One of the ambitions of the Heritage team volunteers in their research project into the names recorded on the War Memorial in the Cemetery was to create a whole picture of each individual serviceman, so that they are more than just a sad inscription on a memorial. All of these men had lives before they enlisted – even if some of these lives were very short – they all had families and many left children behind when they died.
All of the Heritage volunteers are really hoping that, as part of this research process we will actually find photographs of the servicemen. Many thousands of service men would have had an ‘official’ photograph taken by a professional photographer either before leaving the UK or once they were in Belgium or France. Proudly wearing their uniform, they would sometimes have the photograph taken with a family member, their wife or girl-friend, a brother also in uniform or a child they were leaving behind.
Newspapers regularly reported on their local men who had enlisted, including a photograph where possible, as a way of encouraging more men to sign up. Sadly, many reports from families announcing the death of a son, father or brother might also include a photograph. These final images would become a treasured possession.
So far we have only been able to locate the photograph of one of our service men.
Stoker 1st Class Peter Mason was born on 13th August 1891. He was one of the 9 children (only five of whom were alive by the 1911 census) of Thomas and Sarah Mason who lived in Stepney and Mile End. Peter was working as a store repairer in the gasworks in the 1911 census and his widowed mother is supporting the household by working as trouser finisher, despite being 62 years of age. Peter’s father also worked in the gas works (in the 1901 census) as a labourer and it is probable that he helped his son obtain his job.
Peter enlisted on the 8th June 1915 in the Royal Navy, Chatham. He served on board six different ships, including the shore base at HMS Pembroke. His last ship was HMS Victorious, one of nine Majestic-class pre-dreadnought battleships, which ended her war service as a repair ship for the Grand Fleet. Peter died of pneumonia on 12th November 1918 at the age of 27 years. He left a widow, Emmie, living at 16 Bale Street (a couple of doors down from Number 28 where he had been living with his mother in 1911). The couple had one daughter, Rose Nell, who was born on 6th November 1918. Peter never met his baby daughter. He is buried in Grave Nu 1517 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
It would be wonderful if we could find other pictures of the War Memorial men so please do get in touch if you have any memorabilia you would like to share with the Heritage research volunteers. Our email is email@example.com
The photograph of Peter and his Jack Russell dog is available on www.bbc.co.uk/remembrance/wall/. It was uploaded by Peter’s great grand-daughter.
Our ‘Hidden Histories’ project is all coming along really nicely ! Several new and very enthusiastic volunteers have joined the research team and have been given some basic training to get them started on the all-consuming hobby of ‘soldier researching’. They probably don’t quite realise what they have let themselves in for !
Starting with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site, the volunteers have then been busy accessing the individual servicemen’s service records, pension records, census details, birth/baptism/marriage certificates and other valuable sources available on Ancestry, findmypast etc.
As part of the project, we are also in the process of ordering the death certificates of all 206 servicemen from www.gro.gov.uk. While the basic details of the serviceman’s death can be found on CWGC, the death certificates gives valuable additional information:
- cause of death – which can include details of injuries and their final illness
- the location where the serviceman died – these can include various hospitals and other buildings requisitioned for war use (schools and stately homes)
- the person registering the death was usually a medical personnel but sometimes a family member was present with the serviceman
Many of our casualties did not actually die as a direct result of injuries sustained on the battlefield. Illness, especially tuberculosis and influenza, struck the servicemen, already weakened by the deprivations of the Western Front, very hard.
Our servicemen are buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park because they died ‘at home’ – either locally or elsewhere in the UK and were returned to Mile End for burial. Servicemen who died abroad were all buried in the War Grave Commission cemeteries especially designed for the purpose. Some of our THCP men were shipped home from the Western Front to hospitals in the UK where they sadly later died of their wounds. Some died in accident or in one case in an attack by the IRA after the end of the war.
The volunteers will be researching the hospitals linked to the THCP servicemen – such as the Royal Naval Hospital, an existing pre-war military hospital at Haslar (Gosport) or Nethercroft Hospital, Ramsgate. It would be interesting to find out if any of our local women worked as nurses in these hospitals.
The Hidden Histories project is still looking for extra volunteers – no previous experience needed – to help with our research. All the information will be available on our website and will be published in a booklet later in the year.
Please get in touch if you would like to help research one of the names on the War Memorial. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org We would also really like to hear from anyone who is related to one of the men and maybe has memorabilia to share with our research team.
Please check out the individual servicemen’s pages on the web-site where individual stories of the servicemen will be regularly added and updated.
