John Dash

John Dash, older brother of Herbert Dash, was born in 1887. Unlike his brother, was not part of the war from the beginning. In the 1911 census, he is listed as a boarder with a horsekeeper on a farm in Hertfordshire, with his trade or calling listed as a blacksmith.  On April 5, 1915, John married Charlotte Lilian Randall in Cobham, Surrey after which he returned to Cambridgeshire with his bride to the same cottages near Meldreth where his family lived.  Just over a month later, on May 14, 1915, he signed his attestation papers to the Royal Field Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery as a shoeing smith.

After training throughout the summer in England and undergoing journeyman testing and certification, his unit, the 100th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in the 22nd Division, embarked for France in September of 1915.  After a brief two months, the unit was one of many that was assigned to the Mediterranean theatre of war in the fall of 1915 to provide military assistance to the Serbs who had recently been attacked by combined German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian armies.

The Macedonian Campaign, also called the Salonika Campaign (about which the Salonika Campaign Society has collected a great deal of information), was established through the fall of 1915 and winter of 1916 at Salonika (now Thessaloniki), in Northern Greece. It was marked by several battles, and saw thousands of soldiers participate between 1915 and 1918, but receives much less attention than the Western Front.  It is perhaps best known for the thousands of cases of malaria that came from the ravages of mosquitos in the mucky conditions.

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Christmas postcard from Salonika in 1916.

John was among those who spent some time in hospital due to his time in this theatre.  First, he was kicked in the mouth by a mule, an occupational hazard for a farrier, in June of 1916.  He spent nearly two months away from his unit before being discharged back to active duty on August 1, 1916.  His stint back with his unit was brief, as he was once again hospitalized on August 31, 1916, this time for malaria, one of over 162,000 cases of the disease that struck British forces in Northern Greece.  He was evacuated to Malta, where he remained in hospital for almost two months before being invalided back to Britain in late October 1916. By early 1917 he had been posted to the 19th Reserve Battery of the RFA, and served the remainder of the war in Britain.

Being back in England also allowed him time with his family, and in October 1917, his son, John Cornelius Aubrey Dash was born.  Sadly, being on the home front did not shield John from further tragedy. On March 6, 1919, one month after John had been discharged from his unit, his 16-month old son died due to complications from the influenza virus that had ravaged the western world throughout 1918 and 1919. John and Charlotte did not have any more children. John passed away in Cambridge in 1951 at the age of 63.

 

 

 

 

Herbert Dash

Herbert Dash, my first cousin four times removed on my mother’s side, was descended from Sarah Gill and Charles Bester, his grandparents, and my 4th great grandparents. As illustrated below, he is one of three brothers who served during the war.  His brothers, as well as two of his first cousins, will be the subjects of future posts.

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Abbreviated tree of Herbert Dash.

Charles Bester, son of John Bester and Mary Constable, was born in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire, in 1833, and Sarah Gill, second daughter of John Gill and Elizabeth Munns (of whom you can read more here), was born in 1837 in Orwell, Cambridgeshire.  They had ten children, including Annie Bester, my 3rd Great Grandmother, and Elizabeth Bester, born in 1863, Herbert’s mother.

Elizabeth Bester was the 5th of the Bester children. By the age of 18, she was a servant in the home of the Roads family in Orwell, Cambridgeshire. In 1885, at the age of 22, she married 19-year old farm labourer Walter Dash, also of Cambridgeshire.  They had seven children between 1885 and 1895, Herbert being the second youngest, born in 1894.

In 1909, 15-year old Herbert joined the Royal Navy as Boy, 2nd Class, beginning his service at HMS Ganges. Between 1910 and 1914 he served aboard several ships including HMS Berwick in the West Indes, HMS Hampshire (the famous ship that sank after hitting a mine in 1916, killing most on board including Lord Kitchener), and HMS Zealandia.

