Monthly Archives: April 2018

Windrush Landing Cards: How Could This Record Destruction Happen?

The destruction by the Home Office of the landing cards which recorded Windrush Generation immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK is rightly causing a public outcry. For those unaware of the scandal, the term ‘Windrush’ applies to those arriving from the Caribbean between 1948 -1971 to fill Britain’s post-War labour shortages. It originates from the ship ‘MV Empire Windrush’, which set sail from a Jamaica in 1948. Carrying workers and their families it arrived at Tilbury Docks in July that year, the first such vessel to dock.

The Immigration Act of 1971 gave those who had already moved here indefinite leave to remain. In the Windrush cases, these landing cards provided people with proof of their date of arrival. For some this is the main/only evidence source. The destruction of these cards in 2010, combined with subsequent immigration changes, has had devastating consequences for some people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades. They are suffering needless anxiety and stress trying to prove they are not in the UK illegally. As a result, some have been denied access to jobs, public services including health, and have faced deportation.

Beyond this central human aspect, how does this impact on family history? Well, many family historians are horrified that documents so important for future researchers have been destroyed. There are calls to preserve all records which deal with people. Some say they should all be stored at The National Archives, possibly in a digitised form. Other suggestions include outsourcing, possibly to a commercial provider.

Human angle aside, to many the destruction of a potentially rich genealogical source beggars belief. Or does it? If only it was that straightforward.

The bottom line is government departments cannot keep everything. They never have. They never will. One has only to work in the environment to know just how much paperwork was generated in the past; and now we have moved onto the born-digital filing age it is arguable even more digital documents and emails are being stored electronically than paper was under the old regimes – but minus the previous rigorous systems.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Government is just the same as any other organisation, right down to a family level. Think within your own family over the generations. Documents and photographs have always been destroyed. Records we know must have existed have gone. How many missing parish chest or poor law records am I rueing the loss of? What happened to all those original family birth, marriage and death certificates that I have had to re-buy copies of? What about family photos? If not deteriorated and destroyed accidentally, they’ve probably been binned by those with no knowledge, appreciation or understanding the records may have for future generations. Decisions made at speed with space-saving at the forefront. You can’t keep everything.  A home as much as a government office or off-site storage facility only has a finite amount of space. At some point a decision needs to be made about retention.

One positive about government records, there is a framework in place by which decisions around file destruction or retention and second review are made (although even here in recent years it is being made quicker and easier to destroy, with the implication that retaining a file for second review is a last resort). In the case of the landing cards, the system appears to have catastrophically failed. But for me the main losers aren’t us genealogists, as much as I regret that: it’s the human consequences for the living.

But sadly I can see how it has happened. Here’s my take.

Over the past 20+ years there has been the drive towards a paperless office. Office and storage space costs. And when there’s an office move, it inevitably results in less storage space, not more. Long gone are the rows of filing cabinets of the 1980s (and earlier) civil service office. It’s bin, bin, bin because we are paperless generation, cutting costs. Offsite storage facilities are under similar capacity pressure. Which is one reason why there is pressure to get rid of documents like the landing cards. And any document which isn’t neatly fileable, such as card indexes, handbooks or file slips, and the danger of destruction is higher when it comes to downsizing. There are not the same procedures in place as involved with an old pink file.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Another consequence of the moves towards digital filing systems is the appreciation of old paper files, card indexes etc., and the way these were managed for decades in the civil service, has been lost. This includes underestimating the value of old file slips detailing the status and whereabouts of files, including those now no longer retained in the office. One peculiar pleasure I get from visits to The National Archives is the filing methodology. Take the War Office WW1 files: it is the same system I learned as a new civil servant at the Ministry of Defence in the late 1980s. Happy days! But for a generation not familiar with, and lacking understanding of, the old civil service ways comes the increased risk of accidental destruction.

