My Grandfather’s Sword

Ornamental-SwordAs a young child I can remember opening my father’s closet and seeing a very fancy looking sword hanging in there. I don’t think I knew whose it was until I was older and learned it belonged to my mother’s father. My grandfather, Harold James Davis, died about 2 years before I was born. The one thing I remember being told about him was that he was a military man through and through. Tough, no-nonsense and a strict disciplinarian. However, I do think he had a soft spot as my older brothers’ remember Sundays when he would give them money for an ice cream … if they had finished all their dinner.

But back to that sword. Some time ago I was looking through photographs of my grandfather and noticed that sword at his side in his wedding photograph. Just barely peeking out but it immediately reminded me that I had no photographs of the actual sword. My mother still has it in her home in South Africa and I immediately asked her for photographs of it so I could document it in my files.

Here is the wedding photograph of my grandparents, Harold James Davis and Hazel Jane Keown on their wedding day, 19 June 1937 in Johannesburg, South Africa.1 It’s a little difficult to see as the resolution isn’t great but the yellow circle shows the hilt of the sword at his side, just near the hand of his wife as she holds onto his arm. You can also see the baldric (my new word of the day: a baldric is a belt worn over one shoulder that is typically used to carry a weapon (usually a sword) or other implement such as a bugle or drum.)2

HaroldJamesDavis1908_Weddin

There are no other photos of my grandfather wearing that sword. Used only for formal ceremonies, I imagine that there weren’t many of those that came up. He spent many years in the military, serving part-time at first in the Imperial Light Horse Regiment, then entering the South African Defense Force full-time during World War 2. He served in Egypt with the Allied Forces in the North African Campaign. He was honorably discharged in 1947 due to the partial demobilization of his unit.3 Family heirlooms have stories to tell. How have you used them in telling the stories of your ancestors?

 

 

 


  1. Harold James Davis and Hazel Jane Keown wedding photograph, 1937; digital copy in Sue McNelly collection, Phoenix, Arizona. Original photograph in possession of Estelle Davis Thomas, South Africa. 
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki), “Baldric,” rev. 31 May 2018. 
  3. Harold James Davis military papers, compilation of enlistment and service records; privately held by Sue McNelly [address for private use], Phoenix, Arizona, 2018. This collection includes records from the S.A. Defense Force, unit service timelines, enlistment and discharge papers. 

Family Heirloom: The Thomas family bible.

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The Thomas family bible.

The family bible is one of the most precious heirlooms a genealogist can have. A few years ago, my father was visiting his brother in England, and the subject of the family bible came up. My uncle was kind enough to pass the bible on to me, knowing of my passion for genealogy.  It is a beautiful, large, and heavy bible, about 14 inches x 10 inches and almost 5 inches wide.

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Our biggest hurdle was getting the bible from England to the U.S. where I lived. I did not want to send it via the mail.  Fortunately, my father was staying at a guest house with a couple from the U.S. who had brought their daughter over to York to begin university. These strangers very kindly offered to bring the bible back with them to the U.S. and send it on to me.

The bible is titled, ‘Brown’s Self Interpreting Bible’ and the cover is embossed leather with metal on each edge and beautifully engraved metal clasps (one of which is missing). The Self Interpreting Bible was Rev. John Brown’s (1722-1787) most successful work. It contained the scriptures with marginal references and explanations for the ordinary person.

The inside of the bible contains beautiful pictures of various bible scenes, in vivid color.

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Scriptural scenes inside the bible.

In the middle of the bible are the pages that every genealogist hopes to see. Those that contain handwritten names and dates of birth, marriage and death. I can see from the handwriting that most of the names and dates were written by one person at one time, not at the time of each event. And the names are of only one family, the James Thomas and Margaret Bruce family. They are my great grandparents, who lived in County Durham, England. 1

James Thomas was born in 18622 in Medomsley, Durham, and Margaret Bruce was born in 18663 in Sherburn, Durham. They married in 1888 at Bethany Church 4, a Christian Lay Church in Sunderland, Durham.

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Thomas family bible with the names of my great grandparents, James and Margaret Thomas.

James and Margaret Thomas went on to have six children with only two surviving infancy. Those names are written in their bible. How sad it must have been to write down the death dates of their precious little ones.

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Dates of birth and death for James and Margaret Thomas’ six children.

The Thomas family bible is a valuable resource but it is more than that. To me it is the precious feeling of being able to hold in my hands something that I know my great grandparents once treasured.

 

 


  1. Thomas Family Bible, The Holy Bible (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Adam & Co. Lmt), “Births, Deaths”; privately held by Sue McNelly, [address for private use,] Arizona, 2010. 
  2. England, birth certificate for James Thomas, born 29 January 1862; registered March quarter 1862, Durham District 10a/265, Lanchester Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  3. England, birth certificate for Margaret Bruce, born 4 May 1866; registered June quarter 1866, Durham District 10a/365, Saint Nicholas Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  4. England, marriage certificate for James Thomas and Margaret Bruce, married 3 March 1888, registered March quarter 1888, Sunderland District 10a/715, Bethany Church, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 

From Cairo with Love

As part of this month’s theme for the Genealogy Blog Party ‘The Strong Will Survive!’ I am highlighting my Grandfather as someone I believe was strong both emotionally and physically.  He survived not only a war but a situation at home, happening at the same time, which was incredibly emotionally stressful for him.  Read on and see why I think he qualifies as a man of great courage and integrity.

I’ve always been fascinated with this postcard that my Grandfather, Harold James Davis, had made in Cairo, Egypt.  He never sent it (there is no writing on the back) but from what we can gather brought it home to South Africa to give to his only daughter.

EstelleHazelDavis1939_Postcard

Harold James Davis (1908-1967) was stationed in Egypt with the 1st Hygiene Company of the South African Medical Corp from November 1941 to April 1944 and transferred to the United Defense Force Admin HQ in Cairo, Egypt from March 1944 to November 1944.  Obviously he carried with him a photograph of the young daughter he had left behind in South Africa, enabling him to have the postcard made.

It was during this time serving in Egypt that my grandfather would have heard that his wife, my grandmother, Hazel Jane Keown, had abandoned their young daughter.  Perhaps tired of life as the wife of a military man (Harold had been an Army man since July of 1929) Hazel Jane Keown had left their 4-year-old daughter and disappeared.    Harold returned to South Africa in November 1944 where he sued for divorce and sole custody of his daughter.

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Harold James Davis (1908-1967) taken in Cairo, Egypt between 1941 and 1944.

It must have been difficult to be in the middle of a war and to be worrying about his young daughter.  I like to think that the photograph of her he carried, and the postcard he had made, helped him to feel closer to her.

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Harold James Davis and his baby girl.