Not long before my father died in 1995, he asked me to contact his cousin, Joyce, and share with her my research into our family history, at least that part pertaining to my father’s mother. Joyce was most curious but did not have the means or skills to research her own family history for herself. We exchanged numerous mails and I traced her family back to the 1700s in Birmingham. Given the tools and databases available today, I could have taken her lines back much further.
It was later that I finally got around to visiting Joyce. She lived with her husband, Gordon, in Leamington, just south of Birmingham and Coventry.
Joyce was very much part of my father’s extended family and she spent a lot of her youth in Harpley, my father’s home village in West Norfolk. She seemed rather shocked by some of the illegitimate relationships that I had uncovered within by grandmother’s family, relationships that were never spoken of, that were ‘brushed under the carpet’, in typical Victorian fashion. She found it hard to accept my findings, until I showed her the proofs.
In her turn, Joyce shocked me with facts about a relationship involving my grandfather, a relationship about which she was certain my father was never aware. She was told about it by her own mother, shortly before she died, and Joyce saw the evidence for herself.
In that era, I travelled a lot, both within the UK and internationally. When I had an early start, usually around 05:00, I went to bed early and slept in our spare room. When on my own, I always left the curtains partly open. I almost always woke up with the early morning light. I rarely ever needed an alarm.
Not long after I had visited Joyce, I was disturbed in my sleep. I felt a hand stroking my head. I thought that I was dreaming. But the feeling persisted, and when I opened my eyes, in the half-light I saw an old woman bending over me.
She was dressed in black, and her hair was long and looked rather greasy. There was nothing threatening about her. On the contrary, she was touching me lovingly, as if I was a child.
I tried to speak, but no words came. I was mute. I tried to reach out, but I could not move my arm. It felt paralyzed. She must have sensed my increasing agitation, for she seemed to panic, and before I could do anything further, she disappeared out the window, like a scene being reduced to the size of a pin hole.
I did not get back to sleep that night. I remember having an intense feeling of euphoria, a realization that communication with those who have become before me, might just be possible.
That night, even though I did not have to get up early the next morning, I slept in the same room. I tried to recreate the conditions of the previous night. I willed the old woman to come back to me. I wanted to know who she was, but to no avail. There was no repeat visit. In the years since, she has never re-appeared.
Of course, it may have been just a dream, stimulated by my recent conversations with Joyce, coupled with a fertile imagination. But I am not so sure.
One day I may know more.
Although we corresponded from time to time, I only ever met Joyce in person that one time. Shortly after, I changed employment and was based in Switzerland, and later, in Paris.
Joyce died in 2005, followed by her husband in 2006.
Until very recently, if I were to have been asked to name a deceased person with whom I would most want to spend a short time, without hesitation it would have been Robert Blackwood of Wreningham in Norfolk, England.
Who was he?
He was an agricultural labourer who married a Mary Watts in 1756, in the adjacent parish of Hethel. They had nine children.
It is significant that Robert Blackwood could sign his own name, in an era when most people could only make a mark, as did Mary Watts and one of the witnesses. None of the Blackwood children were able to sign their own name.
Robert died in Hethel in 1782 and his wife in 1800. They were my 4th great grandparents, and I am descended from their son, John.
Given the opportunity, of all the deceased people I could spend with, why would I choose him?
Because he has been my genealogical ‘brick wall’. For about 35 years, on and off, I had been trying to find his birth record, without success. My father had never heard mention of him, but he did say that his father had once told him that the Blackwood family was from Bungay, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
It was later, when I was researching in the Norwich archives, that I decided to take a side trip to Lowestoft, where I was told that there was a copy of the Suffolk records. It proved to be a worthwhile trip, for I found evidence of a Blackwood family residing in the Bungay area in 1688-1700 – James and Elizabeth Blackwood, with children James, John, Elizabeth, and Robert.
So, my grandfather’s claim proved to be true, but which of the three Bungay sons was the father of my 4th grandparent, Robert of Wreningham. Over time I carefully searched all the parishes in a wide radius, but the missing link eluded me. I found the marriage of Elizabeth, but no sign of the sons nor the birth of Robert.
Until one day last year when I received a mail from a lady in Australia. She had come across my blog, when researching information on Blackwoods in Norfolk. She was also descended from Robert of Wreningham and had hit the same ‘brick wall’. But using a genealogical site, to which I did not have access, she found the birth of a Robert Blackwood (born 1723 in Bixley), and his father James, that approximately matched up with dates and the names of my families in Wreningham and Bungay. As the Blackwood surname was relatively rare in Norfolk in that era and in that area, I am convinced that we have found the missing link.
Then, following up on my knowledge of the Bungay family, the lady found a copy of James Blackwood’s will in the Sussex archives and transcribed it.
So, what do we now know of James, Robert of Wreningham’s grandfather?
From the record of his death, we estimate that he was born about 1668, and his wife was called Elizabeth. We don’t know where he was born, nor where he was married. He owned a public house, The Crown, in Bungay. He left a will in 1700 and he died shortly after.
I am not certain of the location of the public house. There was a pub called ‘The Crown’ at 24 Cross Street, but it closed sometime between 1925 and 1930. On 22 February 1777, the Ipswich Journal advertised a ‘Crown’ for rent at the end of Cross Street, on Market Place and that pub appears on the Ordnance Survey map of 1905.
An extract from the Ordnance Survey map of 1905
So my Blackwood ancestral linenow looks like the following:
James Blackwood (c1668-1700) = Elizabeth?