During the same 20+ period, the civil service has undergone a series of redundancy programmes. This, alongside natural wastage, has meant staff experienced with the files and their history have gone, and that sense of continuity has gone with them. Combined with destruction of office filing slips, it means in some cases knowledge of what old files still exist, where they are and what they contain is lost. Another risk: it means decisions are being made by those who lack the same in-depth understanding of what the records actually are, why they were created, how they interlink and what value they have. The ramifications of destruction are lost – and may not be realised until it is too late. Similarly what remains, possibly in archive storage, and any work-round strategies are similarly not known about or understood.

And herein lies another problem: staff reductions. Gone are the legions of clerical staff whose job included maintaining files. When decisions are made about staff numbers, the amount of time needed to undertake routine, but essential, tasks such as file maintenance is underestimated or ignored totally. This is because the final decisions are taken by senior management who possibly have never undertaken these ‘menial’ duties, so do not know what’s involved to do it properly. Neither have they had to scrat around identifying and recalling files and pulling out key documents from them – that’s the responsibility of more junior staff. Senior management making the staffing decisions therefore give these file-related maintenance duties a low priority. So fewer clerical staff pushes the job upwards to hard-pressed junior and middle managers. As a result it becomes a task to do when you have time – which is hardly ever.

And the born-digital files are suffering as much as old paper files. They still have to be maintained and reviewed. With the added complication that filing on them is even more an individual responsibility. It means (and senior management are particularly guilty here) that digital documents don’t get filed; or they are filed multiple times; or there is a general file dump when a mailbox is in danger of collapse – on a generic file, so not where the documents ought to be. Think of that for the future. But I digress.

So if space is such a premium, why doesn’t government digitise all the old paper files and indexes? Easy answer. Money. It’s a mammoth task. Unpicking, preparing, arranging and scanning row upon row of paper files, not to mention the card indexes and other specialised filing systems. There is insufficient staff to do it. No day-to-day work would get done. All time would be spent on the digitisation process. Temps cost money too, as does outsourcing the job. And in a time when the government imperative is to cut departmental running costs, this is a non-starter.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

The other solution put forward is getting a commercial provider to do it. Or perhaps they could even have the documents, as happened with the Western Front Association who became custodians of the Great War soldier’s pension record cards and archives thus saving them from destruction by the Ministry of Defence. But this depends upon a reputable organisation wanting the documents and coming forward. And it relies on government departments informing these organisations about records of interest. It also depends on the sensitivity, and time period, of the documents. Think overzealous Data Protection issues/fears, 100 year rules and the like.

Bottom line. The cost of being caught out for destroying the landing cards is not as great as the long-term cost of retaining them. The Home Office have been caught out here. But then think of all the other destroyed files we know nothing about. Most of which we will hear nothing about. Someone has to make a judgement. And we have to accept sometimes it will be a wrong call – as is clearly the case with the Windrush debacle. But despite the imperfections, is it the best we can hope for?

And as I said at the outset, the government can’t and don’t keep everything. This is nothing new. There are oh so many examples (and I’m not going to mention the Irish censuses), some deliberate and others accidental. The Great War Soldier’s Pension Cards had a happy outcome.

However, back in 2014 when they faced calls for an inquiry into historical cases of paedophilia, it emerged in excess 100 Home Office files relevant to allegations of a child abuse network were either missing or had been destroyed.

The 1931 England and Wales census was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1942. The General Register Office civil servant who visited the debris determined that:

….it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

Hence the importance of the 1939 Register (especially with no 1941 Wartime census). Incidentally in 1950 there was a subsequent check to see if any 1931 census records had been saved from the conflagration and stored elsewhere.

First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen held at The National Archives under MH 106 are only a representative selection of Great War medical records. The rest of the collection is missing, believed destroyed before the Second World War. This is but one example of where only a sample selection of records have been kept.

And as for the problems of digital filing systems, don’t get me started. If you think there are problems now, this is like walk in the park compared to what we’re facing in 20 years time.

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Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the eliminatation of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

Forever England, Forever Yorkshire. One Small CWGC Cemetery in Belgium

To paraphrase Rupert Brooke’s immortal words, “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever” …….. the Colne Valley. Or more precisely Colne Valley Cemetery. I stumbled upon this small cemetery in Belgium on my March 2018 visit to the Ypres Salient.

