What a birthday date book taught me about WW1

Mary (Pollie) Wellock. Own collection.

I grew up thinking our family had escaped largely unscathed through both WW1 and WW2. Farming was a reserved occupation and none of our ancestors had fought in either of these two horrific wars. Slowly but surely my thinking has changed. First there was my great, great Uncle, William Henry Barrett who fought in WW1 and died of tuberculosis six years after the war ended, possibly a disease caught whilst serving. Then there were two cousins, Harry Clough & Frank White, relatives of my great grandmother, Hilda Mary Scott, both killed in battle. These are the ones I have so far written a story about, but there are others too, cousins & half cousins that I have come across in my research.

Still, it felt like these were isolated incidents. We are farmers & miners. We weren’t required to fight. That was until I started to transcribe my great grandmother (Mary Wellock)’s birthday date book a couple of weeks ago. Mary or Pollie as she liked to be known was my Grandpy’s mother, born in 1886. One of eleven children in a close family I was quickly able to identify the majority of the entries. Pollie had had eight brothers but by 1914, three were likely too old to serve, two had emigrated to Canada and two had died as children, so it was probably easy enough to protect Benjamin who, as he had no children, might just have come under pressure to volunteer, or even been conscripted had he not been a farmer.

I moved on to identifying Pollie’s friends and it was then I realised that one memorial in the remote Yorkshire village of Greenhow Hill, which Pollie called home, was the unlock for many of the people she had recorded as friends. Take a moment to study the names in this photo. (I make no apologies for this being the second time I have shared it on this blog).

Memorial plaque, Greenhow Hill https://greenhow-hill.org.uk/people/1914-1918/

Busfield, Newbould, Swales, Barrett, King & Moor all appear in Mary’s date book. The Whitehead family connects very closely to the Busfields. Mary was close enough to the Swales family to list the birthdays of three siblings Edith Ellen, Ethel & James. James fought and came back, their two brothers Herbert & Leonard were not so lucky, both dying in 1916. Over half the names listed on Greenhow Hill’s memorial can be easily and closely connected to Pollie’s friends identified through this one date book.

James Swales’ birthday as recorded in Pollie Wellock’s birthday date book. His sisters Edith Ellen & Ethel also appear. James fought in WW1 together with his brothers Herbert & Leonard who both died in 1916. Own photo.

Was there a sweetheart amongst the fallen? I tend to think not as Pollie was already 28 and unmarried when war started. If it was a local boy she loved she would have been wed by then. Instead, I’d like to speculate that William Henry’s connection to Greenhow Hill was how she came to meet his brother, George Thomas and that their shared experience of friends & brothers at war led them to connect.

This was a remote farming village where many households worked in protected occupations. No matter how insulated we thought our ancestors were from the war they were not.

With much gratitude to Mary (Pollie) Wellock, who had such a fascinating birthday date book, to her daughter-in-law, Mary Booth, my Nana, who kept it safe for me and above all to those who fought and those who remembered them.

There’s a later blog exploring the rest of the birthday book here

Harry Clough & Frank White – cousins who died in WW1

Slowly & steadily, I am working through the box of old photographs that belonged to my great grandmother (Hilda Mary Scott, mother of my Grandma). There are perhaps two hundred or more photos, few are labelled and even those that are can be hard to figure out. Amongst them are several young men in uniform, friends, perhaps, of my great grandmother including these two photos of Harry Clough & Frank White.

Postcard labelled “Harry Clough. Died 1918.” Own collection.
Postcard labelled “Frank White killed March 29/18 in Flanders after 3 years service. Buried at St Amand’s, nr Arras”. Own collection

I was curious, it was a rainy Sunday afternoon, so I started to do some research. I took a guess that the men would have been born in Yorkshire c. 1896 or so and hit lucky. I found an index of graves in St Amand on ancestry which gave me the names of Frank’s parents.

Index from St Amand British Cemetery

Then I found a findagrave listing for an Able Seaman Harry Clough who died in 1918. The photo I had was definitely one from the navy. Finally, I spotted an entry which suggested Frank’s mother’s maiden name was Clough and the hunt was on for a connection.

A bit more work and I was able to establish that Harry’s father, William Clough, and Frank’s mother, Sarah Ann Clough, were siblings, children of Edward Clough & Hannah Wilks. Harry & Frank were first cousins.

Wilks sounded familiar so I decided to research a further generation and discovered that James Wilk[e]s was born in Felliscliffe, which is where many of my family are from, encouraging me to carry on. Back again – James was the son of a Francis Wilkes & Hannah Darnbrough. Darnbrough and Darnbrook are essentially different spellings of the same name which was the final link. Hannah turned out to be the daughter of William Darnbrook & Elizabeth Swale (my 5x great grandparents) and sister to Ellen Darnbrook, Hilda Mary Scott’s great grandmother. The family connection was established. These two anonymous young men, who gave their lives for their country in WW1 are anonymous no longer. Frank Harry White was born on the Isle of White in 1895. Harry Clough was born on 3 December 1897 in Baildon, Yorkshire. The parents of these two young men were third cousins to my great grandmother, Hilda Mary, and, it seems, the families were still in touch even to that generation, suggesting a real closeness in the family. Distant cousins, and my great grandmother’s friends. Their memory lives on.

