#52Ancestors #47 J J Hedley Brown, acting with distinction in the Boer War

J J Hedley Brown

J J Hedley Brown

John James Hedley Brown was the oldest of six brothers who grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland.  He was the older brother of my great-grandfather Michael.  Their father Joseph had been a soldier before becoming a carpet-seller, and so far I’ve discovered 5 of the 6 brothers also served in the Army.

Hedley’s preferred name was his mother’s maiden name – Alice Hedley was English but had grown up in Scotland. But hers is a different story.

The 1891 census finds Hedley working as a clerk – woollen [manufacturer?] However in 1892, aged 18 years and 9 months, he attested as a Private in the 3rd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment.  He was 5′ 9″ weighing almost 9st, of fresh complexion with blue eyes and dark brown hair.

I’ve come across a significant number of events in Hedley’s life from exploring the military records.

In 1893 he joined the Royal Engineers, by then he had a scar on his right eyebrow and his right forearm.  In 1895 Hedley was stationed down in Portsmouth.  One day when off duty, he and another soldier were setting up some goalposts, when out of a silent sky flew a golf ball, hitting him on the head behind his left ear and knocking him to the ground.  He felt groggy but carried on, but quarter of an hour later he returned to the barracks and was carried to the hospital.  There was an enquiry – no-one had been heard to shout a warning when teeing off.  The golfer had offered compensation immediately after Hedley had been struck but Hedley turned it down, but the golfer then promised to cover the costs of his engineer pay lost while Hedley was in hospital.  The medical notes say that it “will not in all probability affect his future efficiency as a soldier”  Fortunately this proved to be the case.

In March 1900 he was promoted to Corporal, promoted to Serjeant in December 1900, became Mecht Staff Serjeant in August 1901.  In March 1904 he was re-engaged to complete 21 years service.  In January 1905 he reverted at his own request to Sergt; in December 1905 he was promoted again to QMSjt [Quartermaster Serjeant].  In July 1908 he became QMSgt (Instructor) and promoted again to Sergt Major in August 1911.  In 1912 he was transferred and appointed Sgt Maj (Instructor).

An extract from [Boer War] Army Orders from Pretoria, South Africa, dated 16 July 1901 was also included in Hedley’s file:

The G.O.C-in-C has been pleased to sanction the promotion of the under-mentioned NCOs and men for distinguished gallantry in the field.
13 December 1900.  Seach Light Section, R.E. to the Serjeant.
On 13th Decr 1900, proceeded alone, though the Boers held all the intermediate country strongly, to repair the telegraph line from Rietfontein and Rustenburg, and got it through.  Also for conspicuous courage in blowing up a mill under heavy fire.

The report of the gallantry of these N/C/Os has been received with much satisfaction and has been duly noted.  A Corps Order is enclosed herewith confirming these promotions.

This then had earned Hedley the promotion from which he later reverted; he was 26 and maybe didn’t feel ready.

52 Ancestors logoThere are also records of Hedley becoming increasingly skilled as an electrician – Skilled in July 1894, Superior in December 1894 and Very Superior [great title!] in March 1896.

The military records also mention that in 1902 he’d married Florence Roberts in Leeds, his brother Michael was witness at their wedding, and that together they had 3 children:  Florence Mary, William Hedley and Eric.

I found another mention of of Hedley in the British Newspaper Archive.  In November 1933 there was a public appeal for a new hospital in Leeds, Hedley had made a contribution which was specified in the Yorkshire Post.

Hedley died in the spring of 1953 in Leeds.

© Text and photo copyright Lynne Black 23 November 2014
First published: http://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/j-j-hedley-brown/

#52Ancestors #46 William Hindmarsh Brown – facing the tiniest of foes

Photo of Bermuda at sunset, photo by DPA Watts, Morguefiles

Bermuda at sunset, photo by DPA Watts, Morguefiles

Like his father Joseph and older brothers Michael and Hedley, William had been drawn to the military life.

Although William was born circa October 1879 in Byker, Newcastle Upon Tyne, he’d moved to Leeds with his family before the age of 12.  His father Joseph Brown was a soldier and later a carpet fitter; his mother Alice, nee Hedley, had worked as a domestic servant before marriage.

In his teens William joined the Volunteer Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.  Many of his brothers were clerks but William’s education was noted as ‘2nd class’ [nice!] and perhaps the idea of sitting in an office wasn’t appealing.  He must have enjoyed his time in the Regiment as on 10 September 1897, in Halifax, he enlisted with the Royal Engineers and in early 1898 was posted as a sapper.

