I did something this week that I’ve heard retired men of a certain age are motivated to do. I met a woman in a hotel without my wife being there. No, no, you misunderstand. I met her so she could share something with me. No, wait. That sharing being the research she has been carrying out for me on my ancestry. More specifically the experiences of my grandfather on my father’s side whilst in the army. Her research also included his father, i.e. my great grandfather and my grandfather’s son, aka my father. She also started additional research into my grandmother, my father’s mother. Hope you’re following all this because it gets more complicated. I don’t know why it is that when we get to a certain age we become motivated to trace our ancestry, but that’s how it feels to me but maybe it’s just me.
I have dabbled a bit in the past with this part of my family history, even flying to Oregon to ‘interview’ my remaining aunt i.e. my father’s youngest sister, trying to find out more about my grandparents and her brother, my father. Sadly I’d left it too late and she had very little in the way of memories left of her childhood experiences. I think I sort of shelved the idea then for several years until bizarrely I read an article in The Guardian by Ian Jack, a regular columnist, about how his grandfather had joined the army in Ireland and been posted to India which was, at the time of reading, what I thought had happened to my grandfather and hence my father.
I think I have already told you, in a recent blog, that Mrs Summerhouse bumped into somebody (the lady above) a few weeks ago who she had not met for many years and decided that there must be some reason why this had happened now. The reason, she decided, was, as this lady was an amateur genealogist, if that is the right word, who researched people’s family trees / history / background, that she had been fated to come into our lives so she could carry out this research for me. Me having mentioned to her, after reading the above article, that this is what I should do before it ‘was too late’. Whatever that means.
So there we sat as she shared with me all that she had found out about my father and his family. My father died when he was 45 when I was only 4, so asking him directly had never been an option in case you’re wondering. Anyway, she found out a lot of stuff and I will try and share some of it with you in this blog. I found out that my grandfather was born in a place called Macroom in Ireland and had joined the army, as young as possible, at 18, in 1894. Looking at his birthplace brought his father and mother into the picture. His father seemed to be an interesting man. First he and his wife were both school teachers. I had never realised for the twelve years that I was a teacher that I was maintaining a family tradition. Nor, on a less positive note, that he had been tried for the death of a school boy in his class, which is where, I’m glad to say, the similarity ends. He was accused of having caused his death by giving him a ‘clout’ round the head. This was denied, he was acquitted and a post mortem showed that the boy had died of cerebro-spinal meningitis. All this from the local paper under the headline – Death of a Schoolboy – Groundless rumours set at rest. Blimey, talk about skeletons in the ancestral closet.
On a happier note, he was such a popular teacher that when he was replaced on retirement there were riots from the parents in the local area. That’s what the newspapers say and we know they never lie. He and his wife (my grandmother) were also strong advocates of the importance of speaking the Gaelic language which would have made him probably even more popular today in certain areas of Ireland. My grandfather remained in the army (in The Royal Munster Fusiliers), as far as can be determined (not all written records are legible), until 1919. Not quite an unbroken period but for the most part of this period he was in the army, even managing to be court martialled for drunkenness in 1917. Against this he was, over this period, promoted to sergeant, described on discharge as being of ‘good character’ and won two medals in the South Africa campaign. I think the medals were more for long service than gallantry in action. Any fighting seems to have been with his own comrades rather than the ‘enemy’. From what I can see he spent the First World War in either Woolwich, London or Limerick in Ireland.
I never knew he had served in South Africa (Natal) and went from there to India (and I think, although I am not sure, that this location is in what is now Pakistan). He actually spent much less time there than I had thought because he was then posted on to Rangoon in Burma, as it was then. My grandmother was also from an army family having been born in Gibraltar. Looking at all this global movement I began to get some sense of where my ‘wanderlust’, is that the right word, comes from? Not to mention a strong whiff of empire. I can’t compete with my father’s family and their travels, but then I haven’t been in the army and we don’t have an empire. We have lived in different countries however, so some of the travel bug must have rubbed off.
The other interesting part of this history relates to my father. I did already know about this adventure as I have the actual copy of the newspaper – The Sunderland Echo (see right). He made the papers for a nicer reason. He and a friend bought, what looks from the picture, to be a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) for £127 sometime in 1947, and ‘sailed’ it from Holy Loch in Scotland eventually to, I think, Trent Lock in Nottinghamshire but not without some mishaps, like losing the boat when it snapped its tow rope in the North Sea. I can’t give you the whole story in this short blog but I was amused to read my father’s reported reason for buying and bringing the boat to the area he lived in – ‘an acute housing shortage’. Plus ca meme chose. Apparently my mother refused to live on a boat so that was the end of that dream and enough of this blog.
My researcher intends to continue her research. She said she had found it very interesting but I guess she probably says that to all the retired men she ‘works’ for. If anything of any great note emerges from her research I will be sure and let you know. Retirement activities take many forms.