Friday, 24 April 2015

Barnsley's Australian WW1 Connections

Although I spend much of my time, at the moment, studying First World War soldiers sometimes I come across a story so good that I have to do a little extra research and then pass it on to you.  You may find it interesting, it may inspire you to do some research of your own in a similar area, but whatever the outcome I can assure you that find these 'side' stories great fun to write.
 
Australian Imperial Force badge from Digger History

A few days ago the Australian Imperial Force seed data was added to Lives of the First World War.  I am a member of a Facebook group for 'Community Curators', in other words a bunch of us who spend far too much time on LFWW can now chat and share moans and helpful hints about our favourite(!) website.  LFWW don't seem to officially notify their customers when a new record set is added but between us someone usually notices.  We have been waiting for Australia records for a long time - many young working class men left Britain in the decade before the First World War for a 'better life' in Canada or Australia, but when the war started they signed up to serve their home country.  If they fell, and so many did, their families chose to remember them on memorials in their home towns, I would estimate that each Barnsley memorial has one or two of these Commonwealth men listed. 

I am researching the war memorial at St Luke's, Worsbro' Common in depth and if you follow that link you will see a photo and full transcription of the names, there is also a link to my LFWW Community for the men of the area.  Worsborough Common (the spelling varies and the abbreviated version is often used) is close to where we used to live on the edge of Barnsley town centre and there was the chance that some of the OH's relatives would appear on it or be connected to it as a large branch of his family tree passes through the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  William Malkin is the man named on this memorial whom I had flagged up as serving in the Australian forces; his family had lived in Ward Green, Worsborough Bridge for several generations and on the 1901 census he is living with his parents, William and Hannah, and he gives his occupation as Pony Driver Pit.  He was 17 years of age, therefore born in 1884.  His father was also a Coal Miner.

William was killed in Belgium on 28 September 1916.  The additional information on his Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry states that he was the, 'Husband of Frances Mary Jeffs (Formerly Malkin), of 27, Caxton St., Barnsley, England. Native of Worsborough, Yorks, England.'  Yet once I began to investigate the records linked by LFWW things began to become a little bit mysterious.
 
Logo from the header of the Discovering Anzacs website

LFWW have used data from the National Archives of Australia and in particular a site called Discovering Anzacs.  The full service records for the soldiers are available to view, similar to the ones we see here on Ancestry for British soldiers, but in this case completely free!  A link on William Malkin's Life Story on LFWW took me directly to his records where there were twenty nine pages to read!
 
A snip from William Malkin's attestation papers (from Discovering Anzacs)

William Malkin enlisted in New South Wales in August 1915 giving his occupation as Miner and his age as either 25 or 35 on two separate copies of his attestation form (I suppose one of these could be a clerical error) neither of which agree with his known age from the census and naming his mother Hannah Malkin of Ward Green, Barnsley as his next of kin.  I found this odd considering the additional information on his CWGC entry, but then I found several letters referring to his wife.  It seemed that she had got in touch with the Australian authorities in August 1916 claiming to be William's next of kin, but that she had not supplied any documentary evidence - her marriage lines are mentioned - to support her claim.  One letter notes that, "she states they have corresponded recently, and quotes his regimental description".  The authorities appear to accept her claim despite a discrepancy in "her description of the man ... [and] a difference of six years [in his age]."  Why did William lie about his age - was he trying to appear younger so that he could sign up, if the age of 25 years and 5 months given on one form is correct?  Why does he not mention that he is married?  He specifically answers the question about marriage in the negative!
Obituary from the Barnsley Chronicle 28 October 1916 (with thanks to Barnsley Archives)
Sadly William was killed in September 1916 and is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground near Ypres in Belgium.  His obituary in the Barnsley Chronicle mentions that he emigrated to Australia 'about seven years ago' - so in 1909 then - and notes his mother's name and address.  It does give a separate address for William, which may be a clue!

I decided to try to find out more about Frances Mary Malkin (later Jeffs) to see if I could work out if indeed they were married, if so why did he leave her and go to Australia, when did she remarry, did she have any children and what happened to her after the war.  I find the stories of the women left behind in Barnsley (well anywhere I suppose) even more fascinating than the military history of the war itself.  There is very little written about how women coped without their menfolk and what strategies they used to cope during the difficult and stressful war years.