When the war began in the summer of 1914, 20-year old Herbert was aboard HMS Black Prince, which was stationed in the Mediterranean. The first part of the war was spent patrolling for German merchant ships, and by December 1914, she was transferred to the Grand Fleet.  Eighteen months later, she was one of 250 ships that engaged in the deadly Battle of Jutland. The German High Seas Fleet had hoped to surprise the British Fleets, but codebreakers alerted the British to the approaching ships.  The clash began on the afternoon of May 31, 1916 off the coast of Denmark.  Black Prince, approaching the battle with the rest of the Grand Fleet from the north, was somehow separated from the rest of the fleet.  At the time, what happened to the ship was a mystery to the British forces, but German records have since revealed that she approached the German ships in the darkness, potentially thinking the outlines of the ships were British, just before midnight.    This mistake proved deadly.  Once spotted, Black Prince was fired on by six German battleships.

Devon Heritage (devonheritage.org) cites an eyewitness account of the aftermath from a crew member who had been on board HMS Spitfire:

“We were just recovering from our ramming match with the German cruiser, and most of the ship’s company were collected aft, when suddenly there was a cry from nearly a dozen people at once: “Look out!”

I looked up, and saw a few hundred yards away on our starboard quarter, what appeared to be a battle cruiser on fire, steering straight for our stern. To our intense relief, she missed our stern but just by a few feet; so close was she to us that we were actually under her guns, which were trained out on her starboard beam, She tore past us with a roar, rather like a motor roaring up a hill in low gear, and the very crackling and heat of the flames could be heard and felt. She was a mass of fire from fore-mast to main-mast, on deck and between decks. Flames were issuing out of her from every corner.

At first sight she appeared to be a battle cruiser, as her funnels were so far apart but afterwards it transpired that she was the unfortunate Black Prince with her two centre funnels gone. Soon afterwards, soon after  midnight, there came an explosion from the direction in which she had disappeared.”

All 857 officers and crew were lost.  Combined, the German and British forces lost 25 ships and over 8,500 men that day.

Herbert Dash, along with many others who lost their lives at the Battle of Jutland, is commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.  I am honoured to post a memorial certificate to my cousin here.

 

Nellie Richmire and Edward Clinton Biccum

Martha “Nellie” Richmire was my 2nd cousin twice removed on my father’s side.  Like Emma Maud Law who I profiled in December, Nellie Richmire is also descended from Francis Joseph Langton and Sarah Bishop, my 3rd great grandparents, and Nellie’s great grandparents. As the abbreviated tree below demonstrates, Emma was in fact Nellie’s aunt.

Langton and Law abbreviated tree

Nellie’s mother, Margaret Eden Law, was the oldest child of Martha Jane Langton and John William Law. She was born in 1871, and married in 1889 to Ransom Richmire,  a teamster in Cardinal, Ontario, when her youngest sister, Emma, was only one year old.  Nellie was born in 1896 in Cardinal, where she lived with her family until marrying Edward Clinton Biccum in June of 1915.  She was 19, and Edward was 18.

Of course, when they married, the war had already been raging in Europe for 10 months, and Canada was immersed with it.  Local battalions were being created in counties across the country, and, starting in late 1915, the 156th battalion began recruiting in Grenville and Leeds counties.  Cardinal, where Edward was born, was in Grenville county, and on February 6, 1916, almost exactly 102 years ago, he travelled to the neighbouring town of Iroquois, Ontario to attest to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 156th.

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The 156th Battalion before sailing to Britain.  One of these men is Edward Clinton Biccum.

Cardinal is a beautifully situated village on the St. Lawrence River, directly across from New York State.  It is still a small community described as and “industrial” village, as has been its primary industry since the late 18th century.  Edward identified himself as a “labourer” on his attestation papers, and it is likely he worked in one of the mills.

On the day that he attested, his wife Nellie was 5 months pregnant with their first child. These were not the heady days of late summer 1914. The spirit of adventure that had inspired some men to enlist early on had turned to a sense of patriotism, duty, and even resignation perpetuated through the popular media of the day encouraging all men who were able to “do their bit.”  From early 1915 onwards, Canadians had been in active combat.  Many men had perished. Both Edward and Nellie would have known that enlisting was a dangerous thing for their little family.

