Two True Friends – the Soldier and the Nurse

Charlotte Lillie Davis never married and probably would have been known as the maiden aunt of the family. However, that doesn’t mean she never loved nor led a fulfilling and interesting life. She was my second great grand-aunt; a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a fiancée.

Very little is known about Charlotte’s fiancé, not even his full name. Official records refer to him only as R.L. Harrison. In 1901 he was with the British Army Post Office Corps, serving in South Africa at the time of the Second Boer War.1 It’s unclear when R.L. Harrison and Charlotte met, but likely Charlotte was already in her late 30s. Charlotte, aged 39, was working as a nurse at Beckett Hospital in Barnsley, Yorkshire in 1901. 2

Their long distance love story is encapsulated in the seven envelopes that are framed, hanging on the wall of my cousin’s home in England. Addressed to Miss L. (Lillie) Davis, they were sent from South Africa by R.L. Harrison, complete with incredibly detailed hand drawn sketches on the front. As befits Private Harrison’s job with the Army Post Office Corps, the franking is very thorough on each envelope. Below are 3 of the 7 envelopes.

Envelope1
“Two True Friends – the Soldier and the Nurse”
Envelope2
“Tommy’s Smile” (Tommy was slang for a common soldier in the British Army.)
Envelope6
“A Gentleman in Khaki”

Sadly, their love story was short and sweet. R.L. Harrison never returned from South Africa. His exact death date is unknown but in the Roll of Individuals entitled to the South African War Medal he is noted as ‘Deceased’ as of 9th July 1901. 3

Also in my cousin’s possession are Corporal Harrison’s medals. The Queen’s South Africa Medal was presented to British, Imperial and Colonial troops serving in the Boer War. It has bars representing individual campaigns fought in. Corporal Harrison’s medal contains bars for service in the Cape Colony between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902, service in the Transvaal between 24 May 1900 and 31 May 1902 and a third bar for service at Wittebergen 1 July 1900.

RlHarrisonMedal
R.L. Harrison’s Queen’s South Africa Medal.

There is also a British War Medal for Charlotte Lillie with her name, C.L. Davis and S.(Staff) Nurse, 1914-1918 written on it. Charlotte Lillie served in France as a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR), which was the nursing branch of the British Army. 4

Charlotte Lillie fit all the requirements for entry into the QAIMNSR which stated that members were to be over the age of 25, single, educated, of impeccable social standing, and must have completed a three-year course of nurse training in a hospital approved by the War Office. 5

CLMedal
Charlotte Lillie Davis’ British War Medal.

During the time that she served as a Staff Nurse, Charlotte kept a small autograph album which some of the men she was nursing, wrote in.  One of the pages is shown in the photocopy below. The large black square is a plaster (bandage) stuck to the page. A transcription of the page follows.

DavisAutogrph
Page from Charlotte Lillie Davis’ Autograph Book.

“This court plaster is warranted
Not to heal “unkind cuts” “wounded feelings” “injured innocence”

“cracked heads” & “broken hearts”
              ___________

If you should carve the Xmas goose
This plaster you may find of use
For you’re so kind upon my word
You’ll cut yourself and spoil the bird.”

A.W. Narrel. The E/Surreys
Ward 22
Sep ’17

To Sister Davis”

Charlotte Lillie Davis never did marry.  Perhaps I am being fanciful but I wonder if her heart ever recovered after learning of Corporal Harrison’s death.

After her service in the war, she lived for some time with her older brother, William Davis in Doncaster, Yorkshire. Later, she moved to a Nurse’s Home in Wentworth, West Yorkshire. From 1931 until her death in 1940, Charlotte Lillie lived at 14 Woodland Road, Wath-Upon-Dearne, near Rotherham, Yorkshire.6

CharlotteLillieDavis1862_lastresidence
14 Woodland Road, Wath-Upon-Dearne, as it appears today.

The maiden aunt of the family perhaps, but so much more. I would have liked to meet her and hear her tell her love story in her own words, and listen as she described her care of the ‘boys’ fighting in France during the Great War.