In the 1911 census 15 Grenade Street, Limehouse was a sub-divided, 2 household home. Living in 5 rooms were head of the household 41 year old James Cappaert, his 41 year old wife Hannah and their 7 children; Hannah 20, James 18, Fred 15, William 12, Ethel 10, Louie 6 and Joseph just 1 year old. James senior was a dustman working for Stepney Borough Council having previously been a carman (a deliveryman driving a horse-drawn cart), daughter Hannah was a packer in a granary, James and Fred were labourers in a ‘custard works’ while William, Ethel and Louie were all at school.
Living in the other room in the house were 21 year old Charles Alfred Cappaert, a packer in a ‘custard works’ and his recently married wife 21 year old Mary. They had no children in 1911 when the census was compiled.
Charles and William were both baptised at St Peter’s Church, Garford Street and both attended Northern Street School (later renamed Cyril Jackson School). Charles was admitted aged 2 on 24th March 1892 while William joined the school at the more advanced age of 4 on August 25th 1902. In 1892 the family was actually living on Northern Street, at Number 40 but by 1902 they had moved to 37 Gill Street.
In 1911 Charles, a packer at a custard works might have worked at C and E Morton’s factory on Morton’s Bonded Sufferance Wharf on the dockside at Limehouse. Morton’s was famous for its preserved jams and jellies but it also produced custard. During WW1 it was one of the principal suppliers of canned food for the Armed Forces. The factory on Cuba Street off the South Dock was a short 15 minute walk from the family’s 1911 home on Grenade Street.
Charles Alfred enlisted on 2.9.1915 as a Gunner in the Royal Horse and Filed Artillery, B Battalion 75th Division. On 4th September 1915 this Division joined with the Guard Division and saw action during the Battle of the Menin Road (20th– 25th September 1917), Poelcapelle (9th October 1917) and the 1st Battle of Passchendaele (12th October 1917). All of these took place near the pivotal town of Ypres, around which so much intensive fighting took place.
Charles died on 27-10-1917 and is buried at the Canada Farm Cemetery, Elverdinge, Belgium. The farmhouse at the site near Ypres was used as a dressing station during the 1917 offensive and most of the 907 burials in the Cemetery are of men who died at the station between June and October 1917.
William Henry, Charles’ younger brother by 8 years, enlisted at the age of 18 in London. He attested on 2-6-1916, joined on the 8th and formally enlisted on 24-11-1916. He joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment as a Private, was transferred to the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry on 1-7-1917 and transferred again on 17-7-1917 to the Devonshire Regiment Cyclist Battalion.
The Battalion was based in Exeter and during 1914-16 was stationed along various parts of the east coast of England from Scarborough to Sussex, defending the coastal ports and sea defences. Members of the Battalion helped rescue survivors of the hospital ship ‘Rohilla’ sunk off Scarborough (November 1914) and were present when the German fleet bombarded Hartlepool (December 1914). Men were sent overseas but the Battalion remained stationed in the UK and according to his medal record card William did not see action on the continent.
Following the Armistice and the long awaited end to hostilities along the Western Front, William remained in uniform until he was discharged on 1-1-1918 as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’. William had apparently been a long-time sufferer of ‘choroiditis’ which is an eye disease causing inflammation of the retina and results in white dots in the posterior inner part of the eye. The condition had been ‘aggravated by service during the present war’ and his medical records state that he been a bugler for 2 years which had caused vitreous haemorrhages.
William died just over a month after his discharge on 14-2-1919 and he was buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. He is one of the men commemorated on the War Memorial.
Of the two other brothers of an age to have enlisted, James (b. 1893) apparently did not serve in the regular armed service. Fred (b. 1896) did enlist, serving in the Royal Field Artillery and surviving the conflict. His medal card states that he served in France from 28-11-1915.
Remembrance Sunday was bright and suitably autumnal as local residents, politicians, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Scouts, Army Cadets and even two beautifully behaved police horses remembered the men and women who have died in conflicts across the globe since the Great War.
While the focus of the Cemetery Park’s heritage volunteers for the last year has been researching the World War 1 servicemen, the War Memorial also commemorates men and women who died during WW1, including two sailors of the Netherland Royal Navy and two Chinese crewmen. Sadly the Great War was not ‘the war to end all wars’ as many believed at the dawn of the last century.
The Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Remembrance Service is always a family event, and the youngsters were very enthusiastic about helping to attach military caps representing the 205 WW1 men to the railings of the Soanes Centre. Hopefully these will be a gentle reminder of the men’s sacrifice to walkers in the Cemetery Park throughout the month of November. The youngsters also placed the traditional small wooden crosses into the boxes on the Memorial. While researching the WW1 men, using census returns to trace their family background, one recurring theme has been the number of children who were brought up by their widowed mother following their father’s death. Although the Services paid a dependant’s pension, it would have been a difficult time for thousands of families.
