Posts Tagged ‘First World War’

The project performs

December 12, 2015

Towards the end of November, the First World War Commemoration group in our village put on a concert. My wife was heavily involved as she sings in the choir and plays in the band but I had a part too. I’m seen as the village historian and was asked to do a talk about our village in 1915. I don’t just talk. I need my photos as my prompt so I always have a reasonably classy PowerPoint presentation. Let me say that by classy, I do not mean whizzy. You’ll get no pictures whizzing around the screen in my presentations. Text won’t appear one letter at a time as if by a teleprinter. There’ll be no unneeded noises to distract. I’ll use pictures, movies and sounds. I’ll overlay enlargements of an image on the whole image. I’ll add captions and arrows. My audience gets a mix of items and they seem to enjoy them. I’m asked to do quite a lot of talks.

But this time, as I had the slot immediately after the interval, I wanted some music – about a minute’s worth – to get the audience in the mood. No! Glen Miller or Joe Loss playing ‘In the Mood’; would not have done as this was a World War One event. I reckoned my ‘project’ gramophone’ could play a part and I did a search through my record collection for one I could get away with.

The gramophone dates from before 1907 so that could have been used in 1915. I think the record I chose actually dates from 1916 – but what’s a year between friends.

Anyway – here is the record.


And click here to hear the band of His Majesties Irish Guards playing one of many Wiltshire Regiment Marches. When played at the concert this gramophone probably got as much applause as anything from the 100 plus members of the audience.

Sutton Veny Graveyard

October 10, 2015

Effects of Spanish Flu

If you are asked ‘what killed 50 million people just before 1920 the answer is not World War One. It is Spanish Flu.

It was a different world when the ANZACS came over here to fight in World War One.  Louis Bleriot’s rather shaky aeroplane had not long crossed the English Channel. It was only after the end of the war that Alcock and Brown managed to get a plane across the Atlantic – and that by only a whisker landing ignominiously in Derrigimlagh Bog in Connemara, Ireland.

Soldiers from Australia and New Zealand had to travel long journeys on ocean going ships to reach Europe. It was something people just didn’t do and that meant that most of our Southern Hemisphere fellows had never encountered anything like Spanish Flu and they hadn’t developed antibodies to help fight off such infections.

Sad to say they perished in droves throughout 1918 and 1919.

Some of them chanced to be in Wiltshire and are buried in the churchyard at Sutton Veny.

image002This burial ground has 169 war  graves of which more than 140 are of Australians. A goodly 100 of these succumbed to the flu pandemic which swept across Wiltshire through late 1918 and 1919.

To me there is something particularly poignant about a family man – and clearly a successful soldier for he had earned a Military medal, coming to the end of his life on the very day the armistice was signed.


His wife probably had to pay for the message at the bottom.

There is also something particularly poignant about a teenager laying down his life, quite some time after the war itself had ended.


Again an extra message has been paid for by a grieving family.

And of course the whole graveyard is poignant and redolent of the futility of that war and maybe wars in general.


How sad that these young men and women had to die far from home and loved ones.

A Death Penny

October 3, 2015

These plaquettes were given to relatives of those servicemen and women who died as a result of World War One. Sadly, they are very common. One million three hundred and fifty five thousand such plaques were issued. One of them was given to relatives of my Great Uncle Harry Stevens who was gassed on the Belgian/French border in 1916.

image002Although rather light heartedly called a penny. They were not penny sized. They were much bigger.


As we can see they are about 5 inches in diameter, and quite chunky. In fact 450 tons of bronze was used to make them all.

The design was decided after a competition. Here we have Britannia holding a laurel wreath. The lion represents the strength of Britain and the dolphins represent the naval power. In the little sector at the bottom a British lion is tearing a German eagle to shreds. Personally, I hate that symbolism which implies, for that First World War that one side was right and the other was wrong. Personally, I believe it was all wrong.

The competition winner was Edward Carter Preston. His initials appear just above the front paw of the lion.

So great granny, whose sampler we saw a couple of days ago, lost her only son and was given about 12 ounces of bronze as compensation. It has to be said that Harry Stevens joined up in 1914 as a volunteer. I daresay he fancied some adventure and seeing overseas. Well he is still overseas, in the graveyard at Bailleul in France.

I have written about Harry before on this blog. You can click here and also here to read about his life cut short.

The death penny has only just come into my stewardship having been cleared from my late sister’s house.


