Our ‘Hidden Histories’ project is all coming along really nicely ! Several new and very enthusiastic volunteers have joined the research team and have been given some basic training to get them started on the all-consuming hobby of ‘soldier researching’. They probably don’t quite realise what they have let themselves in for !
Starting with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site, the volunteers have then been busy accessing the individual servicemen’s service records, pension records, census details, birth/baptism/marriage certificates and other valuable sources available on Ancestry, findmypast etc.
As part of the project, we are also in the process of ordering the death certificates of all 206 servicemen from www.gro.gov.uk. While the basic details of the serviceman’s death can be found on CWGC, the death certificates gives valuable additional information:
- cause of death – which can include details of injuries and their final illness
- the location where the serviceman died – these can include various hospitals and other buildings requisitioned for war use (schools and stately homes)
- the person registering the death was usually a medical personnel but sometimes a family member was present with the serviceman
Many of our casualties did not actually die as a direct result of injuries sustained on the battlefield. Illness, especially tuberculosis and influenza, struck the servicemen, already weakened by the deprivations of the Western Front, very hard.
Our servicemen are buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park because they died ‘at home’ – either locally or elsewhere in the UK and were returned to Mile End for burial. Servicemen who died abroad were all buried in the War Grave Commission cemeteries especially designed for the purpose. Some of our THCP men were shipped home from the Western Front to hospitals in the UK where they sadly later died of their wounds. Some died in accident or in one case in an attack by the IRA after the end of the war.
The volunteers will be researching the hospitals linked to the THCP servicemen – such as the Royal Naval Hospital, an existing pre-war military hospital at Haslar (Gosport) or Nethercroft Hospital, Ramsgate. It would be interesting to find out if any of our local women worked as nurses in these hospitals.
The Hidden Histories project is still looking for extra volunteers – no previous experience needed – to help with our research. All the information will be available on our website and will be published in a booklet later in the year.
Please get in touch if you would like to help research one of the names on the War Memorial. Email us on email@example.com We would also really like to hear from anyone who is related to one of the men and maybe has memorabilia to share with our research team.
Please check out the individual servicemen’s pages on the web-site where individual stories of the servicemen will be regularly added and updated.
In the 1911 census 15 Grenade Street, Limehouse was a sub-divided, 2 household home. Living in 5 rooms were head of the household 41 year old James Cappaert, his 41 year old wife Hannah and their 7 children; Hannah 20, James 18, Fred 15, William 12, Ethel 10, Louie 6 and Joseph just 1 year old. James senior was a dustman working for Stepney Borough Council having previously been a carman (a deliveryman driving a horse-drawn cart), daughter Hannah was a packer in a granary, James and Fred were labourers in a ‘custard works’ while William, Ethel and Louie were all at school.
Living in the other room in the house were 21 year old Charles Alfred Cappaert, a packer in a ‘custard works’ and his recently married wife 21 year old Mary. They had no children in 1911 when the census was compiled.
Charles and William were both baptised at St Peter’s Church, Garford Street and both attended Northern Street School (later renamed Cyril Jackson School). Charles was admitted aged 2 on 24th March 1892 while William joined the school at the more advanced age of 4 on August 25th 1902. In 1892 the family was actually living on Northern Street, at Number 40 but by 1902 they had moved to 37 Gill Street.
In 1911 Charles, a packer at a custard works might have worked at C and E Morton’s factory on Morton’s Bonded Sufferance Wharf on the dockside at Limehouse. Morton’s was famous for its preserved jams and jellies but it also produced custard. During WW1 it was one of the principal suppliers of canned food for the Armed Forces. The factory on Cuba Street off the South Dock was a short 15 minute walk from the family’s 1911 home on Grenade Street.
Charles Alfred enlisted on 2.9.1915 as a Gunner in the Royal Horse and Filed Artillery, B Battalion 75th Division. On 4th September 1915 this Division joined with the Guard Division and saw action during the Battle of the Menin Road (20th– 25th September 1917), Poelcapelle (9th October 1917) and the 1st Battle of Passchendaele (12th October 1917). All of these took place near the pivotal town of Ypres, around which so much intensive fighting took place.
Charles died on 27-10-1917 and is buried at the Canada Farm Cemetery, Elverdinge, Belgium. The farmhouse at the site near Ypres was used as a dressing station during the 1917 offensive and most of the 907 burials in the Cemetery are of men who died at the station between June and October 1917.