When visiting the Great War Battlefields I prioritise walking over driving, and my latest visit was no exception. I clocked up in excess of 120 miles on foot. It’s by far the best way to see the battlefields and get a real feel for the lie of the land, the high ground, the open expanses over which the troops attacked, their vulnerability and visibility to defending forces, and the distances involved. I tend to mix and match walks from various books. I also use a Linesman, with its GPS and trench map overlays, to plot exactly where I am in relation to the trenches and front lines of a century ago. For more details about the Linesman, please read my earlier post.

One of the books I used on my latest visit, Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Salient’, included an Yser Canal walk in Chapter 3 which referenced the intriguingly named Colne Valley Cemetery. The walk actually stopped short of it, but I pushed on.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The cemetery is located near the village of Boezinghe (or Boesinghe as it was known during the War). For most of the War, the east side of the village directly faced the German front line. Holding the British line here was dangerous, with regular casualties from German artillery and sniper fire. The cemetery, just south of the protruding German trench known as Caesar’s Nose, was started by men of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in July 1915. Territorial battalions of this regiment formed part of the 49th (West Riding) Division. In a nod to their Yorkshire home, Colne Valley, Skipton Road and Huddersfield Road were names given to nearby 49th Division trenches. The cemetery was in use until February 1916. Of the 47 First World War burials here, 30 of the graves are of officers and men of the West Riding Regiment.

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Trench Maps of area from July 1915 (L) and July 1917 overlaid against modern map (R) showing location of Yorkshire named trenches in 1915 and Colne Valley Cemetery (green highlight)

Looking at the burials, three of the men were from the Huddersfield area, all serving with the 1/7th (Colne Valley) Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). Two of these, Pte Fred Clough (service number 7/1913), and Pte Ernest Butterworth (service number 7/2165), were the first men to be buried in the cemetery, which fittingly bears the Colne Valley name by which their Territorial Battalion was commonly known. Perhaps the fact these first two burials were of Colne Valley Battalion men played a part in the naming of the cemetery, as much as the nearby trench name?

Official records note their deaths as taking place on Monday 12 July 1915. However, the confusion of record keeping in war can be gauged from other sources. The Battalion’s Unit War Diary, a daily record of their overseas activities, names other ranks as well as officers who were killed in action in these early days. The majority of Unit War Diaries (but by no means all) only name officers who died. It indicates both Fred and Ernest’s deaths took place on 11 July 1915, the Sunday. Newspaper reports add another twist, referring to Pte Clough’s death as taking place on the Sunday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 16 July 1915, ‘Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer’ and ‘Sheffield Daily Telegraph’, 17 July 1915 editions), and Pte Butterworth’s on the Monday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 15 July 1915 edition).

Fred Clough was born in the Quarmby area of Huddersfield on 12 September 1890, and baptised the following month at St Stephen’s, Lindley. His parents were woollen weaver Harry Clough and his wife Sarah Jane (née Marsden). The couple’s other children included Lily (born 1888), Minnie (1892), Florence (born 1895, but died the following year), Herbert (born 1898, died 1912) and Marian (1905).

By 1911 the family were living at East Street, Lindley, with Fred now working as a small wire drawer. This occupation involved drawing metal through a series of dies or templates to produce wire. At the time of signing his 7th West Riding Regiment Territorial Force attestation papers at Milnsbridge on 3 September 1914, Fred was employed by Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., a wire card clothing manufacturer, in their Acre Mills at Lindley.

Territorial Forces were usually exempt from serving overseas but days later, as part of his enlistment, he agreed to serve outside the U.K. if a national emergency so required. After home training, he and the rest of the Battalion left Doncaster on 14 April 1915 bound for Folkestone. They set sail for Boulogne on board the ‘Manchester Importer’, arriving at 4.30 a.m. the following day.

Their early weeks were spent in France, before they moved to Belgium arriving at St-Jan-ter-Biezen on 30 June 1915. They, along with the rest of the 49th Division, were to take over trenches in the area north of Ypres around Boesinghe, along the Yser Canal.