The battalion spent its early days training close to home.  Edward would have been close by on June 14 when his son, John Edward, was born.  His son would have been just over a month old when the picture above of the entire battalion was taken.  In October 1916, Edward and the rest of the 156th bade their families goodbye, and left for Halifax to sail to England.  The 156th sailed on the Mauretania, sister ship to the famous Lusitania, and arrived in England on October 31, 1916.

Very soon after his arrival in England, Edward was temporarily promoted to Acting Lance Corporal.  He was only twenty years old. He and the other members of the 156th were split up and assigned to other battalions as reinforcements. After being assigned to the 154th and the 6th battalions, once he reverted to his rank of Private, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion in May of 1917.

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Cap badge of the 2nd battalion of the Eastern Ontario Regiment.

Barely three months later, in August 1917, he was wounded in his arm in the Battle for Hill 70 near Lens, France.  He was evacuated to Britain to heal, and was eventually able to rejoin his battalion in France in November.

On March 21, 1918, at the age of 21, Edward was killed at what I can only assume was the first day of the German offensive at St. Quentin–the same day and at the same battle that Stanley Frederick Gill from my maternal line was taken prisoner.  I have had a hard time finding a war diary for Edward’s battalion, so I am making an educated guess that he was killed at St. Quentin based on the date and the number of men from the 2nd battalion who were killed on that day and buried in the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery.

Edward was posthumously awarded the rank of Corporal. I am honoured to share the CWGC commemorative certificate for my cousin’s husband here.

Back in Cardinal, Nellie Biccum and her toddler John, not yet two years old, were left without their husband and father. In the 1921 census, the two are listed as living on their own, but her parents and siblings were living in nearby Edwardsburg, so one hopes that she had some assistance.

In August of 1925, just over ten years after her marriage to Edward, she married Frank Brant, a 30-year old farmer from Michigan.  Nellie and John moved with Frank to Michigan where the new couple had three more children, Margaret, James, and Dorothy, born in 1926, 1928, and 1930 respectively.  Nellie died in 1978 at the age of 82, and John Biccum died in 1989 at the age of 72. Although Edward never got to see his son take his first steps, his descendants and his name are still in Michigan today.

 

 

Frederick Arthur Baldock

Turning to a more distant relative, Frederick Arthur Baldock was my 4th cousin twice removed on my mother’s side.  We are both descended from William Mungham and Sarah Robinson who were my 5th Great Grandparents, and Frederick’s 3rd Great Grandparents. As a genealogical aside, William Mungham (1771-1848) of Doddington, Kent is as far back as I have traced my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.  Frederick is descended from William and Sarah’s daughter Sarah Ann, while my family is descended from their son, Thomas.

Sarah Ann Mungham, born in approximately 1795, married John Butler in 1815, and went on to have at least 14 children.  Their second son, John, born in 1822 in Newnham, Kent and his wife, Mary Strover had 8 children, the oldest of whom, Eliza Butler, born in 1842 in Newnham, was Frederick’s grandmother.  She married James Edward Baldock in 1865 in Faversham, Kent.  James Baldock is listed in the 1871 to 1911 census records as “farm servant indoor,” a “farm bailiff,” (he would have been employed by the land owner to ensure that tenant farmers were taking care of the farms and paying the rent on time, a “yardman” and “shepherd,” so his was an agricultural life.  James and Eliza’s first son, Alfred, was born in 1867, and was raised in this agricultural life.  As late as the 1891 census, he was still living with his parents, and in 1894, he married Rebecca Goldup in East Ashford, Kent, also working in the agricultural trade, then later as a maltster’s labourer for a brewer. Their first child, Frederick Arthur, was born in 1896. In the 1911 census, three years before the outbreak of the war, Frederick was 15, and listed as a school boy.