William Henry Barrett & military service exemptions

William Henry Barrett, 1894 – 1924. Own collection.

It is a family “truth” that, as farmers, we were exempt from military service in both WW1 and WW2. The “truth” of this statement is more complex than it first seems. Whilst none of my direct ancestors fought in either war, several siblings and cousins did including my great, great uncle, William Henry Barrett.

The truth that many farmers didn’t end up on the front line is illustrated through this letter dated 21 May 1946 in relation to George Houseman, my father’s father (Grandad), who had “indefinite deferment of calling up granted to him by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.” The letter was sent to his employer, Jesse Houseman, who also happened to be his father-in-law…….

Letter confirming deferment of military service for George Houseman. Own collection.

Farming was a reserved occupation but only once you had reached the age of 25. On my Mum’s side, my Grandpy was eighteen when war broke out, his brother, Henry, twenty-one so both of age to fight. The story passed down is that my great grandfather (George Thomas) sent one of his sons to work elsewhere to avoid them being drafted. We’d always understood it to be my Uncle Henry (the oldest brother) who worked elsewhere but it’s my Grandpy that I can’t find on the 1939 register. Whoever it was, both Grandpy and his brother joined the Home Front in 1941 and did their part in serving the country. This approach was well supported by the local estate manager as the only person from the local community who was drafted to the front was one who had, apparently, fallen out with his father.

But why was George Thomas so keen to keep his sons from the front? This is where William Henry comes in. William Henry was the third and last child of Jane Brooks & Henry Barrett. He was born on 5 December 1894, seven years after his brother, my great grandfather, George Thomas, and fourteen years after his sister, Mary Elizabeth. In photos he very much looks like the cosseted (perhaps unexpected) baby of the family and most definitely on the puny side.

Jane Brooks, Henry Barrett and their three (oldest to youngest) children Mary Elizabeth, George Thomas and William Henry. Own collection.

When war broke out in 1914 many in the locality volunteered to serve. The records of those serving in the 6th battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding regiment are helpfully captured in the wonderfully evocative book “Craven’s part in the Great War” which opens with the following: “A humble but sincere expression…of the gallant, heroic and self-sacrificing spirit shown by the sons of Craven in resisting the unscrupulous, malignant and pre-arranged design of Germany and her dupes to crush the British Empire and the civilised countries associated with her.” The authors being “confident that the volume will be treasured as an honoured heirloom in every family who representative has done his share in freeing our beloved Empire from the slavery of German hatred and military aggression.” Sadly, this “honoured heirloom” has failed to make it into my hands.

Pvte W. H. Barrett, 2/6th battalion of the Duke of Wellington (West Riding) Regiment. Own collection.

William’s service record seems to be one of the many destroyed in the blitz. What we do know is that, by 1915, Private W. H Barrett (regiment number 267160) was serving in the 2/6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington (West Riding) Regiment, later transferring to the Labour Corps (regiment number 420996). In some senses it seems that William may have been lucky, the 2/6th battalion was a home services “second line” unit and did not serve at the front until 1917 by which time William may well have transferred to the Labour Corps. His service seems to be neither distinguished nor undistinguished, just one of the many young men that went to war and came back, seemingly physically unharmed (as evidenced by WW1 pension records).

Memorial plaque, Greenhow Hill https://greenhow-hill.org.uk/people/1914-1918/

When William’s father, Henry, died in April 1924 his will included a specific bequest of farm stock and implements “in acknowledgement of his service for his country in the late war” presumably setting William up to take over the family farm at Throstle Nest.

Sadly, William only lived a few more weeks. He died on 20 May 1924 of tuberculosis, aged just 29. Unmarried and childless, William is buried with his parents in Pateley Bridge cemetery.

William’s death certificate

Something that will never be known is how many soldiers, given living in unhygienic close quarters, often cold and wet, exhausted from continuous combat and lack of sleep, and not always well fed, were infected with tuberculosis or went from a healed primary infection to an active secondary infection while in military service.

We can’t know whether William caught tuberculosis whilst on active duty and yet his family may have suspected this as being the reason. Perhaps William’s last legacy was to ensure his nephews weren’t put in the same situation when WW2 broke out just a few short years later.

With much gratitude to William Henry Barrett for his service and for his legacy which kept my Grandpy safe from war, to the long long trail for helping me make sense of the regiments and to all those who served. Also, to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Read more about WW1 & Greenhow Hill in what a birthday date book taught me about WW1 – the first of two stories from Mary Wellock’s birthday date book