 

WordCloud

 

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 14 prompt: Maiden Aunt

  1. “Natal & South African Forces Death, 1899 To 1902, Army Post Office Corps”. Database with images, Findmypast.com (www.findmypast.com : accessed April 3, 2018), Roll of Individuals entitled to the South Africa Medal, entry for R.L. Harrison. 
  2. “1901 Census for England and Wales,” database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 February 2004); entry for Charlotte Lillie Davis, Barnsley, Yorkshire West Riding; citing the National Archives, RG 13, piece 4314, Folio 79, p. 1. 
  3. “Natal & South African Forces Death, 1899 To 1902, Army Post Office Corps”. Database with images, Findmypast.com (www.findmypast.com : accessed April 3, 2018), Roll of Individuals entitled to the South Africa Medal, entry for R.L. Harrison. 
  4. Scarletfinders, (http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/2.html : accessed April 7, 2018), “Researching A Nurse.” 
  5. The National Archives (U.K.), “Service Medal and Award Rolls Index, First World War,” database, Discover Our Collections (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ : accessed 6 April 2018), “Medal Card of Davis, Charlotte Lillie”; citing catalog reference WO 372/23/10656. 
  6. West Yorkshire, England, Electoral Registers, 1840-1962, Township of Wath-Upon-Dearne, p. 36 for Davis, Charlotte Lily, 1940, residence 14 Woodland Rd; image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 February 2012). 

Ann Wilson Bellas – a Strong Woman

I have written before about my great-grandfather, John Bellas and his frequent journeys from County Durham, England to Kimberley, South Africa to work in the mines. His wife, my great-grandmother, Ann Wilson, married at age 20, becoming an instant mother to John’s small child from his first marriage. She was a woman who, for many years as John traveled to find work, raised their children alone. She crossed an ocean to an unknown land with her young family to be with her husband. She buried six children before she was 41 years old. She was a strong and beloved woman.

JohnBellas1859_withAnneWilson
Anne and John Bellas.

Ann Wilson was the second wife of John Bellas, they married in 1887 in County Durham. 1 Ann was 20 years old when they married and settled in Newbottle, a small village occupied mostly by coal miners and their families. John Bellas had been widowed in 1886, leaving him with a young child, also named John Bellas. Upon her marriage to John, Ann became a mother, taking over the care of four year old, John. In August of 1888, Ann gave birth to her first child, a son they named Thomas Bellas. Unfortunately tragedy struck a year later, in 1889, when John died at the age of five.

A few months later, Ann found herself pregnant again, this time with twins. The twins were born on 14 May 1890 and were named John and Elizabeth Jane.2 John lived only one day. Elizabeth Jane lived 15 days. Ann had buried three children and was only 23 years old.

In October 1893, John Bellas left England, making the 17-day journey by ship to South Africa. Ann had given birth in March 1893 to a baby girl, Mary Hannah.3 For the next six years, John was only home for short periods of time as he traveled back and forth between England and South Africa.

I imagine that life was not easy for Ann, having her husband gone for long intervals. In 1899, newspapers in County Durham began to report on the developing tensions in South Africa, especially around the town of Kimberley.  This must have caused great anxiety for Ann. John joined up with the Kimberley Town Guard to defend Kimberley from Boer attacks. The Boers besieged the town for 124 days but ultimately failed to take Kimberley, which had finally been relieved by the advancing British forces. All of this was constantly being reported on in the newspapers of the day, no doubt causing much worry for Ann over her husband’s safety.

The 1901 census 4 shows the entry for Annie Bellas and her four children in the village of Shiney Row, County Durham. Ann is described as the head of the household, aged 35. She has no occupation listed indicating she likely relied on the money that John was able to send back to the family from South Africa. The children were aged 12, 8, 4 and 2 years old.  Basically a single mother for much of those six years, Ann was fortunate to have some family support with her in-laws, David and Margaret Bellas, living next door.

1901Census
1901 census of England, County Durham, Shiney Row, p. 12 (stamped), Annie Bellas; image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 April 2012); citing The National Archives, RG13, piece 4694, folio 55, p. 13; Houghton-le-Spring registration district, ED 14, household 76.

