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.


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.


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.


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.