Tag Archives: London

Portsmouth’s Great War Emigrants and Immigrants

I’ve always found the transient nature of Portsmouth society pretty interesting. As a port people have been coming and going from the place for hundreds of years. In fact, Portsmouth probably knew more about Immigants and Emigrants than any other place before the Empire Windrush.

My research into Portsmouth’s World War One dead is throwing up some pretty interesting findings with regard to people either leaving Portsmouth or coming here. A number of Portsmouth men were killed serving with foreign military units. 5 men were killed with African units. 12  were with the Australian Army, as well 6 men who were loaned to the Royal Australian Navy. 29 men were serving with Canadian units, 3 with Indian units, and 2 New Zealand. For many of these – in particular Australian and Canadian – their service records survive, so it should be possible to research their careers and lives in a fair bit of detail – how did they come to leave Portsmouth?I suspect that some may never have set foot in their ‘adopted’ country, but might have been transferred in theatre as manpower needs dictated. All the same, the majority of them probably emigrated in search of a better life, and im many cases, were killed serving closer to their homeland than they could have ever imagined.

Looking down the list of surnames of war dead, it is possible to find quite a few foreign sounding surnames. Some of them sound distinctly German, French, Spanish, Italian, Polish and possible Jewish. Some of them I have picked out are as follows:

Gunner Alfred Baulf (RFA), Gunner Henry Berger (RFA), Private Henry Bosonnet (15th Hampshires), Private Cyril Brunnen (2nd Hampshires), Lieutenant George Cosser (6th Hampshires), Private Walter De Caen (2nd Hampshires), Lance Corporal Joseph Hassalt (South Wales Borderers), Private John Hedicker (2nd Hampshires), Lance Corporal Harold Heffren (1st Hampshires), Private H.W. Heinman (2nd Hampshires), Lance Corporal R.J. Pamphilon (London Regiment), Sergreant Albert Petracca (Army Service Corps), M. Weiner (not yet identified, Ships Cook William Boggia (HMS Victory),PO Frederick De Barr (HMS Natal), PO Walter De Ste Croix (HMS Hampshire), AB Charles Farlou (HMS Ardent), Telegraphist John Hefferman (HMS Princess Irene), Chief Engine Room Artificer William Lucia (HMS Queen Mary), Sick Berth Attendant Arthur Mazonowicz (HMS Victory), Gunner Albert Mehennet (RMA Siege Guns), Signal Bosun Arthur Mortieau (HMS Hampshire), Officers Cook 1st Class Herbert Weitzel (HM Yacht Zarefah), Musician John Whichello (RM Band Service), Alexander Zeithing (unidentified), Gunner Albert Rosser (RMA, HMS Vanguard), Officers Cook Alfred Santillo (HMS Goliath), PO William Koerner (HMS Niobe).

There are also quite a few men who came from ‘foreign’ places with links to the British Empiure – 17 men from the Channel Islands, and five from Malta. Many of these men may have fled strife at home – possibly some French-descended men of Hugenot origin? – or perhaps Eastern Europeans of Jews fleeing pogroms in Central and Eastern Europe. Sadly for many of them service records are not available, but it might be an interesting exercise to try and chart their lives.

When it comes to Royal Naval and Royal Marine Servicemen, for the vast majority their service records still survive. And better still, in the search function on the National Archives Documents Online website, you can see their date and place of birth without having to pay! The following were born in foreign climes:

PO George Temple (Bermuda), PO Samuel Greenway (Ceylon), AB William Morrison (Ceylon), Lieutenant George Walker-Williamson (India), Cooks Mate William Opie (India), Cooks Mate Frederick Shephard (India), Warrant Mechanician Thomas King (New Zealand), Leading Seaman Edward Williams (Campos Gabrielle, South America, possibly Chile), Chief Engine Room Artificer Stamper Wade (Boston US).

They all have distinctly British names, so it would seem that they were born to British parents who for whatever reason were living or working abroad. Interesting that many of their places of birth – India, Ceylon and New Zealand for example – were part of the British Empire. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but Stamper Wade sounds like a typical American name! It would also be interesting to find out about Edward Williams – as far as I can tell, Campos Gabrielle could be in Chile.

