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. 

St. Mary’s Changing Churchyard

Towards the end of 1945, Jean Mary Davis (my second cousin twice removed) married John Clement Rix at St. Mary’s, the parish church at Norton Cuckney in Nottinghamshire1. I recently came across this wonderful photograph of them stepping out of the front doors of the church just after they had been married2.

JeanDavis

The war had ended in September of 1945 and perhaps feeling hope for the first time in many years, couples flocked to their local parish churches or registration offices to get married. The Office for National Statistics notes the uptick in marriages in England in 1945. Although the number of marriages dropped during World War 2, by 1945, with the end of the war in sight, the number of marriages began to rise.3

I wondered if the church John and Jean married in was still standing. I was pleased to see that it was. However, what struck me was the change visible in the later photograph I found. A September 2011 photograph (photo credit to Andrew Jackson, user contributed content on Google Maps) shows that the headstones visible in background of the 1945 wedding photograph no longer appear. The actual building itself has not changed but the churchyard definitely has. The blue box outlines the area which appears in the background of the photo of John and Jean.

Rixcombo

The only reference I could find as to why the headstones no longer show on the 2011 photograph was from the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project which stated that, “In 1948 a Faculty was granted to lay down the gravestones in the churchyard.”4 It is possible that the stones were laid flat and that in the intervening 70 years, they have sunk into the ground and grass has grown over them. This is just speculation at this point. If you have any insight into what may have happened, I’d love to hear it!

John Clement Rix and Jean Mary Davis had a very interesting life together. They traveled the world from Hong Kong to South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I’m still digging into their story so stop back soon for an update.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 23 prompt: Going to the Chapel.

 


  1. “England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 March 2015), entry for John C. Rix to Davis; citing Worksop district, December [quarter] 1945, vol. 7b: 134. 
  2. John C. Rix and Jean M. Davis wedding photograph, 1945; digital copy in Sue McNelly collection, Phoenix, Arizona. 
  3. The Office for National Statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/articles/victoryineuropedayhowworldwariichangedtheuk/2015-05-08 : accessed 17 June 2018), “Victory in Europe Day: How World War II changed the UK”, 8 May 2015. 
  4. Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project (http://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/nottingham-st-mary/hchyard.php : accessed 18 June 2018), “Nottingham St Mary” 

Four Generations in Close Up

4Generation

Four generations of women in my family in South Africa. There is something about taking these close up photographs and placing them next to each other that reinforces for me the familial bonds that tie generations together. Not to mention, seeing how much they resemble each other!

Christina Elizabeth McIntosh was of Scottish descent, born in Knysna, South Africa in 1857. Her parents, William McIntosh and Elizabeth Shoolbread (Shoolbraid/Shulbred) had left Inverkeithing, Fife, Scotland in 1849. Christina married a German immigrant, George Eberhard, in 1880 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and they had eight children together. One of which was my great-grandmother, Christina Elizabeth Eberhard, born in 1883 in Kimberley, South Africa.

Christina Elizabeth Eberhard died at the very young age of 35. The 1918 flu pandemic had hit South Africa and Christina succumbed to it on 15 October 1918. She had married John Keown, an immigrant from the Isle of Man, in November of 1913 and they had two children. Their oldest child, Edward, was four years old when his mother died, and my grandmother, Hazel Jane, was only four months old.

Hazel Jane Keown married Harold James Davis on 19 June 1937 in Johannesburg. They had only one child, my Mom. I wrote about my grandparents here. My grandmother, Hazel, made some sad decisions in her life, with the result being that my Mom grew up without her and never saw her again until Hazel was in her early 80s.

Four generations upon whose shoulders I stand.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 18 prompt: Close Up

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.

eggsa 1
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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