"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 18 June 2012

V is for victory

V was tricky as I don’t have and V surnames at all in my tree. So I decided that V should be for Victory – a blog post dedicated to my ancestors in the military. I haven’t got that many, and I haven’t come up with any really exciting stories but here’s a quick look at what I do know:
Starting on my father’s side, my paternal grandfather John Newby was too young to have served in the Second World War. However, I believe that he did his National Service in Burma - we have old photographs of him with Buddhist statues and things (a bit vague, I know, but as they’re at home with my parents I can’t describe them much better!). National Service was  introduced after the Second World War. Initially these young men went for a year, but this was extended to eighteen months in 1948, and to two years in 1950, as a response to the Korean War.  At the age of eighteen they had to register for service, but if they were doing an apprenticeship or any sort of training for a career they could opt to defer until they were twenty-one. John would have turned eighteen in May 1949. However, he was in the building trade, so there is a possibility that he was doing an apprenticeship and may have deferred his service until 1952. Either way it seems probable that he served two years, sometime in the period 1949–54. I don’t know much more about this, but it might be worth investigating. 
Going back a generation, John’s father Walter Newby would have been in his thirties during the Second World War, but I have no idea what he was doing. On his marriage certificate in 1929 Walter was described as a motor driver, so perhaps he also became a driver of some description during the war?
My mother’s father, Horace James Hancock was born in July 1909, so he would have just turned thirty when war broke out. However, he didn’t go into the armed forces, but worked as a fireman in Brighton. I can’t be sure why this is. He might have failed the medical or perhaps because he was in his thirties he wouldn’t have been immediately called up anyway. In either case, perhaps he joined the fire service because he wanted to contribute to the war effort in some other way – but why Brighton? As far as I’m aware he didn’t live there before or after the war.  A bit of research has revealed that the Fire Services Training Centre was based in Brighton during the war, so maybe that’s what he was doing there? Again, it is something to find out a bit more about.
Down my Rayner line, I know that Leslie Gordon Rayner had moved to Wakefield with his family by the mid-thirties. Leslie I think was in the forces, but more in an administrative capacity. I believe he was stationed at Nostell Priory, just outside Wakefield. I imagine he would have been very thankful to be so close to his young family rather than being sent abroad to fight.
I have talked a little before about Leslie’s brother Alec Maxted Rayner, who joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1908 aged just fourteen, and their father William Henry Rayner, living in a Barracks in Isleworth in 1891, leaving his young bride to return to her parents. A little research tells us:
[in the late Victorian period] Restrictions on the number of soldiers who could marry were eased, and all soldiers' wives could accompany their husbands when they changed station (though not on campaign). However, there was official and practical discouragement of soldiers (and officers) who wished to marry while young. (Wikipedia)
So for William to have married at eighteen was quite unusual. Perhaps he even kept it quiet. It is quite probably the reason that William is wrongly recorded as unmarried on the 1891 census, despite the fact that his wife had just given birth to their first child.
The Wikipedia entry also tells us:
Following the Cardwell Reforms [in 1870], most soldiers served only a few years with the regulars before passing into the reserves. This minimum period of regular service varied over time and with arms of service, from as little as four years in the infantry, to as much as eight in the cavalry and artillery. (Wikipedia)
Might we then conclude that William was in the cavalry or artillery, rather than the infantry? It’s certainly tempting, but I don’t think it can really be conclusive!
That’s really just about it for my ancestors in the military that I know of.
(Stereo)Typically for a girl, I have to admit that I’m not particularly fascinated by military history. I say that  despite having worked at the (amazing) Royal Armouries museum for about six months – perhaps I have a slightly greater appreciation of it than I did once!
I think it’s perhaps because I find it easier to empathise with my female ancestors and their lives. But also, I’ve never felt that it’s a big part of my ancestral story. I knew, for example, that my neither of my grandfathers fought, and as far as I know none of my great-grandfathers were heavily involved either. Btu then again, I don’t have the whole story, so perhaps there is a war hero lurking somewhere in the branches.
That said, I visited the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium with school at the age of fifteen, and that had a profound effect on me. When you stand in the cemeteries, the sheer numbers of crosses are just astounding, the ‘Last Post’ at the Menin Gate is so emotionally charged, and some of the museums exhibits I saw still haunt me. But the strongest memory is of standing at some of the grand memorials, like Thiepval, and just staring at rows and rows of names of missing men. 
I found some Newbys, of course, and wondered if perhaps they were relatives. Even then, six years before I began my genealogical quest, I couldn’t help but wonder about them…
L x


  1. An interesting read, Lauren. I have a fair few military ancestors myself, which I posted about here: http://nmcmahon.co.uk/genealogy/my-military-ancestors-and-why-i-support-the-poppy/28. I didn't really have a huge interest in military history, but since finding out I have a personal connection to it, I've become more interested in it, and history in general.

    You mention Thiepval - my great-grandfather's name is on the memorial; his body was never recovered. There's a picture of his name on the memorial in that article.

    I definitely want to visit the memorial at some point in the future. A great (but sombre) song that is scarily accurate with regards to my great-grandfather's wartime events is The Green Fields of France - have a listen to the Dropkick Murphys version, you might like it.

  2. I will do when I get home. Read the lyrics, very moving. Definitely worth a visit, particularly Thiepval and the Menin Gate.


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