We don’t know quite as much about the provenance of men who served in the Army, but on his Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry we see that Private Henry Hodge was born in Barbados, but was living in Cosham at the time that he was killed. Again, it would be very interesting to find out why!

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Filed under Local History, Uncategorized, World War One

Band Corporal Arthur Wood and Musician Frederick Wood

British battlecruiser HMS QUEEN MARY.

It never ceases to amaze me just what an impact the Battle of Jutland had on Portsmouth – three Portsmouth Battlecruisers were sunk, with the loss of thousands of men. Obviously, in such a strong naval city, many communities were badly hit. And with several generations of the same family often served at the same time, some family suffered more than one casualty. But one family I have researched paid a heavier price than most.

Arthur Oswald Wood, born in Worcester on 8 September 1892, enlisted in the Royal Marines Band Service on 20 September 1906. His brother Frederick William, who had been born in London on 23 September 1889, joined the Band Service on 15 March 1905. Their father was a retired warrant officer who had served in the Royal Field Artillery, and the family lived at 10 Kimberley Road in Southsea.

At the Battle of Jutland both were serving on board the Portsmouth-based Battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary, as part of the ship’s Royal Marine Band. Arthur Wood was the Band Corporal. Both were killed when HMS Queen Mary was sunk in the battle on 31 May 1916. Arthur was 23, and Frederick was 26. They are both remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common.

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HMS Belfast airbrushed out of Olympic Posters

Preserved Royal Navy cruiser HMS Belfast in th...

HMS Belfast - airbrushed (Image via Wikipedia)

This is a pretty strange one – its transpired today that HMS Belfast, moored on the Thames near Tower Bridge, has been airbrushed out of an official poster for the London 2012 Olympics.

We’ve had the usual ‘it was a mistake, blah blah’ statements from un-named spokesperson. But lets look at the facts. At some point, someone somewhere, made a conscious and deliberate decision that it would be a good idea to remove a historic warship from a scene of London. This isn’t something that you do accidentally – as anyone with design experience knows, doctoring a landscape is not something that ‘just happens’. I could understand some spotty young designer maybe brushing it out, but for it to pass so many levels up until publication without being halted, is pretty alarming.

What we need to think about, wider than the fact that it happened, is the thought process that led to it being acceptable? HMS Belfast has been moored on the Thames for over 40 years now, and has been visited by millions of people. If it wasn’t for the role of HMS Belfast in the war, we would have had plenty more Olympics like those in Berlin in 1936 – ie, a farce. Or football teams having to give the Nazi salute, like the teams who played in the World Cup in Germany in 1938. It’s not just ‘a ship’, it represents all of the ships of the British Royal Navy that have fought in bloody conflicts over hundreds of years.

Is it that military history is not thought appropriate for the Olympics? Well, in that case you can also airbrush out the Tower of London. Oh, and the Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial. And can anyone remember the spectacle of the Chinese Army soldiers goose-stepping with the Olympic flag in Beijing in 2008? That was hardly subtle, yet somehow that was overlooked. Don’t expect to see Grenadier Guards at the 2012 opening ceremony, or the Red Arrows flying overhead (although after recent events that might not be possible in any case).

I do wonder if it is down to a modern, lefty kind of school of thought, that would like to try and airbrush wars and anything military out of history. No doubt with the sobriquet that we ‘need to look to the future’. Well, without those who secured our past, there wouldn’t be much of a future to look forward to. I guess its the problem with having elected and appointed leaders with no sense of history.

It’s yet another example of just how blind this country and its institutions can be about our naval heritage. And if we’re that blase about the past, is it any wonder that the Royal Navy is struggling for attention in the present?

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D-Day Museum on Remembrance Sunday

Just a little reminded that I will be speaking at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth this coming Remembrance Sunday.

The Museum is open from 10am. I will be speaking at 12noon and 2pm, giving a short talk on my forthcoming book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. Entry to the Museum is free all day, and there is no need to book.

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my notes. If you come down, feel free to say hello and ask me anything you like!