In the spring of 1914, two months before the formal beginning of the war, Frederick joined the Royal Navy training at Pembroke I (a shore establishment in Chatham, Kent) as an ordinary seaman. He had already served on HMS Queen, but was back at Pembroke I when war broke out in August of 1914.  By August 29, he was onboard HMS Undaunted, where he was promoted to Able Seaman, and where he served until the end of July 1917. In December 1914, HMS Undaunted provided support to the Cuxhaven Raid, a combined sea and airstrike with the goal of bombing the dirigible sheds housing German zeppelins.  The National Archive has an account of the raid from one of the pilots here. As the blog post points out, weather and the general riskiness of the operation meant that “the raid had not been a success in terms of achieving its target, since none of the seven aircraft was able to find the Zeppelin shed, but it was a milestone in the development of aircraft-carrier based operations.”

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Contemporary postcard showing the Royal Navy surface force at the Cuxhaven Raid.

Frederick served throughout the rest of the war at a variety of shore establishments and ships, and was discharged in 1923.

He married Eva Ethel Law in 1922, and lived in Kent for the rest of his life, passing away in 1964 at the age of 68.

 

 

 

William Frederick Pickering

William Pickering was the younger brother of John Pickering. He was born in 1903, so you may already get a sense of the direction of this story.  In February of 1918, he was not not quite 14 and a half years old.  His brother John was seriously wounded at Vimy the previous year, and was back in Toronto at a convalescent hospital. On February 26, William went to a recruiting station, and he embellished his age by four years, claiming to be 18 and a half.

On his enlistment papers his height was recorded as just over five foot three, and 116 pounds, which would have been considered fairly short and light for an eighteen year old, even by the standards of a century ago. Even so, he was declared fit for service, and was enlisted in the 1st Depot Battalion of the 1st Central Ontario Regiment.

By April 1918, he was being treated for prostatitis in hospital.  Whether it was through his time in hospital that his true age was discovered is unclear, but by June, 1918, Private William Pickering was discharged from the military as underage.  He was not yet 15.

I can’t help wonder what possessed him to try and enlist.  His brother’s injuries, which he would have undoubtedly seen, were horrific.  Was it because of this, or despite it that he enlisted? Were there other drivers? He was a teenaged boy in the home of his mother and step father and their three-year old son–was this a factor? He wasn’t in school–why did he leave?

Regardless of his reasons for enlisting, William, unlike many other boy recruits, did not go overseas and see battle. He lived out his life in Toronto, and passed away in 1977 at the age of 73.

 

 

John Pickering

Returning to my paternal line, John Pickering was my first cousin 2x removed, and my closest relative to date in this series.  We are both descended from James Pickering and Elizabeth Wilson who were my 2nd Great Grandparents, and John’s Grandparents.

James Pickering was born in Pickering, Yorkshire, the 9th of 11 children born to Jeremiah and Ann Filburn, a farming family. His father died when he was just 16, but with so many elder siblings, one could imagine that the family farm was quite crowded. He relocated to the new community of Lingdale, and, like many men in that town, began work as an ironstone miner. Elizabeth had been largely on her own since she was 13, and was working as a servant when she met James. Their first daughter, Emily, was born in 1873 in Yorkshire, and the following summer, James and Elizabeth married. They had another seven children before immigrating to Canada in around 1887, including John Pickering’s father, John William.  The Pickering family established themselves in East York (now Toronto) where by 1891, James’ occupation was listed as a rail labourer. James and Elizabeth had three more children after moving to Canada, including my Great Grandmother, Mary Alice Pickering.

Returning to John’s line, his father, John William Pickering was 10 years old when his family immigrated to Canada.  In 1895, at the age of 18, he married Catherine “Katie” Malcolm, whose family had emigrated from Scotland when she was an infant. By the 1901 census, John and Katie were living with their two sons, John and Harry, as well as Katie’s younger sister Lilly. They had three sons in total: John was born in February of 1898, Harry in October of 1899, and their third child, William Frederick, was born in 1903.  Sadly, in 1909, John William, died from shock after a scalding incident at an abattoir where he was foreman. His children were 11, 9, and 6.

Katie remarried the following year to William Lawrence, a stove mounter from the same part of Toronto. In the 1911 census, the family was living on St. Clair avenue in Toronto, and Katie and William eventually added two more children to the family, Teddy in 1912, and Viola in 1919.

