On Saturday October 5th our guest speaker was Carol Runciman in which she related her strange story of her family. This took her to places that she least expected to visit and the use of research materials that made possible the unusual outcomes.
The mother of Carol and her sister Marjorie had been adopted in 1914. Her birth name Lola was changed to Pat! She remembered being cared for by a lady. This lady had come into her life simply by coming into a room and being picked by her for adoption. At that time adoption was a very informal affair. Carol’s mum was taken to Northern Ireland by Mr and Mrs Burnett, grocer and baker.
Pat’s father, Ernest Vile, made the occasional visit to N. Ireland but these eventually declined. He apparently worked in the theatre which took him all over the country.
Carol and her sister decided to try and find out more about their grandparents. They had to find their way through the agencies od adoption, name changes and the unexpected links with N. Ireland Yorkshire and Boston, USA. Carol learned that meticulous attention to detail was important.
At first they traced their grandfather, Ernest, to a soldier’s grave in Flanders where he had died in 1918.
Continuing the research using ancestry.com they made contact with other family connections who had at first been unknown to Carol. From these new contacts it became clear that the Ernest Vile who was buried in Flanders was a different one from their grandfather, Ernest Vile. He had in fact continued with his work in the theatre and lived until 1944. Apparently, Ernest had married four times and it was through the offspring of some of these wives that Carol and her sister were able to trace relatives to Boston, York and Bradford. Carol visited the Burnetts in N. Ireland and a family called Lowther in Boston. Ernest Vile, who had changed his name to Vincent, had married his fourth wife, Violet Gould. There was a hint of bigamy in the story. However, it was reported that when Ernest died in 1944 a large crowd attended his funeral being regarded as a ‘pillar of society.’
This complicated story with its confusion of names and brick walls resulted in a satisfactory outcome for Carol and her sister. Carol’s delivery, with the help of her husband on the computer which provided a number of photos of people and places, was delivered in a light hearted and humorous manner with her emphasising the need to persevere and leave no stone unturned.
On Saturday 7th September the military historian, Tim Lynch, was the guest speaker. He opened by delivering some statistics about the kind of person and background the average Tommy Atkins came from. Housing was often poor and unsanitary. He would have probably have been unemployed or in low paid work. Conditions were often dangerous particularly in the coal mines, steelworks and railways. There was every chance he might die from some contagious disease such as scarlet fever. One in four of the population would not reach maturity. So, when he enlisted, he switched from one harsh environment to another in the trenches. Tim then introduced his son, who was dressed in the uniform of a WW1 soldier. From cap to khaki serge and from boots and puttees to an assortment of webbing pouches, bags and tools. The latter consisted of a gas mask, ammunition, a ‘French nail’ ie a knife attached to a knuckle duster and a metal implement that could be converted to a spade for ‘digging in’ for use in cooking or removing body waste! There was also his Lee Enfield rifle and bayonet and perhaps a hand grenade. The total amount carried could weigh as much as 60 lbs.
Her would spend no more than 10 days a month in a trench before he was relieved and retired to the rear for a period of rest. Here he might enjoy a French beverage such as vin blanc or as it became known as ‘plonk’ or his ration of rum!
Food rations were often better than he received at home. A bag made of sacking might contain bread, biscuits and tinned meat. Then to pass the time when not involved in action he might play different board games including bingo or even knit. Then there would be opportunities to send and receive mail from home. Home leave was sporadic and then perhaps only for 72 hours at a time.
Tim had on display an array of weapons and equipment such as bayonets, hand grenades, bullets and respirators. The latter to give protection from the various lethal gases employed by Germans. His chance of surviving death or injury might mean he returned home a fitter person than when he first entered the army due to exercise and better food received.
Tim’s talk was extremely informative and delivered in an entertaining manner. He certainly produced some aspects of a soldier’s life in the trenches which many in attendance had not heard of before.