The women of the East End have always been remarkably strong characters. Life could be hard, work was demanding, living conditions cramped and basic, health could be precarious and life could be short. Women in particular suffered while they tried to combine running a household, earning a supplementary wage, being regularly pregnant and dealing with the emotional upheaval of the loss of a child.
Having endured these difficult times, women at the start of the 20th century then had to endure the added trauma of sending their husbands and sons (and sometimes their daughters) off to serve in the Great War. Almost every household would have known friends and neighbours who received dreadful news via a telegram, but while sympathising and grieving with their loss of a husband, son or brother, people couldn’t help being grateful that it wasn’t THEIR husband, son or brother. Some families were in the unimaginable position of going through this horrendous ordeal on more than one occasion. Jane Bastick was the mother of 13 children who survived into adulthood and 8 of her sons are believed to have enlisted in the armed forces.
Jane was born in Bethnal Green in 1853, the daughter of Barnard Dickenson, a licensed victualler in Shoreditch. Her father died when she was about 3 years old. Following her marriage to Thomas Bastick at St Jude’s church Bethnal Green on 6th April 1874, Jane gave birth to her first child, Clara Jane, in 1875 and this was followed by a child every two years until her last son was born in 1898. Nine sons and five daughters altogether, with all except Jane Mary (1879-85) surviving into adulthood.
Census returns have the family living at 4 James Street Shoreditch, 6 John Street Shoreditch, 5 St John’s Terrace Shoreditch and finally in 1911 at 23 Fuller Street Bethnal Green. In 1911 Jane’s youngest son and her granddaughter are school children while all of the rest of the family are earning a wage to help support the family. Only the eldest son, Thomas aged 34 years, does not have an occupation as he had paralysis. He was to die in 1914. Jane’s husband was a cabinet maker while their children were a metal polisher, a labourer, a button maker, a porter, a carman and an errand boy.
Four of the Bastick brothers served in WW1. George Frederick served as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery. He contracted tuberculosis while serving in 1916 and was invalided home with a pension of 15/-. He died aged 34 and is buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
Frederick enlisted in the 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, serving in the Expeditionary Force in France. He was wounded in the thigh and also discharged with a pension in 1916.
Frank Ernest enlisted in the regular army on 26-6-23 with the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment and served for four years. His enlistment papers state that he had previously served in the Royal Fusiliers.
Alfred Charles served in the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment and died in the Gallipoli Campaign aged 21 on 8-5-15. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.
Albert enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment when he was 14 in 1907 and other brothers are believed served but their records are proving more elusive! It is possible that all 8 brothers served at some point.
After the war, Thomas died in Bethnal Green in 1919 and Jane finally passed away in Whitechapel in 1936 aged 83 years. The Bastick family illustrate the immense sacrifices ordinary people made during the Great War.
Is it just me or are our heritage volunteers getting younger and younger ???
Recently 8 year old Violet and her mum and dad visited Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park where some of their more distant relatives are buried. Violet in particular became fascinated by the cemetery and quickly proved that she is quite an expert at reading some of the more difficult, badly worn inscriptions. Probably helped by her very young eyes ! She even came across one inscription with her name on it which really impressed her.
The whole family are very interested in researching their own family history, especially Violet’s great grand-father who fought in both the World Wars, tragically losing his life in the Second. Violet is helping her dad sort out the information about their ancestor’s life and it will hopefully be made into a book.
Violet has created a beautiful and very carefully researched display board commemorating the Battle of the Somme. It took a lot of hard work to research the ideas and the pictures on the Internet – the part Violet enjoyed the most ! Including faded, old looking paper and the luggage tags made the over-all design fit in perfectly with the 1916 date of the Somme.
Violet enjoyed the project so much that she is keen to take on more research and she will be choosing one of the 205 men commemorated on the Cemetery War Memorial who died in the Great War. She thinks she will chose one of the older men because there will be more to find out about his life and his family before he went off to the War.
Violet will be doing some more research for us over the summer holiday as well as visiting some of her favourite historical places, including Hampton Court Palace and reading lots of Horrible History books.
The Battle of the Somme, fought in northern France, was one of the bloodiest of World War One. Over five months the British and French fought the Germans in a battle of attrition on a 15-mile front. The aim was to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun but the Allies were unable to break through German lines. Over one million men were killed or wounded on all sides.
The Battle of the Somme started on July 1st 1916 and lasted until November 1916. For many people, this was the battle that symbolised the horrors of warfare in World War One. This one battle had a marked effect on overall casualty figures and seemed to epitomise the futility of trench warfare.
