands. every cloud has a silver lining, for those marked out by genetic luck and ambition. The family would remain in Ide (pictured below) for the next 300 years.

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