-> James Blackwood (1692-?) = Elizabeth Smith
-> Robert Blackwood (1723-1782) = Mary Watts (c1733-1800)
-> John Blackwood (1764-1848) = Mary Harvey (c1764-1847)
-> Robert Blackwood (1809-1867) = Susannah Ringwood (1811-1889)
-> William Blackwood (1847-1927) = Lucy Ann English (1846-1934)
-> Leonard Clive Blackwood (1881-1965) = Agnes Pilgrim (1883-1958)
-> Harry William Blackwood (1918-1995) = Beatrice Elizabeth Stewart Douglas (1924-1985)
-> Leonard Douglas Blackwood (1946-)
I doubt if we will ever uncover any more evidence from Bungay, so now we now have the challenge of finding the birth of James Blackwood, his marriage, and the identity of Elizabeth.
As always in genealogy, when one door closes, two more open.
And I wonder what ever happened to that silver tankard…
Despite having served for more than six years during WW2, my father almost never spoke of his war experiences, at least not in my presence. He never seemed to look back, nor did he ever seem to worry about what the future might hold. He took each day as it came, did his very best, and at the end of the day he turned the page. I remember him as being a very contented man. His has been a hard act to follow.
It was not until my early attempts to write my family history that I realised how little I knew of my father’s wartime experiences. He had long passed on and it was through his best friend, Roy Bishop, that some of the blank pages were partially filled. It was in 20o7, in response to my many questions, that Roy, through emails, documented his memories. Where appropriate, I will quote Roy’s exact words.
Royston Bishop was born in Barnet, North London, on 29 November 1918. He had an older brother, Thomas and two younger sisters, Gladys and Gwendoline. His parents, Thomas Bishop and Lilian Lawson, were both from large families; his father was one of eight siblings and his mother one of sixteen.
In late 1939, after the breakout of WW2, Roy was called up for military service. At that time, he was a trainee manager with Hector Powe, the chain of luxury menswear shops, with headquarters in Regent Street, London. At the same time, at Potter’s Bar in North London, my father had a trainee manager position with Sainsburys, which was a rather up-market family grocer in that era. Their paths were destined to cross. They were not yet turned twenty-one, with my father’s birthday on November 11 and Roy’s on November 29.
We met on the first day of being called up in September 1939 at Chelmsford, Essex and we were transported together to the Recruit Training Centre at Northolt and we shared the same hut and even had beds (on the floor) next to each other. After the 4 weeks training we were posted to the same Company, HQ;2nd/8th. battalion The Middlesex Regiment, Harry to the Band and I was posted to the Regimental Police. We remained friends througout our 6 plus years together and even finished up in the same platon in D Company Heavy Mortars; Harry as MPOack and I was the Platoon Sergeant.
In the early days of the war, they were assigned to guard duty at various installations in and around London, eventually being transferred to Portrush, in Northern Ireland, where they spend much of the next three years in training for the eventual invasion of mainland Europe..
My father always described Roy as ‘a bit of a character’ and more that once described how Roy had decided to ignore military rules and swam outside the harbour, not realizing how strong were the prevailing North Sea currents. Despite being a strong swimmer, Roy was not able to swim back to the harbour and had to be rescued.
When I was researching for my family history, I came across an account of the Middlesex regiment by a Leslie Dyer and I asked Roy if he ever had come across him:
Les Dyer, known as "Deadly" was in the transport section as a driver and was quite a wild character. I remember escorting him to Carrickfergus Detention barracks as he had overstayed his leave. We had a laugh over this episode recently and he told me that his wife told him to get an education and having no family he took an education course and finished up overseas teaching.
And who was Harry Ellison, for I recalled him being mentioned more than once by my parents?
Harry Ellison I knew very well as he was in the same (HQ) Company as Harry and myself. He was a magnificent drummer; professional standard. He was engaged to a Portrush girl but sadly he was killed in action in Normandy, having been posted to a machine gun company.
It was in Portrush that my father met Ernie Mann, who was then the leader of the dance band that played in Barry’s Ballroom. My father often used to play piano with the band and it was a relationship from which he was able to profit, when he eventually returned from the war in 1946.
It was also in Portrush where my father met my mother. They were married in October 1942.
In response to my question, Roy explained how my parents, once married, could have been able to be together, given wartime restrictions.
In Portrush, sleeping out passes were required but in those days it was an easy going attitude as long as one was on parade in time in the morning.
But shortly after my parents were married, the Middlesex regiment was moved to England.
Harry and I were in Northern Ireland together for about 2.5 years and then went to Yorkshire, Southend and then Amersham. I was away on a number of Army Courses; Gas Warfare Recognition at Winterbourne Gunner, Dorset, Small Arms Cadre at Dorking, Surrey, Regimental Provost Duties at Carrickfergus,Co.Antrim, Light A/Ack at Clacton on Sea, Essex and Heavy Mortor Instructor's Course at Netheravon with Bob Richardson and Frank Godfrey. It was on this course that I met my future wife as Gwyn was in the WAAF stationed nearby at Amesbury, Wiltshire and we were married the following May on a short leave from Germany.
My mother gave birth to a little girl, June Mary, in May 1943, but sadly she died a few months later, in January 1944. I don’t know if my father ever saw his daughter.
It was tragic for Harry at the time to lose a daughter of 8 months.The battalion were in transit at that period from Amersham to East Sussex and I was on a Small Arms course at Dorking and I think Harry had compassionate leave and we met up again at Kemp Town, Brighton on his return.
We then moved to Worthing and we were billeted in the Clear View Hotel, opposite the pier, with all equipment and weapons at hand. We slept on the bare floor boards and awaited orders to proceed into action and were awaiting suitable transit for our Universal Carriers and heavy mortars. All the hotels on the Worthing front were empty and taken over by most of the battalion.
The Middlesex regiment were attached to the 15th Scottish Division for the duration of the war, and the following map, with dates, documents their path through France, Belgium, Netherlands and finally Germany.
For Roy, the earlier days after the invasion were particularly poignant:
Tormaville was without question a terrible battle area, firing most of the night. I buried Corp. Symonds in the early hours and whilst I was digging, a Pte. Peter Benson-Cooper came over from the next field where 15 Platoon were firing. He helped me dig the trench but we dug it too deeply, and the body was never recovered. However, Corp. Symonds is mentioned on the memorial stele in Normandy.