The Battle at the Somme started with a week-long artillery bombardment of the German lines. 1,738,000 shells were fired at the Germans with the intension that the artillery guns would destroy the German trenches and barbed wire placed in front of the trenches.
In fact, the Germans had deep dugouts for their men and all they had to do when the bombardment started was to move these men into the relative safety of the dugouts. When the bombardment stopped, the Germans would have known that this would have been the signal for an infantry advance. They then moved from the safety of their dugouts and manned their machine guns to face the British and French. The British soldiers advanced across a 25-mile front.
By the end of the battle, in November 1916, the British had nearly 420,000 dead, missing or wounded, the French nearly 200,000 men and the Germans 500,000. The Allied forces had advanced along a thirty-mile strip that was seven miles deep at its widest. Lord Kitchener was a supporter of the theory of attrition – that eventually you would grind down your enemy and they would have to yield. He saw the military success of the battle as all-important. However, it did have dire political and social consequences in Britain. Many spoke of the “lost generation”, finding it difficult to justify the number of men lost in the advance.
One of our soldiers commemorated on the War Memorial fought on the Somme and is recorded on the Somme Roll of Honour. Rifleman Alfred John Jones served in the 7th Rifle Brigade and died of wounds on 30th August 1916 aged 30. Rifleman Jones’s parents Alfred and Ellen lived at Old Ford Road, Mile End. When he attested in London on May 5th 1915, Alfred stated that he was a tunneller and he was married with one child. He joined his regiment in Winchester on May 6th and must have embarked for France very shortly after this. On 23rd August 1916 he was invalided back to England with gunshot wounds to his head, arm and leg. After 8 days of treatment at Netley Hospital, Rifleman Jones died on 30th August. His service medal was sent to his widow Mrs E Allwater at 65 Druffield Street, Roman Road in July 1921.
While Rifleman Jones died back in the UK, other local men never returned from the Somme battlefields.
The children of Hettie Ayres buried their mother in the Cemetery in November 1929 and on the headstone they also recorded the loss of their father 13 years earlier. Walter James Ayres had been killed in action in France on 27th September 1916 aged 38 years. He is buried in Contalmaison Chateau Cemetery in Picardy. Private Ayres had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and would have been involved in collecting the wounded from the battlefield and treating them there and in the military hospitals. Considering the dreadful number of killed and wounded this must have been a truly awful and dangerous task.
In the 1911 census Walter Ayres is the licensed victualler running the Lord Palmerston pub at 74 Staines Road, Hounslow with his wife Hettie, three sons aged 9, 8, and 1 and a 5 year old daughter. He was helped in the pub by two barmen. Following the loss of her husband Hettie moved to 62 St Ann’s Road, Burdett Road Bow.
Also commemorated on his family’s grave in the Cemetery is Corporal Herbert Pickering who enlisted at Cockspur Street on May 4th 1915. At the time he was living at 122 Sixth Avenue, Manor Park. In the 1911 census he is living at 148 High Street Poplar with his wife and two children. His profession is given as an ‘extract of coffee’ maker. He enlisted in the Middlesex Regiment, originally serving in the 16th Battalion Duke of Cambridge’s Own but on 25th April 1916 he was transferred to the 86th Brigade in the 29th Division. Herbert embarked for the Front on 17th November 1915 and served 227 days until, on the first day of the Somme offensive, July 1st 1916, he was killed in action at the Battle of Albert. His body was never recovered. When his will passed probate on 1st June 1917 his death is given as ‘on or since’ 1st July 1916. Under the provisions of his will, his widow Rosie Emily received £200. Herbert Pickering is commemorated on the Thiepval Monument, for men who have no know grave
Last Sunday our Heritage volunteer day was a particularly enjoyable one and not just because of the fabulous tea and cake to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Several of our ‘new’ and some ‘not so new’ WW1 research volunteers called in to catch up with their ongoing research into the 205 men recorded on the War Memorial. All the surviving service records have been researched, which gives a fuller picture of the men’s experiences during the Great War. These records provide a range of basic details such as when and where they enlisted, how they were transferred between regiments as the War progressed and units were decimated by the fighting and the cause of their untimely death. They can also be a touching source of family detail and even personal detail such as hair and eye colour.
While the WW1 project is definitely occupying the lion’s share of our time and energy, we are still continuing with the usual grave recording and researching. So, as well as organising the next stage of the WW1 project we were really pleased to welcome two visitors who had travelled all the way from Ohio, USA, to locate a family grave in the Cemetery Park.
Simon and his mother were on holiday in the UK and they had planned a visit to Tower Hamlets Cemetery park to try and locate the grave of a distant relative who died as a small child. Luckily they had the relevant grave number but, despite Simon and four of the Heritage team manfully clambering through, under and around various clumps of early summer undergrowth, we could only locate the near location of the grave. The small public grave headstone is no longer there. Simon was more than satisfied to have come so close to a part of his family heritage.
