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.

Dash

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.

Canadian_Expeditionary_Force,_156th_O.S._Battalion,_Barriefield,_July_7,_1916_(HS85-10-32558)

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.

CEF_E2c

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.

 

 

Stanley Frederick Gill

Stanley Frederick Gill, like David Gill and William Jack Gill, is my second cousin four times removed.  We are all descended from John Gill and Elizabeth Munns, but where David, William  and their brother Ezekiel (who I will profile at a later date) are descended from John and Elizabeth’s son Jack, and I am descended from their daughter Sarah,  Stanley and his brother Herbert Arthur, who I will profile next week, are descended from their daughter Alice Gill.

Family tree

Abbreviated family tree showing my relationship to two other branches of the Gill family.

Alice Gill had two children before she was married, a daughter, Elizabeth, presumably named for her mother, who died at the age of two, and William John. William was six years old when his mother married Stephen Farrington in 1869.  Alice and Stephen went on to have five more children together.  By the 1891 census, William is listed as living with his wife, Emily, and their daughter Nellie on Bury Street in Edmonton, North London.  Interestingly, he didn’t stray far from home as his mother and step father lived on the same street, as did his aunt (and my 4th Great Grandmother) Sarah and her family. By 1901, William and his family had moved to Osman Road, still in Edmonton with their growing family.  William and Emily had a total of twelve children between 1889 and  1910, five of whom did not survive past infancy.  William died in early 1914, just before the world descended into total war.

Stanley Frederick Gill was 15 when his father, William, died, and only 17 years and 10 months old when he attested to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on December 16, 1916, one hundred and one years ago today.  He was listed as the “head” of his household at the time. In March 1917, roughly a month after his 18th birthday, he reported for his medical inspection and spent the first part of his service in a King’s Royal Rifles Corps training battalion located in Canterbury.

In the fall of 1917 he was hospitalized twice for scabies, a parasitic skin condition that afflicted thousands of men in the close quarters of military camps and training.  He found himself in a spot of trouble in early 1918 as he was discovered absent from the morning of January 10, 1918 to the next morning, and was confined to barracks for three days as a punishment. Whatever his reason for being absent, given what was to come for him over the following months, I hope it was for something that gave him a pleasant memory to look back on.  He was hospitalized once more for scabies from the 26th to 28th of January.

He embarked for France February 3, 1918, one day after his nineteenth birthday, being deployed to the 7th King’s Royal Rifles in the 14th Division. He had only been with the battalion for a short while, when, at 4:45 am on the morning of March 21, everyone was awoken by the sound of what was described in the war journal as “a very heavy enemy barrage.” This barrage cut communications between headquarters and the front line, then, morning greeted them with a dense fog with visibility down to 50 yards.  These were less than ideal conditions for a coordinated response to what would be one of largest German offensive efforts of these later days of the war.  This battle, known as the Battle of St. Quentin, was the beginning of the First Battles of the Somme, 1918.

The war diary reported that 250 “ordinary ranks” from the 7th King’s Royal Rifles were killed, wounded, or went missing on March 21.  One of these men was Stanley. Throughout April of 1918, his mother, concerned after not hearing from him for several weeks, was trying to get information on his location.

Mother's letter

Excerpt from letter written by Emily Gill on the subject of her son, Rifleman Stanley Gill.

 

Stanley was one of several men who had been taken prisoner that day at St. Quentin. The International Committee of the Red Cross’ archive of Prisoners of War places Stanley first at the Stendal POW camp, then at the Neuhammer POW camp.  By all accounts, life in these camps was, at best, cramped and uncomfortable with days filled with hard labour, at worst, cruel and humiliating including being paraded in public at cinemas and train stations in order to underscore the strength of the captors.  But this said, there was massive infrastructure at these camps including a camp-specific currency that could be used to purchase items at a commissary.

Camp

Barracks at Camp Stendal

The repatriation of Prisoners of War was one of the items covered in the armistice.  Generally, British prisoners were re-patriated very quickly.  By March 1919, Stanley was back in Canterbury.  He was hospitalized again, this time for diarrhea–another very common complaint among soldiers. He was then posted to the Rifle Depot at Winchester.

