WW1

A family mystery

I was raised by my Grandparents and I’d say that they were most probably my biggest inspiration for becoming interested in history. Both of them had served in the Second World War, my Grandma in the ATS & my Grandad in Kings Liverpool Regiment  both being attached to the Royal Signals and posted to Huddersfield where they met. After my Grandad returned to the UK in 1946 after serving in Eritrea, India, Tunisia & Libya they settled in Huddersfield hence my connection & why I’m a Yorkshireman!

My Grandparents on their wedding day in 1947. They couldn’t afford a wedding dress or suit so dug out their old uniforms (Authors own Collection)

I remember when I was little that we used to visit my Great Grandma, who was my Grandad’s Mum, in Heywood, Lancashire where my Grandad was originally from and I asked my Grandma where her Mum was. She replied she didn’t have a Mum & that she had been brought up in foster care. Being young & probably not understanding what this meant  I didn’t ask anymore

A few years later as I was older the question popped up again and my Grandma told me that she had been born in Saltburn by the Sea in the North East and her maiden name was Franklin. She couldn’t remember anything of her childhood apart from growing up with a couple in Egton Bridge near Whitby and going to school & attending the local church and being confirmed there. After she left school she went into domestic service at a house in Whitby and I always remember her saying that the son of the house had a big posh car. (Only a few years ago I learnt that she had worked for the Headlam family a wealthy & prominent local family who had made their fortune in the Ship owning business. There were 2 brothers who were into racing cars, one of them Leonard Headlam being killed in an car accident in 1930 on his way to take part on the famous Brooklands circuit & the other William Headlam whom my Grandma worked for owned a custom built Aston Martin. Another brother John had been killed Aged 19 in the Great War on 30th May 1918 whilst on active service as a Lieutenant with the Royal Flying Corps. William Headlam bought Raithwaite Hall, Whitby in 1939 & continued to live there until his death in 1990 aged 81. He left his £7 million fortune to his nurse who had cared for him for many years & Raithwaite Hall is now a 5 star hotel). I always wondered why we went on holiday to Whitby so much as a child and I guess this was the reason why & because of those holidays it’s a place very special to me and where I still visit several times a year. By 1941 my Grandma had joined the ATS and also married a local lad from nearby Sleights who was serving in the RAF. She never told me this info but my Mum has since said that Grandma had revealed this to her almost 40 years after & said it was a wartime romance & that they should never have got married, they later got divorced

One day my Grandma showed me a copy she had of her birth certificate which showed she had been born on 21st November 1918, just 10 days after the Armistice. Her Mum was called Lindsley Franklin nee Pelmear & her Dad John Francis MacDonald Franklin a Deputy in an Ironstone mine and the address shown was 24 Dixon Street, Skelton which it turns out was Lindsley’s parents home but it also showed that my Grandma had been born at 23 Pearl Street, Saltburn by the Sea. The mystery deepened as this wasn’t a hospital that I could find but one of those large Victorian seaside terrace houses with several floors. I remember when I was about 11 yrs old going on holiday to Saltburn with my Grandparents and them asking local people if they knew anything about Pearl Street and it being remarked on by someone that is was some kind of Children’s home. Even then I could see how much this upset my Grandma. But how true this is I’ve yet to research fully to find out. I’m pretty sure a few years ago you could research a particular house or street online or am I imagining this?

If you’re still with me at this point you’re probably thinking what the hell has all this to do with the Great War? Well next to her father’s name in the father’s Occupation section together with his mining job was written, Sapper 175488 Royal Engineers. Now I’ve got your attention haven’t I!

Of course all this info would come well before the internet & in later years before any records had been digitised online. So at this point I couldn’t do anymore research. And sadly in February 2003 I lost my Grandma Aged 84 followed a year later in May 2004 by my Grandad Aged 82. Both lost to that horrible disease Alzheimer’s/ Dementia. So she went to her grave not knowing anything about her family

It was years later that I discovered online research and how to find the right stuff & I amazingly found that my Great Grandad’s service record had survived and this opened up a whole lot of answers but also raised many more questions

My Great Grandfather’s Service Record ( © Ancestry.com/TNA)

Originally joining the Army Service Corps (RASC) as Pvt 141497 on 14th October 1915 at West Hartlepool Aged 42 years & 2 months my Great Grandad was given a medical where it shows he was 5’8″ in height, weighed 172lbs with a 42 1/2″ chest. He had no distinctive marks but its recorded that he had bad teeth. Another mystery popped up here as he gives his address as 50 Eleventh Street, Horden, Peterlee some 36 miles north of Skeleton where he supposedly worked in an Ironstone mine, more on this later. He’s shown as living with his wife at this address and their 2 children Ina born 1912 & Mavis born 1914. It shows that he had married Lindsay Pelmear on 14th May 1910 at the United Presbyterian Church in Middlesbrough

On 15th June 1916 my grandfather was transferred to a Royal Engineers Tunnelling Company at Clipstone Camp as Sapper 175488. A month later he disembarked in France on 17th July at the General Base before joining the 174th Tunnelling Company on 29th July 1916

Details of clothing issued to Sapper 175488 J. Franklin (© Ancestry.com/TNA)

