Monday, 2 March 2015

A Chemist Goes to War (and so does his sister) The Johnson's of Church Street, Barnsley

The Barnsley War Memorials Project have just about completed our first volunteers project - to transcribe the 1918 Absent Voters' List for Barnsley and surrounding area.  This was compiled following the changes in electoral franchise extending the vote to all men over 21 and to women over 30 who fulfilled certain property requirements.  So all servicemen who were over 21 or who would be 21 by the forthcoming General Election in 1918 were registered to vote.  You can access the transcriptions from the Absent Voter page of the BWMP website.

There have only been two women found on the list (as far as I am aware). I wrote about one a few months ago, Katherine Blackburn of Sheffield Road, Barnsley, who was a Nurse in the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  One of the very last transcriptions to be returned from our volunteers has turned up another, Lucy Hilary Johnson, a Red Cross Nurse.
Extract from the 1918 Absent Voters' List (thanks to Barnsley Archives)

As you can see another person from the same address, 46 Church Street, is also in the forces - Alfred Lancelot Johnson is a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
1911 census snip (from Ancestry)
A search of the 1911 census shows Lucy and Alfred living at 46 Church Street with their widowed mother Margaret and another two sisters.  Lucy's occupation was entered as Spinster I think, but it has been rubbed or scratched out.  Alfred is listed as a Chemist.  Margaret has filled in the details about the length of her marriage and children born to it, even though as a widow she hadn't needed too - in fact the census enumerator has struck the information through with red ink - but it's very useful for us!  She had been married for 49 years and borne 10 children, of whom 3 have already died.  

The family proved a little elusive in 1901, as it transpired because Margaret and her husband John were away from home on census night.  I did find three of their grown up children living at York Terrace, Stairfoot - and cross checking on Ancestry I found that John Johnson was on the Electoral Roll for that address in 1899. 
Sheffield Evening Telegraph 13 September 1910 (from Find My Past)
John Johnson died on 12 September 1910 and in the notice above we can see that he had been the Manager of Carlton Main Colliery and had been 71 years old when he died. He left £4737 18s 10d in his will according to the Probate index entry on Ancestry where, as one of his executors, Alfred Lancelot Johnson is referred to as a Chemist's Manager. Margaret died in 1911 and both are buried in Barnsley Cemetery along with sons William Matthew Johnson (d. 1895 aged 31) and Richard Aaron Johnson (d.1894 aged 24). I don't know who the other child who died young is yet - but the family was living in Carlton in 1891 and before that in Halesowen where Alfred was born and Wales where the older children were born so another child could have died in any of these places.

John Johnson and Margaret Parker were both from the North East of England and had married in the June Quarter (April, May, June) of 1861 in the Newcastle upon Tyne district.  She was born in around 1839 in Winlaton, just south of the river Tyne in Durham and I have identified her family easily in the 1861 census (7 April 1861) as helpfully her younger sister and brother are living with the Johnson family Wrexham in 1871.  Her brother Richard is living next door to them in 1881 in Halesowen too, married to a Welsh girl and with two children.  John Johnson, also born around 1839, gives his birthplace as Gosforth, Northumberland in the 1881 and 1891 census returns and was much harder to trace, however he is most probably the son of Matthew Johnson (Matthew being the middle name of two of his sons) who was a Overman in the Colliery in Winlaton in 1851, despite the family reporting their origin as Longbenton, Northumberland (just 2 miles from Gosforth).  This does seem to fit nicely with him marrying a girl from Winlaton a few years later.

Their eldest son William Matthew Johnson's death is also reported in the Sheffield newspapers - he had been a Bank Clerk in Sheffield and had died at Crookes in Sheffield in 1895 of typhoid fever aged 31.  The report also notes that whilst living at Carlton he had been a Sunday School teacher there, travelling regularly between the village and his employment in Sheffield.  Unfortunately the report is spread over two columns of the newspaper and the bottom part of one section is missing on Find My Past. 

Despite a good search I can can find no further mentions in the Sheffield papers (which are the nearest that appear on Find My Past as yet) of John Johnson's career - there should be an obituary in the Barnsley Chronicle, so I'll put that on my to do list for next time I visit Barnsley Archives.
40 to 46 Church Street (thanks to the Tasker Trust)
The book, Barnsley Streets Volume 1, states that L H Johnson was living at 46 Church Street from 1906 to 1929.  It seems odd that the entry would be in Lucy's name when John and Margaret would have been the senior householders ... but maybe Mr Tasker was just being economical with his records and bundling all the entries under the name of the person who lived there for the longest. All of the houses in the photo above, from the Tasker Trust website, were demolished when the road was widened and a roundabout put in, roughly opposite Barnsley College I estimate from the information in the book.