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ANZAC #4 – Lieutenant Harry Gearing

The fourth Australian soldier to be buried in Milton Cemetery presents us with a pretty interesting story indeed. Harry Alan Cheshire Gearing was born in India, on 16 August 1884. Hence he was very much a son of the British Empire. He was the son of Henry George and Mary Gearing. In civilian life prior to joining the Army he was Secretary and Accountant, and his wife was Bertha Gearing.

Sadly, as he was an officer Harry Gearing did not go through quite the same recruitment process as the rank and file. Harry Gearing was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Australian Army Service Corps on 22 April 1915. Prior to embarking for the Middle East, Gearing was in charge of rations at the Brisbane Army base, issuing rations daily for 4,000 men and 1,000 horses.

2nd Lieutenant Gearing embarked from Australia onboard the HMAT Ascanuis (A11), from Brisbane on 24 May 1915. He reached Egypt sometime later, but had been taken ill on the voyage. On 21 July 1915 he was examined by a Medical Board at the Australian Hospital in Heliopolis, outside Cairo, and found to be suffering from Diabetes, his symptoms including glycosuria, unquenchable thirst and asthemia.

On 28 July he left Egypt, onboard the HMAT Ceramic bound for England. By 7 August he was in Britain, and was again examined at the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth. Again, a Medical Board found that he was suffering from Diabetes, caused by service, and that he was unlikely to be fit for any future active service away from home. He was immediately given 3 months sick leave, leaving London on 31 August 1915.

Whilst on sick leave Gearing seems to have been perpetually on the move, taking in vast swathes of England and Scotland in something of a grand tour. His letters to the Australian Headquarters in London passed on his forwarding address, even if he was only staying for one or two days! In September he stayed with a Mrs Stewart at Culgruft, in Cross Michael in Scotland. From there he went to Dollar in Clarkmananshire, and from there on to Lauriestone Hall in Mossdale. In October he took in Corsock, Dalbeatie, Kircudbrightshire; and Balmaghie House, Castle Douglas.

In late October 1915 he was informed that he had to come back to London to sit before another Medical Board, in order to assess his fitness for further service. An argument then ensued, about whether he was entitled to a Railway Warrant for his journey! Gearing also stated that he would be willing to foregoe the rest of his sick leave if he could be garuanteed a post with the ANZAC base depot at Weymouth, but AIF Headquarters would not promise this.

Gearing was finally examined by yet another Medical Board at the AIF Headquarters at 130 Horseferry Road on 26 November 1915 The board found that his weight was still fluctuating, and that he had Polyuric and pains in the limbs, much sugar in the urine. He was found permanently unfit for active service. For some reason he does not appear to have been discharged there and then, but sent on more sick leave.

Between November 1915 and April 1916 his movements are somewhat vague, but we do know that Lieutenant Gearing was finally discharged from the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, in London. Although his letters suggest that he wished to return to Australia, for whatever reason he did not do so immediately. Upon arrival in London in April he was staying at Messrs Wallace and Co,Russell Court, ClevelandRow, in West London. In early May 1916 he sent a number of telegrams that suggest that he had been to Marseille in the South of France before returning to London. At some time in early April we know that he was in Gibraltar, making that a likely possibility. Later in May he stayed at Faulkners Hotel, Villiers Street, Strand, before travelling to stay at The Bungalow, Praa Sands, Vis Ashton, Cornwall.

Intriguingly, Lieutenant Gearing does appear to have had a sister in England – Hope G. Gearing, who lived in Culver Lodge, at Sandown on the Isle of Wight – by no means a million miles from Portsmouth. Ironically given his extensive travelling, there is no indication that he visited her during his time in Britain.

It seems that Gearing did not return to Australia. He died of Diabetes on 16 March 1917, almost a year after he had left the Australian Army. He was 31. Death records suggest that he did die in Portsmouth. Perhaps he was in the Military HospitalHe was buried in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth, alongside other Australian Great War soldiers. Why he was buried in Milton is something of a mystery, but in 1919 his widow, who had been in Australia during the war, was living at Red Lodge, Craneswater Park in Southsea. She was still in Britain during 1920 and 1921, and according to her brother, was ‘always on the move’ – much like her husband, it appears.