A few days after he was transferred to 178th Tunnelling Co who were at this time based on the Somme. They were to be involved in the tunnelling of a mine at High Wood which the 178th began in early August. They dug down 25 feet and then constructed a gallery 310 feet long which they packed with 3000lbs of ammonal right below a German machine gun position. On 3rd September this mine was blown only 30 seconds prior to the infantry attack by 1st bn Black Watch & the explosion created a large crater taking out the machine gun & it’s crew. On the right near Wood Lane the 1st Cameronians & 8th Berkshires attacked, their advance made easier by the lack of the machine gun position. Vicious hand to hand fighting took place & losses were high. A counter attack by the Germans eventually pushed the British back & the attack had failed to not only take the Wood itself but also Wood Lane

On 8th September another attack was to be made this time by 1st Gloucesters & 2nd Welch Regiment on the Western side of the wood. John & his comrades in 178th Tunnelling Co had filled the gallery underneath the earlier crater on the Eastern side with the same amount of ammonal as before & again blew it just before an infantry attack on 9th Sept by 2nd Royal Sussex & 2nd KRRC who successfully managed to capture Wood Lane to the east but High wood still stood firmly in German hands. It would be another 6 days before a further attack on the 15th September led by 47th (London) Division supported by the New Zealand Division on the right & the 50th Division on the left that saw High Wood finally fall

Tunnels at Vimy Ridge giving a an idea of the conditions and incredible work that Tunnellers achieved ( Authors own photo)

My Great Grandad is recorded as being wounded on 8th September suffering shrapnel wounds to his face & left eye. He was admitted to 1/3 N ‘bn Field Ambulance (which I can’t trace, Possibly Northumberland?) before ending up in a Casualty Clearing Station at Rouen

Discharged on 16th October he then rejoins his tunnelling company. He takes 9 days leave in November 1916 but after his return on 12th November he is further admitted to 22 General Hospital at Camiers, Etaples for 10 days on 6th December and doesn’t rejoin his unit until the 18th December. 1917 sees John transferred back to 174th Tunnelling Company on 7th February until he’s granted leave from 4th- 18th December. In the final year of the war in 1918 John is admitted to hospital again on 17th July and is transferred back to Blighty on 5th August to 3rd General Hospital. For John the war is over and he’s transferred to Shoreham on Sea London Command in late September eventually to the RE Tunneling Company depot on 29th November 1918 at Chatham, transferred to a dispersal station at Ripon on New Year’s Eve 1918 before being discharged on 29th January 1919

His address on discharge is given as Catnab Farm, Saltburn by the Sea but this is later altered on records to 6 Oliver Street, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough

Of course you don’t have to be a genius to work out if my Grandma was born on 21st November 1918 then she would have been conceived in February 1918 when John was back in in France/ Flanders. This is likely to explain why my Grandma was given up and maybe to avoid any shame her mother registered John as her father even though he couldn’t be. It’s one of those stories that we’ll never know the real truth about what went on I don’t think

Now as mentioned earlier another little mystery John’s record states he was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland but I can find no record of his birth. On his Service Record by his age he was born August 1874 but on both the 1911 & 1939 census he’s recorded as born in 1876 which isn’t unusual I’ve found this before over my years of research. In the 1911 Census he’s also shown living at Skelton which is where there’s the twist I referred to earlier.

A letter in his service record from the Mine Manager says he has worked at the Longacre mine in Skelton for over 15 years. So why in 1910 when he’s married does say he’s living in Middlesbrough? Why on joining up does he say he lives at Peterlee? In another twist on his marriage certificate he shows himself as John Alfred Frankland and living at Glenhow Cottage Saltburn & his wife is shown as Linda not Lindsley her address given as Bolckow Street, Middlesbrough. Her father is John Pelmear another Deputy at an Ironstone mine which does match up with her family tree

Of course you could say “Oh well it’s a different person! But with a same date of marriage? Same Church? Same first names? Similar Surnames? Same connections with Skelton & Saltburn? Same children? On the 1911 census they are shown as John & Linda Frankland. And their children are registered as Frankland when they are born but this becomes Franklin on John’s Service Record but when the children go onto marry they revert back to Frankland? In the 1939 census John is again shown as Franklin but this is amended next to Lindsley to Frankland by someone later in Green Ink. MacDonald is converted to McDonald on his Service record, maybe a simple clerical error? Was Frankland changed to Franklin on my Grandma’s birth certificate to protect the family? We’re they illiterate or even something like a strong accent and the name got lost in translation? All guesses I know but maybe some are true

I can’t find any reference to my Great Grandad’s death in any sources and what I find sad is that in 1921 they had another child named after my Grandma’s mother Lindsley. Her mother lived for many years dying in 1968 and I believe the last of her sisters died in 1987. I wonder if she ever thought of my Grandma or her sisters even knew? All those years alone not knowing what happened or if any family was still around yet in there was family including Grandparents still living in the same area around Skelton

One day I hope to solve at least some more of this family mystery, it’s too late for my Grandma but I hope I can find something or even make connect with that side of the family. If you think you can help then please get in contact either here or via twitter @TerrierMcd

Thanks as ever for taking the time to read & to add if you want to know more about the RE Tunnelling Companies there is a wealth of info out there by the likes of experts such as Jeremy Banning, Peter Barton, Simon Jones & Peter Doyle amongst others so please do check them out for yourself

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