Posts Tagged 'Family History'



Still looking

In recent weeks I’ve stepped up the search for relatives of
the last remaining member of the crew of B for Baker. Sgt Kenneth Harold Tabor was the crew’s Flight Engineer. His service record (which I have just received from the RAF) shows that he was the youngest on the crew, enlisting on his 18th birthday. Sadly he was killed before reaching his 20th.

To this point, the search has been a case of sending letters willy-nilly to Tabors scattered all around the UK, simply because that is their name. I’m up to 12 so far. Many of those I have heard back from have been related to each other. Not all have replied yet but to date I have hit dead ends. As it has turned out, there are many more Tabors around than I previously anticipated and, well, to continue in this direction will take (a) a very long time and (b) lots of money. So a new direction has been needed.

Enter Chris Tabor, the latest to receive one of my speculative letters. He is no relation to Ken, but it happens that he is into family history research, has an Ancestry.com membership and, most importantly, knows how to use it. So he’s been doing some digging for me. Chris has uncovered records showing that Ken had two older siblings – a sister and a brother who appear to have been twins. Both married and had children who would now be in their 60s. I plugged the names that Chris sent me into a useful website called 192.com, and it has come up with postal addresses for a number of people of those names.

Those six people will shortly be sent one of my now legendary speculative letters. Only this time, I’m hoping that the letters are slightly less speculative than they have been in the past. This time there is a document trail that suggests we might be on the right track.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

© 2011 Adam Purcell

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Eureka!

Janet Hurst has been busy in Goring. She wrote a small article about my search for Eric Hill, and it has just been published in the village newsletter. And guess what?

It worked!

She was contacted by a local lady whose daughter married Eric Hill’s nephew. Janet sent me an email last night to tell me this good news… and half an hour later I received an email that started with this:

Hello Adam,

I am Barry Hill son of Frederick Roland Hill who was the brother of Eric Reginald Hill.

Bingo!

This is the same tactic that I successfully used in the search for relatives of Jerry Parker. I’m extremely grateful to Janet for her hard work over the last couple of weeks.

Barry says that his father died a few years ago but he does have a couple of stories that have been passed down through the family about Eric. Apparently he was something of a dare-devil. Those sorts of things will go a long way towards giving a story to the blurry photos I have of the man.

So Barry Hill makes it six families out of seven of the crew of B for Baker who I am now in touch with. Only flight engineer Ken Tabor remains outstanding. I’ve been working on that one as well recently, but not getting very far with it as yet. But getting this welcome news from Goring is very encouraging and keeps the spark alive.

I’ll keep searching.

(c) 2011 Adam Purcell

Stationmaster

An intriguing email popped into my inbox the other day. I had written to Janet Hurst, of the Goring and Streatley Local History Society in England, seeking assistance in the search for living relatives of Eric Hill, the mid-upper gunner on B for Baker. She replied with these details on E R Hill, from a book published a decade or so ago on the war casualties of that area:

Eric Rowland Hill

Rank: Leading Aircraftsman (LAC)

Service No: 1295905

Unit: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, served as clerk, special duties, 250 Wing, Middle East Command

Died: 21 September 1942 of enteric fever (typhoid)

Memorial: Ismailia War Memorial, Egypt 7C9

Next of kin: Mr & Mrs F. Hill (parents) of Goring

Home address: Station House,Wallingford Road, Goring

Educated: Goring School, 1928-1935

Personal details: He was employed in the office of Smallbones, builders. His father was stationmaster at Goring 1917 1947 and assistant organist at Goring Parish Church

Comparing this with my information raises a few conflictions. Most notably, the ER Hill buried in Lezennes – and therefore not in Egypt – was named Eric Reginald Hill, not Rowland. The service numbers and ranks do not match. Either do the dates of death (1942 vs 1944).

But his parents’ names and address do support what I have for Sgt Hill. I had a suspicion that the local historian who researched the book in Goring might have muddled up his details with another entry in the Commonwealth War Graves database. But how could I be sure?