After the observation of the 2 minutes silence at the 11th hour and the laying of the scarlet poppy wreaths, the ceremony was concluded at the memorial to the civilian war dead of Poplar. During both WW1 and WW2 the East End suffered devastating air raids from Zeppelins, doodlebugs and the Luftwaffe. The bricks used to create the civilian war memorial were collected from the bombed-out homes of countless families bombed out during WW2.
The afternoon was rounded off with the obligatory cup of tea, biscuits and a catch-up chat with other Friends and heritage volunteers.
Two of the 205 WW1 soldiers lost their lives exactly 100 years ago on 11-11-1918. Somehow it seems even more tragic to lose your life on Armistice Day while the rest of Europe was celebrating the end of the conflict.
Alfred William Carr enlisted at Stratford as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. In the 1911 census he is living at 47 Turner’s Road, Burdett Road, Limehouse with his wife Catherine nee Clackett. They had been married at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green on 29th January 1911 and in the register Alfred is described as a machinist. On the 1911 census his occupation is given as ‘shoddy grinder’. While this sounds more like a harsh comment on the standard of his work – it was actually a type of Edwardian recycling. Inferior quality (and therefore cheaper) wool was made by shredding wool scraps into fibres and mixing them with a small amount of new wool.
In 1918 Alfred was stationed at Inchmickery Battery on the Forth River as part of the Forth Defence Garrison. He died on 11-11-1918 at Edinburgh Castle Hospital. He left a widow but no children. The details for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record that living with Alfred’s widow at 34 Russia Lane, Bethnal Green, was the widow of Charles William Clackett, who having returned from Montreal Canada in November 1914, died ‘on or since’ 21-3-1918. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, along with 34,785 men of the fighting on the Somme who have no known grave. The sisters-in-law were clearly dealing with their tragic losses together.
Bert Rowe Pickhaver served in the 17th London Regiment and the 69th Royal Defence Corps. He was born in Limehouse and in the 1911 census he is described as a 14 year old who has just left school. He was living at 17 Robeson Street, Turner Road, Mile End with his parents – James, a wood chopper, Eliza a ‘trouser finisher’ and his older sister Eliza Phoebe, who was a ‘tailoring presser’.
Age 21 years, Bert died at the Colchester General Hospital of influenza on 11-11-1918. His widow Harriet, whom he had married at Halstead, Essex in the September quarter of 1918, remarried on 27th September 1919 at Birdbrook Church near Halstead. Her second husband was Albert Edward Whipps who had served since 30th March 1916 in the Suffolk Regiment.
Between the Belgian town of Gheluvelt and Bass Wood, on the west side of a row of ‘pillboxes’, 36 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell during the winter of 1917-18 were interred in a small temporary cemetery. The typical British ‘Tommy’ was fond of re-naming parts of these foreign fields after more familiar places back home, often because the original French or Flemish name was totally unpronounceable to them. The area of the Western Front near Ypres had been renamed by the British as ‘Tower Hamlets’.
After the Armistice the 36 men were exhumed and re-interred in the Hooge Crater Cemetery alongside 2,310 other casualties of the War.
While the conflict was still raging across the battlefields it was simply too dangerous and impractical to do anything beyond retrieve the bodies of the casualties when it was possible and bury them in the most convenient location nearby. Local churchyards were often used. Others were not retrieved as the ever present mud deposited by subsequent shell blasts would have hidden them.
Naturally the military authorities were more than aware of the urgent necessity to deal with the problem of decently burying the casualties. Nothing could be more disheartening or distressing to the fighting men than seeing the unburied dead around them. This became a serious issue during the winter of 1916 around Beaumont Hamel and soldiers returning home to Britain, injured or on leave, were complaining about the situation.
Initially it was thought that each Division should be responsible for the burial of their own men but as this would entail soldiers burying friends, brothers and cousins, which would be deeply distressing and might cause problems when a Division suffered heavy casualties and was then withdrawn from the front line, it was decided that separate burial parties would be detailed with the task.
At Tower Hamlets Lieutenant H. Knee was in charge of the detail who buried the 36 men who died during the winter. Orders had been received over the procedure to follow which included taking any personal items such as pay books, letters and watches from the soldiers and carefully storing them in small white bags which were to be securely tied and one of the identity tags attached. The other tag remained with the soldier. Lieutenant Knee described it as a ‘gruesome task’.
