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.

The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 7: Mad Jimmy Kray


James William (Jimmy), the Grandfather of the Kray Twins had the chance of a reasonable start in life.  His parents only had two children, although there were three children from his mother’s first marriage, but compared to the hordes of children usually living in one room with their parents, the Krays were not in such a bad position.  Jimmy worked as an Electrical Apprentice at a Cable Maker’s Company, this was a great opportunity for him to lift himself out of the poverty of the East End, Electrical works at this time were a New Technology and a qualification in this area would guarantee him a good life for him and any family he may have in the future, even more so he had been made an Overseer Managing staff at the tender age of 17, an indication of his strength of personality as well as natural ability.  But life can be cruel, and the sweetest of things can lead to the bitterest of outcomes.  In his teens Jimmy fell for  a Docker’s daughter five years his senior, Louisa Eliza Turner, lied about his age, meaning that he didn’t have the blessing for the marriage from his father, and married her at St Anne’s Church Hoxton on 5th May 1901.  The reason isn’t hard to find, at the age of 16 he had made her pregnant, and a month after their marriage, James Frederick John Kray was born to them in Hackney.  So it is without a doubt certain that he would have been under massive pressure, and threats of potential violence from Louisa’s family if he didn’t “do the right thing”.

Things started to get worse for him, he lost his job at the Cable Maker’s, had to move house three times in 1901 with a wife and small child, and another one soon on the way, he worked as a Labourer, then a Porter, both poorly paid unqualified jobs, before finding his way to the street markets of the East end where he became a Hawker of flowers, a job he would do for more or less the next ten years.  Wheeling and dealing using his wits and drive to carve out a living, the family growing with child after child, John George in 1902, Albert Charles in 1904, Charles David (The Kray twins father) in 1907, Alfred  1909, William George in 1911, and Louisa in 1914.  So on the eve of the First World War, he was living in one room in the East End with a wife and seven children.  His prospects looked dreadfully bleak.

With the outbreak of the First World War (The Great War) Jimmy found a means of escape from this grinding poverty with the guarantee of regular money being available for his family.   Jimmy Kray joined the King’s Royal Rifle Company (KRRC) on the 14th September 1914, this tells him a bit about him physically, as the KRRC and other Rifle or Light Infantry Regiments were traditionally recruited from smaller fitter men, expected to march at drill at twice the normal speed and deploy at the jog-trot or run.  It also shows that he was quick to sign up.  Just as quickly he was shipped to Boulogne in France and marched to the front.

While he was in France Jimmy may have heard news from home that one of his second cousins, Clement had died of his wounds whilst serving in the Honourable Artillery Company.  Clement had been doing well for himself before the war, he was a young commercial traveller from Harlesdon, and no doubt enjoyed life and expected great things to develop, that was over now.  The Honourable Artillery Company consisted of both Infantry and Artillery, and his Battalion had fought at the first battle of Ypres, they had charged the German lines after an artillery bombardment, many of them had been cut down by the Germans on the way in, and had taken a terrible revenge on the Germans after they had surrendered, shooting many of them out of hand.  By their own admission many of the men had a blood lust brought on by battle, and such incidence were far from uncommon amongst the hard-bitten British professional soldiers, for example in the same battle 300 German prisoners were said to have been slaughtered after their surrender by the Royal Scots.

Ironically the KRRC fought at the 2nd battle of Ypres,  perhaps this made Jimmy want revenge, and would see him through his dramatic engagement with the Germans.where the Rifles were supporting a Canadian Corps.  The Germans had burst a hole through the french Colonial troops holding part of the front by using poison gas on them, the clouds of yellow gas filling trenches and killing thousands of the unsuspecting french troops.  They used the same tactics against the Canadians, and then launched three of their own corps threatening to overrun the Canadian position making a huge dent in the Allied Line, but the Rifles and Canadians fought a ferocious action against Artillery and Gas attacks, and finally faced three times their number of German Infantry pouring over the top and flooding into the Allied trenches.  The fighting was desperate, but despite initially being pushed back by sheer weight of numbers, the KRRC and the Canadians made a final stand and fought the Germans to a standstill; the line was badly dented, but held.