William was a fairly tall lad of 5’ 8½”, of fair complexion with brown hair and blue eyes.  Intriguingly he’s recorded as having scars on both knees.

William was posted to Jamaica, where he arrived in December 1898.  His records (found via FindMyPast) show him as receiving a slight injury to his right hand which probably frustrated him an engineer and soldier.

However it wasn’t that which defeated him in November 1902, it was something still feared by millions: typhoid.

We have a family record of his memorial card which was handed down through his brother Michael’s family to my dad, William’s great-nephew.  It reads:

In Loving Memory of
William Hindmarsh Brown
(3rd Company, Royal Engineers,)
The beloved son of Joseph and Alice Brown
Who Departed this life, Thursday November 20th, 1902 Aged 23 years 

The last post has sounded:
the solder sleeps
Till the night is ended
And the morning breaks

52 ancestors logoWilliam was interred in one of the cemeteries at St George’s parish in Bermuda, info on these available at http://bermuda-online.org/britishmilitarygravesbda.htm and http://bermuda-online.org/britarmy.htm

© Lynne Black, 17 November 2014
First published: http://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/william-hindmarsh-brown/

#52Ancestors #45 BSM Michael Brown, Inspector of Postmen

Sgt Michael Brown c1906

Sgt Michael Brown c1906

Michael Brown is my great-grandfather.  My Dad knew him, and was evacuated to his house during the war where he recollects Michael would listen intently to the war news on the radio, but Michael died long before my time.

He was the son of Joseph Brown and Alice nee Hedley and was born in 1876, the second of six brothers.  These were Hedley, James, William, Thomas and Albert and four of these six I know to have been in the army. All were born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, but at some point in the late 1880s the family moved to Leeds, West Yorkshire.

Michael was a sharp-shooter in the army cadets and we have a collection of newspaper reports such as this one about inter-Brigade shooting competitions.

Shooting match report, 4 November 1899, Yorkshire Post

Shooting match report, 4 November 1899, Yorkshire Post

He became a reservist and served in the 69th (West Riding) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.  I have a huge amount of information about Michael’s military career thanks to my dad who’s doing a fantastic job learning about the various horrific battles and near-death situations Michael survived.

Hopefully we’ll get it made up into a book, so I’ll not go into too much detail.

Image of paragraph listing DCM information

Information about Michael Brown’s award of the DCM

However I will just share this:  Michael was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1918 “when the battery came into action direct from a very long and trying march, he displayed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.”  Sadly the medals are no longer in our possession, they were sold at Christies as part of a package which included a photo of Michael marching at the head of his battery.  Maybe the photo will suddenly display on a WW1 website or magazine.

My great-grandmother, Sarah E Halliday

My great-grandmother, Sarah E Halliday

Michael’s other, civilian, life-long profession was that of postman.  By the age of 16 in 1891 he was working as a telegraph boy in Leeds and by 1901 was the town postman.

He married Sarah Emmaline Halliday in 1902. ‘Sallie’ had been born in Leeds but was descended from a Gateshead family. They had one child, William ‘Bill’ Halliday Brown, in 1905.

In 1911 the census records his occupation as “Town Postman Acting As Asst Inspector Of Telegraph Messengers”.  After the war they continued to live in Leeds and by 1931 when Bill married, Michael was the Inspector of Postmen.  In 1936, or just after, he and his fellow post office workers were awarded the King’s Silver Jubilee Medal.

52 Ancestors logoMichael was clearly very loyal to his regiment as in April 1939 he obtained permission to open a recruiting office in Roundhay Road to recruit to the 69th (West Riding) Field Regiment R.A. (T.A.).

Michael died in London in 1951, a year after his wife Sallie; they had been staying with Bill and Phyllis who’d been taking care of them.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 12 November 2014
First published: http://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/michael-brown/

In memory of the 306 men shot at dawn


A fantastic blog post; the injustice screams through the years.

Originally posted on The Lives of my Ancestors:

For 90 years their names were blighted with shame and history tried to forget them.

The Shot at Dawn Memorial is a British Monument at the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, in Staffordshire, UK. It memorialises the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers executed after courts-martial for cowardice or desertion during World War I Source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7146/6432814907_01a610dfc8_z.jpg

The Shot at Dawn Memorial is a British Monument at the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, in Staffordshire, UK. It memorialises the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers executed after courts-martial for cowardice or desertion during World War I
Source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7146/6432814907_01a610dfc8_z.jpg

Their names were never remembered on memorials and family’s often hid the truth, shame was too much off a burden when so many had died with honour.