Once the Armistice came into effect on November 11th and the decision was made to not repatriate the bodies of the fallen, plans were put into place to rebury the casualties. The main priority was identified as the exhumation of approximately 160,000 isolated graves, followed by the concentration of smaller cemeteries into the larger ones we are so familiar with today and finally to locate and identify the estimated half a million ‘missing in action’. Details were decided at a conference on November 18th 1918 and the work began just three days later.
The work was physically demanding, especially when the weather deteriorated with frost eventually calling a halt to the efforts of the retrieval parties. It took 5 or 6 men to retrieve an individual body, transport it to the new cemetery and then rebury the soldier. Later this was increased to 9 men. Other difficulties resulted from the fact that burial spot were inaccurately marked and no graves were actually found at the spot indicated. The burial parties were told to look for rifles or a simple stake placed in the ground to mark a burial or discolouration in the grass or earth.
Volunteers were recruited from the different Divisions and were paid an extra 2 shillings and 6 pence a day. The Canadians offered to clear the Albert and Courcelette areas as well as Vimy Ridge, the Australians took responsibility for Pozieres and Villers Bretonneux while the British initially searched the Aisne and Marne areas for the dead of 1914 before the French took over.
In 1921 at Tower Hamlets a soldiers was found but the burial party was unable to identify him despite a careful search which involved ‘boots scraped and a coloured silk handkerchief examined’. The body was taken to the Hooge Crater Cemetery and interred under the direction of the Registration Officer.
By October 8th 1921 all military personnel involved in the exhumations had been demobilised and returned home. Bodies of servicemen have continued to be found, usually by the French and Belgian farmers cultivating the area, up until this year. In July 2016 Lance Corporal John Morrison of the 1st Battalion Black Watch was re-interred with full military honours at Woburn Abbey Cemetery, Cuinchy near Arras. He had been killed, aged 29, while trying to assist a wounded officer on 25th January 1915. His identify was confirmed from a service number engraved on a spoon found with him and a DNA test of potential family members.
It is quite likely that the remains of other casualties of the Great War will continue to be retrieved from fields in France and Belgium. Sadly some will never be identified or even found and will be commemorated solely as a name on a memorial.
The women of the East End have always been remarkably strong characters. Life could be hard, work was demanding, living conditions cramped and basic, health could be precarious and life could be short. Women in particular suffered while they tried to combine running a household, earning a supplementary wage, being regularly pregnant and dealing with the emotional upheaval of the loss of a child.
Having endured these difficult times, women at the start of the 20th century then had to endure the added trauma of sending their husbands and sons (and sometimes their daughters) off to serve in the Great War. Almost every household would have known friends and neighbours who received dreadful news via a telegram, but while sympathising and grieving with their loss of a husband, son or brother, people couldn’t help being grateful that it wasn’t THEIR husband, son or brother. Some families were in the unimaginable position of going through this horrendous ordeal on more than one occasion. Jane Bastick was the mother of 13 children who survived into adulthood and 8 of her sons are believed to have enlisted in the armed forces.
Jane was born in Bethnal Green in 1853, the daughter of Barnard Dickenson, a licensed victualler in Shoreditch. Her father died when she was about 3 years old. Following her marriage to Thomas Bastick at St Jude’s church Bethnal Green on 6th April 1874, Jane gave birth to her first child, Clara Jane, in 1875 and this was followed by a child every two years until her last son was born in 1898. Nine sons and five daughters altogether, with all except Jane Mary (1879-85) surviving into adulthood.
Census returns have the family living at 4 James Street Shoreditch, 6 John Street Shoreditch, 5 St John’s Terrace Shoreditch and finally in 1911 at 23 Fuller Street Bethnal Green. In 1911 Jane’s youngest son and her granddaughter are school children while all of the rest of the family are earning a wage to help support the family. Only the eldest son, Thomas aged 34 years, does not have an occupation as he had paralysis. He was to die in 1914. Jane’s husband was a cabinet maker while their children were a metal polisher, a labourer, a button maker, a porter, a carman and an errand boy.
Four of the Bastick brothers served in WW1. George Frederick served as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery. He contracted tuberculosis while serving in 1916 and was invalided home with a pension of 15/-. He died aged 34 and is buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
Frederick enlisted in the 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, serving in the Expeditionary Force in France. He was wounded in the thigh and also discharged with a pension in 1916.
Frank Ernest enlisted in the regular army on 26-6-23 with the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment and served for four years. His enlistment papers state that he had previously served in the Royal Fusiliers.
Alfred Charles served in the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment and died in the Gallipoli Campaign aged 21 on 8-5-15. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.
Albert enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment when he was 14 in 1907 and other brothers are believed served but their records are proving more elusive! It is possible that all 8 brothers served at some point.