John attested to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in January of 1916, one month before his 18th birthday.  His trade or calling is listed as a butcher.  He joined the 126th Overseas Battalion, and sailed from Halifax on August 14 of that year.  After spending some time in England, John was transferred to the 20th Battalion, and, in November of 1916, he joined the unit in France.  Although I know that his first few months in France would have had its share of notable events, it is his last two weeks there that solidify how the rest of his military experience would play out.

“The month opens with stormy weather,” states the war diary of the 20th battalion on April 1, 1917. The battalion is camped at Yukon Camp outside of Vimy.  The record of the next few days seems almost too run-of-the-mill given what we now know what coming on the 9th of April. What does come through very clearly is the meticulous planning and organization underway. The days were spent practicing for the “upcoming operations,” including drills and mock attacks.  Then, on the morning of the 9th, every available piece of Canadian artillery began its barrage at 5:30 am precisely, and 30 seconds later, engineers detonated the mine charges laid under no man’s land and the German trench line, destroying a number of German strong points. Over the following two days the infantry worked to capture the ridge, and by the end of April 12, the Canadian Corps was in firm control of the area.  This was at the cost of 10,602 casualties: 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded, one of whom was John Pickering who had suffered a significant wound in his arm on April 10. To learn more about the battle of Vimy Ridge, I recommend visiting the Vimy Foundation.

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Memorial to members of the 2nd Division, of which John’s battalion was a part, after the battle.

John was evacuated to England where he spent several months in various hospitals before being “invalided” to Canada and placed in a convalescent hospital in Toronto.  Ultimately, it does not appear that John made things easy for his caregivers.  On more than one occasion throughout 1918 he forfeited pay as punishment for things such as “breaking out of hospital while undergoing treatment and absenting himself” for 4 days in late June, or “refusing to obey an order in such a manner as to show willful defiance to authority” in July.  In August, he was discharged from the army as “medically unfit” as a result of his injuries.

John lived out his life in Toronto, passing away in 1953 at the age of 55.

 

 

 

Walter Francis Bester

This week we move to a different branch of my maternal line with my 2nd cousin, 3 times removed, Walter Francis Bester.  We are both descended from Charles Bester and Sarah Gill who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Walter’s Great Grandparents.

Charles Bester was born in 1833 to an agricultural labourer father in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire about 11 kilometres south of Cambridge. Sarah Gill was born in 1837 in Orwell, Cambridgeshire to John Gill and Elizabeth Munns, whose history I detailed in a previous post. This makes her a great aunt to several of the Gill soldiers I have already written about.  Charles and Sarah married on 30 November 1856 when Charles was 23 and Sarah was 19. Together, they had at least 10 children, 9 of whom survived to adulthood. I am descended from their third child, Annie, who was my 3rd Great Grandmother, while Walter is descended from their first child, Charles, who was born in May 1856 (six months before Charles and Sarah were married). The first five Bester children were all baptized together in 1861.

In the 1871 census, when Charles was 14, he was listed as living at home with his parents in Little Eversden and working as a labourer. By 1877, he had relocated, and was working as a labourer in Edmonton, North London (the perennial spot for my ancestors, it seems!), and in January 1878 at the age of 21, he married 19-year old Fanny Adams. Charles and Fanny had nine children between 1878 and 1896, the two youngest of whom, Frank Harold Bester and Sydney Smith Bester both served in the Great War and will be profiled here later this year.

Charles and Fanny’s oldest son, Walter Beaumont Bester, began working at a young age like his father, and is listed in the 1891 census at the age of 13 as a “Milk Boy.” He married Alice Louisa Goodchild in 1898, and their son, Walter Francis (or “Frank” as he went by later in life), was born in Hackney, a more central area in London, in January 1899. It seems that Walter Sr. had stayed with his early occupation, as in the 1901 census he is listed as a Milk Carrier. In 1910, Walter, Alice, and 11 yr-old Frank sailed from Liverpool to Quebec City with the intention of farming in Canada. They settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Whether the family every did attempt to farm in Manitoba is unclear, but by the 1916 Western Canadian census, Walter was once again listed as a Milk Carrier, with 17-year old Frank listed as a farm labourer.