What I found was quite surprising ... but this post is long enough - I'll tell you more in my next!  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Following up Clues in the New Book about Elsecar's Fallen Parishioners

Last week I was given a copy of a new book, Parishioners of Elsecar who Laid Down Their Lives in the Great War, 1914-1918" by its author, Graham Noble, which takes for its starting point the 32 men named on the First World War Memorial plaque in the Holy Trinity Church, Elsecar..  With the assistance of the Elsecar Family History Group a limited number of copies have been printed, but as one has also been given to Barnsley Archives you will be able to consult it there.
The cover of the new book about Elsecar's Fallen
As it was Easter weekend I actually had the OH to myself for a few days and as I had promised that I would visit the church in Elsecar as a thank you for the book he said he'd drive me down on Bank Holiday Monday and we'd have a look around the churchyard too.  

Every Monday Holy Trinity Church, Elsecar is open between 10.30am and 2.30pm for visitors to look around and to consult the vast array of local history and church records they have stored there.  Tea and coffee is also available!

I had been my reading copy of the book avidly and love the way it is laid out chronologically, intertwining the stories of the men with the greater story of the war.  There are maps of battlefields and lots of pictures.  Nine of the 32 men named on the memorial plaque have their photos in the book, thanks to donations by relatives.  I am sure the church would love to hear from relatives of the the other men too.  It has so far not been possible to identify two of the men - H Read and E Turner.  Can you help?
 
The index page of the book

At the back of the book there are additional stories about men not named on the plaque who are either buried or remembered in the churchyard, or who have been discovered to have some connection to Elsecar, maybe being born there or having family from there.  There are reproductions of the memorial postcards from two Elsecar Working Men's Clubs and the lists of men who served from each club, these include many who returned from the war.  Finally, a list I had not seen before, from Earl Fitzwilliam's Elsecar Collieries Ambulance Class, which was held in Elsecar Market Hall (now Milton Hall I assume?) from which 43 members had enlisted by November 1915.  A piece in the Barnsley Chronicle reported that a total of 472 men had enlisted from the Elsecar Collieries by this time - bear in mind that these would all be volunteers as conscription did not commence until the following year.

At the church the OH was greeted by a gentleman who recognised him from the CAMRA beer festivals that are held in Elsecar, and we were offered refreshments.  I enquired about the information they hold and was shown a large cupboard full of well labelled folders.  The Memorial Inscriptions are in yellow folders and cover both churchyards, old and new, and the cemetery adjacent to the church.  

I was able to scan through two of the books, the ones for the new churchyard and identify seven potential memorial gravestones, only one of which I had been aware of previously.  On my visit at about the same time last year I photographed just three memorials, one in each area of the burial grounds.  How on earth had I missed this treasure trove?
A photo of the New Churchyard at Elsecar from my previous visit in April 2014
After a look around the church - the stained glass windows are also a memorial to the Fallen of WW1 - and signing the visitors' book, we ventured across the road to the new Churchyard.  The OH had captured the plan of the plots from the back of one of the folders on his phone camera as my sketched diagrams seemed unlikely to help too much in our search!  Well, I wasn't expecting to be looking for so many gravestones.  

Unfortunately the reasons for me not finding some of the other men soon became apparent.  Reginald Naylor (killed in action 6 November 1917) is remembered on a kerbstone and it will take another visit with a spade or trowel to remove sufficient grass to be able to photograph his memorial.  Clifford Portman's family gravestone (he died of wounds on 28 September 1917) and Wilfred Hirst's family gravestone (died in hospital in France on 2 April 1918) have both fallen on their faces across the grave plots.  Poor Percy Turner's family gravestone (killed in action on 15 April 1918) if still intact, now lies beneath a hedge at the back of the churchyard.  But my only excuse for not finding Ernest Whittlestone's memorial is that the ground at the very bottom of the churchyard was very boggy last year, so I did not venture that far, because, now I know what I'm looking for I can actually see it on the left of the photo above that I took last year over the churchyard wall!  

The OH's picture of Fitz Leach's gravestone,
with the church in the background
We also found two WW2 war memorial gravestones, only one of which I had been aware of previously, and photographed a stone in the older part of the churchyard which appears in the book, Fritz Harry Leach (killed in action 23 April 1917) which I really should have seen on my last visit.  

Ah, well, the OH's pictures with his 'proper' camera are always so much better than mine anyway, so it was well worth the trip.  And it was a lovely sunny day as you can see in this photo on the left, which includes some rather scary 'weeping angels' (if you follow Dr Who you'll know what I mean!) at the bottom end of the old churchyard.

I have added the names and information to an index page for Elsecar's War Memorial Gravestones and hopefully either myself or ML will be able to add individual pages with more information in the fullness of time.

Thank you for reading.