Lucy was 34 years old in 1911, so when she was listed as a Red Cross Nurse in 1918 she would have been 41, but obviously playing her part in the war and living away from home to do it.  In 1915 the War Office proposed that volunteer nurses, known as VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) could work in RAMC hospitals (lots more details on the Red Cross website) - I can't find a record for her on Lives of the First World War so maybe she did not work abroad.

Her brother Alfred appears to have been invalided out of the RAMC in 1919 with malaria, at which time he was a Sergeant, according to a detailed Pension Record available for him on Ancestry.  A little younger than Lucy, he was 35 years old when he enlisted in April 1916.  His occupation was given as Dispensing Chemist and he had dentures fitted!  I expect that his peacetime occupation made him a perfect candidate for the Royal Army Medical Corps - and he must have served overseas as he has medal records showing that he was entitled to the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
1955 Probate Entry for Lucy Johnson (from Ancestry)

Both Mary Lizzie and Margaret Dinah Johnson, the sisters who are at home with their mother, Lucy and Alfred in 1911 die unmarried and are buried in Barnsley Cemetery, Margaret in 1921 in Barnsley and Mary in 1838 in Harrogate.  Lucy herself dies in 1955 aged 78 years also in Harrogate according to her Probate index entry on Ancestry, but she does not appear to be buried in Barnsley.  She leaves £17,424 6s 2d and her executor is Alfred Lancelot Johnson, retired Chemist.  That is a substantial amount of money - worth around £300,000 today (there is a handy converter on the National Archives website). 

Alfred, possibly the last of the family, dies in Cheshire in 1965 aged 84 - did he marry?  I don't know.  And I haven't accounted for all of John and Margaret's children yet.  There is an elder daughter, Sarah Jane Parker Johnson, b.1861  and more sons, John Matthew Johnson b.1868 and John P Johnson b.1875 who appear in the census returns still to track down. 

I'm afraid that is all I have been able to find about the Johnson family so far ... but a search at the Barnsley Archives later this week might turn up something else.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

WW1 Soldier's Story - The Importance of Knowing Where Your Spoon is At

In the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy it is vitally important that you always know where your towel is ... well it seems that in the First World War it was equally important that you always knew where your spoon was.  After all, you could eat with a spoon, scrape mud off your boots with a spoon, dig yourself out of a collapsed dugout with a spoon, deflect bullets with a spoon and ... in the event of the ultimate sacrifice ... be identified by your spoon!

I was adding details of one of our (the Barnsley War Memorials Project) men to Lives of the First World War the other night and (as you do) got distracted by the additional documents the Commonwealth War Graves Commission now supplies on the entries for the men.
Concentration document on CWGC for Swift, W (click to enlarge)
The man I was interested in is the second one down, initially listed as an Unknown Soldier of the Yorks & Lancs he was later identified by an inscription on his spoon as 13/890 Pte W Swift of the 13th York and Lancaster, known as the 1st Barnsley Pals:

890 1.B.Y & L.

Lower down the page a second man, Pte R A Wood, of the 2/2 London Regiment was also identified by  his spoon.  I wonder how common this was?

WW1 spoon bearing the inscription RFC 878 (from the Great War Forum)
I searched online and was able to find this picture of a WW1 spoon on the Great War Forum where there is also a lot of discussion about the spoons. 

Walter Swift's Army Service Records have survived (available on Ancestry and Find My Past) and with those and a thorough search of the local newspaper, the Barnsley Chronicle (available to search digitally at Barnsley Archives) I was able to construct an interesting timeline around the spoon.

Walter joins up in September 1914 no doubt carried along in the enthusiasm for creating a Barnsley Pals battalion at the beginning of the war.  He was 29 years old.  He had married Emily Walker in 1910 and they had two children alive at the time of his death, Elizabeth b.1912 and Walter b.1916.  There had been another child, Arthur b.1910 who is listed on the 1911 census when Walter and Emily, living at 16 Park Square, off George's Street in Barnsley, declare they had been married 10 months and that Arthur was 6 months old.  Interesting maths that!  So Emily had been five months pregnant with Arthur on their marriage. Unfortunately Arthur dies later the same year and is buried in Monk Bretton Cemetery.  Another child, Thomas is listed on Walter's Service Records, but he also dies young aged just 11 months in October 1915 and is buried in Barnsley Cemetery.  His death certificate is included in Walter's records.  Walter would still have been in England at this time, I hope he made it home to console Emily.

