Plane spotting: D-Day deception

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Some time ago I suggested to BrownhillsBob that some images from an aircraft recognition manual from 1944 might be of interest. I am only just getting round to it.

I inherited the manual, which I think belonged to my late uncle Walter Dennis, who, after his shift at Kynoch, Perry Barr, Birmingham, was charged with spotting aircraft movements. There was a network of such people across the country: the Royal Observer Corps. They reported their observations to operations rooms by field telephone, which helped with decisions about defence against air raids, for example directing anti-aircraft artillery and fighter aircraft. Continue reading “Plane spotting: D-Day deception”

1939 and all that

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Rear view of 43 Chapel Street, Brownhills, by Joan Jackson.

A while back I looked at my father’s family as war approached – also 1939 and all that.  Now I visit my mother’s family, name of Brown, who lived at 41 Chapel Street.  Number 41 is the house beyond the hedge on the right of the painting.  The artist was Joan Jackson, who lived later at 43 with her husband Les.  Number 41 was where I spent the first year of my life and where my mother grew up.

I pointed out that searching the 1939 Register, online via Findmypast, can be a frustrating exercise, as the records of many people who are long dead remain locked because they have not been updated to anything like the present.  This time it would be more difficult.  I would have to break in by the back door.

Continue reading “1939 and all that”

Charles Boulton

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Cenotaph, Ogley Hay, south face.

Charles was born about 1887, son of John Boulton and Sarah, formerly Aldridge, probably in the Wilkin area (officially Norton Canes) of Brownhills, Staffordshire. In 1891 4 year old Charles lived at “Wilkin”, where John was a coal miner, as were two older brothers; older sister Rose was a dressmaker’s apprentice.

In 1901, Charles (14) was a colliery horse driver (below ground), among the more dangerous underground occupations. Rose was a fully fledged dressmaker.

By 1911, Charles had moved to Kingsbury, Warwickshire, one of 5 boarders with widow Mrs Susannah Latham. Charles was a coal hewer.

488673 C.Q.M.S. Charles Boulton was among those most unfortunate of men who died on 11 November 1918, the last day of World War One. He served with the 466th Field Company, Royal Engineers. C.Q.M.S. stood for Company Quarter Master Sergeant, the second most senior non-commissioned officer, next to the Company Sergeant Major.

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Walsall Observer and Staffordshire Chronicle 30 Nov 1918.

Charles was first deployed to France on 1 March 1915. From 12 May 1915 the 466th (2nd North Midland) Field Company (a Territorial Force formed at Cannock in August 1914) was assigned to the 46th (North Midland) Division. In 1915 the Division saw action in the German liquid fire attack at Hooge (30-31 July) and the attack at Hohenzollern Redoubt (13 October), where they “behaved with distinguished gallantry worthy of the best traditions of the British Army”. Next they were ordered to Egypt.

After just a few days in Egypt, the order was countermanded and they saw out the rest of the war in France and Flanders. In 1916 they were involved in the diversionary attack at Gommecourt; in 1917 several engagements including occupation of the Gommecourt defences (4 March), the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line and the Battle of Hill 70 (15-25 August); in 1918 including the Battles of Cambrai , the Selle and Sambre. (1)

It appears that key roles for the 466th were the erection of telegraph poles and wiring and construction of pontoon bridges, which necessitated recruitment of many horses from Norton Canes and surrounding areas. They also assisted with tunneling, putting their coal mining experience to use. Reparing trenches was also and important role, which could be very exposed to enemy fire, especially snipers. Other work included cutting brushwood, camouflaging, clearing roots and digging firebays. Perhaps the most challenging of tasks was capturing and repairing bridges, such as those at Riquerval and Gorre, where they exposed to intense enemy fire.

“They also carried out repairs on gas blankets and making billets gas proof. These precautions were very necessary as the men of the 466th Field Company found out on the 7th May. The Staffords and two sections of the sappers had their trenches at Lievin bombarded by gas projectiles. 27 sappers had to be placed under medical supervision due to being slightly affected by the gas.” (2)

On Armistice Day, 11 November 1918 the forward units were at Sains-du-Nord. In early January 1919 demobilisation began at Le Cateau.

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According to the local press, CQMS Charles Boulton died that day of influenza in hospital at Rouen, France. Charles was awarded the British War and Victory Medals. His widow, Clara, would receive £43 1s. They had married in the first quarter of 1914. There were no children. Charles is commemorated at St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, France.

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Image from Discovering Anzacs, reproduced under Creative Commons – http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/gallery/768

(1) The Long, Long Trail, The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/46th-north-midland-division/

(2) Much more detail is given in https://www.cannockchasedc.gov.uk/custom/WW1/norton-canes-royal-engineers.html, which focuses on soldiers from Norton Canes.

1939 and all that: PS

This is a postscript to 1939 and all that.  A visit to Grandad’s house, which stood, and still stands, at the corner of Castle Street and Watling Street, Brownhills, West Midlands.

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“The Crest” today.  On the left.
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The brothers Dennis:  L to R: Derrick (my father), Frank, Walter, Alan, at “The Crest”.

I can’t be sure about when and why this photo was taken, but it would be about the right time.  Uncle Frank had a camera by then and I guess Grandad Sam Dennis is pressing the shutter button.  At the outbreak of war in September 1939 these chaps would be aged (again L to R) 13, 16 , 26, and 21, which looks about right.  It might have been Alan’s 21st birthday, but I doubt anyone really knows.

Given that Grandparents had lived through World War One they might have expected their sons to be called up to some kind of action, with the chance that they might not come back, and it would be natural to take the opportunity.   I am pretty sure that by then Frank had a camera and probably developed the film himself.