Many times, Roy has spoken to me of passing through battlefields in Northern France in the early days after the invasion. He said that he could never forget the stench of rotting animals and the remains of German soldiers and the mass destruction of the villages and countryside.
Roy and my father were not to be without mishap:
In France we had many shared experiences and we shared a German Personnel Mine when Harry's Universal Carrier with Lt.Bob.Richardson and Private Amelan and Harry on board and with me driving my motor bike alongside were blown up by the mine. I flew up in the air and come down in black smoke, with the engine still running, thinking that was the end! Private Amelan had perforated ear drums and was evacuated along with Bob Richardson who had shock and minute metal pieces in his chest. Harry and I both suffered hearing loss and we were deaf for three days but fortunately we recovered but not back to our normal hearing.
I can vouch for my father’s loss of hearing. It was impossible to have a conversation with him without repeating everything at least twice. In his twilight years, Roy purchased a hearing aid, but I recall that his experience with it was less than satisfactory.
Old soldiers have a language of their own and I once asked Roy to write about his role and my father’s wartime role as an MPOack:
The MPOack was an assistant to the platoon 2i/c and sat next to him in a lloyd tracked infantry carrier. Driving the carrier was Amelan and they operated a No18 radio set and messages vis the OP (observation post) were relayed to the mortar line giving bearing and bombs to be fired. I was on the mortar line and it was my job to liaise with the information of number of bombs fired daily and this information was sent to Coy. HQ, so that replacement bombs were supplied. I usually went to a rendezvous on a cross roads map reference on my motor bike with a Universal carrier to bring back the replacement bombs to the platoon position.
Many years after a battle in Belgium, Roy had a remarkable experience:
Mol in Belgium was the area where we were heavily shelled and Corp. Crowhurst DCM was killed and Pte. Baker was also killed. Pte. Owen Collins was seriously injured and I managed to get him onto a medical truck and he was evacuated to England. Very many years later by a terrific coincidence I was visiting the war graves of these soldiers when a lady and gentleman approached at the sametime. It turned out to be Pte. Owen Collins and his wife, who had travelled from Bovey Tracey in Devon. In fact I paid a visit to them the following year. He told me that he had never fully recovered from nerves and had to leave the police force after a year. He settled for an agricultural job without tension.
He told his wife that I was the man who saved his life because of the quick action of getting him evacuated medically.
One of the few memories of my father speaking of the war was his description of driving for hours through the night from Tilburg to the Ardennes in Belgium. They had no lights and had to follow at tiny light under the vehicle ahead.
Yes, Harry remembered the incident well as it was a horrible all-night drive to support the Americans due to a breakthrough in the Ardennes, due to the German breakthrough in the American sector.The 15th.Scottish Infantry Division had only just liberated TILBURG, North Brabant and Harry and some of the platoon were having a celebrating drink in the Burgomaster's house when an immediate recall came through to the Platoon to start-up, for an all night drive in readiness for a crash-action. You could imagine our tiredness having just entered Tilburg as the liberators. I was riding my motorbike half asleep, every now and again being bought back to alertness by my front wheel hitting the Lloyd Carrier in front and after hours of driving in poor weather we eventually went in to a crash action in support. It was a period of battle that always stays in the mind as it was a test of endurance. I will always remember the large number of young American soldiers who were killed in action lying dead on the road on our route.
What happened after Tilburg?
In answer to your query re the target after Tilburg was to MEIJEL when we supported 44 Brigade and which all platoons took part. Bad weather, boggy ground and a very strong resistance ensured heavy fighting for 4 to 5 days until the 6th November when a lull ensued. All were engaged by the 15th Nov when casualities increased. I lost a friend from Finchley, Lt.Cross, who was killed in 12 platoon and also Sgt Wood from the same platoon.
After the end of the fighting, when we had arrived in Lubeck, our platoon were employed in looking after German prisoners of war in the Hamburg area. They were housed in "Nissan type huts", around a dozen to each building. The looking after the Belsen prisoners was dealt mainly by the Royal Army Medical Corps with assistance in transport by the Royal Army Service Corps. We soon reverted to Regimental duties at the end of 1945 with guard duties as we were very close to the Russian Infantry who had their guard room a few hundred yards to the east of Lubeck.
Rensburg was the next town where the Battalion was stationed in 1946, after Lubeck, so it was peace time soldiering. Harry and I were on demobilisation number 26 and left at Lubeck as our age was then 27 years and two months and had served throughout the war years and nearly 6.5 years war service.
You enquired re Normandy landing date and route and amongst my memorablia I found a note of the platoon travels. It is in pencil and written on my motor bike travels, so it is not in my usual script, so some villages and towns may be misspelt. Gosport 7.7.44. St Crois sur mer, Tourville, Evrecy, Caumont, Sutain, ESTRY, Bernay, Theelt, Londerzeel, Gheel, Eindhoven, BEST, Helmond, Venlo, Mol, TILBURG, Bletrick, Neer, Sevenum, Helden, Riel, Nijemen, CLEVE, Goch, Moglands (Schloss), Boxtel, BourgLeopold, Zanten, RIVER RHINE CROSSING, Mehrbou, Leven, Brennhorst, Hazenburg, CELLE, Uelzen, Neetze, Bleclede, RIVER VELBE CROSSING, Hammour, Bolhsdorf,Trenemunde, Wilsted, Carlow, LUBECK, (Late 45,early 46).
Harry and I were then demobbed. Both rather tired after that lot!.
Roy often spoke to me of a young German boy, who was ‘adopted’ by the Middlesex regiment. His name was Heinz Johannsen, but the soldiers called him Jimmy. In later life, Heinz collected Middlesex memorabilia. Heinz maintained contact with many of the Middlesex soldiers, including Roy. A few years ago I was also in contact with him.
