Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Uncle Joe - who fell on his head in Jarrow

Well, that's the story my grandma always used to tell us.  We always got the impression that Uncle Joe had been a favourite of my grandma and that he had been taken in the prime of his life.  Certainly his death had made a big impression on her.

When I began my family history research nearly 20 years ago the first family (on my side) that I researched were the Moderates (I had already done a lot of digging into my ex-husband's Sheffield ancestors, but that was made easy due to the proximity of the records).  My parents came from Durham and their ancestors from Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria (mostly! - see my Surnames page for more details) so all the research had to be done long distance.

This is what I wrote about Uncle Joe in March 1997:

Since I last wrote [about the Moderate Family - I was writing a newsletter to send to other people with the Moderate surname] I have been busy finding out all about Uncle Joe. 
Uncle Joe Moderate (from Ileen Moderate's album)
This is he, the second son of Joseph Moderate and Ann Taylor, born in 1868 in Walker, Northumberland.  This photograph is a copy made by Neville Moderate of one of the photo's in Ileen Moderate's album. 

He was a joiner, in fact Joseph Moderate snr seems to have made sure that all his sons had a good trade.  John was a grocer, William a plumber and Jeremiah a photographer before he set out for the West Indies via Belfast.  Ernest worked for the railways.

Joe lived at 74 Croft Terrace, Jarrow just across the road from his parents.  This is the address he gave when he married on 31st July 1902 to the 'girl next door' Elizabeth Johnson of 73 Croft Terrace.  He was 34 years old and she was 22.  Maybe he had waited until he was able to afford a house before he married.  My Grandmother recalls Uncle Joe and Aunt Lily, she says they took in a niece, Peggy, as they had no children of their own.  This was probably a daughter of William, but I can't get it to fit with any of the names I know. (and all these years later I still can't!).  When Norman Moderate wrote to me last year he mentioned meeting a Peggy Moderate in Longhorsley village near Morpeth in the war.  She was married to a Mr F Knox, and running the local store.  Maybe this was the same Peggy, she did mention Croft Terrace to him.  If so I can only suggest she married twice as no Moderate I have found in the St Catherine's House indices married a Knox.

My grandfather had always said that Uncle Joe died by falling through a hatchway on the 'Duchess of York' in Jarrow shipyards. So when I found the entry for his death in the indices we sent for the certificate.

1928 Death certificate for Uncle Joe Moderate
Sure enough it gives the cause of death as 'fracture of base of skull accidentally caused by falling through a hatchway ...' The next problem was that the ship number given on the certificate, No. 967. 

Old copies of Lloyd's Lists are not available in my local library, Sheffield is rather a long way from the sea!  I suppose there isn't much demand.  But my (then) partner's sister lives in Bristol and the library there was able to supply copies of the book going back to the 1850s.  However there was no sign of a ship number 967, or any 'Duchess of York' in the right place.

The puzzle had to wait until we visited Bristol ourselves at Christmas.  My partner had the bright idea of looking up Palmer's Yard itself in Lloyd's Lists, and there it was ... Ship no. 967 under construction in 1928, the 'York' a cruiser.  The next step was to look up the entry in Jane's Fighting Ships. 

HMS York under construction in 1928 (from Jane's Fighting Ships)
The picture shows the 'York' under construction in 1928.  A later entry describes the ship as 'the first attempt on the part of one of the Treaty Powers to break away from the 10,000 ton type of cruiser'.  Below is a diagram of the vessel also taken from Jane's.

A diagram of the York taken from Jane's Fighting Ships
The HMS 'York' was involved in the defense of Crete in 1940.  On 12th October HMS 'Ajax' sighted an enemy force, she crippled one destroyer but the rest of the force escaped.  HMS 'York' came up in support.  The next morning the crippled Italian destroyer was spotted in tow to another enemy destroyer.  The damaged ship was the 1,620 ton 'Artigliere'.  The second ship fled in the direction of Sicily at highspeed.  HMS 'York' joined the 'Ajax' and the gave the Italian crew half an hour to abandon ship.  After this the 'Artigliere' was sunk by gunfire.  'York' dropped rafts for the survivors and broadcast their position on the radio.  This was done despite the fact that such a signal compromised the position of the British forces.

During the German assault on Crete in May 1941 the Italians claimed to have destroyed many British ships.  Amongst these was the 'York', hit by an explosive motor boat, she beached in Suda Bay.  Meanwhile a 'brilliant rescue' had been achieved by our Navies and survivors from Crete transported to Egypt. Dive bomber attacks prevented the repair of the 'York', and her wreckage was not salvaged until after the war.

So Uncle Joe helped to build a warship in Palmer's Yard, and she did not disgrace herself in service either.

When he died, at age 60 years, Joe left no will.  His effects amounted to £330, and his wife Elizabeth survived him.  They were still living at 74 Croft Terrace and my grandmother can remember how upset her mother, Joe's sister, was when she heard the news across the river in Wallsend.

Even now, all these years later, I still can't find Peggy, the power of FreeBMD and Ancestry are not enough to solve that puzzle.  Maybe she was a relative on Elizabeth' side, a Johnson, but she used Moderate when she met my relative Norman Moderate just to strike a friendly note. 

The information about the York's war service was taken from an old illustrated book (almost a collection of picture magazines) about the Second World War that belonged to my dad, I'm afraid that 15 years ago I wasn't as concientious about noting down references so I don't know, off hand, what it was called, though it is still on the shelf at Everton.

My grandmother would have been 21 years old when he died and although he was still working, not a lot of pension and no Welfare State in 1928, Joe was hardly a young man in his prime when he died.  It just shows how family stories and memories are not completely reliable, I suppose we change things over time to appear more tragic or more exciting. 

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