Walter went over the top on 1 July 1916 with the rest of the Barnsley lads and was one of the hundreds of casualties from the two local battalions that day.  
Barnsley Chronicle 26 August 1916 (thanks to Barnsley Archives)
Nearly two months later his family is officially notified that Walter is missing.  The above note appears in the Barnsley Chronicle on 26 August 1916.  Similar pieces continued to appear for many weeks after the events of the "Big Push" as it became known in the Chronicle.
Barnsley Chronicle 28 April 1917 (thanks to Barnsley Archives)

The following year the family must have heard more definite news as on two consecutive weeks In Memoriam notices appear for Walter, the first on 21 April 1917 from his mother, (step) father and sisters, and the one I have reproduced above on 28 April 1917, from his wife and children.  There is a letter in the Service Records dated July 1917 noting that articles of personal property and medals should be sent to Mrs Emily Swift of 10 Mill Street, Hoyle Mill, Nr Barnsley. 

Emily remarries in 1918 to John W Jackson and moves to 52 Princess Street, Barnsley.  They appear to have eight children together between 1919 and 1928.  

Emily Jackson was sent Walter's British War Medal and Victory medal in January and September 1921 following some letters to and fro to establish her whereabouts in late 1919.  Emily completes the Next of Kin form in September 1919, which is wonderful source of family information for any family historian.  She gives the full dates of birth of her and Walter's two surviving children and full address details of his mother, step father, and five half sisters, three of them under their married names!

The CWGC document initially shown above is dated July 1921.  This must be when this exhumation of bodies from temporary graves to be 'concentrated' into larger cemeteries took place.  In the Service Records there is a note dated December 1921 from the Imperial War Graves Commission (the previous name of the CWGC) enquiring of the Infantry Records Office in York: 
"890 York & Lancaster Regiment.  It is desired to identify a soldier who bore the Regimental Number quoted above.  Will you therefore kindly give the full description of any or all the soldiers in your records as having borne this number, and at the same time quote the latest casualty effecting him or them".
Letter to the Imperial War Graves Commission (from Find My Past)
The letter of reply has also been preserved in the records.  You can see that the records office had identified five men in the York and Lancaster Regiment whose Service Number contained the digits 890.  Three of them had survived the war and been discharged, one had been discharged in March 1915 - his number was 14/890 suggesting he was in the 2nd Barnsley Pals.  At this date the Pals were still at home, the 2nd Pals having not even moved out of temporary accommodation in Barnsley centre (see Jon Cooksey's book Barnsley Pals for much more on the Pals' movements), so this man was probably discharged as unfit for service.

Only 13/890  Pte Swift W was unaccounted for, "Assumed Dead. Place of Burial unknown".  I assume the IWGC also considered the place in which the unidentified body had been found and that this tallied with the identification of the body as a man who had fallen on 1 July 1916.

It would have been at this point the red ink correction was made to the Concentration document - and when Pte Swift's cWGC gravestone was engraved his full details were able to appear on it.  You can see a low resolution picture of his gravestone on the War Graves Photographic Project's page.   There is no family information on Walter's CWGC entry page and no personal dedication on his gravestone.  This might be because the Army were having trouble locating his widow, or simply because she did not reply to them when approached.
Letter to Emily Jackson from the Infantry Records Office (from Find My Past)
In February 1923 the saga draws to a close in, to me, a slightly shocking manner.  The Infantry Records Office sends "One damaged spoon" to Emily Jackson at Princess Street.

It has been nearly seven years since Walter was reported missing. Emily has remarried and now has at least four children with her new husband.  And then a spoon turns up.  How upsetting must that have been? 
Larger than average terraced property, 52 Princess Street (from Google Maps)
Emily and John William Jackson continue to live at 52 Princess Street for the rest of their lives.  They lose two children, Edith aged 5 and Frank aged 4 at the beginning of 1931 who are buried in the same plot as little Thomas Swift (c 270) in Barnsley Cemetery.  John dies in 1947 and Emily in 1977 aged 87 years old, they too are buried together in Barnsley Cemetery (6 101) and one day I'll take a walk and see if they have a gravestone.  Such a long and sad life - and I wonder what happened to the spoon?