I’m Back!

Well, the summer break must come to an end so that I can get back to researching. My son’s trip to Cornwall reminds me that he has cornish ancestors potentially.

His 3 x great-grandmother Mary Ann Whitford was born in Staffordshire but I think her father John was born in Blisland Cornwall in 1794. The problem is that I cannot find Mary Ann’s baptism and she does not appear with her parents in the census returns. If I can make the connection I think there are some interesting stories with links to important Wesleyan Methodists on one side and Transportation on another.


Wilfred’s Siblings

Wilfred born 25 July 1896 in Willington had two brothers and two sisters; Ethel born 13 October 1890 in Newfield, Pelton, Arthur born 1892 in West Pelton, Irene Josephine born 24 Feb 1898 in Willington and Bertie born 18 November 1899 in Willington.

Ethel married Wilfrid Adolphus Martin in 1913 and had two daughters, Renee in 1915 and Jenny in 1919. The family lived in Whitley Bay and later in Hexham. Ethel died, I believe, in 1973. I am not sure when Wilfrid died. Renee married Joss Atkinson in 1938. He died in 1997 but I do not know when she died. They had at least one child, Maureen born in 1939. Jenny married John Telfer a farmer’s son in Hexham in 1942. She died in 2006, he died in 1990. I think they had two daughters.

Arthur is a bit of a mystery. I was told that his wife was called Peggy and I have found a marriage in 1920 to a Margaret A Barton but I cannot find him in any records with Peggy or Margaret. I think he may have died in 1968.

Irene Josephine was baptised on 27 March 1898 at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Willington. The only one of the siblings I have found such a record for. She married William Brown in 1921.I believe she had two children, Ethel born 1922 and Kenneth born 1927. She died in 1982.

Bertie married Georgina Margurita Gates in 1921. Two children were born of this marriage, John known as Jackie in 1922 and Mary in 1923. Bertie died in 1950.


Bertie Laws – Wilfred’s brother

Whilst checking out Findmypast for Wilfred, I came across an entry for Bertie Laws. It was a record of his military service.

Bertie – he was actually registered as Bertie – was born on 18 November 1899 in Willington Co. Durham the youngest child of Thomas Laws and Mary Jane Clarke. He attended Willington Council Mixed School from 1 August 1906 (having moved up from the infants school) until 14 November 1913. The next known fact is of him enlisting in the Royal Marine Artillery Division as Bert Laws in Newcastle on 11 May 1917. He gave his trade as that of apprentice fitter so he must have worked since leaving school. He gave his mother as his next of kin and his religion as Wesleyan. His description was given as 5ft. 9 3/4ins, fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He was given the register number of 15644.

It seems that he was in training as a gunner from enlisting until 9 April 1918. On 10 April 1918 he embarked on HMS Revenge where he was to stay until 25 July 1919. He was therefore on board when the German High Seas Fleet was scuttled in Scapa Flow and no doubt took part in the vain attempt to stop the Germans sending their ships to the bottom.

He returned to HMS Revenge on 29 August 1919 and was on board when it was sent, with the rest of the 1st Battle Squadron, to the Mediterranean. HMS Revenge supported Greek forces during the crises  and then remained in the Black Sea due to concerns about the Russian Civil War. The ship was there until July 1920 but Bertie returned to England in April of that year. I am not sure what he was doing or where he was doing it between April 1920 and May 1921 but he was demobbed on 3 June 1921.

In early 1921 he married Georgina Margurita Gates. Their son John, known as Jacky, was born in 1922 and daughter Mary in 1923. Again I am not sure what he was doing during the period but Mary’s birth was registered in the Tynemouth district. Bertie was awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in February 1933 but there is no indication of service after 1921. In September 1939 he and the family are at 2 Fire Station York Road Whitley Bay and his occupation is fireman but by December 1939 he is back in uniform. His next of kin is now shown as his wife.

The military record I have is not very forthcoming but it appears he served as a gunner on Defensively-Equipped Merchant Ships throughout WWII until 31 October 1945. When he was released he gave his address as 2 Coquet Avenue, Whitley Bay.