John Bellas was fortunately unharmed in the skirmishes around Kimberley and in 1903 returned to his family in County Durham. Again, this was only for a short time, but this time, Ann and the children accompanied John on his return to South Africa. Had Ann had enough of being left behind and insisted the family goes with him? Did she simply miss her husband and not want to be parted from him? The impetus for the move is unknown but Ann did pack up the family and she and the four children joined John Bellas on his return trip.

One can only imagine how much strength and courage this must have taken. Ann had never left County Durham and was now taking her children on a journey across the ocean to South Africa. She was 35 years old. The children were 14, 9, 6 and 4 years of age.

John and Ann would have another 5 children born in Kimberley, South Africa between 1903 and 1909. Unfortunately, three of the children died in infancy, two from influenza and one from meningitis. Ann had now buried 6 children (including John, the child she became a mother to upon marrying John Bellas).

Ann and John stayed in South Africa until July 1911. Boarding the steam ship ‘Durham Castle’ the family, with the exception of two of their children, traveled via Delagoa Bay, Mozambique to Southampton, London.5 Eldest son, Thomas, had been working in the Kimberley mines since he was 15 years old and stayed behind to continue working. Daughter Mary Hannah had married earlier in 1911 and also stayed behind. Ann left behind the tiny graves of the three children born in South Africa and her eldest son and a daughter. It surely must have been a difficult goodbye.

JohnBellas passenger
UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960, database with images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 April 2012), “Names and Description of British Passengers,” entry for John Bellas family, arrived 16 August 1911 on Durham Castle from Delagoa Bay.

Although John would make one more trip to South Africa in early 1912, Ann remained in County Durham. John returned to England in 1913 and rejoined the family. Ann lived to be 64 years old, passing away in Shiney Row, County Durham on 22 August 19306. John passed away in 1938.7

AnnWilson1866_Funeral
Funeral Notice for Ann Bellas

Ann was obviously a much beloved wife and mother and deeply missed as is shown in the memorials published in the newspaper by her husband and children from 1931 through 1940. Each year on the anniversary of her death, her husband and children placed an ‘In Memoriam’ piece in the local newspaper.8

AnneWilson1866_memoriam 1933

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 10 prompt: Strong Woman

  1. England, marriage certificate for John Bellas and Ann Wilson, married 25 June 1887, registered April quarter 1887, Houghton-le-Spring District 10a/600, Registry Office, Durham. 
  2. England, birth of John and Elizabeth Jane Bellas, born 14 May 1890; registered April quarter 1890, Durham District 10a/487, Houghton-le-Spring District, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  3. England, birth of Mary Hannah Bellas, born 21 March 1893; registered April quarter 1893, Durham District 10a/503, Houghton-le-Spring District, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  4. 1901 census of England, County Durham, Shiney Row, p. 12 (stamped), Annie Bellas; image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 April 2012); citing The National Archives, RG13, piece 4694, folio 55, p. 13; Houghton-le-Spring registration district, ED 14, household 76. 
  5. UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960, database with images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 April 2012), “Names and Description of British Passengers,” entry for John Bellas family, arrived 16 August 1911 on Durham Castle from Delagoa Bay. 
  6. England, death of Annie Bellas, 22 August 1930; registered September 1930, Durham District 10a/422, Houghton District, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  7. England, death of John Bellas, 27 January 1938; registered March 1938, Durham District 10a/528, Houghton District, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  8. “In Memoriam,” Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, Durham, England, 22 August 1933, p. 8, col. 1. 

Sharing a Meal with my 16 Great Great Grandparents.

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At my dinner table…

Out of all your ancestors who would you most like to share a meal with?   I would like to sit down with my 16 great great grandparents as they seem to be a fascinating lot. All 8 couples were born in different parts of the U.K. and the world. There is a lot I know about them but even more I haven’t yet discovered.

UK Map
Map of the United Kingdom with colored areas representing birth places of great great grandparents.
World map
Map of the world with colored areas representing birth places of three (two in Germany, one in South Africa) great great grandparents.