After the war, Thomas died in Bethnal Green in 1919 and Jane finally passed away in Whitechapel in 1936 aged 83 years. The Bastick family illustrate the immense sacrifices ordinary people made during the Great War.
Is it just me or are our heritage volunteers getting younger and younger ???
Recently 8 year old Violet and her mum and dad visited Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park where some of their more distant relatives are buried. Violet in particular became fascinated by the cemetery and quickly proved that she is quite an expert at reading some of the more difficult, badly worn inscriptions. Probably helped by her very young eyes ! She even came across one inscription with her name on it which really impressed her.
The whole family are very interested in researching their own family history, especially Violet’s great grand-father who fought in both the World Wars, tragically losing his life in the Second. Violet is helping her dad sort out the information about their ancestor’s life and it will hopefully be made into a book.
Violet has created a beautiful and very carefully researched display board commemorating the Battle of the Somme. It took a lot of hard work to research the ideas and the pictures on the Internet – the part Violet enjoyed the most ! Including faded, old looking paper and the luggage tags made the over-all design fit in perfectly with the 1916 date of the Somme.
Violet enjoyed the project so much that she is keen to take on more research and she will be choosing one of the 205 men commemorated on the Cemetery War Memorial who died in the Great War. She thinks she will chose one of the older men because there will be more to find out about his life and his family before he went off to the War.
Violet will be doing some more research for us over the summer holiday as well as visiting some of her favourite historical places, including Hampton Court Palace and reading lots of Horrible History books.
The Battle of the Somme, fought in northern France, was one of the bloodiest of World War One. Over five months the British and French fought the Germans in a battle of attrition on a 15-mile front. The aim was to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun but the Allies were unable to break through German lines. Over one million men were killed or wounded on all sides.
The Battle of the Somme started on July 1st 1916 and lasted until November 1916. For many people, this was the battle that symbolised the horrors of warfare in World War One. This one battle had a marked effect on overall casualty figures and seemed to epitomise the futility of trench warfare.
The Battle at the Somme started with a week-long artillery bombardment of the German lines. 1,738,000 shells were fired at the Germans with the intension that the artillery guns would destroy the German trenches and barbed wire placed in front of the trenches.
In fact, the Germans had deep dugouts for their men and all they had to do when the bombardment started was to move these men into the relative safety of the dugouts. When the bombardment stopped, the Germans would have known that this would have been the signal for an infantry advance. They then moved from the safety of their dugouts and manned their machine guns to face the British and French. The British soldiers advanced across a 25-mile front.
By the end of the battle, in November 1916, the British had nearly 420,000 dead, missing or wounded, the French nearly 200,000 men and the Germans 500,000. The Allied forces had advanced along a thirty-mile strip that was seven miles deep at its widest. Lord Kitchener was a supporter of the theory of attrition – that eventually you would grind down your enemy and they would have to yield. He saw the military success of the battle as all-important. However, it did have dire political and social consequences in Britain. Many spoke of the “lost generation”, finding it difficult to justify the number of men lost in the advance.
One of our soldiers commemorated on the War Memorial fought on the Somme and is recorded on the Somme Roll of Honour. Rifleman Alfred John Jones served in the 7th Rifle Brigade and died of wounds on 30th August 1916 aged 30. Rifleman Jones’s parents Alfred and Ellen lived at Old Ford Road, Mile End. When he attested in London on May 5th 1915, Alfred stated that he was a tunneller and he was married with one child. He joined his regiment in Winchester on May 6th and must have embarked for France very shortly after this. On 23rd August 1916 he was invalided back to England with gunshot wounds to his head, arm and leg. After 8 days of treatment at Netley Hospital, Rifleman Jones died on 30th August. His service medal was sent to his widow Mrs E Allwater at 65 Druffield Street, Roman Road in July 1921.
While Rifleman Jones died back in the UK, other local men never returned from the Somme battlefields.
The children of Hettie Ayres buried their mother in the Cemetery in November 1929 and on the headstone they also recorded the loss of their father 13 years earlier. Walter James Ayres had been killed in action in France on 27th September 1916 aged 38 years. He is buried in Contalmaison Chateau Cemetery in Picardy. Private Ayres had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and would have been involved in collecting the wounded from the battlefield and treating them there and in the military hospitals. Considering the dreadful number of killed and wounded this must have been a truly awful and dangerous task.
In the 1911 census Walter Ayres is the licensed victualler running the Lord Palmerston pub at 74 Staines Road, Hounslow with his wife Hettie, three sons aged 9, 8, and 1 and a 5 year old daughter. He was helped in the pub by two barmen. Following the loss of her husband Hettie moved to 62 St Ann’s Road, Burdett Road Bow.