The diary for July 1915 records active enemy trench mortar and regular shelling including, on 10 July, a gas shell hitting a dugout which affected 29 men from ‘C’ Company. Fortunately none of the gas-affected men were classed as ‘very bad’. These days of noted enemy activity were interspersed by others recorded as ‘quiet’, or having ‘no incident’.

Fred was killed in action on a day described in the Unit War Diary as ‘fairly quiet’. In addition to Fred, it was the day Pte Butterworth lost his life, and an officer plus two or three other ranks were wounded. The officer, 2nd Lieutenant Beckwith from Huddersfield and of the local firm Messrs. Beckwith and Co., suffered a broken leg as a result of a shrapnel injury. Fred died instantly after being shot through the head and, according to the newspapers, he was buried on Monday (12 July 1915). As mentioned earlier, Monday is the day of his death according to official records. He was 24-years-old.

At the end of July, a Memorial Service was held at the Lindley Zion United Methodist Church, which was attended by many of his former work colleagues.

Fred Clough’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Ernest Butterworth was the son of Holmfirth woollen manufacturer Alfred Henry Butterworth and his wife Alice Annie (née Hobson). He was born on 10 May 1889 and baptised the following month at the Holmfirth Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, which he remained associated with for the rest of his life. Alfred and Annie’s eldest child, Robert, was born in 1887, but he died in 1892. Their other children were Annie (born 1890), Norman (1892), Frank (1894), Marion (1897) and Herbert (1900).

In the 1911 census the family address was Park Riding, Holmfirth. Ernest followed his father into the family business of Messrs. H.S. Butterworth, at Lower Mills. He was also an active member of Holmfirth Liberal Club. Described as ‘of a homely and genial disposition’ he enlisted with the local Territorials a few days after Fred Clough, on 7 September 1914. He then followed the same path as Fred, arriving in France on 15 April 1915 and being killed in action in identical circumstances on the same day – dying instantaneously after being shot through the head. Corporal J.R. Bower and his Commanding Officer wrote to his family with details. The family also received his personal effects, which included his disc, belt, letters, pipe, photo, diary and pouch.

The Butterworth family suffered a further blow in 1917, when another son, Norman, lost his life whilst serving King and country. 2nd Lieutenant Butterworth, of the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in action on 9 May 1917 during a dogfight with German aircraft.

Headstone of Ernest Butterworth at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The third Huddersfield and District burial in Colne Valley Cemetery is that of Pte Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent, (7/2240), killed in action on 30 July 1915.

The ‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ of 3 August 1915 reported his death. It included a letter to his parents at their Woodfield Terrace, Bankfield Road home, from Captain C.H. Lockwood. He was the officer commanding Bertie’s ‘C’ Company of the 7th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), the Company affected by the 10 July gas shelling incident. The letter read:

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Broadbent, It is with the greatest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, who was killed early this morning whilst on duty. He was shot through the head by a sniper and death was instantaneous. I wish to convey to you on behalf of the officers, N.C.O.s, and men of this company our deepest sympathy in your great loss. Your son was an excellent and an efficient bomber; he was one who will not be easily replaced. It will be some consolation to you when you remember that your son died doing his duty for King and country. He is to be buried tonight by the side of some of his comrades. Lieutenant Netherwood, our bombing officer, wishes me to convey his sympathy to you.”

Bertie was just 16 years old.

He was born in Huddersfield on 5 January 1899 and baptised the following month at Christ Church, Moldgreen. His father, Arthur, was a police Detective Officer, who by the time of Bertie’s death had risen to the rank of Superintendent, and Deputy Chief Constable of Huddersfield. His mother was Sarah Ann Broadbent (née Lodge). Their seven other children were Marion Drusilla (born 1891), Harry Arlom (circa 1893), Nellie Evelyn (1894), Charles Hartley (1896), Norah Kathleen (1901) and Richard Norman (1904) and John Arthur (1906).