I imagine the conversation among these 16 dinner guests would be lively. The coal miners at the table, William Thomas from St. Agnes, Cornwall, John Bruce from Edinburgh, Scotland, David Bellis from Holywell, Wales and Richard Wilson, from County Durham, would no doubt have much to say about mining and wages and working conditions.

Perhaps sitting in one corner of the table the two Germans, Helena Schmidt and George Eberhard, might have been chatting about where in Germany they were from (information I would like to have!) and what brought them to their current homes. Helena Schmidt Davis was living in England by 1877 and George Eberhard, an engineer, had made the very long journey to the Cape Province, South Africa, sometime before 1880.

John Hayes and Bridget Dillon Hayes would be the only Irish folk at the table, and John, the only military man at the gathering. He had been a tailor before joining the British Army in Belfast, Ireland at the age of 18. He had been posted to Tullamore, King’s County, Ireland where he met and married Bridget in 1882. His military service would take him to Jamaica where their first child would be born, and then on to South Africa. John Hayes and George Eberhard, despite likely language barriers, may have been able to talk about their trip to South Africa and what life was like there.

John Kewn and Jane Gell Kewn were from the Isle of Man. John was a very successful builder with his own business. Financially, he would probably be the most well off at the table.  Joshua Davis, finding himself seated next to the successful John Kewn, may have been rather quiet. Joshua himself came from a very well to do family, but was considered to be almost the black sheep of the family. He was a plumber by trade, while the rest of his brothers worked in the thriving family business of being railway carriage owners.

The ladies at the table would of course, find plenty to talk about as ladies often do.  Susan Bastian had been married at age 17 to William Thomas, and they had seven children. Many of the women at the table were coal miner’s wives and some had worked at the mines themselves.  By 1842, it was illegal for women to work below ground so Susan and her children worked above ground sorting coal. Christina McIntosh, born in South Africa to Scottish parents, operated a store in the front room of her home and Bridget Dillon Hayes was a school teacher. The other wives all worked in the home, taking care of their husbands and children. The eight couples had 58 children between them, of which only four died in infancy. That is quite a feat considering infant mortality rates in the mid-1800s.

My dinner guests:

William Thomas (born 1834, St. Agnes, Cornwall) and Susan Bastian (born 1837, Chacewater, Cornwall)
John Bruce (born 1843, Edinburgh, Scotland) and Isabella Bowes (born 1847, Sherburn, Durham, England)
David Bellis (born 1822, Holywell, Flintshire, Wales) and Margaret Williams (born 1833, Abergele, Wales)
Richard Wilson (born 1840, Philadelphia, Durham, England) and Elizabeth Twedell (born 1845, Gosforth, Northumberland, England)
Joshua Davis (born 1854, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England) and Helena Schmidt (born 1851, Germany)
John Joseph Hayes (born 1862, Carrickfergus, Antrim, Ireland) and Bridget Mary Hayes (born 1865, Cork, Ireland)
John Kewn (born 1821, Peel, Kirk German, Isle of Man) and Jane Gell (born 1826, Peel, Kirk German, Isle of Man)
George Eberhard (born 1857, Berlin, Germany) and Christina Elizabeth McIntosh (born 1857, Knysna, Cape, South Africa)

I love prompts that get you thinking about your ancestors!  Week 4’s prompt for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow is ‘Invite to dinner’.

 

Discover … eGGSA (The virtual branch of the South African Genealogical Society)

Discover-eGGSA

eGGSA is the acronym for the virtual branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.  According to their website the ‘Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA) is an international organization of people engaged in the study of genealogy, family trees and family history with a South African connection’.

eggsa
Home page of eGGSA.org

From the first small colony established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 in what is now Cape Town to the British government settler schemes of the 1820s, to the men seeking their fortunes on the diamond and gold fields in the 1860s – settlers, soldiers and missionaries flocked to what is now South Africa.  Records were created as they lived their lives.  eGGSA has an incredibly rich variety of records on their site, including transcripts and databases (1820 Settler correspondence, newspaper extracts, passenger lists, church and burial records); photographic collections of gravestones (now containing over 700 000 gravestone photographs), family bibles and postcards, and an incredibly useful page of links to other websites which may help with research in South Africa.