His death was registered in 1950 in Northumberland South District. He was 50.

Wilfred’s War – Military Medal

I have spent much of this last week looking through Unit War Diaries – available on Ancestry.

I had already found an entry in that of 137th Field Ambulance dated 30 Sep 1917 which stated – “On September 26th two NCOs and one private of the Field Ambulance were awarded the Military Medal for an act of bravery performed on September 20th 1917”. This was written at that Field Ambulance’s HQ at Fins.

The next piece of evidence is in the Assistant Director of Medical Services for the 40th Division’s War Diary dated 26 September 1917 “The Military Medal has been awarded to two NCOs and a man of 137 Field Ambulance for gallantry near the Advanced Dressing Station Villers Guislain on the 24th inst.”

Although there is a discrepancy in dates, this is clearly referring to the same event. I have been unable to find any more details of the actual event.

Wilfred Laws – The Early Years

Whilst browsing the web site Find My Past I happened on Wilfred’s school admission record. He started Willington Council Mixed School (Co. Durham) on 6 March 1903. The School Admissions Book shows that his date of birth was 25 July 1896 and his parent/guardian was Thomas Laws of 4 Clarence Terrace. He had moved up from the infants school. His last date of attendance was 15 July 1910. The reason given for leaving is “age”.

So if my maths is correct he had entered the Mixed School at the age of 6 years and 7 months. He stayed there for the rest of his school life, leaving at the age of nearly 14.

He then started work as a colliery clerk sometime before April 1911 as that is what is shown on 1911 census.

RAMC -WWI Evacuation Chain

Aid Posts were situated in or close behind the Front Line. The Units in the trenches provided these posts and generally had a medical officer, orderlies and men trained as Stretcher Bearers. The Field Ambulance would provide relays of Stretcher Bearers and men skilled in first aid at a series of Bearer Posts along the route of evacuation from the trenches. All personnel involved were well within the zone where they could be under fire.

As well as the Bearer Posts, the Field Ambulance established Main and Advanced i.e. forward Dressing Stations where a casualty could receive further treatment and his condition be stabilised  in preparation for evacuation to a Casualty Clearing Station. Men who were ill or injured would also be sent to the Dressing Station and in many cases returned to their Unit after first aid or some primary care. Dressing Stations were set up in existing buildings, bunkers and dug-outs, anywhere there was some protection from enemy shell fire and aerial attack. These Dressing Stations were generally manned by Field Ambulance personnel.

Once treated casualties were moved rearwards several miles to the Casualty Clearing Centre. This may be on foot, by horse-drawn wagon, motor ambulance or lorry or, in some cases, by light railway. At this point the casualty left the care of the Field Ambulance and, depending on their medical condition, would receive further treatment in hospitals set up behind the front lines or may even be sent to Britain.

RAMC -Field Ambulance

A Field Ambulance is NOT a vehicle. It is a mobile front line medical unit. Most Field Ambulances came under the command of a Division and each had special responsibility for the care of casualties of one of the Brigades of that Division. A Field Ambulance was set up to have the capacity to deal with 150 casualties but in battle it needed to deal with far greater numbers. It was responsible for establishing and operating a number of points along the Casualty Evacuation Chain from the Bearer Relay Posts which were up to 600 yards behind the Regimental Aid Posts in the Front Line, taking casualties rearward through the Advanced Dressing Station thence to the Main Dressing Station. It also provided a Walking Wounded Collecting Station as well as various rest areas and local sick rooms. Field Ambulances would usually establish 1 Advanced Dressing Station per Brigade and 1 Main Dressing Station per Division.

A Field Ambulance at full strength composed of 10 officers and 224 men divided into 3 sections. Each section had Stretcher Bearer and Tented sub-sections. Each section had 36 privates who were Stretcher Bearers under the command of a captain or lieutenant.

As with all other units of this time Field Ambulances relied heavily on horses for transport. Each had 14 riding horses and 52 draught and pack horses. These worked the 23 wagons, 3 water carts, 3 forage carts, 6 general service wagons, 10 ambulance wagons and the cook’s wagon. It also had 1 bicycle, and by the end of 1914, 7 motor ambulances.