As it turned out they were all able to celebrate VE Day and VJ Day unharmed.

 

A Christmas Wedding

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Edwin and Florence Brown.  Sadly, I don’t know of a surviving wedding photograph.

Ebenezer Scrooge thought it very inconvenient to give his clerk Bob Cratchit a whole day off on Christmas Day. (If you have not seen the movie “Scrooge” in which the title character is played by the wonderful Alistair Sim, you have missed something special.) By the time my mother’s parents were ready to wed things had changed, but Christmas Day was still one of the few days off work for a coal miner in wartime. So they married on Christmas Day ninety nine years ago today.

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By that time there were ten bank holidays. For previous generations holidays were few and far between and weddings on Christmas Day were popular. For a time they were known as “penny weddings” – the couple had to pay a penny for the privilege – note the stamp on the Certificate of Marriage. Why they chose Christmas Day cannot now be known and they will almost certainly be the last of Andrew’s Kindred to be married on this day.

Anyway, there are better things to be doing!

1939 and all that

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Dad’s RAF cap badge.

Findmypast exhorts me to find out about my family on the eve of war. This is mainly not mysterious as I did a junior school project in the late 1960s. So do the records match? Here I look at my father’s family.

Searching the 1939 Register, online via Findmypast, can be a frustrating exercise as the records of many people who are long dead remain locked because records have not been updated to anything like the present.

The records that are open provide residential address, name, date of birth (but not place) and occupation. D.o.B. can be useful in tracking people back to the 1911 census and thence back to 1841. Continue reading “1939 and all that”

Privates Enock and Harry Birch

Another exploration of names on the cenotaph at St James, Ogley Hay.

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Lichfield Mercury 10 Dec 1915

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Local Casualties: — News has been received by Mr and Mrs H Birch, of High Street, Brownhills, that their son, Private H Birch (25), 5th South Staffords, has been rather severely wounded in the head, shoulders, hands and left leg, and is now in a hospital in France. His brother, Enoch Birch, was in the 10th South Staffords, and was wounded on May 18th, and died on July 10th, in hospital in Glasgow. He was brought to Brownhills and interred in St James’s Parish Church burial ground.

This has been a frustrating search. Often, the best starting point is the register of soldiers who died in WWI, which is fine when the record is accurate! Going on what I had found in the censuses, Enock (or Enoch) was easy enough to find, but all I could find was a note that Harry had died in the same year. Eventually, that would lead somewhere, but what was their background, and what was their relationship to Brownhills?

The 1901 census records the two brothers at Silver Street, Brownhills, with siblings and parents, Henry, coal miner hewer, and Harriet Birch. Henry and Harriey were both born in Shropshire, but I had no idea this would have any relevance later. Enock and Harry, aged 11 and 8, were both born at Castleford, Yorkshire.

In 1911 Harry, formally Henry, was with family at Brickiln Street, Brownhills. Father, Henry, Harry and his brothers Brian and Thomas were coal miners; a typical Brownhills family.

At the same time Enock was in the Army, in barracks at Gibraltar. If his motivation was to see the World, he would not have been disappointed. Private Enock Birch served in the South Staffordshire Regiment, 1st Battalion infantry. From Gibraltar he was posted in 1913 to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Then, on 19 September 1914 the battalion disembarked at Southampton and were marched to Lyndhurst in the New Forest, Hampshire. They sailed to Zeebrugge, Belgium, on 6 October 1914, where they were ordered to assist the defence of Antwerp, but were too late to prevent it falling into enemy hands.

Enock saw some fierce action. The battalion suffered heavy losses at the first battle of Ypres (19 Oct – 22 Nov 1914). Reinforced, they took part in the Battles of Neuve Chapelle (10-13 Mar 1915) and disastrous Aubers Ridge (9-10 May 1915), then Festubert (15-25 May 1915). There, Enock was wounded on 18 May 1915, when the battalion was unable to progress against the German artillery. The place of death in the records is “home”, but cannot be taken at face value; it simply means on home territory. In fact he succumbed to his injuries on 10 July 1915 in hospital at Glasgow, Scotland.

The records tell that his effects were £24 2s. 6d. to be paid to the sole legatee Harriet Birch, his mother. So Henry senior had died. There was also a gratuity of £5. Poor old Harriet had lost her husband and son in such a short space of time.

So what befell Harry? On the web I found an obscure note that he died in the same year as Enock. When I narrowed the search to December 1915 I found a record of Henry Birch, who died of wounds, 12 Deccember 1915, but his birthplace was given as Sevengates, Salop. Not Castleford? It seems even the Army was not perfect! But he was resident at Brownhills, and his parents were from Shropshire. It had to be right.

Harry served in the 1st 5th Battalion, Territorial Reserve, South Staffordshire Regiment. They landed 3 March 1915 at Le Havre, France. On 12 May 1915 the formation became the 137th Brigade, 46th (North Midland) Division. After training at Luton, Bedfordshire, The North Midland Division was deployed to France in February and March 1915, the first Territorial Force to complete. The 137th Brigade was in the forefront of the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt (13–15 Oct 1915). The Brigade, with 1/5th South Staffs in the van, advanced toward the German lines behind a gas cloud, but this just hung around in no-mans-land craters, and served merely as a warning for the Germans. The attack failed and the South Staffs were almost entirely wiped out. As far as I can work out this was the last major action for the Brigade before they were moved to Egypt in December 1915. It is almost certain, therefore, that Hohenzollern Redoubt was where Harry was wounded.

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46th North Midland Division Memorial at Vermelles.  Source:  Webmatters.