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eGGSA.org

Almost all the records on the site are freely available. Membership does offer the perks of receiving eGGSA’s quarterly publication, Genesis.  Members also receive FAMILIA, the quarterly journal of the parent body, the Genealogical Society of South Africa and are eligible for a reduced rate when ordering documents from the South African Archives at Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

If you have ancestors with connections to South Africa this is an excellent resource to start your research with.

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The Life of a Miner: from County Durham, England to Kimberley, South Africa.

johnbellas1859b
John Bellas (1859-1938)

I have always been fascinated by the life of my great-grandfather John Bellas.  Born into a coal mining family originally from Flintshire, Wales, he spent his entire life working down the mines.  John was born in 1859 in St Giles, County Durham, England.  He was the third child and first son for David Bellis and his wife, Margaret Williams.  There would eventually be 9 children in the family. David Bellis and Margaret Williams were both of Welsh birth but by 1851 the family had left Wales and moved to the coal fields of County Durham, England. [At some stage John changed the spelling of his surname from Bellis to Bellas].

english_coal_miners
County Durham Coal Miners.  Photo in public domain.

The 1871 England Census for Thornley, County Durham shows David Bellis and sons John Bellas (age 12) and Thomas Bellas (age 10) working as miners in the Thornley Colliery.

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1871 England Census, Thornley, County Durham, Class: RG10; Piece: 4976; Folio: 31;  Page: 60, Ancestry.com

John Bellas’ life was marred at times by tragedy beginning with his first wife Elizabeth Jane Robson.  They married in 1880 and had 4 children together.  Tragically all four children died in infancy or early childhood.  Elizabeth herself died in 1886 at age 24, only one month after her 3rd child died. She left behind her husband John and 2-year-old son, also named John.   A year later, in June 1887, John married Anne Wilson.  John and Elizabeth’s surviving child (John) passed away in June of 1889.  John and his second wife, Anne Wilson went on to have 11 children, five of which also died in infancy.

In 1893 John Bellas left on his first trip to South Africa.  This was the beginning of numerous trips back and forth between England and South Africa between 1893 and 1911. It’s not clear what precipitated the trip to South Africa but perhaps prospects there were better than in the coal fields of County Durham. For many years newspapers had reported on the ease with which diamonds could be found in South Africa and implied a man could get rich very quickly.

diamondfields
Manchester Evening News, Tuesday 12 September 1871.

The discovery of diamonds in the 1860s and 1870s caused a great influx of men, particularly experienced miners, seeking their fortunes in the diamond fields of South Africa. Because the labor needs of the diamond fields were so great, the British encouraged labor migration to Kimberley.

kimberley
Diamond Mine. Kimberley, South Africa 1896.  Photos.com/jupiterimages

In 1893 John Bellas was hired by the De Beers Diamond Mines in Kimberley, South Africa.  Through correspondence with the De Beers Archivist and the Africana Research Library in Kimberley, and using employment records and passenger lists, I was able to track John Bellas’ movements in South Africa.  Between 1893 and 1898 John traveled back and forth between County Durham and Kimberley, South Africa four times.  Approximate travel time was 17 days via one of the Union Castle steam ships which traveled weekly between Southampton, London and ports in South and East Africa.

union-castle
One of the many advertisements for the Union Castle Line. Photo in public domain.

Throughout these years of back and forth travel, Anne Bellas and their 4 young children remained behind in County Durham. In 1899 newspapers in County Durham began to report on the developing tensions in South Africa, especially around the town of Kimberley.  This must have caused great anxiety for Ann Bellas.

newspapersiege
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. Tuesday 31 October 1899

                               “The Siege of Kimberley.  Boers Building Forts.
                                      (Reuter’s Telegram) CapeTown, Monday.
                It is reported from Barkly West that the Boers are building forts
                     around Kimberley for the purpose of shelling the town.”