Thomas Herbert Kesby

August 28, 2015

Thomas was a cousin of my great grandfather. This makes him my first cousin three times removed

Thomas Herbert Kesby was born in the year 1882 at Canterbury, Kent. He was baptised on the 20th November 1882. He was the tenth child of James Walter Kesby and Kate (nee) Mahon. Eight of his older brothers and sisters were still alive at the time of his birth. At the time of the baptism the family lived at 9 Notley Street, Canterbury.

Thomas’s father, James, was a career soldier. He had served in many places, world-wide, but by 1882 he was past 40 and seems to have been involved with the East Kent Militia on training duties.

In 1891, Thomas Herbert was living in Benenden with his family. He was aged nine and a scholar.

Thomas followed his father into ‘The Buffs’ – The East Kent Regiment. We have the following records from his military career (Thanks to James French)

  • 28.10.1899  Attested at Canterbury
  • 22.12.1899 to 02.06.1902  Service in South Africa
  • 30.11.1900  promoted Lance Corporal
  • 03.10.1902  promoted Corporal
  • 20.10.1906  promoted Lieut. Sgt.
  • 13.10.1910  promoted Sergeant  and re-engaged to complete 21 years service
  • W.W.1        promoted Temp. Capt.  Machine Gun Officer
  • 29.11.1914  promoted 2nd. Lieut.     )
  • 11.04.1915  promoted Temp. Lieut.  )
  • 01.04.1916  promoted Lieutenant     )  PRO records.

Thomas Herbert Kesby – thought to be about 1912 (picture supplied by Sheila Farah)


In his private life, Thomas met and married Margaret Flinn. We do not know the date or place of the marriage (I’ll guess at a home leave for Thomas in 1915). What we do know is that the couple had a daughter, Margaret Maud Kesby who was born on 16th July 1916 at Smarden in Kent.

I think it most likely that Thomas never saw his daughter for the next date we have is the 15th September 1916, when Thomas Herbert Kesby was killed in the Longueval area of The Somme region. He was 34 and at the time he was attached to the 170th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps (Infantry).

Thomas Herbert is buried in the London Cemetery Extension at Longueval. This cemetery was used after the armistice, bringing in bodies from other, scattered, burial grounds so we do not know just where Thomas fell.

Pictures of the grave and cemetery were taken at about 7 am (French Time) on October 27th 2003.




Grandad’s tankard

July 18, 2014

Grandad’s tankard

All four of our grandfathers were in the forces in World War One. All four survived  – if they hadn’t we wouldn’t be here.

Grandad Fisher – James Fisher – came from the delightful Cheshire village of Gawsworth. Gawsworth honoured its soldiers with a pewter tankard and we now hold James’ tankard.


It’s quite a handsome item but of course it is the inscription that makes it special.


We can see that James rose to officer rank – second lieutenant. He didn’t start that way. We can also note that he was awarded a Military Cross which is one of the highest awards for bravery.

There are tales to be told about James – maybe on a future blog.

Meanwhile, let’s thank Gawsworth for handing out such a good memento of war service.


Will Ware – First World War survivor

May 31, 2014

We have already met Will on this blog. He was my great uncle and he led a varied and, no doubt, interesting life. Not least amongst the matters of interest was the fact that he was born a couple of years before his parents married and he was registered with his mother’s surname of Kesby.

Evidence suggests that Will was not always happy at home and at quite an early age he stowed away on a ship for Canada.

During World War One he returned to Europe as a Canadian Soldier. He was quite seriously injured and was evacuated to England in 1917.

I do not know when or where he met his future wife, Flo Simmons, but here we see the two of them together with Will in his Canadian uniform.


The couple married in 1919 and Will remained an Englishman ever after.

As far as I know he became a Ware, formally, in 1929.

Will died in 1959. I never knew him but I know my mum was fond of her Uncle Will. He lived and worked in the Margate area and I know mum used to visit him there.

Let’s finish with any photo of Will in his Canadian army uniform.



Frederick Thomas Cooker

May 7, 2014

First World War victim

Frederick was a cousin (strictly a half cousin) of my grandfather,  Reg Ware. He was the son of Walter Cooker and his wife, Mary Susan Ware. Mary Susan was, in her turn, the daughter of John Ware and his first wife, Mary Susan Ward. Mary Ware didn’t know her mother for she died the year that Mary was born. John Ware died in the 1884 train crash at Sevenoaks, so Frederick Cooker never knew his Ware grandparents at all.

Walter Cooker, a resident of Maidstone, married Mary Susan Ware (who may have been known as Susan) in 1889. By the time Frederick arrived, there were already two older brothers and two more brothers and four sisters followed. Walter Cooker lived all his life in Maidstone and worked as a cocoa fibre matting weaver. In 1901 the family, including Frederick, lived at Tassell Row, London Road East in Maidstone.

