Sunday, 29 April 2012

Dorothy Lucy Bagley 1895-1940 - A Widow's Story

A while ago I related the sad story of my great uncle, James Ivanhoe Cullip, who survived the Great War only to die one week after his wedding in 1918 from the Spanish Flu pandemic. I was intrigued as to what became of his widow, Dorothy.

One can only imagine the range of emotions that she must have endured at the time. From the elation of her wedding in the local parish church, where they lived in East Finchley, London, through the worry that she would have felt when her new husband fell ill, to the incredible shock when death took him from her, and the subsequent grief of widowhood.

But evidence shows that she did pull through this dreadful time, as three years later she was to remarry. Her new husband was Alfred Walter Chappell, and I was surprised to see that they were married in Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. The reason for my surprise was that Sawbridgeworth was the village where my grandfather, Nathaniel Joe Stracey, came from. He had moved to London in the first decade of the twentieth century and in 1916 married my grandmother, Esther May Cullip, the sister of James Ivanhoe. The Cullips originally hailed from Tempsford in Bedfordshire; they had had no connection with Sawbridgeworth except through my grandfather. So to see the widow of my great uncle getting married in Sawbridgeworth immediately sparked my interest and a desire to know more.

My first port of call was the 1901 census for Sawbridgeworth. On running a search for Alfred Chappell I was amazed to see that he lived next door to my 9-year old grandfather, Nathaniel Joe, in Bell Street. Alfred was 5 years old. Were they childhood friends? My instincts tell me they were.

The 1901 Sawbridgeworth census showing my grandfather,
Joe Stracey, living next door to Alfred Chappell.

I don't know where Dorothy lived following the death of James Ivanhoe. She may have returned to her parent's home, a few streets away from her new relations, or she may have moved in to what should have been the marital home with her father and mother-in-law. In any case, in this close-knit community where everybody knew everyone else, and to some extent, was related to everyone else, there would have been much contact between Dorothy and her new family. I believe that after Nathaniel Joe returned home from the war he probably had a visit from his old friend Alfred Chappell and introductions were made. This was a new beginning for Dorothy as, on Christmas Eve 1921, she married Alfred and they went on to have three children together.

But this isn't the end of Dorothy's story. Whilst researching Dorothy's death date, I was shocked to discover that her death was registered in 1940, just nine years after the birth of her third child. Why had she died at such a relatively young age? After further investigation, I discovered that Dorothy was one of five people who had been killed on the night of 10th October 1940 as a result of 'enemy action'. It was the height of the Blitz, and with Sawbridgeworth being so close to London, it appeared that a German bomber had dropped its load on Sawbridgeworth resulting in the deaths of two women and three young children. Three houses in Cambridge Road, where Dorothy lived, were to take the full force of the blast. Dorothy, who lived at number 108, was killed, along with a 10 year old girl who was staying with her at the time. Two children in the next door house, number 110, were also killed, along with a mother from number 112 who died of wounds the following day. You can read a moving account of the incident here.

What a sad end for Dorothy. Her first husband had survived the First World War only to fall victim to the raging flu pandemic. Then, having made a new life for herself in rural Hertfordshire, Dorothy was to meet a sudden and devastating death as a direct result of a German bombing raid over England. She was only 44. Seventy years after the Second World War, the happenings of that time can seem very far removed. But as I discover more and more family members whose lives were impacted by the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century I realise just how many ordinary people, and members of my own family, were effected by world events. Dorothy is a case in point, and sadly she was one of the thousands of people for whom the war came to her with such dreadful consequences. She is remembered on the Sawbridgeworth War Memorial, alongside the other innocent victims of that bombing raid.

The Sawbridgeworth War Memorial showing the names of
the victims of the German bombing raid of 10 October 1940.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Thomas Cullip 1827-1903: An army service record reveals its secrets

My Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Cullip, was always a bit of an enigma to me. His father, Joseph Cullip, was transported to Tasmania in 1844 for stealing a sheep. Within a short time of Joseph's departure, Thomas' mother and his seven siblings found themselves destitute and divided between the Bedford Union and Biggleswade Union Workhouses in Bedfordshire. I could find references to every member of the family on the 1851 census as resident in these workhouses, and in the case of Thomas's sister, Elizabeth, lodging with her illegitimate son in Bedford. But Thomas Cullip was missing. He was still missing on the 1861 census. His whereabouts remained a mystery to me.