The first thing was to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the man I was looking for was indeed Eric Reginald Hill. This might seem a reasonably obvious fact, but I decided to go back to primary sources to be sure. I have a copy of a ‘Circumstantial Report’ from 467 Sqn to the Air Ministry in London, dated 11 May 1944, that confirms “1352851 Sgt Hill ER, MU/AG” as a member of the crew posted missing the previous night. This service number matches that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database in the record for Eric Reginald Hill. It (unsurprisingly) also matches the service number on the gravestone in Lezennes. Phil Smith’s logbook has many entries including a “Sgt Hill”, and of course these entries are dated 1944, well after LAC Hill died in Egypt. This is to me fairly solid evidence that we have the right man – barring an extremely serious error by CWGC.

Next, I needed to find some sort of connection between Eric Reginald and his parents. CWGC records his next of kin as “Frederick and Fanny Rebecca Hill, of North Weald, Essex”. The names match Janet’s information, but the address does not. Wanting to discount the possibility of an error on the part of CWGC, I went back to some primary sources.

I found a letter written by Gilbert Pate’s father Sydney to Don Smith, the father of the pilot of B for Baker, dated 12NOV44:

“Your mention of Mr F Hill of Goring (Berks) completes the “tally” of 7 names, and we are obliged for this.”

Also in my files was a letter from W/Cdr Bill Brill, CO of 467 Sqn, dated 01SEP44 and again written to Don Smith:

“The addresses of the English members are:-

Mr F Hill (Father)

Station House

Goring

Reading

Berks.”

Janet then sent confirmation of an entry in the Goring Parish registers showing the baptism of Eric Reginald Hill at Goring on 26 June 1921. Critically, she says, he is recorded there as the son of “Frederick and Fanny Rebecca Hill, stationmaster of Goring”.

So I now had a name and address match for Eric Reginald Hill’s parents. But it still did not tally exactly with what is on the CWGC database. There was the remote possibility of another Fred Hill existing, one who also had a son named Eric R Hill. I needed a link between Goring and North Weald. And as it happened, I found something that, while not absolutely incontrovertible, is fairly strong evidence. It is a note on a scrap of paper found amongst Gilbert Pate’s box of letters. Scrawled on it, in an unknown hand, is this:

“Mr Fred Hill, 18 Bassett Gardens, North Weald,Essex. Father of Eric Hill”

This appears to match what is in the CWGC database. But can I explain the reason for the two addresses?

I can’t, at least not from what primary sources I have found to date. But I do have a possible scenario. I do not know when the unknown note was written, but perhaps the Hills initially lived in Goring and after the war moved to North Weald. According to Janet’s email Fred Hill was stationmaster until 1947 so a move around then is certainly within the bounds of possibility. Certainly it is plausible that, as it took CWGC some years to sort out all of their casualties following the war, their records were updated with a new address. The note may have been a record of that new address for the family of Gilbert Pate.

Having established, in any case, that Eric Hill’s father Frederick was the stationmaster at Goring, Janet sent me some photos of a rather pretty stone house in Goring Village.

It is called the Station House – and it is where Eric Hill once lived.

c05-215-003 copy

c05-215-004 copy

Janet tells me she will ask around the village in the next little while to see if anyone remembers or knows what happened to the Hills. She also suspects that the family tree on Ancestry.com that gave some information on Eric’s siblings may not be entirely accurate, so will have a dig through some primary sources for me.

The search goes on.

Image credit: Mike Hurst

Other sources: Janet Hurst, Mollie Smith, Gil and Peggy Thew

© 2011 Adam Purcell

Must be the time of year

There are a few articles like the one that appeared in the Sun-Herald today that tend to appear around this time of year. This one tells the story of a man named Fred Reeves, a Digger killed at Gallipoli in 1915. Or rather it tells the story of how an interested descendant – a great niece in this case – pieced together Fred’s story.