Bertie enlisted on 14 September 1914, with an apparent age of 19 years and three months. His 6’1″ height abetted the blind eye of the recruiting officer to sign up as many men (and boys) as possible. He was 15. What struck me was the 1911 census for the Broadbent family. It showed 12-year-old Bertie still at school. Yet a little over three years later he was a soldier.

By the time of his attestation he’d been working for around 18 months in the Lindley-based Acres Mills wire drawing department of Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., Ltd. This was the same firm which employed Fred Clough. He was one of a number of youths apprenticed with the firm who enlisted at the same time. Like Fred and Ernest, Bertie signed the Territorial Force forms committing him to four years U.K. service, then signed the waiver form allowing overseas posting.

After training, initially in the Colne Valley, then Riby in Lincolnshire, and finally Doncaster, on 14 April 1915 he left for France with the rest of his Company.

Again the Unit War Diary described the day on which Bertie died as ‘quiet’. In addition to his death, 30 July 1915 saw only one other rank wounded.

Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Colne Valley cemetery is full of headstones with poignant inscriptions. I wish I had time to research all the men buried there. For instance one man is 38-year-old Sedbergh-born John Middleton Morphet of the 1/6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). The Lance Corporal was killed in action on 22 August 1915. In civilian life he had a multi-faceted sporting career. The school attendance officer, who latterly lived in Settle, included playing cricket for Hawes and Settle, and football for Burnley, Lincoln City and Aston Villa amongst his sporting achievements.

Headstone of Lance Corporal John Middleton Morphet, Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

I am so glad I found this cemetery. It is off the beaten track and the surroundings are slightly off-putting. It is near an industrial estate. The sound of bird scaring shots cracked thorough the air at regular intervals. It also appears to be located next to a composting area, with mounds of steaming, stinking compost clearly visible on the first day we visited. These are seen in the photograph below. I returned the following day, and the aroma was not quite so pungent. And perhaps in summer the tree foliage will blot out the view of these mini mountains.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

But it is a cemetery which the CWGC, supported by Province of West Flanders, spent a great deal of money, time and effort restoring in 2014. The industrialisation of the surrounding area resulted in the cemetery being the lowest point in the area and consequently affected by serious, regular flooding. The restoration work included raising the ground level by some 1.2 metres and installing pumping. Thankfully, it seems to have worked. And, as the headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd of The Rifle Brigade indicates, in another take on Rupert Brooke’s poem “This Spot is Forever England’s

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Headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd, The Rifle Brigade, at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Sources:

  • Walking Ypres’ – Paul Reed
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – NoEd – 210715 – St Julien – S
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – Edn 6A – Pub July 1917 – Trenches corrected to 30 June 1917
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website – https://www.cwgc.org/
  • 1891-1911 Censuses – various for each family, via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites
  • GRO Indexes for birth registration of various children, via GRO website
  • Soldiers’ Documents, Fist World War Burnt Documents for Fred Clough, Ernest Butterworth and Herbert Lionel Broadbent – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 363, via FindMyPast
  • Baptism Register for Lindley St Stephen’s – Fred Clough’s baptism,via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Origianals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 129/1/1/1
  • Baptism Register for the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Holmfirth Circuit for Ernest Butterworth’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref C73/11/1
  • Baptism Register for Christ Church Moldgreen – Herbert Lionel Broadbent’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 206/1/1/1
  • ‘Huddersfield’s Roll of Honour 1914-1922’ – J Margaret Stansfield, Edited by Reverend Paul Wilcock BEM
  • Unit War Diary for the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 95/2802/1 – via Ancestry
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ – 15 July 1915, 16 July 1915, 28 July 1915 and 3 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’ – 17 July 1915 and 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Leeds Mercury’ – 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph’ – 17 July 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Craven’s Part in the Great War Website – John Middleton Morphet, http://www.cpgw.org.uk/soldier-records/john-middleton-morphet/
  • Family Marks the Centenary of the Death of one of Craven’ Greatest Sportsmen’ by Lindsey Moore, 27 August 2015 – Craven Herald Website Article http://www.cravenherald.co.uk/NEWS/13630003.Family_marks_the_centenary_of_the_death_of_one_of_Craven_s_greatest_sportsmen/