Ultimately the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand, and the influx of foreigners as a result of that discovery, led to increased tensions between the Boers (Afrikaans speaking settlers) and the ‘Uitlanders’ (foreigners).  The Boers feared that the Uitlanders would seize all political power and therefore passed laws that made Uitlanders in effect, second class citizens.  Tensions escalated between these two groups. Britain was in control of the Cape Colony and wanted to incorporate the Boer Republics and keep them under British control.  Failed negotiations between Britain and the Boer Republics in 1899 and the failure to remove British troops congregating on the borders of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State led to the declaration of war.

John Bellas began serving with the Kimberley Town Guard ‘D’ Company Division II.  The town guard had been raised in October 1899 to defend the town of Kimberley from Boer attack.  The Boers besieged the town for 124 days but ultimately failed to take Kimberley, which had finally been relieved by the advancing British forces.

kimberley-town-guard-war
Dundee Evening Post. 30 March 1900.

Transcription: “The Siege of Kimberley:  Town Guard Defending Carter’s Ridge.
The Kimberley town Guard lost twenty-one killed and forty-one wounded in defending this position.”

 

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Kimberley Town Guard.  Photo credit: angloboerwar.com

In March 1900 the Kimberley Town Guard was officially dismissed.  There was no work to be had at the mines which had shut down during the Siege of Kimberley and John Bellas returned to England in July 1900.

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South Wales Daily News. 12 March 1900

It was not long before John Bellas returned again to Kimberley and employment with De Beers Mines.  This time his family traveled with him.  John and Anne Bellas and their 4 young children made the journey to Kimberley about 1902/1903. Five more children were born in Kimberley between 1902/1903 and 1909.  Unfortunately 3 of the children died in infancy, two from influenza and one from meningitis.  My grandmother, Elizabeth Bellas, was about 7 years old when she moved to Kimberley and 15 years old when the family returned to England permanently in 1911.  In her older years she could still remember a word or two of Afrikaans which she had learned as a young child in South Africa.

Although Anne Bellas and children never returned to South Africa again, John Bellas traveled back again in early 1912.  He only stayed a few months, returning for the final time to County Durham in December 1912.

John Bellas seems to have been a man who didn’t mind adventure and many years spent going back and forth across the ocean between countries.  He was the first in the family to set foot in South Africa but certainly not the last.  His daughter, Elizabeth Bellas, would have a son, my father, who would eventually immigrate from County Durham to South Africa and raise John Bellas’ great grandchildren there.

 

Hide and Seek with Harry

My maternal great-grandfather, Harry Joshua Davis, has generally made himself extremely difficult to find after 1923.  In fact, I have not found him or his date of death or where he might have died and I have been looking for a very long time.  Yes, it’s annoying and he most definitely qualifies for July’s Genealogy Blog Pool party theme. Elizabeth of Little Bytes of Life writes:

‘Do you have an ancestor which makes you absolutely miserable?’  Why yes I do! ‘Bring your most aggravating ancestor to our summer pool party and PUSH HIM (or her) in the pool!’

Harry Joshua Davis was born in Gorton West, Lancashire, England in 1879.  He was the first child of Joshua Davis and Helena (Schmidt) Davis.  He is easily found in the 1881 and 1891 UK census with his family in or near Manchester, Lancashire.  By the 1901 census however Harry is not found with the family who has stayed within the parish of South Manchester.  In fact, despite numerous searches, I have not found him at all in 1901 in England.  I do however know that by June 1902 Harry Davis was in South Africa.  He joined the British South Africa Police (B.S.A.P) in Johannesburg and I am fortunate that I have his enlistment papers.

HarryJoshuaDavis1879_BSAP001
B.S.A.P Enlistment Papers for Harry Joshua Davis

However not being able to find Harry J. Davis in 1901 in England raises the question of whether he was already in South Africa at that time.  Did he go over to fight in the Boer War?  As a paramilitary unit, the B.S.A.P fought in the Second Boer War but Harry Davis’ B.S.A.P enlistment papers clearly show he enlisted in Johannesburg in 1902. (The Second Boer War had officially ended on May 31, 1902).   In 2003 I hired a researcher to do a search in the Public Record Office in London with the goal being to find out if Harry Davis had enlisted in the British Army prior to 1902.  Although several men were found with similar names, none fit the details I already had for Harry Joshua Davis.  Was Harry intrigued by the lure of adventure in deepest Africa?  Perhaps he saw one of the many newspaper advertisements asking for men to join the B.S.A.P?