Also commemorated on his family’s grave in the Cemetery is Corporal Herbert Pickering who enlisted at Cockspur Street on May 4th 1915. At the time he was living at 122 Sixth Avenue, Manor Park. In the 1911 census he is living at 148 High Street Poplar with his wife and two children. His profession is given as an ‘extract of coffee’ maker. He enlisted in the Middlesex Regiment, originally serving in the 16th Battalion Duke of Cambridge’s Own but on 25th April 1916 he was transferred to the 86th Brigade in the 29th Division. Herbert embarked for the Front on 17th November 1915 and served 227 days until, on the first day of the Somme offensive, July 1st 1916, he was killed in action at the Battle of Albert. His body was never recovered. When his will passed probate on 1st June 1917 his death is given as ‘on or since’ 1st July 1916. Under the provisions of his will, his widow Rosie Emily received £200. Herbert Pickering is commemorated on the Thiepval Monument, for men who have no know grave
Last Sunday our Heritage volunteer day was a particularly enjoyable one and not just because of the fabulous tea and cake to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Several of our ‘new’ and some ‘not so new’ WW1 research volunteers called in to catch up with their ongoing research into the 205 men recorded on the War Memorial. All the surviving service records have been researched, which gives a fuller picture of the men’s experiences during the Great War. These records provide a range of basic details such as when and where they enlisted, how they were transferred between regiments as the War progressed and units were decimated by the fighting and the cause of their untimely death. They can also be a touching source of family detail and even personal detail such as hair and eye colour.
While the WW1 project is definitely occupying the lion’s share of our time and energy, we are still continuing with the usual grave recording and researching. So, as well as organising the next stage of the WW1 project we were really pleased to welcome two visitors who had travelled all the way from Ohio, USA, to locate a family grave in the Cemetery Park.
Simon and his mother were on holiday in the UK and they had planned a visit to Tower Hamlets Cemetery park to try and locate the grave of a distant relative who died as a small child. Luckily they had the relevant grave number but, despite Simon and four of the Heritage team manfully clambering through, under and around various clumps of early summer undergrowth, we could only locate the near location of the grave. The small public grave headstone is no longer there. Simon was more than satisfied to have come so close to a part of his family heritage.
The Battle of Jutland was the last major battle in world history to be fought mainly by battleships. On May 31-June 1st 1916 151 British and 99 German ships blasted shells and torpedoes at each other near the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. By the end of the engagement 6,094 British servicemen and 2,551 German had been killed with another 674 and 507 wounded. On the British side 3 battleships, 3 armoured cruisers and 8 destroyers had been lost – over 113,000 tons of valuable shipping. Both sides claimed victory – the German fleet has contained in the North Sea but the British lost significantly more ships and twice as many men.
HMS ‘Queen Mary’ had been part of the 5th Battle Squadron which had been tracking the German Scouting group. Travelling south at roughly 14,000m parallel to each other, the battle-cruisers engaged in the opening phase of the action, The ‘Run for the South’.
At 16.25 HMS ‘Queen Mary’ was hit by a combined salvo from ‘Derfflinger’ and ‘Seydlitz’. Both forward magazines exploded, sinking the ship with all except 9 of her 1,275 crew. A gunner officer aboard the ‘Derfflinger’ recorded
‘A vivid red flame shot up from her forepart; then came an explosion forward, following by a much heavier explosion amidships. Immediately afterwards she blew up with a terrific explosion, the mast collapsed inwards and the smoke hiding everything.’
Geoffrey Bennett ‘Naval Battles of the First World War’
One of the 1,266 men who died aboard the ‘Queen Mary’ was 18 year old Gilbert Henry Batchelor from Bromley-by-Bow, a Private in the Royal Marines Light Infantry who is remembered on his family’s grave in the Cemetery.
Geography could play a significant part in deciding which service or regiment a man would join. Men from counties like Devon or Hampshire would often enlist in the Navy or the Marines due to the seafaring tradition in those areas and because of the large naval bases at Portsmouth and Plymouth. The Batchelor family, originally from the south of England is a perfect example of this trend. Gilbert Henry was the middle son of Ernest and Edith Batchelor who originally came from near Stonehenge, Wiltshire. Ernest enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 2nd April 1889 around 6 years before marrying Edith. In the 1901 census the family is recorded as living at Alexandra Street, Alverstoke. Ernest is a sergeant in the Royal Marines and there are two sons; George aged 4 and Gilbert aged 2.