With the war over, Roy and my father were released from military service, Roy to restart to his managerial career with Hector Powe, and my father to start a poultry farm in Portrush, subsidized by his musical talent. They remained firm friends ever after.
And nine months after my father returned to Portrush, I came on the scene.
Roy, my father and most, if not all, of their friends have passed on, but we must never ever forget their sacrifice of their time, and in many cases their lives, to keep Europe free and at peace.
It was twenty-four years ago, on 24 June 1995, that the little private primary school of Lyndhurst, in Camberley, celebrated its centenary. The school is close to the centre of the town, about 40 kilometers south-west of London. On that day, I already had two sons enrolled in the school, a third son about to start in September and a fourth son who would have to wait to join his brothers; he was only twenty days old.
The school was managed by the headmaster, Robert Cunliffe, and his wife, Jenny. Until very recently, I never knew the their actual first names; I had always assumed that they were Mister and Missus!
The couple´s ambition for the school was to create a family atmosphere for the children and impart a grounding in a wide range of subjects and skills. In my opinion, they far exceeded their goal.
For the centenary celebrations, they had organized marquees, booths, demonstrations of skills by the children, competitions etc. But when the headmaster had selected the date for the celebration, he was possibly not aware that on that very afternoon was scheduled the World Rugby Cup final between New Zealand and South Africa, the latter being the host country and their first participation in the World Cup since the abolition of apartheid. For a rugby fan, such as I, it was a not-to-be missed event.
But having told my sons that I would be at their school celebrations, with heavy heart I made my way to Lyndhurst. But when I got there, I found two South African members of the staff, adamant that they were going to see the game, and setting up a little television in one of the classrooms. So for the next two hours I perched on a child’s chair and watched an incredible game, won 15-12 in extra time by South Africa, with a drop goal. And who could ever forget the scene of a jubilant Nelson Mandela in a South African shirt, presenting the trophy to Francois Pinaar and dancing for the cameras. It is a magic memory.
Twelve years later, on 20 October 2007, the final was between South Africa and England. I was in Sweden, where rugby has little or no interest for the vast majority of Swedes. It was not covered on public television but I managed to see the Irish pool games by subscribing $9.99 per game. I failed to get access to the final which South Africa won 15-6.
At that time I did not realize that a further twelve years later I would be living in South Africa and witness the South Africans once again winning the World Cup, beating England 32-12, confounding the ‘experts’, who had England as the odds-on favourites. Having thoroughly beaten New Zealand, the tournament favorites , in the semi-final, it seemed as if the English thought that South Africa would be a ‘walk in the park’. They must have forgotten that unlike English parks, South African parks are populated with dangerous animals…
When the final whistle ended the game, South Africa erupted and has been celebrating ever since.
It took a few days to get the complete team and staff back to Johannesburg and then they set off on a four day tour of the major cities, arriving yesterday in Cape town. I will leave the photos to speak for themselves…
In each city, it was not just to the well-off parts they went, but they also toured many of the poor and deprived townships, from which many of the team originated, including the captain, Siya Kolesi.
In Siya’s own words ‘ Look at how we are all different. Different races, different backgrounds, and we can prove that South Africa can be united. We came together for South Africa and made it happen.’
There is hope and Nelson Mandela would very much approve. His spirit lives on…
Gertrude Mary Blackwood was born in Hapton, south-western Norfolk, the third of seven children of William Blackwood and Lucy Ann English and was one of the elder sisters of my paternal grandfather, Leonard Clive Blackwood. By 1876, when her sister Rosa Lillian was born, the family had already moved from Hapton to Jay’s Green, Redenhall, on the Sussex border. Her father worked as a miller and he eventually acquired his own windmill.
Gertrude died on 24 July 1942. An inquest was held the next day and the verdict of Donald Flackson, the coroner for the Kings Lynn District, was that ’The deceased threw herself into a bit of water and drowned herself – the balance of her mind being at the time disturbed’. The death certificate was issued by the coroner and there was no indication of who discovered the body or where she was buried. Her address was given as 451 Norwich Road, Ipswich, her marital status was that of spinster and her occupation was that of Housekeeper (Domestic).
What caught my attention about the apparent suicide was that it did not occur in or near Ipswich, where she lived, but in Harpley, where my grandparents lived. I have been several times to Harpley and I have never noticed a pond. There are a couple of large ponds in the centre of Massingham about two miles away, but Harpley has no village pond. On checking a map of Harpley, I found that there is a pond in a secluded area called Lake Wood, about 300m from the centre of Harpley and my grandparent’s house, and close to the Kings Lynn to Fakenham Road that bypasses Harpley. Could that have been where Gertrude drowned herself? Or was it in one of the small livestock ponds that farms tended to have. And where had she been staying at the time? With my grandparents or was she just visiting? Her home in Ipswich was not exactly around the corner – it was about 70 miles by the most direct route, and considerably more by public transportation.
Did my father know of the suicide? It was wartime and he would have been stationed in Northern Ireland during that pre-invasion era. I find it hard to believe that he was not informed of the death by his parents, either by mail or during a leave to visit them in Harpley. If he did know, he certainly never mentioned it to me, and he was quite aware of my interest and active involvement in researching my family history. If he had never been told, what was the reason?
My curiosity was very much aroused and I decided to see if any information regarding Gertrude resided in the public domain. I was not disappointed.
Gertrude was born in Hapton, Norfolk, in the third quarter of 1872. The family moved to Harlesdon and in the census of 1881, Gertrude was listed as eight years old.
In 1891 she was employed as a Draper’s assistant, living in the house of William Munford (a Draper) at 21 High Street, Haverhill Essex.