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Morning Post (London), 21 January 1898

Harry’s trail in South Africa from 1902 until 1923 is fairly well documented in his enlistment papers.  I also know that Harry Davis married Adelaide Agnes Maud Hayes somewhere between 1902 and 1908.  However, I do not have their marriage certificate or a confirmed date of their marriage. It’s difficult to get this sort of documentation in South Africa as there is no central repository for vital records and many are kept on a local level by the various church’s – if they exist at all.   There is also the unconfirmed family story that Harry and Adelaide were not married at the time of the birth of their first son, my grandfather, Harold James Davis in 1908.  A birth certificate for Harold James Davis may have shown the word ‘illegitimate’ had that been the case but again, I have not been able to find one for him.  In fact, the family story goes so far as to say that Adelaide’s father went out and found Harry and told him he would be marrying his daughter –  ‘shot-gun’ wedding style.  Until I find their marriage certificate I can’t prove or disprove that family story.

Harry Davis did well working with the B.S.A.P and his records are full of praise and commendations.  He was promoted in 1907 to a Detective Probationer and then to Detective in 1908.  In September of  1914  the notation in his enlistment papers shows that Harry was called to active duty.  The First World War had started in July of 1914 and South Africa’s military forces, including the B.S.A.P, participated in the fighting in various parts of Africa including the East African Campaign.  Harry Davis survived and returned to Johannesburg on June 26, 1915.  Approximately 4 years later Harry was again promoted to Detective Lieutenant Constable.  In 1921 Harry Davis moved to Cape Town where he was stationed with the newly formed C.I.D (Criminal Investigative Division) of the B.S.A.P.

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The B.S.A.P is called into action for World War 1

Harry Joshua Davis and Adelaide Agnes Maud (Hayes) Davis had 4 children together:

  • Harold James Davis, born in 1908 in Johannesburg
  • Lillian Adelaide Davis, born in 1909 in Johannesburg
  • William Francis Davis, born in 1912 in Johannesburg
  • Florence Maud Davis, born in 1922 in Cape Town

Harry Joshua Davis left the B.S.A.P in 1923 at the age of 44.  And that is the last time I have found any mention of him in any document.  I don’t know where he went after he left the B.S.A.P.  I do know that there was a separation from his wife Adelaide and that when she died in 1964 her death notice stated she was a widow. Whether Harry Davis had died by then is unknown.  Widows were not always widows but may have preferred to be known as such rather than as the woman whose husband abandoned her.

There are various family stories that have been told about Harry Joshua Davis including:

  • When Harry and Adelaide separated Harry went to South West Africa (now known as Namibia).
  • In 2001 at the age of 79, daughter Florence Maud Davis was of the opinion that her father died in South Africa and that he may have taken his own life. She believed she was about 11 when her parents separated and in her early teens when Harry died, which would put his death around 1935 or so.
  • Information from Florence Maud Davis’ husband was that when Harry Joshua Davis left the B.S.A.P he started a plumbing business with a partner. The partner absconded with all the money and the business failed.  Interestingly enough Harry’s father, Joshua Davis, was a plumber (back in England) so perhaps there could be a shred of truth here.
  • In 2004 Adelaide Agnes Maud (Hayes) Davis’ nephew was asked if he remembered anything about Harry Joshua Davis. He stated that he thought Harry went into the bakery business and worked for a company called T & F Connery.  And again, Harry’s grandmother Charlotte L. Cook had been a confectioner/baker back in England. So again, perhaps a shred of truth?

Harry Joshua Davis remains a man of mystery right now.  Every few months I go back to Harry and look at him again, read the few documents I have on him, and look through any new South African records that have been placed online, but no luck so far.  Harry is doing a great job at hiding.  And that’s pretty aggravating, right?

 

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.