Although he did not see active service, Harry Gearing’s experience is another example of the way in which servicemen could become ill during their service, and many sadly died. Although Gearing seems to have been of a slightly different class to most Diggers – an accountant, who seemingly had contacts throughout Britain – like his comrades, he died and was buried thousands of miles from home.

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Filed under Pompey ANZAC's, Uncategorized, World War One

Portsmouth’s WW1 sailors – some initial observations

The British Grand Fleet steaming in parallel c...

The Grand Fleet of WW1 (Image via Wikipedia)

Having completed the entry of Portsmouth Soldiers who were killed between 1914 and 1921, for the past few months I have begun entering the names of sailors from Portsmouth who were killed in the Great War. Having processed some 414 sailors and 82 Royal Marines, I have a pretty decent sample to make some interesting observations.

Thanks to the way that WW1 Naval service records are available online, we can see the exact date of birth and place of birth for virtually ever 1914-18 sailor. And the findings are striking. A very large percentage of Portsmouth sailors who were killed in the Great War were actually born here. I would have presumed that many more would have been born elsewhere but moved to Portsmouth in service. I wonder how many of them were second or even third generation sailors? It seems that the Navy did not actually expand significantly, in terms of manpower, between when most of these men were born in the late Victorian period and 1914. Certainly not as much as the Army expanded, in any case.

Of those who did come from elsewhere, most of them came from nearby maritime counties, such as Sussex or Dorset. A sizeable amount came from London, which also had a seafaring tradition. Others came from virtually every county in Britain, including some from Ireland, Scotland, and even two from Malta. One great surprise is the sizeable amount who came from the Channel Island – a place with a very small population, but obviously a great many young men familiar with the sea.

As with my similar research into WW2, it seems that most Pompey sailors were pre-war regulars, and often Leading Rates, Petty Officers or Warrant Officers. Long-serving sailors were clearly more likely to settle here, and most of them seem to have lived in areas close to the naval base, such as Landport, Buckland and Portsea. About 90% of CWGC entries for WW1 sailors include house numbers and street names, which gives great potential for some geo-mapping exercises. Oddly enough very few naval officers seem to have settled in Portsmouth – perhaps it was not quite fashionable.

Relatively few sailors in WW1 seem to have won medals compared to their counterparts in WW2. One exception seems to have been the submarine service, in which a number of Pompey sailors were involved. Several were awarded Distinguished Service Medals, at a time when submarines were very much in their infancy, and a very hazardous way of going to war.

The Navy did not actually expand that much during WW1. Obviously the only way you would really need to expand naval manpower massively is if you had new ships to crew, but in 1914 the Royal Navy was already easiest the largest in the world. The only ‘expansion’ involved the re-activation of some Reserve Fleet ships. One of these was HMS Good Hope, which was crewed almost exclusively by re-called reservists. In fact, when war was declared the Royal Navy received too many volunteers, and formed a Royal Naval Division for service on land. Several Portsmouth men were killed with the RN Division, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

Most sailors were killed in the large set piece battles, such as at Jutland or the Coronel. At Jutland HMS Invincible, Princess Royal and Black Prince were lost, and HMS Good Hope at the Coronel. A number of other ships were sunk by accidental explosions, such as HMS Bulwark and HMS Natal.

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Filed under Navy, Royal Marines, Uncategorized, World War One

Historian for hire!

Just a little reminder that I’m available for helping out with any of the following:

  • Family history research – Ordering and interpreting birth, marriage and death certificates; drawing up family trees; overcoming those little snags in your family history!
  • Military history research – researching and interpreting individuals service records; war diary look ups; medal winners; casualties; Prisoners of War
  • Archive and library research – particularly in the Portsmouth/Hampshire/West Sussex area; also London, such as the National Archives, Imperial War Museum, British Library etc.
  • Talks and lectures, workshops, etc. – I can give talks to any local history group, which can be tailored to the audience. Also workshops etc.
  • Researching and writing articles and other publications – I have previously written articles for Britain at War Magazine
  • Researching and writing text for Exhibitions – I have previously written text for display at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth

And absolutely anything else that you can think of, to do with history! Contact me to discuss what I can do, rates etc.

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