On 6 October 1897 she gave birth to Hubert Wilde Blackwood in Kirby Bedon, south-east of Norwich. No father’s name was given on the birth certificate. At the time her address was recorded as 13 Greyfriar’s Road, Norwich, which is close to the Norwich Castle.
In 1901 she was living at 51 Grove Road in Lakenham, SE Norwich, and was listed as a visitor and ‘living on her own means’. The head of the household was Algernon Wilde, a fire insurance clerk. Also in the same house were his three sons – Frederic (14), Ernest (13) and Hubert (3), the latter who must have been Gertrude’s son. Algernon Wilde was listed as being married, but there was no mention of his wife.
On 28 September 1901 at Falkland House, Grove Road, Lakenham, Hubert Wilde Blackwood died of membranous croup. He was only 3 years old. Present at the death was G. M. Blackwood, by occupation a housekeeper.
In the 1911 census she was listed as a maternity nurse and living as a ‘boarder’ in the house of Algernon Sidney Wilde, at Ellesmere, Cavendish Road, Felixstowe. Algernon Wilde was now recorded as a house agent and widower.
Algernon Wilde died on 10 January 1942 at 451 Norwich Road, Ipswich and the Ipswich probate dated 7 April 1942 stated that his estate of £908 10s 2d was left to Gertrude Blackwood.
When Gertrude died six months later, in 1942, her home address was also given as 451 Norwich Road, Ipswich.
On 29 September 1942 the probate granted £1724 14s to Leonard Clive Blackwood, organist and Ernest Norman Wilde, electricity show-room assistant.
In 1901 Algernon Wilde was married and most likely separated from his wife, possibly as a result of having had a son with Gertrude. In 1884 he had married Edna Anne Allard in Norwich, and they had two sons – Frederick and Ernest. In 1896 they had a third son, Leslie Arthur. In 1901 she and her young son were visitors staying with Richard Sharrod in Southreppes Road, Antingham. He was a widower with two teenage daughters aged 21 and 14.
In the 1911 census Algernon Wilde claimed that he was a widower, but that was not true. Edna Wilde was by then living in Acle to the east of Norwich. She was head of the household and in addition to her youngest son she also now had an eight year old daughter, Mary, and two boarders. She was still married and perhaps she refused to give Algernon a divorce, which could explain why he never married Gertrude. Edna died in Acle in the first quarter of 1942.
When I started this investigation I felt certain that Gertrude was left destitute after the death of Algernon, and that she had gone to my grandfather seeking financial help. I imagined that he had refused or was unable to help, and in desperation, she committed suicide. But given her inheritance from Algernon and her own resources, that seemed to have been unlikely.
It is not likely that I will ever discover the reason for Gertrude’s despair on that summer day in 1942 and it will remain with her in her grave.
Sometimes, all that separates life from death is a bit of water.
It was September 1961 when I returned for my fourth year at C. A. I. I had already decided that I aspired to an army career, as an officer graduate from Sandhurst, in Surrey. The physical outdoor life, the sports, and the opportunities to travel very much appealed to me. I had already received a package of information from the recruitment office and in it was suggested that I join the local Army Cadet Force. One Friday evening in early September, I set off for the Territorial Army Barracks in Coleraine.
It was there that I met Captain Kitson, who was responsible for the local Army Cadet Force. I remember him as a slim and very well spoken man and I was immediately quite inspired by him. He noted all the necessary particulars and we agreed that I would return same time the following week to collect my uniform and join the Force.
My father was not greatly enthused by my career aspirations. He had survived seven years of war, had seen many of his friends die, and did not wish that life on his eldest son. He would have very much preferred my going to agricultural college and then joining him in his farming business. But as much as I loved the soil, the lure of travel and seeing the world prevailed. Dad reluctantly kept his peace.
The uniform consisted of everything except underwear, plus a beret, boots and a heavy greatcoat. that reached almost to my ankles. In cold wintry nights, the greatcoat was most appreciated. The shirt and trousers were made from a heavy khaki material that initially I found most itchy, but in time I became almost accustomed to it.
On my first full night at the barracks, we were lectured at length on the uniform, how to dress, what never to do, how to polish our boots and clean our brasses. we were warned that first thing, every night, we would be inspected and reprimanded if fault was found. Our Sergeant Major was a tough little Irishman, a long-serving soldier whom I shall call Jerry, for I cannot recall his full name. When not on duty, he was a chain-smoker and always stank of nicotine. He has an extremely loud and raucous voice and when he called ‘Atten shun’, windows in nearby houses rattled.
After inspection, we spent a lot of time on drill, eventually including a rifle. If you have ever observed a squad of soldiers on parade, performing complex manouvers, you perhaps can understand how much practice is required to train a group of individuals to act as one. And most evenings we moved to the rifle range to practice our shooting skills, using .22 rifles.
In the summer of 1962, we went to the Ballykinler Army Barracks, in County Down, about 12 kilometers SW of Downpatrick. We were met at the station in Belfast and taken in Army lorries to the camp. For a week we were treated as any other soldier, with all the disciplines and obligations. It was the first time that I had been away from home. I recall two memorable days.
The first was when we were taken in a truck and dropped off in the countryside, with maps, bivouacs, and enough food and water for a day. Our objective was to decide where we were and in 24 hours to find our way to a second pick-up point quite far away, on the other side of a lake. To complicate the mission, we were to leave no trace of our passing. Our officer, Captain Kitson accompanied us, but he made zero effort to influence our decision making. It was a character enhancing experience and we all learned a lot from having to disguise our overnight camp.
The second memorable day was when we were split into two platoons, one to defend a hill and the other to attack it. I was with the latter. We were armed with .22 rifles and a few blanks. We decided to have a frontal attack, with two of us, another guy and myself, crawling a long way through scrub to attack from the rear. Unfortunately, the defending force spotted the frontal attackers, some blanks were shot and the ‘attack’ was foiled.
