Frederick Thomas Mungham

Frederick Thomas Mungham was my first cousin four times removed.  We are both descended from Thomas Mungham and Elizabeth Sarah Wood who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Frederick’s Grandparents.  I am descended from Thomas and Elizabeth’s 3rd child, Henry, and Frederick is descended from their 9th (and second youngest) child, Edwin.

Edwin Mungham was, as many other of my relations from Kent were, a brick maker.  He was married in 1880 at the age of 21 to 17 year old Sarah Ann Bassant.  The couple had four children between 1882 and 1890. Frederick was the second of these children, born in 1886. By the 1911 census, when Frederick was 25, he was newly married to 17 year old Emily Maud Seager, and the couple was living in Lewisham, London, where Frederick was working as a furniture upholsterer.  They welcomed their first child, Ruby, in 1912. This family also, at some point, started using an alternate spelling of their last name: Mungeham.

Frederick’s records are burnt, therefore I am not entirely sure when he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery, but it must have been early in the war as he was in Belgium by the fall of 1915.  Records related to soldiers who died in the war list Frederick Thomas Mungeham as having been killed in action on October 18, 1915.  Emily, his wife, was pregnant at the time with their second daughter, Freda, who was born in the Spring of 1916.

Frederick is buried at Vermelles British Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France, but he is also memorialized in Ladywell cemetery in London.  His second daughter, Freda, died at the young age of 7, and his wife, Emily, memorialized both on this beautiful monument.

Below the inscription to her daughter and husband is also etched “in loving memory of Emily Maud, wife of Frederick, Died 23 February, 1971, aged 87,” marking Emily’s resting place as well.

I am honoured to share the commemorative certificate from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for my cousin here.

 

 

Sydney Smith Bester

Life took over this past two+ weeks, and unfortunately, this project took a back seat to some other important events for my family. We lost someone dear to us, and she will be on my mind as I work through the final weeks of this project. In a good and sweet way.

Sydney Smith Bester was the younger brother of Frank Harold Bester by just over a year:  the tenth of eleven children born to Charles Bester Jr. and Fanny Adams. In the 1911 census, he is listed as living with his parents and older brother Frank, and working as a baker’s assistant in a bakehouse in South Tottenham, London.

In February of 1916, just three months after his brother’s enlistment, Sydney enlisted in the 9th battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, Royal Field Artillery. Of the 3 years and 91 days between his enlistment and demobilization, Sydney spent 2 years and 279 days in the Mesopotamian theatre of war.  His daughter would have been just over a year old when he enlisted, and his wife would have been pregnant with his son when he was deployed.  By the time he returned to England, his daughter would be 4, and his son, who he likely had never met, would have been nearly 3.

After the war, he returned to London and his family.  His wife passed away in 1943, and Sydney lived alone for the first time in his life for five years until remarrying in 1948.  Sydney passed away in 1957 at the age of 64.

Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius

Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius was my first cousin four times removed.  We are both descended from Michael Ing and Mary Ann Macey who were his Grandparents, and my 4th Great Grandparents. Mary Ann and Michael were both born in Kent, and Michael was a brickfield labourer.  They were married in 1850, and went on to have eight children.  I am descended from their eldest daughter, Eliza Francis, while Joseph is descended from their youngest daughter, Clara Alice.  Clara was born in Faversham, Kent in 1873.  In her teenage years, she was a domestic servant, including being resident in London at the time of the 1891 census.  She married Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius Sr. in July of 1892 when she was 19, and her husband was 21.  Joseph Sr. was a brick maker like Clara’s father.  Together Joseph and Clara had eleven children, many of whom followed in their family’s footsteps and also worked in brick making.  Joseph Jr., however, took his own path.  By the 1911 census, 18-year old Joseph was no longer living in Kent. He had joined the Royal Field Artillery and was living in the Woolwich Barracks in London.  At some point in his time in London, he met Elizabeth Fryers, daughter of a journeyman carpenter at a chemical works in London.  Joseph and Elizabeth married in July of 1914.

Cornelius tree

Abbreviated family tree of Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius Jr.

Less than two months after his marriage, Joseph was in France.  The 37th battery of the RFA was put under the command of the 27th Battalion in the 5th Division. On December 25th, 1914, the Christmas day that so many men had said they were sure they would be home for, Joseph and Elizabeth’s daughter, Elizabeth Doris, was born.  I do not have Joseph’s service record, so I cannot know for sure, but I dearly hope that at some point during his service, he was able to have leave to return to Britain to meet her.

In April 1917, the 37th Battery was one of the artillery units supporting the creeping barrage at the Arras offensive, the overall series of battles that included the famous operations and Vimy Ridge early in the month.  Later on in April, though Vimy had been a success for the allies, the offensive had bogged down.  In the war diary for the battalion, there is a description of a direct hit on the night of April 25-26.

War diary exerpt

Excerpt from war diary of 27th Battalion.

I believe that when that gun of the 37th battery was hit, Gunner Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius was fatally wounded.  He died at the 22 Casualty Clearing Station in Bruay on April 27, 1917: One hundred and one years ago yesterday.  He is buried at the Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension in Pas-de-Calais, France.  I am honoured to share a the commemorative certificate from the CWGC for my cousin here.

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. I haven no record of John and Charlotte having any more children. John passed away in Cambridge in 1951 at the age of 63.