Their crime was cowardice and 306 young men – four of them just 17 – were shot at dawn during the First World War.

For most of these young men, cowardice was far from the truth, it was the traumas of war, break downs amidst the unspeakable horrors they endured in the trenches.

In 2006 all 306 men received a posthumous pardon, some names went onto being inscribed…

View original 1,437 more words

#52Ancestors #44 Joseph Brown, soldier and carpet fitter

Font at St Mary's Church in Ponteland, Northumberland

Font at St Mary’s Church, Ponteland, Northumberland

Joseph Brown, my Great-Great Grandfather was born c 1838 in Ponteland, Northumberland, shortly after Queen Victoria came to the throne.  He was baptised in November 1838, in this old stone font in St Mary’s Church.  He was one of 7 children of Joseph Brown, a horse-breaker, and himself grew up on the land with the 1851 census finding him as a 13-year-old agricultural labourer.

However like many of the northern-England ancestors I’ve been checking out recently he makes a change of career and joins the army.  The 1861 census finds him down in the North Camp at Aldershot, Hampshire, a Private with the 45th Foot (Nottinghamshire) Regiment.

Extract from record reading "Deserter with Protecting Certificate"

Extract from record reading ‘Deserter with Protecting Certificate’

I would be interested to know where Joseph was in 1871, perhaps overseas, as I’ve not been able to find him on the census. I did find this entry from 1872 when he leaves the army, marked as ‘Deserter with Protecting Certificate’.  Initially shocked then confused, I wonder what could have happened to him to have him leave the army suddenly in this way yet not be discredited for his life back home.

He married his English wife, Alice Hedley, on 20 August 1872 in Byker, where she was newly returned from childhood and domestic service in Edinburgh.

Together they had six children – all boys – four of whom also went into the military in some capacity, so whatever his experiences there doesn’t seem to be family apathy or dislike of military life.  They were John Joseph Hedley, Michael, James Denholm, William Hindmarsh, Thomas Henderson and Albert Edward and I’ll tell some of their stories in the next few weeks.

I have done a fair bit of searching for the maiden name of his mother Jane – so far fruitless – and the names Denholm, Hindmarsh and Henderson were prime suspects.  Denholm, however, appears to be from his brother-in-law James Jervie Denholm, who married his youngest sister Elizabeth.  Henderson is the married surname of Alice’s sister Mary.  Hindmarsh is still unaccounted for, so fingers crossed….

52 ancestors logoThe 1881 census finds Joseph and Alice, with their first four sons, living in Byker, Northumberland, with Joseph working as a ‘Carpets upshot planner’, but by 1891 he’s found in Leeds, West Yorkshire, working as a carpet planner.  He had retired by the time of the 1911 census.

Joseph died in summer 1920, back in Newcastle Upon Tyne registration district. Alice lived on a further 3 years until early 1924, when she died in Leeds.

© Text and photo copyright Lynne Black 8 November 2014
First published: http://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/joseph-brown-1838/

#52Ancestors #43 Joseph Brown 1st – Horse-breaker of Bellingham

St Cuthbert's Church, Bellingham, interior

St Cuthbert’s Church, Bellingham

Joseph Brown, my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, was baptised in Bellingham in April 1800.  He was at least the third generation to live in that Northumberland village.

He married a girl called Jane from Ellington/Allington, Northumberland and they had their first child, Michael in 1823, who was baptised in Bellingham, in this ancient church with its ‘almost unique in England’ barrel roof.

One of my favourite things about Joseph is that when Michael was baptised the family were living in a place called Boggle Hole.  Boggle Hole.  Brilliant. In terms of place names that’s very hard to beat.  I think it may have been where Bellingham Golf Club is now sited, or perhaps Hole Bastle.  One to check out.

The other thing I love about Joseph’s life is that I know his precise occupation: more specifically than being an Ag. Lab. he was a horse-breaker, conjuring up images of him working in fields and courtyards. Overly romantic images of him working with horses in early morning Northumberland mists probably, but hey ho, they’re my images and better than picturing the lives of some of my other ancestors who worked in some pretty grim conditions down mines.

He and Jane went on to have 6 more children: Jane, Margaret, Elizabeth,  Barbara, Joseph (my ancestor) and William.  They moved east to what is now Newcastle-upon-Tyne, living in Cox Lodge and Elswick.  Jane died in 1874; Joseph 7 years later in summer 1881.