On our last night at the camp, we went to Newcastle, the nearby beach resort. We had a few hours to ourselves. Most of us went up the mountain – Slieve Donnard; a few joined me in unsuccessfully looking for girls.
During the long summer break, something changed in me. I spent much of the holidays working on the farm, feeding and watering the livestock, clearing, cleaning, painting: I was already quite strong and could do most of a man’s work. In return, my father gave me gave me generous pocket money. Most evenings I went down to Portrush to meet and mingle with friends. The summer season was in full swing and there were lots of girls on holiday also wandering around. I relished my new-found freedom, to come and go as I pleased.
Eventually that summer I realized that I would have very little freedom to come and go if I were to join the army. Whether one agrees or not, orders have to be obeyed, without question. That would not be a problem if I agreed with the direction. But what if I didn’t? And I was reminded of the quote – ‘Lions led by donkeys’.
When September came around, I returned the uniform and resigned from the Army Cadets.
In 1985, some 23 years later, for one year I found myself living at Harvard Road in Sandhurst, and passing the military college every day.
Charles Ringwood was born on 6 November 1831, in Hethel, about 10 km to the south-west of Norwich, in Norfolk, England. He was the eldest son and the third child of William Ringwood, a shoemaker, and Hannah Peachment. William’s father was my 4th great-grandfather. In about 1832 the family moved to nearby Wymondham, where they had four more children.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 in the US. He died in 1844. About 1840, his eventual successor, Brigham Young went to England to recruit new followers. In 1844 more than 70,000 people migrated from Europe to join the Mormons. The mass migration from Nauvoo, Illinois, west to Utah, took place in 1846/7.
In 1853, when he was 22, William’s eldest son, Charles, left England to join the Mormons in Salt Lake City. He traveled out with the Claudius V. Spencer Company from Liverpool. They set sail on 23 January on the ship, Golconda and after a voyage of 44 days, they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River.
There they had to wait for twelve days until a steam tug carried them to New Orleans, where they arrived on 26 March. From there they continued on another steam boat to Keokuk, Iowa and finally overland to the staging post at Kanesville, Iowa, present day Council Bluffs.
About 250 individuals and 40 wagons were in the company when it began the final stage of its journey, crossing the the river Missouri about June 3, and arrived in Salt Lake Valley on 24 September 1853.
In 1855 Charles married Dinah Elizabeth Forster. In 1866 Charles spent six months serving as a 2nd Lt. with Major A. Barts Infantry in the Blackhawk war. Dinah died in March 1869, two weeks after giving birth to her seventh child.
In June 1869 Charles married Caroline Althea Robbins and in the next 25 years Charles and Caroline had a further 14 children, only seven of them surviving infancy.
In the 1871 UK census, of the original Ringwood household in Wymondham there only remained the parents, William and Hannah, the eldest daughter, Mary Ann, and her two children – Emma and Charles, of unknown fathers. Later in 1871, the parents, daughter and grandchildren followed Charles in migrating to Utah.
Although I had found possible evidence of their deaths in Salt Lake City, I could not envisage William and Hannah undertaking such an arduous journey, as both of them would have been well into their seventies at that time. Not only did they have to travel across England to a port and undertake the ocean crossing, but they then had the long and sometimes dangerous journey across the United States to Utah. I had the evidence, but I really did not trust it.
So I remained in doubt for many years, until it occurred to me to find out when the railroad first reached Salt Lake City. And I came across the explanation that I was looking for – the line was opened in 1869, with a branch line north to Ogden in 1870. No doubt it was still not easy for the two in their mid-seventies, but there was now no doubt in my mind that they did it. So, William and Hannah Ringwood spent their last years in Salt Lake City, both dying a few months apart in 1887.
Charles himself died in 1914. On his death certificate his former occupation was recorded as a police officer. The cause of death was given as old age and ‘paresis of bowel’. Caroline died the following year.
Over the past years I have gradually traced and recorded the descendants of William Ringwood. My research is not yet complete, but the descendants already number in the several hundreds.
But the validity of my research was always based on Charles Ringwood and his parents being those of Hethel and Wymondham in Norfolk. I remained reluctant to make that assumption. And then in recent days, I came across a paper called ‘History of Charles Ringwood by Flossie Ringwood Gray‘, a daughter of Charles Ringwood.
We arrived in London in early December 1968; we had been travelling for more than three months since we left Toronto. It was the era of ‘Europe on $5 a day’. I had even bought the book. It weighed almost as much as my meagre luggage. After carrying the wretched book for a couple of weeks, I put it in a bin. At the time, five dollars a day seemed rather extravagant to me. Of course, with inflation, today a coffee in Paris can cost more than that.
After having spent a few days in New York, completely failing to understand why anyone could possibly rave about the city, we sailed in the bowels of the Queen Elizabeth to Southampton, via Cobh and Cherbourg. It was a cold and stormy crossing, one of the last voyages of the liner, and there were few passengers. Not very long after, it ended up on the bottom of Hong Kong harbour.
But once back on dry land, we had almost three months of glorious weather. We wandered around south-west England and Wales, a visit to Dublin and my parents in Ulster, then through France, Spain, Gibraltar, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and back through France to England.
For the first few weeks, we hitch-hiked, eventually as far as Biarritz. We survived on my schoolboy French, but with no basics of Spanish, Italian or German, we took to the trains, mostly in third class wherever we could.
Once back in London, we had to decide: to go back to Toronto, where work was easy to come by and we had lots of contacts, or to stay in London in the unknown, at least for a time. It was not a hard decision to make. We bought the evening newspaper and looked for a room for rent.