More power to Judy McLeod’s elbow, I say. She started with a name in a family Bible and a hunch that the date given with the name – 1915 – could have been connected with the First World War. She was right. He had been killed in Gallipoli and has no known grave.

“I am glad I looked into this otherwise he would just be another statistic. There is nobody to even say he existed and fought and died for his country.” – Judy McLeod, great niece of Australian infantryman Fred Reeve

This quote for me is the most important part of the article. Through the curiosity of one interested individual, almost a century later, the name scribbled into the Bible has come to life.

There has been a real resurgence in interest in this sort of family research in recent years. Indeed, my own work could be said to be part of it as well. I put it down to a couple of happy coincidences. Perhaps the salient one from a practical point of view has been the information and speed of communications that comes from the internet. It’s become much more accessible to the average person and so it’s easier to turn an idle curiosity into a keen family history interest. We can find records online that previously would have involved letters to archives overseas, if not an actual trip overseas. Investigations that previously would have taken months can now find answers from the other side of the world in literally minutes. In short, people can work in the comfort of their own homes, without having to pore through musty files in some record depository somewhere (though some (like me) might say that doing that is what it’s all about anyway!).

The other factor, more relevant in this case than in my own work into the crew of B for Baker, is the upcoming centenary of the Gallipoli landings in four years time. It means that ANZAC Day is receiving more and more media coverage each year. There are no WWI veterans alive in Australia anymore, but there are more and more people investigating family connections to the conflict – giving names and stories to their own ‘man in the photograph’. For remembering men like Fred Reeves, who would otherwise as Judy McLeod said be just another statistic, this can only be a good thing.

© 2011 Adam Purcell

Have the Brits changed their tune?

I’ve been thankful that the crew I am researching has four Australians in it. This is good because it means that it was very easy to access copies of their service records. The National Archives of Australia provide records to anyone who requests them, for a small fee – and once the records have been requested they are digitally scanned and placed onto their website where anyone can access them free of charge.

But getting British service records has always been much, much harder. They are still under the care of the Royal Air Force and previously you needed to write to their office at RAF Cranwell. You could access an extract of your record for free if you were a veteran, but anyone else was up for a GBP30.00 fee, payable by cheque only (rather difficult to organise from Australia!). On top of that, due to ‘privacy laws’ you required the written permission of the next of kin to access any records at all. If you didn’t have that permission (perhaps you were still searching for them… sound familiar?!??), you couldn’t access anything at all.

I managed to find Freda Hamer, daughter of Jerry Parker’s widow, and got a letter from her which I used to get his service record – which was two single pages of A4, with information limited to his promotions and postings. Useful, but at GBP30.00, rather steep – and a little unreasonable considering for AUD15.00, or about a quarter of the cost, you got a colour scan of an entire service record for an Australian airman – which could run to seventy or so pages! And I needed to trace Jerry’s family before the RAF even considered giving me that much.

But have things changed? Phil Bonner alerted me to this web page a few months ago. It would appear that an otherwise unannounced change has occurred:

 Under the scheme, and in recognition of the duty of care owed to the family of the deceased subject, for a period of 25 years following the date of death of the subject and without the consent of the Next of Kin, MOD will disclose only:  surname; forename; rank; service number; regiment/corps; place of birth; age; date of birth; date of death where this occurred in service; the date an individual joined the service; the date of leaving; good conduct medals (i.e. Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GCM)), any orders of chivalry and gallantry medals (decorations of valour) awarded, some of which may have been announced in the London Gazette.

After this period, and if it is held, in addition MOD will disclose without the requirement for Next of Kin consent: the units in which he/she served; the dates of this service and the locations of those units; the ranks in which the service was carried out and details of WWII campaign medals.

Note no further requirement for NoK consent.

So it looks as though I’ll now be able to get parts of the service records for Ken Tabor and for Eric Hill.

Still need to organise some cheques in GBP though.

 

 

 


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