On the 6th of April, 1917, Frank enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  As an aside, one of the most interesting things to me about his attestation papers is that his trade or occupation is listed as a “moving picture operator.” There is a lot of scope for the imagination in this–he would have been consistently exposed to the jingoistic and propaganda-filled newsreels that accompanied the films, and I have to wonder what kind of impact this had on his impression of the war. He enlisted and served in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, one of the most decorated Canadian regiments in the War, and a regiment still in existence today with its home base being in my home town, Edmonton, Alberta.

Frank embarked for England on April 29, 1917, and arrived on May 7 at which time he was sent to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment in Shorncliffe for training and to await posting. He was mobilized to France and sent to join the Lord Strathcona’s Horse nearly a year later in April 1918.  Frank joined the regiment at a time of significant rebuilding.  In fact, the war diary of the regiment stated on April 6 that “every effort [was being] made to collect reinforcements from various parts of the country.” From mid to late April, the regiment was making good on those efforts and working to train the men they collected. May and June were largely spent engaged in training rides and grazing parades keeping both men and horses ready for action.

Training and conditioning continued through July, but, fortunately for the men, the month is marked more by sporting events more than by military action. On July 1, Dominion Day, the troops played baseball throughout the afternoon and evening. Later in the month, there is also reference to a basketball game that roused “great enthusiasm.” On July 19th it was reported that the regimental baseball team was defeated by the Royal Canadian Dragoons team, 4 to 3.

No one would grudge the regiment their leisure considering what was to come.  On August 8, 1918, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse was part of what would be a tremendous 9-day effort to push the German Forces east: away from the key railway junctions at Amiens. From 4:20 AM onwards, the regiment was monitoring the advance of infantry and tank brigades, and following behind to clear areas of remaining opposing forces as advances were made.  Eventually, rather than wait for the slower advancing tanks and risk being caught in the crossfire, leadership decided to advance without the tanks and run ahead at a gallop.  This resulted in a significant amount of prisoners taken and equipment captured. General Ludendorff would refer to this first day of the Battle of Amiens as “the black day of the German army.” Though there were many successes that day, there were also several casualties, one of whom was Walter Francis Bester who had received a gun shot wound to his right calf and a large shrapnel wound to his left buttock.

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German prisoners are escorted by Canadian cavalrymen near Amiens. Library and Archives Canada Photo.

Frank was evacuated to Britain: first to the 4th Southern General Hospital in Plymouth on August 11, 1918, then transferred on Aug 22 to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, Wokingham, Berkshire where he recovered until discharged on October 4. At this point he was posted to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment in Shorncliffe where he stayed until the end of the war. On December 4, 1918 he was sent to Kinmel Park where he embarked for Canada on December 10. He was discharged January 23, 1919 in Winnipeg, where his wounds were assessed as well-healed, with no impairment or disability.  He was 20 years old.

Later that same year, Frank married Nellie Alice Hollingsworth who he must have met while stationed in England.  She arrived in Canada on July 2, 1919 with the words “to be married” stamped on the passenger manifest beside her name.  Frank and Nellie were married on July 29. In the 1921 Canadian census, Frank is listed as a farmer living just outside Winnipeg with his wife, his 1-year old daughter Joyce, his mother, and his maternal grandmother.  Although his mother is not listed as a widow, I could find no trace of Walter Beaumont Bester in the Canadian census from that year. As it seems that Alice passed away in England, it is possible that he had returned there as well.

Frank and Nellie had one more daughter, Jaqueline, in 1922.  In 1937, Frank, Nellie, and Jaqueline moved back to Britain, with Joyce following in 1939 all indicating that they would be residing in Essex. Jaqueline eventually returned to Canada to live, while Frank and Nellie both lived out the rest of their lives in England.  Nellie passed away in 1954 at the age of 58, and Frank in 1964 at the age of 65.