We were staying in a cheap ‘bed-and-breakfast’ near to Victoria Station, so we concentrated on finding accommodation on the main-line into Victoria. On the first day we noted three rooms that we could afford. When we arrived at the first room, it was already taken. At the second, there was an obvious sign stating that no Irish need apply. And at the third, we were met by a rotund Jewish gentleman, with whom we quickly felt totally at ease. We signed a lease there and then, paid the deposit and the first month’s rent, and left with the keys.
The ‘apartment’ was a large room on the ground floor, with a high ceiling and a partitioned kitchen, that also contained a bath. The toilet? That was on the first floor and each ‘apartment’ had its own toilet. And electricity and heating were paid for by inserting coins in a box on the wall. In Toronto, I only used to have a tiny room and a shared bathroom. I felt as if I had arrived!
But now we needed to find employment and soon, for our reserves were getting alarming low. Sandra was soon employed. She was a beautician by training and found a job with a salon at the corner of Oxford and Dean streets, removing unwanted facial hair, using electrolysis. Most of the clients were West-end showgirls, but it was Sandra’s boss who took care of hair removal from the client’s private parts!
In the meantime, I went to the Institute of Quantity Surveyors, just up the street from the Houses of Parliament. I left the meeting with the feeling that I had little chance of finding employment; construction in England was suffering a severe recession and the unemployment queues were long and there were no quantity surveyor jobs advertised in the evening papers. What a contrast to Toronto, where construction was booming at that time. So, it was ‘back to the drawing board’.
I quickly found a temporary job, selling potatoes, door to door. It lasted one day. I have never aspired to be a salesman and there are limits as to how many doors being slammed in my face that I could take, often coupled with expletives. I soon realised that being Irish in London was no advantage.
Then I found a temporary job distributing leaflets, door-to-door, for a carpet company. I had to note every address and a salesman called soon after. It was a success, at least for the company. But I soon ran out of addresses within a feasible radius to leaflet, although I loved the walking.
Just before New Year, I spotted an advertisement for an ‘Institute’ training Cobol programmers, with a guarantee that the training would continue until one found a position. Their office was just around the corner from Hector Powe’s main store on Regent Street. My father’s best friend worked for Hector Powe and I took that as a good omen. I signed up for the training and paid the fee. It was a gamble on my part, for by then I had little money left. Sandra earned enough for the basics, but not enough to cover the rent.
The first two weeks of the course were an eye-opener for me. I found that I had a natural talent for programming and at the end of the second week the tutor took me aside and told me that a friend of his had just called, looking to hire a junior programmer. When he asked if I would be interested, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.
The interview was on the following Monday and the company was Singer Sewing Machines, in Uxbridge, west of London, about two hours travel from our little apartment. I met Robin Nicolson, was offered me the position, and needless to say, I gratefully accepted. I started the next day.
I have been researching my family history and those of others, for more than thirty years. If individuals were still alive in 1837, when UK registration of births, marriages and deaths became mandatory, I was almost always able to find them. For those who died before 1837 and had moved away from their parish of birth, prior to the expansion of the internet and database access, it would have been a matter of luck to locate them.
I had four cousins from Hethel, in Norfolk (see here), that seemed to have disappeared. They were present in the 1851 census, but not in that of 1861. Over the years, I repeatedly searched, but in vain, until I stumbled on some Australian sites. It turned out that all four Blackwoods had emigrated to Australia in the late 1850s.
Three of my missing cousins were siblings – Susanna, James and Isaac. Their grandfather, John Blackwood (1764-1848) and Mary Harvey, were my third great grandparents.
Susanna was the first of my cousins to migrate. She married Robert Lane in 1845 and in 1855 they set sail for Australia, with their three children. By that time three of her four sisters and her father were dead, and her mother had remarried.
On 6 October 1855 they set sail for Australia from Liverpool on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated ship, the ‘Schomberg’, with 430 passengers on board. It made landfall off Cape Bridgewater on Christmas Eve but next day it ran aground on a sand bank a mile east of Curdi’s Inlet, near present-day Peterborough. No lives were lost and the next day the passengers were transferred to a passing steamer, the Queen, on her way from Warrnambool to Melbourne. Due to dangerous seas, the wreck was eventually abandoned and subsequently broke up. The captain was later committed for trial for neglect of duty, but was acquitted, due to lack of evidence. (see here)
The family survived the wreck, but lost all their furniture. From Melbourne they were eventually taken on to Tasmania, and settled at Longford, where they had five more children.
In 1852 James Blackwood married Hannah Mickleborough and they had two children in Norfolk. On 14 May 1857 they sailed to Australia from Plymouth on the ‘British Empire’, arriving at Portland, Victoria, on 2 September. They were accompanied by William Blackwood, a cousin of James, together with William’s wife and daughter. James and Hannah settled in Hotspur, in Victoria, where they had a further 10 children.
Hotspur developed as a small settlement on the banks of the Crawford (aka Smokey) River in south-western Victoria in the 1840s. As with many of these early townships, it developed near a creek or river crossing, which provided a major obstacle for early travellers, with their heavy bullock-drawn drays and wagons, and consequently they camped on the banks. Soon one or more inns were constructed to cater for the constant stream of travellers from Portland Bay to the early pastoral runs of the interior, and a settlement was established close to this difficult river crossing point. (Ballarat & District Genealogical Society)
James Blackwood and his family became established in Hotspur, as evidenced by Blackwood’s Road, running some 4 km from the town to a junction with the Condah-Hotspur lower road.
John James and William Thomas were two of the grandsons of James and Hannah Blackwood (their parents were Robert & Agnes Blackwood), and they both served with the Australian Infantry (1st AIF 6th Battalion) in the First World War. William, a private, was killed on 4 October 1917. He is buried at the Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery at plot IV C 11. The cemetery is located on the N336, just over halfway from Leper to Warneton.