The Battle of Jutland was the last major battle in world history to be fought mainly by battleships. On May 31-June 1st 1916 151 British and 99 German ships blasted shells and torpedoes at each other near the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. By the end of the engagement 6,094 British servicemen and 2,551 German had been killed with another 674 and 507 wounded. On the British side 3 battleships, 3 armoured cruisers and 8 destroyers had been lost – over 113,000 tons of valuable shipping. Both sides claimed victory – the German fleet has contained in the North Sea but the British lost significantly more ships and twice as many men.
HMS ‘Queen Mary’ had been part of the 5th Battle Squadron which had been tracking the German Scouting group. Travelling south at roughly 14,000m parallel to each other, the battle-cruisers engaged in the opening phase of the action, The ‘Run for the South’.
At 16.25 HMS ‘Queen Mary’ was hit by a combined salvo from ‘Derfflinger’ and ‘Seydlitz’. Both forward magazines exploded, sinking the ship with all except 9 of her 1,275 crew. A gunner officer aboard the ‘Derfflinger’ recorded
‘A vivid red flame shot up from her forepart; then came an explosion forward, following by a much heavier explosion amidships. Immediately afterwards she blew up with a terrific explosion, the mast collapsed inwards and the smoke hiding everything.’
Geoffrey Bennett ‘Naval Battles of the First World War’
One of the 1,266 men who died aboard the ‘Queen Mary’ was 18 year old Gilbert Henry Batchelor from Bromley-by-Bow, a Private in the Royal Marines Light Infantry who is remembered on his family’s grave in the Cemetery.
Geography could play a significant part in deciding which service or regiment a man would join. Men from counties like Devon or Hampshire would often enlist in the Navy or the Marines due to the seafaring tradition in those areas and because of the large naval bases at Portsmouth and Plymouth. The Batchelor family, originally from the south of England is a perfect example of this trend. Gilbert Henry was the middle son of Ernest and Edith Batchelor who originally came from near Stonehenge, Wiltshire. Ernest enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 2nd April 1889 around 6 years before marrying Edith. In the 1901 census the family is recorded as living at Alexandra Street, Alverstoke. Ernest is a sergeant in the Royal Marines and there are two sons; George aged 4 and Gilbert aged 2.
By 1911 the family has extend with an additional son, Alfred Frederick aged 7. Edith, who is recorded as the head of the household with her husband on board a ship somewhere, states that she has been married for 16 years and had had three children, all of them alive. The oldest son, Ernest aged 14, was employed as a grocer’s assistant. Their given address is the Royal Marine Barracks, Forton, Alverstoke in Gosport. The residents there are all the wives and children of serving men who are living in the married quarters which had been added to the barracks in the 1890’s.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Gilbert enlisted into the Royal Marine, Portsmouth Division in London on April 15th 1915, 5 days after his 17th birthday. He died when the ‘Queen Mary’ sank off the coast of Denmark. Just four months after Gilbert’s death, his older brother Ernest also died, in September 1916 at the age of 20. The youngest of the three brothers survived until 1963, dying at the age of 59 in Christchurch, Hampshire. The family grave is in Square 50 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and although Gilbert is not interred here, he is remembered in the inscription. He is also commemorated in the inscription on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Southsea
For those ‘who laid down their lives in the defence of the Empire and have no other grave than the sea.’
As part of our ongoing Heritage Lottery funded WW1 Hidden Histories project, the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Heritage Volunteer Team have had the pleasant task of training new project volunteers. These ‘newbies’ have all been inspired by the project launch back in February and are keen to help out by researching the lives of some of the 205 men commemorated on the Cemetery’s War Memorial. A variety of on-line sources, the National Archive and local record offices will be used to provide invaluable information about the men’s service careers and other genealogical web-sites will build up a fuller picture of their home lives, their family and the life they left behind when they enlisted in the Great War.
Hopefully during the research process people will find that their families have personal memorabilia – letters, photographs etc – which they will share with the Heritage Team.
Some of the volunteers are researching a member of their own family who is buried in the Cemetery. Others are following up on a theme which particularly interests them such as a specific regiment in the Army, someone who lived near their home or simply a name or an occupation which sounds interesting.
The aim of the project is to build up a whole picture of each serviceman – as a man who was more than just a service number and a name on the War Memorial. The untimely death of each man had a profound impact on his home community as well as his own family.
If anyone would like to help out with the research, please contact the Heritage Team. We can help you with some training and the best places to start.