James was wounded in the fighting , “luckily” receiving a “Blighty Wound” that left him in one piece, but got him shipped back to England and honourably discharged after treatment in 1916.  he was awarded The Silver War Badge to wear, a necessary precaution to show the civilians back at home that he had done his duty and had been shipped out of the army because of his wounds, he wore the Silver War Badge as a mark of distinction; men who were thought to be shirking their duty at the front were in danger in the East End of receiving a beating from returned soldiers and their families, so the badge was a necessary precaution.  Having said this, the chances of many people who knew Jimmy Kray trying it on with him was probably small once they’d been toe to toe with him, the little man’s reputation for violence was formidable, and had no doubt been considerably enhanced by his time fighting hand to hand with beefy Germans outnumbering him three to one, there weren’t many situations that he would worry about after that.

The prevailing sentiment at the time was summed up in the poem In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, having just buried a friend who died at the second Battle of Ypres:

The_Second_Battle_of_Ypresred

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:


The torch; be yours to hold it high.
To you from failing hands we throw

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

This was published in Punch Magazine in December 1915,  it’s not a poem about remorse and hand-wringing guilt, so common after modern conflicts, it was about right and wrong, noble sacrifice and revenge.  The trauma these men suffered was channelled in the public consciousness into pride and action, no thought of surrender, quite the opposite.

One of Jimmy’s other second cousins, Sergeant George Kray of the Middlesex Regiment, was also discharged from the Army in 1916, and received his Silver War Badge, although he was discharged sick rather than wounded.  The number of men suffering debilitating serious illness in the trenches often outnumbered those wounded.

Sidney James Kray (another second cousin to Jimmy) was the only Kray to see the war out without being killed, wounded or having his health destroyed.  He left the army as a Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and like the rest of the cousins, served his time in France.

It wasn’t just the Kray men who did their part, Alice Kray (another second cousin) joined up and served as a Nurse having seen what had happened to her brothers and cousins.

Discharged with his scars and medals, Jimmy Kray came back injured from the horror of the tranches, to a single room filled with children, Elizabeth had been born in 1916, and as a sign of the relentless poverty the family found themselves in, she was the only child to die in childhood in 1918.  With no prospects Jimmy went back to trading in the markets, coming to the conclusion that there was money to be made trading secondhand clothes, what was called a Wardrobe Dealer, and he would carry on doing this for the rest of his life.  It wasn’t a great living, but then wasn’t bad either for a man with his wits about him.  According to Reggie Kray, one of the twins, his grandfather Jimmy would scan the local papers for news of a death, then go around to the house, offer his condolences, and also offer to buy any old clothes from the deceased they may want to get rid of.  The logic he used to get the cloths at a knock down price was that it was hard to sell clothes of those who had recently died, so would a few bob suffice?  Most people went along with this, especially if the main bread-winner had died and they needed some immediate money for the funeral and drinks for the wake.

Using his intelligence Jimmy then took to going around the local housing estates that were springing up in the East End after the First World War offering sets of presentable (cheaply bought) china in exchange for decent clothes, the many new housewives and young couples living on the estates would be only too happy to swap clothes for a nice socially aspirant set of china.  He continued doing the buying for the rest of his life, and had the sense to set his son, the Kray twin’s father Charlie, up in  a shop in Brick Lane to sell the clothes that he bargained for.

The trading brought stability to the family and they continued the family tradition of living in Gorsuch Street from the 1920s till Louisa’s death in the 1950s.  However the there was another side to Jimmy, he carved out a good living for his family in the harshest of circumstances, but was a terror around the markets, the little ex-Rifleman was a notorious brawler, just as well, survival would have been difficult with this fire in his blood. However Jimmy took it to another level, and earned the nickname “Mad Jimmy Kray”.  Some of this is most likely down to drink, as in later years he would have a heart condition most likely aggravated by bouts of heavy drinking that would lead to his death.

Drinking would eventually take its toll on Jimmy; he died in 1949 of a heart condition that was possibly aggravated by past heavy drinking.

To see my brief TV interview concerning the Kray Twins’ relationship to the Hamble Peninsula in Hampshire, and their favourite Pub there click here.

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