(Note: The three family photographs are from the website of a distant relative, Gary Ayton at his web site)
Like many rural settlements in Australia, the local Hotspur community commemorated the involvement of 40 of their young men, who participated in World War 1, by planting an Avenue of Honour. The Hotspur Avenue of Honour is a little unusual in that the trees were native Australian Kurrajong trees, whereas many similar avenues were planted with imported trees such as elms or plane trees. In addition, was erected a Roll of Honour for the 35 who were ex-students of Hotspur State School. The Roll of Honour is now housed in the Community Hall.
The Avenue of Honour began in front of the ‘Rising Sun Hotel’, and each tree
displayed the name of the soldier, the unit in which he served, and the name of the person who planted the tree. Fifteen of the soldiers were killed in service. John Blackwood’s tree was number 7, planted by Miss P. Blackwood and number 27 was that of William Blackwood, planted by Mrs R. Blackwood. The planting ceremony took place on June 2, 1918. In June 2001, The World War 1 Avenue of Honour was restored, with a ceremony to commemorate the 40 soldiers from the district and the unveiling of a new brass plaque with their names, mounted on a large rock.
(Note: The information about Hotspur comes from here)
William and Sarah Blackwood, together with their young daughter, Caroline, accompanied James and his family from Hethel. They eventually settled in Creswick, Victoria, about 18km north of Ballarat. Creswick was a gold mining town, founded only six years earlier at the start of the Victorian gold rush.
Caroline married John William Russell from Boorowa and had the first of their eight children in 1876, at 12 Gardiner Street, Creswick, opposite St. Andrew’s church. Caroline’s last two children, Leila and Richard, both died in their early teens in 1899 and 1903 and this was cited by Bill Russell, one of Caroline’s great grandsons, as the cause of her sudden death ‘of a broken heart’ in 1904. Caroline was outlived by her mother, Sarah Anne, who died in 1916, aged about 86. The house on Gardiner Street has since been demolished.
Much of the information about Caroline and her family came from Bill Russell. He twice visited Hethel and on one of the occasions found an old Blackwood tombstone propped up against the wall of the church. He took a photograph of it, but was not able to remember what he did with it. He also mentioned a portrait of Caroline that used to hang on the wall of her house in Creswick and an obituary of Caroline that appeared in the Crestwick Adviser on 28 June 1904, both of which have also been misplaced.
I do not know when the third sibling, Isaac Blackwood, migrated to Australia and nothing is known of his life until c1873, when he married Susan Simkin, a local girl, in Digby, Victoria. They had four children, three in Digby, and the forth in Ballarat. Isaac died in Portland in 1919.
I lived in Australia for five years, from 1971 to 1976. I left to see something of South and Central America on an extended trip, intending to eventually return. When I do finally get back, one of these days, I want to visit the graveyard in Hotspur and walk along Blackwood’s Road.
I am certain that I will not feel like a stranger there.
I was 42 when I first became a father. To say that the news ‘rocked my boat’ would have been an understatement; it was more like a tsunami hitting me. I had never had any roots, and if any had ever started to sprout, I moved to new pastures. If I ever thought about having children, I would have dismissed it as something that might happen one day, but not just yet. I was a nomad at heart. Some would say I still am.
But I eventually got used to the inevitability of fatherhood, although I could only ever envisage having a daughter. I was never ‘one of the lads’; I loved women and their company. The idea of having a smelly little snot-nosed son did not much appeal.
Eventually ‘launch day’ arrived and the only name for the baby that we had considered was Lucy Ann. If the baby turned out to be a boy, we would cross that bridge when we came to it. At least that was how I remembered it.
So, the baby had no name for the first couple of days, until someone in the hospital suggested the name Andrew, as he was born on Saint Andrew’s Day. I happily agreed and added Douglas, which was my own second name and my mother’s maiden name.
It was not until after a couple of days at home that I was left alone with Andrew, while his mother went grocery shopping. Predictably the door had barely closed, when he evacuated his little bowels, and left me in previously uncharted territory. By the time I had completed the clean-up, he and I were the best of friends and all that winter, during the weekends, he used to lie in my arms, while I watched rugby and other sports on the television.
Then there was Robert Charles, again not a girl, followed by John William, most definitely not a girl. When Philip James was born, the idea of a daughter called Lucy Ann was abandoned; four children under seven is quite a handful in any society, especially when there are no relatives to help out.
So who was Lucy Ann, after whom I had wanted to name a daughter?
Lucy Ann English (1846-1934) was one of my great grandmothers. She was married to William Blackwood of Hethel, about whom I mentioned in a previous article. I have no idea what her name appealed to me, but I loved the sound of it.
She was born and raised in Mulbarton, a few kilometres south-west of Norwich. She had a younger brother, James, born in 1849, but two years later her mother, Lucy, died in Thorpe Lunatic Asylum of an internal hernia. Perhaps it was the result of a difficult birth. Lucy Ann’s father remarried in 1856, but his new wife died less than three years later.
Lucy Ann’s grandfather, James English (1788-1861), lived in the same village with his third wife, the previous two having died. When I was researching this branch of my family many years ago, I was unable to locate James in the 1841 census, but found him in both the 1851 census and that of 1861. It puzzled me, for he was nowhere to be found in the UK. I wondered if he had gone abroad for a few years.
It was not until quite recently that I discovered where he was in 1841. He was not with his wife in Mulbarton for a very good reason. He was in the County Gaol & House of Correction of Norwich Castle. At the Count Session of 30 June, 1841, he was convicted of larceny and sentenced to imprisonment. He was perhaps lucky to have been imprisoned in England, for up until a few years earlier, he might have been transported to a penal colony, such as Australia.
Lucy Ann would have known her grandfather, James. She was 15 when he died. I have no idea if she knew of his imprisonment, but I suspect that, in a small village, it would have been common knowledge.
There are many James in my ancestry, both in England and in Ireland. In his second name, my youngest son carries their memory. Many Australians are proud of having been descended from a convict. In its way, it is a form of inverted snobbery.