 

 

 

 

David Gill

It is only fitting to begin this series with someone who is actually named “David.”  David Gill was born in 1893 to David Gill (Sr.) and Louisa George in the urban district of Edmonton (now part of Greater London in the north-east borough of Enfield). I’ve often found it interesting that my home town, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is named after this region, and that so many of my ancestors, particularly on my maternal Grandmother’s side, hail from this region.

Gill Brothers

Assumed to be David Gill and one of his brothers (either Ezekiel or William). c.1917.  Based on the lanyard on the seated soldier’s uniform common in RFA uniforms, it is likely this is David. 

David Gill and I are both descendants of John Gill (1816-1891) and Elizabeth Munns (1816-1896).  John and Elizabeth were my 5th great grandparents, and they were David’s Great Grandparents, making David my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.  Although Elizabeth died when David was 3 years old, it is unlikely that they met, as Elizabeth and John both died in a particularly Dickensian manner while inmates at different institutions: John at the Caxton and Arrington Union Workhouse, and Elizabeth at the Fulbourn Lunatic Asylum, both in Cambridgeshire.  What brought them to these places at the end of their lives is hard to say though the records I have found, except to say that, as early as 1871, Elizabeth was living with her son Jack (David’s Grandfather) and his family in Orwell, Cambridgeshire, but that by the 1881 census, she was no longer living there.

In the 1891 census, David Sr. is listed as still living with his family and working as a “labourer” which, of course, could mean any number of things.  By the following year, he had relocated to Edmonton and had married Louisa George, daughter of an agricultural labourer from Edmonton.  David Sr. and Louisa had 13 children of whom I could find record, and of these children, their three eldest boys all served in the war.

David was the oldest of these 13 children. In the 1911 census, when he was 18 years old, he was listed as a blacksmith’s labourer at the gas works in Edmonton. David was 21 years old in the summer of 1914 when Britain gave Germany an ultimatum to get out of Belgium by midnight on August 3.  When Germany did not comply, Britain declared war on August 4.

David signed his attestation papers on September 2, 1914.

DG Attestation

Portion of David Gill’s attestation papers. British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1918. 

He joined the Royal Field Artillery in the 106th brigade of the 24th division of the British Expeditionary Force as a blacksmith with the rank “Driver”–a specialist in horses who would drive and care for the animals pulling the heavy equipment to the regiment’s appointed locations.

David is an interesting case, as his service in Belgium and France was one of the longest-running of all the men I will profile over this next year, and both his service record and the war diaries for his unit are rich with information.  After joining up only days after war was declared and training in Britain for nearly a year, David and the 106th embarked from Southampton for France on August 29, 1915.

The brigade was initially comprised of four batteries with each armed with four 18-pounder field guns.  As an example, “A” battery was comprised of four officers, 130 non-commissioned officers and men and 126 horses. After landing in Le Havre, France the 106th travelled by train northward toward Beaurainville.  The war diary from the 106th for this period describes some disarray with the horse lines; in fact calling them “rather frightful” after all the rain that had recently fell, and there was mention of the horses nearly stampeding due to wasps. As new arrivals in France, and with so many horses to manage, one can imagine Dvr. Gill and his compatriots being very busy.  They did not get to rest for long, as by September 10 they were on the move north-east, arriving in Vermelles by September 17.  And so, 20 days after leaving England, the 106th found themselves in their first significant battle–The Battle of Loos–the first major British offensive of the war.

The 106th bombarded the German lines consistently for four days from September 20 to 24 in an attempt to cut communications and weaken their machine gun defences.  In all reality, it was difficult to see how successful this bombardment was, as chalk dust from the terrain and  then torrential rain made visibility difficult. The attack began on the morning of September 25.  For the first time, the British army used poison gas, releasing a cloud at 5:50 am, gambling on the wind to carry the gas to the German lines.  The infantry were scheduled to attack 40 minutes later.  The 106th diary recorded that “the infantry assaulted and were successful though the extent of the success cannot be reckoned at present.”  In reality, the wind had not been strong enough to carry the gas to its target, and in some cases was sitting stagnant in the positions where the British were to launch their attack. The infantry of the 24th Division was already exhausted after several days of marching to their positions, and by September 28 were all but shattered after three days of very little gain. At this point the 24th was pulled from the fray to regroup.  There were more than 50,000 British casualties (7,766 killed) in this battle. The estimates of German casualties vary, but seem to have been much lower–approximately 25,000–less than half of the British numbers.

This was the first month of 45 months that David Gill spent in active service in France and Belgium.  Though he had some leave time interspersed in that time, and two stays in hospital, once for pyrexia (fever) in 1916, and another time for scabies (number 6 on the top 20 medical ailments for soldiers in the great war) in 1917.

The 24th Division took part in many other significant battles in the war including the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 and the Battle of St. Quentin in 1918. After armistice, David was in France for another seven months as the 106th helped local farmers in Belgium by lending them the horses that had pulled the guns, and by working to sell the livestock rather than return it to England.  The 24th Division even held a football competition in January 1919–one of many activities to help cope with the frustrations of demobilization.  On June 13, 1919, David sailed for England, and his unit was dispersed on June 17.

David married Gertrude Watson on February 29, 1920 when he was 27 years old.  They had two children, Gertrude Louisa Rose born in 1921, and David (Sonny) Gill born in 1923.  David died in 1967 in Enfield, Greater London, at the age of 74.

I would like to thank David’s Great-Granddaughter for her help and enthusiasm in sharing David’s story.

David Gill

David Gill later in life

Gertrude Watson 3

Gertrude Gill (nee Watson) c. 1920s