Tag Archives: second world war

From an old address book to a Victoria Cross hero

17 Jan

I never cease to be amazed at how one tiny snippet of information can trigger such an interesting chain of research and uncover an interesting story in the process. Unfortunately much of that information is not going to be directly relevant to my family tree, but the journey more than makes up for that.

The story begins with an address book which belonged to my grandmother. Amongst the names and addresses it has three addresses for Isabel KIPPS (my first cousin three times removed), one in Sussex, another in Nottingham and a third in Australia.

I thought it would be interesting to find out when she went to Australia and when she came back, because I already knew that she died back in England. It was fairly easy to find details of her trip, outward on findmypast.co.uk and home again on Ancestry.co.uk.

Essentially she was taking two young girls, to whom she was a nurse, away from England at the start of the Second World War to the relative safety of Australia. They left Southampton on the 13th July 1940 bound for Melbourne, Australia. They returned in 1945, leaving Melbourne on the 27th February, bound for Liverpool.

There were also details in the passenger lists of two previous trips, made by Isabel and the two girls, one to Malta in 1934/35 and Gibraltar in 1937. For a member of my family tree to be so well-travelled is extremely unusual, very few of my relatives ever seemed to have left the safety of dry land.

Of course by this time I was curious as to who was the father of these two globe-trotting girls. Fortunately their mother was with them on one of the voyages, so it wasn’t difficult to find out that they were the daughters of Robert St Vincent Sherbrooke.

Google was bursting with search results for Robert Sherbrooke, primarily because he had been the recipient of the Victoria Cross whilst serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and ended up as Rear Admiral. I won’t go into details here because it is pretty easy to find out plenty of information on the internet (he even has his own page on Wikipedia).

It is such a shame that such an incredible (and well documented) man is not much more than a footnote to my family history, but it is nice to know that my first cousin three times removed was part of his life and trusted with the care of his children.

Making the News: “An extraordinary double tragedy”

26 Nov

A couple of weeks ago I decided to follow up one of the mysteries that I uncovered in the National Probate Calendar, and it turned out to be one of the most heart-breaking stories that I have uncovered whilst researching my family history.

Whilst searching the probate calendar I came across the entries for a pair of GASSONs from Haywards Heath, Sussex. I wrote about my discovery and a few thoughts about what might have happened here. I suggested that their deaths might have been as a result of enemy bombing during the Second World War, but the truth is that although it could be attributed to the war, the story was far more tragic.

I will let the newspaper report from the Sussex Daily News dated Thursday 17th October 1940 tell the story:

COUPLE DIE IN DUG-OUT

HAYWARDS HEATH TRAGEDY

An extraordinary double tragedy which occurred at Haywards Heath was discovered on Tuesday afternoon at about 1.15, and the inquiry into it was held the same afternoon by East Sussex Coroner, Dr. E. F. Hoare.

Deceased were William Edward Gasson and his wife, Dorothy Gasson, of 3 North-road. They had been found dead in the dug-out in their garden.

In the dug-out was a brazier with coal ashes in it and an oil stove. The latter had not been used. There was also a candle.

Deceased were found in a sitting posture. Everything went to show that the previous night they had gone to their dug-out and had lighted the fire in the brazier, and that while they were sitting there the fumes had overcome them.

A neighbour made investigations on Tuesday on finding that the morning milk had not been taken in.

Evidence was given at the inquiry by the neighbour, Jesse Laker, and by the son, William Ernest Gasson, who did not live at the house.

The Coroner found death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning and recorded a verdict of “Death by misadventure.”

I have read some pretty sad stories in the course of my research, but this really touched a nerve and I was almost in tears as I read the article. I don’t know quite why it touched me so, they are not particularly close relations, but regardless of that it is still a really sad story.

The couple had only recently married (the son was from William’s first marriage) and to die in such an unnecessary and avoidable way when people were dying as a result enemy bombing (from which the GASSONs were trying to escape) seems desperately unlucky.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Royal Engineers Christmas Menu, 1939

7 Jan

I think this is my first Treasure Chest Thursday post, and it is a shame I didn’t think about it a week or two ago when it would have been more topical.

I was looking through the photos on my hard drive the other day when I realised that many of the images I was looking at weren’t photos at all but scans of other items, most of them related to the time my grandfather, Charles Percy GASSON, spent in the Royal Engineers during the Second World War.

These items need almost as much work on them as the photos do, in fact some more so, as many contain clues as to what he was doing and where he was at a given time. Next to nothing is known about his time in the Royal Engineers, so these clues are going to be vital in piecing together his army life.

The first item is pretty self-explanatory, a Christmas Menu from 1939, but even this raises several questions. Who are all those signatures? and where were the breakfast, dinner and tea being held?

Christmas menu 1939 image 1

The actual menu itself looks surprisingly appealing, certainly not as austere as one might imagine for a wartime Christmas dinner. Whether what was served up actually matched the promise of the menu is anyone’s guess.

Christmas menu 1939 image 2

English genealogy news catch up

7 Sep

Whilst I have been busy sorting, scanning and filing there have been a few announcements in the English genealogy world that I need to catch up on.

Findmypast.com have added 1.25 million high resolution images from the 1881 census to their site, to go with the previously available transcriptions (the transcriptions are free to search).

Familyrelatives.com have added details of 120,000 pupils and masters from UK Public Schools, some dating back to 1500. I doubt whether I am going to find any of my ancestors in any of these institutions.

Ancestry.co.uk have published records of over 100,000 British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War held by the Germans during the Second World War, as well as the UK Army Roll of Honour 1939-1945 which features details of British Army personnel killed in action.

192.com have updated 380,000 Electoral Roll records. Now don’t get too excited, these are from the 2009 Electoral Roll and the main focus of this is current information, although they do have some historical data. There is a lot of information on this site, some of which is free, but it is probably the best place to start looking if you are trying to trace a living relation in the UK.

The Autumn 2009 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine has on it’s cover disc two items connected with the David Mitchell episode of the series. Firstly there is some unseen footage from the episode (I haven’t watched it yet, but will let you know what it’s like) and secondly there is a deal with Ancestry.co.uk providing free access to the 1901 Scottish census (for a limited time only).

The National Archives – War on Film videocasts

3 Sep

The National Archives have today released the first of a series of videocasts entitled “War on Film” focusing on aspects of the Second World War.

The first videocast is Hope and Glory and is a short but useful introduction to life in London at the start of the war and during the Blitz. It features extracts and footage taken from The National Archives. It can be found on The National Archives website or on their YouTube channel.

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