By 1911 the family has extend with an additional son, Alfred Frederick aged 7. Edith, who is recorded as the head of the household with her husband on board a ship somewhere, states that she has been married for 16 years and had had three children, all of them alive. The oldest son, Ernest aged 14, was employed as a grocer’s assistant. Their given address is the Royal Marine Barracks, Forton, Alverstoke in Gosport. The residents there are all the wives and children of serving men who are living in the married quarters which had been added to the barracks in the 1890’s.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Gilbert enlisted into the Royal Marine, Portsmouth Division in London on April 15th 1915, 5 days after his 17th birthday. He died when the ‘Queen Mary’ sank off the coast of Denmark. Just four months after Gilbert’s death, his older brother Ernest also died, in September 1916 at the age of 20. The youngest of the three brothers survived until 1963, dying at the age of 59 in Christchurch, Hampshire. The family grave is in Square 50 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and although Gilbert is not interred here, he is remembered in the inscription. He is also commemorated in the inscription on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Southsea
For those ‘who laid down their lives in the defence of the Empire and have no other grave than the sea.’
As part of our ongoing Heritage Lottery funded WW1 Hidden Histories project, the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Heritage Volunteer Team have had the pleasant task of training new project volunteers. These ‘newbies’ have all been inspired by the project launch back in February and are keen to help out by researching the lives of some of the 205 men commemorated on the Cemetery’s War Memorial. A variety of on-line sources, the National Archive and local record offices will be used to provide invaluable information about the men’s service careers and other genealogical web-sites will build up a fuller picture of their home lives, their family and the life they left behind when they enlisted in the Great War.
Hopefully during the research process people will find that their families have personal memorabilia – letters, photographs etc – which they will share with the Heritage Team.
Some of the volunteers are researching a member of their own family who is buried in the Cemetery. Others are following up on a theme which particularly interests them such as a specific regiment in the Army, someone who lived near their home or simply a name or an occupation which sounds interesting.
The aim of the project is to build up a whole picture of each serviceman – as a man who was more than just a service number and a name on the War Memorial. The untimely death of each man had a profound impact on his home community as well as his own family.
If anyone would like to help out with the research, please contact the Heritage Team. We can help you with some training and the best places to start.
Members of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Heritage team, who are currently busy researching the servicemen commemorated on the War Memorial, are also supporting other like-minded history buffs in the local area.
Bow Church History Day was the perfect opportunity to catch up with people involved in other research projects, share information, discuss avenues to explore and enjoy a sociable cup of tea!
One of the key aspects of the research project is to highlight the fact that all 205 men commemorated on the WW1 plaques had a life beyond that of being a serviceman. The majority, who were old enough, had an occupation in the local community before they joined up which was put on hold when they enlisted. They also left behind family and friends whose everyday life was permanently altered by their absence and subsequent permanent loss. We are hoping to build up a picture of each man’s whole life – even if it was only a tragically short 17 or 18 years.
The Heritage team are going to build as complete a picture of each individual as we possibly can through researching various sources – the London Metropolitan Archive, the National Archive at Kew, Bancroft Road and the wealth of on-line sources which are currently becoming available
The Team is also really hoping the descendants and families of each service man will be able to share any memories or memorabilia that they have with us. It would be wonderful to have picture to put with the names of these men who made the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country.
YOUR CEMETERY NEEDS YOU
Please get in touch if you can help in any way or if you would like to help research one of the 205 names on the War Memorial.
Saturday saw the absolutely brilliant launch day for the Tower Hamlets
Funded by a generous £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Heritage volunteer are undertaking a project to research the 205 servicemen commemorated on the eleven plaques on the War Memorial. All of these men died during the 1914-18 Great War and, unusually for Commonwealth War servicemen, are buried in the cemetery.
To raise the profile of this major heritage project, the Friends held a series of talks based around the theme of WWI and its impact on the local area along with help and advice on how to research your family’s involvement in this historic period. Over 150 people called in to find out about the project and one of the talks was so popular it had to be re-run because we couldn’t fit everyone into the room ! And we were worried no-one would turn up !!! The Commonwealth War Graves Commission talk was particularly interesting because it explained how the beautiful Cemeteries built after the end of the conflict were designed.
The Soanes Centre was also full to overflowing with memorabilia
and local history stalls along with art work. Three splendid individuals from ‘Tommy 14/18 Great War Living History Enthusiasts’ decked out in authentic WWI military dress showed visitors both replica and original memorabilia including a reproduction of the ‘Wipers Times’ newspaper from the trenches at Ypres.
The day was certainly a real success for the heritage team as a number of people linked to named individuals on the War Memorial talked to us about treasured items and memories that they have of related to these family members. Several people also offered to help with the research project as we try and develop a whole picture of these men’s lives before and during the war.
As more and more keen amateur genealogists, military historians and local researches become interested in the 100th anniversary of the Great War, an increasing number of invaluable sources are becoming available online and at local record offices.