Thomas was born in 1827 and I could trace his life easily up to 1847. It was then that Thomas served a month's hard labour for poaching (a trait which appeared to run in the family!). The evidence for this was found on his Bedfordshire Gaol record. But from then on Thomas seemed to disappear off the face of the earth until he reappeared in 1866 at his wedding to my Great Great Grandmother, Susan. I had used every combination of data possible to search for him on the 1851 and 1861 censuses, but to no avail. So where was he between 1847 and 1866? Why was he not recorded on the censuses? Was he in jail? Was he in foreign lands? Or did he just wish to remain hidden on census night, rebelling against the authorities that had sent his father away, possibly forever, resulting in his family falling on perilously hard times and a reliance on the parish for help?

My research seemed to have come to a dead end and I was stumped as to where to look next. Then came a fateful day at work when, during a lunch break spent doing some family research at my computer, I typed Thomas' name into the Find My Past search engine. Bingo! Up popped his service record in the dataset Chelsea Pensioners' Service Records 1760-1913. A random search had revealed a service record for Thomas. I nearly jumped for joy! Thomas had enlisted in the 38th Foot in 1854. This explained his absence from the 1861 UK census as he was in India at the time!

A soldier at the Crimea wearing full marching uniform.
Taken by Roger Fenton 1819-1869, war photographer.
Did Thomas wear a uniform like this?

Why did he enlist? As a healthy young man he should have been able to find work on the land. Why did he not stay to help his mother and siblings? Or did the break up of his family and the hardship they fell upon induce him to seek a life away from the places associated with his family's plight and the memories they provoked? Whatever his motivations, it was a decision that would take him far from home and into potentially deadly situations.

His service record has been a mine of information, although it has also thrown up a couple of new questions which I would like to have answered.

Thomas, a labourer by trade, enlisted in the 38th Regiment of Foot on 30th November 1854 in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. That immediately raised the question of what on earth was he doing in Berwick-upon-Tweed? My only clue is that the signed witness to Thomas' enlistment appears to be a representative of the Bedford militia, although Thomas states he had never been in the militia prior to this date. Did he therefore volunteer in Bedfordshire before being taken to Berwick-upon-Tweed for the official enlistment?

The next issue which soon came apparent was that of Thomas' age. He stated on his attestation papers that he was 22. This was not true. Thomas was in fact at least 27. Had I got the wrong man? I don't think so. All the information on the papers, except his age, match what I know about him, even down to his description (5 ft 4, grey eyes, dark hair, fresh complexion) which is identical to his Bedfordshire Gaol record. Perhaps he felt that his age would be prohibitive if he stated he was 27.

Other than those particular issues, his service record has provided me with some fabulous details. He enlisted for the term of 10 years, though in actuality he was to serve 10 years and 192 days. And on enlistment he was paid the grand total of six shillings and sixpence. His character and conduct were described as: "very good. He is in possession of two good conduct badges... His name does not appear in the Defaulters Book. Has never been tried". Also his "Habits were regular, Conduct good" and he was "Temperate". Other intriguing facts revealed that he was vaccinated as an infant, took 18 breaths a minute and had a pulse of 72 beats per minute. His attestation papers show that when he signed on in 1854 he was only able to make his mark, but by the time he was discharged in 1864 he could sign his name. Thomas had learnt to read and write.

In 1854 Thomas could only put a cross against his signature. 

By 1864 he could write his name.

Perhaps most interesting is the record of where he was stationed. At some stage between his enlistment in November 1854 and August 1857, Thomas served 17 months in the Crimea. From August 1857 he was stationed in India where he was to spend the next 7 years. Fortunately for Thomas, he did not play a part in many of the major incidents of the Indian Rebellion (aka the Indian Mutiny) which began in May 1857. His medal record, found on Ancestry, states that although he served in the field from December 1857 to May 1858, he played no part in the capture of Delhi nor the defence or relief of Lucknow. He was, however, engaged in the operations against Lucknow in March 1858. I need to find out more information as to what that specifically entailed for Thomas.