To give something of the family character, I include a newspaper report on Walter, when he died.

from the Kent Messenger

OLD RESIDENT PASSES. Employed by Messrs. James Clifford and Son Ltd., of Maidstone for more than 59 years Mr. Walter Cooker, of 69, Melville Road, Maidstone, was buried at Maidstone Cemetery on Monday. Aged 86. he died at his home the previous Thursday. Mr. Cooker had lived in the town all his life. He was a member of the Maidstone Old Folk’s Club, and was a keen amateur gardener. Three sons and four daughters are bereaved. The service at St. Philip’s Church was conducted by the Rev. W.J. Wright, Vicar, and mourners were Mr. And Mrs. G. Cooker, Mr. And Mrs. J.Cooker, Mr. and Mrs. A. Cooker (sons and daughters-in law), Miss R. Cooker, Miss A. Cooker, Mr. And Mrs. A, Brown, Mr. And Mrs. F. Dadson (sons-in-law and daughters), and Mr. W. Clifford and Mr E. Clifford of Messrs. James Clifford and Son, Ltd. Funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. J.T. Pickard, of 88, Lower Stone Street, Maidstone. The sons and daughters of the late Mr. Walter Cooker wish to thank relatives and friends for sympathy and flowers sent in their bereavement.

This was 1953, long after the death of Frederick, but seems to portray a solid, ordinary sort of family. Mary, Frederick’s mother, does not get a mention so presumably she had died earlier. This report also carried a photo of Walter.


But back to Frederick. Frederick joined the local West Kent Regiment and in 1916 he was on The Somme. He was obviously a capable young man for he had become a sergeant in the 6th battalion. No doubt they were part of the Somme offensive in the summer and autumn of that year – summarised below.

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

For Frederick, the end came on October 7th. At that time his parents lived at 69, Melville Road, Maidstone. I presume that Frederick’s body was never recovered for he is commemorated on the huge Thiepval Monument (Pier and Face 11 C.)


The memorial and a school party laying a wreath.



Another grave issue

January 24, 2014

Finding out about your family in past times is bound to make you interested in graves. It can be very pleasant to roam through a country church yard, on a cheery, summer day and search out relevant graves. The sheer scale of some municipal burial grounds can beggar belief. Hopefully there is a handy warden who can point you in the right direction. War graves have a special poignancy. Somehow the vast size of them really brings home the futility of war. It may be a bit of an old cliché but really there are no winners in wars.

Last summer we were in France in a part much fought over in World War One, but not much occupied by the British army. This area, near Compiègne was fought over by French and German forces. As we are now in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of this war, let’s remind ourselves, here in Britain, that other countries were involved and lost thousands of their own young men for no particular purpose.

It happened that we came across a German First World War cemetery at Nampcel.


A staggering eleven thousand five hundred and twenty four Germans are buried here.


11524 – that is a huge number and they were killed in one little area of France, This is not the Somme, nor Flanders. That number really hit home.

The cemetery, as you might expect, is enormous but seems spaciously laid out.


This is just a small corner. Of a site which occupies some six and a half acres.

Each cross carries the names of four Germans.


Yes, there are two more on the other side.

I lost relatives in World War One – probably virtually all of us did – but that other old cliché about them having died for their country has always seemed hollow to me. How much more hollow it must have seen to the mums, wives and girlfriends of these German men who died so that, in the end their country could be defeated.

A cliché of the time was that this was ‘the war to end all wars’. Well of course it wasn’t. Just 21 years after this war ended we were all at it again but for the Germans there was a difference.

Did you notice in the photo of the graves I put in, one distant grave doesn’t follow the pattern of all the others? Actually, there are quite a few like it in the graveyard. The German buried there did not follow the Christian religion so the cross was not appropriate for him. He was a Jew.


His memorial carries the Star of David as an emblem.

This chap was serving his country as he thought, no doubt, correctly. He died ‘for his country’ and then twenty years later his country turned on his fellows, condemning them to the horrors of the gas chambers. If he had close family survivors one can only wonder how they view the value of his ‘sacrifice’.

OK, I may have alienated half my readers by clearly being anti-war. But of course, most of the people actually fighting were pretty anti-war as well. That famous football match, on Christmas day 1914, shows that the front line men had no grudge against each other. They just had to do what their political masters told them to do and on that one day they dared to be themselves.