Stanley was demobilized in February 1920.  He was barely 21 years old.

He married Ada Goulding in 1926 and they went on to have three children.  Stanley passed away in 1961 at the age of 62.

 

How Records Shaped the List of Davids

One of the biggest differences between researching this project and researching for my MA Thesis in 2002 is the complete lack of paper involved in this process.  In 2002, although I could see attestation papers of Canadian WW1 soldiers through Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in order to see a full military file, I had to file a request to have it copied and mailed to me.  The time lag between wanting to see the record and actually seeing the record was weeks, and there was a cost involved for the retrieval, copying, and mailing of the records.  As part of LAC’s Great War commemoration activities, they are working on completing digitization of all WW1 service files by the end of 2018.   They are working on them in roughly alphabetical order, and new batches of files are added to the database every two weeks. As of their last update, they are up to the last name “Russell.”  The scans are beautiful high quality colour images, allowing for a very detailed examination of the documents.  The files contain information about the attestation, service, medical treatment, action, pay, medals, and next of kin of the soldiers, and read in conjunction with the soldier’s battalion’s war diary, can provide at the very least a chronology of the soldier’s service, and in some cases, even a sense of what their experience of the war may have been like.

A similar experience can be had with the British Military Service files.  The scans are lower quality–they look more like what one would expect in scrolling through microfiche–but the biggest challenge with these records are the condition that they were in when they were imaged due to their physical history.  Whereas the Canadian files are largely in good shape and can be handled relatively easily by archivists and conservators, the British files, like the British capital, were victims of the bombings in London in WW2. In September 1940, a War Office repository where the records of WW1 soldiers were stored was hit, and up to 60% of the records were destroyed through fire and water damage.  These are referred to as “burnt” records.  Those records that do exist can sometimes be very tattered and difficult to read.  As such, there is not always a full record available for a British soldier, and one has to rely on other records such as military honour rolls or war graves records to learn more about the units in which they served.

As I’ve mentioned in the project description, I am quite certain that I have American ancestors who took part in that country’s efforts in the Great War.  Unfortunately, the American records were also largely destroyed, in this case affecting files from WW1, WW2, and the Korean conflict, as in 1973, a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Centre in St. Louis destroyed 80% of service records of men discharged from American military forces between 1912 and 1960.

There are many more Davids in my family tree than I will ever know, as my list of 52 men was shaped by the availability and quality of records available.  The stories that get told are the stories that can be uncovered in those boxes in archives and shown the light of day through careful conservation and, certainly in the case of this project, digitization.  Bless the archivists and conservators and those who fight to fund them–they are the best defence against more stories being lost.

 

 

Genealogy Terminology

The firsts and the seconds and the 4ths and how many times removed… it can make your head spin. A quick look at the terminology of ancestors may be in order before you meet the Davids starting in less than a month. I hope this works as a reference that we can return to if things start to get confusing!

Pedigree

Generationally speaking, my great war ancestors tend to be 3 to 4 generations in the past. The simplest way to look at this is in terms of pedigree, or, from whom I’m directly descended.  For instance, two of my Great Grandfathers fought in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as seen in this first diagram.

Uncle

In other cases, I am not directly descended from the soldier in question, but rather they are an uncle or husband of an aunt.  Because we add the “great” to our uncles and aunts one generation earlier than our grandfathers (making my Grandmother’s sister my Great Aunt, the number of “greats” before an aunt or uncle’s title can make it seem that they are more distantly related than they are.  In the case of the second  diagram, he is my 3rd Great Uncle, and his sister is my 2nd Great Grandmother.

1st cousin

Cousins are where it gets a bit more complicated.  While any child of an aunt or uncle (no matter how many “greats”) is a first cousin, how far “removed” that cousin is depends on how many generations separate you.  In this example, this cousin is three times removed from me. The same person is my father’s first cousin twice removed and my children’s first cousin four times removed.

 

Removed cousin

Finally, what makes for a 2nd or 3rd cousin? As I mentioned above, any child of an aunt or uncle is a first cousin. That cousin’s children then become your second cousins, and their children your third cousins. The same rules of how to count the “removes” still apply, but the generational separation will have also been impacted by how many steps of cousins we are discussing.