Whilst in India Thomas suffered two prolonged bouts of sickness. In 1859 he was confined to hospital in Rai Bully (sic) and then in 1864 he was struck down again, this time in Delhi. In both cases his illness was caused by 'climate'. The second illness meant he was out of action for 43 days and he was treated by 'poultice'. An intriguing fact is that this second spell of illness hospitalised him until the 29th November 1864. The very next day was the 10th anniversary of his enlistment. Had Thomas had enough of the illnesses, or the army life, or being away from England? What is recorded is that having served his 10 years, and the very day after he left hospital, Thomas requested a discharge in consequence of "his having claimed it on the termination of the term of his limited engagement". Therefore on the 30th November 1864 a regimental board convened "for the purpose of recording and verifying the Services, Conduct, Character, and Cause of Discharge". Thomas' discharge was approved and he set sail for England in February 1865. His final destination was Tempsford, a small rural village in Bedfordshire, where a year later he was to marry Susan Browning and go on to have four children. He lived out the rest of his life in Tempsford as a ubiquitous 'ag lab'.

Thomas' life had remained a conundrum to me until that day when I found his service record on Find My Past. I had subscribed to FMP for many years up to that day, and it just proves that it pays to keep looking even in places you've searched before, as new records are coming online all the time. I still don't know where Thomas was when the 1851 census was taken, but I'm positive I will find out one day.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Joseph Roy Stracey 1922-1942 and HMS Hermes

Today, 9th April 2012, is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hermes off the coast of Sri Lanka in the Second World War. On board was a 19-year old marine, my uncle, Joseph Roy Stracey. Tragically, he was one of the 307 men who was lost when the ship went down.

HMS Hermes
HMS Hermes was the world's first purpose built aircraft carrier, launched in 1919. By the Second World War she was considered to be an old vessel. Nevertheless, she had a distinguished wartime career hunting for German U-boats in the Atlantic and tracking down enemy shipping in the Indian Ocean as part of the Eastern Fleet. The Eastern Fleet was formed in 1941 following Japan's entry to the war the previous December. Japan had experienced a series of successes in the Far East and, with these successes, was winning domination over the Indian Ocean. As a result Britain's vital shipping routes - which she needed to supply India and Ceylon with troops to avert any future invasion by Japan - were under threat. The Eastern Fleet's aim was to regain control of the Indian Ocean, with the fleet temporarily based at Trincomalee on the island of Ceylon.

On 5th April 1942, Japan attacked the Ceylonese naval base at Colombo sinking several ships. Then, four days later on the 9th April, they turned their sights to Trincomalee. The ships which had been in harbour, including HMS Hermes, had received prior warning that there was going to be an attack so had sailed out into open waters. It was on their return to Trincomalee that they were spotted by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and attacked by over 30 fighters. She received 40 direct hits and sank within ten minutes.

The HMS Hermes burns after being attacked by Japanese aircraft.
This photo was taken from a Japanese plane.
HMS Hermes sinking following her attack by 30 Japanese fighters.

My 19-year old uncle was one of the many who died on that day.  Born and bred in East Finchley, London, he had enlisted in the Royal Marines a month before his 18th birthday. He must have been so eager to join up. Did he feel patriotic? Was he craving adventure in a wider world? His service record states that prior to enlistment he had been a factory hand, so becoming a marine must have offered excitement, a chance to see the world as his father had done in the previous war. And of course, at that age, one feels immortal.

Roy had six months of training at the Royal Marines Depot at Deal in Kent before spending the next four months in Plymouth. Whilst training he was pronounced 'good' at swimming, and qualified in Parade, Tactical Training, Naval Gunnery, Small Arms, Anti-Gas and Seamanship. He became part of the Hermes crew in December 1940.

He was tall, a six-footer like his father, and good-looking. In November 1941, the Hermes underwent a two and a half month refit in Simonstown, South Africa. It was there that Roy met the woman that, according to my father, he became engaged to. Her name was Lorraine and, unfortunately, that's all we know about her. Nonetheless, the one photo we have of them together speaks volumes as it shows two people very much enamoured of each other. It was a romance that was not to end happily as, less than three months after they parted, Roy was dead.

Roy and Lorraine in South Africa
I often wonder whether his body was recovered and is one of the unknown sailors buried in Trincomalee Cemetery. Or was his body consigned to the deep? I will never know. Either way Roy is commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial. The family have visited on several occasions to pay our respects and find his name amongst the thousands of other members of the Royal Navy who have no known grave. For me, I'm incredibly sad that I have an uncle that I never had a chance to know but I keep the photo of him and Lorraine on display in my home to ensure I never forget him.

This blog is in memory of my Uncle Roy and the other 306 men who died with the HMS Hermes.

Marine Joseph Roy Stracey 1922-1942