I’ll finish with a quote from a favourite song. It’s called Red and Gold and was written by Ralph McTell. I know it as performed by the folk rock band, Fairport Convention. It’s actually about the battle for Cropredy Bridge in the English Civil War in 1644. I think the quote speaks for itself.

Through the hedgerow’s fragile cover I saw brother killing brother And all of this was done in Jesus’ name.

Great Uncle Will

January 17, 2014

Meet the relative

Writing about Great Uncle Will Ware has come about because his daughter in law sent me this picture at the end of last year.


Maureen is the girl in the middle. She was the daughter of Flo on the left and Will on the right. I estimate the photo as being in the early 1940s.

William Ware was the first child born to my great grandparents who were William Thomas Ware and Sarah Jane Kesby. He was born in 1892 some years before his parents married. There is some suggestion that this caused rifts in the family. Anyway, young Will left home. My uncle wrote of Will, back in October 2002:-

William Ware was born a couple of years before his parents married. After the marriage his father had to legally adopt him. Perhaps relationships were a problem for William ran away to Southampton where he managed to jump a ship bound for Canada. It seems he got a job out there as a lumberjack. He joined the Canadian Army during the First World War, but got injured and was pensioned off. It is possible that he might have married Flo in Norfolk, rather than Tonbridge. However, Will did move back to Kent and laid permanent way in Thanet – perhaps a railway ganger. Later he was on the trams in Margate but he then became an insurance salesman.

Will certainly got to Canada and his Canadian Army attestation papers say he was a lumberjack.


We can see he signed up on October 27th 1915 and gives his job as a lumberjack. Is it significant that he gives his next of kin as his mother rather than his father?

Where photographs have been limited, these attestation papers can give you an idea of the appearance of a person.


From this we know his height and chest size, his complexion, hair colour and eye colour. We know he had a couple of scars but had good health.

None of which mattered a jot when he got to the front and was injured out of service. He returned to England and married Flo in 1917. The marriage did, in fact, take place in Tonbridge in Kent, Will’s home town.

Will and Flo moved to Margate where Will was a tram driver. My grandfather, his brother, used to visit him there, taking the family. Flo, who looks lovely in the photo, was remembered as quite a fierce lady.

Will died in 1949 – I never met him – but was well enough off to leave nearly £2000 to his widow.

Will looks like a lovely man in the photo and I am proud to number a tram driver amongst my relatives.

Remembrance – WW Kesby

November 11, 2013

There are so many to remember, so how can I pick on one? It’s simple. He’s a relative albeit not a close one.

William Walter Kesby (Masters)

WW is William Walter Kesby born in Tenterden in 1887 and baptised there on 19th Dec 1888 He was the son of Harriet Janetta Kesby (or Janetta Harriet). His father is not known.

Young William’s grandfather was George Kesby, a brother of Frederick Charles Kesby (My Great Great grandfather). William Walter would not really have known his grandfather for old George died in 1889

Harriet Kesby had an earlier son Edward James Kesby baptised in Tenterden in on 29 Nov. 1883 (This was from information obtained from a researcher at Tenterden Museum.

Harriet married Zion Masters in Aug 1888. William Walter may have been his son, but we do not know this.

In 1891 William Walter was living with Zion and his mother, Harriet at Smallhythe Street, Tenterden, along with the first child of the marriage, one year old Joseph. Zion worked as an agricultural labourer at this time.

In 1901 the family had moved back into Tenterden. William, who was aged 13 was working as an office boy. Young Joseph seems to have vanished, but Harriet and Zion had three other children, Charles, who had been born in 1893 at Rolvenden, and Marion and Emily, born in 1896 and 1900 at Zion’s home village of Smallhythe.

Next, we move to 1913, when William, a 26 year old Grocers Porter of Bryon Rd, Margate, Kent, married Alice Price on 26th Dec in Thanet, Kent. His “father” Zion Kesby was given as deceased although this may be incorrect as according to a headstone in  Tenterden churchyard Zion Masters died in 1940.

William and Alice’s son Walter F Kesby was born in 1914 and died in 1916 in Wandsworth. (BDM)

Alice, subsequently, had a daughter in 1918 who although given the surname Kesby was not. No father is mentioned on her birth certificate.

We do not know when William signed up for the war –  for the next we know is that Lance Corporal W W Kesby of the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) was killed in action on 18th June 1915.

W W Kesby is buried on the outskirts of Ieper – or in French, Ypres – or as the British troops called it – Wipers. His cemetery has a mixed language name too being the Pottize Chateau Wood cemetery.



The information on the Commonwealth war graves web site gives no next of kin and no age for WW but we know that he was about 28 at the time of his death.