William Henry, Charles’ younger brother by 8 years, enlisted at the age of 18 in London. He attested on 2-6-1916, joined on the 8th and formally enlisted on 24-11-1916. He joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment as a Private, was transferred to the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry on 1-7-1917 and transferred again on 17-7-1917 to the Devonshire Regiment Cyclist Battalion.
The Battalion was based in Exeter and during 1914-16 was stationed along various parts of the east coast of England from Scarborough to Sussex, defending the coastal ports and sea defences. Members of the Battalion helped rescue survivors of the hospital ship ‘Rohilla’ sunk off Scarborough (November 1914) and were present when the German fleet bombarded Hartlepool (December 1914). Men were sent overseas but the Battalion remained stationed in the UK and according to his medal record card William did not see action on the continent.
Following the Armistice and the long awaited end to hostilities along the Western Front, William remained in uniform until he was discharged on 1-1-1918 as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’. William had apparently been a long-time sufferer of ‘choroiditis’ which is an eye disease causing inflammation of the retina and results in white dots in the posterior inner part of the eye. The condition had been ‘aggravated by service during the present war’ and his medical records state that he been a bugler for 2 years which had caused vitreous haemorrhages.
William died just over a month after his discharge on 14-2-1919 and he was buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. He is one of the men commemorated on the War Memorial.
Of the two other brothers of an age to have enlisted, James (b. 1893) apparently did not serve in the regular armed service. Fred (b. 1896) did enlist, serving in the Royal Field Artillery and surviving the conflict. His medal card states that he served in France from 28-11-1915.
Remembrance Sunday was bright and suitably autumnal as local residents, politicians, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Scouts, Army Cadets and even two beautifully behaved police horses remembered the men and women who have died in conflicts across the globe since the Great War.
While the focus of the Cemetery Park’s heritage volunteers for the last year has been researching the World War 1 servicemen, the War Memorial also commemorates men and women who died during WW1, including two sailors of the Netherland Royal Navy and two Chinese crewmen. Sadly the Great War was not ‘the war to end all wars’ as many believed at the dawn of the last century.
The Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Remembrance Service is always a family event, and the youngsters were very enthusiastic about helping to attach military caps representing the 205 WW1 men to the railings of the Soanes Centre. Hopefully these will be a gentle reminder of the men’s sacrifice to walkers in the Cemetery Park throughout the month of November. The youngsters also placed the traditional small wooden crosses into the boxes on the Memorial. While researching the WW1 men, using census returns to trace their family background, one recurring theme has been the number of children who were brought up by their widowed mother following their father’s death. Although the Services paid a dependant’s pension, it would have been a difficult time for thousands of families.
After the observation of the 2 minutes silence at the 11th hour and the laying of the scarlet poppy wreaths, the ceremony was concluded at the memorial to the civilian war dead of Poplar. During both WW1 and WW2 the East End suffered devastating air raids from Zeppelins, doodlebugs and the Luftwaffe. The bricks used to create the civilian war memorial were collected from the bombed-out homes of countless families bombed out during WW2.
The afternoon was rounded off with the obligatory cup of tea, biscuits and a catch-up chat with other Friends and heritage volunteers.
Two of the 205 WW1 soldiers lost their lives exactly 100 years ago on 11-11-1918. Somehow it seems even more tragic to lose your life on Armistice Day while the rest of Europe was celebrating the end of the conflict.
Alfred William Carr enlisted at Stratford as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. In the 1911 census he is living at 47 Turner’s Road, Burdett Road, Limehouse with his wife Catherine nee Clackett. They had been married at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green on 29th January 1911 and in the register Alfred is described as a machinist. On the 1911 census his occupation is given as ‘shoddy grinder’. While this sounds more like a harsh comment on the standard of his work – it was actually a type of Edwardian recycling. Inferior quality (and therefore cheaper) wool was made by shredding wool scraps into fibres and mixing them with a small amount of new wool.
In 1918 Alfred was stationed at Inchmickery Battery on the Forth River as part of the Forth Defence Garrison. He died on 11-11-1918 at Edinburgh Castle Hospital. He left a widow but no children. The details for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record that living with Alfred’s widow at 34 Russia Lane, Bethnal Green, was the widow of Charles William Clackett, who having returned from Montreal Canada in November 1914, died ‘on or since’ 21-3-1918. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, along with 34,785 men of the fighting on the Somme who have no known grave. The sisters-in-law were clearly dealing with their tragic losses together.
Bert Rowe Pickhaver served in the 17th London Regiment and the 69th Royal Defence Corps. He was born in Limehouse and in the 1911 census he is described as a 14 year old who has just left school. He was living at 17 Robeson Street, Turner Road, Mile End with his parents – James, a wood chopper, Eliza a ‘trouser finisher’ and his older sister Eliza Phoebe, who was a ‘tailoring presser’.