This summer we’d hoped to go to Leeds, Yorkshire, to have a look in the villages where my Yorkshire ancestors lived.  That didn’t work out as the weekend we needed coincided with the Tour de France and the only rooms left were unaffordable.

52 Ancestors logoSo we ended up in Northumberland, staying at the beautiful Leazes Head near Hexham.  And I’m so glad we did; Northumberland was beautiful, and in family history terms it was also going back to my roots, seeing the villages and the old churches where they would have worshipped, maybe the pub we went to would have taken their money too.  But I haven’t traced far enough back to confirm that any of the goods found at Hadrian’s Wall or the unbelievably vast Vindolanda Roman fort & village were family heirlooms!

Bellingham has a Heritage Centre which we visited, and I got to try on old 17th century armour and wave round a pike (much to my son’s embarrassment).  I found out that my distant relatives, Dodds and Armstrongs may have been descended from border reiver clans.  Hmmm. And I did chat with Rob who works in the centre and was really helpful; I hadn’t known that there was a big network of railways, but it tied into some of the history of my family.  Great few days altogether!

© Text and photo copyright Lynne Black 24 October 2014
First published: http://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/joseph-brown-1st/

#52Ancestors #42: Thomas Halliday 1st of the 2nd Royal Manx Fencibles

Last week I wrote about Thomas Halliday 3rd, commercial traveller and soap agent. I’d planned to write this week about his father, Thomas Halliday 2nd, but when I had a look at his information I realised it was a virtually identical story.  So let’s skip a generation to Thomas Halliday 1st, my 4G-Grandfather.

With Thomas Halliday 1st we’re standing at the edge of easily-accessed facts, with the mists of time lapping round him.

I came across this Thomas when trying to find information about his son’s date of birth.  An additional challenge seems to be that at this point in time the names Halliday and Holliday start to be used interchangeably.  I have two sources for Thomas’ marriage, one spelt each way and I’m confident I’ve found the right man.

Lt Col Charles Small's seal, from FindMyPast

Lt Col Charles Small’s seal, from FindMyPast

Thomas was born in Chester-Le-Street, Durham county, in England in 1778, in the reign of George III and grew up working as a labourer [information obtained via FindMyPast].  This was a time of wars and rebellions, and in 1795 Thomas enlisted in His Majesty’s 2nd Regiment of Royal Manx Fencibles [based on the Isle of Man] and ended up fighting in Ireland.  Royal Manx Fencibles?  Great title but meant nothing to me.  So these two websites

tell me it was a regiment based in Ireland between 1795 and 1802 under the immediate command of Lt Col Charles Small, with the regiment in the the overall command of Colonel Lord Henry Murray [nephew of the Duke of Atholl].  Their uniforms included blue facings and fur-crested round hats. [From Osprey’s Google book Armies of the Irish Rebellion 1798]

Thomas “served well and faithfully in the abovenamed Regiment for two years” before being discharged with “his pay arrears of pay, clothing and all other just demands whatsover, from the time of his enlisting into said Regiment till the day of his discharge”.

Two years?  Surely that’s quite a short time to serve?  Unfortunately yes.  The surgeon’s letter (John Nelson Scott was an officer and surgeon) explained more fully that Thomas had needed to have his right leg amputated after suffering from scrofula (TB) of the leg and ankle which gave him extreme pain.

The mark of Thomas Halliday 1st

The mark of Thomas Halliday 1st

After returning home from Lifford, Thomas married Hannah Smith in 1810.  I think they may have had 3 children together: Thomas 2nd, Sarah Mary, and possibly Francis, all in Chester-le-Street.  From the limited records available I believe his wife died in 1838, and in the 1841 census Thomas was found in the workhouse.  A Thomas Halliday died in Gateshead in 1843.

52 ancestors logoNow his son did pretty well for himself: in 1841 Thomas the 2nd was a clerk in nearby Gateshead and ended up very comfortably off with a well-educated Methodist family.  It’s a pretty big leap for the son of an illiterate one-legged labourer, but perhaps that’s exactly what drove him.  Maybe Thomas 1st was in need of comfort and hope, and Methodism provided that, and the opportunity for him to make a better life for his family.  But even if further evidence comes to light, possibly from a non-conformist source, and he turns out not to be my ancestor, I thought I would share the experiences of this Thomas Halliday 1st anyway, to acknowledge all he went through.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 15 October 2014
First published: http://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/thomas-halliday-1st/