The most obvious place to begin researching a particular individual casualty of WW1 is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission The man’s service number is particularly useful, especially if the name is a very common one – Smiths and Jones’ will appreciate this ! Additional detail might also include names and addresses of parents, siblings and wife.
The 1911 census returns will list the occupations, birth places and full names of the family. The number of children born and the number currently alive are also recorded. It is then possible to research whether brothers served in the War and whether they survived. The family can hopefully be traced back through the census as far as 1841 and links can be made with weddings recorded in local parishes. London is particularly well documented in this respect and the records can provide addresses of the happy couple along with the groom’s and the respective fathers’ occupations.
Every service man had a detailed record kept from his attestation papers through his service record to his pension payment. The originals of these documents are kept at the National Archive at Kew Some of these are available from online research site but many were destroyed during the 2nd World War. For the ones which survived, the information is amazingly detailed, from the man’s height and eye colour, the date they joined, their transfer between regiments or ships, promotions and even offences they may have committed and the resulting punishment.
Some of the records can include quite detailed and distressing information about the serviceman’s death. Our Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park men all died ‘at home’ which does not actually mean they died at their family’s home but is a term to distinguish those who died in Britain rather than in action or abroad.
With the date of death the researcher can use Freebmd to find the relevant information about the death certificate issued for each casualty and with the relevant year and quarter and the registration district a copy of the certificate can be ordered from the General Register Office.
Some detailed diaries have survived from different regiments and although these rarely mention any of the rank and file, they can give valuable detail about the regiments movements, their participation in specific battle and their allocation of troops.
Using these different sources it is easy to become ‘hooked’ on tracking down the life story behind a name on a monument. If you would like to research one of the 205 names on the Tower Hamlet Cemetery Park War Memorial please get in touch with the heritage team.
The declaration of War against Germany in August 1914 was greeted with almost universal approval across Britain. The conflict was seen as just and thousands of men joined the long queues to sign up. One of the reasons for this enthusiasm was the firmly held belief that the war would be over by Christmas and that if the enthusiastic young men did not get themselves over to Europe soon the whole thing would be over and they would have missed out. This probably changed when reports started coming back from the Front detailing the heavy losses and train loads of severely wounded servicemen arrived back to receive treatment, especially after the Battle of Mons.
Famously, over Christmas 1914 a number of widespread but unofficial ceasefires ‘broke-out’ along the Western Front. French, German and British soldiers crossed No Man’s Land, exchanged seasonal greetings, chatted and shared their food. Joint burial ceremonies were organised and prisoners swapped while several meetings ended with carol singing. Games of football were played and the whole affair must have been surprisingly convivial, considering the gruesome battle ravaged surroundings.
The Christmas truces were not so widespread the following year due partially to strongly worded orders from the high command of both sides forbidding fraternisation. The war had also become more bitter during 1915 after the horrors of the Somme and Verdun and the use of poison mustard gas.
Every soldier, sailor and airman received an embossed brass gift box presented by the Princess Mary Gift Fund containing a variety of items including tobacco, chocolate, a Christmas card and a photo of the royal family. £162,000 was raised through public donations to fund this scheme. These boxes became treasures possessions and, once empty, were used to store letters and photographs from home.
Tragically the war was not ‘all over by Christmas but would drag on through three more long, hard years.
Every November Remembrance Day is special, but somehow the last two, coming in the middle of the 100th anniversary of the Great War, seem to hold even more significance. As we lose the last of the generation who fought in the ‘war to end all wars’ it is becoming increasingly important to record and preserve the memories of events which shaped our world.
Sunday November 8th was a particularly busy day at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as over 200 people attended the annual Remembrance Day service held at the War Memorial. Local people, councillors, Friends of the Cemetery Park, Scout and Army Cadets all took time out from their busty weekends to commemorate the sacrifice of a previous generation.
Two years into the national commemoration of the 17 million men and women who gave their lives during World War I, it was particularly poignant to read the names of the 205 men, some of them tragically young recorded on the 11 WWI plaques on the War Memorial. Every one was a special life and every one was loved and mourned by their family and friends, from the youngest, 16 year old G. W Ellerbeck who died on 21-11-18 to Rifleman B Pickhaver who died on the last day of the conflict, 11-11-1918.
After a short service and the traditional laying of the scarlet poppy wreaths, a large group strolled through the autumn trees to the civilian War Memorial which commemorates local people killed during Zeppelin raids, the Blitz and other incidents which brought the full horrors of modern warfare all too close to home.
Although the day was a really sombre reminder of the lives lost during any conflict, it was also a thoughtful way for the current generation to show that they value the sacrifice of a previous one.