Age 21 years, Bert died at the Colchester General Hospital of influenza on 11-11-1918. His widow Harriet, whom he had married at Halstead, Essex in the September quarter of 1918, remarried on 27th September 1919 at Birdbrook Church near Halstead. Her second husband was Albert Edward Whipps who had served since 30th March 1916 in the Suffolk Regiment.
Between the Belgian town of Gheluvelt and Bass Wood, on the west side of a row of ‘pillboxes’, 36 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell during the winter of 1917-18 were interred in a small temporary cemetery. The typical British ‘Tommy’ was fond of re-naming parts of these foreign fields after more familiar places back home, often because the original French or Flemish name was totally unpronounceable to them. The area of the Western Front near Ypres had been renamed by the British as ‘Tower Hamlets’.
After the Armistice the 36 men were exhumed and re-interred in the Hooge Crater Cemetery alongside 2,310 other casualties of the War.
While the conflict was still raging across the battlefields it was simply too dangerous and impractical to do anything beyond retrieve the bodies of the casualties when it was possible and bury them in the most convenient location nearby. Local churchyards were often used. Others were not retrieved as the ever present mud deposited by subsequent shell blasts would have hidden them.
Naturally the military authorities were more than aware of the urgent necessity to deal with the problem of decently burying the casualties. Nothing could be more disheartening or distressing to the fighting men than seeing the unburied dead around them. This became a serious issue during the winter of 1916 around Beaumont Hamel and soldiers returning home to Britain, injured or on leave, were complaining about the situation.
Initially it was thought that each Division should be responsible for the burial of their own men but as this would entail soldiers burying friends, brothers and cousins, which would be deeply distressing and might cause problems when a Division suffered heavy casualties and was then withdrawn from the front line, it was decided that separate burial parties would be detailed with the task.
At Tower Hamlets Lieutenant H. Knee was in charge of the detail who buried the 36 men who died during the winter. Orders had been received over the procedure to follow which included taking any personal items such as pay books, letters and watches from the soldiers and carefully storing them in small white bags which were to be securely tied and one of the identity tags attached. The other tag remained with the soldier. Lieutenant Knee described it as a ‘gruesome task’.
Once the Armistice came into effect on November 11th and the decision was made to not repatriate the bodies of the fallen, plans were put into place to rebury the casualties. The main priority was identified as the exhumation of approximately 160,000 isolated graves, followed by the concentration of smaller cemeteries into the larger ones we are so familiar with today and finally to locate and identify the estimated half a million ‘missing in action’. Details were decided at a conference on November 18th 1918 and the work began just three days later.
The work was physically demanding, especially when the weather deteriorated with frost eventually calling a halt to the efforts of the retrieval parties. It took 5 or 6 men to retrieve an individual body, transport it to the new cemetery and then rebury the soldier. Later this was increased to 9 men. Other difficulties resulted from the fact that burial spot were inaccurately marked and no graves were actually found at the spot indicated. The burial parties were told to look for rifles or a simple stake placed in the ground to mark a burial or discolouration in the grass or earth.
Volunteers were recruited from the different Divisions and were paid an extra 2 shillings and 6 pence a day. The Canadians offered to clear the Albert and Courcelette areas as well as Vimy Ridge, the Australians took responsibility for Pozieres and Villers Bretonneux while the British initially searched the Aisne and Marne areas for the dead of 1914 before the French took over.
In 1921 at Tower Hamlets a soldiers was found but the burial party was unable to identify him despite a careful search which involved ‘boots scraped and a coloured silk handkerchief examined’. The body was taken to the Hooge Crater Cemetery and interred under the direction of the Registration Officer.
By October 8th 1921 all military personnel involved in the exhumations had been demobilised and returned home. Bodies of servicemen have continued to be found, usually by the French and Belgian farmers cultivating the area, up until this year. In July 2016 Lance Corporal John Morrison of the 1st Battalion Black Watch was re-interred with full military honours at Woburn Abbey Cemetery, Cuinchy near Arras. He had been killed, aged 29, while trying to assist a wounded officer on 25th January 1915. His identify was confirmed from a service number engraved on a spoon found with him and a DNA test of potential family members.
It is quite likely that the remains of other casualties of the Great War will continue to be retrieved from fields in France and Belgium. Sadly some will never be identified or even found and will be commemorated solely as a name on a memorial.
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.